Categories
WW2 RSI Armor

FIAT 666N Blindato

Italian Social Republic (1944-1945)
Improvised Armored Truck – 1 Converted

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.

Context

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.

A Ceirano 47CM medium truck. Source: wikipedia.org

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.

Design

FIAT 666N

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.

One of the brochures of the FIAT 666N heavy-duty truck. Source: ebay.com

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.

Post-war FIAT 666N was used by the transport company ‘Corriere dei Fiori’ which transported flowers from Sanremo to other parts of Italy every day. The truck towed a 12 tonnes trailer which used to belong to another company and on the waterproof tarpaulin there is still the name of the old company. Source: corrieredeifiori.it

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.

Civilian FIAT 666N prototype at the FIAT Mirafiori plant. Source: FIAT Archives

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.

The FIAT Mirafiori plant in Turin. Photo taken in early 1940s by a Regia Aeronautica pilot. Source: panorama.com

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.

FIAT 666NM-RE with civilian cab. Sources: Archivio FIAT

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.

A FIAT 666N in service with the Wehrmacht after the Armistice. This exemplar had the German license plate WL-3914*5 and a particular skull on the front. Source: photo from an e-shop

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.

FIAT 665NM 4×4 outside of the FIAT Mirafiori plant. It is interesting to notice that it is in Kaki Sahariano desert camouflage and that it has Pirelli Tipo ‘Libia’ tires for desert soils, even if it was never used in North Africa. Source: Archivio FIAT

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.

FIAT Tipo 366 with cartridge filters. Source: italie1935-45.com

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.

FIAT 666N chassis. The powerpack, fuel tank and air tank are clearly visible. Source: italie1935-45.com

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.

The battery box of the FIAT 666NM. Also visible are the air tank on the left and the fuel tank on the other side. Source: Archivio FIAT

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.

Structure

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.

FIAT 666NM in standard configuration. Interesting to note the presence of racks on the roof for the personal weapons of the crew. Source: pinterest.com

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.

The FIAT 666N Protetto of the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico parked in the parade ground of the Caserma Paride Biselli of Via Beverora 54 in August 1944. Near the armored behemoth, there is the smaller Ceirano 47CM Blindato. Source: beutepanzer.ru

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.

Armament

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.

A 12.7 mm Breda-SAFAT operated by Airport Guards or Reparti Anti Paracadutisti (English: Anti Paratrooper Departments) of the Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana (English: National Republican Air Force) near Cernobbio in Northern Italy. It was an aeronautical machine gun, probably belonging to a late production Savoia-Marchetti S.M. 79M. This can be seen by the particular flame breaker on the barrel. Source: miles.forumcommunity.net

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 same Breda-SAFAT from the previous photo. The improvised tripod and sight built by the ENR soldiers are visible. In the background, an OTO Modello 1935 hand grenade wooden crate is clearly visible. Source: miles.forumcommunity.net

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.

The Lancia 3Ro Blindato with its armored trailer Rimorchio Unificato Viberti da 15T of the XXXVIª Brigata Nera ‘Natale Piacentini’ in Via Manzoni, Milan. The Lancia 3Ro was armed with one Modello 1937 machine-gun on a spherical front mount, two Modello 1938s on spherical mounts on the sides of the vehicle and finally a Cannone-Mitragliera Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini da 20/70 Modello 1939 in the turret. On these vehicles, there are tens of white rings. Source: pinterest.com

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.

A Breda Modello 1937 with its 18.8 kg tripod. The 20-round rigid strip is clearly visible. Source: associazionenazionalefantiarresto.it

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.

A Breda Modello 1938 medium machine gun. It was developed only to be used on armored vehicles. Source: dandbmilitaria.com

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.

Operational use

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.

Conclusion

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 in Repubblica Sociale Italiana Service. Illustration made by Godzila.
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
Armor not specified
Production one converted from pre-existing vehicle

Sources

Comuni e loro Popolazione ai Censimenti dal 1861 al 1951 – Istituto Centrale di Statistica della Repubblica Italiana – E-book

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

resistenzamappe.it

gracpiacenza.com

…Come il Diamante! I Carristi Italiani 1943-’45 – Sergio Corbatti and Marco Nava – Laran Editions, May 2008

Italia 43-45, I Blindati di Circostanza della Guerra Civile – Paolo Crippa – Tankmaster Special. Italian and English editions Volume 4, July 2014

36^ Brigata Nera “Natale Piacentini”: Una Documentazione – Leonardo Sandri – E-book

28^ Brigata Nera “Pippo Astorri”: una Documentazione – Leonardo Sandri – E-book

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

Gli Autoveicoli del Regio Esercito nella Seconda Guerra Mondiale – Nicola Pignato – Storia Militare, December 1997

Ruote in divisa, I veicoli militari italiani 1900-1987 – Brizio Pignacca – Giorgio Nada Editore, 1989

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

Categories
WW2 RSI Armor

Improvised Armored Truck of the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’

Italian Social Republic (1944-1945)
Improvised Armored Truck – 1 Converted

An improvised armored truck, built on an unknown chassis and used by the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ (English: 1st Black Brigade) of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI (English: Italian Social Republic) after November 1944 was one of the dozens of armored vehicles produced by the RSI units.

Nothing is known about the original chassis or its service, and only two photos of the vehicle exist.

The Repubblicana Sociale Italiana creation and its situation

After the end of the North African Campaign with the defeat of the Axis troops in May 1943, the popular discontent with Fascism in Italy 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, which almost immediately tried to organize an armistice with the Allied powers.

On 8th 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. They were left completely unaware of the situation.

The Germans launched Fall Achse (English: Operation Axis), which lasted from the 8th of September to the 23rd of September 1943, occupying all the territories under Italian control in Italy, including the northern and central part of the Italian peninsula in the hands of the Axis forces.

Mussolini was freed from a secret prison on 12th September 1943 by a task force of Fallschirmjäger 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 23rd 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 (English: National Republican Guard), its military police.

Apart from some well-equipped and trained units, most 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 Black Brigades

The necessity of small units located in the small cities of Italy as garrisons to stop partisan formations was great. To cover this, Alessandro Pavolini, the secretary of the Partito Fascista Repubblicano (English: National Fascist Party), proposed the creation of a paramilitary corp at the dependencies of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana to the Italian dictator, the so-called Brigate Nere (English: Black Brigades).

The reason for the constitution of the Black Brigades was to preserve the life and property of the republican fascists. Additionally, to constitute auxiliary units, well-rooted in the territory where they operated (most of the members were born and lived in the cities where they operated) used in the fight against the partisans.

During their existence, the Black Brigades were also used to help bigger units in anti-partisan operations, maintain public order in the cities and prevent partisan sabotage against important city targets.

On 26 June 1944, Mussolini approved the Decreto Legislativo Numero 446-XXII (English: legislative decree no. 446-22), which Pavolini had proposed. The Roman numeral XXII signified 1944 documentation because it was the 22nd year of the fascist government in Italy.

This order constituted the Corpo Ausiliario delle Squadre d’Azione delle Camicie Nere (English: Auxiliary Corps of the Action Squads of the Black Shirts), simply known as the ‘Brigate Nere’ (English: Black Brigades), under the control of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana.

On 5 July 1944, Pavolini sent a 5-point circular to the commanders of the Black Brigades that were in the process of being constituted. It indicated the order of battle of the territorial brigades as consisting of a Brigade Command, composed of the Commander, Vice Commander, Chief of Staff, Operations Office, Information Office, Office of Personnel and Discipline, Materials Office, Administrative Office, Office Assistance-Propaganda and Press, Health Service. The Brigade Command had at its disposal three battaglioni (English: battalions), each with about 320 militiamen divided into a command and three regular compagnie (English: companies).

Each company, with 105 militiamen, was divided into a command and three regular squadre (English: squads), which consisted of a squad commander and 33 men. Each squad was divided into three nuclei composed of 11 men, including the nucleus commander. Pavolini’s circular also provided that each brigade would receive the name of a soldier that fell for the cause of Republican Fascism.

Only two Black Brigades out of about 60 created received factory-built armored fighting vehicles, the Iª Brigata Nera of Turin, with a SPA Dovunque 35 Blindato, and the XIIIª Brigata Nera ‘Marcello Turchetti’ of Mantova, with an obsolete M11/39 requisitioned from a tank crew training school.

The other brigades were equipped with trucks (of military or civil origin) that they used as transport vehicles or that they armored themselves or in civilian workshops. These improvised armored trucks were meant to help them on anti-partisan patrols or to escort columns of trucks loaded with military equipment or food.

Some examples of improvised armored vehicles used during the Italian Civil War, which broke out during the last two years of the Second World War, were the Lancia 3Ro Blindato of the XXXVI° Brigata Nera ‘Natale Piacentini’ (English: 36th Black Brigade) and (even if not used by a Black Brigade) the FIAT 666N Blindato of the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico of Piacenza (English: 630th Public Order Company).

The 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’

After the announcement of the creation of the Brigate Nere in early July 1944, many militiamen loyal to Mussolini and his ideology arrived in the Caserma (English: Barrack) Vittorio Emanuele Dabormida in Corso Stupinigi (now Corso Unione Sovietica) in Turin. On 7th July 1944, the 1ª Brigata Nera, also known as Iª Brigata Nera (with Roman numerals), was created.

The soldiers were volunteers from other units near Turin. After the armistice, they had remained without command and were employed as police officers in Turin or the countryside. Other former Regio Esercito soldiers from other fronts had returned to their houses in Turin after the armistice and joined up, also accompanied by young fascists without military training but loyal to Mussolini and his ideology.

The unit was located until September 1944 at the Caserma Giuseppe Arimondi in Via Verdi, in Turin. Then it was moved to the Caserma Cernaia in Via Cernaia, renamed by the brigade into the Caserma Luigi Riva after the Secretary of the Partito Fascista Repubblicano, Comandante del Fascio Luigi Riva. He had been killed in a truck during a partisan ambush on 30th October 1943 on the road between Borgone di Susa and Turin, returning, together with a dozen of militiamen, from checking the damage done to the fascist headquarters in Borgone di Susa, which the partisans had vandalized.

Members of the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ during a parade in Turin.Other Turin’s Repubblica Sociale Italiana units probably took part in the parade. Source: spazioinwind.libero.it

The 1st Black Brigade, like the other black brigades, received the name of a fascist killed by the partisans. The fascist from which the unit took its name was Ather Capelli, born in Ferrara in 1902. He was a great supporter of the fascist ideology and participated in the March on Rome (a fascist march on Rome leading to Mussolini’s political party coming to power in Italy) in October 1922. He became a journalist before enlistment as a volunteer for the Ethiopian War of 1935, where he was badly wounded.

At the start of the Second World War, his request to re-enlist in the Regio Esercito was refused due to war wounds. He continued his journalist career and, on 20th September 1943, became director of the ‘Gazzetta del Popolo’ of Turin (originally founded as a liberal and anti-clerical paper in the 19th century this was, by the end of the 1920s, an avowedly fascist-party-supporting paper). After 17th January 1944, he was also director of the weekly ‘Illustrazione del Popolo’, part of the ‘Gazzetta del Popolo’.

Capelli was killed in Turin on 31 March 1944 by a commando of the partisan Gruppi di Azione Patriottica or GAP (English: Patriotic Action Groups) while he was returning home from work. Giuseppe Bravin and Giovanni Pesce (a famous Italian Communist Partisan leader) were the partisans who ambushed and killed him. In retaliation, on 2nd April 1944, five prisoners held in fascist prisons were shot without trial on a nearby street.

On 25th August 1944, the creation of the unit ended. The Black Brigade was commanded, like the other black brigades, by the city’s Federale (English: Federal), in this case, Turin’s Federale Giuseppe Solaro.

It was originally composed of two battalions. The I° Battaglione (English: 1st Battalion) commanded by Major Alberto Villa had in its composition the 1ª Compagnia Mobile (English: 1st Mobile Company) commanded by Captain Carlo Orsini, the 2ª Compagnia (English: 2nd Company) commanded by Captain Alfredo Maestroni and the 3ª Compagnia (English: 3rd Company) commanded by Captain Aldo Giacone.

The II° Battaglione (English: 2nd Battalion), under the command of Major Placido Tiseo, had in its composition the Squadra d’Azione ‘Torresi’ (English: Action Squad) and Squadra d’azione ‘Albarella’ of the Compagnia ‘EIAR’ (English: EIAR Company), composed of a couple dozens of militiamen that defended Turin and Milan’s Ente Italiano per le Audizioni Radiofoniche or EIAR (English: Italian Body for Radio Broadcasting) buildings. The Compagnia ‘EIAR’ was commanded by Captain Cesare Rivelli.

In Turin, the Squadra d’Azione ‘Torresi’ was located in Via Arsenale 21, where the leadership of the EIAR was placed, and in Via Montebello 12, where the production studios were located.

The 4ª Compagnia (English: 4th Company) was assigned to the II° Battaglione, commanded by Captain Giovanni Consiglio. In total, the unit was composed, on 25th August 1944, of over 569 Black Shirt militiamen and auxiliaries.

Table 1: 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ units until December 1944

1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ units until December 1944
Name Commander Place Number of soldiers
Comando di Brigata Federale Giuseppe Solaro Turin 23 officers, 40 NCOs
Compagnia Comando Capitano Alessandro Sapey Turin
Daily Press “La Riscossa” Direttore Lorenzo Tealdy Turin
I° Battaglione Maggiore Alberto Villa Turin 360 soldiers
1ª Compagnia Mobile Capitano Carlo Orsini Turin 129 soldiers
2ª Compagnia Capitano Alfredo Maestroni Turin 105 soldiers
3ª Compagnia Capitano Aldo Giacone Turin 126 soldiers
II° Battaglione Maggiore Placido Tiseo ? //
4ª Compagnia Capitano Giovanni Consiglio Turin
Presidio di Pinerolo Tenente Spirito Novena Pinerolo 25 soldiers
Presidio di Buriasco Buriasco
Presidio di Chieri Tenente Giuseppe Carbone Chieri 96 soldiers
Compagnia ‘EIAR’ Capitano Cesare Rivelli Turin
Squadra d’Azione ‘Torresi’ Tenente Vincenzo Mortillaro di Ciantro Turin 41 soldiers
Squadra d’Azione ‘Albarella’ Tenente Ventimiglia Milan
Total // Over 600 soldiers

With the continuation of the war and the influx of new voluntary recruits and guns, the unit was reorganized in December 1944. The I° Battaglione, commanded by Major Alberto Villa (after 6th March 1945, commanded by Major Alfredo Maestroni) now had the 1ª Compagnia, which had changed its name, commanded by Major Placido Tiseo, the 2ª Compagnia commanded by Captain Alfredo Maestroni, substituted in March 1945 by Captain Victor Risso and the 3ª Compagnia commanded by Captain Giuseppe Motta.

The II° Battaglione, under the command of Major Pagnini, had in its composition the Squadra d’Azione ‘Torresi’ of the Compagnia ‘EIAR’, commanded by Captain Mario Porta (Squadra d’Azione ‘Albarella’ was assigned in late 1944 to the VIIIª Brigata Nera ‘Aldo Resega’ of Milan), the 4ª Compagnia commanded by Captain Duodero, the 5ª Compagnia commanded by Captain Antonio Rubatto and 6ª Compagnia commanded by Captain Spirito Novena until 28th February 1945, after which Captain Umberto Ragona substituted him. In total, on 30th March 1945, the unit was comprised of a thousand Black Shirts, militiamen, and auxiliaries.

On 2nd April 1945, Turin’s new Federale, Mario Pavia, took over the command of the Black Brigade, because Federale Giuseppe Solaro was promoted Ispettore Regionale per le Brigate Nere (English: Regional Inspector of the Black Brigades) in Piemonte. He left the Black Brigade’s command on 23 April 1945, two days before the Great Partisan Insurrection of 25 April that would free the main Italian cities from Fascist and Nazi control before the Allied armies arrived.

The vice-commander of the unit was Lieutenant Colonnello Lorenzo Tealdy, also director of the daily newspaper ‘La Riscossa’ that dealt with topics of the fascist unions in Turin and articles on the activities of the unit.

In December 1944, the Compagnia Armi Appoggio (English: Support Gun Company) was also created under the command of Captain Luigi Rey di Villerey with some armored vehicles and support guns. A new addition was also the Gruppo d’Azione Giovanile (English: Group of Young Action), also known as Compagnia ‘Balilla’. During its operational life, from mid-1944 to April 1945, the black brigade also created the Presidio di Santena (English: Garrison of Santena) in Santena, about 15 km from Turin. It was active from September to October 1944. The Presidio di Caramagna Piemonte, about 32 km from Turin, was composed of 12 Black Shirts but, at an unspecified date (before 1945), it was assigned to the Iª Brigata Nera Mobile ‘Vittorio Rocciarelli’ of Milan. The same fate be fell the Presidio di Carmagnola under Lieutenant Michele Rizzi, the Presidio di Cavallermaggiore and the Presidio di Racconigi of Captain Fortunato Troini, all reassigned to the Iª Brigata Nera Mobile.

Other garrisons were the Presidio di Moncalieri, a couple of kilometers from Turin, the Presidio di Leinì about 12 km from Turin and assigned to the II° Battaglione, the Presidio di Venaria, part of the conurbation of Turin, with 12 militiamen and an NCO under 3ª Compagnia’s command, and the Presidio di Ulzio, about 67 km from Turin, created on 25th August 1944 under command of Lieutenant Elio Triola and then Lieutenant Giovanni Ancillotti, assigned to the II° Battaglione.

Tabel 2: 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ units from December 1944 to early 1945

1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ units from December 1944 to early 1945
Name Commander Place Number of soldiers
Comando di Brigata Federale Giuseppe Solaro Turin 23 officers, 40 NCOs
Compagnia Comando Capitano Alessandro Sapey Turin
Daily Press “La Riscossa” Direttore Lorenzo Tealdy Turin
Compagnia Armi Appoggio Capitano Luigi Rey di Villerey Turin 3 officers, 4 NCOs and ~100 soldiers
Compagnia Deposito Capitano Guglielmo Gianoglio Turin
Gruppo d’Azione Giovanile also known as Compagnia ‘Balilla’ Sottotenente Tullio De Chiffre Turin
Servizio Sanitario Capitano Luigi Starace Turin 3 nurses and 2 auxiliaries
Servizio Ausiliario Femminile Tenente Anna Maria Bardia Turin
Presidio di Moncalieri Moncalieri
I° Battaglione Maggiore Alberto Villa Turin
1ª Compagnia Mobile Maggiore Placido Tiseo Turin
2ª Compagnia Capitano Alfredo Maestroni Turin
3ª Compagnia Capitano Giuseppe Motta Turin
Presidio di Venaria Venaria 1 NCO and 12 soldiers
II° Battaglione Maggiore Pagnini //
4ª Compagnia Capitano Duodero Turin
5ª Compagnia Capitano Antonio Rubatto Chivasso
6ª Compagnia Capitano Spirito Novena Pinerolo ~100 militiamen
Presidio di Chieri Tenente Giuseppe Carbone Chieri
Presidio di Leinì Leinì
Presidio di Ulzio Tenente Elio Triola Ulzio
Compagnia or Presidio di Pinerolo Pinerolo 5 officers, 87 NCOs and militiamen and 5 auxiliaries
Compagnia ‘EIAR’ Capitano Cesare Rivelli Turin
Squadra d’Azione ‘Torresi’ Capitano Mario Porta Turin 41 soldiers
Notes Unfortunately the irregular nature of the units, and the poor record keeping that exact numbers are not known for many of the sub units.
Total // Over 1,000 soldiers

The Italian writer Marco Nava, in his book ‘1^ Brigata Nera “Ather Capelli”: Una documentazione’, mentions that the Compagnia Armi Appoggio had in its ranks an improvised armored car on unspecified chassis, a SPA Dovunque 35 Blindato, four 81 mm mortars, a 45 mm mortar, 2 Cannoni-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935s and 2 Cannoni da 47/32 Modello 1935s, about 100 militiamen, 4 NCOs and 3 officers: Lieutenant Pessot, Lieutenant Grindato, and the company commander, Captain Luigi Rey di Villerey.

The Comando di Brigata and Compagnia Comando, all the I° Battaglione, the 4ª Compagnia of the II° Battaglione, Compagnia Armi Appoggio were positioned in Turin at the Caserma Luigi Riva in Via Cernaia. The Gruppo d’Azione Giovanile was headquartered in Turin in Via Ettore Muti (Now Via Gagliani), in the Casa Littoria.

The Squadra d’Azione ‘Torresi’ of the Compagnia ‘EIAR’ was deployed to protect the radio buildings in Turin. The 5ª Compagnia was placed as a garrison in Chivasso, in the Caserma del Distretto Militare (English: Military District Barrack). The 6ª Compagnia was placed in the Casa Littoria in Pinerolo. It was the former 4ª Compagnia that was renamed after December 1944.

Table 3: 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ unit equipment on 30th August 1945

1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ unit equipment on 30th August 1945
Name Type Deployed In the armory Unusable Total Number Ammunition
Machine guns
FIAT-Revelli Mod. 14/35 Medium machine gun 3 3 17,200 rounds
Breda Mod. 1930 Light machine gun 3 3 2,280 rounds
St. Étienne mod. 1907 Medium machine gun 1 1 11,500 rounds
SubMachine Guns (SMGs) and pistols
MAB SMGs 16 1 17 9,440 rounds in the armory
SMGs
Sten SMGs 4 4
“Parabellum SMG” SMGs 1
“Greek and Yugoslavian SMGs” SMGs 2
7 9 16
Revolvers 48 8 56 2,505 rounds in the armory
Automatic pistols 29 3 32
Very Signal gun 2 1 3 776 rounds
Rifles and carabines
Sniper rifle 1 1
Moschetti Cavalleria TS 6.5 mm Rifle 54 1 7 62 18,915 rounds
Moschetti Alpini Mod. 91 Rifle 18 1 1 20
Fucili Mod. 91 Rifle 31 5 36 18,915 rounds
Fucili Mod. 41 Rifle 34 130 2 066
Fucile Mod. 37 6.5 mm Rifle 54 22 10 86 18,915 rounds
Fucile Mod. 38 7.35 mm Rifle 235 10 11 256 17,058 rounds
Fucile Cavalleria 7.35 mm Rifle 2 5 7 17,058 rounds
Steyr Rifles Rifle 14 4 18
Explosives
German hand grenades Hand grenade 2 38 120 without percussor 160
OTO Hand Grenade 72 38 110
Mine crates 41 41
Dynamite 9 kg in the armory
Heavy armament (in January 1945)
Mortaio da 81 Mod. 35 81 mm mortar 4 4 87 rounds
Brixia Mod. 35 45 mm mortar 1 1 Not present in the armory
Cannone da 20/65 Mod. 35* 20 mm automatic cannon 2 2 Not specified
Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 35* 47 mm support gun 2 2 Not specified
Note * These guns were deployed by the unit from January 1945

About the trucks in service with the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’, not much is known. The sources claim that, on 28th July 1944, the unit captured a Bianchi medium truck (model not specified, probably a Bianchi Miles) and a Lancia 3Ro heavy-duty truck in a surprise attack against the partisans. The communist units tried to steal military equipment from freight cars loaded with fascist equipment in the Bagnolo Piemonte train station. Cpt led the fascist attack. Spirito Novena was, at the time, commander of the Presidio di Buriasco (30 km from Turin) and the 16 militiamen-strong ‘Squadra Fantasma’ (English: Phantom Team) that managed to kill 12 partisans and wound another 20. Marco Nava also claims that the Compagnia Armi Appoggio was also equipped with an improvised armored personnel carrier on the FIAT 1100 car chassis.

Members of the ‘Squadra Fantasma’ of the Presidio di Beinasco. The name of the unit was written on the flag. Source: spazioinwind.libero.it

According to an article on the Black Brigade written by Italian author Paolo Crippa on the website zimmerit.com, the 1st Black Brigade was also equipped with a FIAT 626 medium truck.

In the book ‘1^ Brigata Nera “Ather Capelli”: Una documentazione’, the deployment of a column of vehicles of the Black Brigade “consisting of three trucks and two cars” is mentioned on 6th March 1945. This was for an anti-partisan operation during which at least 18 militiamen of the brigade were killed and probably some vehicles were lost.

A Lancia 3Ro exits the Caserma Luigi Riva in Via Cernaia. The militiamen have hung the name of the Black Brigade on the right, above the windows. It was probably the one captured from the partisans on 28th July 1944.
On board were the coffins of some of the militiamen who died in the previous days during a firefight with the partisans. Source: spazioinwind.libero.it
The coffins of the militiamen who died in a partisan attack are transported on two Lancia 3Ro and a FIAT 626 trucks in Via Roma in Turin. This was probably the same column of vehicles as in the photo above. If that is true, this is the FIAT 626 of the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’. Source: pinterest.com

From photographic evidence, it is known that the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ was also equipped with some motorcycles and a 1-tonne Autocarretta OM light lorry, probably used to tow the artillery pieces of the Black Brigade.

Part of the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ equipment lined up on the Caserma Luigi Riva’s parade ground. From left to right, there is an Autocarretta produced by OM, in front of it a pair of Cannoni da 47/32 Modello 1935 and a Cannone-Mitragliera Breda 20/65 Modello 1935, a SPA Dovunque 35, the improvised armored car and two motorcycles. Source: spazioinwind.libero.it

Design

In Northern and Central Italy, which were controlled by the Axis, German and Italian troops had about 1,000 trucks in service. These were insufficient, considering that the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano and the Wehrmacht counted about 600,000 soldiers. Few trucks were delivered to Italian units, which, in most cases, tried to compensate by capturing others from partisans or requisitioning civilian trucks.

None of the existing sources mention on which chassis the improvised armored car was built. The Black Brigade had in its ranks a FIAT 626 medium truck and the chassis of the armored car might seem similar to the FIAT 626 chassis at a quick glance.

The FIAT 626 was a cab-over-engine medium truck produced by the FIAT Mirafiori plant in Turin. It was one of the first cab-over-engine trucks of the FIAT company and could not be the chassis under the Iª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’. The armored car seems to be based on a conventional-cab chassis in the few available photos.

FIAT 626NM at the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione during Regio Esercito training. It had a similar shape with the improvised armored car of the Black Brigade, but it was a cab-over-engine truck, while the armored car was on a standard-cab chassis. Source: wikipedia.com

Thus, it is possible it was based on one of the only two other vehicles that we know that the Black Brigade had captured and probably reused, a Lancia 3Ro heavy-duty truck produced by Lancia Veicoli Industriali of Turin or a medium truck produced by Bianchi company of Milan, probably a Bianchi Miles.

Lancia 3Ro NMSP at the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione during Regio Esercito training. As is clearly visible, the vehicle is too large for the dimensions of the improvised armored car of the Black Brigade. Source: italie1935-45.com

The Lancia 3Ro was an enormous vehicle, with a payload capacity of over 6 tonnes and a maximum speed of 45 km/h. It was huge, and it is improbable that the improvised armored car of the ‘Ather Capelli’ Brigade was built on its chassis. To give a comparison, the Lancia 3Ro Blindato of the XXXVI° Brigata Nera ‘Natale Piacentini’ was a colossus that does not match the dimensions of the improvised armored car of the unit.

The Lancia 3Ro Blindato of the XXXVI° Brigata Nera ‘Natale Piacentini’, with its huge shape. The Lancia 3Ro heavy duty truck could not be the chassis for the improvised armored car of the Iª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’. Source: pinterest.com

The last vehicle is the Bianchi medium truck, of which the model is not specified. During the war, Bianchi produced the Mediolanum and Miles. The latter seems more similar to the improvised armored car chassis.

Bianchi Mediolanum at the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione during Regio Esercito training. Source: wikipedia.com
Bianchi Miles at the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione during Regio Esercito training. It probably is the vehicle that the mechanics of the Black Brigade modified into an armored car. Source: italie1935-45.com

Two clues that make the Bianchi Miles chassis hypothesis more plausible. One is the presence of headlights fixed on the engine hood-sides. This system was rarely seen on Italian trucks, which usually had them mounted and connected on the frontal mudguards. On the Bianchi Miles, the headlights were instead connected to the electric circuit through the engine bay sides.

The Bianchi Miles

The Bianchi Miles was a conventional-cab medium truck produced by Fabbrica Automobili e Velocipedi Edoardo Bianchi (English: Edoardo Bianchi Automobiles and Bicycle Factory) in the Desio plant, near Milan, in Lombardia.

The civilian version was produced until the start of the Second World War; while the military version was produced from 1938 to 1943 for the Regio Esercito and from November 1943 to early 1945 for the Germans, who received 90 newly produced vehicles.

Bianchi Miles of the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani (English: Anti-Partisan Regrouping), probably in Turin in the Fall of 1944. It tows an L3 light tank trailer and is armed with a pair of Breda Modello 1930 placed on the cab’s roof. Source: Italia 43-45, I Blindati di Circostanza della Guerra Civile

The Regio Esercito used the Bianchi truck in the majority of the campaigns where it was involved: Southern France, the Balkans, the Soviet Union, and most importantly, North Africa.

Some specialized variants were also produced, such as ambulances, buses with 23 seats, mobile bathrooms with showers for the soldiers and mobile refrigerators. In August 1943, a Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun (SPAAG) version armed with a 25 mm Mod. 38 cannon captured from the French in 1940 was also proposed. The vehicle carried 4 gun crew members and 380 25 mm rounds. A pre-series of 20 vehicles was ordered, but the Armistice canceled the project.

A 1949 brochure of the Bianchi company showing four different versions of the Bianchi Civis 75. Source: facebook.com @Gianpaolo Pederzoli

From 1946 to 1952, an upgraded version called Bianchi Civis 75 was built, with military and civilian versions.

The cargo bay was made of wood planks 4 meters long and 2 meters wide. Only the rear side was foldable. The maximum payload was 3,000 kg, while the loaded truck weighed 6,500 kg. For the transport of troops, 6 cross benches could be set up.

A post war build Bianchi Civis 75. One detail that suggests it is a post-war production is the Fabbrica Automobili e Velocipedi Edoardo Bianchi symbol on the radiator grille. Source: italie1935-45.com

Engine and suspension

The Bianchi Miles was powered by a Mercedes-Benz MDU 35 M diesel engine produced under license by Bianchi, equipped with a manual inertia starter. The engine delivered 65 hp at 2,000 rpm and was powered by a pump and injectors manufactured under license from Bosch.

The maximum speed was 64 km/h and the maximum range was 350 km thanks to the main fuel tank, with a capacity of 70 liters and the reserve tank of 15 liters placed behind the dashboard, which fed the engine by gravity. This guaranteed that, in the event of a malfunction of the fuel pump, the truck could reach a workshop for repairs. This system saved many drivers from breakdowns in the middle of the desert.

The Bianchi-copied Mercedes-Benz MDU 35 with Bosch electric starter. It also has the transmission mounted. Source: italie1935-45.com

The brake system was a two-disc dry clutch and could be disassembled independently of the transmission for easier and quicker maintenance. The Bianchi Miles had four gears and one reverse. A pneumatic servo brake pedal operated the hydraulic drum brakes.

The Miles had one 12-volt circuit powered by a 90-watt Magneti Marelli dynamo that served two front headlights, the license plate light, windshield wipers, an electric horn, and dashboard lighting.

The suspension consisted of leaf-springs on each wheel but, in the rear axle, were mounted in couple.

Armament

The improvised vehicle was armed with a Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 gas-operated air cooled automatic cannon developed by Società Italiana Ernesto Breda per Costruzioni Meccaniche of Brescia.

This was first presented in 1932, and, after a series of comparative tests with autocannons produced by Scotti, Madsen, and Lübbe, it was officially adopted in 1935. The Regio Esercito adopted it as a dual-use automatic cannon. It was a highly effective anti-aircraft and anti-tank gun and, in Spain, during the Spanish Civil War, some Panzer Is were modified to accommodate this gun in their small turret to fight the Soviet light tanks deployed by the Republicans.

From 1936 onward, the gun was produced in a vehicle mount variant and was installed in L6/40 light reconnaissance tanks and AB41 and AB43 medium armored cars.

A Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 was used by Italian troops to defend a military convoy in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. Source: italie1935-45.com

It was produced in the Breda plants in Brescia and Rome and by the Terni gun factory, with a maximum average monthly production of 160 autocannons. The Regio Esercito used more than 3,000 in all the war theaters. Hundreds were captured and reused in North Africa by the Commonwealth troops, who greatly appreciated its characteristics.

After the armistice of 8th September 1943, a total of over 2,600 Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini and Breda 20 mm automatic cannons were produced for the Germans, who renamed it ‘Breda 2 cm FlaK-282(i)’.

It had a total weight of 307 kg with its field carriage, which gave it 360° traverse, a depression of -10° and an elevation of +80°. Its maximum range was 5,500 meters. Against flying aircraft, it had a practical range of 1,500 meters, and against armored targets, it had a maximum practical range between 600 and 1,000 meters.

The muzzle velocity was about 830 m/s, while its theoretical rate of fire was 240 rounds per minute, which dropped to 200 – 220 rounds per minute in practice.

A Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 in the Donbass region during the Second World War, defending a railway. Source: italie1935-45.com

It was fed by 12-round clips on the field version and 8-round clips in the vehicle version. The type of clips used on the improvised armored car of the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ is unknown, as is the number of clips transported in the vehicle.

Modification and Operational use

The Arsenale Regio Esercito di Torino or ARET (English: Royal Army Arsenal of Turin) produced artillery pieces, and small armored plates and helped develop some armored vehicles before the Armistice, such as the FIAT 665NM Scudato.

After the Armistice, it changed its name to Arsenale di Torino and its primary tasks also changed. In addition to producing artillery pieces, it specialized in the production of armored plates for improvised vehicles that it also converted in its depots or that the units mounted themselves at their barracks. An example of improvised vehicles built by it were the SPA-Viberti AS43 Blindata of the Battaglione ‘Fulmine’ of the Xª Flottiglia MAS, which received armored plates that were mounted on the chassis by workers from one of the Turin’s FIAT factories, and the two armored vehicles delivered for the defense of the Alto Commissario per il Piemonte (English: High Commissioner for Piemonte) Paolo Zerbino that were assembled in the Arsenale di Torino.

The SPA-Viberti AS43 Blindata of the Battaglione ‘Fulmine’ during a parade on 29th October 1944 on Via Roma, Turin’s main street. Source: Le Camionette del Regio Esercito

If the vehicle was really built on the Bianchi Miles chassis captured to the partisans on 28th July 1944 by the ‘Squadra Fantasma’, it means that the vehicle was transferred from Buriasco to Turin, where it was delivered to the Arsenale di Torino in the weeks after. The transformation probably required a lot of time. One source claims that the vehicle was delivered to the Black Brigade only in November 1944.

It is logical to suppose that the armor was made of steel plates recovered by the units from various sources, with a thickness from 5 mm to 8 mm, as on other improvised armored vehicles produced in that period. The frontal engine compartment was protected frontally with an armored grille for the radiator, while vertical armored plates protected the sides.

The improvised armored car with some militiamen around it. This behemoth was probably rarely used due to its weight, which likely caused many mechanical failures. Source: spazioinwind.libero.it

From photographic evidence, the armored car’s windshield was left unprotected, quite a questionable choice. It is plausible that the windshield had an openable shield with a driver slot that could be raised when a gunfight was imminent.

The only existing photo of the armored car’s side shows that the armored plates just behind the driving compartment were welded in a different position for an unknown reason.

The turret, of small dimensions, was trapezoidal-shaped with a square base. The gunner, probably the only crewmember that sat in the turret, had a hatch on the turret’s top, opening towards the front. From the poor quality photos of the vehicle, it is not clear if the turret top had a small periscope to check the battlefield from inside the vehicle.

It seems the gun had a limited elevation and depression and it seems that it did not have a coaxial machine gun. This is probably because the Breda gun mounted in the turret was a standard field one (recognizable by the differences in the barrel) that was not equipped with supports for a coaxial machine gun. The space in the turret interior was really cramped, and the loading operations were probably difficult.

The absence of slots on the sides of the turret suggests that the commander could only check the battlefield through the gun sight and probably from the small periscope mounted on the turret roof.

The barrel of the Cannone-Mitragliera Breda mounted on the vehicles (upper) and the one mounted on the other supports used by the Italian armies (lower). Source: italie1935-45.com

Only a slot was placed on the superstructure side, allowing the driver and commander to check the sides of the vehicle. A large rectangular access door seems to have been placed on the superstructure side, just under the turret, and probably another access door was placed on the rear side, such as on armored personnel carriers. This meant that, in case of emergency, the crew could enter or exit the vehicle quickly. Behind the turret, there was a transport compartment for some militiamen of the Black Brigade. From the images of the vehicle, it is visible that the rear part of the roof, behind the turret, was slightly higher than the other parts of the roof.

The SPA Dovunque 35 Blindato and the improvised armored car of the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ in the Caserma Luigi Riva’s parade ground. From this angle, the armored car side is visible, showing off the side door. Source: spazioinwind.libero.it

The crew was probably composed of four militiamen. The driver was probably on the right side of the driving compartment and the commander on the left. In the turret was the gunner, who operated the 20 mm automatic cannon, while a loader was also probably transported to facilitate the loading operations. At the rear, there were probably some benches for four to six fully equipped soldiers or enough space for a spare wheel and ammunition racks.

Operational Service

Nothing is known about the use of the improvised armored car and the armored personnel carrier SPA Dovunque 35 Blindato, even if the armored car was used for at least 5 months by the Black Brigade.

From November 1944 to April 1945, the units of the Black Brigade stationed in the Caserma Luigi Riva, where the vehicle was located, took part only in public order activities, where a vehicle with its characteristics was not needed.

The official documentation never mentions the service of the Compagnia Armi Pesanti, so it is currently impossible to know how they were used. On 13th November 1944, a “vehicle” (according to one source) of the Black Brigade was involved in a skirmish against partisans in Moncucco Torinese, a few kilometers from Turin. On this occasion, a militiaman, Secondo Casetta, was killed.

After 18th November 1944, some companies of the Black Brigade, supported by a couple dozen of the Compagnia ‘EIAR’ supported the Presidio di Caramagna in an anti-partisan operation that was a total failure. Only 13 deserters and partisans were arrested.

Starting 29th November, a company of the Iª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’, composed of about seventy soldiers under the orders of Captain Amilcare Villani, took part in one of the phases of Operation ‘Koblenz’ in the provinces of Asti and Alessandria. Turin’s militiamen, reinforced by elements of the Vª Brigata Nera ‘Carlo Lidonnici’ of Cuneo, about 150 men in all, were aggregated to a company of the German SS-Polizei Regiment 15. Turin’s Black Brigade members raked the villages of Baldichieri, Villafranca, San Paolo, Savi, Castelnuovo Don Bosco and Murisengo, where the unit was stationed for a few days.

From Murisengo, the company moved to Felizzano and took part in the roundup operations in the area of Nizza Monferrato. Near Monastero Bormida, the unit captured numerous partisans who had escaped from the previous anti-partisan operation. On 10th December 1944, the company returned to Turin. The troopers did not suffer any losses during the entire operational cycle.

On 18th January, militiaman Bartolomeo Vittone was captured and killed. He belonged to the company of Pinerolo. For this reason, on 5th February 1945, 45 militiamen, under the orders of Captain Novena, made a raid in Villafranca Piemonte, where some of those responsible for the murder of Vittone were hiding.

After having surrounded a block, the Black Brigade’s militiamen entered into a lodging, capturing three young men armed with pistols and belonging to the partisan’s IV° Brigata Garibaldi (English: 4th Garibaldi Brigade). During the same operation the troopers, after a brief firefight that killed Giulio Maritano, former captain of the Royal Army, captured Ettore Carando, Chief of Staff of the partisan brigade, and Leo Lanfranco, political commissary of the Garibaldi formation. Before returning to Pinerolo, the soldiers also managed to capture the commander of the partisan police of the IV° Brigata Garibaldi, Enrico Carando.

In this operation, men from Caserma Luigi Riva were deployed, but nothing is known about the armored vehicles.

Between 19th and 20th February 1945, the Compagnia di Pinerolo, together with units of the Gruppo Esplorante (English: Exploring Group) of the Divisione Granatieri ‘Littorio’ (English: Grenadier Division), took part in a vast anti-partisan operation in the area of Torre Pellice, Bagnolo Piemonte and Campiglione.

The operation led to the discovery of the command of the 105ª Brigata Garibaldi ‘Carlo Pisacane’ (the partisans also used the names of fallen patriots for their units). Numerous partisans were captured during the operation, among them some well-known brigade leaders and 60 rifles, 8 submachine guns, 2 machine guns, as well as a considerable amount of ammunition and explosives. No losses were suffered by the unit or the militiamen of the Divisione Granatieri.

On 28th February 1945, by order of the Command of the 5ª Divisione Alpina (English: 5th Alpine Division), a platoon of the Iª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ (unknown if the improvised armored car was deployed) and the entire three company-sized XXXVIª Brigata Nera ‘Natale Piacentini’ (English: 36th Black Brigade) of Lucca were transferred to Cavour and Bricherasio in Turin’s province. Lucca’s black brigade had in its ranks 225 officers, NCOs, militians and auxiliaries (in March 1945) and the Lancia 3Ro Blindato. These forces, together with a company of the 5ª Divisione Alpina, took part in a police operation in the countryside east of Saluzzo. Divided into small units, the fascists searched the hills of the area assigned to them without finding any trace of partisan formations. 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. The operation ended on the evening of 28th February.

On 25th April 1945, the new commander of the Black Brigade, Mario Pavia, ordered all the remaining soldiers to concentrate in the barracks at Via Cernaia, where about 300 militiamen arrived. Units of the 1ª Compagnia ‘Arditi’ of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ with some armored vehicles converged on the Caserma Luigi Riva.

In the morning of 26th April 1945, the partisans began the occupation of some factories in Turin and of the railway stations of Porta Nuova and Porta Susa. These were recaptured the same day by units of the Black Brigade, of the GNR and of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’.

In the afternoon of the 26th of April, from the nearby barracks of the Polizia Ausiliaria (English: Auxiliary Police) in Via Cernaia, where the agents had joined the partisans, a heavy firefight started against the barracks of the Black Brigade. Four tanks of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ and three armored cars, probably two of the ‘Leonessa’ and probably the improvised armored car of the ‘Ather Capelli’, supported by a platoon of soldiers of the brigade attacked the building in the late afternoon. After having broken through the main door with cannon fire, the armored vehicles and the squad broke into the building.

The agents and the partisans fled, leaving about ten dead on the ground, while the fascists suffered only a few injuries.

Throughout 27th April 1945, the fascists kept the partisans as far away as possible from the area where the republican units were concentrated. In order to break the resistance of the men of the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’, the partisans started to hit the barracks of Via Cernaia with artillery and mortars. Due to their inexperience with similar weapons, the shells did not cause casualties.

Towards evening, Colonel Cabras, commander of the GNR, gave the order to implement the plan ‘Esigenza Z2B’, which provided for the concentration of the republican units in Valtellina. The forces taking part in the retreat had to concentrate in Piazza Castello the same evening.

The column moved from Piazza Castello around 1 am on 28th April 1945. The armored vehicles of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ were located at the head and tail of the column, while the units of the ‘Ather Capelli’ formed the rear guard.

The column traversed Turin without being involved in clashes. A barricade at the bridge over the Dora was broken through by the armored vehicles. Once on the Turin highway, the column continued to Chivasso and then proceeded along the state road to Cigliano, where it stopped to avoid being hit by the Allied air force. The night after, the column moved towards Livorno.

Colonel Cabras, commander of the column, having ascertained the impossibility of continuing towards Valtellina, gave the order to continue north and reach the area of Strambino Romano, where the bulk of the German and Republican units coming from the western Alpine front were already concentrating. In Cascine Romane, the units stopped. The first American troops arrived in the area on 5th May 1945 and the fascist troops surrendered to them without resistance.

Conclusion

The improvised armored car of the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’, was one of the dozens of improvised vehicles produced by Repubblica Sociale Italiana units during the last years of the Second World War. Its service is unknown but was probably limited, as were other similar vehicles.

It is one of the less known improvised vehicles of the war. In comparison, similar vehicles, such as the FIAT 666N Blindato of the 630ª Compagnia OP of Piacenza or the Lancia 3Ro Blindato that were deployed with the same tasks, have better detailed operative histories.

Its service was probably also limited due to the vehicle’s weight, which probably exceeded the 6.5 tonnes of the truck + load of the standard military Bianchi Miles version. Due to the vehicle’s weight, it was probably often under repairs due to mechanical failures.

Due to the critical situation of the RSI units in the last stages of the Second World War, it was probably problematic for the unit to find the necessary spare parts to keep it operational.

Autocarro Blindato ‘Ather Capelli’. Illustration made by Godzila.

Sources

1^ Brigata Nera “Ather Capelli”: Una documentazione – Marco Nava – E-book

36^ Brigata Nera “Natale Piacentini”: Una Documentazione – Leonardo Sandri – E-book

Relazione Circa l’Attività della Brigata Nera “Ather Capelli” Partito Fascista Italiano – Corpo Ausiliario delle Camicie Nere – E-book

Italia 43-45, I Blindati di Circostanza della Guerra Civile – Paolo Crippa – Tankmaster Special. Italian and English editions Volume 4th, July 2014

Le Brigate Nere: Una Documentazione Struttura – Organigrammi – Operazioni 2^ Edizione – Leonardo Sandri – E-book

Associazione Nazionale Combattenti e Reduci. 2019. Le Brigate Nere, La Ather Capelli di Torino. https://www.combattentiereduci.it/notizie/le-brigate-nere-la-ather-cappelli-di-torino Access date: 28th Jun. 2022.

I^ Brigata Nera “Ather Capelli” TORINO. https://spazioinwind.libero.it/bnere/brigate/athercapelli-i.htm Access date: 28th Jun. 2022.

Reparti Corazzati della Polizia Repubblicana e Brigate Nere http://www.zimmerit.com/zimmeritpedia/italia_rsi/ITALIA_RSI_MUTI.html Access date: 28th Jun. 2022.

Categories
WW2 RSI Armor

Carro Armato L6/40 in Repubblica Sociale Italiana Service

Italian Social Republic (1943-1945)
Light Reconnaissance Tank – Small Number Operated

The Carro Armato L6/40 was an Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army) light reconnaissance tank. It was the first Italian light tank equipped with a rotating turret to enter service in the Italian Army after the FIAT 3000 in the early 1920s. It was also one of the first vehicles equipped with torsion bar suspension in service with the Regio Esercito.

After the Armistice of 8th September 1943, when the Kingdom of Italy announced its decision to leave the war, abandoning its German allies, the Italian territories not yet liberated by the Allied forces were occupied by the Germans. They captured a million Italian soldiers and almost all the Italian tanks.

Some Italian units that remained loyal to Benito Mussolini continued the war in the new Repubblica Sociale Italiana (English: Italian Social Republic). They operated the few tanks and armored vehicles left abandoned that they could recover from depots or workshops.

A Carro Armato L6/40 of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’, lined up with other vehicles in Milan on 25th July 1944. Source: Elvezio Borgatti

Brief Summary – from 13th May to 8th September 1943

On 13th May 1943, after furious and bloody fighting, the North African Campaign was brought to an end with the defeat of the rest of the Italian and German armies. On the Italian peninsula, the population was beginning to show displeasure with the fascist government.

By 10th June 1940 (the day Italy entered the war), the Royal Army had failed in the Invasion of Greece, and it would soon lose the colonies Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia in East Africa. In addition, in 1943, the Italian Army in Russia had suffered a disastrous defeat and thousands of casualties during its westward retreat.

This discontent was exploited by the King of Italy, who, on 25th July 1943, had Benito Mussolini arrested on charges of treason. On the same day, Marshal of Italy Pietro Badoglio came to power as the new prime minister of a royalist government that secretly began making contacts with the Allied forces to sign an armistice.

On 3rd September 1943, the Armistice of Cassibile was signed in Sicily, while the Armistice was made public by the Allied newspapers and Italian radio on 8th September 1943.

The same day, the Germans started Fall Achse (English: Operation Axis), which found the Italian soldiers unprepared. Apart from a few generals and politicians and, of course, the Germans, no one in the Regio Esercito was aware of the armistice. In a few days, the German soldiers suppressed any kind of Italian resistance in the Balkans, southern France and the Italian peninsula, killing about 20,000 Italians, capturing over a million soldiers, and a bit less than a 1,000 armored fighting vehicles.

At least four L6/40s of the Battaglione ‘Vittorio Bòttego’ of the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana on the street between Mentana and Monterotondo, together with an AB41 of another Italian unit on 9th September 1943. They are fighting the Germans after they launched Fall Achse. Source: instagram.com @Storia_Italiana

Mussolini was freed by a unit of German paratroopers and SS that accompanied him to Germany, where he met Adolf Hitler. On 23rd September, Mussolini, after having decided the fate of Italy with Hitler, returned to Italy. In Salò, near Brescia, he founded the Repubblica Sociale Italiana in the Italian territories not yet occupied by the Allied forces.

His new republic could count on about 300,000 soldiers in the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano or ENR (English: National Republican Army) and on about 140,000 soldiers in the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana or GNR (English: National Republican Guard).

Unfortunately, the Germans had occupied all the factories in Italy, forcing them to deliver all the newly produced tanks, planes, artillery pieces and logistic vehicles to their units, leaving only scraps to the Italian units.

The Carro Armato L6/40

In the late 1930s, the Italian Regio Esercito tried to develop a new light tank with a rotating turret to replace the older CV light tanks series in the ranks of its armored units. After a series of failed projects, on 26th October 1939, the FIAT-Ansaldo consortium proposed the M6T, a 6-tonnes tank (in that period still called a medium tank) armed with two machine guns in a one-man turret.

The Italian High Command was not impressed with the M6. On the same day, General Cosma Manera of the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione or CSM (English: Center of Motorization Studies), however, showed interest in the vehicle. He proposed to accept it into service on the condition that the armament be changed to a 20 mm automatic cannon mounted in the turret. In the eyes of Gen. Manera, this solution, in addition to increasing the tank’s anti-armor performance, would also make it capable of engaging aircraft.

The vehicle was then modified with a new one-man turret armed with a 20 mm Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935. However, it did not have enough elevation to hit flying targets. It was accepted in service anyway in April 1940 as the Carro Armato Leggero da 6 tonnellate Modello 1940 (English: 6 tonnes Light Tank Model 1940) or, more simply, Carro Armato L6/40.

An L6/40 of the LXVII° Battaglione Bersaglieri Corazzato climbing on the cargo bay of a FIAT 666NM heavy duty truck on the Eastern Front. Source: italie1935-45.com

In total, 415 were produced for the Italian Regio Esercito, plus another 17 for the German Army between 1943 and 1944. After the Armistice, the Germans captured the majority of the existing vehicles, leaving few serviceable tanks to the new Repubblica Sociale Italiana.

A Carro Armato L6/40 deployed by the German forces in Albania after September 1943. Source: worldwarphoto.com

Operational use after the Armistice

The Repubblica Sociale Italiana had some L6/40s in service in the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano and the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana.

31° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista

The 31° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista (English: 31st Tank Crew Infantry Regiment) was a tank unit deployed in the Balkans after 1939, first in Albania, then in Greece.

When the Armistice was made public, some of its soldiers did not accept the surrender. Some examples were Captain Ulrico Ripandelli, commander of the 6ª Compagnia Carri (English: 6th Tank Company) of the III Battaglione Carri (English: 3rd Tank Battalion), together with other soldiers and vehicles from the II Battaglione Carri (English: 2nd Tank Battalion) and other companies of the III Battaglione Carri. They all decided to join the Germans.

The Germans trusted them and, after painting some coats of arms to avoid friendly fire, immediately assigned them to the 118. Jäger-Division in Podgorica and redeployed them against the Yugoslavian Partisans.

The L6/40s were rarely deployed, as the 40 L3 light tanks that the unit had in its ranks were preferred.

A Carro Armato L6/40 of the 31° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista with license plate ‘Regio Esercito 5484’ in service with German forces. Source: bundesarchiv.com

Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano

Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leoncello’

On 26th September 1944, Captain Gian Carlo Zuccaro started the creation of an armored unit as he was instructed to do by the Army High Command in the previous days. This company was proposed on 20th September 1944 by the Ufficio Operazioni e Servizi of the Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito (English: Operations and Services Office of the Army General Staff).

Cap. Zuccaro had the task of concentrating all the available tanks under the dependencies into a single unit and not individually with small units scattered throughout the parts of the peninsula still in Italian and German hands.

He had already been trying for months to create an armored unit of the RSI without the Germans knowing it. The cover name he had given the unit to confuse the German authorities was Battaglione Carri dell’Autodrappello Ministeriale delle Forze Armate (English: Tank Battalion of the Ministerial Armed Forces).

The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leoncello’ (English: Armored Group) was created in Polpenazze del Garda near Brescia on 13th September 1944 by Cap. Zuccaro. It had all the tanks that should have been assigned to the Compagnia Autonoma Carri, which was never created. It was never deployed in active service apart from a few skirmishes on 24th and 25th April 1945.

The search for new tanks continued and, on 18th March 1945, the unit was equipped with 1 Semovente M43 da 105/25, 1 M15/42 tank, 4 M13/40 tanks, one non-operational L6/40, and 7 L3 light tanks.

Unfortunately, due to mechanical problems, the L6/40 was not quickly put into service and spent much time in the workshop for repairs. During March and April 1945, the partisan units in the Italian peninsula started a series of violent attacks and sabotages to weaken the exhausted Fascist and Nazi forces. On 25th April 1945, they launched the last attack in the last cities under Axis control. In a few days, they fully liberated the main cities from Fascist presence.

The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leoncello’ was only deployed during this occasion. A column composed of 5 medium tanks, the self-propelled gun and 3 L3 light tanks towed by the medium tanks to save fuel left Polpenazze on 24th April night to avoid air attacks. It had the new task of reaching Milan (ignoring the fact that Milan was being liberated by the partisans at those hours).

The Carro Armato L6/40 along with another light tank were left in Polpenazze with the unit’s workshop.

Battaglione ‘Lupo’

The Battaglione ‘Lupo’ (Lupo – Wolf) of the Xª Divisione MAS (English: 10th MAS Division) had an L6/40 in service, but, for many years, the sources confused its origin. The first theory written by Giorgio Pisanò and confirmed by veteran of the unit Emilio Maluta says that the unit captured the Carro Armato L6/40 from a partisan unit in Piemonte in September 1944.

The second theory, written by Sergio Corbatti and Marco Nava in the book …Come il Diamante, mentions that three L6/40s were recovered in the 2° Centro Esperienza Artiglieria (English: 2nd Artillery Experience Center) of Ciriè near Turin in September 1944. They were transported to Turin.

The Carro Armato L6/40 of the Battaglione ‘Lupo’ in Turin in 1944. Source: …Come il Diamante

The book Battaglione Lupo – Xa Flottiglia MAS 1943-1945, written by Italian writer Guido Bonvicini, reports the testimony of some veterans that sheds further light on the story.

The L6/40 captured from the partisans was abandoned in Milan when, after the anti-partisan operations in Piemonte, the Battaglione ‘Lupo’ was reorganized on 6th November 1944. On that occasion, it was judged as being in a very poor condition and scrapped. On the same occasion, the unit bought 4 Cannoni-Mitragliere Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 and some 81 mm mortars from the black market.

The three L6/40s recovered in Ciriè were transported to Turin at the Caserma ‘Monte Grappa’ barracks. It is not clear if the three vehicles were too damaged and two were cannibalized to put the third one into service or if more than one vehicle were operational.

One was deployed to break through the partisan encirclement of the Reparto Arditi Ufficiali (English: Arditi Officer Unit) in Venaria Reale near Turin in late October 1944.

One L6/40 without the 20 mm main gun was deployed by the unit during the Reoccupation of Alba. The city had been freed from the Fascist forces in early October 1944 and proclaimed a Free Partisan Republic on 10th October 1944. On 30th October 1944, the Fascist Minister of Interior Paolo Zerbino ordered Colonel Alessandro Ruta, commander of the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani (English: Anti-Partisan Regroupement), to launch an attack to regain control of the area.

The attack began on 2nd November 1944. Col. Ruta ordered the Battaglione ‘Lupo’, Battaglione ‘Fulmine’ and the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ (English: Armored Group) to participate in the attack as well. The latter sent 2 AB41 medium armored cars and 3 M14/41 medium tanks. Together with these units, some companies of the black brigades were also deployed.

The L6/40 and the other armored vehicles attacked the city from the south-east, approaching on the Roddi-Alba road. Due to the road being mined, they needed to proceed on the roadside, where they risked getting stuck in the mud which was the result of many rainy days.

They easily broke through the partisan defensive line, but the battle finished about mid day, when a unit of the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani attacked the partisans from the north by surprise, forcing them to retreat.

The unarmed Carro Armato L6/40 of the Battaglione ‘Lupo’ in Alba after fighting against the partisans. Source: …Come il Diamante

The Battaglione ‘Lupo’ then moved to Milan, where it scrapped the L6/40 captured from the partisans (probably after reusing all the spare parts) and armed the L6/40 that they deployed in Alba. The two other L6s found in Ciriè were probably left in Turin where they were scrapped or given for spare parts to the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’.

From the testimony of Walter Cagolato, captured by the partisans of the Divisione Garibaldi ‘Fratelli Varalli’ (English: Garibaldi Division – Italian Communist Partisans), due to poor reliability, the Lupo tank was abandoned in a tramcar depot in Milan and probably taken by the training company of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’.

Battaglione ‘Fulmine’

The Battaglione ‘Fulmine’ (Fulmine – Lightning) seems to have used a Carro Armato L6/40 after early 1945. A soldier enlisted in the unit had been a tank crew member before the armistice. He was instructed to go to Turin from Gorizia with a truck to recover a light tank directly from the FIAT depots (which had probably repaired it).

The first part of the task was performed quietly and the tank was taken from the FIAT depots in Turin without problems. The second part of the trip was done during the night to avoid being targeted by Allied air attacks. Due to the weight of the tank, it needed to be unloaded from the truck to cross bridges all along the return trip of about 500 km long. During the crossing of the Piave river, probably between Treviso and Venezia, the unloaded truck was hit by machine gun bursts and put in flames. The partisans that shot at it then quickly disappeared.

The tank crew member was forced to continue the about 130 km journey from Piave to Gorizia on tracks. The tank reached Gorizia, but with the tracks and suspension damaged due to the long trip.

Due to this deterioration and the absence of a truck that could transport it, the tank could not take part in the breakthrough of the Yugoslavian Partisans lines that besieged the town of Tarnova, where the Battaglione ‘Fulmine’ was trapped.

Apart from this, nothing is known about this Carro Armato L6/40, neither its provenance, its camouflage, or its final destiny.

Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana

Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’

The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’, the best-equipped Repubblica Sociale Italiana unit, was equipped with at least two L6/40s, probably found in or near Turin city.

One of the vehicles took part in the parade of the unit in the city of Turin on 23rd May 1944 and only one vehicle was shown on 24th July 1944 in the city of Milan during a parade to celebrate the anniversary of the attempted coup against fascism. On that occasion, the unit’s banner was placed on the raised antenna of the L6/40.

A Carro Armato M13/40 in the foreground with a Carro Armato L6/40 behind and a Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43 during a parade on 23rd May 1944 in Turin. Source: I Carristi di Mussolini

The two tanks took part in some anti-partisan operations in Piemonte in autumn 1944. When the Battaglione ‘Lupo’ of the Xª Divisione MAS left Milan for the Eastern front of the Italian peninsula, the Compagnia Addestramento (English: Training Company) of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ in Milan probably recovered the L6/40.

Not much is known about the Compagnia Addestramento of Milan. After the Great Partisan Insurrection, on 26th April 1945, the unit left the city of Milan with 4 armored cars and 10 medium and light tanks.

Of the 10 tanks, one was surely a Semovente L40 da 47/32, another was an M13/40 and another one was an M15/42. Unfortunately, the book …Come il Diamante does not mention other vehicles, apart from the armored cars. There were two AB43s and probably two AB41s.

It is possible to assume that the Carro Armato L6/40 in running condition of the Battaglione ‘Lupo’ was recovered by the training unit of ‘Leonessa’. It is not known if it was put in service again or if it was cannibalized for mechanical parts for the Semovente L40 da 47/32.

Distaccamento Operativo di Piacenza

The Distaccamento Operativo di Piacenza (English: Piacenza Operative Detachment) was created on 20th August 1944 with 50 soldiers and two AB41 armored cars under the command of Lieutenant Giovanni Ferraris from the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’. A Carro Armato L6/40 was deployed at an unspecified date.

A document from 20th January 1945 claims that the Distaccamento Operativo di Piacenza had 7 officers, 113 NCOs and soldiers, a Carro Armato M15/42, a Carro Armato L6/40, 3 L3 light tanks, 2 AB41 armored cars, 2 armored vehicles, 3 light lorries, 10 motorcycles, two trucks and a staff car.

The unit helped to defend the few Italian oil wells present in the Piacenza countryside. It also carried out escort missions when the oil barrels were sent from the oil wells to Milan, where the Oleoblitz company refined oil into fuel.

In a report from 17th March 1945, the garrison of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ in Piacenza had in its workshops two non-operational L6/40s.

On 25th April, the Great Partisan Insurrection began in Piacenza as well, but the strong Nazi-Fascist force in the area meant that the partisan assault was slowed down. After a battle with US soldiers and tanks in the area south of the city, on the night of 26th April, the Fascist soldiers destroyed their depot to prevent ammunition, armored vehicles and fuel from failing in partisan hands.

It is not clear if the second L6/40 was totally unusable and for this reason it was blown up or if, between 17th March and 26th April 1945, it was put into service again and then destroyed or abandoned during fighting against partisans in the days before the Great Partisan Insurrection.

The other L6/40 tank that was still under repair and avoided destruction was probably abandoned the next morning, when the majority of Fascist forces left the city with all the operational vehicles.

Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ in Valtellina

During the last months of war, the Fascist forces planned to retreat to Valtellina, a valley in Lombardia near the Swiss border. There, the Fascists could make their last stand, allowing Benito Mussolini to flee to Switzerland to avoid the consequences of his failed dictatorship.

A small unit of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ was sent to the Tirano area (in Valtellina) in mid April 1945. The unit was composed of a Carro Armato L6/40 and two armored cars, of which at least one was a Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43.

On 27th April 1945, about 1,000 soldiers from the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’, Compagnia ‘Pesaro’ of the Battaglione M ‘Guardia del Duce’, a few soldiers from the XV Brigata Nera ‘Sergio Gatti’ (English: 15th Black Brigade), from the XXXIX Brigata Nera ‘Raffaele Manganiello’ (English: 39th Black Brigade), the Brigata Nera Autonoma ‘Giovanni Gentile’ (English: Autonomous Black Brigade), the Fascist border guards from the III Legione GNR di Frontiera (English: 3rd GNR Border Guard Legion) and a battalion of French militias were ready to join Mussolini while fleeing north.

The commander of this column was the former commander of the 2° Battaglione (English: 2nd Battalion) of the III Legione GNR di Frontiera, Major Vanna. He planned to reach Sondrio, where they were to meet Mussolini and all escape to Switzerland.

A bad quality image of the column of Fascist forces during the fighting in Tirano. Source: I Carristi di Mussolini

The column was fully motorized with the last few operational trucks of the Fascist units and the armored vehicles of ‘Leonessa’. There were also some trucks armed with 20 mm automatic cannons for close defense.

When the Fascist forces tried to reach Sondrio, they were hit by partisan bursts, blocking them in an open field near the city of Tirano, 200 meter away from the Santuario della Madonna (English: Sanctuary of Virgin Mary).

The Carro Armato L6/40, the only tracked vehicle of the column, was used as a shield, proceeding slowly from the blocked trucks to the sanctuary, where the Fascist soldiers could open fire against the partisan positions.

After some hours of fighting, the Fascist commander, Maj. Vanna, understood that it was impossible to reach Sondrio by breaking through the partisan lines. Maj. Vanna retreated his forces to the Caserma ‘Luigi Torelli’ barracks in Tirano. He chose 250 soldiers out of the 1,000 available and tried to reach Sondrio by passing on the shores of the Adda River. The rest of the soldiers and the three armored vehicles tried to resist the partisan forces, but surrendered the next day after heavy fighting.

The Carro Armato L6/40 of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ in Tirano on 27th April 1945. Source: I Carristi di Mussolini

Camouflage and Markings

The Carri Armati L6/40s of the 31° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista were painted in a three-tone camouflage. The original Kaki Sahariano (English: Saharan Khaki) was partially covered by dark green and dark brown spots.

On the tanks used before the Armistice, white circles were painted on the sides of the superstructure and some cartoons on the front plate. After the Armistice, the white circles were covered with white bands that were also painted on the front part of the transmission cover. They did not cover the cartoons on the frontal plate. Two vehicles are known, one with plate ‘Regio Esercito 5484’ and one with plate ‘Regio Esercito 5488’ with a lion face.

The Carro Armato L6/40 plated ‘Regio Esercito 5488’ of the 31° Reggimento Fanteria carrista fighting with the Germans after the Armistice. The lion face and white rectangle are clearly visible. Source: bundesarchiv.com

Nothing is known about the camouflage of the L6/40 of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leoncello’ and of the Battaglione ‘Fulmine’. They were probably in the original Kaki Sahariano monochrome desert camouflage.

At least one of the Carri Armati L6/40s of the Battaglione ‘Lupo’ was painted with dark green spots on the original Kaki Sahariano. On the turret sides, it had a wolf face, the symbol of the battalion, painted inside a black or red rectangle.

Unfortunately, the sources that speak about the rectangle color are discordant. Two veterans of the ‘Lupo’ Battalion give different versions, one with a red rectangle and one with a black rectangle. It is possible they may be talking about two different vehicles

The Carri Armati L6/40 of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ had the standard Kaki Sahariano monochrome desert camouflage. As a coat of arms, they had an ‘m’ in lowercase italics painted red, which was the symbol of Mussolini. A lictorian beam, the symbol of the Partito Fascista Repubblicano, intersected the ‘m’ transversely, and the acronym GNR was painted in red under it.

Another image of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ in Milan, ready for the parade of 25th July 1944. The coat of arms on the Carro Armato L6/40 is partially visible (there was another painted on the rear hatch of the turret). Source: italie1935-45.com

After December 1944, the L6/40 tank that remained in Turin had the Kaki Sahariano Chiaro base covered with reddish brown and dark green spots. The vehicle spotted in Valtellina had this camouflage pattern.

Conclusion

The Carro Armato L6/40 was an already obsolete light tank when the Armistice with the Allied forces was signed. Despite this, the tank was deployed by the Germans and by the Fascist forces, who employed all the vehicles not yet captured by the Germans.

Interestingly enough, in the anti-partisan operations in Northern Italy, the tank performed without any particular criticisms. This was also because, until mid-to-late 1944, the partisan forces were equipped only with light firearms that could not penetrate the armor of the L6/40.

L6/40 of the Battaglione ‘Lupo’ in Repubblica Sociale Italiana Service Illustration made by Godzila
L6/40 of the 31° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista in Repubblica Sociale Italiana Service Illustration made by Godzila
L6/40 of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ in Repubblica Sociale Italiana Service Illustration made by Godzila
Carro Armato L6/40 Specifications
Size (L-W-H) 3.82 x 1.80 x 1.175 m
Weight, battle ready 6.84 tonnes
Crew 2 (driver and commander/gunner)
Engine FIAT Tipo 18 VT 4-cylinder 68 hp ​​at 2500 rpm with 165 liters tank
Speed 42 km/h
Range 200 km
Armament One Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 and a 8 mm Breda Modello 1938
Armor From 40 mm to 6 mm
Service Less than 10

Sources

I Mezzi Corazzati Italiani della Guerra Civile 1943-1945 – Paolo Crippa – TankMasterSpecial Italian and English Edition Volume 5

I Carristi di Mussolini: Il Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa” dalla MSVN alla RSI – Paolo Crippa – Witness to war Volume 3

… Come il Diamante. I Carristi Italiani 1943-45 – Marco Nava and Sergio Corbatti – Laran Editions

Battaglione Lupo, Xa Flottiglia MAS 1943-1945 – Guido Bonvicini – Italia Storica Ebook Vol. 41

Categories
Cold War Italian Armor WW2 Italian Trucks WW2 RSI Armor

Lancia 3Ro

Kingdom of Italy/Italian Social Republic/Italian Republic (1938-1948)
Heavy Duty Truck – 12,692 Built In All Versions

The Lancia 3Ro was an Italian heavy duty truck produced by Lancia Veicoli Industriali (English: Lancia Industrial Vehicles) for the civilian market and for military service.

Its production began in 1938 in many civilian and military variants, becoming one of the most used trucks of the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army) during the Second World War.

After the war, production restarted and some upgraded variants ran out the factories until 1948, 20 years after it first appeared on the market, when it was substituted by more modern trucks in the production lines. It remained in Lancia’s sales brochure until 1950.

Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 in heavy duty truck standard configuration towing a M13/40 medium tank. In the photo, it has just passed underneath the Arch of the Philaeni (Arco dei Fileni in Italian) Tripolitania in Libya, which was built by order of Italo Balbo. Winter 1942. This monument was destroyed on the orders of Muammar Gaddafi in 1973. Source: Archivio Centrale dello Stato

History of the Lancia Company

Vincenzo Lancia was an Italian car racer and businessman who founded the Lancia & Company car factory in 1906 in Turin with his business partner Claudio Foglin.

After some years of producing small quantities of racing and luxury cars that enhanced the brand’s reputation in Italy and Europe, World War I stopped the dreams of the founders. During World War I, Lancia’s only production plant was totally converted to the production of military vehicles at orders of the Italian Government.

After the war, Vincenzo Lancia felt the need to develop his own range of trucks in order to respond to changes in the Italian civilian and military market and also in the European civilian market.

In fact, many European car companies were physically destroyed during the war. Many others that had been converted between 1915 and 1918 from civilian to military production, may have survived, but were out of funds and forced to declare bankruptcy. Many did not have enough funds to convert the production lines from military to civilian production and were forced to declare bankruptcy. In this context, US companies, such as Ford, were doing big deals selling US-designed and built cars and trucks in Europe.

In 1921, Lancia Veicoli Industriali restarted civilian production of trucks in parallel with Lancia & Company, which restarted production of racing and luxury cars. The new post-war truck models were the Trijota and Tetrajota, 585 of which were produced until 1923 and 1924 respectively, and which were appreciated by Italian and European truckers. The Trijota was also deployed by the British Army in an armored car version. In fact, the vehicle was one of the most exported vehicles of Europe in that period, with a few hundreds sold in France and Great Britain.

The most important truck produced in that period was the heavy duty truck Pentajota (factory code Serie 254), 2,191 of which were produced from 1924 to 1933. It was really appreciated, with some hundreds bought by British companies. It became so popular on the European market due its payload capacity of over 6 tonnes, which only some much more expensive American trucks could match.

Lancia Eptajota medium truck used by the Rome Public Bus Company after 1935. It was previously a bus purchased in 1927 and retired in 1935 to be converted into a standard truck. Source: wikipedia.org

Another important model produced in the Interwar period was the Eptajota (factory code Serie 254), of which 1,827 were produced from 1927 to 1935. This vehicle was one of the first Lancia trucks that received special bodyworks, such as water or fuel carrier, ice transporter, milk delivery, and garbage truck.

The last chassis produced before the ‘Ro’ series was the Omicron (factory code Serie 256), produced as heavy-duty trucks and buses. It was 9 to 10 m long in the bus version, while the truck ones, also produced with three-axles, were even longer, at 12 m.

Lancia Omicron heavy truck in standard two-axle cargo truck. Source: auto-moto-epoca.blogspot.com

The Lancia Omicron was equipped with the Lancia Tipo 77 petrol engine with a displacement of 7,060 cm³, offering 91.5 hp at 1,600 rpm. Its maximum payload was 7.95 tonnes in the two-axles version. It was a reliable truck used by some Middle Eastern companies in the bus version on the road between Beirut (Lebanon) and Baghdad (Iraq). They were so reliable that they were retired after completing over 2 million km each.

The Omicron’s only flaw was the high petrol consumption, which led Vincenzo Lancia to decide to switch to better-performing diesel engines. The diesel engine was invented by Rudolf Diesel and first patented in 1892, but was little known. The first use of a diesel engine did not come until 1903, finding use as a ship engine. The first diesel engine for aircraft was created in 1914 but it was only in February 1936 that the first wheeled vehicle powered by a diesel engine appeared, the Mercedes Benz 260D car.

The research of reliable diesel engines was a feature shared by almost all car and truck manufacturers in the 1930s in Italy, but also in other parts of Europe. All European car companies looking for diesel engines went to Germany, where many German companies were already producing excellent high-performance diesel engines.

Almost every European car company had contracts with Mercedes-Benz, Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg (MAN), and Büssing AG. However, Vincenzo Lancia was not satisfied with the engines of the big German manufacturers. All the Italian companies (except FIAT) bought blueprints for German diesel engines, with some companies buying blueprints for entire trucks, such as ALFA Romeo and Officine Meccaniche (OM).

At the beginning of the 1930s, Vincenzo Lancia signed a contract with Junkers, considered by the Italian businessman to be more advanced in the production of diesel engines.

Previous Models of the ‘Ro’ Series

After the reliable Junkers engines were chosen, Lancia needed new trucks to install them into. The first project had a license-built Junkers 2-cylinder engine produced as the Lancia Tipo 89. It had a 3,181 cm³ displacement and gave a maximum power of 64 hp at 1,500 rpm.

It powered the newly designed Lancia Ro (factory code Serie 264) heavy-duty truck, first presented at the Milan Motor Show in 1932. It was a totally new vehicle with more modern shapes that distinguished it from the Lancia trucks of the 1920s.

The Lancia Ro, an early production model with coachwork by Officine Viberti and towing an Officine Viberti medium trailer. Source: Camion Lancia

A total of 5,196 trucks were produced between 1933 and 1939 in five different series, two civilian and three military ones. It had a weight of 5.40 tonnes and a payload capability of 6.35 tonnes in the standard civilian version, while the military one had a weight of 5.30 tonnes and a payload capability of 6.45 tonnes. Its maximum speed was 35 km/h. The coachwork was primarily the work of Officine Viberti of Turin.

However, the Lancia Ro had power problems. In order to cope with the requests of increased maximum payload, a new Junkers-licensed engine mounted on a new vehicle was introduced in 1935.

The engine was the Junker 3-cylinder 6 opposed pistons version with a displacement of 4,771 cm³. It produced 95 hp at 1,500 rpm (produced under license as Lancia Tipo 90). The vehicle on which it was mounted was the new Lancia Ro-Ro (factory code Serie 265) heavy-duty truck.

This new vehicle was a failure because the Italian Royal Army was not interested in buying it, so, after a total production of only 301 vehicles for the civilian market, the construction was terminated. Lancia Veicoli Industriali wanted a common vehicle to produce simultaneously in military and civil versions to save up money and have that maximum percentage of common parts.

A Lancia Ro-Ro with an Officine Viberti short cab. This particular vehicle was produced without the frontal bumper, probably for service in the colonies. Source: Camion Lancia

This was an unfortunate destiny for a truck that had a weight of 6.9 tonnes but a payload capability of 8.9 tonnes. During the Second World War, no other Italian truck had such a load capacity.

The Lancia 3Ro

Vincenzo Lancia, not satisfied by the license-built engines, decided to develop his own four-stroke five-cylinder diesel engine in order to decrease the production costs, as the Junkers engines were expensive, and to become more independent from foreign developments. In the mid-to-late 1930s, the Junkers engines that Lancia produced under license were not powerful enough to compete with the new trucks of other companies, which made the ‘Ro’ truck series become less competitive.

The new engine, dubbed Lancia Tipo 102, was mounted on the new Lancia 3Ro (factory code Serie 464) heavy-duty truck. The prototype was presented at the 10th Milan Motor Show on 28th October 1937. The new truck was bodied by Officine Viberti of Turin, now a leader in the sector and a valuable partner of Lancia. The prototype had an innovative drop-shaped radiator grille, inspired by that of the Lancia Augusta sports car. However, this would not be used on the first vehicle series.

The Lancia 3Ro prototype at the 10th Milan Motor Show. It had a modern bodywork and a Viberti trailer. Source: Archivio Lancia

Production began in late 1937, while sales of the new vehicle began in 1938. It replaced the Lancia Ro and Lancia Ro-Ro on the production lines. Initially, two models were offered by Lancia in 1938. A civilian one with factory code Serie 464 and a military one, Serie 564. These codes were rarely used even if some sources, for the sake of clarity, define the models as ‘Lancia 3Ro 464’ and ‘Lancia 3Ro 564’.

A Lancia 3Ro poster. On the bottom, the writing says ‘Lancia & Company Automobiles Factory of Turin, S.A. Corporation’. Source: Archivio Lancia

The first version of the civilian model retained a fairly rustic bodywork in order to keep the cost low, speed up production, and make it competitive on the Italian civilian market.

Name

From 1906 to 1919, Lancia & Co. vehicles received very simple names, consisting of the horsepower delivered by the engine (Lancia 12HP, etcetera).

In 1919, Vincenzo Lancia’s brother, Giovanni, a scholar of classical languages, suggested to his brother to use the ancient Greek alphabet for the names of his cars. They first appeared during that year: the Lancia Lambda was the first, and then the previous models were renamed Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and so on. The Lambda made its debut at the Paris and London Motor Show in 1922.

Brochure for a Lancia Lambda of the 8th Series. Source: minumy.net

In the same period, the prefixes ‘Di’ and ‘Tri’ began to be adopted to represent evolutions or simply similar vehicles. The last Lancia car to adopt the Greek letters was the Dilambda, the prototype of which was presented at the 1929 New York Motor Show.

Truck names likewise received the same name treatment. The ‘Jota’ series had several variants: Dijota, Trijota, Tetrajota, Eptajota, etc. Between 1929 and 1930, Vincenzo Lancia decided to switch to the Latin language, using old place names to baptize his cars: the Lancia Augusta, Aprilia, and Ardea were the most popular. In 1931, some of these cars received ‘ad hoc’ French names when Lancia tried to sell them on the French civil market, with mixed success.

For the trucks, strangely enough, the Italian businessman preferred to maintain the Greek alphabet with the new series of trucks, the ‘Ro’ ones. ‘ϱ’ was the 17th letter of the Greek alphabet. However, strangely enough, Lancia decided to use different nomenclature for these trucks, naming the second Ro-Ro instead of ‘Diro’, and the third one 3Ro and not ‘Triro’.

Design

Chassis

The steel frame consisted of two straight spars connected by five welded and two bolted cross sections. The two bolted ones supported the engine. At the ends of each spar was a towing hook, while the rear cross-section received the hinged hook to tow trailers or artillery pieces.

Some military trucks were equipped with a winch with a capacity of 9.5 tonnes, with a 31.5 m long cable. This hydraulic winch was operated by the truck’s engine thanks to a Power Take-Off (P.T.O.) system. When necessary, the driver stopped the vehicle, would shift out of gear on the gearbox, engage the handbrake, and, via a manual override, connected the engine’s flywheel to a second driveshaft that operated the winch’s gearbox, which regulated the speed of the cable.

The Lancia 3Ro NMSP chassis. The 135 liters tank is behind the cab. Only the five welded cross sections are visible. On the last one, the hinged hook (number 1) is visible and the two towing hooks on the sides. The transmission shaft, leaf-spring suspensions and brake pulleys are also visible. Source: Manuale di Uso e Manutenzione Lancia 3 Ro
The Lancia 3Ro chassis seen from above. Source: Aldo Mario Feller

The 4.8 m long, 2.3 m wide, and 0.65 m tall loading bay was built out of wood, with 2.5 cm thick planks, for an area of 10.34 m² and an internal volume of 6.72 m³. The civilian Lancia 3Ro, weighing 5.5 tonnes, was approved by law to carry 6.5 tonnes of cargo, for a total weight of truck and cargo of 12 tonnes. However, the maximum transportable cargo came to almost 10 tonnes. The military version, with an empty weight of 5.61 tonnes and a payload capability approved by law of 6.39 tonnes, could carry 32 fully equipped soldiers on two side benches or almost 42 sitting on the floor. Other possible loads were military vehicles, such as the series L3/33, L3/35, or L3/38 fast tank (~ 3.2 tonnes), L6/40 light reconnaissance tank (6.84 tonnes), a Semovente L40 da 47/32 (6.82 tonnes) self-propelled gun, or even 7 horses.

A Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 during the loading operation of a Semovente L40 da 47/32 in Tunisia. With a length of 3.82 meters and a width of 1.92 meters, the L40 fit perfectly in the 3Ro’s cargo bay. Source: pinterest.com
An L3 tank climbing the ramps to be loaded on a Lancia 3Ro, probably in the Balkans. Source: pinterest.com

Engine and Suspension

The Lancia 3Ro stood out with its new diesel engine, designed and produced by the Turin company. The Lancia Tipo 102 diesel, 4-stroke, direct ignition, 4 valve, 5-cylinder in-line water-cooled engine, with a capacity of 6,875 cm³, delivered 93 hp at 1,860 rpm, leading to a maximum speed on road of 45 km/h. It had a 135 liters tank behind the cab. The fuel tank was connected to a license-built Bosch pump that injected the fuel in the chamber thanks to license-built Bosch injectors. The lubricant oil tank had a capacity of 10.5 liters.

The left side of the Lancia Tipo 102 5-cylinder in-line diesel engine. Source: Archivio Lancia
The right side of the Lancia Tipo 102 5-cylinder in-line diesel engine. Source: Archivio Lancia

It had a range of 530 km on-road, with an approximate consumption of 1 liter of fuel each 3.9 km on-road. The off-road range was 450 km, with an approximate consumption of 1 liter of fuel every 3.3 km.

The fuel tank cap, curiously placed on the right side of the upholstered bench. Source: facebook.com @Autocarro Lancia 3RO – Scala 1/35

Initially, the engine had an inertial starter connected to a crank. Some vehicles produced during the war and almost all the post-war Lancia 3Ros were equipped with electric starters. On some Lancia 3Ro produced before 1946, the inertial starter was substituted by electric ones later on.

Semi-elliptical steel leaf springs were used on all four wheels. A trick Soviet soldiers used to stop Axis vehicles during the great Russian retreat was to dig holes in the roads. With temperatures below -30° degrees, the leaf spring suspensions of the trucks would break when they hit such a hole, stopping the vehicle in place. The Lancia 3Ro and a few other models of Axis vehicles did not have this problem, probably due to the quality of the steel with which they were manufactured.

The engine compartment on a Lancia 3Ro Serie 564. The original Lancia Tipo 102, in excellent condition, is clearly visible. Source: facebook.com @Autocarro Lancia 3RO – Scala 1/35

The rear-wheel drive was connected to a gearbox with 4 forward and 1 reverse gears and two-stage reductor, for a total of 8 forward and 2 reverse speeds. It had a single dry plate clutch, as on the Lancia Ro and Ro-Ro. It was built under license after a German Maybach model and was located behind the cab for ease of maintenance.

The Lancia 3Ro had expansion shoe-type brakes. The brakes were composed of tie rods that acted on the brake shoes and moved two servo conical pulleys. These used force from the transmission when the brake pedal was pressed. This meant that, in the event of a brake system failure whether the vehicle was moving or stationary, the brakes would be locked in place by the brake shoes. This system would be abandoned in favor of a hydraulic system after the war.

The brake system of the trailer was pneumatic, powered by a compressor connected to an air tank of the ‘Triplex’ type mounted on the truck. After the war, the 3Ro received new arrangements for towing 12 tonnes instead of the 10 tonnes authorized for the civilian variant. This increased the maximum weight of the loaded truck and the loaded trailer to 24 tonnes. On the military model, it was not uncommon to see vehicles carrying material for a total of almost 10 tonnes in the loading bay.

Thanks to the power of the engine, fully loaded trailers could be towed by fully loaded Lancia 3Ros even on steep roads, where other heavy-duty trucks, such as the FIAT 634N, were forced to stop. The pulley brake system worked very well on downhill slopes, braking the enormous mass of the fully loaded truck and trailers.

One of the Lancia 3Ro’s problems was the rear axle, which was composed of two load-bearing axle shafts. This meant that, in case the axle shafts broke, the Lancia would get stuck and it was very difficult to move it. Fortunately, this problem was rarely encountered and, after the war, this was replaced with a better-performing system. Civilian models produced with this axle were sometimes modified independently by the owners, replacing the axle shafts with stronger ones from other heavy trucks, such as FIAT 666Ns or Isotta Fraschini D80s.

The electrical system was a 6 volt one in the first 1,611 Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 vehicles produced, then replaced by a 12 volt system in the following models. It was linked to the Magneti Marelli D90R3 12/1100 dynamo produced by Magneti Marelli of Sesto San Giovanni. This was used to power the two front lights, the license plate and dashboard lighting, the windscreen wipers, and the horn. On the Serie 464, the 12 volt system was mounted from the start.

Prototype of the Lancia 3Ro NMSP Serie 564 at the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione. It had Pirelli Tipo ‘Celerflex’ solid tires. Source: italie1935-45.com

Artillery-type forged steel rim wheels could mount various types of tires produced by the Pirelli company of Milan or the French Michelin company. These were 270 x 20” tires on the 564 MNP and Pirelli Tipo ‘Celerflex’ solid tires with a 285×88” diameter on the 564 MNSP.

For sandy soils, the Lancia could use Pirelli Tipo ‘Sigillo Verde’ tires. These, thanks to their wide profile, offered good flotation on loose sand.

The vehicle was also tested with rubberless tires before the war. This is because of the lack of rubber due to embargoes placed on Fascist Italy after the Ethiopian War. During its operational life, the Lancia 3Ro was often equipped with Pirelli Tipo ‘Raiflex’ tires for sandy grounds and produced with Rayon (Raion in Italian) synthetic fibers (RAI-flex for Raion) in order to save on rubber.

Bodywork

The main bodyworker for Lancia Veicoli Industriali trucks was Officine Viberti of Corso Peschiera 249 in Turin. This partnership began with the Lancia Ro model. This Turinese company was less than 800 m from the Lancia plant in the Borgo San Paolo district in Via Monginevro 99. It was easy for Lancia to deliver the truck frames to Viberti, which bodyworked them. Officine Viberti thus became the unofficial Lancia coachworker.

The brand of the Officine Viberti factory. This brand is visible on the sides of the Viberti civilian cab. Source: facebook.com

Officine Viberti was founded by Candido Viberti in 1922; he had previously been employed by another company. After a collaboration with the Ceirano car company, in 1928, he moved his company to the Borgo San Paolo district. In that period, the company abandoned car bodyworks and began to bodywork trucks for ‘special’ use (coaches, buses, trailers, and semi-trailers).

In 1932, Candido Viberti bought the Società Anonima Industriale di Verona or SAIV (English: Industrial Limited Company of Verona) and started the production of fuel or liquid carriers in parallel. In the same period, Viberti became a valuable partner of Lancia Veicoli Industriali, for which it bodywork the majority of the civilian trucks and all the military ones.

Also thanks to this collaboration, Officine Viberti grew. From just 150 workers in 1928, the firm reached 800 workers in 1935, and then 1,517 workers and 263 employees in 1943. This was also partly due to the continuous requests from the Royal Italian Army not only for truck bodywork but also for trailers, semi-trailers, etcetera.

The Officine Viberti plant in Corso Peschiera 249, Turin, in the 1950s. Now this building is a residential house block. Source: museotorino.it

Officine Viberti equipped the civilian 3Ro trucks with wooden cargo bays covered with thin metal sheets, but some customers sometimes asked specifically for only wooden ones or only metal sheet ones. Other special cargo bays could be added on the Lancia 3Ros, such as a tilting dump-truck cargo bay, a van-style bay, cold storage, transport of perishable materials, or live animals.

In the late 1930s, due the enormous amount of work entrusted to the company, occasionally there were delays in the construction of truck bodywork (not only the Lancia ones). Thus, many customers that had ordered a truck that they needed immediately purchased ‘naked’ chassis from Lancia. They then privately got them bodied by Carrozzeria Orlandi of Modena, Cab, Zagato of Rho, near Milan, Carrozzeria Esperia in Pavia, or even Carrozzeria Caproni of Milan and Carrozzeria Zorzi. This made some vehicles quite different and with lots of differences from the ones bodied by Viberti.

A Lancia 3Ro with Carrozzeria Esperia cab and wooden plank cargo bay. Source: pinterest.com

For the bus versions, these vehicles were fitted out by companies such as Carrozzeria Garavini of Turin, Carrozzeria Macchi of Varese, Orlandi or, the most popular and common, Officine Viberti.

After the war, due to the bad financial situation and the poor state of the infrastructure of Officine Viberti, many trucks were subcontracted by Viberti. The coachwork of the Lancia 3Ro was done by other companies, such as Caproni or other brands with just some small workshops with a few workers.

For the Lancia 3Ro, Officine Viberti offered a whole range of cabs and loading bays. There were the ‘short cabs’ with two seats for truckers that had no need to make long journeys. In some vehicles, the seats were substituted with a single upholstered bench for three men.

Lancia 3Ro Serie 464 coachworked by Officine Viberti with a short cab of the first series and metal sheet cargo bay with higher walls and overhead storage rack. Source: italie1935-45.com

The ‘long cabs’, about 300 mm longer, had a single upholstered bench for three people and, behind the backrest, a berth. This cab came with many small modifications. The customers could request to equip the rear part with small windows with curtains or without windows. The Lancia 3Ro was the third European truck to have the provision for a berth, after the Italian FIAT 634N heavy duty truck (that could even have 3 berths if requested), its main rival on the Italian civilian market, and the French three-axle Renault AFKD super heavy duty truck (10 tonne payload) produced after 1936.

The berth was often made of wood between two sheets of molded steel, although some customers opted for the simpler solution of having the entire berth made of wood. Some owners asked for two berths, one on top of the other, with no exterior differences between single-berth cabs and two-berths cabs.

However, the Lancia 3Ro was the first truck that could permit one of the drivers to sleep while the other was driving. The FIAT and Renault vehicles only allowed the use of the berths when the vehicle was stationary.

Lancia 3Ro Serie 464 with Officine Viberti coachwork. It has a 1st series long cab and a heavy trailer produced by Viberti. The cargo bay and trailer had metal sheet walls. It was delivered to the Zanaboni Autotrasporti of Villanterio near Pavia. Note the marking ‘3Ro’ on the vertical hood, requested by the owner. Source: Camion Lancia

Another modification of the Officine Viberti long cab was the one used in the fuel carrier variant. Instead of a berth in the rear part of the cab, it was separate and there was a compartment to store some refueling tools and tubes with doors on the cab’ sides. This modification could probably be done on other types of trucks as well. Usually, the owner of a ‘long cab’ Lancia 3Ro that needed to travel long journeys carried only a second driver so, when one of the two was sleeping on the berth, the second one could drive. It was common that, when both the two drivers were tired, one slept on the upholstered bench, which could be used as a second berth.

The first cab versions featured a vertical front grille with an exposed radiator, vertical one-piece hood sides, single-line vertical air intakes and almost vertical windshield, all inspired by the previous Lancia Ro and Ro-Ro.

A Lancia 3Ro with Viberti’s short cab and a curious third headlight on the radiator grille, probably requested by the customer. The truck was used by the delivery company Maggiorano, which operated between the provinces of Turin, Asti, and Milan. Source: italie1935-45.com

In 1939, Officine Viberti introduced a new, more modern and elegant bodywork to increase aerodynamic performance, along with a drop-shaped radiator grille, like the Lancia Augusta luxury car. This model also had angled windscreen and more rounded shapes, exactly as the Lancia 3Ro prototype. The same thing was done by FIAT for its FIAT 634N in the same period. This new bodywork also had a short and long variant.

Lancia 3Ro with Officine Viberti long cab of the 2nd series. The cargo bay was made of wooden planks. Source: facebook.com

Another detail that not all cabs had was an overhead storage rack. The black square with a yellow or white triangle painted inside meant the truck could tow a trailer and warned drivers in its vicinity to be careful. If the rectangle was upright, the truck was towing a trailer. If it was horizontal, the trailer was not present. The triangle was only required by law on civilian vehicles.

All the Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 military trucks were bodied only by Officine Viberti.

The Officine Viberti military cab. It was definitely more rustic than the civilian ones to speed up production and save money and raw materials. The waterproof tarpaulin placed instead of lateral windows is clearly visible on the right drawing. Source: Officine Viberti
Lancia 3Ro Serie 654 cargo bay drawing. Like the cab, it was a rustic one, made of wood, openable only on the rear side. Source: Officine Viberti

Civilian Versions

The truck had a length of 7.40 m and a width of 2.5 m. Its weight was 5.5 tonnes and its payload capability was 8 tonnes meaning it could theoretically weigh up to 13.5 tonnes fully laden. This was even though the maximum weight allowed by Italian laws for these types of vehicles at the time was 12 tonnes. Thus, the permitted carried weight was a more modest 6.5 tonnes. The new Lancia’s engine guaranteed a maximum speed of 45 km/h that was enough for the 1930s standards, although by the standards of the 1940s this would have been a rather slow vehicle.

Lancia 3Ro of the 1st series with Officine Viberti short cab. Source: pinterest.com
A Lancia 3Ro of the second series, converted with Officine Viberti short cab and side-dump-truck cargo bay made of sheet metal. Source: Centro Storico FIAT

The total production of Lancia 3Ro Serie 464 was 1,307 vehicles produced until late 1941. The civilian version was homologated to tow two-axle trailers with a maximum payload of 10 tonnes.

In general, Italian truckers really appreciated Lancia’s new vehicle, which was fast, sturdy, powerful but, above all, very economical. The other Italian heavy trucks in the market at the time were the FIAT 634N, the Isotta Fraschini D80, the FIAT 666N, and the ALFA Romeo 800 (the last two entered service in 1939).

Lancia 3Ro vs other Italian Heavy Trucks
Truck model Lancia 3Ro Serie 464 FIAT 634N FIAT 666N ALFA Romeo 800 Isotta Fraschini D80
Unloaded weight 5,500 kg 6,360 kg 5,770 kg 5,000 kg 5,500 kg
Maximum payload 6,500 kg 6,140 kg 6,240 kg 7,000 kg 6,500 kg
Engine power 93 hp at 1,860 rpm 75 at 1,700 rpm 110 hp at 2,000 rpm 108 hp at 2,000 rpm 90 hp at 1850 rpm
Maximum speed 45 km/h 37 km/h 56.8 km/h 37 – 49 km/h 34 km/h
Range 530 km 400 km 465 km 500 km 380 km

The 3Ro was competitive with the first two trucks. The FIAT model 634N entered service in 1931 and was really heavy, at 6.36 tonnes, and permitted the transport of only 6.14 tonnes of cargo and had some problems when fully loaded on mountain roads due to the 80 hp engine. The FIAT 666N was modern and powerful but had a lower cargo payload. The Isotta Fraschini compared similarly in some aspects, as the truck had the same weight and payload capacity as the Lancia, but had a higher fuel consumption and higher costs due to a more refined structure. Only the wealthiest truckers or companies could afford such a vehicle.

Regarding the competition between 3Ro and ALFA Romeo, the ALFA vehicle was far better due a lighter weight of just 5 tonnes, which permitted a payload of 7 tonnes and a more powerful engine that guaranteed a top speed of 49 km/h with reductors. The problem was the absence of a berth for long journeys. The same issue existed with the FIAT 666N. It weighed 5.77 tonnes and could load 6.24 tonnes of cargo with a maximum speed of 56.8 km/h. The main problem with these last two vehicles was a series of laws passed in the Kingdom of Italy in 1937 that outlined the main characteristics required for all future civilian or military trucks. The Lancia 3Ro, fortunately, avoided being covered by the new laws, probably because the project was already almost finished in 1937.

This new law was passed for three main reasons:
Firstly, Italy was a rapidly growing nation with numerous companies producing dozens of different models of trucks. Standardization would lead companies to produce vehicles very 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 have helped to avoid wasting resources. An example was wheel rim size. After 1935, due the embargoes placed for the invasion of Ethiopia, Italy had little rubber with which to produce tires. If all the trucks had the same rim diameters and sizes, the companies that produced tires produced one-size tires adaptable on all trucks.

Thirdly, and probably the most important reason, was the unification of civilian and military truck standards, which meant that, in case of war, civilian trucks could be requisitioned for war needs.

With Regio Decreto (English: Royal Decree) N° 1809 of 14th July 1937, the so-called Autocarri Unificati (English: Unified Trucks) were born. For heavy trucks, the maximum weight did not to exceed 12,000 kg, of which at least 6,000 kg had to be of payload, with a diesel engine with a minimum road speed of 45 km/h. The ALFA Romeo 800 and FIAT 666N were the first trucks designed under the Regio Decreto N° 1809 rules.

This led Italian truckers to be reluctant to purchase this type of truck (the Autocarri Unificati rules also applied to medium trucks), as it was clear that, within a few years, the Kingdom of Italy would enter the war and, therefore, that FIAT 666N and ALFA Romeos would surely be requisitioned first. So, despite their better features, Italian truckers preferred to continue buying Lancia 3Ro or less performing vehicles that theoretically would not be requisitioned in case of war.

The Italian heavy duty trucks produced before the war, the competitors of the Lancia 3Ro. From top left clockwise: the FIAT 634N 2nd Series on FIAT’s Lingotto plant’s roof, the prototype of the ALFA Romeo 800 outside the ALFA plant of Milan, Isotta Fraschini D80, and the last one, the FIAT 666N with Officine Viberti’s cab. Sources: pinterest.com, italie1935-45.com, facebook.com, Archivio Pasquale Caccavale with modification by the author

The Italian truckers nicknamed the Lancia 3Ro the ‘Lancia Trairò’, a pun between the Italian word ‘Traino’ (English: Towing), pronounced ‘Trài·no’, and the name of the vehicle, which in Italian is pronounced ‘Lancia Tré-Rò’.

Starting in 1940, fenders were painted white because of the regulations imposed by the so-called darkening laws. These rules dictated that motor vehicles and bicycles had to travel with their headlights partially covered to avoid being spotted by enemy planes that flew almost undisturbed in the Italian skies at night. The white band on the mudguards and on the hood made it possible to notice the few vehicles that were allowed to drive around at night.

A Lancia 3Ro Serie 464 produced after 1939 with Officine Viberti’s long cab. The white bands on the mudguards and on the hood are clearly visible. Source: italie1935-45.com

The diagonal stripe painted on the radiator grille indicated the type of transportation license. If red, it was for the owner’s account, if white, for other individuals.

Special Variants

Like the Lancia Ro, the Lancia 3Ro was available in many special versions for civilian and army needs. It was produced as a standard duty truck, fuel or non-flammable liquid carrier, animal carrier, bus, and recovery truck.

Lancia also developed a methane gas-powered version of the Lancia Tipo 102, the 102G. It was used mainly in the bus versions (Factory code Serie P566), but a small series of standard Serie 464 were also equipped with this engine type and sold to companies that traded methane gas.

One of the Lancia 3Ro Serie 464 with methane gas engine. It was delivered to the Smercio e Applicazioni Metano Società Anonima of Turin, as painted on the Viberti short cab door (together with the phone number of the company). Turin, March 1940. Source: italie1935-45.com

The version with a water or fuel tank was adopted for the Serie 464 and for the Serie 564, produced by Officine Viberti, with a capacity of 5,000 liters. It was mainly used in North Africa to transport fuel or water. A trailer with the same capacity produced by Officine Viberti could be attached to it, for a total of 10,000 liters. A civilian variant was also equipped with a Società Anonima Industriale di Verona fuel tank. These versions had an impressive fully loaded weight of more than 15 tonnes, about 6 tonnes for the empty truck, trailer of unknown weight, and 10 tonnes of water or other liquids.

Lancia 3Ro with long cab and tank produced by Officine Viberti and a Viberti trailer. This particular truck, with a total capacity of 10,000 liters of fuel, was used by the Lancia Veicoli Industriali plant in Turin to refuel freshly produced trucks. The white lines on the fenders were painted to operate during the night. Source: italie1935-45.com
A civilian 2nd series Lancia 3Ro with Viberti-SAIV fuel tank. Source: italie1935-45.com

Some Lancia 3Ros received some strange and relatively unknown special bodyworks. To give an example, in 1948, the Municipality of Pavia ordered an unknown number of Lancia 3Ros for the transportation of garbage bins. Is not clear if the Pavia Municipality asked for a specific model or if it was a decision taken by Lancia, but the vehicles that Lancia delivered were on the 3Ro P3 variant, specially developed for bus bodyworks. These became the first Lancia trucks with cab-forward configuration, 7 years before the appearance of the first ‘official’ cab-forward Lancia Veicoli Industriali’s truck, the prime mover Lancia Esatau A that entered in the market in 1955.

One of the Lancia 3Ro PL3 converted for the transportation of garbage bins for the Pavia Municipality, ready to be delivered. The cab was a Viberti one. Source: Camion Lancia

After the war, at least one Lancia 3Ro PL3 was converted into a food truck. Nothing is known about it, but it was probably converted from an old bus in the late 1950s or early 1960s. However, it seems it is a strange and curious homemade version.

A Lancia 3Ro PL3 (also seen on the plaque of the radiator grille) converted into a food truck, probably from a former bus. Source: forum.camperonline.it

Another interesting garbage variant of the Lancia 3Ro appeared in a scene of ‘Ladri di Biciclette’, an Italian film of 1948. In these scenes, at least 2 Lancia 3Ros of the Municipality of Rome that were used by dustmen are clearly visible. These particular vehicles had a rounded bodywork produced by an unknown workshop.

One of the Lancia 3Ro converted into a garbage truck for Rome’s municipality appeared in the film Ladri di Biciclette (English: Bicycle Thieves). Source: Ladri di Biciclette

Officine Viberti also produced a small series of 3Ro Serie 464 with a towing hook and winch, meant to be used as recovery trucks. Some of these were used by the Trucchi company in the Turin countryside.

A Lancia 3Ro recovery truck with Officine Viberti’s early model short cab and overhead storage rack. It was produced in 1939 for the company Trucchi. Source: Centro Storico FIAT

Bus Versions

In 1939, Lancia Veicoli Industriali proposed the lowered chassis Lancia 3Ro P (P for Passo – Wheelbase), factory code Serie 266 and Lancia 3Ro PL (Passo Lungo, English: Longer Wheelbase) for the civilian market. These were 7,860 mm long compared to the 7,400 mm of the standard series.

Lancia 3Ro P bodied by Carrozzarie Macchi-Baratelli with a trailer. This particular model was used as a standard articulated bus and entered service in 1941. Source: Fondazione Negri
Lancia 3Ro P bodied by Officine Viberti. This vehicle was used as an intercity coach. Source: italie1935-45.com

These versions of the Lancia 3Ro were designed to tow a trailer in order to increase the passenger capacity. The Lancia 3Ro P, bodied by Officine Viberti, carried 32 passengers plus the driver, with the trailer taking the capacity to over 50 people. In 1940, 78 Lancia 3Ro P chassis rolled off the assembly lines, almost all bodied by Officine Viberti.

Bus on Lancia 3Ro P2 chassis with coachwork by Carrozzeria Garavini of Turin for the Società Biellese Autolinee (English: Biella Bus Company), here in front of Garavini’s workshop. Source: italie1935-45.com

In 1942, Lancia Veicoli Industriali proposed a cab-over chassis version of the Lancia 3Ro called P3 (and P3L for the long wheelbase version), code Serie 466, of which 142 were produced. In parallel, a conventional engine forward chassis called Lancia 3Ro P2 (and P2L) was introduced. In total, 611 Lancia 3Ro were produced of the three Passo Lungo variants between 1939 and 1950.

A Lancia 3Ro 3PL with coachwork by Officine Viberti, utilized by the coach company that connected Lucca to Castelnuovo di Garfagnana in Tuscany. Source: Officine Viberti
Another Lancia 3Ro P3 working as a city bus in 1948. Source: Centro Storico FIAT

Military Versions

The military model was only bodied by Officine Viberti. The following versions were produced: troop transport, animal or equipment transport, tractor for heavy artillery pieces (mainly 90 mm anti-aircraft cannons and 149 mm howitzers), quadruped carrier variant for cavalry divisions, mobile workshop, fuel and liquid carrier, ammunition carrier, tank transporter, and also truck-mounted artillery for a wide range of artillery pieces.

A Lancia 3Ro NMP Serie 564 in its standard cargo truck configuration. This is a colorized photo of the Lancia 3Ro manual printed by the Royal Army in 1941. Source: Manuale di Uso e Manutenzione per Autocarro Pesante Lancia 3Ro

Rear and front view of two different Lancia 3Ro NMP, license plate ‘Regio Esercito 102155’ and ‘Regio Esercito 72012’. On the two vehicles, the tires were of the Pirelli Tipo ‘Raiflex’ type. Sources: italie1935-45.com

This model differed from the civilian version by having a length of 7.25 m and a width of 2.35 m, a wooden cargo bay, and 2 horizontal bars to protect the vertical radiator. On the upper bar, a white line was factory-painted, on which, after delivery, the army license plate was painted in red and black.

Other differences were an inertia starter motor under the radiator grille, doors with fixed windows, acetylene headlights on the sides of the windshield, a wooden floor, and only the rear side of the cargo bay openable.

The Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 was delivered starting in 1938, one year after the Serie 464 went into production. A prototype was produced and presented to the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione (English: Motorization Studies Center), the military department which examined new vehicles, in early 1938. After testing, it was quickly accepted into service in the Italian Regio Esercito as the Lancia 3Ro MNP (for Militare; Nafta; Pneumatici – Military, Diesel, Tires) version with standard tires and the Lancia 3Ro NMSP (for Militare; Nafta; SemiPneumatici – Military, Diesel, Solid Tires) with solid rubber tires. Apart from the difference in the type of tires, which changed the vehicle’s performance, the truck models were identical.

Each truck probably cost more than 65,000 Lira. This was the price for the earlier military variant of the Lancia Ro. In 1938, Lancia Veicoli Industriali planned that its maximum production rate would be 150 heavy-duty trucks (Ro and 3Ro) per month.

The unloaded weight was 5.61 tonnes for the Lancia 3Ro MNP and 5.89 tonnes for the Lancia 3Ro MNSP. The maximum speeds were 45 km/h for the MNP and 41.7 km/h for the MNSP.

According to Lancia sources, a total of:

Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 Production
Year Number
1938 177
1939 657
1940 2,646
1941 3,162*
1942 1,643
1943 1,205
1944 51
1945 1
Total 9,542
Notes * Maximum production rate of 260 Lancia 3Ros per month

After three different bombing raids of the Lancia plant in Turin, in October 1942, production of the Lancia 3Ro was entrusted to the Lancia Veicoli Industriali plant in Bolzano, in the Trentino Alto Adige region, where it remained until the end of the war.

During the war, first the Royal Army and then the Germans and the Italian Social Republic requisitioned most of the civilian Lancia 3Ro Serie 464 to reuse them for military purposes. These are easy to identify due to their civilian-style cabs that differed from the military ones.

A Lancia 3Ro Serie 464 with a Officine Viberti long cab in service with the Regio Esercito in Corsica. It was requisitioned from a private owner or from the Lancia plant to be quickly repainted, replated and put in service with the Italian Royal Army. Source: facebook.com @Curzio Cobetti

One of the main special variants was the Autofficina Mobile Modello 1938 (English: Mobile Workshop Model 1938). As the name suggests, these were standard Lancia 3Ro trucks equipped with tools and spare parts to repair Italian vehicles. These mobile workshops, composed of two trucks, one with machinery tools and the second with spare parts, were assigned to the Italian divisions and followed them on the front. After any battle, the damaged vehicles were transported to the rear lines, where the mechanics of the mobile workshops could repair them. The Lancia 3Ro were modified into mobile workshops by Officine Viberti but the number of vehicles converted was really limited. The Italian Royal Army preferred to use different vehicles, such as the old Lancia Ro. Apart from the prototype based on a Serie 564 MNSP, it seems that very few were produced. The few workshops produced remained in service after the war until the first years of the 1950s.

The Autofficina Mobile Modello 1938 on Lancia 3Ro NMSPs. The vehicle on the left was the spare parts carrier, while the one on the right was the one in which the machinery tools were transported. Source: Officine Viberti
Lancia 3Ro NMSP license plate ‘Regio Esercito 81715’ in working position at the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione during test. Source: italie1935-45.com

For operations in Africa, the Lancia 3Ro Tipo Libia (English: Libya Type) was created, even if it was probably produced in small numbers. It essentially was a standard Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 with the cab left open and without a windshield, windows, and roof. It had a water tarpaulin to protect the driver and vehicle’s commander. Another characteristic feature was the cargo bay’s walls, which were shorter than the standard 650 mm ones. It had a different radiator grille and it probably also had a fuel tank with more capacity to extend the range.

Lancia 3Ro Tipo Libia blueprint. Source: Semicingolati, Motoveicoli e Veicoli Speciali del Regio Esercito Italiano 1919-1943

Another vehicle was the Lancia 3Ro fuel carrier or non-flammable liquid carrier. It was used mainly in North Africa as a fuel carrier. Its tank could carry a total of 5,000 liters of fuel or water. The liquid carrier truck could also tow a tank-trailer produced by Viberti or SAIV with the same capacity as the truck.

The Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 water carrier with tanks produced by Officine Viberti. The trailer was on a standard Rimorchio Unificato Medio also produced by Viberti and with the same capacity of the truck’s tank. Source: Archivio Viberti

The fuel carrier variants were also extensively used by the Italian Regia Aeronautica (English: Royal Air Force) and Italian Regia Marina (English: Royal Navy) to refuel planes and warships.

Two Lancia 3Ro fuel carriers during a refueling operation. In the background, two Spica-class torpedo boats are visible. Unfortunately, it is impossible to identify to which Italian Army branch the trucks belonged to because the license plates are unreadable. Source: David Zambon

For the transport of water or fuel, the Serie 546 could be equipped with two removable 2,000 liters tanks loaded on the cargo bay. These tanks did not require any modification to be fitted to the vehicle and were easy to remove, allowing the transport version to be even more versatile.

A Standard Lancia 3Ro NMSP, probably at the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione of Rome, loaded with a 2,000 liters tank. Source: italie1935-45.com

An example was converted into a mobile command office and donated to German Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel, commander of the Deutsches Afrikakorps or DAK (English: German Africa Corps) in 1941. Unfortunately, not much is known about this variant. However, the Desert Fox did not appreciate its characteristics and, after a short use of the Lancia, changed vehicles and used an AEC ‘Dorchester’ 4×4 Armored Command Vehicle captured from the British forces.

The Lancia 3Ro NM mobile command office in a depot, probably the Officine Viberti one in Turin. It had Pirelli Tipo ‘Sigillo Verde’ tires. Source: instagram.com @Forza Italiana

Some Lancia 3Ros were modified by the Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Sestri Ponente near Genoa as ammunition carriers. These vehicles received box-shaped metal ammunition racks. Two different versions were created. The prototype had a single box of large dimensions, for a total of 210 90 mm rounds placed on the rear part of the cargo bay, permitting 8 gun crewmembers to take a seat on the front section. It was presented in March 1941, but the series models were slightly modified. The series variant had eight separate boxes with a total of 216 rounds. Between the boxes, placed on the sides of the cargo bay, a small corridor remained. There, a total of eight seats for soldiers were positioned.
These ammunition carriers were created to transport rounds for the Italian 90 mm Autocannoni (English: 90 mm Truck-mounted artillery) groups that were used in North Africa. A total of 64 Lancia 3Ro ammunition carriers were ordered by the Regio Esercito. It is not known if all were delivered.

One of the ammunition carrier variants that could transport 210 rounds for the 90 mm Cannone da 90/53 Modello 1939 anti-aircraft gun. Source: fondazioneansaldo.com

Gasoline Version

During the war, a gasoline version of the engine was developed. This version was renamed Lancia Tipo 102B (B for Benzina – Gasoline). This engine was modified to work with cheaper and more available gasoline and delivered 91 hp. The majority of the 52 Lancia 3Ro produced for the Germans between 1944 and early 1945 were equipped with petrol engines. The Lancia Esarò (factory code Serie 627) medium truck, a ‘light’ version of the Lancia 3Ro developed in 1941, received an identical engine but with lower horsepower, the Tipo 102B, delivering 80 hp, coupled to the same transmission as the Lancia 3Ro. In 1946, 12 unfinished Lancia Esaròs received the Lancia Tipo 102 diesel, but giving out only 81 hp. In total, 398 Lancia 3Ros with petrol engines were produced during the war.

The lighter Lancia Esarò. Source: wikipedia.com

Trailers

The Lancia 3Ro, in both military and civilian versions, could also tow two-axle trailers of the Rimorchi Unificati (English: Unified Trailers) type. These were produced under the same rules as the Autocarri Unificati. The Rimorchio Unificato Medio (English: Medium Unified Trailer) had a length of 4.585 m, a width of 2.15 m, a height of 1.75 m, an unloaded weight of 2.1 tonnes and a payload capacity of 5.4 tonnes for a total weight permitted by law of 7.5 tonnes. The Rimorchio Unificato Pesante (English: Heavy Unified Trailer) had a length of 6.157 m, a width of 2.295 m, and a height of 1.920 m. Its unloaded weight was 3.3 tonnes and had a payload capacity of 10.7 tonnes, for a total weight of 14 tonnes.

These trailers had twin wheels, a compressed air braking system connected to the cabin by flexible cables, a spare wheel, openable sides and, curiously, the triangular trailer connector could be mounted on the front or on the rear side in order to tow the trailer from both sides. These Rimorchi Unificati were produced by the ubiquitous Officine Viberti, Società Italiana Ernesto Breda per Costruzioni Meccaniche (English: Italian Company Ernesto Breda for Mechanical Constructions) or more simply Breda, Officine Meccaniche Umberto Piacenza (English: Umberto Piacenza Mechanical Workshops) of Cremona, Carrozzeria Orlandi of Modena, Carrozzeria Strafurtini, Carrozzeria Bartoletti of Forlì, and Sauro.

Before the war, the maximum weight of the Lancia 3Ro truck and trailer fully loaded was not to exceed 22 tonnes, 12 tonnes of the truck, and 10 tonnes of the trailer. After the war, the maximum came to 24 tonnes, 12 tonnes each.

During the war, Officine Viberti and Carrozzeria Bartoletti developed two different variants of Rimorchi a Ralla Unificati Grandi per Trasporto Carro M13 (English: Large Slewing Bearing Unified Trailers for M13 Tank Transport), more simply known as the Rimorchi Unificati da 15T (English: 15-tonne payload Unified Trailers) developed for tank transport.

Carrozzeria Strafurtini and Officine Viberti also developed a particular type of trailer that was discarded by the Italian Royal Army after long tests due to difficulties in production. This delayed the start of production of the Rimorchi Unificati da 15T, for which the Viberti ones won the contract. In fact, the Viberti trailer was accepted in service only on 24th March 1942.

The Viberti trailers had a payload of 15 tonnes and were designed specifically to be towed by heavy trucks for the transport of medium tanks and self-propelled guns. These two-axle trailers had a 5.7 m length, 2.4 m width, height of 2.02 m, and an unloaded weight of 3.75 tonnes, with a maximum total weight of 18.75 tonnes.

Lancia 3Ro Serie 464 of the first series with an Esperia short cab and Orlandi medium unified trailer. It was used by Trasporti Vanzetta de Santis transport company of Bolzano. Source: italie1935-45.com
A civilian-origin Lancia 3Ro Serie 464 with Viberti‘s short cab and metal sheet cargo bay towing a Rimorchio Unificato Viberti da 15T with a Carro Armato M13/40 loaded on. The crew of the tank is resting on the cargo bay. Under the radiator grille, the electric ignition is visible. Unfortunately, the unit’s name is not readable. North Africa, date unknown, but probably 1941. The tank was of the VIII Battaglione Carri M13/40 of the 132° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista assigned to the 132ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete’. Source: David Zambon

It could carry any tank of the ‘M’ series (M13/40, M14/41 or M15/42) and any self-propelled gun on their chassis (Semovente M40, M41 or M42 da 75/18) for a total weight of loaded truck and loaded trailer of almost 30 tonnes. Even if not fully loaded, the Lancia 3Ro could tow even 2 or three trailers at the same time. In fact, it was possible to correct the turning radius of the trailers to allow several trailers to be towed together by a single truck.

The Lancia 3Ro was probably also capable of towing the Rimorchio Porta Carri Armati P40 (English: P40 Tank Trailer), with a length of 13.6 m, a width of 2.76 m, a height of 0.5 m, an unloaded weight of 10.26 tonnes and a payload capacity of 30 tonnes. The Italian Regia Aeronautica (English: Royal Air Force) and Italian Regia Marina (English: Royal Navy) also used some Lancia 3Ro to tow some airplane trailers or to transports bombs or torpedoes to the airfield.

A Lancia 3Ro with short cab and metal sheet cargo bay produced by Officine Viberti of Turin towing a Reggiane Re. 2000 fighter aircraft. The total weight of the unloaded aircraft was 2.08 tonnes. Source: Archivio Govi

Service

Brief Operational Service

The Lancia 3Ro, in civilian and military variants, had great off-road capabilities. In North Africa, due to these characteristics, it earned the nickname ‘Re del Deserto’ (English: King of the Desert).

An example of the great off-road performance of the Lancia 3Ro heavy duty truck. This unloaded Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 is climbing a high-angle hillside while towing a Rimorchio Unificato Viberti da 15T. Only a few truck models during the whole duration of World War Two had similar off-road characteristics. Photo taken somewhere near Sollum, June 1942. Source: David Zambon

The Lancias were assigned mainly to the autoreparti pesanti (English: heavy vehicles units) assigned to logistic units and usually transported ammunition, food, and other supplies from ports (for North Africa) or railway stations (for the Russian and Balkan fronts) to the front line, which could be several hundred kilometers away.

The 34° Autoreparto Pesante (English: 34th Heavy Vehicles Unit), assigned to the 2° Autoraggruppamento (English: 2nd Motorized Group) deployed in the Soviet Union, had the task of connecting the battlefront with the rear line. When it arrived from Italy, it had a total of 3,160 trucks and, in a few months, from 1st July 1942 to 31st December 1942, it lost 883 trucks, 28% of the total, to various causes.

A Lancia 3Ro and a FIAT-SPA 38R light lorry advancing in the African Desert near Sidi el Barrani in 1940. Source: Archivio Centrale dello Stato

Each Italian division had some heavy-duty trucks to tow the artillery pieces or the tanks of the division. The exact number of heavy-duty trucks changed for each division type. An armored division had a theoretical number of 246 heavy-duty trucks, which theoretically increased to 258 in June 1942. In 1942, an Italian motorized division had in service a theoretical number of 861 trucks (light, medium, and heavy), prime movers, and staff cars. The 101ª Divisione Motorizzata ‘Trieste’ (English: 101st Motorized Division) had 61 heavy duty trucks of all variants during the same year. An infantry division in North Africa had a theoretical organic strength of 127 heavy trucks, 28 SPA Dovunque medium trucks, and 72 FIAT-SPA TL37 light prime movers.

A Lancia 3Ro Series 464 of civilian origin helped to cross a muddy road on the Eastern Front by a captured Soviet agricultural tractor. 1942. Source: Archivio Centrale dello Stato
Lancia 3Ro of a convoy marching towards the front, 25 kilometers from Stalino (now Donetsk) in Ukraine in spring 1942. In the foreground are some Soviet civilians.

During the Second World War, many Lancia 3Ros were abandoned during the catastrophic Axis retreats in the Soviet Union and North Africa. Sometimes, these were fully operative trucks abandoned for lack of fuel or other parts. The Allied troops, particularly the British, reused them due to their robustness, power, and load capacity. There were trucks captured and reused by the Soviets in the Soviet Union as well.

Lancia 3Ro in the hands of the British 7th Armoured Division in the North African desert. The new proprietors renamed it ‘Tiny Tim’. Source: o5m6.de

On the Russian front, the Lancia 3Ro was mainly used for the transport of materials of the Alpine divisions of the Corpo di Spedizione Italiano in Russia (English: Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia) that was then renamed ARMata Italiana in Russia or ARMIR (English: Italian Army in Russia). In this campaign, it proved to be a reliable vehicle. Even during the harsh Russian winters, the engine was reliable and performed well in very low temperatures that did not allow other Italian and German vehicles to move.

Some Italian veterans claim that the Soviet soldiers usually destroyed all the logistical vehicles that they captured from the Axis troops during the Don Offensive and the subsequent retreat from Russia, ramming over them or shooting them with tanks. Eventually, however, they began to appreciate the qualities of some vehicles, putting the Lancia 3Ro and FIAT 626 that they were able to capture back into service, while destroying the Opel Blitz and FIAT 634N, which they considered performed less well.

A Lancia 3Ro plated ‘Regio Esercito 82260’ of the Gruppo Battaglioni Camicie Nere ‘Leonessa’ of the 5ª Divisione di Fanteria ‘Cosseria’ on the Eastern Front. In front, two Italian and two German officers. 1942. Source: Come il DIamante

In North Africa, the Lancia was one of the most common heavy duty trucks of the Italian Royal Army, used for all tasks.

Due to the delay in the delivery of tank trailers, they were often used to tow tanks that were damaged or had mechanical failures. This task put strain on the trucks due to the sheer size of the tanks.

German, Partisan, and Repubblica Sociale Italiana Service

After 8th September 1943 and the armistice with the Allies, Lancia Veicoli Industriali stopped production until Germans entered the Bolzano and Turin plants, transforming them into ‘War Auxiliary Factories’. The production was quickly resumed and the Lancia 3Ros were built for the Germans and kept the same bodywork until order 7967/8153. This order, dated 5th April 1944, provided for the delivery of 100 trucks with the Einheits (English: Unity) cabs.

Lancia 3Ro with Einheits cab. It was probably powered by a Lancia Tipo 102B petrol engine. Source: italie1935-45.com

This cab, designed by the Germans, was made of hardboard planks on a parallelepiped wooden frame. It was very easy to mass produce, cheap, and adaptable to many Italian trucks, such as the FIAT 626, the SPA TM40, and the Lancia 3Ro.

Standard Lancia 3Ro heavy duty truck and a FIAT 666NM in German Service, probably in Eastern Europe. Source: pinterest.com

According to German sources, the German Army Luftwaffe, Wehrmacht, and Kriegsmarine branches, but also the Todt Organization and Polizei units put back into service a total of 772 Lancia 3Ro between January 1944 and February 1945. These numbers are far more than the production declared by Lancia in the same period, 52 were produced between 1944 and 1945.

Lancia 3Ro P used by a Luftwaffe unit after the Italian Armistice. Somewhere on the Eastern Front, 1944. Source: italie1935-45.com

It can be assumed that the German sources were in error, and 772 did not represent the vehicles that were newly delivered by Lancia Veicoli Industriali, but trucks that had previously belonged to the Italian Regio Esercito or private companies and were requisitioned or captured by the Germans. All Lancia 3Ros were assigned to units under the command of the Oberkommando Sud-Est, commanding the Balkans, and Oberkommando Sud-Ouest, commanding Italy.

A Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 captured from the Germans and reused by the Partisans in April 1945 to liberate the city of Turin. A 7.7 mm Breda-SAFAT medium machine gun was placed on the cab’s roof. The car near the truck was a FIAT 1100 armed with a Breda Modello 1930 light machine gun. Some Turin citizens that have risen against the Nazi-Fascist forces in the city are also present. Source: Archivio della Città di Torino
Lancia 3Ro previously in service with the German Kriegsmarine (shown on the license plate WM -7881), probably during the partisan parade after the Great Partisan Uprising of 25th to 28th April 1945 in Piazza del Duomo in Milan. It has the name of the Partisan brigade that captured it, the Brigata ‘Remo Servadei’, created from a battalion of the 81ª Brigata Garibaldi volante ‘Silvio Loss’. One of the Partisans sitting on the roof, on the left, is armed with a Villar Perosa light machine gun, a relic of the First World War. Source: affariitaliani.it

During the German occupation, 10 gas-powered Lancia 3Ro GT (GT for Gassificatore Tedesco – German Gasifier), factory code Serie 564 GT, were also produced. These trucks were like the ones produced with the Lancia Tipo 102G engine, but were instead equipped with a German-built gasifier and the Einheits cab.

Some were retained by Lancia Veicoli Industriali, which used them to connect its plants of Turin, Bolzano, Cismon del Grappa, and Padova. The drivers transported men, materials, and information to supply the various Italian Partisan units from Piemonte to Trentino Alto Adige regions and vice versa.

One of the Lancia 3Ro GT used by Lancia Veicoli Industriali, used to transport materials from its plants. It had an Einheits cab. On the side, the writing ‘LANCIA & C. TORINO’ and the number 26. Source: Camion Lancia

Some units of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI (English: Italian Social Republic), the Italian Fascist Republic created in late September 1943, and some Partisan brigades also used the Lancia 3Ro during the bloody civil war that broke out in northern Italy between 1943 and 1945. The Repubblica Sociale Italiana had its regular army, called Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano or ENR (English: National Republican Army), and its military police, the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana or GNR (English: National Republican Guard).

In Turin, in April 1944, not only the workers but the managers of the Turin plants made a deal with the Partisans to supply the fighters with lubricants, fuel, spare parts, financial assistance and, in some cases, also some entire vehicles. The numbers of vehicles delivered are not known. There were no new Lancia 3Ros supplied because they were being produced in Bolzano, but spare parts for such vehicles may have been delivered to the Partisans from the Turin plant.

A Lancia 3Ro of the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ exits the Caserma Luigi Riva in Via Cernaia, Turin. On board are the coffins of some of the militiamen who died in the previous days, during a firefight with the Partisans. Source: spazioinwind.libero.it

The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ (English: Armored Group), one of the better-equipped units of the RSI, had a total of 60 Lancia 3Ros in its ranks during its operational life. All were produced before the Armistice. Some other units were equipped with Lancia 3Ros, such as the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ (English: 1st Black Brigade) of Turin, the 36ª Brigata Nera ‘Natale Piacentini’ (English: 36th Black Brigade) of Lucca, and the Comando Provinciale GNR (English: Provincial Command of GNR) of Piacenza. The vehicles of these units were also produced before the Armistice.

Armed and Armored Versions

Autocannone da 100/17 su Lancia 3Ro

The Lancia 3Ro heavy duty truck was also extensively used for truck-mounted artillery vehicles, such as the Autocannone da 100/17 su Lancia 3Ro (English: 100 mm L.17 truck-mounted artillery on Lancia 3Ro chassis). This was a standard Lancia truck modified by the workshops of the 12° Autoraggruppamento Africa Settentrionale (English: 12th North African Motorized Grouping). The cab was modified, removing the roof and windshield and adding a support in the center of the cargo bay, on which a Obice da 100/17 Modello 1914 gun was mounted. It was also equipped with two 50-round racks behind the cab and optionally a 8 mm Breda machine gun for anti-aircraft defense. In total, only 16 were converted. The first four were assigned to the 14ª Batteria Autonoma (English: 14th Autonomous Battery) that supported the 132ª Divisione corazzata ‘Ariete’ (English: 132nd Armored Division), but they were destroyed by friendly fire on 1st December 1941.

An Autocannone da 100/17 su Lancia 3Ro in firing position in the Libyan desert. Source: o5m6.de

The last 12 produced, assigned to another three batteries, were assigned to the Raggruppamento Celere Africa Settentrionale (English: North Africa Fast Regroupment) in early 1942. In January 1943, the surviving vehicles were assigned to the 136ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Giovani Fascisti’ (English: 136th Armored Division) until their total destruction.

Autocannoni da 47/32 su Lancia 3Ro and Lancia 3Ro armed with Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935

A Lancia 3Ro of the 4ª Divisione fanteria ‘Livorno’ armed with a 20 mm Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935. On the truck’s right, a FIAT 634N is armed with a machine gun and, in the background, are another two Lancia 3Ros, one armed with a machine gun. Source: Archivio Centrale dello Stato

Another two guns mounted in North Africa on the Lancia 3Ros were the Cannone da 47/32 Modello 1935 support gun and the Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 anti-aircraft gun. Usually, the Lancias were left unmodified and these guns were loaded in their cargo bays thanks to the 11 m² area, which could accommodate the gun, the gun crew and some ammunition. The Autocannoni da 47/32 su Lancia 3Ro used by the IV° Battaglione Controcarro Autocarrato ‘Granatieri di Sardegna’ (English: 4th Motorized Anti-Tank Battalion) were modified, removing the cargo bay’s sides and mounting the guns on a 360° traverse support.

An Autocannone da 47/32 su Lancia 3Ro in North Africa. The cannon, seven soldiers, and some wooden crates are loaded into the huge cargo bay. Source: Istituto Luce

Autocannone da 90/53 Lancia 3Ro

The only officially produced autocannoni on Lancia 3Ro chassis were the ones armed with the powerful 90 mm Cannone da 90/53 Modello 1939. They were modified by the Ansaldo-Fossati Plant in Genoa to mount the powerful 90 mm anti-aircraft gun.

These autocannoni were developed for anti-aircraft and anti-tank purposes and 120 were converted, 30 on the Lancia 3Ro chassis and 90 on the Breda 52 chassis.

A Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 with ‘Regio Esercito 112939’ registration plate ready to be converted in an Autocannone da 90/53, probably outside the Ansaldo-Fossati plant. Source: army1914-1945.pl

These vehicles were assigned to 12 Groups with 2 batteries each, used in North Africa and Southern Italy. These vehicles had some problems caused by the heaviness of the gun and the recoil stress. In order to deal with these, the chassis was reinforced and manual jacks were adopted to lift the vehicle off the ground.

Autocannone da 90/53 Lancia 3Ro in North Africa in 1942. Source: Gli Autoveicoli Tattici E Logistici dell’Esercito Italiano fino al 1943 Tomo II

The increase in weight of the vehicle decreased the already moderate speed of these heavy trucks and the manual jacks forced the crew to exert a high physical effort and increased the times to get ready to fire and to leave the fire position, especially in dangerous situations.

GNR Armored Vehicles

The armored variants were improvised vehicles. All of the known ones were produced in workshops by Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana units.

The most famous one was the Lancia 3Ro Blindato of the 36ª Brigata Nera ‘Natale Piacentini’, modified by Arsenale di Piacenza (English: Arsenal of Piacenza). This was an armored truck equipped with a Cannone-Mitragliera Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini da 20/70 Modello 1939 on a 360° rotating turret, an 8 mm Breda Modello 1937 medium machine gun in a spherical support in the cab and two 8 mm Breda Modello 1938 medium machine guns in spherical supports on the sides.

The Lancia 3Ro Blindato of the 36ª Brigata Nera ‘Natale Piacentini’. Source: pinterest.com

It was only used in anti-partisan operations, first in Piacenza and then in Turin’s countryside. This armored truck became more known after the events of 25th April 1945, when there was a great Partisan insurrection. All the Italian Partisans of Northern Italy entered the main cities, such as Milan, Turin, and Genoa, occupying the main buildings and principal infrastructure, preventing German sabotage and waiting for the Allied arrival. The Lancia 3Ro Blindato, together with other vehicles full of Fascist militias, tried to reach Valtellina to surrender to Allied forces.

On 26th April, the 36ª Brigata Nera joined a convoy of Republican forces (178 trucks, 4,636 soldiers, and 346 female auxiliaries) that was moving to Como. From Como, the brigade and the Lancia 3Ro Blindato moved to Menaggio to escort Benito Mussolini to Merano. During the night of 26th to 27th April, a column of German Luftwaffe FlaK units arrived in Menaggio, which, along with the Italian vehicles, resumed the march to Merano, with the Lancia at the head of the column.

Inside of the armored behemoth, together with the crew, were transported Benito Mussolini, his lover Clara Petacci, and some military and political Fascist leaders.

On the same day, the column was stopped on the highway that runs along Lake Como at a checkpoint of the 52ª Brigata Garibaldi ‘Luigi Clerici’ (English: 52nd Partisan Brigade). The partisans only allowed the German trucks and FlaK cannons to continue, so Mussolini, dressed as a German soldier, got into a German Opel Blitz, which turned onto the road to Merano. The armored truck was then involved in a firefight between the Fascist and Partisan forces. During the skirmish, it was damaged and abandoned.

Other armored vehicles on the Lancia chassis are less known and only few details are known. The first one was used by the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ in Turin. It was armed with a Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 on the cargo bay and had armored plates on the sides. The second one was used by the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico (English: 630th Public Order Company) of Piacenza. The only thing that is known about this vehicle is that it was armored. Nothing is known about the service or fate of these two vehicles.

Post-War Lancia 3Ros

In late 1945, the Bolzano plant and probably also the Turin one resumed the production of the Lancia 3Ro, both for the civilian market and for the army.

A Lancia 3Ro NT produced starting from an incomplete military model in 1945. It had Pirelli Tipo ‘Raiflex’ tires and civilian Officine Viberti short cab, but with a military engine compartment and a civilian cargo bay with metal sheets. The side windshields were substituted with waterproof tarpaulins. Source: italie1935-45.com

Initially, very different models grouped under the factory code Serie 564 NT and commercial name Lancia 3Ro NT. They first came off the assembly line in early 1946. These vehicles were hybrids between Serie 464 and old German production Serie 564. This was because, after the war, the warehouses of Bolzano contained dozens of incomplete trucks or parts for the military versions. In order to not waste time, they restarted production of trucks with these parts diverted for the production of civilian versions. These odd vehicles had military chassis, gasoline engines replacing the diesels, and elongated axle shafts, since the civilian version was wider than the military version (2.5 m instead of 2.35 m). In these vehicles, even for the civilian trucks, only the windshield was mounted. The side and rear windows were rarely mounted, substituted by waterproof tarpaulins or transparent materials. This was done because little glass produced at the time was delivered with priority to the construction companies that were rebuilding buildings in Italian cities.

Lancia 3Ro NT just rolled off the production line in July 1945. It has a Officine Viberti long cab without lateral windows and the second type radiator grille. The rear tank was produced by Viberti-SAIV for non-flammable liquids. The coating is opaque because, at that time, the only coatings available were military ones. Source: Camion Lancia

In 1946, a new model came out, the Lancia 3Ro C (C for Conformità – Conformity), factory code Serie 564C. It had an electric starter, a new servo-braking system of more modern conception and a ‘full floating’ rear axle instead of the load-bearing axle shafts. It was followed after a year by the Lancia 3Ro C2 (factory code Serie 564C/2) with reinforced tires.

Lancia 3Ro C produced in 1948, coachwork by Carrozzeria Orlandi of Modena and used by the private transport company Borgondo Autotrasporti of Vercelli. Source: italie1935-45.com

The Lancia 3RO C2 with Officine Viberti’s long cab and with new tires. The cargo bay was modified for sheep transport. It had only one tire on the rear axle due to the light payload. Behind it is a medium unified trailer also modified for sheep transport and with single tires. The truck had two headlights under the bumper, probably a particular request of the customer. Sources: Camion Lancia and facebook.com

In the table below are the total production numbers of Lancia 3Ro trucks in all variants. These numbers come from the Lancia Archives, in which it was not specified which company bodyworked the vehicle. In the Serie 564, the Lancia 3Ro converted into ammunition carriers and Autocannoni are also counted.

Lancia 3Ro
Model Lancia 3Ro Serie 464 Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 Lancia 3Ro MB Lancia 3Ro GT Serie 564 GT Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 NT Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 C Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 C/2
Production Years 1937 – 1945 1938 – 1948 1943 – 1944 1943 – 1944 1945 – 1946 1946 -1947 1947 – 1948
Number of vehicles produced 1,307 9,491 398 10 1,302 1,884 in total
Engine Lancia Tipo 102, 5-cylinder, diesel, 93 hp Lancia Tipo 102, 5-cylinder, diesel, 93 hp Lancia Tipo 102B, 5-cylinder, petrol, 91 hp German-built Gasifier Lancia Tipo 102, 5-cylinder, diesel, 93 hp Lancia Tipo 102, 5-cylinder, diesel, 93 hp
Maximum speed 45 km/h 45 km/h 44.8 km/h 40 km/h 45 km/h 45 km/h
Lenght 7.40 m 7.25 m 6.50 m 6.50 m 7.255 m 7.255 m 7.52 m
Empty weight 5,500 kg 5,545 kg 5,300 kg 5,300 kg 5,450 kg 5,450 kg
Payload capacity 6,500 kg 7,365 kg 6,700 kg 6,700 kg 6,600 kg 6,600 kg
Max trailer weight 10,000 kg over 10,000 kg 10,000 kg 10,000 kg 12,000 kg 12,000 kg

The Lancia 3Ro C versions remained in production until 1948, bodied mainly by Officine Viberti along with Orlandi and Caproni. The military versions were only bodied by Officine Viberti. In mid-1947, the Lancia Esatau, factory code Serie 846, came into production. This new powerful vehicle developed on the basis of the Lancia 3Ro entered production to replace it. It was equipped with a 122 hp Lancia engine and had a top speed of 58 km/h.

The Lancia Esatau with long cab and iron cargo bay produced by Officine Viberti in 1949. Source: Ufficio Storico FIAT

This vehicle did not receive the attention that was hoped for due to poor power, range, and overall costs.

In Italy, after the war, the Azienda Recupero Alienazione Residuati or ARAR (English: Company of Recovery and Alienation Survey) was entrusted with the task of reconditioning and selling military vehicles confiscated from the enemy or abandoned by the Allied armies on Italian territory after the Second World War. This led many truckers at the time to prefer to buy cheaper second-hand military trucks (of any nationality) at lower prices than a new expensive vehicle.

Lancia 3Ro Serie 464 in van configuration produced for the Gondrand Traslochi moving company of Rome. Source: Camion Lancia

Some of the reconditioned vehicles sold by the Azienda Recupero Alienazione Residuati were Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 which were sold to companies, the Italian Police Corps, and private customers that used them, in some cases, until the early 1970s.

Lancia 3Ro used by private individuals in the 1950s. It had a Officine Viberti-style civil long cab produced probably by another workshop. The engine compartment was of the first type, so it was probably converted from a Serie 564 into a civil truck by the ARAR. Source: facebook.com

The father of the author of the article, who became a mechanic specializing in repairing truck brakes in 1975, recounted he had the opportunity to repair Lancia 3Ros in his early years of work in the city of Turin. Obviously, the 3Ro was totally obsolete after more than 30 years of service, but it was still adequate for carrying out secondary jobs, such as working as a snow plow vehicle or service truck for the Municipality of Turin, which used it to transport food in case of natural disasters, to transport the gigantic Christmas tree that was put in the center of the main square of Turin every year, and to transport the masons of the municipality to construction sites.

Surprisingly, when the Esatau was presented, many truckers preferred the old Lancia 3Ro to the Esatau, and Lancia was forced to produce them for another year and a half, until 1948. The early Esatau models were then upgraded with more powerful engines and other small modifications that lowered the overall costs. The first variant of Lancia Esatau and its military version, called Lancia 6Ro, were quickly replaced by other heavy-duty truck models with more powerful engines and overall better characteristics.

Lancia 6Ro with short cab and wooden plank cargo bay produced by Officine Viberti after the war. Source: pinterest.com

The last 3P and 3PL buses based on the Lancia 3Ro came off the assembly line of the Lancia plant in Bolzano in 1950. That year, the Lancia 3Ro definitively disappeared from the sales catalog of Lancia Veicoli Industriali. The Lancia 3Ro remained in service with the new Esercito Italiano (English: Italian Army) until 1964 as a medium truck, maintaining a high mobility and load capacity, outclassing even modern US-built vehicles produced in the 1950s.

Lancia 3Ro towing Cannoni da 90/53 Modello 1939 and carrying troops in the Via dei Fori Imperiali during a parade in Rome after the war. Source: italie1935-45.com
Lancia 3Ro compared to other Lancia Veicoli Industriali vehicles produced post-war
Model Lancia 3Ro Serie 464 C and C/2 Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 Lancia Esatau Serie 864 Lancia 6Ro Serie 864 M Lancia Esatau Serie 864 A
Production Years 1946 – 1948 1938 – 1948 1947 – 1953 1949 – 1958 1955 – 1957
Number of vehicles produced 1,884 9,491 3,894 (all variants) 1,527 1,252
Engine Lancia Tipo 102, 5-cylinder, diesel, 93 hp Lancia Tipo 102, 5-cylinder, diesel, 93 hp Lancia Tipo 864, 6-cylinder, diesel, 122 hp Lancia Tipo 864, 6-cylinder, diesel, 122 hp Lancia Tipo 864, 6-cylinder, diesel, 132 hp
Maximum speed 45 km/h 45 km/h 53 km/h 53.8 km/h 51.9 – 58.9 km/h
Lenght 7.255 – 7.52 m 7.25 m 8.3 m 7.76 m 7.35 m
Empty weight 5,450 kg 5,545 kg 6,580 kg 6,300 kg 7,400 kg
Payload capacity 6,550 kg 7,365 kg 7,420 kg 5,700 kg 6,600 kg
Max trailer weight 12,000 kg over 10,000 kg 14,000 kg 14,000 kg 18,000 kg

Conclusion

The Lancia 3Ro was one of the best heavy-duty trucks produced in the Kingdom of Italy between the late 1930s and late 1940s. Although there were vehicles with superior features, the Lancia was the perfect combination of power, cargo capacity, and, most importantly, cost. It was one of the trucks preferred by Italian truckers for its ease of driving and low fuel consumption. It continued to be produced after the war and saw service for many years after.

With its military variants, it proved to be almost unstoppable, being used on all fronts with very few complaints from the military truck drivers, who used it for every task. Even opposing armies appreciated it, and when they managed to capture one in good condition, they immediately put it back into service with a new coat of arms.

Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 in green camouflage.

Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 in standard desert camouflage.
Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 in service with the Italian Army in the Balkans.
Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 in North African desert, 1940.
Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 in Lybia in 1941.
Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 in North Africa in 1942.
Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 loaded.
Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 in German Service.
Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 with Einheits cab in German service.
Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 with Einheits cab in three tone camouflage.
Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 converted in mobile workshop.
Autocannone da 90/53 su Lancia 3Ro in firing position.

Lancia 3Ro Blindato.

Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 7.25 x 2.35 x 3 m
Weight, empty 5.61 tonnes
Payload capability 6.39 tonnes
Crew 3 in the cab
Propulsion Engine: Lancia Tipo 102 diesel, 5-cylinder, 6,875 cm³, 93 hp at 1,860 rpm with 135 liter fuel tank
Speed Road Speed: 45 km/h
Range 530 km
Production 12,692 in all versions

Sources

newsauto.it

Semicingolati, Motoveicoli e Veicoli Speciali del Regio Esercito Italiano 1919-1943 – Giulio Benussi

Gli Autoveicoli Tattici e Logistici del Regio Esercito Italiano fino al 1943, Tomo 2 – Nicola Pignato and Filippo Cappellano,

Gli Autoveicoli del Regio Esercito nella Seconda Guerra Mondiale – Nicola Pignato

Ruote in Divisa, I Veicoli Militari Italiani 1900-1987 – Brizio Pignacca

Il Grande Libro dei Camion Italiani – Sergio Puttini and Giuseppe Thellung

Storia Illustrata del Camion Italiano – Costantino Squassoni and Mauro Squassoni Negri,

Macchina e Rimorchio, Storie di Uomini e di Camion – Beppe Salussoglia and Pascal Vayl,

Profumo di Nafta, Uomini e Camion sulle Strade del Mondo – Beppe Salussoglia and Pasquale Caccavale
Storia Illustrata dell’Autobus Italiano – Massimo Condolo

Gran Turismo, L’avventura dei Carrozzieri Italiani di Pullman – Carla Dolcini

Camion Lancia – Massimo Condolo

Immagini ed Evoluzione del Corpo Automobilistico, Volume II (1940-1945) – Valido Capodarca

Storia della PAI, Polizia Africa Italiana 1936-1945 – Raffaele Girlando

…Come il Diamante, I Carristi Italiani 1943-45 – Sergio Corbatti and Marco Nava

Autocarro pesante Lancia 3Ro Notiziario Modellistico 3/97 – Claudio Pergher

Autocarro Pesante Unificato Lancia 3Ro, Le Poids Lourd Italien – Nicolas Anderbegani,

Trucks & Tanks Magazine n°38, 2013 I ‘Musoni’ Lancia 3Ro, Esaro, 6Ro ed Esatau 864 – Marco Batazzi

Autocarro Militare 3Ro, Istruzioni per l’Uso e la Manutenzione, V edizione, Lancia & C. 1942

Autocarro 3 Ro NT, Istruzioni per l’Uso e la Manutenzione con Supplemento per Autocarro 3 RO MB, Lancia e C. November 1945

Categories
WW2 RSI Armor

AB41 in Repubblica Sociale Italiana Service

Italian Social Republic (1943-1945)
Medium Armored Car – At Least 30 Operated

The AB41 was an Italian medium armored car jointly developed by FIAT and Ansaldo for the needs of the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army) and for the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana (English: Police of Italian Africa) the Italian Colonial Police. During the war, it was mainly employed by the Regio Esercito, which used more than 500 AB41s of the 667 produced until 1945.

After the Italian armistice of 8th September 1943, the armored cars, as the rest of the Italian armored fighting vehicles, were captured by the Germans. The Germans reused them in the Balkans, France, and Italy itself, while a few were recovered by the newly founded Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano (English: National Republican Army) and the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (English: National Republican Guard) of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (English: Italian Social Republic).

An AB41 of the Gruppo corazzato ‘Leonessa’ during a training, probably in Piemonte in Summer 1944. Source: I Carristi di Mussolini – Il Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa”

Context

After the fall of Tunisia in May 1943, the Italian Fascist Government began to fragment due to the loss of public support caused by the continued military defeats and the hardships civilians had to endure.

On 25th July 1943, the King of Italy Vittorio Emanuele III alongside some Royal Army officers and Fascist politicians took over control of the country. Benito Mussolini was arrested on charges of having dragged Italy into the war.

For more than two months, the Kingdom of Italy continued the war fighting the Allied powers, but under a new Monarchical government with Marshal Pietro Badoglio as prime minister.

In late August, Badoglio initiated negotiations for an armistice with the Allies. On 3rd September 1943, the Cassibile Armistice was signed and it went into effect at 19:42 on 8th September 1943.

Italian troops were taken by surprise by the Armistice announcement and were left without orders while the German troops expected these actions and quickly activated Fall Achse (English: Operation Axis). Between 8th to 23rd September 1943, German soldiers managed to kill 29,000 Italian soldiers and captured more than a million others. In addition, the Germans captured over 1.3 millions of rifles, machine guns and submachine guns, 17,058 mortar, anti-tanks, anti-aircrafts and field artillery pieces, 16,631 trucks, cars and motorcycles, and 977 armored fighting vehicles.

During Fall Achse, on 12th September 1943, a group of German Fallschirmjäger performed a daring action, Fall Eiche (English: Operation Oak), freeing Mussolini from prison. On 23rd September 1943, with German backing, he created, in the German-occupied Italian territories, the Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI.

Design

The Medium Armored Car AutoBlindo Modello 1941 (English: Armored Car Model 1941), or more simply AB41, was the most produced Italian armored car model during the war with 667 built. It was arguably one of the best-armored cars produced during the Second World War.

The AB41 was armed with a 20 mm Cannone-Mitragliera Breda 20/65 Modello 1935 automatic cannon produced by Società Italiana Ernesto Breda per Costruzioni Meccaniche (English Italian Ernesto Breda Company for Mechanical Constructions). Secondary armament consisted of two 8 mm Breda Modello 1938 medium machine guns, one coaxial and one in a spherical support on the rear of the vehicle.

It was developed as a long range reconnaissance vehicle and had an operational range of 400 km thanks to the 195 liters of petrol and a maximum velocity on roads of 80 km/h. The AB41 had a double driving position, one at the front and one at the rear, allowing the armored car to be driven by two different drivers that could take the control only by lowering a lever. This permitted this fast armored car to quickly disengage from an enemy skirmish in narrow mountain roads and village roads. had an all-drive and all-steering wheels system, giving the vehicle excellent off-road performance.

The crew was composed of a commander/gunner, front driver, rear driver, and machine gunner/radio operator. The AB41 was also equipped with a powerful 60 km range radio with a 7 meters fully extended antenna on the left side.

Operational use

Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano

The Regio Esercito, which had ceased to exist on 8th September, was replaced by the new Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano or ENR . The Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano had some AB41 armored cars in its ranks.

An AB41 of the 31° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista supporting the 118. Jäger-Division, September 1943. The tires were Pirelli Tipo ‘Raiflex’. Source: bundesarchiv.com

The first action of these armored cars for the RSI was in September 1943, when the ENR had not yet officially been created. Tank crews of the 31° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista (English: 31st Tank Crew Infantry Regiment), loyal to Benito Mussolini, took part in the actions of the 118. Jäger-Division (English: 118th Light Infantry Division) in Podgorica (modern-day Montenegro). These armored cars were the survivors of the XL Battaglione Bersaglieri Corazzato.

Another photo, probably of the same armored car supporting the 118. Jäger-Division in Albania. Source: bundesarchiv.com

The armored cars were then assigned to the Plotone Autoblindo (English: Armored Car Platoon) and used in escort and patrol roles.

Gruppo Corazzato ‘San Giusto’

Four AB41s were used by the Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’ (English: Armored Squadrons Group). These armored cars were delivered by the Germans in Gorizia and were assigned to the Plotone Autoblindo of the Squadrone Comando (English: Command Squadron. The AB41s were used by the unit to escort columns of military trucks or in anti-partisan operations.

An AB41 of the Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’. It had Pirelli Tipo ‘Libia’ tires and a particular three-tone camouflage. Source: pinterest.com

On 31st May 1944, two armored cars were destroyed in a partisan ambush near Dobraule di Santa Croce. A FIAT 665NM Scudato armored personnel carrier was also destroyed in this engagement. The last two AB41s were still in service on 8th April 1945, when the last existing documents of the unit mention the armored cars in its ranks. One was deployed at Ruppa to help the local garrison, while the last one was subject to problems, probably lacking a trained crew, and was left in storage at the unit’s headquarters in Mariano del Friuli.

Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani

The Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani or RAP (English: Anti-Partisans Group) was created in summer 1944 in Turin. It consisted of four Battaglioni ‘Arditi’ (English: Arditi Battalions – Arditi in Italian literally means ‘The Daring [Ones]’). The 1° Battaglione had Bersaglieri (Italian assault infantry) and the 2° Battaglione had Alpini (mountain troops). There were also an artillery group, a cavalry group, and an engineer battalion. This unit had the task of fighting the partisans in the valleys near the city of Turin. The Partisans had managed to increasingly strike at valuable targets during the night. They also contacted factory workers with the aim of organizing strikes and protests.

In late 1944, the unit was equipped with an AB41 delivered by the German Aufstellung-Süd (English: Lineup-South). It was taken from the Deposito di Caselle (English: Caselle Depot) and assigned to the Compagnia Esplorante (English: Reconnaissance Company) of the Group. On 2nd November 1944, the RAP, together with the AB41, participated in the assault on the city of Alba, which was occupied by a substantial Partisan force.

The AB41 armored car of the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani lined up with soldiers and the Semovente L40 da 47/32 of the unit in Piazza Castello in Turin on 23rd March 1945. It had an interesting three-tone camouflage and a Repubblica Sociale Italiana flag painted on the side, near the opened door. Source: … Come il Diamante, I Carristi Italiani 1943-’45

The fate of the RAP’s armored car is unknown. It was probably present during the fight against the Partisans in Cisterna d’Asti on 6th April 1945 where the unit lost its L6/40 due to a mechanical failure and a Lancia Lince captured intact by the Partisans. Some sources claim that the AB41 was destroyed in that fight, while others claim that during that action against the Partisans, only an AB41 was damaged and it was one of the ‘Leonessa’.

During the Partisan uprising in the city of Turin, the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani was deployed to defend the city and their L3 light tanks were used, but nothing is known about the armored car.

The surviving vehicles of the unit left Turin the night between 27th and 28th April 1945, reaching Strambino Romano where they surrendered to US troops on 5th May.

Some damaged vehicles were left in the barrack of Via Arsenale in Turin, the unit’s headquarters.

Other ENR Usage

The Nucleo Esplorante (English: Reconnaissance Squad) of the Plotone Cavalleria da Combattimento (English: Combat Cavalry Platoon) of the Raggruppamento ‘Cacciatori degli Appennini’ received an unknown number of armored cars, some sources claim six, of which one was probably an AB41, while the others were of German origin. The 27° Deposito Misto (English: 27th Mixed Depot) in Verona had 2 AB41s, but their service is unknown.

Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana and Camicie Nere

On 23rd September 1943, together with the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano, the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana or GNR was also created. This was, theoretically, a military police corps but, in fact, acted as a second-line army countering the actions of partisan units.

On 26th June 1944, the Corpo Ausiliario delle Squadre d’Azione delle Camicie Nere (English: Auxiliary Corps of the Action Squads of the Black Shirts), better known as the ‘Camicie Nere’ (English: Black Shirt) or ‘Brigate Nere’ (English: Black Brigades), were constituted and put under the control of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana. These units were assigned to each city to maintain public order and to counter partisan actions.

These second-line units, due to the lack of vehicles and the desperate situation of the Axis troops in the last years of war, were equipped with few armored vehicles.

Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’

The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ (English: Armored Group) was an exception. In fact, this GNR unit, first based in Brescia and, from January 1944, in Turin, was the largest of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana between 1943 and 1945. It grouped as many as 18 AB41s in its ranks in the 18 months of its existence. Some sources claim that the ‘Leonessa’ also had some AB43s, but there is no photographic evidence of this.

An AB41 of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana in the Lamarmora Barrack in Turin. It had Pirelli tipo ‘Artiglio’ tires but the spare wheel was a Pirelli Tipo ‘Libia’ for sandy soils. The photo was taken in early to mid-1944 when the armored cars were in Kaki Sahariano monochrome camouflage. A SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotetta light armored personnel carrier is parked to the right of the AB41. Source: Source: pinterest.com

On 25th February 1945, the unit still had 12 armored cars in service. It is not known if this refers only to the AB41s or to all the armored wheeled vehicles, including the Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43.

The 18 armored cars were recovered from various military depots from late September 1943 to January 1944. They were used in the various detachments of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ in Emilia, Lombardia, Romagna and Piemonte. The AB41s deployed in Lombardia were used to escort columns of supply trucks from Milan to Bergamo and Brescia and to patrol the Valtellina roads to prevent Partisan ambushes and sabotage.

Another photo of an AB41 in the Lamarmora barrack in Turin getting ready for a night patrol. It had a Pirelli Tipo ‘Libia’ spare wheel. Note the ‘m’ with lictorian beam and the GNR abbreviation. Source: … Come il Diamante, I Carristi Italiani 1943-’45

In Piacenza, the 3ª Compagnia of the ‘Leonessa’ arrived on 2nd January 1945, with 7 officers, 113 NCOs and soldiers, an M15/42 medium tank, an L6/40 light tank, 3 L3 light tanks, 2 AB41s, and 10 armored personnel carriers. The unit was tasked with defending the few oil wells of the Azienda Generale Italiana Petroli or AGIP (English: General Italian Oil Company) and supported anti-partisan operations in Val Trebbia and in the Piacenza Apennines. In February, the 4ª Compagnia, with 2 AB41s, was also sent to Piacenza as a reinforcement for the 3ª Compagnia.

One of these armored cars was deployed at Valleia, together with a platoon of the 4ª Compagnia, under the command of Sub-Brigadier Nazzarri. This unit was forced to retreat in late-February, joining the garrison of Gropparello. In Gropparello, 24 soldiers of the 3ª Compagnia of the ‘Leonessa’, together with the soldiers of the platoon from Valleia, were surrounded by partisans. These attacked the medieval castle where the Fascists had barricaded themselves with a 47/32 cannon, forcing them to surrender. When the soldiers surrendered on 2nd March 1945, the Partisans captured the AB41 and an armored personnel carrier.

An AB41 of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ during a training in Summer 1944. It had the Pirelli Tipo ‘Libia’ tire for sandy soils and the GNR coat of arms on the sides, frontal fenders, and rear hatch of the turret. Source: … Come il Diamante and I Carristi Italiani 1943-’45, I Carristi di Mussolini – Il Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa” dalla MVSN alla RSI

On 4th March 1945, some reinforcements arrived in Gropparello and the Partisans were forced to run away and the vehicles were recaptured. On 20th April 1945, the general order to retreat further north was received, and all the garrisoned cities were abandoned with the help of trucks escorted by an AB41, bringing the remnants of the unit to Piacenza.

From 15th April 1945, the garrisons farthest from Piacenza were evacuated to avoid partisan attacks. The only AB41 of the ‘Leonessa’ in working condition in the Piacenza region was deployed to escort the trucks that transported the soldiers to Piacenza. The armored car was commanded by Legionnaire Medoro Minetti.

At some point between 16th April to 20th April, the armored car was attacked by a US ground attack plane. The armored car hid itself in a bomb crater on the road and the Allied plane, after a brief attack, returned back from where it came. When the airplane disappeared, the armored car restarted its journey, but when coming out of the crater, the differential broke. The armored car was then towed by a truck to Piacenza, where the mechanics had to inform Legionnaire Minetti that the damage was not repairable in Piacenza because of a lack of spare parts.

On 23rd April 1945, when the Fascist forces left Piacenza, Minetti left the city on board his armored car, towed by the other AB41 of the ‘Leonessa’. It arrived in San Rocco al Porto where it waited for three days to be loaded in a ferry that transported the armored car on the other side of the Po River. On the night of 25th and 26th April 1945, Legionnaire Minetti received the order to return to Piacenza with his armored car. He reached the city, now towed by a Lancia 3Ro heavy duty truck, at 07:00 on 26th April.

In the province of Turin, where the majority of the armored cars (10) were deployed, some AB41s supported dozens of Italian or German anti-partisan operations in the Val di Susa. They supported the attack on De Gaulle’s Free French forces, which tried to occupy the 3,130 m high Batteria dello Chaberton fort on Mont Chaberton.

In March 1944, an AB41 of the ‘Leonessa’ was used, together with about 500 soldiers of the Battaglione ‘Debica’ of the Italienische Waffenverbände der SS (English: Italian SS Weapons Units), against the Partisan’s IV Brigata Partigiana ‘Pisacane’ (English: 4th Partisan Brigade) in the Valle Lucerna, near Pinerolo.

On 21st March 1944, an AB41 commanded by Second Lieutenant Valerio Cappelli, with driver Equilio Cerri, and radio operator Mario Bonomi, and 50 militants of the ‘Leonessa’ were deployed in Val Chisone and Val Pellice on anti-partisan duties. During a patrol, the Partisans managed to separate the armored car and a medium tank (the only two vehicles of the patrol) from the rest of the soldiers using an explosion. The vehicles were then attacked with hand grenades and improvised explosive devices thrown from above. The AB41 was hit and fell, ending up in a creek. The three crew members died in the incident.

After March 1944, the 1ª Compagnia and 2ª Compagnia, deployed in Turin, operated almost every day against the Partisan brigades in the sector, breaking through their roadblocks towards the Valle d’Aosta and Valle di Susa.

Between 10th and 18th May 1944, an AB41 commanded by Second Lieutenant Raffaele Cocomello was deployed during Operazione Habicht, an anti-partisan operation between Val Susa, Val Chisone, and Valle del Sangone. The armored car was under the orders of Oberstleutenant Weiss, the commander of the SS-Polizei-Regiment 15 (English: 15th SS Police Regiment), and was used as a liaison and escort vehicle.

The first public appearance of the unit was on 23rd May 1944, when some vehicles of the ‘Leonessa’, including at least one AB41, participated in a parade from the Porta Nuova train station to Piazza Castello, Turin’s main square together with other Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ equipment.

On 28th May 1944, a vast anti-partisan operation in the area north of Turin started, called Operation Hamburg, and the ‘Leonessa’ took part in it. A company-seized force of the Gruppo Corazzato, with two tanks and two armored cars (models not specified), were deployed.

In June 1944, the continuous arrival of volunteer soldiers and the recovery of armored vehicles allowed the reorganization of the two companies. The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ was now composed of the 1ª Compagnia Carri (English: 1st Tanks Company) equipped with tanks, 2ª Compagnia Autoblindo (English: 2nd Armored Car Company) equipped with armored cars and autoprotette (equivalent for English: armored personnel carriers), and the 3ª Compagnia Arditi (English: 3rd Arditi Company) with infantry.

A company-seized force with 5 tanks of the ‘M’ series and 10 AB41s was used to reoccupy Asti and Val d’Ossola in Autumn 1944. In the same period, an AB41 was detached to Novara, where it was assigned temporarily to the Brigata Nera ‘Cristina’ that extensively used the vehicle in anti-partisan actions.

A propaganda film of Italian Istituto Luce showing Fascist and Italian SS soldiers from the 29. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (italienische Nr. 1) (English: 29th SS Mechanized Division Division (Italian No. 1)) during on 1st June 1944. It also shows one of the six PaK 40 anti-tank gun of the Brigata SS Italiana (English: Italian SS Brigate) of Pinerolo.

The AB41 shown in the video was from the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ as the coat of arms on the turret rear suggests.
In the book ‘…Come il Diamante, I Carristi Italiani 1943-45’ the authors Marco Nava and Sergio Corbatti mention that this video was taken during Operazione ‘Nachtigall’ (English: Operation Nightingale) anti-partisan operation.

Between 29th July and 20th August 1944, two AB41s and some tanks were used in an anti-partisan operation between Val Susa, Val Chisone, and Valle del Sangone, called Operazione ‘Nachtigall’. An AB41 was used against a roadblock in Perrero on 7th August 1944 created by the Partisans to block the road for the Germanasca Valley to the ‘Leonessa’ units supported by the Kampfgruppe ‘Celebrano’ of the 29. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (italienische Nr. 1).

The AB41 of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ used near Perrero during Operazione ‘Nachtigall’. Source: … Come il Diamante, italie1935-45.com and I Carristi Italiani 1943-’45

From 5th September to 15th September, Operazione Straßburg took place. When the operation was completed, an AB41 was placed at the town hall of Viù, near Germaniano in Val di Susa. The armored car had been immobilized by the launch of improvised explosive devices and the wounded and terrified crew had barricaded themselves inside. Only the intervention of the Italian SS allowed the soldiers to be evacuated and hospitalized, but the car could not be repaired.

A platoon from the 1ª Compagnia of Turin, with 2 AB41s and three M14/41 medium tanks from the 2ª Compagnia, were used during the reoccupation of Alba, near Cuneo, on 2nd November 1944.

On 21st February 1945, two AB41s, 2 M13/40 medium tanks, and some armored personnel carriers took part in an anti-partisan operation in the Villanova d’Asti region. The last major clashes between the ‘Leonessa’ and the Partisans took place in March 1945.

One of these actions, started on 6th March 1945, had the objective of reoccupying the towns of Cisterna d’Asti and Santo Stefano Roero, captured in the previous days by the Partisans that also sabotaged the Genoa to Turin railway.

In Santo Stefano Roero, between 8th and 9th March, a column composed of a platoon of the 1ª Compagnia Carri and two platoons of the 3ª Compagnia Arditi equipped with a SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotetta and one AB41 (in the book 1^ Brigata Nera “Ather Capelli”: Una documentazione writer Marco Nava mentions the presence of two AB41s of the unit, maybe one was of the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani).

Some units from the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani with a Lancia Lince scout car, about 80 militiamen of the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ (English: 1st Black Brigade), a company of the Battaglione Ordine Pubblico (English: Public Order Battalion) of Turin, the Compagnia Arditi Sciatori (English: Arditi Skiers Company), and 25 soldiers of the Distaccamento ‘Umberto Cumero’ of the Xª Divisione MAS (English: 10th MAS Division) for a total of about 350 soldiers and auxiliaries was ambushed by about 1,000 Partisans. The partisan units were: 6ª Divisione Autonoma Alpina ‘Asti’ (English: 6th Alpine Mountain Division) with three brigades, Divisione Matteotti ‘Tre Confini’ (Matteotti Division) composed of socialist Partisans with five brigades, and 103ª Brigata Garibaldi ‘Rolandino’ (English: 103rd Garibaldi Division) composed of communist Partisans.

The AB41 commanded by Lieutenant Fossati was the leading vehicle of the column, followed by a FIAT 666NM truck with a trailer full of militiamen, Lieutenant Berneschi’s SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotetta, and some more trucks full of soldiers and a Lancia Lince scout car of the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani.

The bullets pierced one of the AB41’s tires, while the FIAT 666NM behind was set alight, with many of the soldiers on board killed. Lieutenant Fossati was wounded by a ricocheting bullet as he got out of the armored car trying to repair the pierced tire. In the afternoon, with the help of some artillery pieces of the RAP which had arrived from Turin, the two towns were occupied by the Fascist forces. In the fighting on 8th March, 9 Fascist soldiers were killed and 32 were wounded, while the Partisans suffered only minor losses.

On 23rd March 1945, the AB41s took part in the last Fascist parade in Turin’s streets. They shared the fate of the Fascist troops in the city. After 24th April 1945, some tanks were deployed to protect strategic points in the city, while the armored cars were used to patrol the streets and as a reserve to launch counterattacks. On 26th April 1945, the Partisans attacked the city, occupying the town hall, the railway stations, some manufacturing plants, and the Prefecture of Turin, which was protected by two M13/40 tanks and an AB41.

Tanks and armored cars in the city were used to counterattack the Partisan forces. Around 18:00 the same day, 4 tanks, 3 armored cars (models unknown), a platoon of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’, and one of the I Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ attacked and recaptured the barracks on Cernaia Street, the headquarters of the Black Brigade. The intervention of an ‘M’ series tank and an AB41 armored car made it possible to regain control of the town hall and free Podestà (Major) Michele Fassio. For the rest of the night, two armored cars (again, the models are unknown) and 5 tanks continued to patrol the part of the city still in Fascist hands. It was clear that it was impossible to repel the Partisans, so the Fascist command in Turin decided to resist to the bitter end, hoping for the arrival of Anglo-American troops to surrender to them.

On 27th April 1945, an armored car escorted a truck of the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ to the Casa Littoria, the headquarters of the Italian Fascist Party of Turin, at Carlo Alberto Street number 10. There, a group of Avanguardisti of the ‘Fiamme Bianche’ (English: White Flames) had barricaded themselves in for unknown reasons. The Avanguardisti were 14 to 18 years olds who voluntarily joined the RSI troops but, being too young, were not assigned to front line units. The armored car (of unknown model) managed to provide adequate supporting fire, helping evacuate all the young men from the building, escorting them to safety at the Caserma Cernaia barrack.

The situation worsened by the minute so, at 01:40 on April 28th 1945, all the surviving Fascist forces in the city, about 5,000 soldiers, gathered in Piazza Castello and fled towards Lombardia to gather at the “Ridotto Alpino Repubblicano” (English: Republican Alpine Gathering). The protection of the column of trucks was entrusted to the tanks and armored cars of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’. The column reached Valtellina and waited with about 10,000 more men until 5th May 1945, when they surrendered to Anglo-American troops.

Two of the Gruppo Corazzato’s armored cars were captured by the Partisans in the Caserma ‘Cavalli’ barrack on 1st May 1945, along with a medium tank and a P26/40.

Other GNR Units

Two AB41s were deployed to Brescia and then, on 26th April 1945, they reached Bergamo, where the Batteria Leggera Motorizzata (English. Light Motorized Battery) was deployed. One of the two armored cars broke its rear axle shaft and it was impossible to repair it in a short time, so it was set on fire by its crew. The surviving armored car (which some veterans claim was an AB43) joined the column that had to reach Valtellina from Bergamo, where all the forces still faithful to Mussolini would form the last resistance to the Allied forces. During the night march (in order to avoid Allied air attacks) the AB lost the rest of the column and reached Como, where it was blocked and captured by the Partisans.

The Comando Provinciale della Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (English: Provincial Command of the GNR) in Varese had in its ranks an AB41 armored car recovered somewhere in its territory by the commander of the Compagnia Comando (English: Company Command), Captain Michaud. Used to escort convoys, in September 1944, it was meant to be used in an anti-partisan operation in Val d’Ossola, but it was unable to because of a mechanical failure, brought back to Varese for repairs, and then given to another GNR unit.

The AB41 and a medium tank of the ‘M’ series inspected by some officers of the Comando Provinciale della Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana. Source: Paolo Crippa

In the first months after September 1943, the Battaglione ‘M’ ‘9 Settembre’ (English: ‘M’ Battalion 9th September), one of Mussolini’s most loyal units (they fought after 9th September 1943 along with the Germans), had in its ranks an AB41. During its operations with the Bansen Battalion of the 2. Regiment of the Panzergrenadier-Division Brandenburg, another 5 AB41 armored cars were put in service with this unit. The unit was used by the Germans as an anti-partisan unit in the rear of the Gustav Defensive Line.

Afterward, it was sent to the rear of the Ortona, where it carried out more anti-partisan activities. Before the transfer to the province of Macerata, the Battalion was formally disbanded from the Brandenburg Division and officially accepted in the Republican Army of the RSI with the denomination of I° Battaglione ‘M’ Camicie Nere ‘IX Settembre’ (English: 1st M Black Brigade Battalion). In the Marche region, the unit established its headquarters in Camerino and carried out some counter-partisan operations together with Kampfgruppe Hettinger of the 3. Regiment of the Panzergrenadier-Division Brandenburg.

One of the AB41s of the I° Battaglione ‘M’ Camicie Nere ‘IX Settembre’ during a training exercise in the Marche region. It had a German-style camouflage and Pirelli Tipo ‘Artiglio’ tires. The soldier standing near the armored car is armed with a German MG42. Source: Paolo Crippa

After the breakthrough at Cassino, the unit withdrew and, passing through Pesaro and Castrocaro, reached Val d’Aosta on 20th September. After a short operational period, the Battalion followed the destiny of the Brandenburg Division, on which it still depended, and fought for the defense of the Reich in East Prussia until January 1945. The armored cars were destroyed by Allied ground attack planes near Vittorio Veneto during the return to Italy on 29th and 30th April 1945.

The same armored car in the same training exercise. The German-style camouflage is difficult to see while the German-style identification number ‘752’ is visible. The soldiers were armed with Moschetto Automatico Beretta Modello 1938 Submachine gun and Carcano Modello 1891/1938 Cavalleria. Source: Paolo Crippa

The Brigata Nera Mobile ‘Attilio Pappalardo’ (English: Mobile Black Brigade) of Bologna had four AB41s assigned to the Compagnia Corazzata ‘Tupin’ commanded by Captain Cortonesi. During 1944, the streets of Emilia Romagna were crossed weekly by German and Italian convoys heading to the front and were threatened by attacks and ambushes. The brigade kept the roads safe and had the reputation of being the most ruthless Black Brigade in Italy.

In late summer 1944, 2 AB41s of the Black Brigade, under Cortonesi’s command, were deployed in Novara to act as personal bodyguards of Prefect Vezzalini. On 25th April 1945, the part of the ‘Tupin’ (in Emilian dialect Mouses) deployed in Novara tried to reach Como with 2 AB41s and a truck. They attempted to reach Mussolini’s column of vehicles towards Valtellina, but were blocked by Partisans on a narrow mountain road.

Camouflage and Markings

The AB41s of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana in some cases received some particular camouflages. The Gruppo Corazzato ‘San Giusto’ covered the original Kaki Sahariano Chiaro (English: Light Saharan Khaki) monochrome scheme of its armored cars with medium brown and dark green wavy stripes.

The Raggruppamento Anti partigiani covered its armored car with a similar three-tone scheme but with different types of stripes and with a small flag of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana on the superstructure’s side.

The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ AB41s were painted in Kaki Sahariano Chiaro until mid-1944 when they were repainted with a three-tone camouflage scheme with dark green and reddish brown spots. The coat of arms was the red ‘m’ intersected by a lictorian beams and with the acronym GNR painted in red. These were applied on the superstructure’s sides, turret rear, and front fenders. When they received the new camouflage scheme, the coat of arms were covered in some vehicles.

The AB41 of the Comando Provinciale della Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana received unusual dark green and reddish brown spots painted on the original khaki camouflage.

Some of the AB41s of the I° Battaglione ‘M’ Camicie Nere ‘IX Settembre’ received a German-style splintered scheme with defined outlined three-tone camouflage. It can be noticed in a few photos, for example, the one of the soldier with the MG42 in front of the armored car. The colors were probably the original Kaki Sahariano Chiaro and gray-green with brown stripes. The numbers on the turret were painted in red with white outlines.

Another photo of the AB41 of the I° Battaglione ‘M’ Camicie Nere ‘IX Settembre’ with splintered with defined outlined three-tone camouflage. The commander is scanning the horizon in search of Partisans. Source: Paolo Crippa

In a photo of 28th March 1944, Lieutenant Colacino, commander of the I° Battaglione ‘M’ Camicie Nere ‘IX Settembre’ poses near an AB41 in the Marche region. The vehicle was painted in standard Kaki Sahariano Chiaro. This makes us presume that not all the armored cars were painted with a German-style camouflage even if we do not have the certainty that this armored car belonged to the unit.

The photo of the AB41 with Lieutenant Colacino in Sarnano on 28th March 1944. Source: … Come il Diamante, italie1935-45.com and I Carristi Italiani 1943-’45

Conclusion

The AB41 medium armored car was a great reconnaissance vehicle that demonstrated its performance also with poorly trained and equipped troops of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana that used it almost exclusively in anti-partisans and escorting operations. The majority of the AB41 armored cars in service with the RSI were recovered from Regio Esercito and were slowly repaired to be used by the new Fascist units loyal to Benito Mussolini.

Autoblinda AB41 of the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani in its three tone camouflage.
Autoblinda AB41 of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ in its standard Kaki Sahariano Chiaro monochrome camouflage. Illustrations by the illustrious Godzilla funded by our Patreon Campaign.

AB41 specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 5.20 x 1.92 x 2.48 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready 7.52 tons
Crew 4 (front driver, rear driver, machine gunner/loader, and vehicle commander/gunner)
Propulsion FIAT-SPA 6-cylinder petrol, 88 hp with 195 liters tank
Speed Road Speed: 80 km/h
Off-Road Speed: 50 km/h
Range 400 km
Armament Cannone-Mitragliera Breda 20/65 Modello 1935 (456 rounds) and Two Breda Modello 1938 8 x 59 mm medium machine guns (1992 rounds)
Armor 8.5 mm Hull
Turret Front: 40 mm
Sides: 30 mm
Rear: 15 mm
In service with the Repubblica Sociale Italiana 667 in total, unknown in RSI service

Sources

I Carristi di Mussolini – Il Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa” dalla MVSN alla RSI – Paolo Crippa
… Come il Diamante, I Carristi Italiani 1943-’45 – Marco Nava and Sergio Corbatti
I Mezzi Corazzati Italiani della Guerra Civile 1943-1945 – Paolo Crippa
Italian Armored & Reconnaissance Cars 1911-45 – Filippo Castellano and Pier Paolo Battistelli
1^ Brigata Nera “Ather Capelli”: Una documentazione – Marco Nava

Categories
WW2 RSI Armor

Autocannone da 20/70 su ALFA Romeo 430RE

Italian Social Republic (1944-1945)
Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun – At Least 2 Converted

The Autocannone da 20/70 su ALFA Romeo 430RE was an Italian Second World War improvised Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun (SPAAG) mounting a 20 mm automatic cannon on the ALFA Romeo 430RE chassis. It was used by the Legione Autonoma Mobile ‘Ettore Muti’ (English: Mobile Autonomous Legion) of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (English: Republican National Guard) in Lombardia and Piemonte near the end of the war.

Its primary task was to escort fascist military convoys between Milan and Turin, defending them from Allied air attacks, and also protecting the convoys from partisan ambushes at a time when they were becoming increasingly frequent.

Two Autocannoni da 20/70 su ALFA Romeo 430RE of the Legione Autonoma Mobile ‘Ettore Muti’ on parade on 17th December 1944 in Milan. Source: Istituto Luce

The Situation of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana after the Armistice

After the Italian Armistice was signed on 8th September 1943, the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army) was disbanded. The Italian soldiers in the Italian Peninsula independently decided their own fate. Some joined the Esercito Cobelligerante Italiano (English: Co-belligerent Army) under Allied control, others created and joined the first Italian partisan units, while others swore allegiance to the Germans. The soldiers who opposed the German troops in Italy or in the rest of the territories under Italian and German control were killed or captured. Between 8th and 23rd September 1943, about 20,000 Italian troops were killed and over a million Italian soldiers were captured by the Germans.

A coup organized by the Italian king Vittorio Emanuele III di Savoia and some generals loyal to the king had deposed Il Duce Benito Mussolini on 25th June 1943. Mussolini had spent the period of time between his arrest and the Armistice in an Italian prison. On 12th September 1943, he was freed in a daring mission by a group of German Fallschirmjäger commanded by SS-Obersturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny.

Benito Mussolini was then taken to Germany, where he met Adolf Hitler in order to decide the destiny of the rest of Italy and also to recover from his prison experience. Returning to Italy on 23rd September 1943, he created the Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI (English: Italian Social Republic) in northern and central Italy, regions that were controlled by the Germans at that moment.

Of the thousands of Italian vehicles captured by the Germans (tanks, armored cars, supply vehicles, artillery pieces, etc), only a few were returned to the new Italian units loyal to Mussolini. This meant that the units needed to equip themselves with vehicles abandoned by the Regio Esercito after the Armistice, with vehicles damaged before the Armistice and abandoned in the military depots after 8th September, or with civilian trucks requisitioned for military necessities.

The Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano, the heir of the Regio Esercito, received the majority of these vehicles, but there were not enough. The Army seems to have received or retrieved less than the 20% of the vehicles it needed.

The Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana, or GNR, was used as a Military Police and to counter partisan actions, with most of its units assigned to the rearguard. It was equipped with an even lower amount of vehicles, although some units were able to equip themselves with many armored fighting vehicles and trucks, such as the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ (English: Armored Group), which managed to acquire around 60 tanks of multiple types, around 20 armored cars and more than a hundred of trucks, cars, and motorcycles.

The Corpo Ausiliario delle Squadre d’Azione delle Camicie Nere (English: Auxiliary Corps of the Action Squads of the Black Shirts), an auxiliary corps used mostly to counter partisan actions, was barely equipped at all. Of the 56 Black Brigades created, only two received armored vehicles, while the other brigades had only civilian or military trucks which the Black Brigades had to armor in an improvised way in civilian workshops.

The majority of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana’s units were only equipped with military or civil trucks that they used as transport vehicles or that they armored themselves or in civilian workshops.

The RSI faced the problem of the Italian partisan units that were present throughout the territory under Nazi-Fascist control and that almost daily struck military convoys or isolated Italian or German garrisons. The RSI also had to face another major threat, the fighters and ground attack aircraft of the U.S. Army Air Force and the British Royal Air Force. These acted almost undisturbed, attacking Italian convoys and other military and civilian targets.

Design

The ALFA Romeo 430 truck

The company now known as Alfa Romeo was founded under the name A.L.F.A. (Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili, English: Anonymous Lombardy Automobile Factory) in Milan on 24th June 1910 . In 1918, it changed its name to ‘ALFA Romeo’ following the acquisition of the company by Engineer Nicola Romeo. The first and largest plant of ALFA Romeo was in Milan, in the ‘Portello’ district, from which it took its name.

Prototype of the Alfa 430RE parked outside the ALFA Romeo factory in Portello. Source: ALFA Romeo

The ALFA Romeo 430 (factory designation T.430) was a cab-forward 3.5 tonnes medium-duty truck originally developed for the military. In order to speed up development and save money, it was derived from the Alfa Romeo 800 heavy truck. Its development was approved by the Italian War Ministry on 23rd September 1941.

In early 1942, ALFA Romeo presented the prototype of the T. 430RE (RE for Regio Esercito) to the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione or CSM (English: Center of Motorization Studies). However, it was powered by a 4-cylinder diesel engine developed to be connected to an electrical generator, while the military wanted a gasoline engine.

The first Regio Esercito order was for 400 units, which increased to 600 by the end of 1942. The Italian Regio Esercito insisted on the adoption of a gasoline engine, so the company manager, engineer Ugo Gobbato, ordered the development of a petrol version of the truck which never entered production.

After the armistice of September 1943, the Portello plant stopped the production for some days and the petrol engine version was abandoned. The Regio Esercito order was initially reconfirmed by the Germans. In early November 1943, Germans officers and specialists evaluated the truck and canceled the request.

Thanks to the tenacity of engineer Ugo Gobbato, ex-manager of the FIAT Lingotto plant, furious at this decision, production resumed. He sent a letter to the Reich Ministry of Armaments and Production to defend his project and, for an unknown reason, the Germans reversed their decision and the Portello plant restarted production, building a total of 99 ALFA Romeo 430RE with diesel engines between 1944 and 1945.

Civilian ALFA Romeo 430 post-war tractor variant with single axle semi-trailer. Source: pinterest.com

After the war, the ALFA Romeo 430 was also produced as a civilian version, with medium trucks, buses, and tractor variants. Production resumed in 1945 and continued for another five years, until 1950.

After the war, the military version was redesignated as ALFA Romeo CM50 (Carro Medio Modello 1950 – Medium Truck Model 1950). The engine was upgraded, increasing the power by about 10% and enlarging the cab, allowing the addition of a berth behind the seats. There was also an increase in the empty weight to 3.7 tonnes. The military version remained in production until 1952. A military all-wheel-drive version was also developed but did not meet with success and the project was abandoned.

A post-war civilian ALFA Romeo 430. Strangely enough, it is equipped with Pirelli Tipo ‘Raiflex’ tires. Source: ALFA Romeo

Engine and Suspension

The engine of the Alfa Romeo 430 was the Tipo 430. This was a direct injection, 4-cylinder, 5,816 cm³ diesel engine providing 80 hp at 2,000 rpm. The maximum on-road speed of the truck was 65 km/h, while the range was 390 km thanks to the 75 liters tank fixed on the right side of the chassis. The water-cooling system was connected to a 26-liter water tank, while the oil tank capacity was 11 liters.

Fuel consumption was 19 liters for 100 km, remarkably low for the time, thanks to the FB company direct injection system and the use of a Spica PC4C80 T29/0 variable injection pump. The good qualities of the engine, however, hid flaws. The Tipo 430 was derived from a static engine used as a generator. On the truck, it proved inadequate to the rigors imposed by its new role.

The Tipo 430 diesel engine in a ALFA Romeo brochure. Source: ALFA Romeo

The gearbox, with an intermediate reductor, had four forward gears plus the reverse gear.

The front suspension was independent. The main innovation was the adoption of double coil spring suspension and hydraulic shock absorbers. The T430 was the first truck to be equipped with this suspension system. The rear suspension consisted of easy-to-produce leaf springs. The tire dimensions were 7.5 x 20” (19 x 50.8 cm). Photographic evidence shows that the most frequently used on the T430 were the Pirelli Tipo ‘Raiflex’.

The big advantage of the Alfa Romeo 430RE was that it retained the bigger ALFA Romeo 800’s silhouette and they had a high logistic commonality, sharing many spare parts. The two vehicles were distinguishable primarily by the bumpers. The T430 had two-part ones, with the central section cut for the radiator grille, while the T800 had a one piece bumper.

Structure

Like the bigger ALFA Romeo 800 from which it was derived, the ALFA Romeo 430 was a medium truck with a forward cab and right-hand drive.

The RE version differed from the civilian one by the addition of acetylene headlights, a bulb horn, and lacking the triangular placard on the roof of the cab used in the civilian models to indicate the presence of a towing trailer.

The ALFA Romeo T430 chassis, radiator and engine. Source: ALFA Romeo

The wooden loading bay was 4 m long, 2 m wide, and 0.65 m tall. Only the rear side was foldable and the chassis had a step to facilitate the climb. The T430, with an empty weight of 3.55 tonnes, was homologated to load a cargo of 3.15 tonnes. For the RE variant, it was not rare to see trucks with a load of more than 4 tonnes of cargo. Thanks to the tow hook, the truck could also tow a load not exceeding 6.5 tonnes.

Armament

The main armament of the autocannone was the Cannone-Mitragliera Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini 20/70 Modello 1939 20 mm L/70 anti-aircraft automatic cannon. It was mounted on a Complesso di Puntamento Libero (English: Independent Aiming Support) produced by Elettro Meccanica Societa Anonima or CEMSA (English: Caproni Electro Mechanical Limited Company) and better known as the Complesso di Puntamento Libero Scotti – CEMSA.

Developed in the late 1920s by Engineer Alfredo Scotti as an aeronautical gun, it was never used for this. In 1932, Scotti sold the patent, which was bought by the Swiss company Oerlikon. Scotti’s design was probably studied by engineer Marc Birkigt before developing the 20 mm Hispano-Suiza H.S. 404.

In 1935, the Regio Esercito made a request for a new multipurpose automatic cannon capable of engaging flying targets. At the same time, it had to be able to deal with light armored vehicles. Scotti and the Società Italiana Ernesto Breda per Costruzioni Meccaniche responded to the request with the Cannone Scotti da 20/70 and the Cannone Breda da 20/65 Mod. 1935. After tests, the Breda gun was chosen, while the Royal Army gave a negative review of Scotti’s gun.

A Cannone-Mitragliera Scotti-Isotta Fraschini da 20/70 Modello 1939 in firing position on the Greek Lero Island. It was used by sailors of the Italian Regia Marina. Winter 1941. Source: Archivio Centrale dello Stato

In 1938, the Isotta-Fraschini company in Milan bought the patent of the gun and started to update the project. This was presented a year later as the Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini 20/70 Modello 1939. The new gun was bought by the Italian Regia Aeronautica (English: Royal Air Force) and Italian Regia Marina (English: Royal Navy), with a fixed mounting for airfield defense and as an anti-aircraft gun on some Italian warships.

When the war started, the Regio Esercito showed interest in the gun, mainly because Breda could not satisfy the army’s requests and because the Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini gun was less expensive and faster to produce. For the Regio Esercito, the Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini 20/70 Modello 1941 was produced with a wheeled carriage. It was also produced under license by the Officine Meccaniche company or OM (English: Mechanical Workshops), which was known as the Scotti-OM 20/70 Mod. 1941.

The gun was gas-operated and had a theoretical rate of fire of about 500 rounds per minute. However, this dropped to 250 rounds per minute in practice. Its maximum firing range was 5,500 meters against ground targets and 2,000 m against flying targets.

Two images showing the Complesso di Puntamento Libero Scotti-CEMSA. All the soldiers are armed with Carcano Mod. 1891/38 carabines. Sources: Istituto Luce

The gun fired the 20 x 138 mm B ‘Long Solothurn’ cartridge. This was the most common 20 mm round, used on 20 mm guns of the Axis forces in Europe, such as the German FlaK 38, Finnish Lahti L-39 anti-tank rifle, and Italian automatic cannons.

An Italian soldier loading a 12-rounds clip for a Scotti or a Breda 20 mm automatic cannon. Libyan desert, Spring 1941. Source: Archivio Centrale dello Stato

The gun was fed by eight 20 mm round feed strips or twelve 20 mm round feed strips loaded by a loader. A more practical 41-round drum magazine also existed. The Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini 20/70 on the CEMSA support was free to rotate 360°, with a maximum elevation of +90°.

Operational Use

The Legione Autonoma Mobile ‘Ettore Muti’ was created on 18th September 1943 as an action squad for anti-partisan duties. On 18th March 1944, it became a legion and was placed under the authority of the Italian Social Republic Ministry of the Interior. It was designated as an Armed Police Force. Questore Francesco Colombo, a fascist infamous for his extremist ideas, was put in charge of the unit.

The two Autocannoni da 20/70 su ALFA Romeo 430RE in a street in Milan on 17th December 1943. Source: Italia 43-45. I blindati di circostanza della guerra civile

The legion had in its ranks the 1º battaglione ‘Aldo Resega’ (English: 1st Battalion), 2º battaglione ‘Piero De Angeli’ (English: 2nd Battalion) and the Battaglione di riserva ‘Luigi Russo’ (English: Reserve Battalion). The names given to the battalions were the names of fascist militants killed by the partisans. Another important unit of the legion was the Compagnia Mezzi Pesanti ‘Pietro Del Buffa’ (English: Heavy Vehicles Company) created on 2nd July 1944. Pietro Del Buffa was a Sergeant of the 601ª Compagnia of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana killed on 28th December 1943 in Turin.

The unit assimilated the Compagnia Motorizzata (English: Motorized Company) and the Plotone Mezzi Pesanti (English: Heavy Vehicles Platoon) and was commanded by Lieutenant Bonacina.

The Compagnia Mezzi Pesanti ‘Pietro Del Buffa’ was composed of:

  • At least two Autocannoni da 20/70 su ALFA Romeo 430RE
  • An ALFA Romeo 430RE with a Cannone da 75/13 Modello 1915 on its loading bay
  • A SPA 38R towing a Cannone da 75/27 Mod. 1911

There were also three other companies created in February 1945 and subordinated to the ‘Pietro Del Buffa’, the Compagnia Mortai da 81 mm ‘Enrico Maggi’ (English: 81 mm Mortar Company), the Compagnia Mitragliatrici da 20 mm ‘Attilio Da Broi’ (English: 20 mm machine gun Company), and the Compagnia Artiglieria ‘Giuseppe Lucchesi’ (English: Artillery Company).

The Autocannoni da 20/70 su ALFA Romeo 430RE’s crew of seven consisted of a driver, sitting on the right side of the cabin, a vehicle/gun commander sitting on the left side, a gunner, two loaders, and two more soldiers.

In the loading bay, some ammunition wooden crates were placed behind the cab, immediately behind a wooden bench fixed to the floor, where two soldiers were seated. In the middle of the cargo bay was the CEMSA support for the Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini cannon, while on the rear was another wooden bench and more ammunition crates.

The two ALFA Romeo 430 armed with automatic cannons of the Legione Autonoma Mobile ‘Ettore Muti’ on parade in Milan on 17th September 1944. Source: Istituto Luce

The company never operated independently, but in support of the infantry units of the ‘Muti’ Legion or of other Italian units operating in the region. On 14th August, part of the company’s armed vehicles was sent to Varzi, near Pavia in Lombardia, where they had to fight the local partisans together with the Compagnia Speciale ‘Baragiotta-Salines’, another Legione ‘Muti’ unit.

On that occasion, the fascist column was ambushed and immobilized by the partisans in the neighborhood of Pietra Gavina. Unable to continue the operation, the two companies returned back to Varzi. On that occasion, the ALFA trucks armed with 20 mm guns were probably used by the unit.

Another important task that the Compagnia Mezzi Pesanti ‘Pietro Del Buffa’ had to complete was escorting convoys that went from Milan to Turin, two of the most important cities for the Italian fascist faction, or vice versa via the A4 Highway, which was a very busy road. These were not only lorries full of soldiers, ammunition or fuel that passed through it every day, but also trucks loaded with spare parts and other material that kept both the war and civilian industries going.

These were also very easy targets for the fast Allied fighters and ground attack planes, which often machine-gunned convoys on the highway without even encountering anti-aircraft fire.

Vehicles, such as the ALFA Romeo 430RE, armed with high-elevation automatic cannons, were meant to provide effective defense against Allied air attacks. Unfortunately, the fate of these interesting anti-aircraft vehicles is unknown. They were probably destroyed or captured by the partisans during the insurrection in Milan in late April 1945.

The license plates of the vehicles are unknown and it is not known if they had the unit’s coat of arms painted, since the frames of a video of the Istituto Luce showing their appearance during a parade in Milan on 17th December 1944 are of very poor quality.

From what is visible, it is possible to deduce that the two ALFA Romeo 430RE were in the typical monochrome camouflage of the Regio Esercito, the Saharan Kaki. Another interesting detail is the triangular placard on the roof of the cab, which was mounted only on medium and heavy civilian trucks and not on military ones. The vehicles also lack acetylene headlights, so it seems logical to assume that the vehicles were ALFA Romeo 430 trucks produced during the war for the civil market and requisitioned by the fascist troops after the Armistice, given the shortage of vehicles at their disposal.

Conclusion

Although very little is known about these vehicles, it can be assumed that their use to support the troops of the Italian Social Republic against partisan units was effective. Until early 1945, the partisans were too disorganized and poorly armed to respond adequately. Nothing is known about their use as self-propelled anti-aircraft vehicles, but they were definitely far preferable to the nothing the Italian units were usually equipped with.

Autocannone da 20/70 su ALFA Romeo 430RE. Illustrations by the illustrious Godzilla funded by our Patreon Campaign.
Dimensions (L-W-H) 5.955 x 2.13 x ~ 2.5 m
Total weight, battle ready 3.8 tonnes
Crew 7 (vehicle commander, driver, gunner and 4 loaders)
Propulsion ALFA Romeo Tipo 430, Diesel, 4-cylinder, 5,816 cm³, 80 hp at 2,000 rpm
Speed 65 km/h
Range 390 km
Armament One Cannone-Mitragliera Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini 20/70 Modello 1939
Armor //
Total production at least two ALFA Romeo 430RE modified

Sources

Italia 43-45. I blindati di circostanza della guerra civile – Paolo Crippa
Ruote in Divisa, Un Secolo di Veicoli Militari Italiani – Brizio Pignacca

Categories
WW2 RSI Armor

Lancia 3Ro Blindato

Italian Social Republic (1944-1945)
Armored Truck – 2 Built

After the Italian Armistice was signed on 8th September 1943, Benito Mussolini created, on 23rd September, the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (Italian Social Republic – RSI). In Northern and Central Italy, which was controlled by the Axis, German and Italian troops had about 1,000 trucks in service, quite few considering that the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano (National Republican Army – ENR) and the Wehrmacht counted about 600,000 soldiers. On 26th June 1944, Mussolini approved the legislative decree no. 446, which had been proposed by Alessandro Pavolini, the secretary of the Partito Fascista Repubblicano (Republican Fascist Party – PFR). This order constituted the Corpo Ausiliario delle Squadre d’Azione delle Camicie Nere (ENG: Auxiliary Corps of the Action Squads of the Black Shirts), simpler known as the ‘Camice Nere’ (Eng: Black Shirt) or ‘Brigate Nere’ (Eng: Black Brigades) under the control of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (National Republican Guard – GNR), the fascist Military Police. The Brigades had the task of fighting in the second line against the partisan groups that carried out sabotage and ambush missions against the Axis mechanized columns. Only two Black Brigades out of 56 received factory-built armored vehicles, while the other brigades were equipped with trucks (military or civil) that they used as transport vehicles or that they armored themselves or in civil workshops.
Idreno Utimpergher, trusted man of Pavolini, was the commander of the XXVI° Brigata Nera “Benito Mussolini” (ENG: 26th Black Brigade), located first in Lucca but, after an Allied offensive, moved to Piacenza in Emilia Romagna. It was composed of over 200 men and was later renamed the XXXVI° Brigata Nera “Natale Piacentini” (ENG: 36th Black Brigade), after the first soldier from the unit that died in action against the partisans. On the order of Idreno, they armored the only working truck of the Brigade (they also had a Fiat 1500) to better engage the partisans, a Lancia 3Ro heavy truck. The transformation of the Lancia 3Ro was ready after a month of work, from September to October 1944. A Rimorchio Unificato Viberti da 15t trailer, normally used to transport tanks, was also armored with salvaged plates. It could be towed behind the armored truck and used as a troop transport.
The armored car was built by the Arsenal of Piacenza, along with another identical one which was used by the XXVIII° Brigata Nera “Pippo Astorri” (Eng: 28th Black Brigade), but the destiny of this second vehicle is unknown. In the Arsenal of Piacenza workshop, two other vehicles were armored, a Ceirano CM 47 and a Fiat 666N that was totally armored and received a turret with a Breda-SAFAT 12.7 mm aerial machine gun, used by the 630° Comando Provinciale (Eng. 630th Provincial Command of the GNR).

The front of the Lancia 3Ro Blindato in Dongo, on 25th of April 1945. Note the armament of the vehicle, with a machine-gun in the front, one on the side (there was another one on the other side), and a cannon in the turret. Also, note the Viberti 15t trailer at the rear. Source: City of Dongo archive

The Lancia 3Ro

The Lancia 3Ro heavy truck was designed in 1937. It was produced from 1938 to 1948 for both the civilian market and the military and up to 1950 in the bus version. In total, 15,222 vehicles were constructed. It was produced in two plants, the Borgo san Paolo plant of Turin and the Bolzano plant.

Lancia was one of the first Italian companies to use diesel propulsion on its trucks, producing the German Junkers 2 cylinder 3,181 cm³ engines under license. This gave a power of 64 hp at 1500 rpm (the Lancia Tipo 89 mounted on Lancia Ro). A 3-cylinder version with a displacement of 4,771 cm³ gave out 95 hp was named Lancia Tipo 90 and mounted on the Lancia Ro-Ro, the predecessor of the 3Ro.

Civilian Lancia 3Ro 1st Series with long cabin. Source: pinterest.com

German engines, however, were very expensive, so Vincenzo Lancia, manager of the company, ordered his technicians to develop a new engine, the 5-cylinder inline Lancia Tipo 102 with a displacement of 6,875 cm³, giving out 93 hp at 1860 rpm.

In order to accommodate the new engine, the Lancia 3Ro’s engine hood was lengthened to accommodate the longer engine compared to the earlier licensed Junkers. Its top speed fully loaded was 45 km/h on-road. Its range, with the 135-liter tank of the basic version, was 450 km. The transmission was a license copy of a Maybach one with 4 gears and one reverse.

Engine Lancia Tipo 102. Source: pinterest.com

The civilian version was produced in two series. The 1st had a square engine compartment and vertical radiator grille, while the 2nd had a water-drop shaped radiator grille which was angled back.

There were two standard cabin types, the standard version and the ‘Lungo’ (Eng. Long) version, which, in the civilian version, had a berth behind the seats.

For the civilian versions, the cabins were produced (in a few examples) by Caproni, Cab and Orlandi. For the military versions, the cabins were produced and fitted out only by Viberti.

The Regio Esercito (Royal Italian Army) ordered the vehicle in two versions, the Lancia 3Ro MNP (Militare; Nafta; Pneumatici – Eng. Military; Diesel; Tires), with standard 270×20” tires and the Lancia 3Ro MNSP (Militare; Nafta; SemiPneumatici – Eng. Military; Diesel; SemiTires) with 285×88” rubber tires. These were used during the Second World War in all the campaigns in which the Royal Italian Army participated. Not only the military versions were used, but also the civilian ones. Due to the need for transport vehicles, the army was forced to requisition most of the trucks from the civilians.

The civilian version had a weight of 5,500 kg and a cargo bay of 7.49 m x 2.35 m, with a payload capability of 6,500 kg. The Lancia 3Ro Mnp had a weight of 5,610 kg and a payload capability of 6,390 kg, while the 3Ro MNSP had a weight of 5,890 kg and a payload capability of 6,110 kg.

The Lancia 3Ro MNP version could carry 32 fully equipped soldiers or 7 horses or over 6 tons of materials or ammunition or could tow all types of Italian artillery pieces. Lots of variants were built on the 3Ro MNP chassis, such as a tanker versions for fuel (5000 liters) or for water (one tank of 5000 liters or two of 2000) modified by the Viberti company of Turin, the mobile workshop Mod. 38, an ammunition transporter with 210 90 mm rounds, a bus variant, a command post that was used by Feldmarschall Erwin Rommel and also the famous italian Autocannoni, such as the Autocannone da 90/53 su Lancia 3Ro and 100/17 su Lancia 3Ro. The MNP could carry all the light tanks of the Italian Royal Army on the cargo bay (L3, L6/40 or Semovente L40 da 47/32). The Rimorchio Unificato Viberti 15T (Eng. Viberti Unified Trailer 15 tons) could carry medium tanks of the “M” series and all the Semovente based on their hulls.

A Lancia 3Ro MNP, the standard Lancia military truck of the Royal Army. Source: pinterest.com

Some examples were equipped with a 9.5-ton winch and a 31.5-meter-long steel cable.
The electrical system was a 6 volt one in the first 1611 Lancia 3Ro military vehicles, then replaced by a 12 volt system in the following models. It was limited to a dynamo produced by Magneti Marelli of Sesto San Giovanni, which was used to power the two front lights, the license plate and dashboard lighting, the windscreen wipers and the horn.

This excellent vehicle was still used by the Esercito Italiano (Eng. Italian Army) after the war until 1964, when it was replaced by more modern military trucks.

Design

The vehicle was dubbed “the last armored car of the Duce” and was probably on a Lancia 3Ro MNSP chassis. All the truck’s automotive components were unchanged, including the engine, gears, and transmission. The rear wheels received armor plates, and the radiator had two inclined plates with slits to allow the engine to cool. For the maintenance of the engine, there were two doors on the sides of the cabin, above the front fenders and headlights.
The vehicle received armor 9 mm thick on all sides and a cylindrical single-seater turret that could rotate 360°, which was also fitted with 9 mm thick armor. The vehicle was equipped with three entrances: two doors on the sides and a large rear door at the back that provided access for some of the crew and for the 8 men that could be transported inside the vehicle.
On the sides of the vehicle there was painted the writing “XXXVI° BRIGATA NERA NATALE PIACENTINI LUCCA” and on the doors of the cabin were painted two lions, the symbol of the Lucca city.

Armament

The vehicle was armed with three 8×59 mm machine guns (two Breda 38 and a Breda 37) and a Scotti-Isotta Fraschini 20/70 Mod. 1939 anti-aircraft/anti-tank light automatic cannon. The Breda 37 was mounted on a spherical support on the front plate, on the driver’s left; two Breda 38 machine-guns were also mounted on spherical supports located on the two sides of the vehicle. In the turret was fixed the Scotti-Isotta Fraschini 20/70 Mod. 1939 automatic cannon. The elevation of the gun was very high to allow the use of the gun against aerial targets. The number of cannon and machine guns rounds transported was unknown.

Crew

There were seven crew members. Three were sat in the cabin on seats, namely the driver, the commander/machine gunner, and the machine-gun loader that had an ammunition rack for the 20 round magazines. There were also two side machine-gunners in the body of the vehicle with a gunner in the turret and the loader. Two wooden benches on the sides of the hull seated eight fully armed and equipped soldiers (with the two machine-gunners and the loader). In addition, on the sides were wooden racks of ammunition and two fire extinguishers.

The Lancia 3Ro Blindato being inspected by some civilians in Dongo, 25th April 1945. Note the Viberti trailer. Source: City of Dongo archive


Illustration of the Lancia 3Ro Blindato produced by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

A standard Lancia 3Ro for comparison

Operational Use

The vehicle was used from October 1944 up to the first months of 1945 as an anti-partisan patrol armored car. It saw action on 30th December 1944 against a partisan patrol. Between mid-February and early March, the XXXVI° “Natale Piacentini” Black Brigade was moved from Piacenza to Pinerolo in Piedmont. Around 23rd April, the brigade received an order to reach Valtellina in Lombardy.
On the 24th, the “Natale Piacentini”, now armed with this armored vehicle and a Fiat 626 truck armed with a Breda 20/65 Mod. 1935 automatic cannon in the cargo bay, had to escort a column of trucks carrying other Black Brigades towards Milan. At Vercelli, they found themselves involved in a shootout with a partisan brigade; for this reason, the surviving vehicles of the column arrived in Milan in the late afternoon. They were the last fascist vehicles arriving in the city before the insurrection of the following day.
On the morning of April 25, the partisans attacked the major cities of northern Italy still in the hands of the Germans and the fascists. At first, the XXXVI° Brigade was chosen to defend the city, but then it was realized that, thanks to its armored car, the Brigade would have been more useful to escort the Duce, Benito Mussolini, to safety in Switzerland.
On 26th April, the XXXVI° joined a convoy of Republican forces (178 trucks, 4636 soldiers and 346 female auxiliaries) that was moving to Como, where they arrived after lunch. From Como, the brigade and the Lancia 3Ro Blindato moved to Menaggio to escort Benito Mussolini to Merano. During the night of the 26th to 27th April, a column of German Flak vehicles arrived in Menaggio, which, along with the Italian vehicles, resumed the march to Merano with the Lancia at the head of the column. Mussolini, Mrs. Clara Petacci, Alessandro Pavolini and other members of the fascist party were part of the column, transported inside this armored car, along with many documents of the fascist government and Mussolini’s personal baggage.

The Lancia 3Ro Blindato in Dongo, the village where Mussolini was captured by the partisans in April 1945. It is unknown when this photo was taken. Source: web photo
On the morning of the 27th, in Musso, the convoy, led by the Lancia 3Ro Blindato, with all the fascist leaders inside, was stopped on the highway that runs along Lake Como at a checkpoint of the 52ª Brigata Garibaldi “Luigi Clerici” (ENG: 52nd Partisan Brigade). The partisans only allowed the German trucks and FlaK cannons to continue, so Mussolini, dressed as a German soldier, got into a German Opel Blitz which turned onto the road to Merano.
The remaining vehicles, with which the Lancia armored car remained, were moving back when, for unknown reasons, there was a clash. The vehicle fired several machine-gun bursts against the partisans, who responded with rifle fire and several hand grenades. One of these hit the vehicle, damaging one of the two front wheels, immobilizing it while it was trying to retreat. The fascist dignitaries then came out of the vehicle with weapons in hand. During this incident, the driver, Guido Taiti, and vehicle commander Merano Chiavacci were killed, while Pavolini was wounded. Pavolini, along with Idreno Utimpergher and Paolo Zerbino, were captured.
The vehicle was then captured by the partisans and taken to Milan to a foundry, where it was fixed up and placed in the village of Dongo for many years as a symbol of the victory against fascism and in the 60s it was probably demolished.

Conclusions

The vehicle was developed due to the lack of other armored vehicles in Northern Italy. Due to its poor armor, like the SPA-Viberti AS43 built in Turin for the same role, it was not meant to fight against similar vehicles, such as the British Humber armored cars or the American M8 Greyhound; its tasks were patrolling and anti-guerrilla warfare, which it carried out well. This article covered the vehicle used by the XXXVI° Black Brigade “Natale Piacentini” but there were other such vehicles built on the same Lancia 3Ro hull, but produced by other workshops and armed with different armament, such as Breda 20/65 Mod. 1935 automatic cannons, for the XXVIII° “Pippo Astorri” or Solothurn S-1000 anti-tank rifles mounted on a Lancia modified like the Carro protetto trasporto truppa su autotelaio FIAT 626. Some Lancia 3Ro were used to transport troops with armor only on the sides and on the front, like on the Fiat 665 NM Blindato.

A Lancia 3Ro truck with armor in the rear cargo bay, used as a troop transport. Source: Beutepanzer.ru

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 7.25 x 2.35 x approx. 4 meters
Total weight, battle ready 8 tonnes
Crew 7 + 8 (driver, vehicle commander/machine gunner, 2x gunners, 2x loaders + 8 passengers).
Propulsion Lancia Type 102 diesel, 5 cylinder
Speed 40 km/h
Range 400 km (250 mi)
Armament Scotti-Isotta Fraschini 20/70 Mod. 1939
Three 8×59 mm machine guns (two Breda 38 and one Breda 37)
Armor Aprx. 9 mm
Total production 1 – 5

Sources

Italia 43-45. I blindati di circostanza della guerra civile. Tank master special.
Ricciotti Lazzero “Le Brigate Nere”
“Gli Ultimi in Grigio Verde” di Giorgio Pisanò
Nico Scarlato, I corazzati Di Circostanza Italiani.