After the Italian Armistice was signed on 8th September 1943, Benito Mussolini created, on 23rd September, the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (Italian Social Republic – RSI). In Northern and Central Italy, which was controlled by the Axis, German and Italian troops had about 1,000 trucks in service, quite few considering that the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano (National Republican Army – ENR) and the Wehrmacht counted about 600,000 soldiers. On 26th June 1944, Mussolini approved the legislative decree no. 446, which had been proposed by Alessandro Pavolini, the secretary of the Partito Fascista Repubblicano (Republican Fascist Party – PFR). This order constituted the Corpo Ausiliario delle Squadre d’Azione delle Camicie Nere (ENG: Auxiliary Corps of the Action Squads of the Black Shirts), simpler known as the ‘Camice Nere’ (Eng: Black Shirt) or ‘Brigate Nere’ (Eng: Black Brigades) under the control of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (National Republican Guard – GNR), the fascist Military Police. The Brigades had the task of fighting in the second line against the partisan groups that carried out sabotage and ambush missions against the Axis mechanized columns. Only two Black Brigades out of 56 received factory-built armored vehicles, while the other brigades were equipped with trucks (military or civil) that they used as transport vehicles or that they armored themselves or in civil workshops.
Idreno Utimpergher, trusted man of Pavolini, was the commander of the XXVI° Brigata Nera “Benito Mussolini” (ENG: 26th Black Brigade), located first in Lucca but, after an Allied offensive, moved to Piacenza in Emilia Romagna. It was composed of over 200 men and was later renamed the XXXVI° Brigata Nera “Natale Piacentini” (ENG: 36th Black Brigade), after the first soldier from the unit that died in action against the partisans. On the order of Idreno, they armored the only working truck of the Brigade (they also had a Fiat 1500) to better engage the partisans, a Lancia 3Ro heavy truck. The transformation of the Lancia 3Ro was ready after a month of work, from September to October 1944. A Rimorchio Unificato Viberti da 15t trailer, normally used to transport tanks, was also armored with salvaged plates. It could be towed behind the armored truck and used as a troop transport.
The armored car was built by the Arsenal of Piacenza, along with another identical one which was used by the XXVIII° Brigata Nera “Pippo Astorri” (Eng: 28th Black Brigade), but the destiny of this second vehicle is unknown. In the Arsenal of Piacenza workshop, two other vehicles were armored, a Ceirano CM 47 and a Fiat 666N that was totally armored and received a turret with a Breda-SAFAT 12.7 mm aerial machine gun, used by the 630° Comando Provinciale (Eng. 630th Provincial Command of the GNR).
The front of the Lancia 3Ro Blindato in Dongo, on 25th of April 1945. Note the armament of the vehicle, with a machine-gun in the front, one on the side (there was another one on the other side), and a cannon in the turret. Also, note the Viberti 15t trailer at the rear. Source: City of Dongo archive
The Lancia 3Ro
The Lancia 3Ro heavy truck was designed in 1937. It was produced from 1938 to 1948 for both the civilian market and the military and up to 1950 in the bus version. In total, 15,222 vehicles were constructed. It was produced in two plants, the Borgo san Paolo plant of Turin and the Bolzano plant.
Lancia was one of the first Italian companies to use diesel propulsion on its trucks, producing the German Junkers 2 cylinder 3,181 cm³ engines under license. This gave a power of 64 hp at 1500 rpm (the Lancia Tipo 89 mounted on Lancia Ro). A 3-cylinder version with a displacement of 4,771 cm³ gave out 95 hp was named Lancia Tipo 90 and mounted on the Lancia Ro-Ro, the predecessor of the 3Ro.
German engines, however, were very expensive, so Vincenzo Lancia, manager of the company, ordered his technicians to develop a new engine, the 5-cylinder inline Lancia Tipo 102 with a displacement of 6,875 cm³, giving out 93 hp at 1860 rpm.
In order to accommodate the new engine, the Lancia 3Ro’s engine hood was lengthened to accommodate the longer engine compared to the earlier licensed Junkers. Its top speed fully loaded was 45 km/h on-road. Its range, with the 135-liter tank of the basic version, was 450 km. The transmission was a license copy of a Maybach one with 4 gears and one reverse.
The civilian version was produced in two series. The 1st had a square engine compartment and vertical radiator grille, while the 2nd had a water-drop shaped radiator grille which was angled back.
There were two standard cabin types, the standard version and the ‘Lungo’ (Eng. Long) version, which, in the civilian version, had a berth behind the seats.
For the civilian versions, the cabins were produced (in a few examples) by Caproni, Cab and Orlandi. For the military versions, the cabins were produced and fitted out only by Viberti.
The Regio Esercito (Royal Italian Army) ordered the vehicle in two versions, the Lancia 3Ro MNP (Militare; Nafta; Pneumatici – Eng. Military; Diesel; Tires), with standard 270×20” tires and the Lancia 3Ro MNSP (Militare; Nafta; SemiPneumatici – Eng. Military; Diesel; SemiTires) with 285×88” rubber tires. These were used during the Second World War in all the campaigns in which the Royal Italian Army participated. Not only the military versions were used, but also the civilian ones. Due to the need for transport vehicles, the army was forced to requisition most of the trucks from the civilians.
The civilian version had a weight of 5,500 kg and a cargo bay of 7.49 m x 2.35 m, with a payload capability of 6,500 kg. The Lancia 3Ro Mnp had a weight of 5,610 kg and a payload capability of 6,390 kg, while the 3Ro MNSP had a weight of 5,890 kg and a payload capability of 6,110 kg.
The Lancia 3Ro MNP version could carry 32 fully equipped soldiers or 7 horses or over 6 tons of materials or ammunition or could tow all types of Italian artillery pieces. Lots of variants were built on the 3Ro MNP chassis, such as a tanker versions for fuel (5000 liters) or for water (one tank of 5000 liters or two of 2000) modified by the Viberti company of Turin, the mobile workshop Mod. 38, an ammunition transporter with 210 90 mm rounds, a bus variant, a command post that was used by Feldmarschall Erwin Rommel and also the famous italian Autocannoni, such as the Autocannone da 90/53 su Lancia 3Ro and 100/17 su Lancia 3Ro. The MNP could carry all the light tanks of the Italian Royal Army on the cargo bay (L3, L6/40 or Semovente L40 da 47/32). The Rimorchio Unificato Viberti 15T (Eng. Viberti Unified Trailer 15 tons) could carry medium tanks of the “M” series and all the Semovente based on their hulls.
Some examples were equipped with a 9.5-ton winch and a 31.5-meter-long steel cable.
The electrical system was a 6 volt one in the first 1611 Lancia 3Ro military vehicles, then replaced by a 12 volt system in the following models. It was limited to a dynamo produced by Magneti Marelli of Sesto San Giovanni, which was used to power the two front lights, the license plate and dashboard lighting, the windscreen wipers and the horn.
This excellent vehicle was still used by the Esercito Italiano (Eng. Italian Army) after the war until 1964, when it was replaced by more modern military trucks.
The vehicle was dubbed “the last armored car of the Duce” and was probably on a Lancia 3Ro MNSP chassis. All the truck’s automotive components were unchanged, including the engine, gears, and transmission. The rear wheels received armor plates, and the radiator had two inclined plates with slits to allow the engine to cool. For the maintenance of the engine, there were two doors on the sides of the cabin, above the front fenders and headlights.
The vehicle received armor 9 mm thick on all sides and a cylindrical single-seater turret that could rotate 360°, which was also fitted with 9 mm thick armor. The vehicle was equipped with three entrances: two doors on the sides and a large rear door at the back that provided access for some of the crew and for the 8 men that could be transported inside the vehicle.
On the sides of the vehicle there was painted the writing “XXXVI° BRIGATA NERA NATALE PIACENTINI LUCCA” and on the doors of the cabin were painted two lions, the symbol of the Lucca city.
The vehicle was armed with three 8×59 mm machine guns (two Breda 38 and a Breda 37) and a Scotti-Isotta Fraschini 20/70 Mod. 1939 anti-aircraft/anti-tank light automatic cannon. The Breda 37 was mounted on a spherical support on the front plate, on the driver’s left; two Breda 38 machine-guns were also mounted on spherical supports located on the two sides of the vehicle. In the turret was fixed the Scotti-Isotta Fraschini 20/70 Mod. 1939 automatic cannon. The elevation of the gun was very high to allow the use of the gun against aerial targets. The number of cannon and machine guns rounds transported was unknown.
There were seven crew members. Three were sat in the cabin on seats, namely the driver, the commander/machine gunner, and the machine-gun loader that had an ammunition rack for the 20 round magazines. There were also two side machine-gunners in the body of the vehicle with a gunner in the turret and the loader. Two wooden benches on the sides of the hull seated eight fully armed and equipped soldiers (with the two machine-gunners and the loader). In addition, on the sides were wooden racks of ammunition and two fire extinguishers.
The Lancia 3Ro Blindato being inspected by some civilians in Dongo, 25th April 1945. Note the Viberti trailer. Source: City of Dongo archive
Illustration of the Lancia 3Ro Blindato produced by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon Campaign.
The vehicle was used from October 1944 up to the first months of 1945 as an anti-partisan patrol armored car. It saw action on 30th December 1944 against a partisan patrol. Between mid-February and early March, the XXXVI° “Natale Piacentini” Black Brigade was moved from Piacenza to Pinerolo in Piedmont. Around 23rd April, the brigade received an order to reach Valtellina in Lombardy.
On the 24th, the “Natale Piacentini”, now armed with this armored vehicle and a Fiat 626 truck armed with a Breda 20/65 Mod. 1935 automatic cannon in the cargo bay, had to escort a column of trucks carrying other Black Brigades towards Milan. At Vercelli, they found themselves involved in a shootout with a partisan brigade; for this reason, the surviving vehicles of the column arrived in Milan in the late afternoon. They were the last fascist vehicles arriving in the city before the insurrection of the following day.
On the morning of April 25, the partisans attacked the major cities of northern Italy still in the hands of the Germans and the fascists. At first, the XXXVI° Brigade was chosen to defend the city, but then it was realized that, thanks to its armored car, the Brigade would have been more useful to escort the Duce, Benito Mussolini, to safety in Switzerland.
On 26th April, the XXXVI° joined a convoy of Republican forces (178 trucks, 4636 soldiers and 346 female auxiliaries) that was moving to Como, where they arrived after lunch. From Como, the brigade and the Lancia 3Ro Blindato moved to Menaggio to escort Benito Mussolini to Merano. During the night of the 26th to 27th April, a column of German Flak vehicles arrived in Menaggio, which, along with the Italian vehicles, resumed the march to Merano with the Lancia at the head of the column. Mussolini, Mrs. Clara Petacci, Alessandro Pavolini and other members of the fascist party were part of the column, transported inside this armored car, along with many documents of the fascist government and Mussolini’s personal baggage.
The Lancia 3Ro Blindato in Dongo, the village where Mussolini was captured by the partisans in April 1945. It is unknown when this photo was taken. Source: web photo
On the morning of the 27th, in Musso, the convoy, led by the Lancia 3Ro Blindato, with all the fascist leaders inside, was stopped on the highway that runs along Lake Como at a checkpoint of the 52ª Brigata Garibaldi “Luigi Clerici” (ENG: 52nd Partisan Brigade). The partisans only allowed the German trucks and FlaK cannons to continue, so Mussolini, dressed as a German soldier, got into a German Opel Blitz which turned onto the road to Merano.
The remaining vehicles, with which the Lancia armored car remained, were moving back when, for unknown reasons, there was a clash. The vehicle fired several machine-gun bursts against the partisans, who responded with rifle fire and several hand grenades. One of these hit the vehicle, damaging one of the two front wheels, immobilizing it while it was trying to retreat. The fascist dignitaries then came out of the vehicle with weapons in hand. During this incident, the driver, Guido Taiti, and vehicle commander Merano Chiavacci were killed, while Pavolini was wounded. Pavolini, along with Idreno Utimpergher and Paolo Zerbino, were captured.
The vehicle was then captured by the partisans and taken to Milan to a foundry, where it was fixed up and placed in the village of Dongo for many years as a symbol of the victory against fascism and in the 60s it was probably demolished.
The vehicle was developed due to the lack of other armored vehicles in Northern Italy. Due to its poor armor, like the SPA-Viberti AS43 built in Turin for the same role, it was not meant to fight against similar vehicles, such as the British Humber armored cars or the American M8 Greyhound; its tasks were patrolling and anti-guerrilla warfare, which it carried out well. This article covered the vehicle used by the XXXVI° Black Brigade “Natale Piacentini” but there were other such vehicles built on the same Lancia 3Ro hull, but produced by other workshops and armed with different armament, such as Breda 20/65 Mod. 1935 automatic cannons, for the XXVIII° “Pippo Astorri” or Solothurn S-1000 anti-tank rifles mounted on a Lancia modified like the Carro protetto trasporto truppa su autotelaio FIAT 626. Some Lancia 3Ro were used to transport troops with armor only on the sides and on the front, like on the Fiat 665 NM Blindato.
A Lancia 3Ro truck with armor in the rear cargo bay, used as a troop transport. Source: Beutepanzer.ru
|Dimensions (L-W-H)||7.25 x 2.35 x approx. 4 meters|
|Total weight, battle ready||8 tonnes|
|Crew||7 + 8 (driver, vehicle commander/machine gunner, 2x gunners, 2x loaders + 8 passengers).|
|Propulsion||Lancia Type 102 diesel, 5 cylinder|
|Range||400 km (250 mi)|
|Armament||Scotti-Isotta Fraschini 20/70 Mod. 1939
Three 8×59 mm machine guns (two Breda 38 and one Breda 37)
|Armor||Aprx. 9 mm|
|Total production||1 – 5|
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