In 1940, when the M13/40 was manufactured in Italy, it was mainly meant to fight British tanks in the Western Desert of Libya and Egypt. Armed with just the 47 mm L/32 main gun, the tank was adequate for 1940, but had little potential for keeping up with the advances in enemy tanks. The gun was inadequate for dealing with the heavy armor of the British A12 Matilda II and, later, the American-supplied M4 Shermans. Nonetheless, the tank remained in service with various parties in Yugoslavia to Northern Italy until the end of the war in 1945. The troublesome climate of the post-war, especially in the Middle East with the creation of the state of Israel, meant that even outdated tanks such as the M.13/40 would continue to see service.
Founded on 12th July 1939, Negba (Hebrew נגבה), is the location of a Kibbutz near Qiriat Gal in what is now South-Central Israel. It is the southernmost of several ‘protected’ settlements, known as ‘tower and stockade’ settlements in the area. The Kibbutz was to become a focal point for the Egyptian attack on the brand new nation in May 1948. With the announcement of the Independent State of Israel on 14th May 1948, neighboring Arab countries such as Egypt, Lebanon, Transjordan, and Syria (all unified under Egyptian command) attacked.
The Egyptian forces attacked on the 15th May 1948 with a combined infantry and mechanized force of around 6,000 men, with an unknown number of tanks and armored vehicles. The direction of the attack was up what is now known as the Gaza strip on the Egyptian left flank and a second assault across the Negev desert to Be’er Sheeva. The Israeli forces were sparsely equipped with a variety of mainly small arms bought, salvaged, stolen, or donated from a variety of sources but had made preparations for a possible attack including setting up some minefields, something which had continued apace during the rest of May.
The May invasion had started well for Egypt but would stall due to poor coordination of the various allied forces involved and determined Israeli resistance. By the end of June 1948, despite the Egyptian forces having covered a lot of ground, they were not past the line of settlements, including Negba at the north of the Negev and any push on towards Jerusalem would have to get past these settlements.
The newly created Israeli Defence Force (IDF) had counterattacked on the night of the 8th July in Operation An-Far with the goal of recapturing the Iraq Suweidan police fort about 2 miles southeast of Negba. That Israeli force, the Negev 7th Brigade under Uzi Nakissm supported by additional platoons of troops, had been fought off by the Egyptian 1st Battalion at the fort. A second Israeli force consisting of a company from the 53rd Battalion and a platoon from the 54th Battalion coming from Negba took a small position at Idbis north of Negba and halted the Egyptian encirclement. Egyptian counterattacks by the 2nd Battalion then came on 9th and 10th July to try and retake this position, but they failed.
The Israeli 51st ‘Givati’ Battalion then attacked the Egyptians from the North, pushing them out of the village of Tel al-Safi. With their encirclement of Negba prevented, the only logical form of attack left open to try and take the settlement would be a more direct assault. So, on 12th July, the Egyptians attacked once more, with the goal of taking the settlement and driving the Israeli forces out of the area.
The Egyptian 4th Brigade was to form the spearhead of the assault of Negba on the 12th July 1948. Attacks by the 6th and 2nd Battalions (4th Bgd.) were used as diversions to pull Israeli forces away from Negba by attacking Julius and Ibdis with the main force, whilst 9th Battalion under the command of Lt.Col. Rahmani would attack the settlement itself. With the fighting over Ibdis and Giv’ati to the north of Negba, the settlement had become a key location forming the corner in the Israeli defensive line.
At the time of the attack by Egyptian forces, the Negba Kibbutz was defended by about 70 soldiers (probably from the 54th Battalion IDF) and a small number of irregular troops, armed mainly with light weapons. The only ‘heavy’ weapons to protect from tanks were a pair of 3” mortars and a couple of PIAT anti-tank weapons.
The Egyptian attack began at dawn 12th July, with movements by Egyptian infantry trying to cross the largely flat ground around Negba to approach the settlement. Despite a bombardment of the settlement from Egyptian guns lasting about 5 hours, the troops had not got closer than 50 m from the edge of the compound by 11am. The placement of minefields around the Kibbutz had prevented the Egyptians from deploying their armored vehicles to make a decisive impact and, by nightfall, the Egyptian troops withdrew. The minefields and defenders had fought off the Egyptian assault and there were several Egyptian vehicles lost, including 4 ‘Bren-gun carriers’ and a single M.13/40 tank.
The M13/40 tank the defenders found themselves looking at on 12th July 1948 was built by Fiat Ansaldo between 1940 and 1943 in Italy and was originally equipped with an Italian 47 mm L/32 cannon. This vehicle, though, was different. A whole new turret front had been fabricated, with a new flat slab of armor added over the existing front and a new built-up mouth for the gun cradle to sit in. To achieve this work, it appears that the turret had to be removed, and, remarkably, video footage, albeit briefly, shows the turret being refitted by Egyptian forces. Although the video is undated, it is presumably shot between May and June 1948 during preparations by the Egyptian 9th Battalion for that attack.
The Gun Cunundrum
The gun, unfortunately, cannot be identified. Photographic evidence confirms that it was not the original Italian 47 mm L/32 gun and the reminiscences of Mr. Negbi described the gun as a “37 mm 2 pounder”. This suggests that it was either a salvaged 37mm gun from something like an old M3 Stuart or M22 Locust light tank, or a 2-Pounder gun from something like the British A12 Matilda II. All of these vehicles would have been available to the Egyptians in refurbishing this vehicle, as large stocks of equipment and tank parts were remaining in Egypt after the war, including, obviously, the old Italian M13 tank itself.
The most likely gun used would be the 37 mm Tank Gun M6 as used on the M22 Locust, several of which were also used by the Egyptians in the Negba area during the 1948 campaign. Mr. Negbi reminisces that, during the battle of the 12th, two M13/40’s were used along with several other tanks, which included two British Matilda’s, although no evidence of their use during or afterwards can be ascertained to confirm or deny this. The 37 mm gun would have been inferior to the Italian 47 mm piece, as it lacked an effective High Explosive shell (HE). However, 37 mm ammunition was in supply, unlike the Italian gun (47 mm) for which not many shells were probably available. This too explains the logic behind the rearming. Better to rearm with a gun which although not optimal, is available, rather than a gun for which you cannot find ammunition.
There is also the question of the gun mantlet which was definitely not from the M.13/40 or from the M22 Locust. It seems more like the mantlet from a German Panzer III or Panzer II, parts from which were also potentially available to the Egyptians during the refurbishment of this tank.
No Other Modifications
No other modifications are known, but it is also likely that the two hull machine-guns fitted to the M13/40 when it was in Italian use were also removed or changed. Unfortunately, the only photos available of this tank either obscure the hull machine-gun position (front right on the hull) or are after it has been removed. Post-removal would suggest that the original cover for the mounting had been retained rather than blanked over and welded, leaving a question mark over what, if any, secondary armament was used.
It is unlikely that any re-engining took place, which would mean it would have retained the original Italian Fiat SPA engine, probably the 125 hp diesel.
The mine damage to the tank was crippling. The open side door and lack of burning suggest that the crew escaped, but the vehicle was not repairable. At least one entire suspension unit on the right-hand side of the vehicle had been smashed and the tracks broken. The tank was recovered back to the Kibbutz where it was photographed, stripped of armament and tracks.
The M13 was recovered from the fields and remained at Negba for about 3 days before it was hauled away on an army truck, presumably to be taken away for scrap. Although other vehicles of that era and conflict have survived, including an M22 on display at Negba, this very unusual M13/40 has not. No trace of it can be found and it does not appear as a monument or in the IDF collection at Latrun. It is presumed to have been scrapped.
Speculative illustration of the Egyptian M13/40 with an M6 37 mm gun and a Panzer II turret front, produced by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet and modified by Stan Lucian.
Carro Armato M.13/40 specifications
|Dimensions (L-W-H)||4.70m x 2.20m x 2.30 m
(15’5″ x 7’2″ x 7’6″ ft.inches)
|Total weight, battle ready||13.5 tons|
|Crew||4 (commander, driver, machine-gunner/radioman, loader)|
|Propulsion||Fiat SPA 8T V8 diesel, 125 hp, 8.92 hp/ton|
|Suspension||Leaf spring bogies|
|Maximum speed (road)||32 km/h (20 mph)|
|Operational range||200 km (120 mi)|
|Armament||Believed to be 37mm Tank Gun M6|
|Armor||From 25 to 42 mm (0.98-1.65 in)|
|Total Used||At Least 1|
In the production of this article, the author would like to acknowledge the assistance of Ilan and Oded Negbi.
Personal correspondence with Oded Negbi by the author
Zionism and Israel Encyclopedic Dictionary
Gamal Abdel Nasser. (2004). Sam Witte. Rosen Publishing Group
1948: A history of the first Arab-Israeli War. (2009). Benny Morris. Yale University Press