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WW2 Partisan Armor

Semovente L40 da 47/32 in Partisan service

Yugoslav Partisans (1943-1945)
Self-Propelled Gun – Unknown Number Operated

The Semovente L40 da 47/32 was an Italian light Self-Propelled Gun (SPG) developed as an infantry support vehicle. Entering service in 1942, it proved to be immediately obsolete. Given the general lack of armored vehicles, the Regio Esercito (Eng: Italian Royal Army) was forced to use them up to the Italian armistice. After that, the surviving vehicles were captured by the Germans and, in smaller numbers, by their Croatian allies. On some occasions, the Yugoslav Communist Partisans managed to capture some of these and put them to use against their former owners.

A Semovente L40 being towed by a German half-track operated by elements of the Partisan 2nd Tank Brigade at the end of the war, 1945. Source: Bojan B. Dumitrijević and Dragan Savić Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu

The Semovente L40 da 47/32

The development of a new light infantry support gun that could support the assault of the Bersaglieri units (Italian Light Assault Troops) started in the late 1930s. The first prototype would be built and tested during 1941. The new vehicle, named Semovente Leggero Modello 1940 da 47/32, or Semovente L40 da 47/32, was based on a modified L6/40 light tank chassis. The modification included the installation of a box shaped superstructure armed with a Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935 gun on top of the L6/40’s unchanged chassis. By May 1943, some 282 were produced, with an additional 120 being produced by the Germans after the armistice, in 1943. The vehicle would see action on many fronts, from the Mediterranean to Russia, but was considered obsolete by the time it was introduced into service.

The Italian Semovente L40 da 47/32. Source: Wiki

Axis invasion of the Balkans

After the fruitless invasion of Greece by Italian forces, Benito Mussolini was forced to ask for help from his German ally. Adolf Hitler agreed to provide assistance, fearing a possible Allied attack through the Balkans would reach Romania and its vital oil fields. On the path of German advance towards Greece stood Yugoslavia, whose government initially agreed to join the Axis side. This agreement was short-lived, as the Yugoslavian government was overthrown by an anti-Axis pro-Allied military coup at the end of March 1941. Hitler immediately gave an order for the preparation of the Invasion of Yugoslavia. The war that began on 6th April 1941 was a short one and ended with a Yugoslavian defeat and the division of its territory between the Axis powers.

Map of the partition of Yugoslavia after the invasion. Slovenia was divided between Germany, Italy, and Hungary. The Croatian puppet state was given most of western Yugoslavia, including Bosnia. Macedonia was divided between Italy, which also took Montenegro, and Bulgaria. Northern Serbia was partitioned between Hungary and Romania. What was left of Serbia was placed under German occupation. Source: Wiki

Italian occupation force

After the collapse of Yugoslavia, the Italian High Command allocated some 24 Divisions to occupation duties. At first, this occupation ran without any problems. However, the Communist and Chetnik uprisings in Serbia and later in other parts of Yugoslavia would cause chaos among the Axis forces. While these initial uprising attempts would be put down, the resistance would only increase in the coming years. During 1942 and 1943, the Italians were hard-pressed to stop the Yugoslavian Partisan activities in their occupation zones. While the Italians maintained large numbers of soldiers, these were actually divided into smaller groups for the defense of vital points, such as railways, supply bases, airports, cities, etcetera, greatly diminishing their combat abilities. The Partisans simply bypassed larger units and instead attacked smaller isolated positions. Then, the Partisans would simply wait for the relief columns before attacking them, causing huge losses. To help battling the Partisans, the Italians used a number of armored vehicles, ranging from simple armored trucks to light tanks.

During 1943, the self-propelled Semovente L40 da 47/32 also appeared in smaller numbers in this war theater. While it did see some service against the Yugoslav Partisans, the Italian surrender to the Allies in September 1943 brought an end to their use, at least by their original owners. The Italian exit from the war caused a race by the remaining Axis and Partisan forces to capture and disarm as many Italian divisions as possible. From September 1943 onwards, the Semovente L40 would see service with the Slovensko Domobranstvo and Croatian forces. On the other side, the Communist Partisans managed to also capture a number of Semovente L40 vehicles and use them against the Axis forces in occupied Yugoslavia.

In Communist Partisan Hands

After September 1943, despite German attempts to prevent Italian weapons and vehicles falling into the hands of the Partisans, many of them did. In part thanks to their quick response, the Partisans managed to acquire a number of Italian armored vehicles. Which exact vehicles and models were captured is generally not known precisely. There is a good chance that at least a few Semoventi L40 da 47/32 were also captured or handed over by Italian soldiers who joined the Yugoslav resistance or bartered for their freedom with their vehicles and weapons. While these vehicles were used against the Axis forces, due to German counterattacks, all were either lost to enemy fire or destroyed by the Partisans to prevent them falling back into enemy hands.

For the remainder of the war, on some occasions, Semovente da 47/32 would fall in hands of the Partisans. One such occasion was with the 1st Tank Brigade during the liberation of Mostar in mid-March 1945. At least one Semovente da 47/32 was captured, but unfortunately, the use of captured armored vehicles by this unit is not well documented and little is known. Another problem is that the Partisans referred to all armored vehicles (tanks, armored cars, and even self-propelled guns) simply as tanks. In some cases, the estimated tonnage of the particular tank would be added.

A Semovente L40 da 47/32 armed with a FIAT-Revelli Mod. 14/35 behind a column of M3 tanks belonging to the Partisan 1st Tank Brigade. Source: B. B. Dumitrijević and D. Savić Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu

It quickly became apparent to the Partisan High Command that their soldiers simply lacked the experience and proper training to efficiently operate the captured armored vehicles. For this reason, a tank training school was to be formed in Serbia (the exact location is unknown) during fall 1944. To efficiently train future tank and anti-tank crews, different types of vehicles from different origins were allocated to this school. Among these, a few Semoventi da 47/32 were also present.

Another Semovente da 47/32 was captured at the start of 1945 in Northern Yugoslavia. Note the machine gun that appears to be a German 7.92 mm MG 34. Source: B. B. Dimitrijević and D.Savić (Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu,, Institut za savremenu istoriju

From 8th to 15th May 1945, the Partisans managed to capture a large number of different military equipment from the retreating Axis forces, including tanks and anti-tank vehicles. Sadly, due to poor Partisan document records, it is almost impossible to determine which types were actually captured. To make matters worse, some Partisan units that did manage to capture enemy armored vehicles did not bother to inform the Supreme Partisan Command about them or even list them in any document. These vehicles were often used until they broke down or ran out of fuel, after which they were simply blown up. Another problem was the lack of Partisan knowledge of their real names. Sometimes, names like Tiger of Panther were used to describe vehicles that were completely different from the real thing. Interestingly, the Partisans referred to the L6 (and possibly the Semovente L40 da 47/32) vehicles either as Fiat, ‘small’ or ‘large’ tanks.

Camouflage and Markings

The Yugoslav Partisans which captured some L40s did not repaint them, keeping the Italian or German camouflage patterns. They added, when possible, Yugoslavian flags or red stars on the sides of the superstructures to avoid friendly fire.

Two Semoventi L40 da 47/32 (the first vehicle is actually a command version based on it) that were captured by the Partisans. The large Yugoslav flag with a red star painted on the sides. Behind them, several other captured vehicles could be seen including an AB 41 armored car, L6/40 light tank. Source: http://beutepanzer.ru/

After The War

After the war, the new Jugoslovenska Narodna Armija (Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA or YPA) still had a number of Semovente L40 da 47/32 anti-tank vehicles. Their use was at best limited due to a lack of spare parts and insufficient armor protection and firepower. Sadly, none of the Yugoslavian Semovente L40 da 47/32 have survived to this day.

Conclusion

The Semovente L40 da 47/32 in Yugoslavia saw service in smaller numbers with nearly all warring parties. The Yugoslav Partisans managed to capture some of these vehicles and put them to use after 1943. The Semovente L40 da 47/32 combat operations in Partisan hands are hard to document. Those that were used surely provided additional firepower, something that the Partisans desperately needed during the war. Due to a general lack of spare parts and ammunition, some would be also used for crew training. Those that survived the war would be operated by the JNA for a short time.

The Semovente L40 in a classic Italian camouflage but sporting the large Partisan flag on the side. Illustration by David Bocquelet, modified by Pavel ‘Carpaticus’ Alexe
L40 da 47/32 specifications
Dimensions (L-W-H) 3.82 x 1.92 x 1.63 m
Total weight, battle-ready 6.5 t
Crew  3 (commander/gunner, driver, loader)
Propulsion Fiat SPA, 6 cyl. gasoline, 68 hp
Speed 42 km/h, 25/20 km/h (cross-country)
Range 200 km
Armament One Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935 gun and one machine gun
Armor 30 mm front, 15 mm sides and rear, and 10 mm floor

 

Sources

3 replies on “Semovente L40 da 47/32 in Partisan service”

in the map caption, please insert a comma following “Montenegro”; the sentence as written implies that the Italians gained control of Bulgaria, which of course was not the case. Obviously what was meant is that both Italy and Bulgaria annexed Yugoslav territory, and Italy also gained control over Montenegro.

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