Kingdom of Italy/Italian Social Republic (1942-1945)
Self-Propelled Gun – 146 Built (1 Prototype + 145 Production)
The Semovente M42M da 75/34 was an Italian Self-Propelled Gun (SPG) developed for the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army) in 1943, but deployed mainly by the Wehrmacht after the Armistice of 8th September 1943. It was the first self-propelled gun produced by the Italian industry with enough anti-tank capabilities to deal with the most modern medium tanks of the Allied powers. After the Armistice, only a few examples of these vehicles were deployed by Mussolini’s led German puppet-state, the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (English: Italian Social Republic).
History of the Project
The first Semovente (Semoventi plural) was the Semovente M40 da 75/18. It was a Carro Armato M13/40 equipped with a casemate armed with a Obice da 75/18 Modello 1934 (English: 75 mm L/18 Howitzer Model 1934). Its design started thanks to the input of Colonel Sergio Berlese of the Servizio Tecnico di Artiglieria (English: Artillery Technical Service), in collaboration with the Servizio Tecnico Automobilistico (English: Automobile Technical Service).
The Regio Esercito ordered 30 vehicles on 16th January 1941, followed by another 30 later. On 11th February 1941, the quickly assembled prototype was tested at the Cornigliano shooting range with great results.
After production of 60 Semoventi M40 da 75/18, the chassis was changed, switching to Carro Armato M14/41 ones. A total of 162 vehicles with the new chassis were produced until 1942, when it was once more changed. Before the Italian Armistice of September 1943, another 66 self-propelled howitzers armed with 75 mm L/18 howitzers were built on the Carro Armato M15/42. This meant that a total of 288 Semoventi da 75/18 were produced on the three chassis variants.
The Regio Esercito’s High Command knew that the 75 mm L/18 howitzer was not a great choice for an armored vehicle’s main gun. Its range was moderate, its precision at long ranges was questionable, and it did not have great anti-tank performance. Because of this, on 21st June 1941, in a document, the Regio Esercito’s High Command clarified that Italian generals preferred the Cannone da 75/34 (English: 75 mm L/34 Cannon). In June 1941, the High Command already understood that the Obice da 75/18 Modello 1934 was not suitable as the main armament of semoventi, but, despite that, the Semoventi da 75/18 were produced until 1943, when new powerful guns entered in service. This is a perfect example of the desperate situation the Italian Regio Escercito found itself in.
In 1941, a Semovente M40 chassis was equipped with a Cannone a Grande Gittata da 75/32 Modello 1937 (English: 75 mm L/34 Long Range Cannon Model 1937). This particular self-propelled gun did not interest the Italian generals due its separate charge rounds and the project was abandoned. The Ansaldo-Fossati plant of Sestri Ponente, near Genoa, had adopted the Cannone a Grande Gittata da 75/32 Modello 1937 instead of the Cannone da 75/34 because the 75/32 was directly derived from the Obice da 75/18 Modello 1934 and many parts of the two guns were common, while, at the time, the Cannone da 75/34 was not yet ready.
History of the Prototype
The order to install a Cannone da 75/34 on a Semovente hull arrived at Ansaldo in October 1942. The delay in production of this semovente was due to the slow development of the cannon and slow production of support parts to mount this gun on the semovente chassis. To exemplify this, the Semovente M42M da 75/34 was delivered only in May 1943, whilst the first Semoventi M42 da 75/18 left the production lines in December 1942, about 6 months earlier.
For the prototype’s production, the Semovente M42 chassis with the license plate Regio Esercito 5844 was modified. Due to the higher recoil of the new gun, the armored superstructure was lengthened 11 cm at the front. An easily noticeable detail is the presence of a third bolt on the frontal angled armored plate’s upper side.
Apart from these structural modifications, the spherical support for the gun was also modified and was placed in the center of the frontal armored plate. Its traverse was 18° to either side (instead of the previous 20° on left and 16° on right) and elevation was from -12° to +22°
The ammunition racks of the Semoventi da 75/18 were modified to permit the transportation of 45 75 mm rounds and 1,344 rounds for the secondary armament.
Because of all these modifications, the new chassis received a new designation: M42M. The first M stood for Medio (English: Medium), the number ‘42’ referenced the year in which it was accepted into service, and the last M meant Modificato (English: Modified) due to the longer casemate and other smaller modifications. This was also the case for the Semovente M41M da 90/53, which, due to the new superstructure and armament, was renamed.
The prototype was tested on 15th March 1943. During testing, the maximum muzzle velocity registered was 618 m/s and maximum firing range was 12,000 m, compared to the 7,000-7,500 m of the Semoventi da 75/18. This allowed the semoventi to perform the role of self propelled artillery as well as tank destroyers. Doctrinally, the Regio Esercito had developed the semoventi as support vehicles. Nevertheless, the Italians, and the Germans after the Italian Armistice, deployed the semoventi mainly as tank destroyers.
The armor was both bolted to an internal frame. This arrangement did not offer the same efficiency as a mechanically welded plate, but facilitated the replacement of an armor element in case it had to be repaired.
The frontal armor of the transmission cover was rounded and 30 mm thick. The upper transmission cover and inspection hatches were 25 mm thick and angled at 80°. The frontal plate of superstructure, including the driver’s slot, was angled at 5° and was 50 mm thick. The sides of the hull and superstructure, angled at 7°, were 25 mm thick.
The back of the superstructure was 25 mm thick angled at 0° and 12°, while the back of the hull was 25 mm thick angled at 20°.
The roof was composed of 15 mm armored plates, horizontal in the first section and then angled to 85°. On the sides of the roof, other 15 mm plates were angled at 65° on the right and to 70° on the left side.
The engine compartment roof and inspection hatches for the engine compartment were composed of 9 mm armored plates angled at 74°. The brakes’ inspection hatches were 25 mm thick, whilst the driver’s port on the front armored plate was 50 mm thick. The floor of the vehicle was a thin 6 mm, which did not protect the crew from mine explosions.
Hull and Casemate
On the left front mudguard, there was a support for the jack. On the sides of the superstructure, there were two headlights for night operations. The engine deck had two large-size inspection hatches which could be opened by 45°. Between the two inspection hatches were the sapper tools, including a shovel, a pickaxe, a crowbar, and a track removal system.
The rear of the vehicle had the horizontal radiator cooling grills and, in the center, the fuel cap. The rear had a towing ring in the center and two hooks on the sides, two spare wheels (which was then reduced to just the one placed on the right), and a license plate on the left side with a brake light. A smoke grenade box was placed on the rear armored plate.
On either side of engine deck, on the rear fenders, there were two storage boxes and the mufflers covered by a steel shield to protect them from impacts.
A total of eight racks for 20-liter cans were placed on the sides of the vehicle, four on each side, just like on other Italian self-propelled guns and tanks. In fact, from 1942 onward, the racks were factory fitted on all vehicles, as most would have gone to operate in Africa, where the cans would have increased the range of the vehicle. It should be noted, however, that on the Semoventi M42M da 75/34, the cans were not transported because they were never sent to North Africa, and it was not necessary to transport a great amount of fuel during operations in Italy, where it was deployed.
On the inside, starting from the front of the vehicle, was the transmission connected to the braking system, which had two armored inspection hatches. These could be opened from outside by means of two handles, or from the inside by means of a knob located on the right side of the vehicle, which could be used by the gunner. On the left was the driver’s seat equipped with a fold-down back for easy access. In front, it had two steering tillers, a driving port that could be closed with a lever, and a hyposcope used when the port was closed. The hyposcope had 19 x 36 cm dimensions and a vertical field of view of 30°, from +52° to +82°. On the left was the dashboard and, on the right, the gun breech.
Behind the driver was the seat for the loader. The loader had, on the left, the radio apparatus and, above him, one of two armored hatches. In case of an attack from the air, the loader would also have to use the anti-aircraft machine gun. On the right side of the fighting compartment was the gunner’s seat without a backrest. In front of his seat, the gunner had the elevation and traverse handwheels.
On the gunner’s right was the support for the anti-aircraft machine gun when not in use, a maintenance kit, and a fire extinguisher. Behind the support was a wooden rack for ammunition for the secondary armament. In order to prevent the magazines from falling on rough terrain, the rack had a closable curtain. Behind the gunner/commander were the ammunition racks for the main gun. On the rear wall were the engine fan, an engine cooling water tank, and the Magneti Marelli batteries. On the rear side of the superstructure were two pistol ports which could be closed by revolving shutters from the inside. These were used for self-defense and to check the rear side of the vehicle in order to avoid the crew having to expose themselves outside of the vehicle. The transmission shaft ran through the entire fighting compartment, dividing it in half.
Engine and Suspension
The Semovente M42M’s engine was inherited from the previous Semovente M42 da 75/18 and Carro Armato M15/42. In addition to the increase in displacement, which increased the overall performance of the vehicle, the novelty was that the new engine worked on gasoline instead of diesel fuel, which had been used by the engines on the Carro Armato M13/40, Carro Armato M14/41, and the SPGs based on their hulls. The change from diesel to gasoline was due to the fact that the Italian diesel reserves were almost completely exhausted in mid-1942.
The new FIAT-SPA 15TB Modello 1942 (‘B’ for ‘Benzina’) petrol, water-cooled 11,980 cm³ engine developed 190 hp at 2,400 rpm (some other sources claim a maximum output of 192 hp or even 195 hp). It was designed by FIAT using the FIAT-SPA 15T Modello 1941, 8-cylinder V-shaped, diesel engine, 11,980 cm³ producing 145 hp at 1,900 rpm as its base. It was produced by FIAT’s subsidiary company, the Società Piemontese Automobili, or SPA (English: Piedmontese Automobile Company).
On the Semoventi M42 and M42M, the engine system was slightly different from the Carro Armato M15/42. They had different starting and lighting systems, engine cooling system, and fuel circulation. In order to start the engine, a Magneti Marelli electric starter was used, but an inertial starter produced by the Onagro company of Turin was also available. The lever for the inertia starter could be inserted outside the vehicle, on the rear, or from the inside of the fighting compartment. Two crewmembers had to turn the crank, reaching about 60 rotations per minute. At that point, the driver could turn the engine button on the dashboard until the first strokes of the engine.
The FIAT-SPA 15TB Modello 1942 engine gave the vehicle a maximum velocity of 38 km/h on-road and 20 km/h off-road. It had an on-road range of 200 km and an off-road range of 130 km, or 12 operational hours.
On the Carro Armato M15/42 and Semovente M42M da 75/34, thanks to the increased space in engine compartment, the tank’s fuel tanks were increased to 367 liters in the main tanks, plus 40 liters in the reserve tank. This gave a total of 407 liters. It is not clear how many liters were transported on the Semovente M42M. In the book Carro M, Carri Medi M11/39, M13/40, M14/41, M15/42 Semoventi e altri Derivati, the authors mention that the vehicle had only 338 liters of fuel in the tanks, while Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano fino al 1943 mentions only 327 liters of fuel in its fuel tanks. This figure is also supported by Ralph Riccio in Italian Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War II.
The engine was connected to a new transmission produced by FIAT, with 5 forward and one reverse gears, one gear more than the previous vehicles.
The suspension was of the semi-elliptical leaf spring type. On each side, there were four bogies with eight doubled rubber road wheels paired on two suspension units in total. This suspension type was obsolete and did not allow the vehicle to reach a high top speed. In addition, it was very vulnerable to enemy fire or mines. Due to the lengthening of the hull, one of the two suspension units was mounted a few inches further back.
The M42 chassis had 26 cm wide tracks with 86 track links per side, six more than the Carri Armati M13/40, M14/41, and Semoventi M40 and M41, due to the hull lengthening.
The drive sprockets were at the front and the idlers with modified track tension adjusters at the back, with three rubber return rollers on each side. The small surface area of the tracks (14,200 cm²) caused a ground pressure of 1.03 kg/cm², increasing the risk that the vehicle would bog down in mud, snow, or sand.
The radio apparatus of the Semovete M42M da 75/34 was an Apparato Ricetrasmittente Radio Fonica 1 per Carro Armato or Apparato Ricevente RF1CA (English: Tank Phonic Radio Receiver Apparatus 1). It was a radiotelephone and radiotelegraph station with a power of 10 Watts in both voice and telegraphy in a 35 x 20 x 24.6 cm sized-box and a weight of about 18 kg. It was placed on the left side of the superstructure, behind the driver’s dashboard.
Operating frequency range was between 27 to 33.4 MHz. It had a range of 8 km in voice mode and 12 km in telegraphics mode. These figures reduced when the self-propelled guns were on the move.
It was powered by an AL-1 Dynamotor supplying 9-10 Watts. The batteries were four NF-12-1-24 Magneti Marelli, each with a voltage of 6 Volts, connected in series. The radio had two ranges, Vicino (Eng: Near), with a maximum range of 5 km, and Lontano (Eng: Afar), with a maximum range of 12 km.
On this semovente, a new antenna was mounted. Previously, the radio’s antenna was mounted on a support which could be lowered by a crank inside the vehicle. The loader had to turn the crank until the 1.8 m antenna was fully raised or fully down. This was a slow operation and the crank occupied space inside the fighting compartment. Starting on the Semovente M41M da 90/53, a new antenna support was mounted on the semoventi. The Semovente M42M’s new antenna had a 360° lowerable support, meaning that it could be folded in any direction. A hook on the left side of the front of casemate permitted it to rest during long drives to avoid it hitting electrical cables or interfering with driving in narrow areas.
The Cannone da 75/34 Modello SF [Sfera] (English: 75 mm L/34 Cannon Model [on Spherical Support]) was derived directly from the Cannone a Grande Gittata da 75/32 Modello 1937 gun designed by the Arsenale Regio Esercito di Napoli or AREN (English: Royal Army Arsenal of Naples).
In the first half of the 1930s, the divisional artillery of the Regio Esercito found itself using First World War era pieces, causing serious problems, as many artillery pieces produced before the 1920s could only be towed by horses or donkeys and not by trucks.
The new Obici da 75/18 Modello 1934 and Modello 1935 had too limited firing range to be used as conventional cannons. The request for a 75 mm long barrel cannon was answered by Ansaldo with a totally new Cannone da 75/36 (English: 75 mm L/36 Cannon) that would nonetheless never enter production. The Naples Arsenal proposed a Cannone da 75/34 obtained by mounting a new barrel, originally 40-calibers long and proposed a few years earlier as a tank gun. It was coupled with the carriage of the Obice da 75/18 Modello 1935 already in service. The Arsenale Regio Esercito di Napoli’s solution proved successful and went into production with a shortened barrel and modified muzzle brake by Ansaldo, thus being renamed Cannone a Grande Gittata da 75/32 Modello 1937.
The modifications of the semovente’s gun, compared to the field version, were limited to the cradle, which was installed on a spherical mount, specially designed by the AREN, that connected the shaft itself to the armor plates of the casemate of the armored vehicle. It was also used on the powerful Carro Armato P26/40.
The sight was mounted on the right side of the main gun, with a small openable hatch for it on the roof. It could be dismounted when not used and the hatch closed.
The secondary armament consisted of a 8 mm Mitragliatrice Media Breda Modello 1938 (English: Breda Medium Machine Gun Model 1938). This gun was developed from the Mitragliatrice Media Breda Modello 1937 medium machine gun after the specifications issued by Ispettorato d’Artiglieria (English: Artillery Inspectorate) in May 1933. It was a specific vehicle-mounted variant and differed from the infantry’s Modello 1937 through a shortened barrel, pistol grip, and a new 24-round top-curved magazine instead of 20-round strip clips. These modifications were made to save up space and ease shooting with them in the cramped spaces inside armored vehicles.
The theoretical rate of fire was 600 rounds per minute, while the practical rate of fire was about 350 rounds per minute. The 8 x 59 mm RB cartridges were developed by Breda exclusively for these machine guns. The 8 mm Breda had a muzzle velocity between 790 m/s and 800 m/s, depending on the round.
On the Semovente M42M da 75/34, the machine gun was mounted on an anti-aircraft support on the vehicle’s roof. When not deployed in an anti-aircraft role, the machine gun was stored on a support on the right sponson of the fighting compartment. Together with the support, in the right sponson, there was a maintenance kit for the machine gun.
Beginning in 1942, Italian factories started to produce a licensed copy of the German Nebelkerzenabwurfvorrichtung or NKAV (English: Smoke Grenade Dropping Device). It was a smoke grenade system that, through a wire connected to a camshaft, dropped a smoke grenade to the ground. Total capacity was 5 Schnellnebelkerze 39 (English: Quick Smoke Grenade 39) smoke grenades. The commander had to pull the wire and the camshaft rotated dropping a smoke grenade. If the commander pulled the wire 5 times, all the 5 Schnellnebelkerze 39 would be released. This system was mounted on the rear of the vehicle, so the smoke screen was created behind the vehicle and not around it, on the front arc.
The Germans began to stop using this system in 1942 in favor of smoke grenade launchers on the turret, because of the problem that grenades fell at the back and the tank had to reverse to hide behind. The Italians, on the other hand, apparently gave no thought to this problem and adopted it in 1942.
It seems that the Italians copied the protected variant called Nebelkerzenabwurfvorrichtung mit Schutzmantel (English: Smoke Grenades Dropping Device with Protective Sheath) with a rectangular protection, even if the Italian and German protections seem different. It is not known if the Italians also produced the Schnellnebelkerze 39 smoke grenades under license or if the Italian vehicles used the grenades imported from Germany. This smoke system was quickly adopted on all the Italian armored tracked vehicles starting from the Carro Armato M15/42 and on all the semoventi on its chassis and, in a smaller version, even on the Autoblinde AB41 and AB43 medium reconnaissance armored cars.
A cylindrical support for spare smoke grenades was also transported on the vehicle. It was fixed on the rear side of the armored superstructure, over the air intake armored plate, and could transport 5 more smoke grenades.
In total, there were 45 rounds for the main gun and 1,344 rounds for the anti-aircraft machine gun. The 75 mm ammunition rounds were stored in two different racks, with 22 and 23 rounds. The 22-round rack had rows of four rounds interspersed with rows of three rounds, while the 23-round rack had rows of five rounds interspersed with rows of four rounds.
The racks were openable from the top, which slowed down the reloading operations. If the gun needed to fire High-Explosive rounds, the loader had to search through the rows for the explosive rounds.
|Ammunition for the Cannone da 75/34 Modello SF|
|Name||Type||Muzzle velocity (m/s)||Weight (kg)||penetration in mm of a RHA angled at 90° at||penetration in mm of a RHA angled at 60° at|
|500 m||1,000 m||500 m||1,000 m|
|Granata Dirompente da 75/32||High-Explosive||570 (estimated)||6.35||//||//||//||//|
|Granata Dirompente da 75/27 Modello 1932||High-Explosive||490||6.35||//||//||//||//|
|Granata Perforante da 75/32||Armor Piercing||637||6.10||70||60||55||47|
|Granata da 75 Effetto Pronto||High-Explosive Anti-Tank||557||5.20||*||*||*||*|
|Granata da 75 Effetto Pronto Speciale (early type)||High-Explosive Anti-Tank||*||5.20||*||*||*||*|
|Granata da 75 Effetto Pronto Speciale Modello 1942||High-Explosive Anti-Tank||399**||5.30||*||*||70||70|
|Notes||* Unavailable data
** Muzzle velocity of the projectile fired from the L/27 gun
The machine gun rounds were increased from 1,104 (i.e. 46 magazines) on the Semoventi M41 and M42 da 75/18 to 1,344 (i.e. 56 magazines) on the Semovente M42M da 75/34. As on the previous semoventi, the machine gun rounds were transported in wooden racks mounted on the sides of the fighting compartment.
The crew of the Semovente M42M da 75/34 was composed, as on all semoventi-based on the Carri Armati M chassis, of 3 soldiers. The driver was positioned on the left of the vehicle. On his right was the gun breech. The commander/gunner was positioned on the right of the gun breech and the loader/radio operator on the left, behind the driver.
This meant that the commander had to inspect the battlefield, spot targets, aim, open fire, and, at the same time, give orders to the rest of the crew and hear all the messages that the radio operator relayed.
Similarly, the loader had to do many tasks too. Loading the gun and operating the radio equipment were the main ones, but he also manned the anti-aircraft machine gun, with the commander/gunner passing him the machine gun magazines. This meant that, when the self-propelled gun was firing with the anti-aircraft machine gun, it could not fire with the main gun, and vice versa. The loader was also the engineer of the crew, with the task of repairing the engine if the vehicle had a breakdown far from the divisional mobile workshop assigned to the unit.
In general, the better trained units were the ones equipped with self-propelled guns. The self-propelled guns were crewed by artillery personnel that had been trained in specific self-propelled gun training schools. For contrast, light tanks were crewed by cavalry personnel and medium tanks by infantry personnel.
Semoventi based on the same Carro Armato M15/42 (and previously on the Carro Armato M13/40 and Carro Armato M14/41) chassis broke down much less often than the medium tanks. This was not because of weight issues, as self-propelled guns weighed roughly as much as medium tanks and were equipped with the same engines (the Carro Armato M15/42 weighed 15 tonnes, the Semovente M42M da 75/34 weighed 15.3 tonnes). The reason why these vehicles were more efficient was because self-propelled gun crews were trained to repair military heavy trucks or prime movers to tow their artillery pieces during their basic artillery training. On the other hand, cavalry and infantry personnel instructed to operate a tank received only limited repair and maintenance training during their short tank courses.
Semoventi M42M da 75/34 Production
The first Semoventi M42M da 75/34 were only ready in May 1943. In July 1943, the Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Sestri Ponente had produced a total of 94 self-propelled guns, of which only 60 were delivered. Some of the known license plates ranged from Regio Esercito 6290 to Regio Esercito 6323.
Unfortunately, due to the confusion that followed the Armistice of September 1943, the production and delivery data for August and the early days of September 1943 are unknown.
In total, the German deployed 36 Semoventi M42M da 75/34 captured from Italian Regio Esercito forces.
The German Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen (English: General Inspector of the Armed Forces) that took control of the Italian industry after the Armistice restarted the production of these self-propelled guns. Between 9th September and 31st December 1943, a total of 50 Semoventi M42M da 75/34 were produced for the Germans. In 1944, another 30 were produced by Ansaldo for the Germans, but of these vehicles, only one was on a M42M chassis. The other ones were produced on the lower and larger M43 chassis, the same as on the Semovente M43 da 75/46.
Ignoring the gap in the production tables concerning the vehicles produced and delivered between 1st August 1943 to 8th September 1943, the total production was of 146 vehicles including the prototype.
If the 39-day gap between August and September 1943 is considered, the total production numbers would surely increase, even if not in a significant way. It is impossible to accurately give an exact number. In those 39 days, Ansaldo-Fossati could have produced several dozen semoventi. By this point, the new Semovente M42M had a high production rate, at least by Italian standards. Furthermore, during this period, the Ansaldo-Fossati plant was not hit by Allied bombardments, which would have slowed down production. After the Armistice, when the Germans restarted production, the Ansaldo-Fossati plant was hit several times by the British and US bombers that caused semoventi production to be suspended for some days. The most significant bombing raids occurred in the nights between 29th and 30th October 1943, 30th and 31st October 1943, and 9th and 10th November 1943.
In many sources, the total number of Semoventi M42M da 75/34 is stated as 174. This is not correct, as this figure also counts the 29 Semoventi M43 da 75/34.
Semoventi M42M da 75/34 Deliveries
Before the Armistice, 24 Semoventi M42M da 75/34 were assigned to the XIX Battaglione Carri Armati M15/42 (English: 19th M15/42 Tank Battalion).
Some were delivered to the 31º Reggimento Fanteria Carrista (English: 31st Tank Crew Infantry Regiment) of Siena. In summer 1943, the Regiment had in its ranks the XV Battaglione Carri and the XIX Battaglione Carri, in which there were only medium tanks, and 6a Compagnia, 7a Compagnia, and 8a Compagnia (English: 6th, 7th and 8th Companies) which were equipped with Semoventi M42M. Due to the limited number of vehicles delivered to the Regio Esercito, it is probable that only some platoons were equipped with long-barreled semoventi or that the full organic was never reached due to the Armistice.
Other Semoventi M42M da 75/34 were assigned to 32º Reggimento Fanteria Carrista (English: 32nd Tank Crew Infantry Regiment) of Verona. It had in its ranks the 1a Compagnia, 2a Compagnia, and 3a Compagnia (English: 1st, 2nd and 3rd Companies). As with the companies of the 31º Reggimento Fanteria Carrista, not all the platoons were equipped with Semoventi M42M or the companies’ ranks were only partially filled with Semoventi M42M.
On 1st July 1943, the XXX Battaglione Semoventi Controcarri (English: 30th Anti-Tank Self-Propelled Gun Battalion) was formed under the command of Major Aldo Riscica. It was assigned to the 30ª Divisione di Fanteria ‘Sabauda’ (English: 30th Infantry Division) with a semoventi company assigned to each of its infantry regiments for infantry support and anti-tank roles. It probably had an organic strength of 18 Semoventi M42M da 75/34.
For the 135a Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete II’ (English: 135th Armored Division), the three company CXXXV Battaglione Semoventi Controcarri (English: 135th Anti-Tank Self-Propelled Gun Battalion) was created.
At least a Semovente M42M da 75/34, with license plate Regio Esercito 6310, was assigned to the Reggimento di Cavalleria ‘Cavalleggeri di Alessandria’ (English: Cavalry Regiment) on 12th July 1943 and was seen in training with Italian soldiers.
The 135a Divisione Cavalleria Corazzata ‘Ariete’ (English: 135th Armored Cavalry Division) was formed on 1st April 1943 in Ferrara. The command of the unit was given to the Brigade General Raffaele Cadorna, former chief of the Pinerolo Cavalry School and son of Luigi Cadorna, the Italian general who won the Italian campaign of the First World War.
After a brief period of training and vehicle deliveries, in late-May or June 1943, the unit was bolstered by the CXXXV Battaglione Semoventi Controcarri that had crewmembers taken from the 32º Reggimento Fanteria Carrista.
The division was later renamed 135a Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete II’ and had in it ranks:
In the end, the Division never received its full complement of the planned 260-270 tanks and self-propelled guns for all its armored regiments. Instead, it only received 40 tanks and self-propelled guns, 50 armored cars (out of 70 planned), and 70 artillery pieces. Other sources claim that the total organic strength was of 247 armored vehicles and 84 artillery pieces, but that, on 8th September 1943, the Division was equipped with 176 armored vehicles and 70 artillery pieces.
Some sources claim that the CXXXV Battaglione Semoventi Controcarri was composed of 12 Semoventi M42M da 75/34 in two companies instead of the 18 in three companies, as stated by other sources. This may mean that not all the self-propelled guns were delivered to the battalion or, maybe, that the vehicles were delivered in two batches on two different occasions.
The CXXXV Battaglione Semoventi Controcarri took part in some of the training that occurred in Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Emilia Romagna regions until 26th July 1943.
On 25th July 1943, the King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele III, ordered the arrest of Benito Mussolini and disbanded his government in favor of a monarchic one, which continued being allied with the Germans.
Before the arrest of the Italian dictator, Rome’s defense (from Allied landings or paratrooper attacks) was assured by the 1ª Divisione Corazzata Camicie Nere ‘M’ (English: 1st Black Shirt Armored Division) that was considered loyal to Mussolini (the Camicie Nere were the most loyal units of the Fascist Army). The new government immediately understood that this Division, deployed on the north side of Rome, could easily carry out a coup d’etat to re-establish the fascist regime.
For these reasons, Marshal Pietro Badoglio, the new Italian Prime Minister, renamed it the 136ª Divisione Legionaria Corazzata ‘Centauro’ (English: 136th Legionnaire Armored Division), ordered its removal from its defensive position near Rome, put pro-monarchic commanders in charge, and expelled the most extremist soldiers. To replace it, the 135a Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete II’ was ordered on 26th July 1943 to reach the capital city. The ‘Ariete II’ Division was tasked with defending Rome from Allied landings or paratrooper attacks and from Italian soldiers loyal to Benito Mussolini.
The CXXXV Battaglione Semoventi Controcarri was placed in the Cesano area, north of Rome, where it continued the training with the semoventi.
When the news of the Armistice’s signing was made public by the Ente Italiano per le Audizioni Radiofoniche or EIAR (English: Italian Body for Radio Broadcasting) at 19:42 of 8th September 1943, Italian units were left confused, as they had not received orders on how to proceed. The CXXXV Battaglione Semoventi Controcarri continued being placed in the area of Cesano. The Battalion was not yet ready for combat and it received only a minor task, to create a defensive line between Osteria Nuova and the Cesano train station. At18:00 of 9th September 1943, the CXXXV Battaglione Semoventi Controcarri retreated with other units of the division to Tivoli, where the Division surrendered to the Germans the next day.
Repubblica Sociale Italiana
After the Armistice, Benito Mussolini was freed by the Germans. He immediately created a new state in the Italian territories not yet under Allied control, the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (English: Italian Social Republic). This was essentially a puppet state under German control. Its army was the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano or ENR (English: National Republican Army) that was supported by its military police, the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana or GNR (English: National Republican Guard).
The Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’ (English: Armored Squadrons Group) of the ENR received a Semovente M42M da 75/34 in Autumn 1944. It was a former Regio Esercito vehicle, with the original license plate Regio Esercito 6303 and the letters Ro Eto deleted by the soldiers loyal to Mussolini.
The Semovente had a brief service life. It was a former Regio Esercito vehicle that was probably captured damaged by the Germans in the days after the Armistice, after its original crew had sabotaged it. It remained under repairs until around autumn 1944. When the vehicle was delivered to the Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’, it had some performance problems that negatively influenced the opinion of its users. Due to mechanical problems, the vehicle was not deployed like other armored vehicles in service with the unit.
In mid-April 1945, the majority of the Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’s’ armored vehicles moved from Mariano del Friuli to Ruppa to fight the Yugoslav partisans. The Semovente M42M da 75/34 was not part of this unit, as it was probably under repair in Mairano. The fate of the only Semovente M42M of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana is unknown. It was probably still under repair when the unit surrendered to the partisans.
A document of the High Command of the new fascist government dated 25th February 1945 lists the vehicles in service with the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ (English: Armored Group) of the GNR. In this list, 24 Semoventi M42M da 75/34 are said to be “in the process of being withdrawn from German service” but nothing more is known. They were never delivered to the Italian armored unit. The semoventi were probably assigned to a German Panzerjäger-Abteilung (English: Anti-Tank Battalion) operating in Italy.
The Italian Partisans took possession of a Semovente M42M da 75/34 in the last days of the war. In late April 1945, in anticipation of the Allied forces arriving and to prevent the Germans from demolishing important targets in North Italy’s most important cities, Italian Partisans carried out a major insurrection organized by the Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale or CLN (English: National Liberation Committee). On 25th April 1945, they entered the cities of Turin, Milan, Genoa and many others, starting to fight the last Nazi-Fascist forces.
Before the partisan insurrection, in Turin, some Partisans infiltrated factories dressed as workers to gather support from the workforce and prepare them to fight against the Fascist forces. One of the factories targeted was the Società Piemontese Automobili plant on Corso Ferrucci 122.
In the latter stages of the war, due to the major damage at the Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Sestri Ponente, part of the assembly of Italian armored vehicles had been moved to SPA in Turin. A Semovente M42M da 75/34 and a pair of Carri Armati M15/42 were in the factory, awaiting repairs. The Partisans and workers finished the assembly and deployed the vehicles in the city’s liberation.
On the afternoon of 26th April 1945, the factory was hit by Nazi-Fascist tank fire that damaged it. The workers fought tenaciously, but the enemy armored vehicles penetrated the main courtyard of the factory. A rain of Molotov cocktails and hand grenades made the enemy forces fall back, leaving behind a burning armored vehicle.
The assembly of the vehicles was finished at 21:00, after the first enemy attack, while the Nazi-Fascist forces prepared for a second attack.
The Axis arrived shortly after 21:00 with two tanks (listed by the Partisan and factory official diary sources as “heavy”, even though they were probably medium tanks), an armored car and some trucks of the Black Brigades. They started to fire on the factory with the vehicle’s guns. The workers and the Partisans were in a desperate situation and low on ammunition. A worker then took a Carro Armato M15/42 and drove out of the factory at high speed. The enemy forces were taken by surprise and retreated, presuming that there were many other tanks ready to fight in the factory. Actually, Società Piemontese Automobili only assembled the tanks and had no ammunition for them in its depots. The three vehicles may have been able to move, but they had no rounds for the main guns or machine guns and only a small amount of fuel.
If the Partisan Semovente M42M da 75/34 was deployed in other actions is not known. Considering the scarcity of 75 mm rounds for the Cannone da 75/34, it is unlikely it saw much action against the Fascist forces. Once the Partisans liberated Turin, the Semovente M42M da 75/34 was paraded through the city’s streets on 2nd May 1945, alongside other vehicles deployed by the Partisans to free the city or captured during the fighting.
In German service, the Beute Sturmgeschütz M42 mit 75/34 851(Italienisch) (English: Captured Assault Gun M42 with 75/34 Code 851 [Italian]), as the Germans renamed it, was deployed mainly in Italy, even if some German units deployed the Sturmgeschütz M42 in the Balkans and Eastern Europe.
The German judgment on the Italian long-barreled self-propelled gun was better than the ones on the Beute Sturmgeschütz M41 and M42 mit 75/18 850(i) (Semoventi M41 and M42 da 75/18). The Cannone da 75/34 was considered capable of dealing with the majority of Allied medium tanks at short ranges, such as in an ambush position. Thanks to their small dimensions and limited weight, Beute Sturmgeschütz M42 mit 75/34 851(i) were deployed by Germans to quickly ambush advancing Allied columns and then move to hide to avoid the Allied planes called to intervene in the area. Even though it was a desperate defensive strategy, it was successful, and many German units successfully slowed down the Allied advance through Italy.
In total, the German forces captured 36 Semoventi M42M da 75/34 that had already been produced for the Regio Esercito. After September 1943, the production was restarted and a total of 51 Sturmgeschütz M42 mit 75/34 were produced and delivered to the Germans.
Semovente M43 da 75/34
In 1944, a total of 29 Semoventi da 75/34 were produced for the Germans on the M43T chassis (where the T stands for Tedesco – German). It was essentially a Semovente M43 da 75/46 armed with a Cannone da 75/34 Modello SF. The engine compartment remained unchanged. The main differences between the M42 and M43 chassis was that the new chassis was 4 cm longer, reaching a length of 5.10 m (18 cm more than the M40 and M41 chassis), 17 cm wider (2.40 m compared to 2.23 m of the M42), and 10 cm lower (1.75 m compared to 1.85 m of the M42). Finally, the flameproof armor plate separating the engine compartment from the fighting compartment was moved back 20 cm, increasing the space for the crew.
These modifications were initially intended for the Semovente M43 da 105/25 armed with a large howitzer with greater recoil, but were also adapted for the Semovente M43 da 75/34 and for the Semovente M43 da 75/46.
In these two self-propelled guns, the superstructure’s shape was changed because of the addition of 25 mm armored plates on the front and sides.
In the first period of their production, the Semoventi M42M da 75/34 were delivered by Ansaldo-Fossati in a Kaki Sahariano (English: Saharan Khaki) desert camouflage, which was the standard one until early 1943. An example is the Semovente M42M da 75/34 seen during training in Friuli-Venezia Giulia which spots this camouflage.
After only a few vehicles were delivered, the camouflage was then changed by a new Regio Esercito High Command circular. The new 3-tone Continentale (English: Continental) camouflage was painted on all to-be-delivered vehicles. The Continentale consisted of a Kaki Sahariano base with reddish brown and dark green spots.
There are no images of Semoventi M42M da 75/34 of the Regio Esercito with any insignia or coat of arms, but, as on all Italian vehicles, a 63 cm diameter white circle was painted over the vehicle’s fighting compartment hatches for air recognition.
The Semovente of the Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’ was delivered to the unit in the standard Kaki Sahariano camouflage, but was probably repainted in late 1944 with the unit’s camouflage. It consisted of reddish brown and dark green vertical lines.
The Semovente M42M da 75/34 assembled by the Partisans was also in the standard Kaki Sahariano. This camouflage remained the standard color of the armored vehicles of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ that operated in the city. To avoid friendly fire, the Partisans painted Communist symbols, such as a hammer and sickle, on the vehicle, together with the Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale and Società Piemontese Automobili acronym and also names of fallen comrades, such as ‘Piero’. The word ‘Nembo’ was also written in white on the gun barrel and rear armored plate, and it probably referred to the 184ª Divisione Paracadutisti ‘Nembo’ (English: 184th Paratrooper Division), but the exact reason is actually unknown.
The Semovente M42M da 75/34 was one of the last Italian projects that had time to be produced before the Armistice. It was a vehicle of questionable capabilities. It was built on an inadequate chassis that was cramped in the inside and subject to frequent breakdowns. One of its main drawbacks was its small crew, who were forced to carry out too many tasks, limiting the effectiveness of the Semovente M42M da 75/34 as a weapon of war. On the other hand, its main armament was adequate to deal with many Allied medium tanks, something which its predecessors had been unable to.
It was also produced in high numbers, at least by Italian standards, with over 145 vehicles built. These actually barely saw service with a few Italian units before the Armistice. After this, a dozen German divisions deployed in Italy and in the Balkans would use it for the rest of the conflict.
Semovente M42M da 75/34 Specification
|Size (L-W-H)||???? x 2.28 x 1.85 m|
|Weight, battle ready||15.3 tonnes|
|Crew||3 (Commander/gunner, driver, and loader/radio operator)|
|Engine||FIAT-SPA 15TB M42, petrol, water-cooled 11,980 cm³, 190 hp at 2400 rpm with 327 liters|
|Armament||1 Cannone da 75/34 Modello SF with 45 rounds and 1 Mitragliatrice Media Breda Modello 1938 with 1,344 rounds|
|Armor||50 mm front and 25 mm sides and rear|
|Production||1 prototype and at least 145 serial vehicles|
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