Categories
WW1 Italian Armor WW2 Italian Armored Cars

Lancia 1ZM

Kingdom of Italy (1916)
Armored Car – 120 Built


First Series Lancia 1ZM with armored guards over the front and rear wheels. Source: Pinterest

The need for a new armored car

Italy was one of the pioneers of armored cars with several designs and vehicles made before the outbreak of the First World War, such as the L’A.MI.Co. armored car. With the war between the great European powers starting in 1914, it was obvious to Italian planners that a new armored car was going to be needed. The fact that Italy did not declare war immediately and remained non-belligerent gave the designers and the Army some precious time in which to develop a new vehicle. By the time they entered the war in May 1915, developments were well progressed.

Delivery and development

The firm of Ansaldo had already approached the Italian High Command with their idea for an armored car, and early work on development was started by Engineer Guido Corni in September 1914, right after the major powers started fighting. His design was finished, and a patent on the design files (number 147355) was obtained on 14th February 1915. In April 1915, they took this design to the Ministry of War, where it was met with approval, and an initial order for just 20 machines was granted. Only 20 could be ordered at this time due to a shortage of machine guns. With two machine guns in the lower turret and a third in the top turret, each machine required 3 guns, so 20 machines needed 60 machine guns.


Two views of the first prototype vehicle at the factory in 1915, both with and without the front and rear armored wheel covers fitted. Note the unusual arrangement of the cooling grilles on the bonnet. Source: Pignato


First series vehicles being assembled by Ansaldo in 1915. Source: Pinterest

The first 20 machines were to be finished and delivered to the 1st Artillery Regiment at the Genoa Fortress (1 Regimento Artiglieria da Fortezza di Genova) for evaluation between June and July 1915. Here, they were divided into 5 machine-gun squadrons (squadriglie mitragliatrici) comprising 36 officers and 399 other ranks. Delivery delays meant that by the end of 1915, only the first seven vehicles had been delivered, with the remaining 13 vehicles being delivered at the start of 1916.

Lancia 1Z 35hp truck chassis from which the 1ZM is derived. Source: Pignato
35 hp Lancia petrol engine. Pinterest

Design and Production

The basic vehicle on which the 1ZM was built was very similar to the already successful and robust Lancia 35 hp truck chassis but reinforced and strengthened to take the additional strain imposed by an armored body. This involved replacing the original rear axle and springs with improved ones capable of withstanding the additional load.

The original chassis and armor alone weighed 3 tonnes. The engine was the 4.94 liter model 1Z Lancia 4 cylinder inline petrol producing 35 hp and capable of taking an additional load of 30% (for a total of 40 hp) for up to 30 minutes. Even so, the vehicles were always somewhat underpowered and struggled to reach 60 km/h on a good road.

The arrangement was simple. The driver in the front was in the same position as he would have been in the truck, and then, in the back, the rest of the crew of up to 5 more men to crew the machine guns, etcetera. Due to the different types of machine guns chosen, mostly due to shortages of machine guns, the amount of ammunition would vary, but up to 450kg of ammunition was expected during the design phase. In the rear of the vehicle was a large cylindrical section with was topped with a very wide circular turret fitted with two machine guns. A third, smaller, one-man turret was placed on top of this bigger turret. With each machine gun requiring one man to fire it, the commander could take the top turret for observations and other duties, leaving the remaining crew to supply ammunition to the gunners or provide observation from the firing ports around the vehicle. The amount of ammunition and crew must have led to a very cramped interior.

The 1ZM prototype did have some flaws which resulted in minor modifications to the standard vehicle. Notably, during the examination in April 1915, the vehicle lacked armored covers over the rear wheels which were seen as being vulnerable. Also, those wheels did not provide sufficient off-road mobility or support, so were changed from a 120 mm wide tire (120/880) to a wider 135 mm type (135 x 935). Spare tires were usually carried on the right-hand side of the cab.

The sixty 6.5 mm Model 1911 Vickers-Maxim machine-guns needed for the first batch of 20 vehicles were not provided and, instead, in order to finish the vehicles, Ansaldo fitted the first seven vehicles with captured 6.85 mm Maxim-Dreyse machine-guns instead. Those machine guns had been removed from the 8006-tonne German freighter Bayern (Hamburg-America Line) which was interned by Italy at the outbreak of war. These first 20 vehicles were classed as ‘Serie 1’ production machines. Protection was provided by 6 mm thick high-quality chrome-nickel armor steel for the prototype and for all series 1 and 2 vehicles. By the time the third series was being ordered in November 1917, supplies of this armor were in short supply, so the bodies were clad instead in lower quality molybdenum steel armor instead. Six millimeters was not a lot of armor, but initially, the protection requirement was just to guard against perforation by rifle ammunition from a range of 300 m, but this had been improved for the 1ZM to specifically be sufficient to protect from the 6.5 mm Model 95 Rifle at a range of 100m. With a lower plate quality for the ‘Serie 3’ vehicles, it can be assumed that this requirement slipped slightly. With the Spitzgeschoss mit Kern (S.m.K) bullet (steel cored) becoming widely available later in the war, even the original 100 m specifications had become obsolete.

One of the first 7 of the ‘Serie 1’ of 1ZM production fitted with captured 6.85 mm Maxim-Dreyse machine guns. Source: Pignato

The second series of machines was ordered in March 1917 for a further 17 vehicles. The design had been slightly modified once more with the armored covers over the front wheels being abandoned in favor of a simple mudguard and a new layout of ventilation slots in the bonnet. Additionally, the radiator of the vehicle gained a redesigned layout, with bulletproof grilles to protect it. The final 5 vehicles of this second-order received a further modification in the form of an increase in the strength of the chassis.

Comparison between the front of a ‘Serie 1’ (left) and ‘Serie 2’ (right) showing the rearrangement of the protection of the tires and radiator. Source: Pignato
Interior of a ‘Serie 1’ or ‘2’ 1ZM looking forwards from the back of the fighting chamber. The large drum-like column in the center is the stand for the top turret crewman. Source: Pignato

Disaster spawns another version

The military disaster for the Italian Army at Caporetto in October and November 1917 led to large losses in men and material. Within a week, with perhaps a sense of panic at not having provided enough equipment, the Italian High Command placed another order for 1ZM armored cars straight away. It seems that this disaster altered the production plans, as the Ministry for Arms and Production in October 1917 had suggested 12 more vehicles based on the SPA chassis instead of the 1ZM, but this was canceled before it was even started in favor of the third series of production of the 1ZM. One hundred new vehicles were ordered in this third series and it was to stay in production until the armistice of November 1918. These new ‘Serie 3’ vehicles equipped the 3rd and 4th Squadrons (being rebuilt after heavy losses), and newly formed Squadrons 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17.

This third series was simplified in order to speed-up production. The first models of the 1ZM had featured the unusual extra turret on top of the main turret, and to crew this little one-man turret the soldier had to stand on a column underneath. These ‘Serie 3’ vehicles would dispense with this ungainly additional turret, which in the process, also reduced the crew by one man, making more space inside. This removal simplified the design, reduced the overall weight, and also, because the vehicle was shorter, improved the stability of the vehicle off-road. Of note is that despite removing the secondary turret, it did retain a very small circular hatch in the top of the turret, probably just for ventilation, as it is too small to be used for access. It was less likely now to topple over with a lower center of gravity. The vehicle was still underpowered though, even with the weight of the extra crew member and top turret and front armored wheel covers removed. On top of this, the vehicle was hard to steer in reverse as there were no mirrors and no visibility for the driver to the rear. These problems combined to make the 1ZM a difficult vehicle to drive.

New vehicles of the ‘Serie 3’ being assembled at the Ansaldo factory. Source: Pignato

These ‘Serie 3’ vehicles also abandoned the Vickers-Maxim 6.5 mm machine guns, replacing them with the more powerful St. Etienne Model 1907 8 mm machine gun. Sixteen ‘Serie 3’ vehicles were finished in January 1918, with a further 16 the following month and just 3 in March, for a total of 35 vehicles of the 100 vehicle order made in just 3 months.

In Combat in WW1

The disaster at Caporetto in 1917 was not the first time the 1ZM had seen combat. Straight after delivery in mid-1915, the vehicle had been deployed immediately to the combat zone on the North-Eastern front along the Isonzo for reconnaissance of enemy positions. Each Squadron (Squadriglia) was to be issued with 6 Lancia 1ZM armoured cars and, as new vehicles arrived, new squadrons were formed, and by mid 1916 there were 5. Two more were formed (6th and 7th respectively) when the 2nd Series vehicles were delivered, and by the end of the war the Italian Army had 16 squadrons.

The largest single loss of 1ZM’s was during the retreat at Caporetto, October- November 1917, when 10 vehicles were either destroyed or captured, with a few others being damaged. These losses were the reason for the replacement ‘Serie 3’ being ordered straight after. By the end of the retreat from Caporetto to the Piave, just 28 of these vehicles were left in running condition for the Army to use. When the ‘Serie 3’ vehicles arrived, their initial issuing was to the 3rd and 4th Squadrons to replace their losses at Caporetto.

By 1918, the 1ZM’s were deployed everywhere Italian troops were either fighting or peacekeeping, from Dalmatia and the Balkans, to Rome and Milan, and as far as the colony of Libya. More 1ZM’s were lost at the Piave (June 1918 – 2 lost) and Vittorio Veneto (October 1918 – 4 lost).

Post-WW1 Use

The inter-war period started with Italy having to reassert control over its troubled colony of Libya, which was undergoing periodic revolts to such an extent that outside of the main cities, the Italian Government exercised little control of the country. Eight Lancia 1ZM’s were sent to Libya in 1919 to try and regain control over the province, with three more following in 1923, forming two Squadrons of armored cars stationed in Benghazi. In 1923, two 1ZM’s were destroyed in combat with rebels at Bir Bilal, and the two units were simply merged into one with a total strength of 9 vehicles. The only notable modification post-war was that most vehicles had their armament replaced with the Fiat Model 1924 6.5 mm machine-gun.

Other vehicles were sold or transferred to Czechoslovakia in 1919 (2 vehicles), Afghanistan and Hungary in 1928 (1 vehicle each), Albania (4 vehicles), and Austria in 1934 (4 vehicles). Four ‘Serie 3’ vehicles were also sent to the Italian concession in Tianjin, China in 1932 to ensure the safety of Italian nationals.

The single ‘Serie 3’ 1ZM which ended up in Afghanistan was given to the Sovereign of Afghanistan, Amanullah Khan in 1928 on his visit to Italy and shipped back. Amazingly, this vehicle survived until at least 2007, when it was pictured by NATO forces at a military base. This incredibly rare vehicle is currently stored in Dresden.


Lancia 1ZM ‘Serie 3’ armored car found in Afghanistan. Picture taken in 2007, signs of the original paint of the turret can still be seen. Source: Twitter

The Lancia currently stored in Dresden Museum. Source: Walter Schwabe
A 1ZM armored car at Ual Ual in Italian Somaliland after being hit repeatedly by enemy small arms fire on 23rd February 1934. Source: Pignato

East-African Campaign

Other than the deployment to Libya, the first major use post-World War One was to East Africa. Four Lancia 1ZM’s were sent to Italian Somaliland in about 1926 to conduct internal security duties, policing and convoy escort role. Ual Ual was in a disputed border area between Italian Somaliland and Ethiopia, and two of these vehicle took part in combat there on 5th December 1934, where they were ambushed by Ethiopian forces and received numerous hits although neither was destroyed. Three additional sections of Lancia 1ZM’s were sent to Italian Somaliland in March 1935 for the Ethiopian campaign.

On 1st February 1936, three platoons, belonging to two companies of the I btg. Automotoblindato Casali with a total of 13 vehicles (3 platoon of 4 vehicles plus 1 command vehicle) entered Eritrea at the Port of Massawa.

Lancia in East Africa 1935 – fitted with heavy-duty tires.

In Ethiopia, they played an important patrol and escort role and some vehicles can be seen in photographs to be using heavy-duty tires to assist on soft or sandy terrain. Combat continued on and off in the region for some time, and on 17th September 1936, two more 1ZM’s on patrol at Langhei were ambushed and damaged.

On 20th October, at Sade, four more Lancias were attacked with 37 mm anti-tank guns (3.7 cm Pak 36). They were part of the column of ‘S’ Division and accompanied by 8 tanks (CV.3). All four cars and 6 of the 8 CV.3’s were hit and were damaged. Nonetheless, despite this fire, the Italians attacked and captured the 4 guns they had been attacked with. Those 37 mm guns were later given to the 4th Motorized Artillery Group at Gallo and Sidamo, Ethiopia.

Continual action and suppression meant that by the end of the 1930s, the area was mostly pacified, after which, they were used mainly for convoy escorts and securing the roads rather than for reconnaissance. A section of Lancia armored cars was located at Harar, another at Amhara, and two at Galla and Sidamo where they worked in company with the Fiat 611 armoured cars. After the end of the campaign in Ethiopia, the vehicles remained in use in the region until WW2. At least 10 of the vehicles were rearmed with the Fiat Model 35 8 mm machine gun.

Spanish Civil War

To support the Nationalist forces under General Franco in the Spanish Civil War, Italy sent a single squadron comprising two sections of 1ZM armored cars (8 vehicles) of a mix of series variants. They arrived on 5th January 1937 at Cadiz in southern Spain. Once in Spain, all 8 vehicles were put under an independent armored car company in the Corpo Truppe Volontarie (C.T.V.) under the overall command of Major Lohengrin Giraud.

A handsomely camouflaged Series 3 1ZM armored car pictured during the Spanish Civil War. Source: Pignato

These vehicles took part in the occupation of Malaga in February 1937 and would also take part in the Italian defeat at Guadalajara in March 1937. Later, under Colonel Babini, they were in combat at Santander (August 1937) and in the Aragon and Catalan Offensives from the end of 1937 to well into 1938. By this point, they were part of the mixed mechanized battalion, along with a Bersaglieri company.

In Spain, the Lancia 1ZM proved to have some value in combat despite its age, being used to clear away infantry resistance, but what successes it had were not without loss. In September 1937, their use was curtailed with a warning due to their age and fragility. Crews were being regularly wounded by splash from small arms fire coming through the vision slits or from the inside of the armor. In contrast to the modern Soviet-supplied BA-6 and FAI and Republican Spain Blindado modelo B.C. and Blindado tipo ZIS, the Lancia was classed as obsolete. The Nationalist forces and C.T.V. had captured a number of BA-6 armored cars and the Italians sent one to Rome for analysis. The report, published in September 1937, revealed the deficiencies of the Lancias and the advantageous features of the BA-6. The report summarised the BA-6 as having a turret similar to that of the T-26 with a 45 mm gun, good armor, airless sponge rubber tyres, and 2 machine-guns – 1 hull and 1 in turret.

Barcelona, late 1938, and an Italian-captured BA-6 armored  car leads Lancia 1ZM. Both vehicles are in the distinctive Italian camouflage pattern. Source: Pere

The Italian armored car squadron the Lancias were in decided to incorporate captured Soviet and Republican Spanish equipment and at some point, probably as early as late 1937 or 1938, the squadron had six 1ZM’s, one BA-6, and two UNL-35’s. Likewise, at least one captured 1ZM appears to have ended up being used by Republican forces for a while.

Five were still operational in 1938, though photographic evidence suggests the at least two of the ‘Serie 3’ vehicles had some sort of mechanical problems. By the end of the conflict in March-April 1939, of the 8 vehicles sent over, 5 had been lost to combat, mechanical failure, or accidents. Just three (one twin turret and two single turret examples) were still operational by February 1939 when they were seen at a public parade in Barcelona.

Hopelessly outdated by the late 1930s, these vehicles were well past their useful life, and the remaining three vehicles (two ‘Serie 3’ and a single ‘Serie 2’) are reported by Italian sources to have been handed over to the Spanish authorities rather than repatriate them. Spanish researchers find no trace that these were ever used after the Italians left meaning they may simply have been scrapped or that the records were incorrect.

Three Lancia 1ZM’s seen on parade in Barcelona, February 1938. Source: Perez

The CV.3 tanks also sent over by the Italians were not suitable replacements to the use of armored cars which were still felt to be essential for the scouting role. With the Lancia outclassed and obsolete, there was a desire for a new armored car featuring many elements of the BA-6 they had captured. The new armored car was to have a dual drive, bulletproof tires, and a good degree of mobility; fast on road and good off-road. Just like in the BA-6, the Italians wanted a cannon in the armored car’s turret and also two machine guns, one in the front and one facing to the rear. The 1ZM was simply obsolete but had provided good service. The lessons generated from the use of the 1ZM and the Spanish Civil War in general would be put to good use in a replacement standard armored car for the army.

Another War

Despite being obsolete, there were still 34 Lancia 1ZM armored cars in service with the Italian Army at the outbreak of WW2 and the attack on France. Despite their obvious obsolescence, there was no replacement armored car. Of these 34 vehicles, 13 were sent to Libya in January 1941 and several more were sent to the Balkans. A platoon was also sent to the Italian-held island of Rhodes (312 Btg.). The last known use by Italian forces was in 1943 in China, where they served as the defense force in the Italian concession in Tianjin.

Two of the ‘Serie 3’ 1ZM’s sent to Rhodes seen after an action in September 1943. The vehicle nearest the camera has lost its front right wheel. Source: italie 39-45

Organized out

The 1ZM had provided good service in WW1 despite its problems and would continue to serve in some capacity for some time, but it can be considered officially obsolete for military purposes after 1928. During those 1928 reorganizations, the Tank Regiment which had including a four squadron armored car group, each with a single twin turret IZM and four single turreted IZMs, was converted to use the CV.29 light tanks instead. This change over was complete by 1931.

‘Serie 3’ 1ZM in German use in 1944 in Yugoslavia carrying additional troops. Source: Bundesarchiv_Bild_101I-005-0006-17

Conclusion

The 1ZM was obsolete before WW2, but with a new war and limited armor available, the 1ZM actually survived in use with the Italian Army until the armistice in September 1943. Even then, they would not be phased out and the remaining examples stayed in use with German forces in the Balkans until the end of the War. The 1ZM was a well-armed armored car and based on a robust chassis, but was simply too slow and too thin to be of much military value by WW2. Nonetheless, the early vehicles with the second turret on top of the primary turret make the 1ZM one of the most recognizable armored vehicles ever made.

Lancia 1Z at the Museo de Henriquez, Trieste, Photo: Massimo Foti

Variant summary

Prototype – 1915 – armored body made from chrome-nickel steel
‘Serie 1’ # 1-7 fitted with 6.85 mm Maxim-Dreyse machine-guns
‘Serie 1’ # 8-20 fitted with 6.5 mm Vickers-Maxim machine-guns
‘Serie 2’ # 21-32 – modified bonnet, front-wheel guards, and radiator grilles
‘Serie 2’ # 33-37 reinforced chassis, new shaped mudguards, reduction in the number of vision ports which were of a new pattern, 2-piece sliding rear door
‘Serie 3’ # 38-138 removed top turret, Vickers-Maxim 6.5 mm machine-guns replaced with 8 mm St. Etienne, armored body made from molybdenum steel.

The Lancia 1Z prototype had different air slots on the side of the engine compartment and none of the wheels had covers. It also lacked headlights at the front of the vehicle. The odd arrangement at the front was meant to guide barbed wire over the front of the vehicle and then cut it, making a way for following infantry.
A first series Lancia 1Z with the normal type of air intakes on the side of the engine compartment, rear-wheel covers, and headlights.
Another first series Lancia 1Z, this type with protected front tires as well.
The second series differed from the first series by the addition of mudguards over the rear of the front wheels and the addition of armored cowls over the Maxim machine guns.
A third series vehicle, also called the Lancia 1ZM. This series got rid of the top machine-gun turret and added another machine-gun to the rear. This vehicle is armed with St.Etienne machine guns (which were replaced by Fiat Model 1914 MGs in the late 1920s). Also notice the different front mudguards.
A Lancia 1ZM Serie 1 with the Italian tricolor painted on the lower turret. All the illustrations were made by Andrei ‘Octo10’ Kirushkin, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Sources

Pignato, N. (1995). A Century of Italian Armoured Cars. Mattioli
ShipList.com
Pignato, N. (2012). Automitragliatrici Blindate E Motomitragliatrici nella grande guerra. Paolo Gaspari Editore
Pignato, N. (2002). Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento Dell’Esercito Italiano. SME
Pérez, A. (2007). Los Medios Blindados de la Guerra Civil Española Teatro de Operaciones Norte, Alcañiz Fresno’s editores
Pérez, A. (2011). Los Medios Blindados de la Guerra Civil Española Teatro de Operaciones de Aragón, Cataluña Y Levante 36/39, Alcañiz Fresno’s editores
Pérez, A. (2007). Los Medios Blindados de la Guerra Civil Española Teatro de Operaciones de Andalucía y Centro 36/39, Alcañiz Fresno’s editores
Franco, L., García, J. (2009). Blindados Italianos en el Ejército de Franco (1936-1939). Galland Books

Ansaldo Lancia 1ZM specifications

Dimensions (L x W x H) 5.61 x 1.94 x 2.9 m (‘Serie 1’ and ‘2’)
2.48 m high (‘Serie 3’)
Total weight, battle-ready 4.2 tonnes (‘Serie 1’ and ‘2’), 3.95 tonnes (‘Serie 3’)
Crew 5 Commander, mechanic (driver), 3 machine gunners (reduced to 2 for the ‘Serie 3’)
Propulsion Lancia 1Z inline 4 cylinder petrol producing 35hp petrol with provision to increase output by 30% (40hp) to for up to 30 minutes
Speed (road) 60 km/h
Range 320 km (200 mi)
Armament variously 6.5 mm Vickers-Maxim, 6.85 mm Maxim-Dreyse, 8mm St. Etienne Model 1907, 6.5 mm Fiat Model 1914, 8 mm Fiat Model 1935 – machine-guns
Armor 2.5 mm to 6 mm
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index
Categories
WW1 Italian Armor

Schneider CA and CD in Italian Service

Kingdom of Italy (1917-1943)
Medium Tank – 12 Used

As the belligerents dug into defensive positions to cover themselves from machine-gun fire and artillery, they deployed wire to protect themselves and ensnare enemy troops. Whether it was the Western Front or, as Italy knew it, the North Eastern front, the result was the same, a brutal stalemate with relatively little movement from each side and very high casualty rates. Great Britain, France, and Italy were all brought to the same conclusion at around the same time. A vehicle capable of crossing the shell shattered ground and wire obstacles with armor to protect itself from enemy machine-gun fire was going to be needed.

Schneider CA number 212 as supplied to Italy. Source: Pignato

The Italians, for their part, whilst having their own developments underway, dispatched a team of their own experts led by Major Bennicelli (an artillery officer) to see the vehicles developed by their allies, Great Britain and France, following their use of tanks in 1917 and to report back.

Examination of the Schneider

A thorough examination of the French CA Schneider was conducted as part of this study in February 1917. The Schneider CA was an unusual vehicle, weighing 13 tonnes and classed by the mission as a Medium Tank. Six meters long, 2 meters wide and 2.25 meters high, it was powered by just a 60hp petrol engine and protected by just 11mm of armor plate. Offensively, it carried a short 75  mm gun in the right-hand side and two Hotchkiss 8 mm machine-guns. Ammunition supply was 90 rounds for the main gun and 2400 rounds for the machine-guns. All this was to fit along with the 5 crewmen, making it a cramped and uncomfortable vehicle.

The novelty of a track run machine meant that the experts reported the means by which a track laying machine worked as well as the basic elements of the structure such as it being constructed based on two longitudinal beams and suspension by means of large springs. Examining the motor, it was reported to use a dry-plate clutch with a 3-speed gearbox connected to a transverse shaft carrying two opposing gears for driving the driving sprockets of the tank. To steer, the driver used a combination of the clutch and brake to vary drive from one track to another. As one track slows or stops, the other, still moving, turns the tank in the direction of the slower track. The driving arrangements were poorly arranged though, and the interior cramped. On the plus side, the use by the French of a multi-colored camouflage scheme was excellent and Major Bennicelli was impressed that the French also painted their artillery this way.

Schneider CA number ‘212’ during Italian trials still in the original French camouflage scheme, but having difficulty crossing a standard trench. Source: Pignato

Obstacle crossing was a primary area of concern for the designs. In examining the Renault ‘Tipo Leggero (Light tank) – the Renault model FT, in comparison to the Schneider machine, Major Bennicelli made the following points. Standard trenches, which any design would have to negotiate, were up to 1.7 or 1.8 metres wide and vehicles should be able to negotiate steep slopes. The Schneider vehicle could only manage a 55% grade (less than 30 degrees) whereas the lighter Renault FT could manage a 100% grade (45 degree slope). This would be made even worse by the effect of artillery and rain on the ground, rending it very difficult for any machine to cross. Neither vehicle was, in any way, fast. Despite both being technically capable of between 2 and 8 km/h, it was his view that in the terrible ground conditions of the front lines, just 3 km/h could be expected with an operating time of just 6 to 8 hours.

Schneider CA number ‘212’ still in its original French camouflage scheme during Italian testing. Source: Pignato

Despite the excellent use of camouflage though, the Schneider has serious limitations and several changes were recommended. The primary one was the exposed location of the fuel tank at the front. It was too exposed to damage by the enemy and, being petrol-powered, posed a huge risk of fire. Next, it was suggested that a door to exit or enter the vehicle should be added in the side of the machine in addition to the rear door. This would assist crews escaping in the event of fire or breakdown. Two final suggestions were to improve the lot of the drive with an improved type of clutch to make steering easier, and the adoption of a periscope to aid visibility around the machine.

A repainted Schneider CA number ‘212’ seen at Fort Tiburtino, Rome, 1920. Source: Pignato

The Italian Machine

Despite the complaints about the machine being difficult to control and with issues over its performance crossing a trench or on an incline, the Italians obtained a single example from the French for an unknown price in April 1917. Schneider CA chassis number ‘212’ did not feature any of the recommended changes to the design, but it was slightly different to the standard French machine. It lacked any of the additional spaced armor and, for whatever reason, the exhaust fitted to it had come from vehicle serial number ‘101’. It was eventually painted grey and green in replacement of the French camouflage, but only after some initial tests.

Schneider CA number ‘212’ seen outside Bologna in 1937. Source: Pignato

Once in Italian hands, the vehicle was evaluated in the area of the Piave in northern Italy to see how it handled the difficult and mountainous terrain. Given the relatively poor showing of it in France, it is likely that following a similar outcome in Italy the idea of buying any more seemed remote. None the less and perhaps as a result of lack of experience, the High Command deemed the performance satisfactory and decided to buy more anyway. Negotiations, however, did not go as expected and for whatever reason, Italy was not able to secure orders for any more machines or a licence to build their own in Italy. The vehicle was not scrapped and it was transferred to the Departmental Headquarters for the nascent Tank Regiment in Bologna.

The vehicle remained there, presumably for display and teaching, until about 1936, when it was supposed to be transferred to a museum, although a photograph shows it still outside at that location in 1937. It was still a running vehicle at the time as it received registration number ‘R.E.1053’. No trace of the vehicle remains and it is assumed to have either been repurposed for use as a tractor or for training during WW2.

Tactical Employment of Tanks by the French

Major Bennicelli’s visit had not provided Italy with a successful or useful tank design in the form of the Schneider. It did have some success with the Renault, but more importantly, he also gathered evidence as to the tactical use of tanks by the French. In reporting on French tank organization, Major Bennicelli wrote that the vehicles of the Schneider type were divided into ‘Groups’, each of which was comprised of 4 batteries of 4 tanks, totaling 16 tanks each. Four such groups were organized with each of these larger groups having a dedicated supply section attached.

In combat, tanks were to be used to accompany the infantry, destroying machine-guns, with the infantry following to clear out enemy trenches. As a result, it was necessary that the tanks would have to be incorporated into infantry units. To promote smooth tactical coordination between tank and infantry, it was expected that the two branches would exercise together for months. There would also have to be some kind of provision for supporting and countering air power. It was absolutely essential that neither tanks nor infantry became separated from one another as neither could advance without assistance from the other. Tanks, he felt, should be used making the most of natural covers like dusk or fog and expressly so during a surprise attack. The tank could act as a mobile shield for up to 3 men at a time, but, as the enemy would concentrated artillery fire on the vehicles, the bulk of the troops should stay away from the tanks following as the second wave to seize the primary trench line. All of this information about the use of tanks would influence how Italy would eventually develop its own strategy for using tanks too.

Schneider CD artillery tractor with the new cabin at the front. Source: Francois Vauvillier

Back in Use For a New War

By the time WW2 had started, Italy was still unprepared for a protracted war against modern professional armies. It was, amongst other issues, seriously short of a variety of equipment, including tractors for towing medium and heavy artillery.
As a result, the Italian Army was supplied with at least 11 examples of the Schneider CD by the Germans from captured French stocks. The Schneider CD was roughly the same basic vehicle as the CA tank but with a different and unprotected superstructure creating a driving cabin at the front. Able to tow loads of up to 5.4 tonnes, albeit slowly, the CD was an ideal addition to artillery units, and these 11 captured examples were officially registered into Italian Army inventory on March 12th 1942 with registration numbers ‘11155’ to ‘11165’ (both inclusive). None of the 11 vehicles used by Italy are known to have survived to this day.



Illustration of the Italian Schneider CA produced by Tank Enyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

Specifications

Dimensions (L x W x H) 6.32m x 2.30m x 2.05m
(20ft 9in x 7ft 6in x 6ft 9in)
Total weight, battle ready 13.6 tons
Crew 6
Propulsion Schneider 4 cyl petrol, 60 hp (45 Kw)
Speed 8 km/h (5 mph)
Range on/off road 80/30 km (50/19 mi)
Main Armament 1x Schneider 75 mm (2.95 in) blockhaus gun
Secondary Armament 2x Hotchkiss M1914 8 mm (0.31 in) machine guns
Armor 11 mm + 5.5 mm spaced (0.43+0.21 in)
Total Used 12

Sources

Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano, Nicola Pignato & Filippo Cappellano
Italie1939-45.com
La meccanizzazione dell’Esercito Italiano, Ceva and Curami


Tanks Encyclopedia Magazine, #3

Tanks Encyclopedia Magazine, #3

The third issue covers WW1 armored vehicles — Hotchkiss Htk46 and Schneider CA and CD in Italian Service. WW2 section contains two splendid stories of the US and German ‘Heavy Armor’ — T29 Heavy Tank and Jagdtiger.

Our Archive section covers the history of early requirements for the Soviet heavy (large) tank. Worth mentioning, that the article is based on documents never published before.

It also contains a modeling article on how to create a terrain for diorama. And the last article from our colleagues and friends from Plane Encyclopedia covers the story of Northrop’s Early LRI Contenders — N-126 Delta Scorpion, N-144 and N-149!

All the articles are well researched by our excellent team of writers and are accompanied by beautiful illustrations and photos. If you love tanks, this is the magazine for you!
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Categories
WW1 Italian Armor

Renault FT in Italian Service

Kingdom of Italy (1917)
Light Tank – 4 Used

As the belligerents of the Great War dug into defensive positions to cover themselves from machine gun fire and artillery, they deployed barbed wire to protect themselves and ensnare enemy troops. The results of the North-Eastern front for Italy were the same as for the British and French on the Western Front of France and Belgium, a brutal stalemate with relatively little movement from each side and very high casualty rates. France, Great Britain, and Italy all reached the same conclusion at around the same time; a vehicle capable of crossing the shell shattered ground and wire obstacles with enough armor to protect itself from enemy fire was going to be needed. In January 1917, an agreement was made between the Italian and the French Governments for the supply of tanks to Italy by France, but also the expedition of a small team (1 officer, 1 NCO, and two men) to France to test drive the tanks and report back. As a reciprocal gesture, the French requested the delivery of an Italian Florio truck for use in the mountains and that it be delivered to Lyon.
The Italians, for their part, had their own tank developments underway and dispatched a team of their own experts, led by Major Bennicelli, an artillery officer, to see the vehicles developed so far by their allies, Great Britain and France, and to report back.

Girod turreted Renault Model FT, serial number 66947 supplied to Italy, 1918.

Examination of the Renault

One type of tank examined was the Renault ‘Tipo Leggero’ (Light Tank), which was built at the Renault factory at Billancourt. Major Bennicelli described the vehicle as not varying much from the Schneider tank. Obviously, this is not correct visually, but he was meaning technically, as that was his primary focus. Mechanically, the vehicles had some similarities but the Renault machine had a centrally located revolving turret armed with a machine gun and ‘slots for automatic fire’, unlike the turretless Schneider.
The Renault Tipo Leggero weighed half as much as the Schneider, just 6.5 tonnes and was significantly smaller, just 4.1 meters long, 1.7 meters wide and 2.14 meters high. In contrast to the Schneider’s crew of 5, this vehicle had just 2. The engine was less than half the power of the Schneider at just 40 hp, meaning this light tank was only capable of just 4 to 10 km/h depending on ground conditions and fuel for just 8 to 10 hours of operation. On the plus side, however, the machine gun with up to 3000 rounds of ammunition was able to be substituted for a 37mm cannon.

Major Bennicelli climbing out of a Renault FT with the original cast turret. This is the original Renault FT, and Italy was not supplied with this vehicle or type of turret, indicating this photograph was taken in France. Photo: Papo

Tactics

Major Bennicelli also gathered evidence of the tactical use of tanks by the French. French tank tactics dictated that they were to be used to accompany infantry and destroy machine-gun nests, with the infantry following behind to clear out enemy trenches. As a result, it was necessary that the tanks would have to be incorporated into infantry units.
To promote smooth tactical coordination between tank and infantry, it was expected that both elements exercised together for months. There would also have to be some kind of provision for supporting and countering air power. It was absolutely essential that neither tanks nor infantry became separated from one another, as neither could advance without assistance from the other.
In reporting on French tank organisation, Major Bennicelli described that these vehicles were divided into a battalion of three companies consisting of 25 tanks.

Obstacles

Obstacle crossing was a primary area of concern for the designs, and in examining the Renault ‘Tipo Leggero (Light tank) – the Renault model FT – in comparison to the Schneider machine, he made the following points. Standard trenches (which any design would have to negotiate with), were up to 1.7 or 1.8 metres wide and vehicles should also be able to negotiate steep slopes. The Schneider vehicle could only manage a 55% grade (less than 30 degrees), whereas the lighter Renault FT, could manage a 100% grade (45-degree slope). This would be made even worse by the effect of artillery and rain on the ground, rending it very difficult for any machine to cross.

Piacenza 1918. Renault driven by Major Bennicelli ploughs through a barbed wire entanglement during a demonstration. Only one 37mm armed vehicle was supplied, making this tank 66947. Photo: Papo

Examples

Initially, the Schneider CA seems to have been the preferred vehicle for Italy, but they were unable to obtain more than just a single machine for testing, and negotiations over buying more or a license to produce the Schneider tank in Italy fell through. The only other option from France, therefore, was the Renault FT. The first vehicle may have been received as early as March 1917, suggesting that the French were willing to supply a sample of both the FT and the Schneider. By May 1918, four Renault FT’s had been sent to Italy for an unknown sum of money. Two of the FT’s mounted the standard Girod cast type turret. One of these vehicles mounted a 37mm Puteaux gun (serial number 66947) and the other (serial number 67657) a single Hotchkiss Model 1914 machine-gun, which was subsequently replaced with an Italian 6.5mm SIA machine-gun instead.
The other two FT’s were fitted with the Berliet polygonal turret made from riveted plates. Both were also armed with the Hotchkiss Model 1914 machine-gun and, just like the Girod turreted version, had them replaced with an Italian machine-gun, the Fiat Model 1914 (registration A.1003).

Girod turreted Renault FT, serial number 67657, during a public demonstration in Italy. This vehicle was later registered by the Italian Army as vehicle A1001


The Renault FT in Italian service. This model has the Girod turret and is armed with the 37 mm gun. Illustration by Bernard ‘Escodrion’ Baker, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Orders

All Renault FT’s arrived by May 1918 and, by August, were ready for presentation to the Army High Command. Major Bennicelli was in charge of the demonstration which took place on 2nd August 1918, which met with the approval of the authorities. As a direct result, several firms were contracted to manufacture elements for the local production of these vehicles to meet the demands of the Italian Army, namely Ansaldo (armor), Breda (machine guns), Fiat (engines), Vickers, Terni, and Armstrong. It is not known how many vehicles were going to be ordered, but by the time the Italian Government was ready to place an order, the Armistice of 11th November 1918 had taken effect, and to all intents and purposes, hostilities between the great European powers stopped.
As a result, this initial order was canceled and instead the Italian Ministry of War sought to buy an additional 60 Renault FT’s from the French. By the start of 1919 though, this had still not taken place and lacking tanks, the Ministry had no choice but to revisit domestic production of the vehicle once more. In January 1919, the Ministry placed an order for 150 vehicles, probably with Ansaldo, but unable to produce them, the order was switched to Fiat in April 1919 and the quantity ordered reduced to 100 examples. The first Italian built example of the Renault FT started in June 1919 and rolled out of the Fiat plant in June 1920. This vehicle would go for testing and would eventually be accepted after some modification to form the backbone of the Italian tank force until World War Two. This vehicle was to be known as the Fiat 3000.

First prototype of the Italian-produced Renault FT made in 1920 which was later modified to become the Fiat 3000. Note this vehicle retains the hull doors of the FT rather than the single glacis of the later Fiat 3000 production vehicles

Whence the Renault

Piecing together what happened to the Renault FT’s in Italy, it is known that serial number 66947 was completely dismantled by Ansaldo, presumably during their brief 1919 contract period. This would indicate that the vehicle pictured at Fort Tiburtino was almost certainly serial number 67657. 66947, even though it was dismantled, did not disappear as it was rebuilt to be used for a different project in 1919.
At least two of the Renaults are known to have been sent to Libya in 1919 as part of the efforts to quell a revolt there and reassert control over the colony. Photographic evidence shows one of the vehicles to have the polygonal Berliet turret and the other to have the cast Girod turret. As the other Girod turreted vehicle (66947) is known to have had the 37mm gun and that it was dismantled at this given time, the lead vehicle can be identified as 67657 which mounted the Hotchkiss machine-gun.
At least one of the two Berliet turreted vehicles had been rearmed with a Fiat Model 1914 machine-gun by January 1923 for training, and official army records for January 1924 show 3 Renault’s still on the Army’s inventory in Italy. A fourth reappeared on the inventory in December 1924, probably having returned from an overseas unit, but by this time, two of the four were listed as Fuori Servizio (F.S.), meaning they were out of service.
Photographic records show one vehicle on display at Fort Tiburtino, where it presumably had been used for training, as late as 1927 armed with the Girod turret and 6.5mm SIA machine-gun.
It is not known what happened to the vehicles after this date, but the Army did come into possession of some more Renault FT’s after the 1937 ‘War in the North’ campaign during the Spanish Civil War, with up to 22 FT’s being captured or destroyed by Nationalist forces. Any that the Italians took were handed over to the Spanish Nationalist forces, as they were obsolete by this time.

Renault FT serial number 66947 was dismantled for inspection by Ansaldo.

Two of the four Renaults supplied to Italy seen in Libya during the revolt. Source: Pignato

Renault FT specifications

Dimensions 4.95(with tail)/4.20 x 1.74 x 2.14 m (16.24/13.77×5.7×7.02 ft)
Total weight, battle ready 6.7 tons
Crew 2 (commander/gunner, driver)
Propulsion Renault 4 cyl petrol, 39 hp (24 kW)
Speed 7.5 km/h (4.66 mph)
Range/consumption 65 km (40.38 miles)
Armament Hotchkiss 7.9 mm (0.32 in) or Italian 6.5mm SIA machine gun, or
Puteaux SA 18 37 mm (1.45 in) gun
Armor 22 mm (0.87 in)
Total production 3700 (France), 4 supplied to Italy.

Resources & Links

Papo, P. (2015). The first 40 years of Italian Armoured Vehicles. Pagine Militari, Rome
Pignato, N., Cappellano, F. (2002). Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano. Ufficio Storico.
Italie1939-45.com
Les chars de la Grande Guerre, Paul Malmassari, 14-18, le magazine de la Grande Guerre
Ceva,A., Curami, L. (1994). La meccanizzazione dell’Esercito Italiano. Arte Della Stampa.

Renault FT World Tour Shirt

Renault FT World Tour Shirt

What a tour! Relive the glory days of the mighty little Renault FT! A portion of the proceeds from this purchase will support Tank Encyclopedia, a military history research project. Buy this T-Shirt on Gunji Graphics!


Categories
WW1 Italian Armor

Fiat 2000

Kingdom of Italy (1917)
Heavy Tank – 2 Built

The Kingdom of Italy fought on the side of the Allied powers of France and Great Britain in World War 1, declaring war against the Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria, and Germany in August 1915, October 1915, and August 1916 respectively. Their battlefields were mostly different to the open trench covered battlefields of northern France and Belgium, however. Other than the plains of the north-east, most of northern Italy is rugged mountainous country and Italy’s war on its northern border was one of the most brutal of a very brutal war. Any tank for Italian use would have to not only fill the need to fight in very mountainous terrain but also in colonial wars in Africa. The British had already deployed tanks in World War I and so had the French. The use of the Renault FT by France had been witnessed by Italian observers in 1917, and tanks were the crucial element that was helping the British to advance in France. As a result, inquiries were made to obtain a number of both Renault FT and Schneider CA1 tanks direct from France.

The Fiat 2000 was a true heavyweight, well armored, well armed and well conceived. (Fiat 2000 Prototype 2). Source: Museo Storico Italiano della Guerra di Roverto

Development

In a contract dated 13th October 1915 the Fiat company had already been tasked by Major General Giulio Martini with the design of a 40-tonne armored vehicle with a 65mm gun in the turret and armor superior to an armored car. It is unclear exactly how much was done to fulfill this contract until the end of 1916 after the British had used tanks, but the requirement for such a vehicle so soon after entering the war was an indication of the commitment to the war effort and the faith in Fiat to create a machine to help win the war. It is unknown why this requirement had been delivered so soon after the entry into the war but it could be speculated that it resulted from seeing the battles already fought on the Western Front, or as a result of a sharing of information from its allies, Britain and France.
By the time a design was ready by Fiat though official interest was being shown in the French tanks instead. The Fiat design, from the pen of Carlo Cavalli (a technical director at Fiat) and Giulio Cesare Cappa (formerly a car designer at Aquila, famous for racing cars) was finally ready in January 1917. This design under the original contract was ‘Automobile blindata d’assalto tipo 2000 and this design from Fiat was instead to now be commonly known as the ‘Fiat 2000’ although at least one blueprint refers to it as a ‘mobile fort’.
Design and construction caused a lot of friction between the two industrial giants of Fiat and Ansaldo. The project was very expensive and Ansaldo did not have a formal contract from the army for production of the armor plate used. This armor was to be the best available at the time, high-quality vanadium armor plate from the Ansaldo works at Terni, which had originally been destined for the warship ‘Cristoforo Colombo‘. Whatever the exact details of the dispute were, it was resolved by Mario Perrone (Ansaldo). The armor would be supplied by Ansaldo and assembled at the Fiat San Giorgio plant at Sesti Levante.

Original Fiat 1:5th scale wooden model built for Fiat in 1917 in Turin and sold in 2017. The pattern and color of the grey-green/brown camouflage can still be seen and it retains the original aluminum tracks. The plaque shows the vehicle to have been designed by the Quarello studio in Turin. Note that this is clearly Prototype vehicle No.2. Source: vonmorenburg.com

Trials

Prototype vehicle number 1 was still incomplete by June 1917 when it started trials. Only the hull was complete and it was still lacking the upper-structure, which constituted the fighting compartment of the tank. Unlike contemporary British tanks, the Fiat 2000 did not use the ‘all-round’ track but instead, a more conventional track run going around two large diameter wheels at each end and protected by armor over the sides. Drive from the rear mounted engine was taken to the front via a longitudinal transmission shaft which drove the front sprockets by means of a chain drive. Cooling was by means of air drawn in through the large radiator grille at the back. The second vehicle would not be completed until February 1918.

Original 1:10 scale plans for the fighting section of the Fiat 2000 from 1917. The plans clearly indicate the use of a dome turret destined for the Royal Italian Army and adds the reference number for Gio.  Ansaldo and Co. as ‘A1145fa’. Source: Fulvio Miglia

Front view of finished Fiat 2000 No.2. The drive chains to the front sprockets can be seen each side of the nose. The large square hatch in the ‘nose’ is for the driver. Source: Museo Storico Italiano della Guerra di Rovereto

Arrangement

The vehicle layout was simple but effective. The lower section comprised the engine, transmission and all of the running gear. It was divided by a bulkhead from the space above. This unusual construction also had the advantage that it kept the engine area sealed off from the crew space. This was very advantageous from the perspective of reducing the risk of smoke intoxication of the crew and safety in a fire and allowed the vehicle to be made in separate facilities and then put together later.
Prototype number 1 received a flat-topped round turret and it is not known when this was switched to the distinctive dome-shaped turret. Prototype number 1 can be distinguished from number 2 by the construction of the armored skirt on the lower half. Prototype No.1 had a multi-piece armored skirt whereas No.2 had a single piece skirt. The upper sections and number of openings were also different and, crucially, the guns at the front and back are in the corners on No.2 but only in the front and rear faces respectively for No.1. For the turrets, the second prototype vehicle built seems to have gone straight to the dome style turret. In video footage (IWM #460) of the Fiat 2000 Prototype No.1 during trials she can be seen climbing a stone step the height of its own tracks and at the end indications that the original flat-topped turret was just a mockup as it appears to come loose.

A parked and weatherproofed Fiat 2000 Prototype No.2. Source: unknown
The driver sat in the front center of the tank in a bulbous nose which afforded a very good view of the route ahead via a periscope or from the large hatch which could be opened to improve visibility and airflow. Access to the fighting space was by means of a large door on the left side of the fighting compartment and the plans and photographs show what appears to be a circular ventilation fan in the front left-hand side of the vehicle on No.1, another feature sorely needed on WW1 tanks. At some point, a multi-tone camouflage pattern was applied too.


Fiat 2000 Prototype No.1 hull during trials during 1917. The upper ‘fighting’ area has not yet even added but the driver’s position is wide enough that two men are sat in it. The rest is obscured by a large tarpaulin covering the central part of the tank. Source: Pignato
The large boxy structure of the vehicle was made from 20mm thick armor plate as described before with only the rear of the tank being thinner at 15mm. This armor thickness is low by WW2 standards but in WW1 this was more than sufficient for any machine-gun fire or even the German anti-tank rifle. Large skirts made from the same material covered the whole suspension arrangement of 4 sprung bogies on each side and the tracks. One additional note is that Prototype No.1 has small sections covering the bottom part of the large wheels at each end. The purpose of these is not known but they are not present on vehicle number 2 and appear to have been removed from vehicle number 1 later too.




Prototype Fiat 2000 No.1 seen during trials late 1917 to early 1918 with upper structure partially completed and first model cylindrical turret. Note the lack of corner mounts for weapons in the upper structure. Sources: Pignato and Museo Storico Italiano della Guerra di Rovereto

Completed and armed Fiat 2000 No.2 during testing, probably 1918. Photo: La Stampa

The Duke of Aosta, Commanding officer of the Italian 3rd Army seen near the front lines in 1918 with Fiat 2000 No.2. Photo: Pignato
Power for the Fiat 2000 was provided by a 6 cylinder 250 hp Fiat A12 aviation petrol engine providing the design with a power to weight ratio of 6hp/t and a top speed of 7.5 km/h.

Artist’s impression of a fully armed Fiat 2000 No.1 with the prototype turret. Note the additional sections over the lower parts of both wheels and the multi-panel lower armored skirt. Source: unknown
The machine was still very large, too large in fact to be ideal for use in the Italian mountains and very heavy. The Fiat 2000 had a mass of 40,000 kg, making it significantly heavier than the British tanks and even the German A7V. Despite this large size, the fighting compartment was still cramped although not as cramped as other tanks of the era. The fighting space was perched on top of and around the mechanicals with space for the crew. A crew of up to 10 men is sometimes quoted in order to man all of the weapons but 8 is more likely due to the space considerations and that not all of the weapons needed to be manned simultaneously. The difference may also stem from the variations in fighting space arrangements from vehicle No.1 to vehicle No.2, with fewer fighting loopholes. Unlike its far more cramped British counterparts though, most of the crew could, in fact, operate the weapons standing rather than in the very uncomfortable semi-squat position needed to operate sponsons guns on the British designs.

Fiat-SPA A12 engine. Photo: IWM

Armament

For armament, the original Fiat 2000 was bristling with firepower. Up to eight machine-guns (Fiat M.1914 6.5mm) (three at the rear, two forwards, and one on each side) could be mounted in the various portholes in the sides but the main gun was fitted into a small dome-shaped turret mounted on the roof. The low round turret from the prototype, which likely only suited a machine-gun, was gone and this much taller dome turret provided far more room for a cannon. One source claims that a 14mm heavy machine-gun was suggested for the design during development which could be the answer to what was intended for the first turret but there is insufficient information to say for sure either way.
Major Alfredo Bennicelli (the Italian Artillery officer who was responsible for bringing the Renault FT to Italy) seems to have been pushing for a 75 or 76 mm gun for the turret (the most probable choice being the 75/27CK) and in May 1918 it was suggested instead to select a 77 mm cannon instead. In the end, it was the 65mm mountain howitzer which was selected. The selection of a howitzer and the unique turret design would permit the Fiat 2000 to not only fire direct but also at a high angle as a howitzer, the drawback being a large dead spot close to the vehicle which the main gun could not cover. This was a gun more than capable enough to fulfill the functions of the tank for assaulting enemy positions or providing fire support for attacking troops. The 65mm Turin Arsenal M.1910/M.1913 mountain gun was in good supply, had armor piercing and high explosive shells as well as shrapnel rounds available to it at the time making it an ideal weapon to select.

Fiat 2000 No.2 seen in May 1930 with 8 men believed to be the crew. Source: unknown

Fiat 2000 No.2, date unknown with 7 men and an officer in front suggesting again a crew of 8. The person at the back appears to be unconnected. Photo: La Stampa


Rendition of the Fiat 2000 no.1 with no armament by Bernard “Escodrion” Baker

What if rendition of the Fiat 2000 no.1 with armament installed by Bernard “Escodrion” Baker

Rendition of the Fiat 2000 no.2 by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet
Fiat 2000 no.2 model by Giganaut

Death of the Project

The number of Fiat 2000’s has been subject to conjecture for nearly a century. Some sources state that as many as 6 vehicles were ordered and the first edition of ‘Der Taschenbuch der Panzer’ by Heigl states that as many as 10 were either intended to be made or in some state of production. An examination of the production records, however, shows that only two 65mm guns and twenty machine-guns were ordered for the project which suggests that only two vehicles were ever planned. Either way, it was the adoption by Italy of the French Renault tank which killed the Fiat 2000. Just the 2 examples of the Fiat 2000 had been finished before production of them was officially discontinued on 4th November 1918. Any remaining parts which may have been around or for a future production were scrapped at this time.
Fiat did not need to make more of them anyway. The Renault FT contract had gone to Fiat who went on to manufacture them under the name ‘Fiat 3000’. Fiat had managed to produce a rival to the design which they won the contract for, so effectively had managed to guarantee that they would get to build the tanks for the Italian Army.


Interior layout showing crew positions and mechanicals. Source: Pignato

Military Service and Combat

Despite the project falling through, the Fiat 2000 still entered service. Prototype No.2 was sent to the front lines in 1918, presumably for trials in the sort of terrain so common in the western front, but it is not known to have seen combat. In service, it was known as the Fiat 2000 M.1917 (model of 1917) but the ‘M.17’ part seems to have been retrospectively applied after modernization of one of the vehicles was done in 1934).


Fiat 2000 No.2 putting on a show for the crowd in Rome, April 1919. The unusual vehicle in the foreground is an experimental conversion of a Renault FT/Fiat 3000 with a howitzer on top. Source: unknown
Despite having appeared too late to see combat in WW1, Italy had colonial possessions to take care of. The modern-day nation of Libya had been taken by Italy after the Italo-Turkish war of 1911 and post-war there were a series of Arab revolts against Italian colonial rule. At least one (some sources claim both) of the Fiat 2000 tanks was dispatched to Libya to bolster forces there as part of No.1 Batteria Autonoma Carri D’Assalto in the early 1920’s.

 Fort Tiburtino, 1927. The size of the Fiat 2000 (No.2) is apparent here as she is alongside a Schneider CA-1, a Renault FT and on the far left the Fiat 3000. Source: AUSSME
The only known account of their combat use comes from ‘Le Forze Armate’ stating both vehicles were dispatched as part of an armored force to reconquer Giarabub, a strategic oasis about 240 km (150 miles) south of the Port of Bardia. One vehicle is alleged to have broken down at Porto Bardia and the other some distance from the action leaving the actual battle to be carried out with only Fiat 3000’s and a variety of armored cars and trucks. Other sources disagree stating only one of the tanks ever went to Libya. Col. Pederzini states that one of the Fiat 2000′s was dismantled in Benghazi prior to 1935 for unstated reasons but if it is true then probably due to a lack of spare parts. Whether they saw any action elsewhere in Libya is not known at this time but the late Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi put them on his stamps in action. As of an Army inventory conducted in 1925/6, only a single Fiat 2000 was shown so certainly by this date one vehicle had been decommissioned or scrapped. The last known photograph of No.1 is dated March 1924. As the only vehicle appearing in photographs after 1925/6 is the No.2 vehicle it seems that No.1 was scrapped. Photographic evidence can definitively show vehicle No.2 was in Italy afterwards though lending credibility to the theory that both tanks were sent.



Fiat 2000 on active service in Libya. Note: Only vehicle No.2 can be definitively identified here. At the parade in Tripoli, the Fiat 2000 is pictured outside the Governor’s residence. The use of the large Fiat logos makes it clear that the deployment to the colony had a commercial element to it and may even have been paid for by the Fiat company itself. Source: earlyaviators.net and internet


Somewhat fanciful depictions of the Fiat 2000 (note that two are shown in one of the stamps) in action at the battle of Bir Tagreft 1928 and El-Tangi 1913 respectively. For obvious reasons, the 1913 date is clearly wrong for anything involving the Fiat 2000. Only vehicle No.2 is shown. Source: Private collection and internet

A final modification – 1934

At least one of the Fiat 2000’s was used post -Libyan rebellion for various propaganda purposes, especially after the fascist government of Benito Mussolini came to power in Italy in 1922. The vehicle was used for training purposes too and reappeared in 1934 as the ‘M.34’ version (see earlier). This version retained the dome turret, the 65mm howitzer, and at least 4 machine-guns but the front had been modified. Instead of mounting two machine-guns in the front corners, it now mounted two 37mm L.40 anti-tank guns instead. From the identification features, it seems that this is also No.2.

Fiat 2000 (No.2) M.34 (the ‘soldiers’ standing on the vehicle are children and the angle gives a misleading image of how large the tank is. Source: Luce

The Vanishing

By the start of WW2, the last remaining Fiat 2000 completely disappears, sadly probably just scrapped and salvaged for the war effort. At 40-tonnes, it was the heaviest tank produced in Italy for nearly 40 years. La Stampa reports that it was last known to be in a foundry at the end of World War II although its last public sighting appears to have been in about 1939. The first vehicle probably never came back from the campaign in Libya if indeed it even went. No photographic evidence has been located confirmed that vehicle (No.1) went to Libya, or even of the vehicle at all after 1918/1919.
The Fiat 2000 was undoubtedly large but was probably the most powerful tank built in WW1. No trace of either the Fiat 2000’s remains today outside of the original wooden construction model, blueprints, and photographs. Italy’s first indigenous completed tank was one of its largest and suffered from bad timing. Too late to make any difference in the war for which she was built, unable to make a difference in the colonial wars, and then too outdated to be of any use for WW2. The Fiat 2000 remains one of the most distinctive tanks ever built, a unique design and one which showed the independent design skills of Italy in tank design and manufacturing.

A New Tank?

In 2017, the original 1:5 scale Quarello model was purchased by an Italian organization called Spa Militaire, at auction with a plan to manufacture a full-scale reproduction for an estimated cost of 700,000 euros. The intention of the project is to reproduce an important piece of Italian military and industrial history. Eventually, it is planned to commercialize the vehicle for rentals, films, and exhibitions help finance the restoration and rebuilding of other old Italian tanks. Tanks Encyclopedia has been working with this group to share information and resources to assist them and if readers wish to help they can email the group inbox at [email protected]

Fiat 2000 specifications

Dimensions 7.4m x 3.1m x 3.8m
Total weight, battle ready 40,000kg
Crew 8 to 10
Propulsion Fiat A-12 6 cylinder 250hp petrol engine
Suspension Sprung bogies
Speed (road)  7.5km/h
Range  75km
Armament 1 x 65mm mountain howitzer and up to 8 6.5mm Fiat machine-guns (M.1917), 1 x 65mm mountain howitzer, 2 x 37mm anti-tank guns and 4 machine-guns (M.1924)
Armor 10-20mm
Total production 2 in 1917-1918
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index

Links, Resources & Further Reading

Fighting Tanks Since 1916, Col. Robert Icks
Le Forze Armate, 1935 – Colonel Pederzini, Italian Tanks 1917-1945 by Dr.Emiliano Ciaralli,
Der Taschenbuch der Panzer, Fritz Heigl
https://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/UN/Australia/Bengazi/Benghazi-12.html Chapter 12 – The Capture of Giarabub
Earlyaviators.net
Vonmorenburg.com
Il Giorniale D’Italia, 8th October 2017 https://www.ilgiornaleditalia.org/news/cultura/891639/Carri-armati–che-passione.html#.Wd4UWD8yN9I.facebook
La Stampa, 12th of September 2017 https://www.lastampa.it/2017/09/12/societa/ricostruire-ex-novo-il-fiat-perduto-evjiVCLfdz3MkfQXYqKvxI/pagina.html

Video

Video of Fiat 2000 Prototype during trials https://www.criticalpast.com/video/65675026087_Italian-forces_Alps_Italian-infantry-walks_soldiers-pull-artillery 02:32 – 02:46
IWM Video footage of the Fiat 2000
https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1060022926?bt=europeanaapi 14:36 –
Where to donate to the Project.