This vehicle started life in early 1941 with the need for a light armored vehicle for use in North Africa. Italy had a long experience in mobile desert warfare having used armored cars in the desert before the First World War. They had in its possession the design of a very mobile heavy artillery tractor, the T.L.37 (Trattore Leggero – Fast tractor). The T.L. 37 was an excellent vehicle with very distinctive oversized pneumatic tires and it was to form the experimental basis for a new light armored car built by FIAT-SPA for colonial service. The vehicle would sometimes be referred to as the T.L.37 Autoblindo, but also as the A.S.37. ‘A.S’ stands for Autoblindo Africa Settentrionale (North Africa Armoured Car), although the A.S.37 name was somewhat confusingly later applied to the armored personnel carrier which followed this one.
Italian Trattore Leggero 37 (T.L.37) with large pneumatic tyres used as a tractor for hauling field guns.
Design and Layout
Just like the T.L.37, the engine for the vehicle was at the front, with the driver positioned at the front left. It retained the basic frame from the T.L.37 with the same over-sized pneumatic tyres, but now an armored body enclosed the vehicle. At least one door, consisting of two parts – upper and lower – was on the right-hand side and a second door on the other side. The back of the vehicle sloped off sharply from the roofline and on top was a small turret. As the A.S.37 personnel carrier version followed this vehicle, it can be surmised that there was no second front seat (on the left) and that the fuel tanks were positioned near the back around the rear wheels.
Power for the T.L.37 was provided by a model 18VT 4.053 4 cylinder petrol engine which delivered 52hp at 2000rpm and the later A.S.37 used a modification of this engine delivering 67hp. It is not known whether the Autoblindo T.L.37 used the original 52 hp or the upgraded model.
Autoblindo T.L.37. Photo: Pignato
Protection and Armament
The vehicle was protected by flat steel plate armor up to 8.5 mm thick and probably down to 6 mm thick in places, bolted to a steel frame. This armor would have provided adequate protection to small arms fire and shell splinters. The vehicle was fully enclosed except for the turret. Initially, it had been planned to use the turret of the AB40 armored car, which would have meant it was armed with a pair of Breda Model 1938 8 mm machine-guns, but for unknown reasons, this turret was not available. Instead, a small open-topped turret based on that used on the L6 light tank was mounted. The turret had no back or roof and the sides were very short and steeply angled backwards. A large hooped ring, possibly for mounting a machine-gun for protection from aircraft went over the turret. The turret mounted a single Breda Model 1935 20 mm cannon.
Left side view of the Autoblindo T.L.37. Photo: Arms of Breda
Illustration of the Autoblindo T.L.37 ‘Autoprotetto S.37′ produced by Yuvnasva Sharma, funded by our Patreon Campaign.
Following the requirement in early 1941, FIAT-SPA built this single prototype and it was sent to North Africa immediately for trials. Unfortunately, there was no opportunity to effectively evaluate the vehicle under combat conditions. The T.L.37 Autoblindo (A.S.37) is reported to have been lost at Sidi Rezegh (located south of the main road between Tobruk and Bardia, East of El Adem) possibly through a mechanical failure in Autumn 1941.
Autoblindo T.L.37 after it was found by the British showing no sign of battle damage. Photo: Tank Museum, Bovington
FIAT-SPA was not to be dismayed by this failure, however. Instead, they further refined the vehicle, abandoned the turret and sloped rear, and by April 1941, had already got plans in hand for an open-topped version for transporting troops and stores or for convoy escort duties. That vehicle was also known as the A.S.37. A vehicle looking very similar to this one but without the turret.
|Dimensions (L-W-H)||4.95 x 1.92 x 1.8 m (without turret)|
|Total weight, battle-ready||5 tonnes (est.)|
|Propulsion||4.053 liter 18VT 4 cylinder petrol engine producing 55 – 67hp|
|Armament||2x Breda Model 1938 8mm machine-guns or 1x Breda Model 1935 20mm cannon|
|Armor||6mm – 8.5mm steel|
Links & Resources
A Century of Italian Armoured Cars, Nicola Pignato
Encyclopedia of Armoured Cars, Crow and Icks
Italian Tanks and Combat Vehicles of WW2, Ralph Riccio
Gli autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano, Nicola Pignato
Mezzi Corazatti Italiani 1939-1945, Nicole Pignato
Arms of Breda – Oto Melara