Categories
WW2 RSI Armor

SPA-Viberti AS43 Blindata

Italian Social Republic (1944-1945)
Light Armored Car – 1 Converted

The SPA-Viberti AS43 Blindata (English: Armored) was an improvised light armored car produced on the Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS43 chassis and used by the Battaglione ‘Fulmine’ (English: Battalion) of the Xª Divisione MAS (English: 10th MAS Division) in late-1944 and early-1945.

This unit of the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano or ENR (English: National Republican Army) was active in anti-partisan operations, mainly in Piemonte and Veneto, two regions in northern Italy. Little is known about its service and there were lots of doubts about its chassis.

The SPA-Viberti AS43 Blindata during the 29th October 1944 parade in Via Roma, Turin. Source: Le Camionette del Regio Esercito

The Repubblica Sociale Italiana after the Armistice

After the Italian Armistice was announced on 8th September 1943, the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army) was disbanded, with some soldiers deciding to join the Esercito Cobelligerante Italiano (English: Co-belligerent Army) under Allied control. Others created Italian partisan units, while others swore allegiance to the Germans. Over a million fought against and were captured by the Germans.

Benito Mussolini, Duce of Italy, had been deposed from power on 25th June 1943 and spent some time in an Italian prison. On 12th September 1943, he was freed by a daring mission by a group of German Fallschirmjäger (English: Paratroopers).

Benito Mussolini was then taken to Germany, where he met Adolf Hitler to decide Italy’s destiny. Returning to Italy on 23rd September 1943, he created the Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI (English: Italian Social Republic) in northern and central Italy, which had been controlled by the Germans until 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 troops after the Armistice, that had been damaged before the Armistice, abandoned in military depots, 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. In fact, it probably received or retrieved less than 20% of the vehicles necessary to fight and logistics duties.

The Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana or GNR (English: National Repubblica Police), used as a military police and for anti-partisan duties, was equipped with even fewer vehicles. 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 get around 60 tanks, around 20 armored cars, and more than an hundred 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 corp used almost exclusively to counter partisan actions, was practically not equipped with any armor at all. Of the 56 Black Brigades created, only two received armored vehicles, while the other brigades had to armor some civilian or military trucks in an improvised way in civilian workshops.

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

The most famous one was probably the Lancia 3Ro Blindato of the XXXVI° Brigata Nera ‘Natale Piacentini’ (English: 36th Black Brigade) and the Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43 of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’.

The Xª Flottiglia MAS (English: 10th MAS Flotilla) was a Motor Torpedo Boat (MAS – Motoscafi Armati Siluranti – Armed Torpedo Motorboats) and nautical saboteurs unit, which had some of the most resounding successes of the Italian Army against the British Navy in the Mediterranean.

Before the Armistice, Frigate Captain Junio Valerio Borghese took command of the unit and, after September 1943, reorganized it into a naval assault infantry corps, equivalent in part to the US Marine Corps. The unit abandoned the saboteurs missions and become a naval infantry division.

The Xª Divisione MAS was equipped with a few vehicles during its service with the Repubblica Sociale Italiana. These were mostly FIAT 626 medium trucks and FIAT 666 heavy trucks, one Carro Armato Leggero L6/40 light tank, one Autocannone da 90/53 su SPA Dovunque 41, and some 75 mm, 100 mm and 105 mm artillery pieces.

Design

SPA-Viberti AS43

The Camionetta Desertica FIAT-SPA AS43 or SPA-Viberti AS43 was an Italian light reconnaissance unarmored vehicle developed for North African service as a cheaper, lighter, and easier to produce variant of the SPA-Viberti AS42 ‘Sahariana’.

In Italian, the term ‘Camionetta’ (plural Camionette) designated unarmored cars, jeeps, or light trucks used in reconnaissance and infantry support roles.

A column of FIAT-SPA AS37 in North Africa. Source: flickr.com

It was developed by Società Piemontese Automobili or SPA, a FIAT subsidiary, and by Officine Viberti, both based in Turin. The project began using the chassis of the FIAT-SPA AS37 (AS for Autocarro Sahariano – Saharian truck) light lorry, itself derived from the FIAT-SPA Trattore Leggero Modello 1937 ‘Libia’ (English: Light Tractor model 1937 ‘Lybia’).

The SPA-Viberti AS43 prototype with Pirelli Tipo ‘Raiflex’ tires. Source: Italian Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War II

The AS43 was produced from mid-1943 until the 8th September 1943 Armistice. After the German occupation of northern Italy, production was restarted for the German Army, which used the vehicles with some modifications until the end of the war.

Camionette SPA-Viberti AS43 ready for delivery at the SPA Plant. The first one is equipped with Pirelli Tipo ‘Sigillo Verde’ tires, the second one with Tipo ‘Artiglio’. Source: Le Camionette del Regio Esercito

Engine and Suspensions

The configuration was all-wheel drive, as on the AS37, but on this new vehicle only the frontal wheels steered, reducing the mechanical complexity and the need for complex maintenance of the four-wheels steering system.

The front wheels had independent coil spring suspension coupled with hydraulic shock absorbers which guaranteed great comfort on rough terrains. The rear wheels had inverse leaf springs, reinforced compared to those of TL37 light prime mover due to increased weight and the need to withstand the stress of recoil from the main gun.

There are doubts about the brakes. Italian Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War II, written by Ralph Riccio, mentions that the Camionetta had hydraulic brakes, while the Le Camionette del Regio Esercito, written by Enrico Finazzer and Luigi Carretta, makes no mention of modifications to the original AS37 desert light truck, which had mechanical brakes with the brake pedal acting on pairs of brake jaws for each wheel.

The engine was a more powerful version of the one used on FIAT-SPA AS37, the SPA 18VT 4-stroke, 4-cylinder, petrol engine delivering 73 hp (or 75 hp, depending on the sources) at 2,000 rpm. This gave a maximum fully-loaded on-road speed of 68.5 km/h.

The fuel tank had a capacity of 120 liters, giving a range of 300 km, while the gearbox was the same as on the AS37, with 5 forward and one reverse gears.

Structure

Officine Viberti in Turin, a company with 1,780 workers, specialized, before the war, in producing bodyworks for Lancia and FIAT trucks. During the war, it also produced some autocannoni for Ansaldo and produced the frames of the Camionette that were produced jointly with SPA.

The SPA-Viberti AS42 proved adequate, but the Regio Esercito needed something lighter and cheaper. The Technical Department of the Officine Viberti took the experiences gained from the North African Campaign with the Autocarro Sahariano 37 light lorry, the Camionetta AS37 and the Camionetta Desertica Modello 1943 (English: Desert Camionetta Model 1943) in order to design something new.

A Camionetta Desertica Mod. 43 on the FIAT-SPA AS37 chassis. The tires were Pirelli Tipo ‘Sigillo Verde’. Source: Le Camionette del Regio Esercito

The AS37 frame was taken, lowered from a ground clearance of 390 mm to 345 mm. The cab was totally modified, apart from the hood and the radiator grille. The side doors, the windshield, the roof, and the third seat were removed.

The cargo bay was completely modified, the spare wheel was moved from behind the cab, to the cargo bay’s rear, on a tiltable support that the crew could lower to permit 360° traverse to the main gun. The cargo bay’s sides were fixed and could not be lowered.

Developed as a desert vehicle, there were two lockers on the sides, between the rear mudguard and the commander and driver’s seats. Each locker could store five 20 liter jerry cans, with another six that could be positioned on the mudguards, for a total of 16 20 liter jerry cans for drinkable water, engine lubricant oil, and fuel. Obviously, given its use mainly in the Italian peninsula, the jerry cans were rarely used and the crew transported ammunition for the main gun in the side lockers instead.

The main gun could be a Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935 or Mod. 1939 support gun or an anti-aircraft Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935. The vehicle commander was also armed with a Breda Modello 1937 or Modello 1938 medium machine gun on a support mounted on the left side of the cab, with its ammunition placed in a small rack between the driver’s and commander’s seats.

Another view of the SPA-Viberti AS43 prototype. The jerry cans on the side racks are visible. Source: Italian Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War II

The SPA-Viberti AS43 Blindata

From right to left: an OM Taurus medium truck, the SPA-Viberti AS43 Blindata, and a FIAT 508CM of the 2ª Compagnia of the Battaglione ‘Fulmine’ of the 2° Reggimento of the Xª Divisione MAS plus two Solothurn S-18/1000 anti-tank rifles at the front all lined up in Piazza Castello in Turin. Source: I corazzati di circostanza italiani

It is unclear if the SPA-Viberti AS43 truck on which the SPA-Viberti AS43 Blindata was based was a new production model recently delivered from the Officine Viberti plant in Turin (where the finished camionette were ready for delivery) or whether the Battaglione ‘Fulmine’ took possession of an AS43 somewhere in Liguria or Piemonte.

The Camionetta was probably modified by workers in one of the FIAT plants or workshops in Turin in mid-1944. The armored plates used on the vehicle were most likely donated to the battalion by the Turin Arsenal which, at that time, was responsible for the production of other improvised armored vehicles.

The original bodywork produced by Officine Viberti was removed and an armored superstructure, part welded, part bolted, was fixed to the chassis. It had an angled hood and an armored radiator grille, while the sides were vertical, apart from the upper part.

On the roof there was a structure for the frontal and rear machine guns, which were mounted in spherical supports, with some loopholes on the sides, probably to permit the crew to see the battlefield and to defend themselves with personal weapons. The structure had a single large hatch or two small hatches on the roof.

The upper hatch was probably used to observe the battlefield or to open fire in anti-aircraft roles. An armored door was probably placed on the rear side to permit the four crew members to easily access and escape from the vehicle.

The driver was placed on the right and had a large hatch in front of him, but not on the sides, meaning he did not have a clear view of the battlefield.

The vehicle’s commander sat on the left and had at his disposal a machine gun on a spherical support in front of him. He had a square hatch on his top. The rest of the crew was positioned behind them, operating the machine guns placed on the structure. For night operations, the two machine gunners had at their disposal a searchlight placed on the center of the structure’s roof. This could be operated manually, exposing the soldier through the upper hatch.

The wheel mudguards were removed and replaced with armored, longer, and different shaped ones. These also covered the sides to better protect the tires from small-arms fire. Inside the frontal mudguards were the unarmored headlights. On the left front mudguard was a rod used by the driver to help drive through narrow mountain streets or to park.

The few photos of this vehicle show that the engine compartment had some hinged maintenance hatches on the hood and that the mudguard’s lateral plates could be opened upwards to change a tire or for suspension maintenance.

The new armored structure increased the weight of the vehicle at the expense of mobility. The engine, due to the increase in weight, was probably under stress, likely creating a series of problems, such as higher fuel consumption, increased wear of mechanical parts, and the need for more maintenance.

According to Paolo Crippa, who interviewed a veteran of the battalion, the armored car’s armor was very light, so much so that the veteran was very critical of its effectiveness in combat.

This could mean that the thickness was very limited, maybe between 4 mm and 6 mm, or that the plates were made of non-ballistic steel and consequently, less resistant, even to the weapons of the Partisans, who were armed with nothing but rifles, a few submachine guns, and the odd machine gun.

The camouflage on the AS43 Blindata was a three-tone ‘Continentale’ camouflage typical of Italian vehicles used on the mainland, composed of a ‘Kaki Sahariano’ (English: Saharian Khaki) background with reddish-brown and dark green spots.

Only a few images of the vehicle exist, but it is clear that it was not based on an AB41 armored car or SPA-Viberti AS42 chassis, as claimed by some sources.

The AB41 and SPA-Viberti AS42 chassis were derived from the same frame, the FIAT-SPA TM40 (Trattore Medio – Medium Tractor), and are too big to be the vehicle seen, with a wheelbase of 3.2 meters compared to the 2.5 meters of the SPA-Viberti AS43 and the AS37.

Another counter to this theory is the engine compartment, positioned at the front on the ‘Fulmine’ armored car. The AB41 and the AS42 had the engine on the rear.

Finally, an armored car like the one seen could only have very limited use because of how the armament was arranged and the shape of its superstructure. It would be logical that, if the ‘Fulmine’ Battalion had recovered an AB41 armored car or a Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS42, it would have immediately put it back into service without this unnecessary modification.

Some sources also hypothesize that the armored body may have been mounted on the SPA-Viberti AS37 chassis, but the AS37 was no longer in production and there is no data on the use of an AS37s by the Xª Divisione MAS or other units of the Italian Social Republic. However, if this were true, it would be impossible to prove.

Armament

The SPA-Viberti AS43 Blindata’s main armament was made up of three Breda Modello 1937 medium machine guns. This gas-operated machine gun was developed by Società Italiana Ernesto Breda per Costruzioni Meccaniche in 1937, the same year it was accepted into service.

It was a powerful machine gun adopted by the Regio Esercito as a company or battalion support heavy machine gun. It was the heaviest rifle-caliber machine gun of the Second World War, with a weight of 19.4 kg.

A Breda Modello 1937 with its 18.8 kg tripod. Source: associazionenazionalefantiarresto.it

It had a theoretical rate of fire of 460 rounds per minute, but due to the 20-round feed strip, the loader needed to put in one ammunition feed strip after another. This dropped the practical rate of fire to around 200 rounds per minute when used on a tripod and operated by a machine gun squad. Inside the narrow AS43 Blindata and operated by only one soldier, the effective rate of fire of the machine gun would certainly fall, probably to less than 100 rounds per minute. This however meant that the weapons hardly overheated.

The machine gun shot 8 x 59 mm RB cartridges developed by Breda exclusively for machine guns. The 8 mm Breda had a muzzle velocity between 790 m/s and 800 m/s, depending on the round type. The armor piercing ones 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 vehicle was first spotted during a parade in Turin on 29th October 1944, on the occasion of the delivery of the unit flags. It passed through Via Roma, Turin’s main boulevard, and was then placed in Piazza Castello (former Royal Palace Square), where the Battaglione ‘Fulmine’ was reviewed by some fascist higher-ups and generals who delivered the unit flags.

It was used in Piemonte and Valle d’Aosta, the two Italian regions of the northwest where the Battaglione ‘Fulmine’ and other units of the Xª Divisione MAS were active, patrolling the roads that went from Italy to France and Switzerland. These would have been the only escape routes for German and Italian troops fleeing Italy. The Italian Partisans also knew this and tried to sabotage the supply lines, destroying bridges and occupying cities where there were Fascist headquarters.

Some sailors of the 3° Plotone of an unknown company of the Battaglione ‘Fulmine’ in Locana, Piemonte, on 29th November 1944. Behind them is the SPA-Viberti AS43 Blindata. Source: Italia 43-45. Source: I blindati di circostanza della guerra civile

Some days before, on 10th October 1944, some Partisan units liberated the city of Alba, 50 km south of Turin. The Repubblica Partigiana di Alba (English: Partisan Republic of Alba) remained free and autonomous for 23 days. On 2nd November 1944, units of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana, such as the Black Brigades of Turin and Cuneo, the I° Reparto Arditi Ufficiali and a platoon of the II° Reparto Arditi Ufficiali, the X Battaglione Speciale, and some units of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ attacked Alba. Most importantly, the Battaglione ‘Lupo’ and Battaglione ‘Fulmine’, Gruppi d’artiglieria da Campagna ‘Da Guissano’ and Gruppi d’artiglieria da Campagna ‘San Giorgio’ of the Xª Divisione MAS also participated, with a total of over 1,000 soldiers and auxiliaries. The Partisan units that defended the city were the IIª divisione ‘Langhe’, the 48ª Brigata Garibaldi ‘Dante Di Nanni’, the 78ª Brigata Garibaldi, Brigata ‘Castellino’, and the Brigata ‘Canale’. After some hours of fighting the city was reoccupied by the fascist troops.

The SPA-Viberti AS43 Blindata was almost surely transported to Alba, even if it was probably not used in action due to the impossibility of ferrying armored vehicles across the Tanaro river.

Neither Partisan nor Fascist sources report the use of armored vehicles, which had remained on the hills and on the north bank of the Tanaro, providing, if possible, fire support to the Fascist troops.

After a valiant defense, Alba was recaptured by fascist forces on 2nd November 1944.

The SPA-Viberti AS43 Blindata of the Battaglione ‘Fulmine’, along with a civilian FIAT 1100 car used by the same Xª Divisione MAS unit. Locana, Piemonte, 29th November 1944. Source: I blindati di circostanza della guerra civile

After the actions in Alba, the Xª Divisione MAS was transferred to Veneto and then to Friuli Venezia Giulia to counter the fierce resistance of Tito’s Yugoslav Partisans. The Battaglione ‘Fulmine’ was positioned as a garrison in Sleppe d’Istria, where it fought against the Slovenian IX° Corpus partisans.

According to veteran testimonies, the AS43 Blindata was transferred to Sleppe too, but due to the karst terrain, it saw limited use, if any.

After this point, all traces of this vehicle are lost. The most probable hypothesis about the fate of the vehicle is that it was destroyed during an anti-partisan patrol or that it was destroyed or captured in the last days of clashes between the Xª Divisione MAS and the Yugoslav Partisans in April 1945.

Conclusion

The SPA-Viberti AS43 Blindata was one of the dozen improvised vehicles produced by the units of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana during the 17 months of its existence and used to fight against the Partisan brigades and the Allied forces.

The AS43 Blindata was a vehicle that was only suitable for anti-partisan actions, against an enemy with few anti-armor armament, but which would have easily succumbed to any better armed opposition.

The SPA-Viberti AS43 Blindata of the Battaglione ‘Fulmine’ in 1944. Illustration by Godzilla.

SPA-Viberti AS43 Blindata Specification

Size (L-W-H): ~5 x ~2 x ~2.5 m
Weight, battle-ready: ~6 tonnes
Crew: 3-4 (driver, commander/machine gunner and one or two machine gunners)
Engine: FIAT-SPA 18VT, patrol, 4-cylinder 4,053 cm³ delivering 73 hp
Speed: ~60 km/h
Range: ~700 km
Armament: 3x 8 mm Breda Modello 1937 medium machine guns
Armor: light
Production: one converted

Sources

Italian Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War II – Ralph A. Riccio
zimmerit.com
I corazzati di circostanza italiani – Nico Sgarlato
Italia 43-45. I blindati di circostanza della guerra civile – Paolo Crippa
Le Camionette del Regio Esercito – Enrico Finazzer and Luigi Carretta

Categories
WW2 RSI Armor

Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43

Italian Social Republic (1944-1945)
Light Armored Car – 2 or 6 Built

The Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43, not to be confused with any of the other many developments on this chassis that Italy experimented with in the 1940s, was produced by the Officine Viberti of Turin in small numbers.

Because of the scarce information about it, it is often mistakenly called Autoblinda AS43 (English: AS43 Armored Car) or Tipo Zerbino after Paolo Zerbino, Chief of the Province of Turin and then Minister of the Interior of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (English: Italian Social Republic).

The Carrozzeria Speciale su AS43 was used by the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ (English: Armored Group) of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (English: National Republican Guard) from mid-1944 to the end of the war.

A Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43 with a three-tone camouflage scheme and Pirelli Tipo ‘Artiglio’ tires. The vehicle was unarmed because the photo was taken at the Officine Viberti plant. Source: Archivio Viberti

History of the Project

After the first engagements between Italian and Commonwealth troops in North Africa, it was clear to the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army) High Command that it was necessary to field a light armored car for fast reconnaissance as soon as possible. Starting work from the FIAT-SPA TL37 ‘Libia’ (TL for Trattore Leggero – Light tractor) light prime mover, which had good mobility thanks to the powerful gasoline engine and oversized tires, a new armored car was designed.

The new Autoblinda TL37 or Autoblinda AS37 (AS for Africa Settentrionale – North Africa) had an open-topped turret armed with a powerful Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 20 mm L.65 automatic cannon and a coaxial machine gun. Only one was built by the Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Sestri Ponente, near Genoa. It was shipped to North Africa, where it formed part of an experimental armored car platoon of the Regio Esercito, the Raggruppamento Esplorante del Corpo d’Armata di Manovra or RECAM (English: Reconnaissance Grouping of the Mobile Army Corp), alongside 3 AB41s of the Army, and 9 AB41s and an AB40 from the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana or PAI (English: Police of the Italian Africa) which arrived at a similar time.

Unfortunately, not much is known about its service. It was abandoned at Sidi Rezegh, south of the main road between Tobruk and Bardia, east of El Adem, probably due to a mechanical failure. The project was abandoned in favor of the ‘AB’ series of armored cars, the most produced during the war and the most modified Italian armored car during the war.

The Autoblinda TL37 in the desert. The front mudguard is damaged. An AB41 is in the background. Source: Archivio Centrale dello Stato

Despite the failure of this project, the Regio Esercito did not lose hope, and a new APC was developed on the chassis of the FIAT-SPA TL37. The S37 Autoprotetto was developed for desert fighting. It was ready in February 1942 and 150 were produced, all delivered to the Italian Occupation Units in Yugoslavia.

In North Africa, there was a development of ‘special’ vehicles by Italian frontline troops, which desperately needed vehicles to support their offensives. This is how some camionette (Italian word for reconnaissance military cars) were born, based on the chassis of the FIAT-SPA AS37, a light lorry developed on the chassis of the FIAT-SPA TL37 ‘Libia’.

These easy-to-modify vehicles were appreciated for their off-road characteristics and sturdiness. In late 1942, the Royal Army started to mass-produce vehicles with similar characteristics and for the same purposes. The first one was the Camionetta Desertica Mod. 1943 (English: Desert Reconnaissance Car Model 1943), of which a dozen were produced and used mainly in the Defense of Rome between 8th and 10th September 1943.

Another vehicle developed was the Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS43, produced in 1943 on the AS37 light truck chassis as a cheaper and easier-to-produce vehicle to accompany the bigger and more expensive Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS42 ‘Sahariana’. Even this vehicle, despite being developed for use in North Africa, was never used in that operational theater. It saw use in Italy with the troops of the Royal Army to prevent attacks by paratroopers and Allied landings on the Italian coast.

After the Armistice of 8th September 1943, which led to the occupation of central and northern Italy by the Germans, the few vehicles captured and those produced between 1944 and 1945 were used almost exclusively by the Wehrmacht.

A Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS43 in Luftwaffe hands after the Armistice. It has Pirelli Tipo ‘Artiglio’ tires and is armed with a Cannone Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini 20/70 Mod. 1941. Behind it is a FIAT-SPA 38R light lorry. Source: pinterest.com

Of the dozens of Italian units loyal to Mussolini after the armistice, only a couple used the SPA-Viberti. The 2ª Compagnia of the Battaglione ‘Fulmine’ of the 2° Reggimento of the Xª Flottiglia MAS used a single modified vehicle, known as the SPA-Viberti AS43 Blindata. The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ modified a certain number of vehicles at the Officine Viberti of Turin.

Design

Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS43

The Camionetta Desertica FIAT-SPA AS43 or SPA-Viberti AS43 was an Italian light reconnaissance unarmored vehicle developed for North African service as a cheaper, lighter and easier to produce variant of the SPA-Viberti AS42 ‘Sahariana’.

In Italian, the term ‘Camionetta’ (plural Camionette) designates unarmored cars, jeeps or light trucks used in reconnaissance and infantry support roles.

Another view of the SPA-Viberti AS43 prototype. The jerry cans are visible. Source: Italian Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War II

The AS43 was developed by Società Piemontese Automobili or SPA, a FIAT subsidiary, and by Officine Viberti, both based in Turin. The project was started using the chassis of the FIAT-SPA AS37 (AS for Autocarro Sahariano – Saharian truck) light lorry, itself derived from the FIAT-SPA Trattore Leggero 37 ‘Libia’ (English: Light Tractor).

The AS43 was produced from mid-1943 until the 8th September 1943 armistice. After the German occupation of northern Italy, production was restarted for the German Army, which used the vehicles, with some modifications, until the end of the war.

The AS37 chassis was lowered from a ground clearance of 390 mm to 345 mm. The cab was completely modified, apart from the hood and the radiator grille. The side doors, the windshield, the roof, and the third seat were removed. The cargo bay was completely modified. The spare wheel was moved from behind the cab to the cargo bay’s rear, on tiltable support that the crew could lower to allow a full 360° traverse to the main gun. The loading bay’s sides were fixed and could not be lowered.

Developed as a desert vehicle, there were two lockers on the sides, between the rear mudguard and the commander and driver’s seats. Each locker could store five 20-liter jerry cans. Another six could be placed on the mudguards, two for each rear mudguard, and one for each frontal mudguard. This gave a total of 16 20-liter jerry cans for drinkable water, engine lubricant oil, and fuel. Obviously, given its use mainly in the Italian peninsula, the jerry cans were rarely transported and the side lockers transported ammunition for the main gun instead.

The main gun of the Camionetta AS43 could be a Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935 or Mod. 1939 47 mm L.32 support gun or a Cannone Breda da 20/65 Mod. 1935 anti-aircraft gun. The vehicle’s commander also fired a Breda Mod. 37 or Mod. 38 medium machine gun on a support mounted on the left side of the cab. The ammunition was placed in a small rack between the driver’s and commander’s seats.

Turret

The AS43 armored car’s turret was the Modello 1941 (English: Model 1941) developed and produced by Ansaldo for the L.6/40 light reconnaissance tank. The one-man turret had an octagonal shape with two hatches, one for the vehicle’s commander/gunner on the roof and the second one on the back of the turret, used to facilitate the disassembly of the main armament for maintenance. On the sides, the turret had two air intakes, in addition to two slits through which personal weapons could be fired for close defense. The vehicle did not have fans or smoke extractors.

Armor plate scheme of the Modello 1941 turret. Source: pinterest.com

On the roof, next to the hatch, there was a 30º vision panoramic periscope for the commander. This allowed the commander a partial view of the battlefield. Due to the limited space inside the turret, it was impossible for it to rotate 360°.

After the production of some armored cars and light tanks, it became apparent that the turret had some balance problems, so a counterweight was added on the back, under the rear hatch. The turret did not have a turret basket and the commander/gunner operated the cannon and the machine gun through the use of pedals. There were no electric generators in the turret, so the commander needed to control the traverse and gun elevation with handwheels. The steel cables used to operate the guns were of the ‘Bowden’ type, protected by a plastic sheath, the same principle as on bike brakes.

The AB41 turret, showing off the counterweight and the rear hatch, which is open to permit the extraction of the Cannone-Mitragliera da 20/65 Breda Modello 1935. Source: pinterest.com

Armored Superstructure

In January 1944, the Turin Officine Viberti, a company specialized in bodyworks for Lancia Veicoli Industriali and FIAT Veicoli Commerciali trucks (mainly) and in the production (jointly with SPA) of armored cars and Camionette, resumed the project of the Autoblindo TL37, this time based on the chassis of the Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS43, in order to obtain a vehicle that was cheaper and easier to produce than the armored cars of the ‘AB’ series.

The first design of this project of the Technical Department of the Officine Viberti dates from 18th January 1944. The last modification is dated 3rd April 1944, while the first photos of operational vehicles are from May of the same year. This vehicle was officially designated Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43 by Officine Viberti and offered a certain degree of protection to the crew.

As on most Italian armored vehicles of the war, the armor was made of steel plates riveted to an internal structure. The armored superstructure had a mass of 911 kg, excluding connecting elements such as bolts and rivets.

The engine compartment was in the front and it had an armored radiator grille divided into four. On the engine deck, there were two inspection hatches. In order to remove the engine, the bolts of the engine deck had to be unscrewed and the plate lifted with a winch. The driver to the right and the loader to the left had slits to view the battlefield.

An armored door was present on each of the crew compartment’s sides, divided into two parts due to the angled armored plates. These were new models. In order to speed up production, the slits for close defense were removed.

On the rear were the cap for the 120-liter gasoline tank (right side) and sapper tools. The water tank cap was placed on the engine compartment, on the front, while the unprotected headlights were mounted in front of the mudguards. The vehicle had four armored fenders to prevent small arms rounds from piercing the tires. On the front fenders were width-limit indicators, used by the driver to help drive on narrow mountain roads or to park.

Photo taken by Officine Viberti technicians at the Officine Viberti plant. The rear sapper tools are not present, but the fuel tank cap is visible. Source: Archivio Viberti

The armor was probably the same as on the armored cars of the ‘AB’ series, no more than 8 mm thick for the engine compartment and crew compartment. The turret had an armor of 18 mm on the frontal plate and gun shield, 10 mm on the sides and rear, and 6 mm on the roof. The lower rear angled armor plate was openable and protected the spare wheel from enemy fire.

The tires had the usual dimensions for Italian armored cars. These armored cars had the tires developed by Pirelli specifically for continental terrain, the Pirelli Tipo “Artiglio” 9 x 24″ (22.8 x 60 cm). Obviously, the rims were not modified and the vehicle could have mounted all the tires produced by Pirelli for the 24″ rims, also mounted on the AB series armored cars, the Camionette SPA-Viberti AS42 and the SPA TM40 prime mover.

Engine and Suspension

The SPA-Viberti AS43 was all-wheel drive, as on the AS37. On this new vehicle, only the front wheels steered, reducing the mechanical complexity and the need for complex maintenance of the steering system.

The front wheels had independent coil spring suspension coupled with hydraulic shock absorbers, which guaranteed great comfort on rough terrain. The rear wheels had inverse leaf springs, but these were reinforced compared to those of the TL37 light prime mover.

There are doubts about the brakes. ‘Italian Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War II’, written by Ralph Riccio, mentions that the Camionetta had hydraulic brakes, while ‘Le Camionette del Regio Esercito’, written by Enrico Finazzer and Luigi Carretta, makes no mention of modifications to the original AS37 desert light truck, which had mechanical brakes with the brake pedal acting on pairs of brake jaws for each wheel.

Poor quality photo of the SPA 18VT engine. Source: Le Camionette del Regio Esercito

The engine was a more powerful version of the one used on FIAT-SPA AS37, the SPA 18VT 4-stroke, 4-cylinder, petrol engine delivering 73 hp (or 75 hp, depending on the sources) at 2,000 rpm. This gave a maximum fully-loaded on-road speed of about 50 km/h due to the weight.

The fuel tank had a capacity of 120 liters, giving a range of 250 km, while the gearbox was the same as on the AS37, with 5 gears plus reverse.

Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43 internal scheme. In front, the radiator and the engine are visible, while at the rear, the ammunition racks, the 120 liter tank and the spare tire are visible. Source: pinterest.com

Main Armament

The main armament was the Cannone-Mitragliera da 20/65 Breda Modello 1935. This 20 mm L.65 gun was developed as an anti-aircraft cannon but also used with great success in an anti-light armor role, with a theoretical rate of fire of 500 rounds per minute, while the practical one was about 220 due to the cramped space in the turret. It was equipped with an x1 sight produced by the San Giorgio Optics Factory. The elevation was +18°, the depression was -9°, while the manual traverse was 360°.

The Breda cannon could fire Italian-produced Armor Piercing-Incendiary – Tracer (API – T) and High-Explosive-Fragmentation – Incendiary – Tracer (HEFI – T) rounds of Italian production. These had a caliber of 20 x 138 mmB ‘Long Solothurn’, the same used by the German FlaK 38 cannon and the Solothurn S18-1000 anti-tank gun. With Italian armor-piercing rounds, the Mod. 1935 cannon could penetrate a 38 mm armor plate angled at 90° at 100 meters and a 30 mm armored plate at 500 meters. With German Pz.Gr. 40 ammunition, it could penetrate a 50 mm armor plate angled at 90° at 100 meters and a 40 mm armored plate at 500 meters. This made it a fairly fearsome weapon even against light tanks.

The Cannone-Mitragliera da 20/65 Breda Modello 1935 used by Italian troops in the Soviet Union. Source: pinterest.com

Secondary Armament

The secondary armament consisted of two Breda Modello 1938 8 x 59 mmRB Breda caliber machine guns. The first was coaxial to the cannon, on the left, while the second was in a ball support at the rear of the vehicle. These machine guns were the vehicle version of the Breda Modello 1937 medium machine gun and had a top-mounted curved box magazine with 24 rounds. The machine gun at the rear had x1 optics, identical to the main gun one.

From 1943 onward, anti-aircraft supports for the AB41 were produced by Ansaldo-Fossati, but very few were produced and not much is known about their use. No Carrozzeria Speciale su AS43 used them.

Gun mantlet. From the left: the Breda Modello 1938 coaxial machine gun, the Cannone-Mitragliera da 20/65 Breda Modello 1935 and the San Giorgio 1x optic. Source: Archivio Ansaldo

Ammunition

The ammunition load on the Carrozzeria Speciale su AS43 consisted of 50 magazines with 8 rounds each, for a total of 400 20 mm rounds. There were also 48 magazines of 24 rounds, for a total of 1,152 8 mm rounds. This compared well to the 456 20 mm rounds and 1,992 8 mm rounds stored in the AB41 and AB43 armored cars. The rounds were stored in two different wooden racks painted white, placed at the vehicle’s rear.

Many sources and videogames, such as War Thunder, mention the use of 8-round magazines instead of the common 12-round magazines. It is unclear whether these magazines were actually produced or whether they were modified on the battlefield by the crews to facilitate loading in the narrow turrets of the AB series armored cars.

The same sources claim that post-Armistice vehicles were mostly equipped with German-made ammunition. In some cases, the guns were modified by German crews to load the 24-round magazines of the FlaK 38 anti-aircraft cannon.

Operational Use

The Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43 was probably modified at the Officine Viberti plant in Peschiera Boulevard 249, where the Camionette SPA-Viberti AS43 were produced.

Many Italian sources claim that Paolo Zerbino, Chief of the Province of Turin from 21st October 1943 to 7th May 1944 and then Minister of the Interior of the Italian Social Republic, “participated” in the development. It is not clear how he participated, whether economically, by providing money for the development and production, or if he only acted as an intermediary between Officine Viberti and another Turin factory that supplied the steel plates for the production of the vehicles.

Although the production dates are not known, it is likely that the first two were produced between 3rd April and mid-May 1944. They were spotted on 23rd May 1944 in a parade of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ in Turin.

The two Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43 during the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ parade in Turin on 23rd May 1944. The two AS43s and the AB41 on the right are painted in Kaki Sahariano. The unit’s coat of arms on the far left is clearly visible. Piazza Carlo Felice near Porta Nuova Train Station. Source: mab.forumfree.it
The column of vehicles composed, from the closest one, of an AB41 armored car, two AS43 armored cars, an L6/40 light tank, and two M13/40 medium tanks. They are on parade along Via Roma, from Porta Nuova train station to Piazza Castello. Source: I Carristi di Mussolini, Il Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa” dalla MVSN alla RSI

The two vehicles were assigned to the 1ª Compagnia (English: 1st Company) or the 2ª Compagnia (English: 2nd Company) of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’, created in Montichiari, near Brescia in Lombardia.

In late February or early March 1944, the unit was transferred to Turin, in Piemonte and used almost exclusively in anti-partisan roles for the rest of the war. The two companies were located in the Caserma Dabormida and Caserma La Marmora barracks in Turin.

The same parade on 23rd May 1944. The first Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43 is seen behind a L6/40 and two M13/40s. Partially legible, the license plate is GNR 0151. Piazza Castello, Turin. Source: forum.warthunder.com

Between 27th May and 4th July 1944, the unit was employed in hunting partisans between the provinces of Ivrea and Biella in northern Piemonte. On these occasions, the Autoblindo AS43 was probably used. Official sources claim the use of “two armored cars”, which would probably be the Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43 on their first operational mission. A total of 33 partisans were captured, as well 3 Australian soldiers that had escaped from a prison camp, and some military equipment.

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: 1ª Compagnia Carri (English: 1st Tanks Company), 2ª Compagnia Autoblindo (English: 2nd Armored Cars Company) and 3ª Compagnia Arditi (English: 3rd Arditi Company).

A Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43 at the Caserma Lamarmora barracks during maintenance. The militiaman on the vehicle’s engine deck has the barrel cleaning rod in his hands. On the turret’s top is what looks like a Breda Mod. 38 dismounted from its support and ready to be cleaned. Behind the armored car is an OM Taurus medium truck on maintenance. Source: wikipedia.org

In late 1944, one of the AS43 armored cars may have been destroyed or abandoned. On 23rd March 1945, at the last official parade of the unit in Turin, there was only one Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43.

The hypothesis of the destroyed armored car is unproven. On 22nd March 1945, a detachment of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ took part in an anti-partisan war in Valsesia, in the province of Vercelli, with a tank and an armored car of unknown model. It could very well have been a Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43 which would not have reached Turin, about 150 km away, in time for the parade.

The only Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43 present at the 23rd March 1945 parade in Turin, with the new three-tone camouflage scheme, on the Via Roma. Behind it is a SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotetta and a FIAT 626NM. Source: pinterest.com

In late April 1945, a detachment of the group, composed of an L6/40 light reconnaissance tank and two armored cars, of which one was surely a Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43, was sent to Val Tellina, near Tirano in Lombardia, with the task of keeping the area clear of partisans.

This was the area chosen by the Secretary of the Italian Fascist Party, Alessandro Pavolini, for the “Ridotto Alpino Repubblicano” (English: Republican Alpine Redoubt), an area cleared of partisans where to amass the fascist units loyal to Mussolini fleeing from the cities of northern Italy and where to resist the Allied troops while Benito Mussolini fled to Switzerland.

One of the two armored cars dislocated at Val Tellina in late April 1945. Unfortunately, the license plate is unreadable because the author of the photo, Giorgio Pisanò, a former Italian politician and journalist, had to hide the camera roll with the photos and could only develop them a long time after. Source: Giorgio Pisanò

The second armored car was of an unknown model, either an AB41 or AS43. Apart from the improvised armored cars, the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ had in its ranks a total of 18 AB41s and AB43s during its time in Piemonte, Lombardia and Emilia Romagna.

If some Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43 remained in Turin, they followed the same fate as the Fascist troops in the city. After 24th April 1945, some tanks were deployed to protect strategic points of 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, and some manufacturing plants. Tanks and armored cars in the city were used to counterattack the partisan forces.

Around 1800 hrs of the same day, 4 tanks, 3 armored cars (model unknown), a platoon of Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’, and a platoon of the Black Brigade of Turin Iª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ attacked and reconquered the barracks on Cernaia Street, the headquarters of the Black Brigade. The attack succeeded but, for the rest of the night, two armored cars (again, the models are unknown) and 5 tanks continued to patrol the parts of the city still in Fascist hands.

It was clear that it was impossible to repel the partisans, so the Fascist command of Turin decided to resist to the bitter end, hoping for the arrival of Anglo-American troops in order to surrender to them.

On 27th April 1945, an armored car escorted a truck of the Iª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ to the Casa Littoria, the headquarters of the Italian Fascist Party of Turin in 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 young people between 14 and 18 years old who voluntarily joined the RSI troops but, being too young, were not yet assigned to frontline units.

The armored car (of unknown model) managed to provide adequate supporting fire, evacuating all the young men from the building and escorting them to safety at the Caserma Cernaia barracks.

The situation was worsening by the minute. At 0140 hrs on 28th April 1945, all the surviving Fascist forces in the city, about 5,000 soldiers, gathered in Piazza Castello and fled towards Lombardia to gather at “Ridotto Alpino Repubblicano”. The protection of the column of trucks was entrusted to the tanks and armored cars of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’. The column reached Val Tellina and waited, with about 10,000 more men, until 5th May 1945, when they surrendered to the Anglo-American troops.

The detachment sent to Val Tellina had a different fate. Until 26th April 1945, all was quiet at Tirano, near Sondrio, a few kilometers from Switzerland. On the morning of 27th April, a column made up of the detachment from the ‘Leonessa’, 2° Battaglione of the III Legione Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana di Frontiera ‘Vetta d’Italia’, XXXVIII Brigata Nera ‘Ruy Blas Biagi’, and some soldiers of the French Vichy Republic, a total of about 1,000 men, set out for Sondrio in order to reach Benito Mussolini. The column was immediately blocked at the exit of the city by partisan troops, starting the Battle of Tirano.

On the night of 27th April, the Brigata Partigiana ‘Gufi’ (English: Partisan Brigade) encircled the city of Tirano. In the following hours, groups of partisans from Val Grosina and from the Sondalo area also arrived.

A photo showing part of the Fascist column under partisan fire. Source: Giorgio Pisanò

The total number of partisans is difficult to determine, partly because their lines were strengthened by citizens who arrived in the early hours to join them. The writer William Marconi, who took part in the battle as a partisan of the Brigata Partigiana ‘Gufi’, states in his book ‘L’Aprile 1945 fra Tirano e Grosio’ that there were no more than 300 or 350 partisans, with no heavy weapons apart from some mortars. They faced 1 L6/40 light reconnaissance tank, two armored cars (one AS43 and the other of an unknown model), and several trucks armed with Cannone-Mitragliera da 20/65 Breda Modello 1935, including at least one civilian FIAT 634N 2nd Series requisitioned weeks or days earlier by the Army.

Civilian FIAT 634N 2nd Series with a Cannone-Mitragliera da 20/65 Breda Modello 1935 on the loading bay, used by the Fascist forces against the partisans at Tirano on 27th April 1945. Source: Giorgio Pisanò

The fight lasted from dawn until 1630 hrs. Among the partisans, there were two deceased, Ermanno Balgera and Nello Braccaioli, and some others were wounded. The Vichy French troops suffered 5 casualties and several wounded. The Fascists lost nine men and two auxiliaries (women assigned to units as nurses, cooks, etc.). In the reports, three Germans are also marked as fallen, of whom nothing else is known.

The armored car ended up in partisan hands after the clash, along with other vehicles of the Fascist column. These were used in the following days, until 2nd May 1945, in the area of the Mortirolo Pass, at 1,852 meters above sea level, where an attack by the I Legione d’Assalto ‘M’ ‘Tagliamento’ was feared.

The Autoblinda AS43 captured by the partisans at Tirano waiting in a street in Sondrio together with two Peugeot pick-ups captured from Vichy troops. Source: Italia 43-45. I blindati di circostanza della guerra civile

Camouflage and Markings

The known vehicles had two different types of camouflage schemes, the Kaki Sahariano (English: Saharan Khaki), standard monochrome camouflage of the Italian Regio Esercito until mid-1943. However, as they were delivered to the unit in May 1944, this scheme was probably used because Officine Viberti had no other paint. The other scheme was the Continentale (English: Continental) three-tone camouflage scheme. It was the standard camouflage scheme for the vehicles produced after the end of the North African Campaign, when it became obvious that the peninsula had to be defended from Allied attacks and a desert camouflage was no longer suitable for the purpose.

The Kaki Sahariano base vehicles were covered with reddish brown and dark green spots. It was adopted from December 1944. The vehicles spotted from 23rd March until April 1945 had this camouflage pattern.

The only license plate known is ‘GNR 0151’, spotted on 23rd May 1944. When the vehicles had Kaki Sahariano camouflage they received the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ coat of arms on the turret sides and rear hatch. This was a red ‘m’, for Mussolini, with a lictorian beam (symbol of the Italian Fascist Party), and the acronym ‘GNR’ painted in red.

The vehicle captured in Tirano by the partisans received some patriotic slogans painted in white on the superstructure. Due to the framing of the only known photo of the vehicle and the low quality, only the word “ESERCITO” (English: Army) is legible.

It was common practice for the partisans to paint slogans or the names of fallen comrades on vehicles captured from the Fascists, both for superstition and in order to avoid friendly fire. It is possible that the phrase on the armored car was “ESERCITO DI LIBERAZIONE” (English: Liberation Army).

The captured vehicle in Tirano. The writing “ESERCITO …” is visible on the front. The men in front of the armored cars look like partisans. There is also a man dressed in a suit, maybe the city’s mayor or a citizen that joined the partisans that day. Source: Italia 43-45. I blindati di circostanza della guerra civile

Conclusion

In the desperate situation in which the Italian Social Republic found itself in 1944, the Carrozzeria Speciale on AS43 was all the Fascist Italian troops could get.

Even if it was not a vehicle with extraordinary characteristics, it was employed in secondary tasks and against adversaries equipped with weak weapons that could not destroy it. The few examples produced were used successfully until the end of the war.

Carrozzeria Spegiale su SPA-Viberti AS43. Illustrations by the illustrious Godzilla funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43 Specifications

Total weight, battle ready 5 or 6 tonnes
Crew 3 (driver, loader and commander/gunner)
Propulsion Tipo 18 VT 4-cylinder petrol, 4,053 cm³, 73 hp at 2,600 rpm and 120 liter tank
Speed ~50 km/h
Range ~ 250 km
Armament One Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Mod. 1935 and a 8 mm Breda Mod. 38
Armor 8 mm
Total production From 2 to 6 built

Sources

zimmerit.com
I corazzati di circostanza italiani – Nico Sgarlato
Italia 43-45. I blindati di circostanza della guerra civile – Paolo Crippa
Le Camionette del Regio Esercito – Enrico Finazzer and Luigi Carretta
I Carristi di Mussolini, Il Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa” dalla MVSN alla RSI – Paolo Crippa
L’Aprile 1945 fra Tirano e Grosio – William Marconi

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.