The FIAT 666N Blindato (English: Armored) was an Italian improvised heavy armored truck used by the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico (English: 630th Public Order Company) of Piacenza, a unit assigned to the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (English: National Republican Guard), the Italian military police.
This armored behemoth was obviously used not used for public duties, as the name of the unit would suggest, but as an armored personnel carrier and armored car in anti-partisan operations in the city of Piacenza and its country-side, where it became famous with the partisans for its sturdiness and invulnerability to small arms.
After the end of the North African Campaign with the defeat of the Axis troops in May 1943, the popular discontent with Fascism increased. The King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele III, took the opportunity to regain power.
With the collaboration of some fascist generals, Benito Mussolini, the dictator of Italy, was deposed and a Monarchist government was created. In less than 2 months, an armistice with the Allied powers was in place.
On 8 September 1943, the signing of the armistice between the Kingdom of Italy and the Allied powers was made public, to the great surprise of the Italian soldiers that were left unaware of the situation up to that point.
The Germans immediately launched Fall Achse (English: Operation Axis), an already planned operation to capture the remaining Italian troops, equipment and territory. This operation lasted from 8 September to 23 September 1943, and saw them occupy all the territories under Italian control in Italy, including the northern and central parts of the Italian peninsula still in the hands of the Axis forces.
Mussolini was freed from a secret prison on 12 September 1943 by a task force of Fallschirmjäger (English: Paratroopers) under Waffen-SS command and transferred to Germany. There, he met Adolf Hitler and decided to found a new republic in the Italian territories not yet occupied by the Allies.
On 23 September 1943, Mussolini returned to Italy, founding the new Repubblica Sociale Italiana with two new military corps, the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano (English: National Republican Army) and the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana or GNR (English: National Republican Guard), a paramilitary corps with public order and military police tasks. However, some units under GNR command, such as the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ (English: Armored Group), were well equipped and trained and acted as normal army units.
These corps were formed from Italian prisoners of war in German prisoner camps, and from not already enlisted young Italians, or Italian workers not necessary to the military economy of the nation.
Apart from some well-equipped and trained units, the majority of the Italian military forces were composed of poorly trained and equipped soldiers, mainly used by the Axis command in anti-partisan operations, or to support German troops on Italian soil.
The necessity of these units located in the small cities of Italy as garrisons to combat the partisan formations were realized and, for that the compagnie di ordine pubblico (English: public order companies), small police units composed of fascist militiamen badly equipped by the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana, were deployed on the whole Italian peninsula not yet liberated by the Allied forces.
During their service, the compagnie di ordine pubblico were also used to help other GNR units in anti-partisan operations, to maintain public order in the cities and prevent partisan sabotages.
The Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana was born after the proposal of Renato Ricci to merge all of the paramilitary units of the RSI (Carabinieri, militias, Polizia dell’Africa Italiana) into one large corps.
In the first half of 1944, the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana could rely on about 130,000 militiamen, soldiers, auxiliaries, police officers and Fiamme Bianche (English: White Flames), the name given to the young fascists between 14 to 18 years old (about 12,000), and were rarely deployed in active service.
The 130,000 men deployed by the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana were assigned to 10 regional inspectorates, 58 provincial commands, 5 militia territorial defense regiments, 5 battaglioni ordine pubblico (English: public order battalions), 53 compagnie ordine pubblico, 6 territorial battalions and other non-military units, such as investigation units, special police inspectorates, training and juvenile units.
Piacenza and the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico
Piacenza is one of the biggest cities of the region of Emiglia-Romagna, located in the center north of the Italian peninsula. Piacenza was the capital of the homonymous province, with a population (in 1936) of 64,210 inhabitants. It was an important city for the Italian economy, with a well organized agriculture. The city also had some small companies specialized in the bodywork of cars and trucks and in the production of truck trailers. Machinery tools were also important in Piacenza, with many companies specialized in the production of lathes and other components.
The city had one of the oldest arsenals of the Kingdom of Italy: the Arsenale Regio Esercito di Piacenza or AREP (English: Royal Army Arsenal of Piacenza). Until the armistice of September 1943, it was used mainly to produce and repair artillery pieces. After the armistice, it was renamed Arsenale di Piacenza and the workers restarted working for the Wehrmacht.
During the war, in the Piacenza province, about 2,400 soldiers, militiamen and partisans lost their lives. About ¼ of them were from Piacenza. Another 5,000 Italian soldiers from the province were forced to enlist as workers in Germany and disappeared for 2 years after the Armistice.
Another great problem was the Allied bombardments. During the war, from 2 May 1944 onward, about 30 formations of Allied 4-engine bombers attacked the city, plus about 60 other attacks of smaller formations or singular planes. During the bombardments, 266 civilians died and 10,000 civilians evacuated from the city. In total, 205 buildings were totally destroyed by Allied bombs, 116 heavily damaged and some hundreds slightly damaged.
After the Armistice of September 1943, the German forces transformed the city into a headquarters for their units in the region. The Plazkommandantur was placed in Via Santa Franca, under Colonel Blecher’s command. Under its command were a number of units deployed in the city. In Via Cavour 64 was a Waffen-SS unit and the Sicherheitspolizei or SIPO (English: Security Police) and in Via Garibaldi 7 was another SIPO unit.
The Todt Organization, a German civil and military engineering organization responsible for a huge range of engineering projects in all the occupied territories, also had some units in Piacenza. In Piazza Cavalli 94 was its volunteer enlisting center, while in the Caserma (English: Barrack) of Via Emilia Pavese were the dormitories for the Todt workers.
The San Damiano airbase near the city was also under German control (even if it was under German control before the Armistice). There were also the Train Station, the bridges, the arsenal and the most important company of the city, the Officine Massarenti, specialized in the extraction of the little oil found in the Piacenza countryside.
The Repubblica Sociale Italiana forces in the city were composed of the 83ª Legione della Milizia (English: 83rd Militia Legion) and the Corpo dei Carabinieri Reali (English: Corps of the Royal Carabinieri) that were stationed in Palazzo Farnese in Piazza Cittadella.
In the Piazza Cittadella barracks, there were also other RSI units, such as the Compagnia della Morte (English: Company of Death) under Major Ambrogio Gianneschi’s command. Units of the 4ª Divisione Alpina ‘Monterosa’ (English: 4th Alpine Division) and the 3ª Divisione di Fanteria di Marina ‘San Marco’ (English: 3rd Marine Infantry Division) were headquartered in Piacenza’s main square during their deployment in the region.
The 3ª Compagnia Arditi and 4ª Compagnia Mista (English: 3rd Arditi Company and 4th Mixed Company) of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ were headquartered in the city after January 1945. The Distaccamento Operativo di Piacenza (English: Operative Detachment of Piacenza), with 7 officers, 113 militiamen, one M15/42 medium tank, one L6/40 light tank, three L3 light tanks, 2 AB41 armored cars, two APCs, 13 motorbikes, a staff car and two trucks was also stationed there.
A small unit of the Xª Flottiglia MAS, units of the Legione Autonoma Mobile ‘Ettore Muti’ (English: Autonomous Mobile Legion) and finally the Battaglione ‘Vendetta’ and Battaglione ‘Debica’ assigned to the Kampfgruppe Binz of Colonel Franz Binz belonging to the 29. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS ‘Italia’ had its headquarters in the city during its deployment in the province.
In August 1944, the XXVIIIª Brigata Nera (English: 28th Black Brigade) was named after Giuseppe ‘Pippo’ Astorri (born 3rd March 1901 and deceased on 26 July 1944). He was a militiaman of the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico killed during an anti-partisan operation in Chiosi di Bobbiano, 35 km south of Piacenza. The unit had, on 14 January 1945, a total of 17 officers, 42 NCOs and 182 militiamen and auxiliaries divided into two companies. It was equipped with three medium trucks, a light truck, a staff car and a Lancia 3Ro armored truck probably received from another GNR unit. In January 1945, the Black Brigade was equipped with 3 medium machine guns, 6 light machine guns and 220 rifles.
The XXXVIª Brigata Nera ‘Benito Mussolini’ (English: 36th Black Brigade), founded on 22 June 1944 in Lucca, was extensively employed in the Piacenza province. After the Allied offensives south of Florence, Lucca was evacuated on 4 July 1944. The Black Brigade retreated first to Bagni di Lucca, then to other locations until November 1944, when it was deployed in Piacenza. In December 1944, it was composed of 137 officers, NCOs, militiamen and auxiliaries. Its equipment was composed of an improvised armored truck: a Lancia 3Ro Blindato with an armored trailer, a Lancia 1500 Berlina Semiblindata civil car and some other medium trucks. The XXXVIª Brigata Nera was renamed ‘Natale Piacentini’ in December 1944, after the death of the militiaman on 24 November 1944.
In the enormous Caserma Generale Antonio Cantore, on an area of 22,200 m² in Stradone Farnese 35, the 630ª Comando Provinciale della Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (English: 630th National Republican Guard’s Provincial Command) was headquartered, with a total of more than 500 militiamen, police officers and auxiliaries assigned to 42 garrisons in the Piacenza province. In Summer 1944, this number was diminished due partisan attacks to 22 garrisons and 527 members.
Under direct control of the 630ª Comando Provinciale della GNR was the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico, stationed in the Caserma Generale Antonio Cantore and the Caserma Paride Biselli of Via Beverora 54.
The 630ª Compagnia OP was commanded by Captain Mayer, who had served in the Balkans for two years before the Armistice, learning how to counter Yugoslav partisans. When he became commander of this GNR unit, he exploited his knowledge of anti-guerrilla warfare to counter the Italian partisans.
In fact, as part of the important task of infantry transport and anti-partisan operations, the improvised armored vehicles of the unit effectively carried out convoy escort missions and supply missions to isolated garrisons in the Piacenza province. They also counterattacked the partisans during the sieges of some isolated garrisons, permitting the soldiers to maintain the positions or, in the worst cases, open a breach in the partisan line, allowing the besieged fascists to escape.
This was done also with Regio Esercito improvised armored trucks used in the Balkans before the Armistice, such as the Renault ADR Blindato, from which Captain Mayer probably took inspiration.
The first vehicle that Cpt. Mayer’s attempt to transform into an Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) was an old Ceirano 47CM produced by Giovanni Ceirano Fabbrica Automobili (English: Giovanni Ceirano Car Factory) company after 1927.
It was not an easy task. In fact, the arsenal now worked almost exclusively for German orders and Mayer had to insist with the German command, which in the end allowed some workers to work on the armor of the truck.
It is unknown the exact number and the model of trucks that the company deployed in early 1944, but it is logical to suppose that the vehicle was chosen for its obsolescence as a transport truck. In fact, it had a maximum speed on road, empty, of 40 km/h and a limited payload.
The vehicle was armored by the Arsenale di Piacenza and delivered to the unit in April 1944 and commonly called Ceirano 47CM Blindato. The armored vehicles of the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico were all assigned to the Sezione Autoblindo (English: Armored Car Section).
The Ceirano 47CM Blindato could transport 12 fully equipped soldiers plus driver and vehicle commander and had slits from which the soldiers transported could open fire with personal weapons. It was extensively used by the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico in anti-partisan operations in the Piacenza countryside.
Cpt. Mayer had also ordered a light armored vehicle, based on the Guzzi Ercole 500 three-wheeled motorbike. This particular vehicle was totally armored and used to patrol the city’s roads after curfew. A Guzzi 500 liaison motorbike was equipped with a frontal armored shield and a Breda Modello 1930 light machine gun.
According to the testimony of a veteran, reported in the book ‘…Come il Diamante! I Carristi Italiani 1943-’45’ written by Sergio Corbatti and Marco Nava, the unit had another APC, probably on a Lancia 3Ro heavy-duty truck chassis. Giorgio Cassinari, in the book ‘Piacenza nella Resistenza’, also claims the presence of a Lancia 3Ro with armored plates used by the unit. Unfortunately, no iconographic sources exist of these vehicles.
The FIAT 666N (N for Nafta – Diesel), produced by Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino or FIAT (English: Italian Automobiles Factory, Turin), was the first cab-over-engine heavy truck of the company, which usually specialized in producing conventional-cab trucks.
The Kingdom of Italy was forced in 1937 to pass a law that specified the main characteristics required for all civilian or military trucks that were produced. This was done for three main reasons:
- Firstly, Italy was a rapidly growing nation with numerous companies producing dozens of different models of trucks. A standardization would lead companies to produce vehicles that were similar to each other and with common parts, increasing the production capacity.
- Secondly, there was also the problem of embargoes placed on Italy and the policy of autarky, or the aspiration of Italian leaders to be economically independent from foreign countries. Unified truck standards would certainly help to avoid wasting resources.
- Thirdly, and probably the most important reason, was the fact that, in case of war, civilian trucks could be requisitioned for war needs.
The third reason however, brought an obvious problem. Despite the excellent characteristics of the trucks, many Italian drivers were skeptical about purchasing the Autocarri Unificati, since the Regio Esercito could requisition them for military purposes at any time. The term Autocarri Unificati (English: Unified Trucks) was the name by which these particular vehicles built under the new rules were called.
With Regio Decreto (English: Royal Decree) N° 1809 of 14 July 1937, the so-called Autocarri Unificati were born. For heavy trucks, the maximum weight was not to exceed 12,000 kg, of which at least 6,000 kg had to be payload, with a minimum road speed of 45 km/h.
As for light trucks, the ground clearance was to be at least 200 mm, the maximum truck weight was to be 4,000 kg, and the payload 3,000 kg.
The FIAT 666N was a heavy-duty truck. The civilian version was developed in 1938 under the Regio Decreto N° 1809 rules. Its prototype was ready at the end of 1938 and was presented to Benito Mussolini on 15 May 1939, on the occasion of the inauguration of the FIAT Mirafiori plant in Turin.
This factory building covered 300,000 m² on an area of over one million square meters, with a total of 22,000 workers on several shifts. All 50,000 FIAT workers of Turin were present for Mirafiori’s inauguration. The AB40 prototypes were also presented then.
The military version, the FIAT 666NM (NM for Nafta Militare – Diesel; Military), was presented to the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione (English: Center for Motorization Studies), the Italian department which would examine new vehicles, for evaluation on 19 September 1940.
It differed from the civilian version through the addition of acetylene headlights, a bulb horn, support for rifles on the cab’s roof and manually operated turn signals on the sides of the windscreen. The first military order for 1,000 FIAT 666NM trucks was issued on 10 January 1941. Another 1,500 were ordered on 23 July 1941, 1,000 on 5 March 1942, and 700 on 16 June 1943.
In total, about 8,000 FIAT 666s left the assembly lines of the Mirafiori plant, including the post-war direct-injection 666N7 and FIAT 665NM 4×4 versions.
The Regia Aeronautica (English: Royal Air Force) ordered 796 trucks on 23rd October 1941. This truck was used on the Eastern Front, in North Africa, in Italy, and in the Balkans.
After the Armistice of 8th September 1943, between November 1943 and December 1944, 79 FIAT 666NMs and 2 FIAT 665NMs were delivered to the Wehrmacht.
The FIAT 666 was produced in a wide range of variants, such as standard truck and fuel carrier for civilian service, while for military service, recovery trucks, fuel and water carriers, mobile workshops, petrol engine variants, and many others were produced.
Engine and Suspension
Propulsion was provided by a FIAT Tipo 366 6-cylinder in-line diesel engine. It had overhead valves, with a displacement of 9,365 cm³ and FIAT-produced injectors. The maximum output power was 110 hp at 2,000 rpm on the civil FIAT 666N, the FIAT 666NM for the Regia Aeronautica, and on the FIAT 665NM. The maximum output power on the Regio Esercito’s FIAT 666NM was limited to delivering 95 hp (70.84 Kw) at 1,700 rpm. The Ricardo type direct-injection chamber created lots of problems in the cold Russian steppes, which forced the crews to mix the diesel fuel with gasoline in order to allow the engine to start.
The maximum speed on-road was 48.3 km/h (30 mph) for the power-limited FIAT 666NM, 56.8 km/h for the FIAT 666N and FIAT 666NM and 57 km/h for the FIAT 665 NM. The fuel was kept in a 135 liter tank (255 liters for the FIAT 665NM) located on the right side of the chassis, which offered a 750 km on-road range (465 km for the FIAT 666N).
A FIAT 6-75-2510 diaphragm pump then pumped the fuel into a 5.5-liter tank located behind the cab’s dashboard. This ensured trouble-free feeding thanks to a gravity injection pump. The lubricant oil tank had a capacity of 12 liters, while the water-cooling tank had a capacity of 50 liters.
Air was drawn through two filters mounted at the back of the engine. Up until engine number 000530, they used cartridge filters, after which they were replaced with oil bath filters.
As on the FIAT 626 medium truck, the engine could be extracted through the cab’s front after the removal of the grille thanks to rollers mounted on the two supports of the engine, rolling on guides fixed to the frame.
Brakes and Electric Systems
The single dry plate clutch was connected to the gearbox via a cardan shaft. This could be removed independently of the gearbox and engine simply by removing the rear casing. This meant that maintenance and disassembly were easier.
The transmission, thanks to the reductor, had eight gears and two reverse gears. The drum brakes were hydraulic and had a pedal-operated air brake booster. The compressed air tank, with a capacity of 55 liters, was located on the left of the frame. It had a pressure of 5.5 bar. On the NM version, the rear axle was equipped with a differential.
There was a 12-volt electrical circuit used to power the headlights and dashboard, and a 24-volt circuit for starting the engine. The two 12V Magneti Marelli batteries were housed in a box on the left side of the chassis, behind the air tank.
The cargo bay measured 4.75 meters long by 2.20 meters wide, with a height of 600 mm on the civilian version and 650 mm on the military version. It was designed to carry up to 6 tonnes of cargo but could carry, without much difficulty, an L6/40 light tank (weighing 6.84 tonnes).
The cab had the steering wheel and the driver on the right, while the vehicle’s commander was placed on the left. The cab’s doors opened backwards. Due to the slow production rates, some early FIAT 666NMs were equipped with civilian FIAT 666N cabs.
In spite of its respectable dimensions and its large load capacity, the FIAT 666 heavy-duty truck, with a chassis weight of 1 tonne and about 5 tonnes of additional structure weight, for a total weight of 6 tonnes in the FIAT 666NM variant and 7.2 tonnes in the FIAT 665NM version, could travel at more than 56 km/h with a 12 tonne trailer attached. Fully loaded, it could climb 26º slopes. Thanks to its short wheelbase and cab layout, it was comfortable traveling on mountain roads.
The FIAT 666NM had a wheel rim size of 20 x 8” (50.8 x 20.32 cm). Like the other vehicles, it could use a wide variety of tires developed and produced by the Pirelli company in Milan.
It was considered a short range heavy duty truck. In fact, the companies that bodyworked the chassis never used long cabs with berths inside. The only FIAT vehicle with berths was the FIAT 634N, the first truck in Europe with the possibility to be equipped with two or three berths. As an example, the second company to provide a berth in the cabin was Renault with its three-axle Renault AFKD, with a load capacity of 10 tonnes, which entered service only in 1936. The third was Lancia with the Lancia 3Ro in 1938.
Armored Superstructure, Turret and Internal Structure
The FIAT 666N modifications were carried out by the Arsenale di Piacenza in 1944. Captain Mayer had decided to modify another vehicle after the creation of the XXVIIIª Brigata Nera ‘Pippo Astorri’ (English: 28th Black Brigade) on 25th April 1944. This was because, with the new brigade, the militiamen needed more armored vehicles to support their operations.
Another company that participated in the development of the Arsenale di Piacenza was Officine Carenzi, which carried out the majority of the modifications. It was a small company founded by Giuseppe Carenzi in 1929, specialized in bodyworks for trucks with fuel tanks and the production of cargo trailers. This company, with a few hundred workers, also started the production of ballistic armor plates during the war.
The turret was developed by a German tank crew officer that was assigned by the German command to the Officine Massarenti of Piacenza. His task was to design some rotating coastal cannon platforms. Finishing his work, he started to supervise the work of the company workers, trying to delay his return to the front lines. When the cannon platforms project was quite ready, he tried to delay his return, starting to work on the armored 360° traversing turret for the FIAT 666N. However, it is unclear if he voluntarily proposed himself to design the turret or if it was the Italian command that asked him to work on this project.
A standard FIAT 666N used by Piacenza’s garbage company was requisitioned. This is why it received the nickname ‘Tullòn ‘dla Vërdura’, Piacenza dialect for ‘Vegetable Garbage Can’. The cab and cargo bay were removed, leaving only the chassis, powerpack, seats, and probably the dashboard.
Some armor plates were forged by the Officine Carenzi but, to speed up the production and to save money, Arsenale di Piacenza provided some cannon shields that were welded onto the structure to the small company.
In the books ‘Siamo Ribelli, Storie e Canzoni della Resistenza’ written by Italian author Ermanno Maianai and ‘Italia 43-45, I Blindati di Circostanza della Guerra Civile’ written by Paolo Crippa, it is claimed that the thickness of the armored plates of the FIAT 666N Blindato was 9 mm.
The book ‘…Come il Diamante! I Carristi Italiani 1943-’45’ claims that the armored plates of the armored car were enough to protect the vehicle against 20 mm rounds, becoming virtually invulnerable to the partisan’s light weapons.
It apparently could withstand the 12.7 mm rounds. In fact, on one occasion, the vehicle was hit by several heavy machine bursts and only the radiator and the wheels were damaged, permitting the vehicle to return to Piacenza for repairs.
On the vehicle’s sides were four loopholes through which the crew could see the battlefield and use small arms, such as SMGs and rifles. Two cylindrical supports were also mounted on each side. These were mounted after the delivery, during a visit to the Arsenale di Piacenza. These supports were taken from the Arsenale di Piacenza, which also produced supports and armored pieces for bunkers, or from the Todt Organization which had the task of building bunkers on the Italian peninsula.
These particular supports were probably used for light and medium machine guns. They guaranteed more protection and a higher traverse than the loopholes. Ermanno Maianai also claims that the vehicle had loopholes on the rear side.
The armored driving compartment was connected to the central fighting compartment and the driver and vehicle commander could enter the vehicle through two armored doors that opened forward, as on other vehicles, or through the rear armored door. The forward opening doors guaranteed more protection to the crew in case of an emergency exit from the vehicle.
The turret was cylindrical, with a 360° traverse an unknown depression and elevation. It probably could be elevated enough to engage flying targets, like the Lancia 3Ro produced a few months after.
The main armament was a Breda heavy machine gun of aeronautical origin, probably recovered from Arsenale di Piacenza. Due to the homemade design and production, the vehicle lacked a coaxial machine gun.
The rear of the vehicle had an armored door for access to the central fighting compartment. At least 8 fully equipped militiamen could be transported on the rear of the vehicle, but this number was probably higher.
As an example, the Lancia 3Ro Blindato of the XXXVIª Brigata Nera ‘Natale Piacentini’ of Piacenza could transport at least 8 militiamen plus its crew of 7 soldiers. The FIAT 666N Blindato probably had a crew composed of four soldiers; the commander was placed on the left of the armored cab while the driver was on the right. The front of the armored car was well angled to deflect enemy bullets. The two crew members placed in the driving compartment had two openable loopholes for driving and surveying the battlefield.
The rest of the crew was composed of a gunner that manned the heavy machine gun in the turret and probably a loader that handed the magazines to the gunner seated in the turret and to the machine gunner on the sides.
For the militiamen transported in the vehicle, some wooden benches were probably placed along the sides. Four of them operated the lateral machine guns while four more could open fire through the loopholes.
The vehicle was painted in a three tone-camouflage, the most common painted by the RSI forces called Continentale (English: Continental). It had a Kaki Sahariano base with reddish-brown and dark green spots painted on it. Unfortunately, from the only photo available, it is impossible to identify numbers or symbols painted on the sides. In fact, many improvised armored vehicles used by Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana received the symbols of the cities where they were created on the sides. In the case of Piacenza, the symbol was a female wolf.
An interesting method used by the Repubblica Sociale Italiana’ soldiers to empathize with the resistance of their improvised armored cars was to paint a white ring around bullet hits. Even if the existing photo of the vehicle was taken in August 1944, less than a month after the delivery, as many as 6 or 7 rings are clearly visible.
The main armament of the FIAT 666N Blindato was a 12.7 x 81 SR mm Breda-SAFAT developed by Società Italiana Ernesto Breda per Costruzioni Meccaniche of Brescia and produced in collaboration with SAFAT or Società Anonima Fabbrica Armi Torino (English: Anonymous Company Arms Factory Turin).
It was developed as an aeronautical heavy machine gun from the 7,7 × 56 mm R (Italian designation for the .303 British) FIAT Modello 1928 medium machine gun but rechambered for the 12.7 x 81 SR mm cartridge. After the First World War, FIAT began the development of new light, squad, heavy and aeronautical machine guns. The problem is that FIAT was a company that produced motor vehicles, its technicians were mechanics, not gunsmiths, so the production of machine guns was a burden for it. On 25 March 1930 FIAT sold to Breda all the patents and the SAFAT factory of Corso Dante 35 in Turin.
It was accepted into service after tests in 1935 and was produced until the end of the war by Breda, SAFAT and other small arms factories.
It had a total weight of 29 kg, 5 kg less than the 12.7 mm FIAT machine gun. The Breda-SAFAT had a rate of fire of 700 rounds per minute and its muzzle velocity was 765 m/s with standard bullets.
In addition to the classic full metal jacket bullet, the weapon could fire tracer, perforating, explosive-incendiary, and explosive-incendiary-tracer (or multi-effect) rounds.
The side machine gun models are unknown. In the only existing photo, the machine guns are not mounted, so it is impossible to distinguish their type. It was probably not the Breda Modello 1930 light machine gun. It was the only light support machine gun used by the Italian soldiers and was universally known for being an unreliable machine gun.
The two medium machine guns that were plausibly used were the Mitragliatrice Breda Modello 1937 (English: Breda Model 1937 Machine Gun) and Breda Modello 1938, also used on the similar Lancia 3Ro Blindato.
These were two gas operated machine guns developed by Società Italiana Ernesto Breda per Costruzioni Meccaniche. The Modello 1937 was developed in 1937 as a medium machine gun, while the Modello 1938 was developed in 1938 as a medium machine gun but with modifications to be used on armored vehicles.
They were powerful weapons adopted by the Regio Esercito as a company or battalion supporting heavy machine guns. The Modello 1937 version was the heaviest rifle-caliber machine gun of the Second World War, with a weight of 19.4 kg, while the Modello 1938 weighed 15.4 kg due to the modifications.
The practical rate of fire of the Modello 1937 was about 200-250 rounds per minute and was considered a bit low. The machine gun was fed by 20-round rigid strips loaded from the left side. After firing, instead of ejecting the spent casings like all firearms, the Modello 1937 reinserted them into the rigid strip to facilitate the recovery of reusable spent casings. The Modello 1938 had a practical rate of fire of 350 rounds per minute and was fed by 24-round top curved magazines.
Apart from the different feeding types, the two machine guns had different barrel lengths, 740 mm for the Modello 1937 and 575 mm for the Modello 1938. Another difference was the presence of a pistol-type grip.
The machine guns shot 8 x 59 mm RB cartridges developed by Breda exclusively for them. The 8 mm Breda had a muzzle velocity between 790 m/s and 800 m/s, depending on the round type. The armor-piercing rounds penetrated 11 mm of non-ballistic steel angled to 90° at 100 meters. Unfortunately, the quantity of ammunition transported in the vehicle is unknown and would have largely depended on availability.
The ‘Tullòn ‘dla Vërdura’ was surely deployed after August 1944 by the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico in the flatland area between Fiorenzuola and Castell’Arquato, the south east countryside of Piacenza. This armored behemoth could operate more easily on narrow flat country roads than on hilly roads among vineyards and other crops that characterized the rest of Piacenza’s countryside.
On 3rd August 1944, around 9:00 pm, numerous partisans attacked two different ammunition depots in San Giuseppe and Galleana villages in the suburb of Piacenza. The two garnisons held the line until 11:30 pm, when one of the armored cars of the 630ª Compagnia OP and a company-sized German and Italian force arrived to counterattack, putting the partisans on the run.
On one occasion, the vehicle, during a rescue mission from Piacenza to Fiorenzuola in August 1944, was stopped by 5 or 6 civilians in the village of Fontanafredda. Some hours before, a civilian truck loaded with salt from Genoa was stopped by a partisan car that blocked the street and ordered the men to exit the vehicle. The partisans then went back to the street toward San Protaso with the truck in front of the car.
The fascists decided to change their mission and started a chase with the armored truck. Despite the size of the vehicle, they managed to reach the two partisan vehicles before they reached the village of San Protaso. Some warning bursts were fired from the armored truck. The partisans, unprepared to combat enemy forces, abandoned the vehicles and ran the fields near the street. The fascists recovered the truck, which was returned to the Genoese civilians, while the car was transported to Piacenza and became the staff car of the Perfetto of Piacenza, Alberto Graziani.
During the same days, some militiamen of the GNR of Rivergaro were captured by the partisans and shot on 10th August 1944 near Agazzano, 17 km southwest of Piacenza. The FIAT 666N Blindato was deployed in a liaison mission the day after the shooting to transport the coffins of the eight soldiers to Piacenza.
On 30th August 1944, the soldiers of the XXVIIIª Brigata Nera ‘Pippo Astorri’, along with elements of the Compagnia ‘Baragiotta-Salines’ of the Legione Autonoma Mobile ‘Ettore Muti’ of Milan and an armored car of the 630ª Compagnia OP (model not specified) were engaged in an anti-partisan operation in the sector of Travo in Val Trebbia. While crossing a bridge in Rivergaro, the militiamen of the brigade and the Arditi of the ‘Muti’ were attacked by partisans, who blew up the bridge. The fascist column, taken by surprise and under heavy fire, managed to disengage and return to Piacenza without suffering any losses.
The operation was retried the following day. On this occasion, the Fascist column passed through the village of Piozzano, where it was again attacked by large enemy forces. In the clash that followed, the partisans had eight losses, among which a former Regio Esercito soldier and a former Carabiniere, were captured and shot immediately after the clash. The fascists suffered two deaths among the legionaries of the black brigade, while the Arditi of the ‘Muti’ had one dead and one wounded.
On 10th September 1944, the Provincial Command of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana of Piacenza planned an anti-partisan operation in the town of Castel San Giovanni and surrounding areas.
The armored car section of the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico with an armored car of an unknown model, 1 officer and 12 men participated. Due to the number of militiamen deployed, it is impossible to identify which model of armored car was used in the action. The Ceirano 47CM Blindato could transport 12 soldiers and 2 crew members, but the FIAT 666N Blindato could transport a similar number of soldiers: 4 crew members and at least 8 fully equipped soldiers.
In the anti-partisan operation, two platoons of the Legione Autonoma Mobile ‘Ettore Muti’ with 1 officer and 50 soldiers, an operational nucleus of the Ufficio Politico Investigativo (English: Political Investigation Office) of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana of Piacenza, with 1 officer and 10 police officers, and 2 officers and 50 soldiers of the XXVIIIª Brigata Nera ‘Pippo Astorri’ were also deployed.
During the action, the Arditi of the Legione Autonoma Mobile ‘Ettore Muti’ captured a partisan, who was immediately shoot in the main square of Castel San Giovanni. At the same time, the armored car intercepted a group of partisans on a road, where they were changing a pierced tire on a car. The fascists opened fire, killing one partisan and dispersing the others. The fascists recovered many weapons and ammunition, including some Sten submachine guns that were immediately reused by the militiamen. During the action, about twenty suspects were also stopped and were transported to Piacenza for interrogation. In Castel San Giovanni, a small garrison of the black brigade of Piacenza was constituted. It had about fifty militiamen under the orders of Lieutenant Angelo Montesissa.
In the so called Battle of Ponte dell’Olio (1st October – 6th October 1944), numerous partisan forces attacked the city garrison composed of 65 Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana militiamen and 7 XXVIIIª Brigata Nera ‘Pippo Astorri’ soldiers.
The Ceirano 47CM Blindato and the FIAT 666N Blindato were deployed. Nothing is known about the Ceirano’s service, while the other armored behemoth of the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico was deployed many times to force the partisan roadblock on the street between Piacenza and Ponte dell’Olio, 23 km South of Piacenza, to deliver food and ammunition to the besieged fascists.
In the first two days of battle, it forced the roadblock at 2:00 pm on 1st October. The fascists tried to pass at 6:00 pm again, but the partisans, positioned above the small road, threw hand grenades, Molotov cocktails and improvised explosive devices at the vehicle, which was forced to give up.
On 3rd October, the FIAT 666N Blindato began the supply mission at dawn. With the favor of darkness and fog, it managed to deliver food and ammunition to the besieged garrison. On the road to Ponte dell’Olio, the partisans had dug holes and placed mines to stop the advance of the enormous armored car.
The fascist, noticing the mined road, tried to clear it with two oxen pulling a harrow, but the system did not work and two militiamen detonated the mines by throwing hand grenades onto the road. The armored truck arrived at the garrison without other problems.
On the way back, when the FIAT 666N Blindato went out of the village, crossing the bridge over the river Nure, it was ambushed. The partisans used a 12.7 mm heavy machine gun, damaging the radiator and piercing the tires, temporarily stopping it on the bridge.
After a short time, the engine restarted and the armored behemoth slowly restarted its way to Piacenza.
The Officine Carenzi of Piacenza repaired the vehicle, replacing the radiator and the wheel rims, damaged by the weight of the vehicle that had traveled several kilometers with pierced tires.
The work of the Officine Carenzi was excellent and the vehicle was operational again in no more than a couple of days. In fact, on 6th October 1944, it participated in the final fascist counterattack.
The Repubblica Sociale Italiana’s forces were composed of about 160 militiamen of the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico, of XXVIIIª Brigata Nera ‘Pippo Astorri’ militiamen and vehicles of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’. The FIAT 666N Blindato, an L6/40 light reconnaissance tank, an autoprotetta (probably a SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotetta), two Škoda 7.5 cm Vz. 1915 guns (in Italy know as Obici da 75/13 Modello 1915), a 47 mm Cannone da 47/32 and two mortars took part in the action.
After a fight that put the partisans on the run, the fascists, divided into two different columns, entered the village, but too late. The local secretary of the Partito Fascista Repubblicano (English: Republican Fascist Party) had decided to surrender to the partisans the day before, on 5th October, fearing that the partisans might retaliate against the civilians.
All the garrison members (apart from three members of the black brigade that escaped) were taken prisoner and transported to a partisan prison camp.
On 21st October 1944, an armored car of unknown model was deployed by some elements of the ‘Pippo Astorri’ Black Brigade in retaliation for a partisan ambush on the previous day. The fascists probably attacked on their own initiative and killed the owner of the house from which the partisans opened fire the day before. This was an old lady and they then stole some food from her house.
On 2nd November 1944, the Provincial Command of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana of Piacenza organized a vast anti-partisan operation in the area between the Strada Statale 9, usually called ‘Via Emilia’ because it was built on the old Roman-era road, the Po River and the Nure and Chiavenna streams.
The Repubblica Sociale Italiana units that took part in the operation were the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico with 3 officers and 60 militiamen, the Sezione Autoblindo of the same unit with an armored car, 1 officer and 9 men, a squad of the Compagnia della Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana Territoriale (Eng: Company of the Territoriale National Republican Guard) with 1 officer and 15 legionnaires, some units of the two companies of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ with a tank and 3 soldiers and a squad of the Ufficio Politico Investigativo of the GNR with 1 officer and 10 police officers.
The Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano also took part in the action with 4 officers and 50 soldiers and one of the two companies of the XXVIIIª Brigata Nera ‘Pippo Astorri’ with 4 officers and 70 militias. The operation, which ended the same day, was a total failure. The soldiers managed to kill only one partisan and wounded a second one during a whole day of patrols in a territory under partisan control. The fascist forces also stopped several civilians who had taken refuge in the mountains to escape compulsory enlistment in the RSI armies or to escape forced enlistment as workers in wartime factories.
During the vast anti-guerrilla operation, code-named Operation Heygendorf, which took place in the last ten days of November in the Apennines, between the provinces of Piacenza, Pavia and Genoa, a large nucleus of the Piacenza’s black brigade was deployed under the orders of Vice Commander Barera, who was part of the Gruppo di Combattimento Piacenza (English: Piacenza’s Combat Group), under the orders of Major Kraus, together with the Black Brigade of Lucca and the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico. The soldiers were supported by an armored vehicle of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana.
This heterogeneous force occupied Rivergaro on 24th November 1944, despite a violent barrage of mortars and 47 mm Cannoni da 47/32 placed on the left bank of the Trebbia river that caused the wounding of a single soldier.
From Rivergaro, the Gruppo di Combattimento Piacenza then went up the Trebbia Valley where almost all the towns in the area in the hands of the partisans were reoccupied and where two hundred Italian and German soldiers, prisoners of the partisan brigades, were also freed.
After 14th January 1945, the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico was aggregated for a few weeks to the Gruppo di Combattimento ‘Bicci’, composed of elements of the XIVª Brigata Nera ‘Alberto Alfieri’ (English: 14th Black Brigade) of Voghera, and the Sicherheitsabteilung (English: Security Unit), an Italian police unit with German name at the command of the German 162. Infanterie-Division ‘Turkistan’. The Gruppo di Combattimento ‘Bicci’ stormed the area of Stradella in the Oltrepò Pavese region.
On 11th March 1945, the Ceirano 47CM Blindato was damaged during an air attack and then captured by the partisans.
The FIAT 666N Blindato was deployed until April 1945 when, on an unclear day, the vehicle was attacked by an Allied aircraft.
While the driver was trying to avoid the aerial attack, the vehicle skidded and ended up with its wheels in a ditch on the side of the ground, tipping over. Trying to get back on the road, the vehicle was “damaged beyond repair”. The suspension or an axle shaft had probably broken.
Between summer 1944 and late 1944, the FIAT 666N Blindato was virtually unstoppable against the partisans, causing numerous losses to the Italian patriots that tried to free the Italian peninsula. Despite its weight and size, it was a fairly maneuverable vehicle and faster than a tank. Its armor plates were thick enough to protect some parts of the vehicle from heavy machine-gun fire, protecting the crew inside.
It was also thanks to this vehicle that the fascists were able to impose themselves in the Piacenza area, avoiding being overwhelmed by the partisans before April 1945.
Obviously, in spite of its merits, the improvised armored car on a FIAT chassis was not without its faults. Probably because of the weight of the armored superstructure and the load it carried, it was constantly under stress, causing the mechanical parts to wear out more quickly. In spite of this, on 3rd October 1944, it was able to run about 20 km on its way back to Piacenza for the necessary repairs.
At the end of April 1945, the partisan units attacked the city, forcing the last Nazi-Fascist units to flee towards the north. Some members of the various fascist units mentioned managed to cross the Po River, while others were taken prisoner.
After the surrender of the fascist forces, the partisans drew up a list of drivers and commanders of the improvised armored cars and went to look for them in the prison camps in the provinces of Piacenza and Lodi.
Four were found, taken, brought to Piacenza and shot in revenge for all the comrades killed. The commander of the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico, Captain Mayer, managed to disappear.
|FIAT 666N Blindato Specification|
|Size (L-W-H)||~ 8 x ~ 2.4 x ~ 4 m|
|Weight, battle ready||approximately ~ 12 tonnes|
|Crew||4 (commander, driver, gunner and loader) + probably 6 or more militiamen|
|Engine||FIAT Tipo 366 9,365 cm³, 95 hp at 1,700 rpm with 135 liter tank|
|Speed||~ 35 km/h|
|Range||~ 400 km|
|Armament||a 12.7 mm Breda-SAFAT and 4 medium machine guns|
|Production||one converted from pre-existing vehicle|
Piacenza nella Resistenza – Giorgio Cassinari – TEP Edizioni, 2004
Le forze armate della RSI 1943-1945 – Luca Stefano Cristini – Soldiershop Publishing, Soldiers & Weapons 022, September 2016
…Come il Diamante! I Carristi Italiani 1943-’45 – Sergio Corbatti and Marco Nava – Laran Editions, May 2008
Le Brigate Nere: Una Documentazione Struttura – Organigrammi – Operazioni 2^ Edizione – Leonardo Sandri – E-book
Gli Autoveicoli tattici e logistici del Regio Esercito Italiano fino al 1943, Tomo Primo and Tomo Secondo – Nicola Pignato and Filippo Cappellano – Ufficio Storico dello Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito, 2005
Siamo Ribelli, Storie e Canzoni della Resistenza – Ermanno Maianai – Selene Edizioni, 2007
Le armi della fanteria italiana 1919-1945 – Nicola Pignato and Filippo Cappellano – Storia Militare, 2008