The FIAT 3000, with its two versions, the Modello 1921 (English: Model 1921) and Modello 1930 (English: Model 1930), was an Italian light tank built as an indigenous version of the French Renault FT. Initially referred to as the Carro d’Assalto (English: Assault Tank), it operated with the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army) for almost twenty years, making it the backbone of the Italian armored units until the late 1930s and permitting the Italian crews to be familiarized with armored vehicles.
Origin and Development
The first Italian armored vehicles
Before the First World War, the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army) already had some experience with armored vehicles, being one of the first armies to employ armored cars in active service. The FIAT Arsenale armored car was deployed during the Italian-Turkish War fought between 1911 and 1912, with great results.
After the campaign, the Italian Army started its own development of armored vehicles, but the design process was really slow. By 1914, when the First World War started, the work had resulted in nothing more than paper projects.
Fabbrica Italiana Automobili di Torino or FIAT (English: Italian Automobile Factory of Turin) began the development of a heavy tank in that period . Due to the Italian engineer’s lack of knowledge about tanks or armored fighting vehicles in general, its development was really slow and the first prototype was ready only in 1917. This vehicle was the FIAT 2000.
The Italian Renault FTs
With progress on a homegrown Italian tank going slowly, the Regio Esercito asked its neighbor and World War One ally, France, to supply Italy with some tanks. Four Renault FTs were subsequently delivered between March 1917 and May 1918. Two of these were fitted with the Girod turret and two with the Omnibus turret. The two Girod turreted vehicles differed in that one was armed with a 37 mm Puteaux cannon and the other one was armed with a Hotchkiss Modèle 1914 medium machine gun, although this was later replaced by a S.I.A. Modello 1918. The two tanks fitted with Omnibus turrets were both armed with Hotchkiss Modèle 1914 medium machine guns, replaced by the FIAT-Revelli Modello 1914 medium machine guns later.
These four tanks were tested intensively. One was dismantled and analyzed in order to produce an Italian variant under license.
After the war, in 1919, two of the Renault FTs were sent to Libya, another one was used for training, and the one disassembled by Ansaldo was partially reassembled and converted into a self-propelled gun called Semovente da 105/14. This vehicle was destined for the Batteria Autonoma Carri d’Assalto (English: Autonomous Battery Assault Tank) based in Turin, then it was transferred to Nettuno (near Rome) and took part in a parade at the Stadium in Rome on 2nd April 1919.
In addition to the 4 Renault FTs, France provided a Schneider CA for training as well, but did not give permission to produce them under license and did not sell others to the Kingdom of Italy. The single vehicle remained in a Regio Esercito training school in Bologna until 1937, after which its fate is unknown.
The birth of the FIAT 3000
After the tests of the FTs, the Regio Esercito decided on 2nd August 1918 to produce the tank model under license in Italy. This was entrusted to a consortium formed by Ansaldo, Armstrong Vickers, Breda, FIAT and Terni companies in their plants in the Italian peninsula.
After the end of the First World War, an order for 1,400 Renault FTs, which were to be built under license by Ansaldo of Genoa, was canceled. In April 1919, 100 tanks were ordered from FIAT of Turin. These vehicles were to be built under French license, but had been modified by the Ufficio Carri d’Assalto (English: Assault Tank Office) and by the Commissariato Armi e Munizioni Ansaldo (English: Ansaldo Arms and Ammunition Commissioner). The new model cost 120,000 Lire per vehicle and differed from the French model in terms of armament and engine. The prototype was built in June 1919 and completed by June of the following year. The first tests began in August 1920, but were soon suspended, probably for bureaucratic reasons and due to the end of the war, which slowed down production.
In November 1921, the tests resumed and lasted until 1923, when they were finally successful and the new model was officially adopted as the Carro d’Assalto FIAT 3000 (English: Assault Tank FIAT 3000). The test commission, albeit satisfied with the vehicle, thought that it needed a more powerful armament and requested the installation of a cannon in the turret.
The prototype was very similar to the Renault FT, although its armament differed, consisting of two Italian-built S.I.A. 6.5 mm machine guns, and the Italian-built engine was more powerful and mounted transversely, also having an easier-to-maintain transmission.
The first training of the crews with the new tanks took place in 1923 in the city of Belluno in northern Italy. The serial version differed from the prototype by the absence of the two front access doors copied from the original Renault FT. Shortly after, the vehicle was again modified. The tracks were improved, lengthened a bit and new wheels were adopted.
Between 1928 and 1929, a new model was developed, called FIAT 3000 B, then renamed FIAT 3000 Modello 1930 (English: FIAT 3000 Model 1930). It was equipped with a more powerful engine and a cannon in the turret instead of the two machine guns. This new vehicle was first tested during maneuvers in Val Varaita (Piedmont, Italy) in 1929.
The vehicle changed its name several times, a fact which also underscores the changing pace of Italian military thought and tacit acceptance that these vehicles were rapidly becoming obsolescent. Initially, the tank was known as the Carro d’Assalto FIAT 3000 (English: Assault Tank FIAT 3000). ‘A’ for the version armed with machine guns or ‘B’ for the version armed with cannon.
In the same period, they were also called Carro d’Assalto FIAT 3000 Modello 1921 and Modello 1930 (English: Assault Tank FIAT 3000 Model 1921 and Model 1930).
After 24th January 1938, the model armed with machine guns was renamed to Carro Armato Modello 1921, shortened to M.21 (English: Tank Model 1921), while the one armed with a cannon was renamed to Carro Armato Modello 1930, shortened to M.30 (English: Tank Model 1930).
Finally, after Italy entered the Second World War, tanks under 7 tonnes were considered ‘light’ tanks and, therefore, the FIAT 3000 became Carro Armato L.5/21 and Carro Armato L.5/30, depending on the Modello. This meant Carro Armato Leggero (English: Light Armored Vehicle) 5 tonnellate (English: 5 tonnes) Modello 1921 (English: Model 1921) and Carro Armato Leggero, 5 (tonnellate) Modello 1930 (English: Light Tank, 5 Tonnes Model 1930).
The FIAT 3000, therefore, is perhaps the only tank in history to occupy each of the three general tank classes, ranging from heavy (assault), to medium, to light during its service.
The hull was divided into two compartments divided by a bulkhead. The frontal one was the combat compartment and the rear one was the engine compartment. Drivers sat in the front part of the combat compartment and, to their rear, sat the commanders. In the engine compartment were the engine, the radiator, the cooling fan, the fuel tanks, and the bilge pump used to remove the water that entered the vehicle after fording.
In the rear part of the hull was the ‘tail’ built out of iron bars, which angled upwards. It had the purpose of extending the length of the vehicle for the crossing of trenches or ditches, preventing the tank from overturning or getting stuck.
The turret was able to rotate 360°. The weapons were installed in the front part, while in the rear was an opening that could be closed with two doors. This allowed crews to enter and exit the tank and easy removal of the weapons for maintenance. In the upper part of the turret was the commander’s openable cupola with three slits, meant to allow the commander to inspect the battlefield. On the top of the hatch was a hole that allowed the usage of flags used by the unit commanders to give orders. This was used due to the absence of radio equipment.
SIA Modello 1918
The armament was placed in the turret. On the FIAT 3000 Modello 1921, it consisted of two Società Italiana Aviazione Modello 1918 (English: Italian Aviation Company Model 1918) 6.5 mm light machine guns, more simply called SIA Mod. 18. This machine gun was developed by Regio Esercito Colonel Abiel Bethel Revelli (1864 – 1929), one of the most brilliant gun designers in Italy, between 1910 and the mid-1920s.
Colonel Revelli’s most famous projects were the FIAT-Revelli Modello 1914 medium machine gun, the Villar Perosa Modello 1915 submachine gun, and the SIA Modello 1918. The SIA machine guns were paired and placed on a support in the turret. Between the two machine guns was a slit used for aiming.
The weapons had an elevation of +24° and a depression of -17°. Their support also had an additional limited traverse of 20° to either side within the turret.
FIAT-Revelli Modello 1914/1935
After April 1936, the FIAT 3000 Mod. 21 was rearmed with two FIAT-Revelli Modello 1914/1935 8 mm caliber machine guns instead of the SIA ones. This offered heavier supporting fire and better armor-piercing capabilities. In fact, the 8 x 59 mm Armor Piercing round could penetrate 11 mm of armored steel at 100 m.
|Comparison between S.I.A Mod. 1918 and FIAT-Revelli 1914/1935|
|Feature||SIA Mod.1918||FIAT-Revelli 1914/35|
|Ammunition||6.5 x 52 mm||8 x 59 mm|
|Penetration of 11 mm of armored steel at 100 m||4 mm||11.5 mm|
|Rate of fire||500 – 700 rounds/min||600 rounds/min|
|Muzzle velocity||700 m/s||750 m/s|
|Maximum range||3,000 m||5,200 m|
FIAT Modello 1929 per Aviazione
Some FIAT 3000s were armed after 1937 with two 6.5 mm caliber FIAT Modello 1929 per Aviazione machine guns that were fed by 40-round magazines. Being aircraft machine guns they were deprived of the synchronizer to fire through the propeller.
The weapons had an elevation of +28° and a depression of -18°.
Vickers-Terni da 37/40
The FIAT 3000 Modello 1930 was armed with a Cannone Vickers-Terni da 37/40 cannon with a semi-automatic breech. This cannon was developed in 1918, deriving from a Hotchkiss model used in the anti-aircraft role on ships and at airfields. Another Italian tank equipped with this gun was the Carro Armato M11/39 medium tank developed in the late 1930s.
The gun was in the turret, moved to the right with respect to the center axis of the vehicle in order to leave more space for the commander/gunner, who sat on the left.
Aiming was carried out using a sight and two cranks: one for elevation and the other for traverse. The elevation of the gun was +20°, the depression -10°, while the second crank permitted rotation of the turret.
In the 1930s, some FIAT 3000 Modello 1921 tanks were rearmed with .303 Lewis medium machine guns that were more reliable than the SIA Modello 1918 and gave the tank a higher rate of fire thanks to the larger 47 or 97-round magazines.
The ammunition was kept in racks in the two lateral walls of the combat compartment.
The FIAT 3000 Modello 1921 could carry 96 40-round magazines (3,840 cartridges in all) for the SIA and FIAT 1929 light machine guns and 72 80-round magazines (5,760 rounds) for the FIAT-Revelli Modello 1914/1935 medium machine guns.
The Modello 1930 had racks for a total of 68 37 mm rounds. The 37 mm gun’s armor-piercing ammunition could penetrate 20 mm of armored steel at 1,500 m. The vehicle carried both piercing and semi-piercing shells but it is not known in what quantity
Engine and Suspension
The tank was powered by a 6.236-liter FIAT Tipo 304 for Carro Armato 3000 four-cylinder inline petrol engine. In the Modello 1921, it had a power of 50 hp at 1,500 rpm, while in the Modello 1930, it was boosted to 63 hp at 1,700 rpm.
The gearbox had three forward and one reverse gears. The fuel tank of the FIAT Modello 1921 had a capacity of 90 liters of fuel, plus 5 liters in the reserve fuel tank, while the Modello 1930 had a capacity of 85 liters plus 4.5 liters in reserve.
The maximum speed of the vehicle was between 21 km/h on road for the Modello 1921 and 22 km/h on road for the Modello 1930. Off-road, the maximum speed was 8-12 km/h. The range was 95 km on the road for the Modello 1921 and 88 km on the road for the Modello 1930.
The running gear included two sprockets located at the rear and two large diameter idler wheels placed at the front. The longitudinal metal spars rested on eight road wheels paired on four bogies. These were connected by terminal pins to leaf springs for suspension. On top of the longitudinal spars, there were five return rollers supported by a stringer that was supported by a vertical spring which kept the track in constant tension. The tracks were composed of 52 links per side.
The hull of the FIAT 3000 was protected by steel armor plating bolted to an internal steel frame structure. The front of the tank was protected by well-angled 16 mm armored plates. The sides and rear of the hull were protected by 8 mm thick armored plates, all vertical. As with the hull, the front of the turret was 16 mm thick, while the remaining sides were 8 mm thick. The turret roof was 8 mm thick, while the hull roof and floor were 6 mm thick.
According to the Italian manuals, the armor provided protection from machine-gun fire and shrapnel; it could withstand the impact of 8 mm APX French and 7.92 mm German armor-piercing shells up to 50 meters.
The FIAT 3000 had a crew of two: commander, who also operated the armament, and driver. As with the Renault FT which the FIAT 3000 was based on, commanders were overburdened with multiple tasks, limiting how well they could perform.
Communications and Radio System
The tanks communicated using colored signal flags, these consisted of two flags, one red and one white placed 15 cm from the outsides of a 65 cm long pole. The flags came out of a special hole placed at the top of the turret.
Only the company or battalion command tanks were equipped with Magneti Marelli RF CR radios. The radio was used for communications between tanks and other armored vehicles. It had a frequency between 27.2 and 33.4 MHz.
The FIAT 3000s equipped with this radio had an unusual antenna on the turret, which allowed it to turn 360°. However, the range of communications was limited to a few kilometers, which allowed communication between vehicles, but was insufficient for collaboration with artillery and infantry, a key component of modern warfare.
For transport, the tank could be transported on a trailer designed in 1921 by the Arsenale Regio Esercito di Torino (English: Royal Army Arsenal of Turin), adopted in 1923 as the Carrello per Trasporto Carro d’Assalto (English: Flatbed Trailer for the Transport of the Assault Tank). It consisted of a chassis, two support surfaces for tracks, two wheels, and a drawbar. The flatbed trailer weighed 1,200 kg and was towed by a truck, initially a FIAT 18 BLR and then a Lancia RO NM.
Each tank could be identified by the use of special symbols. This system began in 1925 and consisted of simple geometric shapes, including circles, triangles, and rectangles, that distinguished command tanks from others. The color of the shape designated what platoon the tanks belonged to.
In 1938, with Circular No. 4,400, the symbols changed permanently. They consisted of differently colored rectangles, indicating the various companies, with various vertical or oblique lines indicating the various platoons. A solid rectangle without lines indicated the command tank.
The FIAT 3000 remained in service in the Royal Italian Army for about 20 years, from 1923 to 1943. They became the first tanks with which the Italian Army was equipped and allowed officers to learn and develop the doctrine of tank use that would still be used by the Royal Army during World War II.
The first FIAT 3000s equipped the Compagnia Autonoma Carri Armati (English: Autonomous Tank Company) based in Rome. In the following years, this unit grew and increased its staff, becoming the Reparto Carri Armati (English: Tank Unit) made up of a command group and two Gruppi Carri Armati (English: Tank Groups), each composed of three squadrons, for a total of 24 tanks for each Reparto. In 1926, the unit became a Centro di Formazione Carri Armati (English: Tank Training Center) composed of the command unit, the logistic unit, the Gruppi d’Istruzione (English: Training Groups), and tank units.
Pacification of Libya (1920 – 1930)
After the end of the Italo-Turkish War in Libya in 1912, the local Senussi population revolted against Italian rule and occupied all Libyan territory except the coastal cities, which remained in Italian hands.
After the end of World War I, the Kingdom of Italy decided to regain the territory lost since 1914. The so-called Pacification of Libya or Second Italo-Senussi War began in 1922 and ended 10 years later with the Italian occupation of all Libyan regions.
During 1926, the FIAT 3000 received its baptism of fire. A Compagnia Carri (English: Tank Company) was part of the rapid column of Colonel Ronchetti which occupied Giarabub on 7th February 1926.
The Birth of Reggimento Carri Armati
In 1927, the Center was transformed into the Reggimento Carri Armati (English: Tank Regiment), consisting of a command unit and five battalions of two companies each. Each company was equipped with 8 to 16 tanks plus the company commander’s command tank .
In 1931, the new training regulations stated that the FIATs would neutralize the enemy defenses by leveling the material obstacles and the centers of resistance. Machine gun tanks had to fire at enemy personnel and neutralize machine gun nests or anti-tank positions, while cannon tanks had to counter enemy tanks and bunkers. The number of tanks armed with cannon and machine gun per unit is unknown.
The Reorganization into Four Battalions
In 1933, according to the Royal Italian Army General Staff’s Circular N° 1,399 of 7th March 1932 , four FIAT 3000 battalions were foreseen for the mobilization: the II° Battaglione (English: 2nd Battalion) with two companies with seven tanks each, the III° Battaglione, IV° Battaglione, and V° Battaglione (English: 3rd, 4th and 5th Battalions) with three companies with 10 tanks each and four tanks armed with cannon that were kept in reserve. However, the FIAT 3000 was showing its age and was clearly seen by many as effectively obsolete. Italian FIAT 3000s did not participate in the Ethiopian campaign or in the Spanish Civil War.
The Brigata Corazzata
With the establishment of the Brigata Corazzata (English: Armored Brigades) in 1937, two regiments were born. These were the 31° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista (English: 31st Tank Crew Infantry Regiment), which commanded the 1st and 2nd Battalions, and the 32° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista (English: 32nd st Tank Crew Infantry Regiment), which commanded the 3rd and 4th Battalions.
Six FIAT 3000s, armed with 7.7 mm caliber Lewis medium machine guns, were present at Macallé (in present-day Eritrea) in 1937 for the defense of the airfield in the same city.
With the appearance of the new ‘Breakthrough Tank’, the M11/39, in 1939, the FIAT 3000s were relegated to equipping second-line units. Out of 127 vehicles, 90 were still used in the 131ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Centauro’ and 132ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete (English: 131st and 132nd Armored Divisions), in the Battaglione Scuola (English: School Battalion) of Bologna and the Compagnia Motorizzata (English: Motorized Company) in Zara in Croatia. In September 1939, it was decided to use 50 FIAT 3000s to compose the Border Tank Companies.
Invasion and Anti-Partisan War in Yugoslavia (1941-1943)
In 1939, the 1ª Compagnia Carrista di Frontiera (English: 1st Border Tank Company) was transferred to Shkoder in Albania, During the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941, the unit was aggregated into the III° Battaglione Guardia alla Frontiera (English: 3rd Border Guard Battalion) and transferred between Tarabosh and Bojana to defend anti-tank positions located at Kurt Alai.
The Company repulsed a Yugoslav attack on 11th April, remaining in Kurt Alai until the 15th. Then, it advanced together with other Italian units in Montenegro and then returned to Scutari and remained there with garrison duties.
In July 1941, the unit was deployed in Montenegro in support of the 18ª Divisione di Fanteria ‘Messina’ (English: 18th Infantry Division), where it intervened to support the Italian anti-guerrilla actions. On 13th July, it began the transfer to Podgorica together with the II° Battaglione (English: 2nd Battalion) of the Guardia di Finanza (English: Finance Guard). Due to the lack of flatbed trailers needed to transport the eight FIAT 3000s, the unit had to proceed on tracks and reached its destination, covering 70 km in over 18 hours. Immediately afterward, the unit was ordered to proceed towards Cettinge, the then capital of Montenegro, but the order was canceled due to the poor state of the tanks of the company. These remained stationed in Podgorica until the armistice.
The Compagnia Meccanizzata di Zara (English: Mechanized Company of Zadar) had L tanks, Lancia 1ZM armored cars, and some FIAT 3000s was stationed in Zadar, on the Adriatic coast in modern day Croatia. In April 1941, this unit, together with the XI Battaglione Bersaglieri (English: 11th Bersaglieri Battalion), occupied Benkovac, Knin, Šibenik, and Split.
The Italian occupation forces in Yugoslavia were quite surprised by the sudden Partisan uprising. On 13th July 1941, in Montenegro, the Partisans launched an attack on the Italian forces. In order to supress this resistance movement in Montenegro, the Italian 14° Corpo (English: 14th Corps) was mobilized. The Italians could only deploy limited armored support for their operation.
One armored unit, a company of aging FIAT 3000 tanks, was present in the area and quickly deployed. These were likely used against the Partisans starting from 15th July. On 17th July, the Partisans managed to destroy an Italian tank, likely a FIAT 3000. Use of these tanks after this incident is not clear.
Allied Invasion of Sicily (July 1943)
The last use of Italian FIAT 3000s was in July 1943, against the Allied forces during the invasion of Sicily. Two companies, consisting of 9 tanks each, had been assigned to the 6° Armata (English: 6th Army). The 1ª Compagnia (English: 1st Company) was stationed in Scordia, while the 2ª Compagnia (English: 2nd Company) was in Licata.
The 1a Compagnia was used by the XII Corpo d’Armata (English: 13th Corps) to create machine gun nests, burying the tanks, for the 207a Divisione Costiera (English: 207th Coastal Division)
The 2a Compagnia, under the command of Reserve Captain Angelotti Francesco, was part of the Gruppo Mobile H (English: Mobile Group “H”) assigned to XVI Corpo d’Armata (English: 16th Corps). The mobile group was stationed in Caltagirone and had to defend the San Pietro airfield. On 10th July 1943, the unit was used to eliminate the paratroopers of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment around the airfield. The tanks, due to their extreme slowness, were transported near to the airfield on the trucks of the 23° Autogruppo (English: 23rd Transport Group). At 12:35 am, the US 3rd Paratrooper Battalion, commanded by First Lieutenant Peter J. Eaton, clashed with an Italian infantry column supported by some FIAT 3000s. The Americans forced the enemy unit to retreat, eliminating a FIAT 3000 with the fire of two 47/32 Italian guns that had been previously captured.
At 7:30 pm, the commander of the San Pietro airfield declared that 50 paratroopers were captured in the fighting near the airfield thanks to the support of two FIAT 3000.
On 12th July, the 9th Italian Rifle Company, supported by a machine gun squad and two FIAT 3000s, were transferred to Ficuzza. There, they clashed with American paratroopers until 5 pm, capturing 4 and killing 6. On 13th July, in order to defend the airfield from the attack of the 180th US Infantry Regiment, the commander of Mobile Group H, Lieutenant Colonel Luigi Cixi, ordered the FIAT 3000s to position themselves on the perimeter of the airfield. The American attack started at 10 pm. The Italian units resisted for an hour but then had to retreat and the 2a Compagnia lost 5 FIAT tanks.
Six of the nine FIAT 3000s had been lost, but the fate of the remaining three is unknown, and they were probably abandoned or destroyed by enemy fire.
The Italians there were essentially trying to repulse an invasion involving modern tanks, such as Shermans, with a tank barely different from those used on the battlefields of WW1 a generation earlier. It did not go well.
Fanteria Carrista di Frontiera
The Guardia alla Frontiera or GaF (English: Border Guards), the unit responsible for the defense of the Italian borders, was equipped with armored vehicles to counter the action of any enemy ‘Alpine’ tanks. Their counterpart was the French ‘Armee Des Alpes’ (English: Army of the Alps), which had some units equipped with Renault FTs. The Italian companies were formed on 31st January 1940.
These were organized into a command squad and three tank platoons with a total of 4 officers, 5 NCOs, 36 tank crewmembers, 10 tanks, two heavy trucks, two flatbed trailers, a light truck, and two two-seater motorcycles.
Five Compagnie Carristi di Frontiera (English: Border Tank Companies) were created. There is some information available about the 1ª Compagnia Carri (English: 1st Tank Company).
In June 1942, the company became part of the III° Battaglione Carri L (English: 3rd Light Tank Battalion) of the 31° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista (English: 31st Tank Crew Infantry Regiment) assigned to the 131ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Centauro’.
The 2ª Compagnia Carri (English: 2nd Tank Company) was located in Borgo San Dalmazzo at the beginning of 1940, assigned to the II° Corpo (English: 2nd Corps). There, it operated during the campaign of the Western Alps (June 1940) against France. After the campaign, it was transferred to the eastern border with Yugoslavia, where it was assigned to the XXII° Guardia alla Frontiera Sector assigned to the 13ª Divisione Fanteria ‘Re’ (English: 13th Infantry Division).
The 3ª Compagnia Carri (English: 3rd Tank Company) was created in Caserta in March 1940 and placed under the command of Lieutenant Pasquale Mele. It was destined for the Italian islands in the Aegean. The unit consisted of a Command Platoon (with a FIAT 3000 command tank, a FIAT 3000 Modello 1930 armed with a 37/40 cannon, a repair and recovery team), the 1° Plotone Carri L (English: 1st Light Tank Platoon) with FIAT 3000 Modello 1930s in Calitea, the 2° Plotone Carri L with FIAT 3000 Modello 1930s in Chioccola, and 3° Plotone Misto Carri (English: 3rd Mixed Tank Platoon) with FIAT 3000 Modello 1921s and FIAT 3000 Modello 1930s. The Command Platoon consisted of four officers, 3 NCOs, and 25 tank crewmembers.
The unit was then equipped with a staff car, two motorcycles, and a flatbed trailer. To transport the tanks, five light and two heavy trucks belonging to the 50° Autoreparto Misto dell’Egeo (English: 50th Mixed Motorized Unit of the Aegean Sea) were made available to the company.
In July 1942, Lieutenant Mele was replaced by Lieutenant Giovanni Furetti. The unit (also called the 1st Tank Company L5) had 10 to 12 operational FIAT 3000s. Over time, some of the old FIAT 3000s, due to the lack of spare parts, became unusable.
The 4ª Compagnia Carri (English: 4th Tank Company) was located in the Cesana Torinese area at the beginning of 1940, assigned to the VII° GaF sector of the IV° Corpo (English: 4th Corps). After Italy entered the war on 10th June 1940, the first action of the Royal Army was the campaign of the Alps against French forces, which lasted from 21st to 25th June. During this campaign, some FIAT 3000 Modello 1921s of the company supported the action of a Carabinieri platoon against French troops during the occupation of Mont Genèvre. After the campaign in the Alps, the 4th Company was transferred to the Yugoslav border and placed under the control of the XXII° GaF sector, assigned to the 13ª Divisione fanteria ‘Re’.
The last company was the 5ª Compagnia Carri (English: 5th Tank Company). At the beginning of 1940, it was located in Ventimiglia, assigned to the I° Guardia alla Frontiera Sector. No actions of this unit are known during the campaign of the Alps. It was then transferred to the border with Yugoslavia, becoming first a part of the 15ª Divisione di Fanteria ‘Bergamo’ (English: 15th Infantry Division) and then, on 5th September 1940, it was assigned to the XXVII° GaF Sector, reporting directly to the V° Corpo (English: 5th Corps).
With the end of hostilities with Yugoslavia, the three companies placed in the Italian Peninsula (2nd, 4th, and 5th Companies) were dissolved. The FIAT 3000s still operational were divided into two companies of nine tanks located in Sicily, with the XII° Corpo and XIV° Corpo (English: 12th and 14th Corps). Both were lost during operations in Sicily in July 1943.
The 25th May 1925 report of the Ufficio Comando Reparto Carri Armati (English: Tank Department Headquarters Office) highlighted the main defects of the FIAT 3000 Modello 1921 and also the design of a new tank that was to replace it, called Tipo 2 (English: Type 2). The design of this new vehicle had already been shown to the Army Chief of Staff on 12th January 1925. The design called for a larger vehicle than the FIAT 3000, armed with a rapid-fire 37 mm cannon, with 270 rounds, and a FIAT 1924 machine gun, with 4,500 rounds, in the turret. Armor was also increased, raised to 20 mm in areas most susceptible to enemy hits. The gasoline engine had to have an output of at least 75 hp.
In the end, this project was never developed, partly because studies had begun on the modification of the FIAT 3000 armed with a 37 mm Vickers-Terni cannon, which entered service in 1930.
In 1929, as the FIAT 3000 was now an obsolete tank, Ansaldo decided to design a new turretless carro d’assalto (English: assault tank). Two draftsmen were sent to Foster & C in Lincoln, Great Britain, who under the guidance of Project Office Chief W. Rigby created a drawing that was later used in Italy for the construction of a 1:10 model. One example was built by Ansaldo in 1932 and named Carro Armato Ansaldo da 9 T. (English: 9-ton Ansaldo Tank), was armed with a 65 mm cannon and three 6.5 mm machine guns. The engine was an Ansaldo 6-cylinder with a power output of 80-88 hp that allowed a top speed of 22.5 km/h on roads.
The tank was tested at the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione (CSM) (English: Center for Motor Vehicle Studies) in December 1934 and then displayed for propaganda purposes at the 1935 Fiera Campionaria di Milano (English: Milan Trade Fair). After that, the vehicle was modified again, the suspension was changed, and, perhaps, the engine was changed, adopting that of the FIAT 634N truck. It was tested again at CSM. only for the project to be abandoned in 1937.
In 1936, the carri d’assalto (English: assault tanks) changed their name to carri di rottura (English: breakthrough tanks). In 1937, still without a replacement for the FIAT 3000, the carro di rottura 8T (English: 8T breakthrough tank) (also called 10T from the weight of the vehicle) was born. The vehicle had a 110 hp SPA 8T diesel engine, was armed with two machine guns in the turret and a 37 mm Vickers-Terni cannon in the casemate. The vehicle could reach a maximum road speed of 33 km/h and had a range of 120 km. It was later modified, installing new Breda Model 1938 machine guns in a new rounded turret and was presented to Mussolini on 12th May 1938 during his visit to Genoa.
The new tank later took the name M11/39. The first of 100 serial production tanks left the Ansaldo factory in July 1939 The M11/39, which finally offered a replacement for the FIAT 3000, saw use in North Africa and Italian East Africa (24 units) while only one platoon was left in Italy. This vehicle was the basis for the subsequent M13, M14, and M15 tanks.
Although it was more advanced than the Renault FT from which it derived in a number of ways, the FIAT 3000 was not as successful in the export market. The reason for this is partly because it became obsolete very quickly and had low production numbers compared to the Renault FT, which was available in much larger numbers from earlier on.
About twenty FIAT 3000s were sold or transferred to other countries. The vehicles purchased were used for testing but did not meet the requirements of the army for which the vehicle was intended.
Two Modello 1921s were sold to Albania in the late 1920s; these two tanks were among the earliest produced. They were both later recovered during the 1939 Italian occupation of Albania and redeployed by the Italian troops in the Balkans.
A FIAT 3000 Modello 1921 was delivered to Argentina, armed with a FIAT Modello 1924 medium machine gun. The tank was paraded in Buenos Aires during Argentina’s national holiday on 25th May 1924.
Denmark bought a FIAT 3000 in June 1928 for testing. It was rearmed with two Madsen machine guns. The army did not know how to use it and mechanical problems occurred, so much so that it was used as a target during exercises
Three tanks were donated to Ethiopia, a FIAT Modello 1921 in 1927 and two Modello 1930s in the early 1930s. They were later recovered in 1936, with the invasion of Ethiopia.
According to N. Pignato, Greece bought a FIAT 3000. Sadly, there is no other information available on the Greek FIAT 3000.
In 1931, Hungary bought five FIAT 3000 from Italy. These tanks formed a Könnyűharckocsi század (English: Tank Company) composed of two platoons, together with German-origin LK II tanks.
The Japanese bought a FIAT 3000 for testing. This tank participated in the Sino-Japanese War, being used for training in Tianjin in 1935.
Latvia bought six FIAT tanks, two Modello 1930 and four Modello 1921, which equipped two platoons of the 1st Tank Company, located in Riga, part of the Autotank Regiment. At least two of these were armed with French 37 mm Puteaux SA 18 guns while the others had MG 08 machine guns. Their fate is unknown, but they were probably sold to Hungary or scrapped in the mid-1930s.
Spain bought a FIAT 3000 in October 1924 for the Artillery section of the Ministry of War to test. It was registered with the plate ‘ATM 984’ and assigned to the Escuela Central de Tiro (English: Central Firing School). The tank survived until the Spanish Civil War, but nothing is known of its service.
In 1927, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) bought three FIATs, numbers 107, 108, and 109. These arrived in Moscow in March 1928.
The vehicles arrived in Russia unarmed and were then equipped with Hotchkiss 37 mm guns. A Modello 1921 was bought by the Polish Communist Party and donated to the USSR. This vehicle, named ‘Feliks Dzerzhinskiy’, took part in the parade in Moscow’s Red Square on 7th November 1928. Two tanks were sent to the Armored Commander Courses Academy in 1929.
FIAT 3000 Nebbiogeno
Over the years, other versions were tested, such as the smoke screen generator tested in 1925 during a major training exercise that involved many Italian units. It was equipped with two cylindrical tanks containing sulfuric acid, into which the exhaust gasses generated by the engine were conveyed. The sulfuric acid and the CO2 from the engine reacted, forming a dense white smoke screen.
Later, during Chemical Army Day in Rome (1935), some FIAT 3000 Modello 1921s were modified with two smoke screen diffusers placed in the rear part of the hull.
Neither variant was ever built in series.
Flamethrower FIAT 3000
The flamethrower version of the vehicle was studied in 1932 by Major Rodolfo Foronato and Captain Enrico Riccardi, of the Reggimento Carri Armati di Bologna (English: Tank Regiment of Bologna). A FIAT 3000 Modello 1921 was modified because, as the study of the two officers showed, the modification did not involve transformations of the hull or armament (usable independently from the flamethrower) of the FIAT. A tank for the flammable liquid was placed behind the engine compartment, instead of the iron tail. From the turret, a long barrel protruded from which the flammable liquid was sprayed at high-pressure.
The flammable liquid tank had a capacity of 270 liters while the flamethrower had an average autonomy of 6 hours and a range of 100 m.
The FIAT 4000 was designed in the late 1920s for the transport of medium-caliber artillery, but remained at the design stage. The vehicle would have weighed 3 tonnes and would have used the same engine as the FIAT 3000
At its inception, the FIAT 3000 was a good vehicle, appreciated for its climbing skills, the particularly powerful engine, which allowed it a high speed for the time, and a respectable armor. Precisely, this convinced the Italian military leaders to study a version armed with a cannon, not realizing that, at the end of the 1920s, it was already an obsolete vehicle.
In the 1930s and 1940s, its obsolescence made itself felt in the few clashes it took part in and the few remaining vehicles were used in the second line or as trainers until 1943.
A big thank to Arturo Giusti and Marko Pantelic for the support and help with sources
Specifications FIAT Modello 1921 (Modello 1930)
|Dimensions||4.17 (4.29) x 1.64 (1.70) x 2.19 (2.20) m|
|Weight||5.5 (5.9) tonnes|
|Crew||2 (commander and driver)|
|Engine||FIAT 304 petrol 50 hp (63 hp)|
|Maximum road speed||21 (22) km/h|
|Autonomy||95 (88) km|
|Armament||2 x 6.5 mm SIA Modello 1918 or 2 x 8 mm FIAT-Revelli Modello 1914/1935 (1x Cannone Vickers-Terni da 37/40 Modello 1918)|
|Armor||Hull: 16 mm front, sides and rear. 8 mm roof and tail. 6 mm floor.
Turret: 16 mm front and sides. 8 mm roof.
|Production||100 Modello 1921 and 52 Modello 1930|
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