Kingdom of Italy (1941 – 1943) and Italian Social Republic (1943-1945)
Armored Truck – Unknown Numbers built
The Renault ADR Blindati (plural of Blindato) were Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) used by the Regio Esercito (Eng. Italian Royal Army) in the Balkan theater starting from 1941. They had the task of patrolling and escorting supply convoys.
These were based on vehicles captured by Italian or German troops in France. They were armored and armed in local workshops by the Italian units employed in the Balkans.
In Italy, these vehicles are almost unknown because of the few examples produced and their improvised construction. In the few Italian sources that mention them, they are known as Renault ADR Blindati or Protetti (singular Protetto – eng. Protected).
Context – Situation in the Yugoslav Theater
Before the outbreak of the Second World War, the Regio Esercito did not consider armored personnel carriers necessary and completely ignored this type of vehicle. However, during the first campaigns in Africa, Greece, and Yugoslavia, officers quickly realized the need for these vehicles in their ranks.
On January 20th, 1941, after seven months of war, the High Command of the Royal Italian Army requested a wheeled armored personnel carrier. FIAT-SPA developed a vehicle on the chassis of the TL37 (Trattore Leggero – Light Tractor) called the FIAT-SPA Autoprotetto S37.
The prototype was presented in May 1941 for testing and was officially adopted by the Regio Esercito on February 4th, 1942. 200 units were ordered, of which only 160 were delivered before the order was canceled in favor of an APC based on the chassis of half-tracks produced under German license by FIAT and Breda. These were never produced though.
The units that were equipped with the S37 Autoprotetti were the 998ª Autosezione Autocarri (Eng. 998th Truck Section) in Montenegro, the 1034ª Autosezione (Eng. 1034th Section) in Albania, the 370ª Autoreparto Autocarri Protetti S37 (Eng. 370th Vehicle Protected S37 Section) that was sent to Yugoslavia and, finally, the 1650ª Sezione Autoprotetti (Eng. 1650th Vehicle Protected Section) that remained in Bari, in Southern Italy.
Another Italian APC project was the 9-tonnes 4×4 truck FIAT 665NM (Nafta Militare – Diesel, Military) Protetto or Scudato (Eng. Armored or Shielded) developed in 1942 by the Arsenale Regio Esercito di Torino. 300 units were ordered. Production started in the summer of 1942 and lasted until September 8th, 1943, but only 110 vehicles were finished.
A number were delivered to the 13ª Divisione di Fanteria “Re” (Eng. 13th Infantry Division “Re”) and the 154ªDivisione di Fanteria “Murge” (Eng. 154th Infantry Division “Murge”) in the Balkans and other units stationed in Rome.
By way of comparison, Germany produced about 15,000 Sd.Kfz. 251s and the United States produced about 50,000 M3 Half-tracks throughout the war. Italy produced only 270 wheeled armored personnel carriers, which, for an army the size of the Regio Esercito, was too few.
General Mario Roatta, commander of the Regio Esercito of the 2nd Italian Army in Croatia with headquarters in the province of Ljubljana, understood after the Yugoslavian Campaign that he needed to equip his troops with civilian armored trucks. He called these “Mezzi Comuni Blindati” (Eng. Common Armored Vehicles), and would be used for patrolling and escorting supply convoys.
After a meeting with several officers and generals deployed in the various theaters of war, the Chief of General Staff of the Royal Army, Marshal Ugo Cavallero, declared that at least 500 civilian or military trucks, armored in an improvised manner, were necessary for the needs of Italian troops in the Balkans and North Africa.
After the French Campaign, the Royal Italian Army came into possession of a large part of the French equipment. More equipment was handed over by the Germans. Among this equipment, there were simple firearms, such as pistols, rifles, or machine guns, but also large equipment, such as cannons, howitzers and logistical material, such as Renault ADR trucks.
It is not clear how many were captured by the Kingdom of Italy and if some were sold to them by the Wehrmacht.
The Renault Truck
The Camion Léger Bâché Renault Type ADR 65cv 3,5 tonnes (Eng. Light truck Renault Type ADR 65 hp 3.5 tonnes) or, more simply, the Renault ADR 1, was the last Renault truck of the AD series to go into production, in 1935. The Renault ADR civilian version had a gasoline 4 cylinders in-line engine with an output of 65 hp at 2,200 rpm and a volume of about 4,000 cm³. This gave the truck a speed of 65 km/h at full load and a consumption of 27 liters per 100 km.
The Renault ADRD was also a civilian version with a 4-cylinder in-line diesel engine with an output of 45 hp at 1,800 rpm and a volume of about 4,300 cm³. Fully loaded, this truck could reach a speed of 47 km/h and a consumption of 19 liters per 100 km.
The two civilian versions had a gearbox with 4 gears and had a load capacity of 3.5 tonnes in the “Long” version. This gave a total weight of the vehicle of 4.5 tonnes, with a fuel tank of 95 liters. The short version had a payload of about 1.5 tonnes and a fuel tank of 75 liters.
The third version was the military one, produced with only the 4-cylinder in-line gasoline engine delivering 62 hp at 2,350 rpm and a 5-speed transmission. In 1940, due to the needs of the war, production had to be speeded up and the characteristic aerodynamic radiator grille was replaced with a standard one.
It was delivered to the Armée de Terre (Eng. French Army) in 400 units, 126 of which went to the Garde Républicaine (Eng. Republican Guard) before and during the war. Almost all were requisitioned by Axis troops after the French Campaign.
Given the improvised nature of these armored personnel carriers, their protection was also improvised or taken from scrap yards. The cargo bays were protected with 10 mm thick trench shields dating back to World War I or with plates found almost anywhere in the Balkans of similar thickness. Rectangular or ellipsoidal loopholes were made into the plates and shields. These shields and plates were placed in two rows, one on top of the other, on the cargo bays, held together by welding.
The first row was placed at 90° and consisted of eight trench shields (or plates of the same size) welded to supports fixed directly to the vehicle’s chassis. The second row was composed of eight shields or plates welded and angled at about thirty degrees.
Like many other protected vehicles produced by Italy, both in an improvised and industrial manner, a major problem was the lack of a roof. This created problems with shrapnel or hand grenades falling inside the cargo bay, injuring or killing all occupants. In addition to this serious problem, the lack of a roof exposed the transported soldiers to the weather conditions.
To solve these problems, bomb nets or wooden boards were mounted on the roof to protect from bombs thrown at the vehicles.
Initially, the vehicles produced received armor only on the cargo bay. Later, the vehicles also received cab protection to protect the driver and the vehicle commander. Some armor plates or trench shields were placed to protect the doors and the front of the cab by cutting a large slot for the driver and maintaining the slits on the doors and the side of the vehicle commander.
Together with the cabs, the fuel tanks were also armored to increase protection, but the wheels and the engine compartment, and the radiator were never armored.
In the beginning, the armament was absent on the Renault ADR Protetti vehicles. The defense was assured by the cargo bay slits, 13 on each side. Seven were in the lower row of trench shields and armor plates, and 6 in the upper row. In addition, there were six on the rear, 4 in the lower row and 2 in the upper one, for a total of 32 slits on three sides of the cargo bay.
For defense in these cases, the bipod of a light machine gun Breda Mod. 1930 was simply placed on the roof of the cabin, but it had many problems of reliability, a clip feed of 20 rounds, a very slow clip reloading system that did not allow an effective suppression fire and, finally, no protection for the gunner save for the gun shield.
At a later stage, the low volume of fire from the soldiers firing through the loopholes was noted. In most cases, they were equipped with Carcano bolt-action rifles of various models. In order to remedy this, a support was added to the center of the cargo bay for a FIAT-Revelli Mod. 14/35 machine gun with a frontal shield to protect the gunner.
At the same time, the cabin of the truck was armored. As a consequence, three more slits were added for the vehicle commander and driver, one on the right side, one on the left side, and a third one on the front.
The Breda Modello 1930 light machine gun was fed, as mentioned above, by a 20-rounds clip of 6.5 × 52 mm Mannlicher-Carcano rounds that guaranteed a practical firing rate of only 150 rounds per minute. The machine gun entered service in 1930 and 10,000 were produced until 1945. It proved unsuitable for the role of infantry support because of its weight, its mechanical unreliability and too much maintenance required to keep it effective.
The FIAT-Revelli Modello 1914/1935 medium machine gun, on the other hand, was a modification made between 1935 and 1940 to the stock of FIAT-Revelli Model 1914 6.5 × 52 mm water-cooled machine guns used with great success in World War I by the Regio Esercito.
The 1935 modifications included the removal of the water tank, barrel cover, barrel, and bolt, transforming the machine gun into an air-cooled weapon in the new and more powerful 8 × 59 mm RB Breda caliber.
Thanks to the belt feed of 50 or 100 rounds, the machine gun guaranteed a firing rate of 600 rounds per minute, a muzzle velocity of 750 m/s, and a practical range against targets of 700-1,000 meters.
After the Axis occupation of Yugoslavia from April 1941 on, the Italian garrison forces had at their disposal two armored units, the 1° Gruppo carri L “San Giusto” (Eng. 1st Light Tank Group) and the 2° Gruppo carri L “San Marco” (Eng. 2nd Light Tank Group). Both were equipped with 61 CV 33/35 tankettes. There was also a company of AB41 armored cars and another one composed of AB41 and L6/40 light tanks.
These were stationed in the city of Zadar. As the Yugoslav resistance movements began to extensively target garrisons, transport and supply convoys, rails systems, etcetera, the Italians began increasing the number of armored vehicles in Yugoslavia. Initially, these were just standard CV series light tanks. From 1942 onwards, several different types of armored trucks began to be a common appearance.
Due to the war and the loss of the occupied territories, many documents were destroyed or lost. Therefore, the numbers of Renault ADR Protetto used in Yugoslavia by the Royal Army and the number of Renault that were armored in the workshops of the Royal Army in Yugoslavia are still unknown.
The number of Renaults used in Yugoslavia should not exceed fifty units. The number of armored vehicles could vary from a minimum of 2-3 units to a probable realistic maximum of 10-15 units.
These trucks were used to patrol and protect various vital supply lines, act as convoy escorts, often used to transport documents or very important materials, reducing the number of men on board (but maintaining a more than the adequate defensive capacity to repel partisan attacks), directly supporting Italian units in combat against the Partisans, etcetera. They were mainly active in Italian-occupied territories like Slovenia and Croatia. Some Renault ADR Blindati armored trucks were also operated by the Italians in Yugoslavia. During 1942, these took part in the forced deportation of Yugoslavian civilians around the area of Gorskog Kotara and Slovenije to camps located in Italy. The use of ADR Blindato armored trucks after 1942 in Yugoslavia is unclear.
Another important role that the armored trucks played was to transport officers of the Royal Italian Army safely from one garrison to another while on official visits, or to replace other officers.
Yugoslav partisan attacks were unpredictable and it would not have been safe for officers to travel in unprotected staff cars.
Use of Armored Trucks by Others in Yugoslavia
After the Italian capitulation, the Germans came into possession of most of the weapons and armored vehicles of its former ally, including armored trucks. The contingent of these armored trucks may have included some ADR vehicles, but it is not known precisely. One of the first uses of Italian armored trucks by the Germans was for anti-partisan operations in Slovenia during September 1943. These, together with other captured equipment, were usually distributed to various small garrisons. After 1943, the use of Italian-built armored trucks largely disappeared from this front, or they were operated in quite limited numbers.
The forces of the German puppet state of Croatia also managed to capture a number of Italian fighting vehicles, including some armored trucks. The Yugoslavian Partisans also captured and used some Italian armored trucks.
The use of ADR armored trucks by these warring parties is, sadly, unclear. The reasons for this are the general lack of sources, small number of built vehicles, lack of Partisan knowledge of enemy vehicle designations, and the general removal from service after late 1943. Authors Bojan B. D. and Dragan S. (Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945) give an indication that, while other types of armored trucks were used by the previously mentioned participants in Yugoslavia, the ADR was used only by the Italians.
Although produced in workshops and in very few examples, the Renault ADR, together with the few other Italian armored trucks, played a key role in escorting convoys and patrols, being able to supply the isolated Italian garrisons in Yugoslavia until September 8th, 1943. While these were built using civilian vehicles and improvised armor protection, due to the Partisans’ lack of proper anti-tank weapons, they offered some level of protection and also increased the offensive capabilities of the Italians that used them. Nevertheless, after the Italian capitulation, the use of such vehicles rapidly declined under the control of the Germans.
|Renault ADR Blindato specifications|
|Dimensions (L-W-H)||5.52 x 2.2 x ~2 m|
|Total weight, battle-ready||Around 4 tones|
|Crew||Driver, vehicle commander plus passengers|
|Propulsion||Petrol 4-cylinder in line, 62 hp at 2,350 rpm|
|Speed||Around 50 km/h|
|Armament||FIAT-Revelli Model 14/35 and personal weapons|
F. Cappellano and P. P. Battistelli (2018) Italian Armored and Reconnaissance Cars 1911-1945, New Vanguard
B. B. Dimitrijević and Dragan S.(2011) Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd.
D. Predoević (2008) Oklopna vozila i oklopne postrojbe u drugom svjetskom ratu u Hrvatskoj, Digital Point Tiskara
I Corazzati di Circostanza Italiani – Nico Sgarlato
I Blindati di Circostanza della Guerra Civile – Paolo Crippa