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WW2 RSI SPA-Viberti AS43

SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotetta

Italian Social Republic (1944-1945)
Armored Personnel Carrier – 2 to 4 Built

The SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotetta (English: Protected Car) was a wheeled Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) produced by the soldiers of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ (English: Armored Group) based on a Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS43 light unarmored reconnaissance vehicle.

The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ was part of the new military police of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI (English: Italian National Republic), the pro-German Italian republic founded after the Italian Armistice with the Allied Powers on 8th September 1943.

A SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotetta on a street in Turin on 20th May 1944. Source: wikipedia.com

Context

After the fall of Tunisia in May 1943, the Italian Fascist Government began to fragment due to the loss of public support caused by the continued military defeats and the hardships civilians had to endure.

On 25th July 1943, the King of Italy Vittorio Emanuele III alongside some Royal Army officers and Fascist politicians took over control of the country. Benito Mussolini was arrested on charges of having dragged Italy into the war.

For more than two months, the Kingdom of Italy continued the war fighting the Allied powers, but under a new Monarchical government with Marshal Pietro Badoglio as prime minister.

In late August, Badoglio initiated negotiations for an armistice with the Allies. On 3rd September 1943, the Cassibile Armistice was signed and it went into effect at 19:42 on 8th September 1943.

Italian troops were taken by surprise by the Armistice announcement and were left without orders while the German troops expected these actions and quickly activated Fall Achse (English: Operation Axis). Between 8th to 23rd September 1943, German soldiers managed to kill 29,000 Italian soldiers and captured more than a million others. In addition, the Germans captured over 1.3 millions of rifles, machine guns and submachine guns, 17,058 mortar, anti-tanks, anti-aircrafts and field artillery pieces, 16,631 trucks, cars and motorcycles, and 977 armored fighting vehicles.

During Fall Achse, on 12th September 1943, a group of German Fallschirmjäger performed a daring action, Fall Eiche (English: Operation Oak), freeing Mussolini from prison. On 23rd September 1943, with German backing, he created, in the German-occupied Italian territories, the Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI (English: Italian Social Republic) with the new fascist party, the Partito Fascista Repubblicano (English: Republican Fascist Party) in the German-occupied Italian territories. The RSI’s army was the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano or ENR (English: National Republican Army) and its military police corps the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana or GNR (English: National Republican Guard).

These two forces were poorly equipped, apart from some rare exceptions, and had few armored fighting vehicles. The units solved the problem themselves by armoring some vehicles with scrap metal plates. The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ decided to weld some armored plates received from the Arsenale di Torino (English: Turin Arsenal) on some Camionette SPA-Viberti AS43 received from Officine Viberti.

Design

Camionetta FIAT-SPA AS43

The Camionetta Desertica FIAT-SPA AS43 or SPA-Viberti AS43 was an Italian light reconnaissance unarmored vehicle developed for North African service as a cheaper, lighter, and easier to produce variant of the SPA-Viberti AS42 ‘Sahariana’.

In Italian, the term ‘Camionetta’ (plural Camionette) designates unarmored cars, jeeps, or light trucks used in reconnaissance and infantry support roles.

Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS43 with the waterproof tarpaulin. It is unarmed and has Pirelli Tipo ‘Raiflex’ tires. Source: Le Camionette del Regio Esercito

The AS43 was developed by the Società Piemontese Automobili or SPA (English: Piedmontese Automobile Company), a FIAT subsidiary, and by Officine Viberti, both based in Turin. The project began using the chassis of the FIAT-SPA AS37 (AS for Autocarro Sahariano – Saharian truck) light lorry, itself derived from the FIAT-SPA Trattore Leggero Modello 1937 ‘Libia’ (English: Light Tractor Model 1937) light prime mover.

The SPA-Viberti AS43 was produced from mid-1943 until the 8th September 1943 Armistice. After the German occupation of Northern Italy, the vehicles were examined by the Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen (English: Inspector General of the Armed Forces), which tested the vehicles and considered them positively. The production restarted with some modifications until the end of the war for the Wehrmacht and the Luftwaffe.

The FIAT-SPA AS37 chassis was lowered from a ground clearance of 390 mm to 345 mm. The cab was completely modified, apart from the hood and the radiator grille. The side doors, the windshield, the roof, and the third seat were removed. The cargo bay was completely modified. The spare wheel was moved from behind the cab to the cargo bay’s rear to free up space. The spare wheel was placed on a movable support that the crew could lower to allow the main gun to shoot at 0° elevation. The loading bay’s sides were fixed and could not be lowered, but were wide enough to permit the main gun 360° traverse.

Developed as a desert vehicle, there were two lockers on the sides, between the rear mudguard and the commander and driver’s seats. Each lockers could store five 20 liters jerry cans. Another six could be placed on the mudguards, two for each rear mudguard, and one for each frontal mudguard. This totaled 16 20 liters jerry cans for drinkable water, engine lubricant oil, and fuel. Obviously, given its use mainly in the Italian peninsula, the jerry cans were rarely carried and the side lockers transported ammunition for the main gun.

The SPA-Viberti AS43 prototype with Pirelli Tipo ‘Raiflex’ tires. Source: Italian Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War II

The main gun of the Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS43 was usually a Cannone da 47/32 Modello 1935 or Modello 1939 support gun or a Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 anti-aircraft gun. The vehicle commander was also armed with a Breda Modello 1937 or Modello 1938 medium machine gun on a support mounted on the left side of the cab. The ammunition was placed in a small rack between the driver and commander’s seats.

Engine and Suspension

The SPA-Viberti AS43 was all-wheel drive, as on the AS37. On this new vehicle, only the front wheels steered, reducing the mechanical complexity and the need for complex maintenance of the steering system.

The front wheels had independent coil spring suspension coupled with hydraulic shock absorbers, which guaranteed great comfort on rough terrain. The rear wheels had inverse leaf springs, but these were reinforced compared to those of the TL37 light prime mover.

There are doubts about the brakes. Italian Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War II, written by Ralph Riccio, mentions that the Camionetta had hydraulic brakes, while Le Camionette del Regio Esercito, written by Enrico Finazzer and Luigi Carretta, makes no mention of modifications to the original AS37 desert light truck, which had mechanical brakes with the brake pedal acting on pairs of brake jaws for each wheel.

Poor quality photo of the SPA 18VT engine. Source: Le Camionette del Regio Esercito

The engine was a more powerful version of the one used on FIAT-SPA AS37, the SPA 18VT 4-stroke, 4-cylinder, petrol 4,053 cm³ engine delivering 73 hp (or 75 hp, depending on the source) at 2,000 rpm. This gave a maximum fully-loaded on-road speed of 68.5 km/h. This was a powered version of the FIAT-SPA 18TL 4,053 cm³ engine, which delivered 52 hp at 2,000 rpm on the AS37. The gearbox was the same as on the AS37, with 5 forward and 1 reverse gears.

The fuel tank had a capacity of 120 liters, giving a range of 750 km on road and 1,120 km with the 20 liters cans.

Structure

Officine Viberti in Turin, a company with 1,780 workers, specialized, before the war, in producing bodyworks for Lancia and FIAT trucks. During the war, it also produced some autocannoni for Ansaldo and produced the frames of the Camionette that were produced jointly with SPA.

The SPA-Viberti AS42 ‘Sahariana’ and the subsequent ‘Metropolitana’ proved adequate, but the Regio Esercito needed something lighter and cheaper. The Technical Department of the Officine Viberti took the experience gained from the North African Campaign with the Autocarro Sahariano 37 light lorry, the Camionetta AS37 and the Camionetta Desertica Modello 1943 (English: Desert Camionetta Model 1943) in order to design something new.

The FIAT-SPA Autocarro Sahariano 37 during off road trials. Source: Le Camionette del Regio Esercito
A Camionetta Desertica Modello 1943 armed with a Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 and a Breda Modello 1937 machine gun. Source: ladigetto.it

The AS37 frame was taken and lowered from a ground clearance of 390 mm to 345 mm. The cab was totally modified, apart from the hood and the radiator grille. The side doors, the windshield, the roof and the third seat were removed.

Camionette SPA-Viberti AS43s ready for delivery at the SPA Plant. The first one is equipped with Pirelli Tipo ‘Sigillo Verde’ tires, whilst the second one with Tipo ‘Artiglio’. Source: Le Camionette del Regio Esercito

Modifications

The Camionette were probably modified by workers in one of the FIAT plants or workshops in Turin in mid-1944. The armored plates used on the vehicles were donated to the unit by the Arsenale di Torino which, at that time, was responsible for the production of other improvised armored vehicles, such as the SPA-Viberti AS43 Blindata and some Lancia 3Ro protected by armored plates and armed with 20 mm automatic cannons.
The official documentation mention that the Arsenale di Torino gave “Four armor sets for Autoprotette” to the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’, so it is logical to suppose that at least four vehicles were converted.

In the book Italia 1943-45 I Blindati di Circostanza della Guerra Civile written by Paolo Crippa, it is mentioned that the vehicles were converted by the Autoparco della GNR in Piacenza. However, it does not seem plausible that the armored plates were sent to Piacenza to modify the vehicles.

The frontal radiator grille and engine hood were left unchanged and unarmored. The armored windshield for the driver, found on the right, could be lowered, while the left front part was protected by an angled armored plate with a spherical support for a medium machine gun.

The sides and rear were also protected by angled armored plates of small thickness, probably enough to stop small arms bullets. These were probably 4.5 mm or a little more in thickness, probably in order not to weigh down the vehicle too much.

There were two slots on each side, one for the commander or driver towards the front and one in the center of the troop transport compartment. There were no armored doors and the crew had to climb over the armored superstructure to get in and out.

The rear was composed of angled armored plates with a spherical mount for a medium machine gun. There was enough space on the rear to keep the spare wheel support unmodified.

The rear of the SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotetta with a three-tone camouflage scheme. The armored superstructure shape is clearly visible. The vehicle was deprived of 20 liters can supports. The tires were Pirelli Tipo ‘Artiglio’. Source: pinterest.com

The vehicle had no roof. This was a problem in case of rain or if enemy troops threw Molotov cocktails or hand grenades inside the vehicle. The absence of a roof also meant that the soldiers transported could fire from inside, exposing themselves partially outside the vehicle.

On the frontal mudguards, the 20 liters can supports were removed and on top were mounted supports for the 18.8 kg tripods for the machine guns. This allowed the troops to use them on the ground. The rear 2 can supports were removed. On Italian territory, it was not necessary to expand the maximum range of the vehicle.

At the front of the vehicle sat the driver on the right and the commander on the left, who also operated the frontal machine gun. The cargo bay was spacious enough to accommodate two benches for six fully equipped soldiers, three per side, one of which operated the rear machine gun.

Main Armament

The main armament of the SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotetta was composed of two Breda Modello 1937 medium machine guns.

This gun was developed after the specifications issued by the Ispettorato d’Artiglieria (English: Artillery Inspectorate) in May 1933. Different Italian gun companies started working on the new machine gun. The requirements were a maximum weight of 20 kg, a theoretical rate of fire of 450 rounds per minute and a barrel life of 1,000 rounds. The companies were: Metallurgica Bresciana già Tempini (English: Metallurgica Bresciana formerly Tempini), Società Italiana Ernesto Breda per Costruzioni Meccaniche (English: Italian Ernesto Breda Company for Mechanical Constructions), Ottico Meccanica Italiana (English: Optician Italian Mechanics), and Scotti.

Breda Modello 1937 disassembled. Source: italie1935-45.com

Breda had been working since 1932 on a 7.92 mm machine gun derived from the 13.2 mm Breda Modello 1931 heavy machine gun, which had been adopted by the Italian Regia Marina (English: Royal Navy), but with a horizontal magazine feed. Between 1934 and 1935, the models developed by Breda, Scotti, and Metallurgica Bresciana già Tempini were tested.

The Comitato Superiore Tecnico Armi e Munizioni (English: Superior Technical Committee for Weapons and Ammunition) in Turin issued its verdict in November 1935. The Breda project (now rechambered for the 8 mm cartridge) won. A first order for 2,500 units of the Breda medium machine gun was placed in 1936. After operational evaluation with the units, the weapon was adopted in 1937 as the Mitragliatrice Breda Modello 1937 (English: Breda Model 1937 Machine gun).

The weapon was famous for its robustness and accuracy, despite its annoying tendency to jam if lubrication was insufficient. Its weight was considered too large compared to foreign machine guns of the time. It weighed 19.4 kg and its tripod had a weight of 18.8 kg, making this weapon the heaviest medium machine gun of the Second World War.

The practical rate of fire, which was about 200-250 rounds per minute, was considered a bit low. The machine gun was fed by 20-round rigid strips. After firing, instead of ejecting the spent casings like all firearms, the Breda Mod. 37 reinserted it into the rigid strip to facilitate the recovery of reusable spent casings.

A Mitragliatrice Breda Modello 1937 used by Italian troops in the Eastern Front. Note the 15-strip wooden crate with the 20-round strips. Source: italie1935-45.com

The machine gun shot 8 x 59 mm RB cartridges developed by Breda exclusively for machine guns. The 8 mm Breda had a muzzle velocity between 790 m/s and 800 m/s, depending on the round type. The armor piercing ones penetrated 11 mm of non-ballistic steel angled at 90° at 100 meters.

Breda Model 1937 used by the Marine Infantry. Source: italie1935-45.com

Deployed with infantry battalions and divisional corps machine gun units, the Breda Mod. 37 fought on all fronts during the Second World War. As of October 1939, the Regio Esercito had 17,690 Breda Mod. 37 machine guns and the Milizia per la Difesa Antiaerea Territoriale, or DICAT (English: Militia for Territorial Anti-Aircraft Defense) had 101, while another 11,098 were on order. By June 1942, 25,171 weapons had been delivered and the monthly production capacity of the Breda Mod. 37 reached 1,000 units. In the first half of 1943, 4,000 were delivered. After the Armistice of 8th September 1943, production continued for the Germans, which received 1,300 between 1st October 1943 and 30th September 1944.

Nothing is known about the number of rounds transported by the vehicle. They were probably stored in standard 15-strip wooden crates placed on the floor of the cargo bay, under the wooden benches or in the lockers on the sides.

Operational Use

The exact number of SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotetta, or AS43 Protetta (English: Protected) produced is unknown, as is their construction date.

At least two different vehicles are recorded through photographic evidence. Photos show that one of the vehicles had the license plate ‘GNR 438’ or ‘GNR 4381’. They were probably produced after 23rd May 1944. They were not spotted in a parade of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ in Turin on that day. Their first appearance was on 25th July 1944, during a parade of the unit in the city of Milan.

The book Italia 1943-45 I Blindati di Circostanza della Guerra Civile, published in July 2014, mentions that the vehicles were assigned to the 1ª Compagnia Arditi Autocarrati (English: 1st Company of Motorized Arditi) that was deployed in Turin, Milan, and the surrounding areas. In the book I Carristi di Mussolini, published in May 2019, Paolo Crippa mentions that the AS43 Autoprotette were used by the 2ª Compagnia Guastatori (English: 2nd Saboteurs Company). It is unclear if this inconsistency between the sources is due to a mistake or new information having become available since publication.

The two companies were created in Montichiari near Brescia on 29th September 1943, with soldiers from the 1ª Divisione Corazzata CC.NN. ‘M’ (English: 1st Black Shirts Armored Division ‘M’, ‘M’ for Mussolini). The unit was renamed after the arrest of Mussolini on 25th July 1943.

In spite of the change of name, the unit remained faithful to Mussolini and Fascism and did not take part in the fighting that broke out against the Germans on 8th September 1943. It surrendered without fighting in the following days, delivering all the equipment to the 2. Fallschirmjäger-Division. On 21st September, the remaining troops, 3 officers and 60 soldiers, were transferred to Montichiari.

On 9th February 1944, the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ moved to Turin with the 1ª Compagnia Arditi Autocarrati commanded by Capitano Aristide Lissa. It was stationed at the Dogliani Barrack in Via Savona 3. The 2ª Compagnia, commanded by Capitano Zerbio, was stationed at the Da Bormida Barrack in Corso Galileo Ferraris.

The companies were involved in dozens of anti-partisan operations in the Turin and Milan areas and protecting convoys on the A4 Highway that connected the two cities.

The first action during which the AS43 Autoprotette probably took part was Operation Köln from 11th to 22nd June 1944, when the two ‘Leonessa’ companies were deployed with an unspecified number and type of vehicles. During this action, Capitano Aristide Lissa was killed and the 1ª Compagnia Arditi Autocarrati was nicknamed ‘Lissa’ in his honor.

In June 1944, the continuous influx of new recruits and the arrival of new vehicles allowed the unit to change its composition. The 1ª Compagnia Arditi Autocarrati ‘Lissa’ was renamed 1ª Compagnia Carri ‘Lissa’ (English: 1st Tank Company) equipped with tanks, the 2ª Compagnia Guastatori was renamed 2ª Compagnia Autoblindo (English: 2nd Armored Car Company) equipped with armored cars and armored personnel carriers, and the 3ª Compagnia Arditi (English: 3rd Arditi Company) was created.

On 25th July 1944, the first anniversary of the fall of Fascism, General Renato Ricci organized a parade in Milan to demonstrate that Fascism was invincible, at least according to him. A delegation of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ was called to parade in the streets of Milan. Some tanks, trucks full of soldiers, and at least one SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotetta of the unit were present.

They arrived and lined up on the morning of 25th July at Porta Venezia, where Gen. Ricci reviewed the unit and handed it the combat flag. After the ceremony, the delegation of the ‘Leonessa’ along with other units, in total 3,500 soldiers and 275 female auxiliaries, paraded, passing through Piazza del Duomo, where a huge crowd was waiting for them. The civil and military authorities of the city, as well as a delegation of German officers, participated.

A SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotetta in Piazza del Duomo in Milan during the parade of 25th July 1944. The ‘Leonessa’’s coat of arms is visible on the side. Source: I Carristi di Mussolini

The unit was then deployed in many anti-partisan actions, where the autoprotette were most probably employed. One of these was Operation Straßburg from 5th September to 5th October 1944, in the Lanzo Valley and Susa Valley. An AB41 was knocked out in Viù by some improvised grenades launched by Communist Partisans on 12th September, but the crew survived. On 25th September 1944, in Giaveno, in the Susa Valley, a unit of the 2ª Compagnia Autoblindo, under Major Antonio Braguti’s command was deployed, with two tanks of the ‘M’ series (an M13/40 and an M15/42), 2 L6/40 light reconnaissance tanks, an autoprotetta, and 70 soldiers. The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ was supported by some units of the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani or RAP (English: Anti-Partisan Group) and of the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ (English: 1st Black Brigade) of Turin.

The Partisan presence in the Langhe and Monferrato areas during the Repubblica Partigiana di Alba existence. The arrows show the Axis attack while the purple arrows show the Partisan retreats. Source: wikipedia.com

Some time after, on 10th October 1944, some partisan units liberated the city of Alba, 50 km south of Turin. The Repubblica Partigiana di Alba (English: Partisan Republic of Alba) remained free for 23 days. On 2nd November 1944, units of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana, such as the 2ª Compagnia Autoblindo of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’, the Black Brigades of Turin and Cuneo, the I° Reparto Arditi Ufficiali and a platoon of the II° Reparto Arditi Ufficiali of the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani, the X Battaglione Speciale, and some units of the Xª Divisione MAS, such as the Battaglione ‘Lupo’ and ‘Fulmine’, Gruppi d’artiglieria da Campagna ‘Da Guissano’ and ‘San Giorgio’, attacked the partisans. The Fascist troops counted over 1,000 soldiers and auxiliaries. The Partisan units that defended the city were the IIª Divisione Langhe, the 48ª Brigata Garibaldi ‘Dante Di Nanni’, the 78ª Brigata Garibaldi, Brigata ‘Castellino’, and the Brigata ‘Canale’.

The SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotette probably took part in the recapture of the city of Alba, together with an improvised armored car based on the same chassis of the Battaglione ‘Fulmine’, the SPA-Viberti AS43 Blindata. The armored vehicles were probably not used in action due to the impossibility of ferrying armored vehicles across the River Tanaro.

Neither Partisan nor Fascist sources report the use of armored vehicles, which had probably remained on the hills and on the north bank of the Tanaro, providing, if possible, fire support to the Fascist troops. The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ only lost a single wounded soldier, a tank crew member that was hit by splinters from a partisan-manned mortar.

After the recapture of Alba, the unit was used only for escort duties until February 1945. On 21st February 1945, 2 Carri Armati M13/40s, two AB41 medium armored cars, and two autoprotette (model unspecified, but probably the AS43 ones) took part in an anti-partisan operation in Mondonio, near Villanova d’Asti. The unit was supported by the XXIX Battaglione ‘M’, the 1ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico of the GNR Command in Turin, and a unit of the Xª Divisione MAS. That day was unsuccessful and only one partisan was found and killed.

The Autoprotetta took part in an anti-partisan operation in the Villanova d’Asti region, in March 1945, where the last big clashes between the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ and the Partisans took place.

One of these actions, organized by the commander of the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani, Colonel Alessandro Ruta, started on 6th March 1945. The action was headed by Major Gino Cera of the Compagnia Ordine Pubblico of the GNR. This anti-partisan action had the objective of reoccupying the towns of Cisterna d’Asti and Santo Stefano Roero, captured in the previous days by the partisans that also sabotaged the Genoa to Turin railway.

In Santo Stefano Roero, between 8th and 9th March, a column composed of a platoon of the 1ª Compagnia Carri, with two AB41s and an AS43 Autoprotetta (not clear why it was assigned to this company), two platoons of the 3ª Compagnia Arditi, some units from the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani, about 80 militiamen of the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’, a company of the Battaglione Ordine Pubblico (English: Public Order Battalion) of Turin, the Company Arditi Sciatori, and 25 soldiers of the Distaccamento ‘Umberto Cumero’ of the Xª Divisione MAS, a total of about 350 soldiers and auxiliaries, was ambushed by about 1,000 Partisans. The Partisan units were: 6ª Divisione Autonoma Alpina ‘Asti’ with three brigades, Divisione Matteotti ‘Tre Confini’ with five brigades, and 103ª Brigata Garibaldi ‘Rolandino’.

The AB41 commanded by Lieutenant Fossati was the opening vehicle of the column. Behind the armored car was a FIAT 666NM truck with a trailer full of militiamen, followed by the SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotetta of Lieutenant Berneschi, and then some more trucks full of soldiers and a Lancia Lince scout car of the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani.

The Rimorchio Unificato Viberti da 15t trailer attached to the FIAT 666NM, abandoned on the roadside after the battle. Source: I Carristi di Mussolini

The column was ambushed at the entrance of the city by the Partisan forces. Almost immediately, bullets pierced one of the tires of the armored car of Lt. Fossati, immobilizing it. The truck behind it was hit from the side, with many of the soldiers on board killed. The truck was set on fire.

Lt. Berneschi ordered the driver of the autoprotetta to overtake the stuck AB41 to support the ambushed Fascist soldiers and keep the Partisans occupied with its suppressing fire.

The SPA-Viberti AS43 started to move and open fire but was immediately hit by several light-weapon bursts and also burst into fire. Lieutenant Berneschi then ordered the transported soldiers to exit the AS43 Autoprotetta and continued to open fire with the frontal machine gun.

He probably managed to fire several magazines, and while reloading, he exposed himself. He was hit by some bullets in the chest and died. Lieutenant Fossati was wounded by a ricocheting bullet as he got out of the armored car, trying to repair the pierced tire.

The FIAT 666NM burned out after the battle, abandoned on the roadside. From this angle, the trailer is not visible. Source: I Carristi di Mussolini

The remaining vehicles reached the nearby city of Canale, abandoning the burning FIAT 666NM with its two-axle 15 tonnes trailer, the burning SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotetta, and the Lancia Lince of the RAP (which was later captured by the Partisans). It is unclear whether the AB41 armored car of Lt. Fossati was able to retreat or whether it was abandoned on the road after the injury of Lt. Fossati. The Partisans were not able to take possession of it. Apart from Lt. Berneschi, the Fascists suffered 3 (another source claimed 8) casualties and many wounded.

In the following day, with the help of some artillery pieces of the RAP which had arrived from Turin, the Fascist forces retreated to Turin, abandoning the ground. In total, the Fascist losses in the 3-days operations were 27 (at least 18 of the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’) dead and 32 wounded. Partisan losses were fewer. The funerals took place on 12th March 1945.

A bad-quality photo of the SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotetta burned out at Santo Stefano Roero. The reason why it was overturned is unknown, but probably took place after the battle. Source: I Carristi di Mussolini

On 23rd March 1945, on the anniversary of the foundation of the first Fascist units in Italy, the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ paraded on the streets of Turin. The Secretary of the Partito Fascista Repubblicano’s, Alessandro Pavolini, participated for the last time.

Some of the surviving light and medium tanks, self-propelled guns, and armored cars of the unit, such as one M14/41, 2 AB41s, one Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43, and the SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotetta registered GNR 438, which carried a soldier with the unit’s war flag, were at the parade.

The SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotetta appearing in the 23rd March 1944 parade. The plate GNR 438(1) is partially visible. Source: I Carristi di Mussolini

During the Great Partisan Insurrection of 25th April 1945, the Partisans of the Piemonte region started to attack the city of Turin, where the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ was stationed. The fighting lasted until 27th April, but the operations of the SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotette are not mentioned in official documents. At 1:40 am of 28th April 1945, about 5,000 fascist soldiers and auxiliares met up in Piazza Castello, the main square in Turin, and started the retreat to Lombardia.

The vehicle with the registration plate GNR 438 was captured by the US Army forces in Strambino Romano near Ivrea, 40 km north of Turin, when the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ surrendered to the Allied forces on 5th May 1945.

The vehicles of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ parked in a field in Strambino Romano. Three Carri Armati M15/42s, a Carro Armato M14/41, a Carro Armato M13/40, and an M42 command tank are in the foreground. Behind the last M15/42, on the first row, is the last AS43 Autoprotetta of the unit. Source: I Carristi di Mussolini

Camouflage and Markings

The SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotette were painted in standard Kaki Sahariano Chiaro (English: Light Saharan Khaki) used on all the Italian armored cars and camionette until mid-1943.

Front view of the SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotetta without a license plate. It was painted in Kaki Sahariano Chiaro monochrome camouflage scheme. The lictorial beam with the red ‘m’ and the acronym GNR are visible on the left fender. Source: Le Camionette del Regio Esercito

The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ coat of arms, an ‘m’ in lowercase italics painted red, which was the symbol of Mussolini was painted on the vehicles. A lictorian beam, the symbol of the Partito Fascista Repubblicano, intersected the ‘m’ transversely, and the acronym GNR was painted in red under it.

The Autoprotette also received the Continentale (English: Continental) three-tone camouflage scheme. It was the standard Italian camouflage scheme for the vehicles produced after the end of the North African Campaign, when it became obvious that the peninsula had to be defended from Allied attacks and a desert camouflage was no longer suitable for the purpose.

Close-up of the AS43 Autoprotetta with three-tone camouflage spotted at the 23rd March 1944 parade in Via Po, Turin. The camouflage scheme with the coat of arms painted on the mudguards and the machine gun tripod fixed above are clearly visible. Source: I Carristi di Mussolini

They had a Kaki Sahariano Chiaro base covered with reddish brown and dark green spots. It was adopted on the Autoprotette after December 1944. The vehicles spotted from 23rd March until April 1945 had this camouflage pattern. During the application of the new camouflage pattern, the coat of arms of the vehicles was not all covered over. The front fenders remained while the sides were covered.

Conclusion

The SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotetta was an improvised wheeled armored personnel carrier produced by the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana due to the absence of factory-produced armored vehicles. Unfortunately, there is little information about its service and it is difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of the vehicle.

It proved to be a strong deterrent for the Fascist forces to avoid being ambushed by the partisans during anti-partisan patrols on the narrow mountain streets of Northern Italy.

This was an improvised vehicle specifically developed to counter guerrilla movements only armed with light fire arms that could not damage the vehicle in serious manners.

It was one of the dozens of improvised vehicles produced during the last bloody years of the Second World War when the civil war broke in Italy.

A Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotetta in monochrome camouflage.
A Camionetta SPA-Viberti Autoprotetta in thre tone camouflage in 1944. Illustrations by the illustrious Godzilla funded by our Patreon Campaign.

SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotetta Specification

Size (L-W-H): ~ 5 x ~ 2 x ~ 2.5 m
Weight, battle-ready: ~6 tonnes
Crew: 2 (driver and commander/machine gunner) + 6 soldiers
Engine: FIAT-SPA 18VT, patrol, 4-cylinder 4,053 cm³ delivering 73 hp
Speed: ~60 km/h
Range: ~700 km
Armament: two 8 mm Breda Modello 1937 medium machine guns
Armor: light
Production: 2 to 4 converted

Sources

Italia 1943-45 I Blindati di Circostanza della Guerra Civile – Paolo Crippa
I Carristi di Mussolini, Il Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa” dalla MVSN alla RSI – Paolo Crippa
Le Camionette del Regio Esercito – Enrico Finazzer and Luigi Carretta
… Come il Diamante, I Carristi Italiani 1943-’45 – Marco Nava and Sergio Corbatti
1^ Brigata Nera “Ather Capelli”: Una documentazione – Marco Nava

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