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WW2 Italian SPGs

Semovente L40 da 47/32

Italy (1942 – 1945)
Self-Propelled Gun – 414 built

The Semovente L40 da 47/32 was developed by Ansaldo and built by FIAT between 1942 and 1944. It was designed to allow the Bersaglieri regiments, assault infantry units of the Regio Esercito Italiano (Royal Italian Army), to provide direct fire support from the Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935 medium support gun during infantry assaults without having to tow them and, secondly, to provide the Italian armored divisions with a vehicle with anti-tank performance. These self-propelled guns (Semovente in Italian, Semoventi plural) were used from 1942 to 1945 by Italy and Germany, as well as by the Independent State of Croatia and Yugoslavian partisans. In total, 402 vehicles in different variants were built.

Two Regio Esercito’ Semoventi L40 of the 1st series in Tunisia. Source: pinterest.com

History of the L6/40

In 1938, the standard tanks of the Italian Army were the L3 series light tanks, which, during the Spanish Civil War, did not give a positive impression to Italian officers because they were inferior to the Republican Army armored vehicles of Soviet origin, such as the BT-5 fast tanks, the T-26 tank and the BA-6 heavy armored cars.
On the basis of Spanish experience, the High Command of the Royal Italian Army issued several requests to some Italian auto companies to develop more advanced vehicles able to fight with the most modern foreign tanks. In order to modernize the armored units, Ansaldo, helped by FIAT, started to develop different vehicles on the chassis of the L3 series tanks, all of which remained at the prototype stage. By 1940, the M6T was developed, a vehicle with a hull and suspension similar to those of the L3s, but with a new superstructure and the same turret used on the AB40 armored cars armed with two 8 mm machine guns. After some tests, as on the armored car, it was clear that the armament was not sufficient, and, therefore, a new turret was designed, the Mod. 1941 armed with the powerful Breda 20/65 cannon.

The new vehicle was called the Carro Armato Leggero da 6 tonnellate Modello 1940 (Light Tank Lightweight 6-ton Model 1940) or, more simply, L6/40, and went into production in 1941, with 283 being produced until 1945.

It was designed by FIAT and Ansaldo to fight on the narrow and steep Italian mountain roads, but was used by the Italian Army mainly in Russia and North Africa. After the Allied landings in Sicily in July 1943 and the September 1943 Cassibile Armistice, which led to the surrender of the Royal Italian Army, some L6/40s were captured by the Wehrmacht, which reused them in its second line units for anti-partisan duties in Italy and the Balkans.

Early production L6/40 outside the Ansaldo-Fossati plants in Genoa. The prototype, very similar to the production vehicles, was painted with the standard 1939 camouflage, the ‘Continentale’ (Continental), often mistakenly called ‘Spaghetti’ or ‘Strisce’ (Stripes). Source: Ansaldo Archives

History of the prototype

The idea of developing a light and fast vehicle to support the Bersaglieri units was born in the late 30s, when the standard support gun used by Italian infantry assaults was the 47/32 Mod. 1935 Cannon. The Mod. 1935 variant could not be towed by artillery tractors or trucks because it lacked a suspension. For this reason, it could only be towed by horses or disassembled in 5 parts and loaded on mules. During the war, in order to make infantry units faster, the soldiers loaded the cannons on the cargo bay of trucks such as the SPA38R or the Lancia 3Ro. In 1939, a new version of the cannon was created, the Mod. 1939, with a suspension, allowing it to be towed by trucks. At the same time, in order to provide a vehicle that could directly support the infantry on the assault, the Breda factory decided to modify the chassis of the L3/35 light tank by removing the superstructure and mounting a 47/32 cannon in the center of the hull.

The project, called Semovente L3 da 47/32, was not accepted by the Army because of the poor crew protection offered by the 10 mm thick gun shield. Ansaldo wasted no time and decided to create a self-propelled mock-up with the L6/40 light tank chassis, with a powerful 75 mm L.18 cannon designed and produced by Ansaldo. The weight that the vehicle would have had, the low speed and the little ammunition that could be stowed on board were not acceptable by the Army and the project for a 75 mm self-propelled gun on the chassis of the L6 was canceled, but the Army did not cancel the plans for a 47 mm cannon that proceeded even after 1940.

The first design of a self-propelled gun armed with a 47 mm gun on the L6 hull resulted in only one mock-up and consisted of the hull of an L6/40 without the turret. Above the superstructure was mounted the 47 mm cannon with a gun shield in the middle to protect the gun servants from enemy light weapons fire.

This project was also not accepted by the Italian Army because of the height. In late 1940, Ansaldo was requested to modify the project while maintaining the chassis and the cannon.

The Semovente L6 da 47/32 mock-up. Next to it is probably the first L40 da 47/32 prototype, Spring 1941. Source: pinterest.com

Development began in January 1941 and, on May 10, 1941, the prototype of the L40 47/32 self-propelled gun was presented at the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione Militare (Centre for Military Motorisation Studies). The cannon was inside a casemate, so the vehicle was much lower than the first L6 da 47/32 mock-up. It had an armored roof with two hatches.

This prototype was very much appreciated by the High Command of the Royal Italian Army, which considered it suitable for the task of infantry support and, secondly, for the role of tank hunter.

During the tests in late 1940, it was evident that the limited space hindered the tasks of the three members of the crew, so it was ordered to remove the roof of the vehicle, decreasing the protection of the crew but increasing the available space.

An interesting and strange curiosity is the presence of the right-side access hatch. Both the prototypes and the first series vehicles were equipped with it, inherited from the L6/40. The hatch could never be used because there was a rack in front of it and, consequently, it was welded to the structure.

The L40 prototype without the armored roof. Source: FIAT Archives
The inside of the prototype. The bolt holes on the superstructure where the armored roof was fixed are visible, as are the absence of the loader, the 21 round 47 mm rack loaded with dummy wooden rounds and, behind the driver, the starter batteries of the vehicle. Source: pinterest.com
Another photo of the prototype of the Semovente L40 da 47/32 prototype. In this photo, the loader is also present and the cramped space inside the casemate is clear. Behind the dashboard and the ammunition rack in front of the side door with the slit is visible. Source: pinterest.com
The L40 da 47/32 prototype, rear view. Source: worldwarphotos.info

In the last months of 1940, the last version of the prototype of the Semovente L40 47/32 was presented to the Army General Staff. It was similar to the previous prototype with some modifications: the superstructure was redesigned, completely removing the supports for the armored roof, repositioning the ammunition in two new protected racks and with the addition of rounded sides of the gun mantlet. Instead of the roof, a waterproof tarpaulin protected the crew from the rain and the breech of the gun from the desert dust. The tarpaulin, when not in use, was placed on the back of the superstructure, tied with leather straps.

The vehicle was accepted in service with the name Semovente Leggero Modello 1940 da 47/32 (Self-Propelled Gun (on hull) Lightweight Model 1940 (armed with) 47/32) or, more simply, Semovente L40 da 47/32.

On the production vehicles, the rounded sides of the gun mantlet were eliminated to increase the production speed.

The last Semovente L40 da 47/32 prototype in the Ansaldo-Fossati factory. Source of the photos: Ansaldo Archives

Design of the Semovente L40 da 47/32

Crew

The crew of the self-propelled gun was composed, as on other Italian self-propelled guns, of 3 men. The driver was positioned on the right, on a fixed seat. The gunner/vehicle commander sat on the left, also on a fixed seat, while the loader was positioned behind the driver, on the right of the gunner, sitting on an ammunition rack fixed to the floor of the fighting compartment.

An interesting detail is that, on this vehicle, the man who had the better battlefield visibility was the loader, so it was customary for the loaders to monitor the battlefield and spot targets to hit.

One of the most serious problems of the self-propelled vehicle was the little space inside the vehicle that, among other things, forced the loader to expose himself to load the cannon.

During battles when the vehicle was within range of the enemy infantry’s weapons, the loader, in order to avoid exposing himself to the enemy’s weapons, could only give the gunner the ammunition and he had to load the cannon. This significantly reduced the rate of fire and distracted the gunner/vehicle commander’s attention from the situation and whereabouts of the enemy forces seen through the gun’s optics. As on other Italian self-propelled guns, during skirmishes, especially at short distances, crews wore infantry steel helmets instead of tanker padded helmets to protect themselves from enemy fire and grenade splinters.

Recruiters from the Royal Italian Army are training on a Semovente L40 da 47/32. Source: reddit.com

Engine and suspension

The engine of the Semovente L40 da 47/32 was the same as on the light L6/40 tank, the FIAT-SPA 18D gasoline, 4 cylinders in-line, liquid-cooled engine with a power of 68 hp (some sources claim 70 hp) at 2,500 rpm. It had a volume of 4,053 cm3.

The engine could be started either electrically or using a handle that had to be inserted at the rear. The Zenith type 42 TTVP carburetor was the same one used on AB series armored cars and allowed ignition even when cold.

The engine used three different types of oil, depending on the temperatures in which the vehicle operated. In Africa, where the outside temperature exceeded 30°, ‘ultra-thick’ oil was used; in Europe, where the temperature was between 10° and 30°, ‘thick’ oil was used, while in winter, when the temperature fell below 10°, ‘semi-thick’ oil was used. The instruction manual recommended replacing the oil every 100 hours of service or every 2,000 km.

This engine was an enhanced version of the one used on the military cargo trucks SPA38R, SPA Dovunque 35 and FIAT-SPA TL37, the 55 hp FIAT-SPA 18T.

The 165-liter tanks guaranteed a range of 200 km on road and about 5 hours off-road, with a top speed on-road of 42 km/h and 20-25 km/h on rough terrain, depending on the terrain on which the self-propelled gun was operating.

The running gear consisted of a 16-teeth front sprocket, four paired road wheels, three upper rollers and one rear idler wheel on each side. The swing arms were fixed to the sides of the chassis and were attached to torsion bars. The L6 and L40 were the first Royal Army vehicles equipped with torsion bars. The tracks were derived from those of the L3 series light tanks and were composed of 88 track links on each side.

Armor

The armor was the same as on the L6/40. The front plates of the superstructure were 30 mm thick, while those of the gun shield and driver’s port were 40 mm thick.

The front plates of the transmission cover and the side plates were 15 mm thick, as was the back. The engine deck was 6 mm thick and the floor had 10 mm armor plates. The armor was produced with low-quality steel because, while the demand for ballistic steel to produce armored vehicles had increased since 1939, the Italian industry was not able to supply very large quantities. This was further worsened because of the embargoes that hit Italy in 1935-1936 due to the invasion of Ethiopia and those that started in 1939.

The armor of the L40s often cracked after being hit (but not penetrated) by enemy shells, even small-caliber ones such as the Ordnance QF 2 Pounder 40 mm rounds. The armor plates were all bolted, a solution that made the vehicle dangerous because, in some cases, when a shell hit the armor, the bolts flew out at very high speed, potentially seriously injuring the crew members. The bolts were, however, the best that the Italian industry could offer in 1941 and they had the advantage of keeping the vehicle simpler to manufacture than a vehicle with welded armor and it had the possibility of replacing a damaged armor plate with a new one very quickly even in poorly equipped field workshops.

Diagram of the superstructure armor plates of an L40 da 47/32. Source: FIAT archive

Hull and Interior

On the front side was the transmission cover with a large inspection hatch that could be opened by the driver through a lever. This would often be kept open to cool the brakes during travel. On the right fender, the shovel and crowbar were carried, while on the left one was the jack support. For night driving, the only headlight was mounted on the right, because, due to the 47 mm gun shield, the one on the left was removed.

As mentioned earlier, the driver was positioned on the right and had both a slit that could be opened by a lever mounted on the right and, on top, an episcope that had a horizontal field of view of 30°, a vertical field of view of 8° and had a vertical traverse from -1° to +18°. On the left, he had the gear lever and the handbrake, while on the right he had the dashboard. Under his seat were the batteries produced by Magneti Marelli that were used to start the engine and to power the vehicle’s electrical systems.

Behind him, there was a box with a spare episcope mounted on a 33 cannon round rack on which the loader sat. On the left, the loader had an armored rack for another 37 rounds that took up almost all the space available. In the middle of the fighting compartment was the transmission shaft that connected the engine to the transmission. On the left of the loader was the gunner/vehicle commander who had, in front of him, the breech of the cannon and, under it, the cranks for the horizontal and vertical traverse. On the right of the cannon was mounted the 1x optical sight produced by the San Giorgio factory of Sestri-Ponente. This was also used on the medium tanks of the ‘M’ series.

Due to the small amount of space inside, the vehicle was not equipped with an intercom system.

On the sides of the superstructure were mounted two rails for attaching the tarpaulin when the crew used it to cover the crew compartment. These rails were also used as handles to better enter into the vehicle or to attach backpacks, steel helmets and spare tracks to offer more protection from enemy fire.

Interior view of a Semovente L40 da 47/32 of the first series in Tunisia. The loader, who spots targets with the binoculars, the left tarpaulin rail and the ammunition rack on the right are visible. Behind, the folded waterproof tarpaulin and the two air intakes mounted on the rear armor plate can be seen. This L40 was the 4th self-propelled gun of the 2nd Platoon of the 2nd Company of the CXXXVI Battaglione Semoventi Controcarri, Tunisia, January 1943. Source: pinterest.com

On the back of the combat compartment, behind the head of the loader, a rectangular tank with the cooling water of the engine was placed. In the middle was a fire extinguisher. On the sides, there were two air intakes, useless for the L40 but inherited from the L6/40, exactly like the access hatch positioned on the right side. Above the transmission shaft, there were two inspection doors for the engine compartment.

The engine and crew compartments were separated by an armored bulkhead which reduced the risk of fire spreading to the crew area. The engine was located in the middle of the rear compartment, with two 82.5-liters tanks on either side. Behind the engine were the radiator and the lubrication oil tank. The engine deck had two large doors with two grilles for engine cooling and, behind, two air intakes for the radiator. It was not uncommon for the crew to travel with the two hatches open during African operations, in order to better ventilate the engine due to the outside temperatures.

On the rear parts of the mudguards were positioned two big boxes for tools closed by locks and, on the left side, a spare wheel. On the right, the muffler was placed. On the first vehicles produced, this was not equipped with a cover. The cover dissipated the heat and averted damage.

The engine compartment with powerplant, tanks, and radiator removed. The torsion bar and part of the transmission shaft with its universal joint are visible. Source: FIAT Archives

Armament

The primary armament of the Semovente L40 da 47/32 was the Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935, nicknamed by the soldiers “Elefantino” (Eng: Little Elephant). This gun was designed by the Austrian Böhler company and over 3,200 units were produced under license by various companies for the Royal Army from 1937 until 1945. The main producers were Breda of Brescia, Arsenale Regio Esercito di Torino (Eng: Royal Army Arsenal of Turin) or ARET, Arsenale Regio Esercito di Piacenza (AREP) and Ansaldo. Designed as an infantry support cannon, it proved to be reliable and precise during the Spanish Civil War and capable of taking out the few opposing armored vehicles. Its maximum range was 7,000 m, but it was effective up to 4,000 m for infantry support and about 1,000 m for anti-tank fire.

The gun was mounted on the left side of the hull, in a support that allowed a horizontal traverse for 27° and a vertical traverse from -12° to +20°.

The Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935 on the L40 mount. The bag for the ejected cartridges and the round in the breech can be seen. Source: Ansaldo Archives

Although lacking interior space, the crew began to bring on board L40 Carcano Mod. 91 rifles, MAB 38 submachine guns and OTO, Breda or SRCM Mod. 35 hand grenades for close defense against enemy infantry. Often, due to the limited space in the fighting compartment, the weapons were transported in boxes or bags attached to the engine deck.

Ammunition

The cannon had a rate of fire of about 15 rounds per minute on the L40, due to the cramped available space but, when the vehicle was under enemy infantry fire, the loader could not perform his function safely and therefore could only pass the ammunition to the gunner and this sensibly lowered the rate of fire.

The ammunition consisted of 70 rounds and the cannon could fire five types of ammunition:

Name Type Fuze Projectile weight (kg) Muzzle Velocity (m/s)
Cartoccio Granata da 47 mod. 35 High-Explosive Percussion mod. 35 or mod. 39 2,45 250
Perforante mod. 35 Armor Piercing – Tracer Percussion mod. 09 1,42 630
Proietto Perforante mod. 39 Armor-Piercing Composite Rigid – Tracer Percussion mod. 09 1,44 650
Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto High-Explosive Anti-Tank Internal mod. 41 1,2 //
Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto Speciale High-Explosive Anti-Tank IPEM front fuze 1,5 //

A serious problem was the lack of HEAT ammunition which was produced late and not often distributed to the crews. In fact, according to Italian Army documents, in May 1942, there were only 12,537 47 mm EP rounds in North Africa out of 145,777 47 mm caliber rounds in total.

Precise values on the penetration of the Mod. 35 armor-piercing ammunition are not available. However, an Italian document of the Spanish Civil War era states that it penetrated 37 mm at a distance of 700 m.

The Mod. 39 armor-piercing ammunition could penetrate plates with thicknesses of 55 mm at 100 m, 40 mm at 500 m, and 30 mm at 1000 m, angled at 0°.

From the left, three Proietto Perforante mod. 39 and two Proietto Perforante mod. 35 for the Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935. Source: pinterest.com

There is no precise data on the penetration of the HEAT ammunition of the 47 mm gun, but an Italian report from some tests in October 1942 shows that the Effetto Pronto round was not able to penetrate the 52 mm thick side armor of the turret of a T-34/76 Mod. 1942 captured by the Italians on the Eastern Front.

The Effetto Pronto Speciale round, produced in very few numbers between early 1943 and the end of the war, had greater anti-tank capabilities and was able to penetrate the front armor of an M4 Sherman.

The Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto on the left and the Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto Speciale on the right in a German ammunition document written in 1944. Source: Kennblätter für fremdes Gerät

Production

Production of the Semovente began at the end of 1941, but the first Semovente da 47/32 was completed in early 1942.

The L40 production started while construction of 583 L6/40 tanks was already underway. A new contract was immediately signed by the Italian Royal Army with Ansaldo to reduce production of the L6 light tank to 283 vehicles and simultaneously produce 300 L40. In June 1942, however, the Italian Royal Army signed a new contract for 444 L6/40 light tanks and 460 Semoventi L40 da 47/32 to be produced.

As for the L6/40 light tank, Ansaldo subcontracted production to FIAT due to the large orders received from the Royal Army. The self-propelled guns were produced in Turin, in the same plant where the L6/40s were produced.

Due to the lack of raw materials to produce the armored vehicles, in the first months of 1941, the Regio Esercito ordered FIAT to give priority to the production of AB41 armored cars, which were considered much more useful than the L6/40 light tank in long-range reconnaissance roles.

FIAT continued to produce light tank chassis but could not complete them due to the scarcity of molybdenum, used in the steel alloy of the suspension, and due to delays in the delivery of radios, optics of and other parts of the Mod. 1941 turrets. In January 1942, the FIAT factory warehouses were full of L6/40 chassis waiting to be completed, so many of these vehicles were modified into L40 self propelled guns.

Between January and May 1942, the production rate was 30 vehicles per month, decreasing to 25 L40s produced in June up to 13 units completed in December. This was due to a lack of 47 mm cannons and San Giorgio optics, which were also used for the medium tanks of the ‘M’ series.

340 L40s were produced in the standard version (320 delivered to Regio Esercito units) and another 47 in command and radio station versions, for a total of 387 vehicles between January 1942 and September 1943.

On 9 November 1943, the Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen signed contracts with Italian factories to restart the production of several Italian vehicles. The FIAT plants in Turin started producing light tanks again in the following days, producing a total of 74 Semoventi L40 da 47/32 between November 1943 and October 1944.

For the Germans, another 10 platoons command tanks were also produced, 7 in 1944 and 3 in 1945 and 36 battalion command tanks (also known as radio station version), with 27 produced in 1944 and 9 produced in 1945, for a total of 120 vehicles on the L40 hull produced between 1943 and 1945.

October 7, 1942. FIAT employees work on L40s on an assembly line of the Turin plants. Source: FIAT Archives

Versions – First, Second and Third series

Three different series of the Semovente L40 da 47/32 were produced.

The first series was produced between January 1942 and mid-1943 and is distinguishable from the other series by the early production idler wheel and the welded access hatch on the right side of the hull.

Semovente L40 da 47/32 of the first series with lateral access door and early-type idler wheel. Source: worldwarphotos.com

In mid-1942, new idler wheels began to be available and were mounted on the first series L40, before moving onto the second series produced in a few numbers for the Regio Esercito. The side access hatch was removed and the idler wheel was replaced by a more robust model (also mounted on the late production L6/40s).

Two Semoventi L40 da 47/32 of the second series used by Germans in Slovenia. In this photo, the absence of the lateral access door is clearly visible. Source: worldwarphotos.com

The third series, better known as the ‘Ausf. G’ series, with the ‘G’ standing for ‘Germanico’ (Eng: German), was produced for the Germans by FIAT factories in Turin. This series had some modifications from the second series, as requested by the Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen. The superstructure was enlarged and raised at the rear, becoming much more “cubic” than the Italian versions. An RF1CA-TR7 radio with its respective antenna and a Breda Mod. 38 machine gun shielded with 10 mm thick armored plate were added. The machine gun was mounted on a sliding support on a crossbar in the front part of the superstructure which allowed the loader/machine gunner/radio operator to have a good shooting range, especially on the right side of the vehicle. Unfortunately, the amount of ammunition available for the cannon and for the machine gun is unknown. The speed and range were the same as on Italian versions, but the weight increased to 6.75 tonnes, 250 kg more due to the new additions.

Semovente L40 da 47/32 third series in service with the Slovensko Domobranstvo September 1944. Source: beutepanzer.ru

Variants – Command Vehicles

There were two command versions: the Semovente L40 Comando Plotone (Eng: Platoon Commander) and the Semovente L40 Commando Compagnia (Eng: Company Commander).

The Semovente L40 Comando Plotone was equipped with an RF1CA-TR7 radio which worked on the same frequency as German tank radios. This radio had a range of about 12 km and a model AL-1 Dynamotor power supply with 12V batteries produced by Magneti Marelli.

The radio was mounted on the right side together with the antenna, fixed on the rear right side of the superstructure. Due to the limited space, the ammunition rack with 37 rounds was eliminated and replaced by a rack with 16 rounds.

Side view of a Semovente L40 Comando Plotone vehicle. Source: FIAT Archives
Semovente L40 Comando Plotone vehicle on first series hull. Source: FIAT Archives
Semovente L40 Comando Plotone vehicle with lateral access door and late-type idler wheel disembarked by a merchant ship in Corsica, October 1942. This vehicle was the first self-propelled gun of the 1st Platoon of the 2nd Company of the XX Battaglione Controcarro. Source: pinterest.com

The Semovente L40 Commando Compagnia was produced only in late 1942 and had several modifications. A new, more powerful radio equipment was added instead of the RF1CA radio, the RF2CA. This radio had a range of about 25 km and was used by the Company or Battalion commander to stay in contact with other unit commanders or commanding officers. The power supply was the same as the RF1CA. The radio was also mounted on the left side together with its antenna which was mounted on the rear left side.

Due to the reduced space inside the vehicle, in order to make room for the new radio system of over 120 kg, the main armament and its ammunition were completely removed. For defense purposes, the crew had at their disposal a Breda Mod. 38 8 mm caliber machine gun mounted on a spherical support in place of the cannon. To avoid being recognized even at a very long distance, a fake 47 mm wooden barrel was fixed on the spherical support in order to make the vehicle look like a standard L40.

The ammunition for the machine gun was 1,608 rounds, which was 67 magazines with 24 rounds stored on the right side of the superstructure next to the RF1CA-TR7 radio.

The two command versions were called Panzerbefehlswagen L6 770(i) by the Germans and 47 units were produced for the Italian Royal Army and 46 for the Germans on the chassis of the second series vehicles.

Side view of a Semovente L40 Comando Compagnia vehicle. Source: pinterest.com
Semovente L40 Comando Compagnia on a first series hull. The machine gun ball mount covered by the wooden barrel and the two radio antennas are clearly visible. Source: FIAT Archives

Organization

It was planned to assign a Battaglione Semoventi Controcarro (Eng: Anti-Tank Self-Propelled Guns Battalion) to each Italian armored division. This would be composed of 21 self-propelled guns, in two 10 vehicle platoons and one L40 Platoon Command vehicle. In June 1942, the units were reorganized and each armored battalion received a third platoon, for a total of 30 L40s and one L40 Platoon Command. In December 1942, with the entry into service of the L40 Company Command vehicle, the Battaglioni Controcarro were reorganized with 10 L40s and one L40 Platoon Command tank for each of the three platoons and one L40 Company Command for a total of 34 self-propelled guns per battalion.

The anti-tank battalions were assigned not only to the armored divisions but also to autonomous battalions, Raggruppamenti Esploranti Corazzati or R.E.Co. (Eng: Armored Exploring Groups) and Cavalry regiments. The latter received two or three platoons, depending on the unit.

The Semovente L40 da 47/32 in action

Regio Esercito

The first self-propelled guns completed became part of the XIII Gruppo Squadroni Semoventi Controcarri (Eng: 13th Anti-Tank Self-propelled Gun Squadron Group) of the 14° Reggimento ‘Cavalleggeri di Alessandria’ (Eng: 14th ‘Cavalleggeri di Alessandria’ Regiment), which left for the Eastern Front on 3rd August 1942, supporting the 3ª Divisione Celere “Principe Amedeo Duca d’Aosta” (Eng: 3rd Fast Division). The 31 Semoventi L40 took part in various battles against the Soviets, with all vehicles being lost during the Soviet offensive on the Don. On 11 December 1942, together with some L6/40s of the Bersaglieri units assigned to the XIII° Gruppo Alessandria Cavalleria (Eng: 13th Alessandria Cavalry Group), they had the task of repelling Soviet attacks at the center of the very long sector held by ARMata Italiana In Russia or ARMIR (Eng: Italian Army in Russia). They covered a section that remained open in order to support the 5ª Divisione di Fanteria ‘Cosseria’ and the 3ª Divisione di Fanteria ‘Ravenna’ (Eng: 5th and 3rd Italian Infantry Divisions) that had suffered losses in the last few days due to the continuous assaults by the Red Army. The remaining operational tanks were fewer than twenty due to the lack of supplies and spare parts. All L40s and almost all L6/40s were destroyed in the fighting in Gadjucja and Foronovo. The unit was reorganized in May 1943 in the Italian town of Codroipo in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, incorporating the few survivors from the retreat from Russia.

Two Semoventi L40 da 47/32 of the first series in Russia during the frigid Russian winter. Source: pinterest.com

These light self-propelled guns were not suitable for use on the snow-covered ground and muddy roads because of their narrow tracks. The 47 mm cannon was not able to cope with the most modern Soviet tanks, such as the T-34/76 and KV-1s, but could effectively knock out pre-war or light vehicles such as the BT series tanks, T-60s and T-70s often used to support Soviet infantry assaults.

A bad quality photo, probably taken from a Soviet propaganda film, showing an L6/40 light tank on the left and a Semovente L40 da 47/32 abandoned by Italian soldiers being inspected by Red Army soldiers. Source: pinterest.com

In September 1942, the registers of the Royal Army mention the sending to Tunisia of two platoons, amounting for a total of 21 L40s, which armed XXX Battaglione Controcarro of the RECo ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’. The vehicles were supposed to arrive in Tunis in the first days of November but, after the departure from Italy on September 27, 1942, the merchant ship carrying them, the Francesco Barbaro, was hit and damaged by the Royal Navy submarine HMS Umbra. On the next day, the submarine reengaged the merchant ship, sinking it.

An L40 da 47/32 of the first series and a German Sd.Kfz. 233 Schwerer Panzerspähwagen in Tunisia during a break. The Italian crew covered their tank with foliage to better hide it from airstrikes. The gunner and the loader are wearing steel helmets and the driver wears a padded tanker helmet. An MAB38 barrel is also visible. Source: comandosupremo.com

Due to this (the merchant ship was also carrying other vehicles besides the 21 self-propelled guns ones), RECo ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’ only reached Tunisia in February 1943, when the situation in Africa forced the Axis forces to a desperate defense.

In North Africa, the L40 self-propelled guns were used during the Tunisian Campaign by the I and CXXXVI Battaglioni Controcarro and in units of the 132ª Divisione corazzata ‘Ariete’ (Eng: 132nd Armored Division ‘Ariete’) and the 133ª Divisione corazzata ‘Littorio’ (Eng: 133rd Armored Division ‘Littorio’).

In late 1942, the British sank dozens of merchant ships and shot down hundreds of Italian and German transport planes. This meant that the Deutsche Afrika Korp (DAK) and the Royal Italian Army could not replace their losses.

Some soldiers of the Fallschirmjäger-Brigade “Ramcke” inspect a Semovente L40. It is not clear if the vehicle was abandoned by Italian soldiers or if the photo was taken during a break. Source: bundesarchives.com

The Italians gathered all their operational armored vehicles in the Raggruppamento (Eng: Group) ‘Cantaluppi’, named after its commander. The ‘Cantaluppi’ included the surviving armored vehicles of the ‘Ariete’ and ‘Littorio’ divisions, some medium tanks of the ‘M’ series, armored vehicles of the 101ª Divisione Meccanizzata ‘Trieste’ (Eng: 101st Mechanised Division ‘Trieste’) and, finally, the very few vehicles of the 131ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Centauro’ which had managed to land in Africa after November 1942.

A Semovente L40 da 47/32 loaded on the cargo bay of a Lancia 3Ro during the Tunisian Campaign. Source: pinterest.com

In February 1943, General Giovanni Messe took command of the 1ª Armata in Tunisia (Eng: 1st Army in Tunisia) and reorganized the armored units under his command into two divisions.

The 131ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Centauro’ was reformed with the surviving vehicles of the armored divisions ‘Ariete’ and ‘Littorio’, along with new units just landed in Africa, such as the RECo ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’ (with 34 L40 self-propelled guns) and other new armored vehicles.

The 136ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Giovani Fascisti’ received the surviving regiments of the ‘Trieste’ division.

An L40 da 47/32 of the first series in Tunisia, February 11, 1943. Source: Istituto Luce

The Semoventi L40 da 47/32 were the most numerous Italian tracked vehicles present in the Tunisian Campaign and participated in few numbers in all battles until March 10, 1943.
During the Battle of Kasserine Pass, these fast self-propelled guns were fundamental to launching the decisive counterattack that, on February 20, made the inexperienced American units retreat, succeeding, at the cost of huge losses, to knock out some M4 Sherman tanks at a very short distance. The Italo-German forces under the command of General Erwin Rommel managed to capture more than 30 M3 half-tracks, cannons and also some M4 Sherman medium tanks, while destroying more than 40 enemy tanks.

A Battaglione Controcarro in Tunisia, March 1943. This photo was probably taken during the Battle of Médenine. The first three vehicles in the foreground are L40 Platoon Command tanks. Source: Istituto Luce

The last known action of the self-propelled guns units was during the Battle of Médenine on March 6, 1943, when a platoon of L40s of the 20th Italian Army Corps launched an assault on the British forces with disastrous results. In a single day, the units under Rommel’s command lost about 50 Italian and German tanks.

The use of the Semovente L40 da 47/32 by the Regio Esercito in Balkans

The precise date when the first L6/40 and the Semovente anti-tank vehicle based on it first arrived in occupied Yugoslavia is unknown. One of the first known units that operated the Semovente L40 da 47/32 was the Reggimento ‘Cavalleggeri di Alessandria’ which had 13 L6/40 and 9 Semoventi L40. The Reggimento ‘Cavalleggeri di Monferrato’, which was stationed in Albania until the Italian surrender in 1943, also operated Semovente da 47/32 vehicles.

During an anti-partisan action conducted by the Italian occupation forces in late July 1943, at least one Semovente L40 da 47/32 was lost, as it hit a Partisan anti-tank landmine. After the Italian Armistice, most Italian units were forced to surrender to different factions, including the Germans, Croats and to the Partisans. One Italian unit, the Italienische Panzer Schwadron (later renamed to Panzer Abteilung Adria), was used under German command during 1944-45 in Yugoslavia. It had some 34 armored vehicles, including unknown numbers of Semoventi da 47/32. Despite having armor in their possession, this unit was rarely used against the Partisans.

The Fight in Italy

After the Tunisian Campaign, the Allies landed in Sicily on July 9, 1943.

On July 11, the 4ª Divisione fanteria “Livorno” (Eng: 4th Infantry Division “Livorno”) and the Fallschirm-Panzer-Division 1. “Hermann Göring” launched a counterattack but without success. In the following days, the survivors of the two divisions and other Italian and German units desperately tried to slow down the advance of the Allied forces.

The armored units equipped with the Semoventi L40 in Sicily were the IV° Battaglione Controcarro of the 4ª Divisione fanteria “Livorno” and the CXXI, CXXX, CXXXII, CXXXIII, CCXXX and CCXXXIII Battaglioni Controcarro, for a total of over 100 vehicles that fought with very little results against the Anglo-American tanks.

A British soldier inspects a Semovente L40 da 47/32 of the first series belonging to the CXXXII Battaglione Controcarro in Noto, Sicily after the battle for the city on July 10, 1943. On the vehicle are two 47 mm wooden ammunition boxes and on the front are positioned some stone bricks to provide some camouflage. Source: gbmodelli.blogspot.com

On July 12, 1943, a platoon of the CCXXXIII Battaglione Controcarro was involved in a skirmish at a short distance from Bivio Gigliotto near San Michele di Ganzaria. There, after a furious fight, the commander was taken prisoner by the American soldiers and the second in command, Luigi Scapuzzi, assumed the role of platoon commander.

In the following days, the CCXXXIII positioned itself on the Italian-German defensive line between Assoro and Leonforte in a vain attempt to resist the assaults of the US and Canadian troops that were inexorably advancing. The enemy succeeded in capturing Valguarnera, a few kilometers from the defensive line.

Italian L40 near a Panzer II and some German Fallschirmjäger, probably during the Assoro Battle. Source: pinterest.com

The objectives of the Canadians were the capture of the cities of Assoro at 920 m above sea level, assigned to Hastings and Prince Edward of the 1st Brigade of Graham, and Leonforte at 600 m above sea level assigned to Loyal Edmonton and Princess Patricia’s of the 2nd Brigade of Vokes. In that area were entrenched the Italian-German units that had survived the counterattacks of the previous days, two Panzergrenadier-Regiments of the “Hermann Göring” division, 33° and 34° Reggimenti di Fanteria of the ‘Livorno’ division, 6 81 mm mortars, some guns and a pair of 149/13 Skoda howitzers of the 28° Reggimento Artiglieria ‘Monviso’.

The situation remained calm for a few days but, on July 21, the Canadians began the attack on the positions held by the Germans and the self-propelled guns of the CCXXXIII Battaglione Controcarro were called to intervene.

In the clash, three L40 were destroyed or knocked out. These included that of Major Villari, commander of the Battalion, who was taken prisoner, that of Lieutenant Pierino Varricchio, commander of the second platoon of the CCXXXIII, who was saved but slightly wounded, and another was destroyed by a hand grenade thrown inside the fighting compartment. It is not clear how but the three crew members survived miraculously and were hospitalized at the German infirmary.

Soldiers and tankers of the 4ª Divisione fanteria “Livorno” before the Sicily Campaign. Source: pinterest.com

In the afternoon, one after the other, all the self-propelled guns were destroyed or knocked out. One of the last L40 still working was that of Luigi Scapuzzi, placed in the locality of Casa Ricifari that, after a whole day of fighting, in the late afternoon, had ran out of ammunition, so the Italian officer started throwing hand grenades at the enemy soldiers and, after also running out hand grenades, leaped out of the L40 taking his MAB38 and repelling the Canadian soldiers until he was mortally hit towards the evening. After his death, four German soldiers were captured by the Canadians soldiers, but were executed by the Canadians who, at dawn on July 22, conquered Leonforte. The Canadian troops suffered 56 soldiers killed and 105 wounded during the fight. The two surviving self-propelled guns from the battle, belonging to the 3° Plotone of the CCXXXIII, withdrew and joined the 26ª Divisione di Fanteria “Assietta” and the 28ª Divisione di Fanteria “Aosta” in Nicosia where they took part in the defense of the city and then they were withdrawn to the Italian peninsula.

The crews of Semoventi L40 da 47/32 in Sicily. Source: pinterest.com

The XX Battaglione Controcarro formed in October 1942 with two platoons of L40 from 47/32 was sent to Corsica in late October 1942.

An L40 disembarked from a merchant ship in Bardia, October 1942. Source: Istituto Luce

The CXXXI Battaglione Controcarro of the 31° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista (Eng: 31st Tank Crew Infantry Regiment) with two platoons, was also sent to Corsica in 1943. These two units were still on the island at the time of the Armistice. The Italian commander of the forces on the island, General Giovanni Magli, received news of the Armistice an hour before the official announcement from Radio London and prepared to fight the German forces by freeing the Corsican partisans captured in the previous months from prison. Around one in the morning, there were the first skirmishes with the German soldiers who tried to occupy the port city of Bardia. The Italian counterattack supported by some L40s, L3s and some AB41s also managed to repel the German forces for several days but, on September 13, some Tiger tanks landed on the island and the Italians were forced to retreat and hide themselves waiting for Allied support. On September 17, the troops of Free France landed on the island and made contact with General Magli and on September 29, the Bersaglieri units, the 4th Mechanized Regiment and the Goumiers of the 1st Moroccan Regiment, supported by L40s, re-occupied Bardia, forcing the Germans to re-embark for the mainland and the last German forces surrendered on October 5th. After the battle, the French disarmed their erstwhile Italian allies, treating them as prisoners of war and loading them on ships bound for Sardinia.

L40 Platoon Command vehicle in the port of Bastia on September 9, 1943. Source: Istituto Luce

On April 1, 1943, in Ferrara, the Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete’ was reorganized from scratch and renamed 135ª Divisione corazzata ‘Ariete II’. After a period for training the troops, it was sent on July 25 to Rome. In May, a new armored division was created, the 1ª Divisione corazzata di Camicie Nere “M” (M standing for Mussolini) formed by veterans of the Russian Campaign and the North African Campaign. This unit was supposed, in Benito Mussolini’s projects, to represent the vanguard of the Italian divisions and in fact, it was also armed with 36 German tanks, 12 Panzer III Ausf. Ns, 12 Panzer IV Ausf. Gs and 12 StuG III Ausf. Gs. The two divisions had 23 Semoventi L40s in two platoons each for a total of 40 L40 da 47/32s, 4 L40 Platoon Command vehicles and 2 L40 Radio Centre vehicles in addition to some vehicles in reserve.

On July 25, 1943, the Duce, Benito Mussolini, was arrested and a new Italian fascist government, with the Italian Marshal Pietro Badoglio as Prime Minister, was created and decided to continue the war with the Axis armies.

In August, however, the proposals for an agreement offered by the Allies convinced Badoglio, supported by the King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele III, to accept an armistice on September 3, 1943.

The news of the Armistice, however, was not made public until September 8 at 19:42 in the evening. The German secret service had already discovered it a few days earlier and had alarmed the Wehrmacht, although the Anglo-American soldiers were informed in advance of the Armistice, the only ones who did not know about it were the soldiers and many generals of the Italian Royal Army who were taken by surprise by the announcement on the evening of September 8.

On the day of the Armistice of Cassibile in Rome, there were 24 L40s of the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Lancieri di Montebello’ of the 135ª Divisione corazzata ‘Ariete II’. These vehicles took part in the defense of Rome between 8 and 10 September against the German attack. In the confusing battle, not only the soldiers of the Regio Esercito but also men, women and children took part, some armed with shotguns or rifles from the First World War, whilst others threw stones from the windows when German troops passed by.

A L40 of the RECo ‘Lancieri di Montebello’ during the defense of Rome, September 10 1943. Source: pinterest.com

The RECo ‘Lancieri di Montebello’ took part in the defense Rome from September 8 to the morning of September 10, after which the survivors took part in the defense of Porta San Paolo, holding back the Germans for several hours, but at 5 pm, it had to retreat leaving on the battlefield many casualties and almost all the vehicles at its disposal.

The 24 L40s in the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato of the 18° Reggimento Bersaglieri of the 1ª Divisione corazzata di Camicie Nere “M”, after the arrest of Mussolini, which was renamed the 136ª Divisione corazzata ‘Centauro II’, were transported, with the entire division, by train to Rome. Some trains were blocked by sabotage of the railways.

The units that managed to arrive in Rome on the night of September 9 blocked the access to the city from Tivoli, clashing with the German troops on the morning of the 10th. Beginning on the morning of September 10, the few soldiers and almost all the L40s of the RECo of the 18° Reggimento Bersaglieri managed to arrive in Rome and joined the ranks of the ‘Ariete II’ division, which had lost almost all the men and vehicles of the RECo ‘Lancieri di Montebello’, which had, along with the 21ª Divisione fanteria ‘Granatieri di Sardegna’, fought against the German 2. Fallschirmjäger-Division “Ramke” at Porta San Paolo. In the afternoon, other elements of the division attacked the Germans at Porta San Sebastiano. At 5:00 p.m. the RECo received the news that a ceasefire agreement had been in place since 4:00 p.m. by means of flyers launched from a German aircraft. Under incessant enemy fire, the survivors of the RECo and the few surviving vehicles retreated to Settecamini where, in the evening, an air attack by Ju-87 “Stuka” dive bombers destroyed several tanks and trucks belonging to the Regiment. On the morning of September 11, the unit, with less than half of the surviving soldiers, disbanded after sabotaging the still operational vehicles. Most of the surviving soldiers joined the Italian resistance.

The 18° Reggimento Bersaglieri fought the Germans near the Colosseum and the Circo Massimo with some L40s taken from RECo reserves, but at the end of the September 10, the Regiment surrendered to German troops.

A Semovente L40 da 47/32 second series of the Armored Exploring Group of the 18° Reggimento Bersaglieri destroyed near the Circo Massimo obelisk, September 10, 1943. Source: reddit.com

Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano (ENR)

On September 12, 1943, Benito Mussolini was rescued from prison by a German paratrooper commando unit and was immediately taken to Germany, where he met Adolf Hitler on September 14, where he agreed to continue the war. He returned to Italy on September 23 1943 and founded the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (Italian Social Republic).

After September 8, the Germans had captured the Italian soldiers, their weapons and their armored vehicles, but with the proclamation of the new republic, the Italian soldiers still loyal to Fascism and Benito Mussolini were released and re-equipped and joined the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano (Republican National Army) and the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (Republican National Guard), the military police corps of the RSI.
Because of the situation of the Axis forces and also because German soldiers had little confidence in Italian soldiers after the events of September 8, 1943, they received very few armored vehicles and trucks.

Five Semoventi L40 da 47/32 were delivered by the Germans to the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano. One of these was delivered to the 1° Battaglione Bersaglieri Volontari ‘Benito Mussolini’ (Eng: 1st Bersaglieri Volunteer Battalion ‘Benito Mussolini’), one of the first units founded in Verona in early September 1943.

They fought from the end of October 1943 until April 30, 1945 on the eastern Italian border, mainly on anti-partisan duties in the Gorizia area. Most of the soldiers had been trained in the Centro Costituzione Battaglioni Cacciatori di Carro (Eng: Instructions Centre for Tank Hunter Battalions) in Verona.

The battalion was employed in operations against the Slovenian partisans of the IX Corpus in the Isonzo and Baccia valleys and with defensive tasks along the Gorizia-Piedicolle railway, with numerous strongholds. The Semovente was used together with some FIAT 626s to patrol the supply routes of the various strongholds.

Around the middle of April 1945, this unit had many losses and the self-propelled vehicle was destroyed in combat.

Other sources claim that the vehicle, being unsuitable for fighting partisans, would have been provided to another RSI unit but there is no information on which unit or when it was provided.

Val Baccia, early 1944, the Semovente L40 da 47/32 of the first series belonging to the 1° Battaglione Bersaglieri Volontari ‘Benito Mussolini’ during an assault. Source: reddit.com

The Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’ (Eng: Armored Squadron Group ‘San Giusto’) received two Semoventi L40 da 47/32 of the second series, probably provided by the Germans when the unit was stationed in Gorizia.

Casteldoria, February 1945, a soldier in front of an L40 da 47/32 of the Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’ with last plate numbers ‘28’. Source: Di Fazio

The two self-propelled guns were part of the Squadrone Semoventi (Eng: Self-Propelled Gun Squadron) together with one Semovente M41 da 75/18, two Semoventi M42 da 75/18 and one Semovente M42M da 75/34.

They were used with success in the area of Gorizia, Fiume and Mariano del Friuli against the Yugoslav partisans until April 1945, when a major partisan offensive forced the unit to retreat to the Italian territory and then to surrender.

Another photo of the Semovente L40 da 47/32 of the second series of the Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’ with the plate number ‘5228’ in Mairano del Friuli, May 1944. Source: reddit.com

The Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani or RAP (Eng: Anti Partisans Group) stationed in Turin and active throughout Piedmont received two L40 da 47/32s at the end of 1944, found in an abandoned military depot in Caselle.

They were almost immediately employed in anti-partisan duties. In fact, on November 2nd, the unit took part in the retaking of the city of Alba which, on October 10, 1944, had been freed from the fascist forces by the partisans, who had founded an autonomous partisan republic. During the assault, the RAP lost an AB41 and probably also one of the L40s.

A Semovente L40 da 47/32 with some tank crew. The photo was taken before the Armistice in the Military depot of Caselle. In the background, a Lancia 3Ro. Source: reddit.com

Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (GNR)

Some of the soldiers freed by the Germans joined the Republican National Guard, the military police of the Italian Social Republic that was not equipped with armored vehicles by the Germans and had to arm themselves with abandoned vehicles hidden by Italian Royal Army units, those forgotten in abandoned depots consequently not captured by the Germans or by repairing damaged vehicles.

The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ was formed in late September 1943 at Montichiari, in the province of Brescia, with officers and soldiers of the 136ª Divisione corazzata ‘Centauro II’ who refused to fight against the Germans on September 8 and swore allegiance to them, avoiding arrest and internment in prison camps.

Under the command of the GNR, the ‘Leonessa’ was the largest RSI unit with subunits in Piedmont, Lombardy and Emilia Romagna. In January 1944, it had more than 800 men and repaired or found more than 100 tanks, self-propelled guns and armored cars, 158 transport trucks, 48 cars and more than 60 motorcycles during its operative life, among which were five Semoventi L40 da 47/32.

The 2nd Company of the ‘Leonessa’, commanded by Giovanni Bodda, was stationed at the Da Bormida barrack in Turin and was the only unit to use them together with some L3 light tanks and M13/40 and M14/41 medium tanks.

In November 1944, after participating in the conquest of Alba with elements of the RAP, some companies of the ‘Leonessa’, including the 2nd, were sent to Piacenza, Emilia Romagna, and used in anti-partisan duties in the Apennines Mountains of the Piacenza region and Val Trebbia. They were also used, along with tanks and armored cars, for the protection and patrolling of the highway to Liguria, the protection of the garrisons, and above all else, along with armored cars, patrolling the oil zone of Montechino to protect the few oil wells of the Agenzia Generale Italiana Petroli or AGIP (Eng: Italian General Oil Agency). In March 1945, in Busseto, in the province of Parma, a detachment was sent under the command of Antonino Condemi to reinforce the Black Brigade of Parma, which owned an armored vehicle independently produced by the Arsenal of Piacenza, very probably similar to the Lancia 3Ro Blindato of the XXXVI° Black Brigade “Natale Piacentini” of Piacenza.

For several months, these units of the ‘Leonessa’ effectively neutralized any disturbing action of the partisan brigades, which rarely launched small attacks on peripheral garrisons or fascist units on patrol.

The Partisan Command of Emilia preferred to avoid offensives, both because of the arrival of the companies of the ‘Leonessa’ but also because the Allies planned to liberate Emilia Romagna by mid-March (offensive postponed until April 1945). In order not to give all the credit to the Americans, at the end of February, the partisans launched a large-scale offensive against the garrisons of Rallio di Rivergaro, Busseto, Gropparello and Montechino, all garrisoned by soldiers of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’, to cut off oil supplies to the Italian Social Republic.

The companies were ordered to resist at all costs while waiting for reinforcements. The soldiers of the ‘Leonessa’ and the Black Brigades of the cities under attack were commanded by Captain Bodda, who was seriously wounded in combat with the partisans, and by Lieutenant Loffredi, who took command after Bodda’s injury. They put up strenuous resistance for ten days, mainly thanks to their armored vehicles. The platoons of medium tanks were ordered to defend the garrisons and command centers, whilst the platoons of armored cars and light vehicles, among which were the three Semoventi L40 da 47/32, could launch fast and effective small scale offensives or counter-attacks against the partisan brigades if they were able to break through the fascist’s defensive lines.

On March 10 1945, the Waffen Grenadier Brigade der SS (italienische Nr. 1), a brigade of the 29. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS ‘Italienische Nr. 1 formed by Italian volunteers, also known as 29. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS “Italia” or in Italian as 29ª Divisione SS Italiana, attacked the partisans, forcing them to retreat and took numerous prisoners. During the fighting, all the L40s of the ‘Leonessa’ took part, and at least a couple were knocked out by the partisans.

A month later, the Allied soldiers arrived after violent fighting near Piacenza. Against all predictions, however, the partisans, after the assault of the 29. Waffen-Grenadier-Division, reorganized and launched a new assault in the first days of April, succeeding in defeating the Nazi-Fascist forces, and entered Piacenza on April 26, 1945.

Between 1945 and 1946, the Arsenal of Piacenza scrapped several damaged or destroyed Allied and Axis vehicles, including Jeeps, some M3 half-tracks (including one “recovered in the countryside around Piacenza in the street between Albone and San Polo with evident signs of anti-tank weapons penetration”), “a damaged self-propelled gun on L6 hull” and two M8 Greyhound armored cars. According to the records of the Wehrmacht, the Italian Social Republic and the US Army, the only vehicle in the area capable of damaging these three Allied vehicles belonging to the Força Expedicionária Brasileira or FEB (Brazilian Expeditionary Force) was the last Semovente L40 da 47/32 of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ which destroyed the two M8 Armored cars and the M3 half-track on April 26, 1945, in the last battle between Italian armored vehicles and the Allies of World War II.

German Service

After the armistice, the German Army occupied the part of the Italian peninsula not conquered by the Allied Forces and captured lots of Italian weapons and soldiers.

74 Semoventi da 47/32 were captured and also, in the same days the Turin factory was occupied.

By the 9th of November, the production was restarted with another 120 Semoventi L40 da 47/32 produced in all the variants.

Croatia and Slovenia

Some of the 194 L40 da 47/32 employed by the Wehrmacht were delivered to the Croatian and Slovenian Armies that reused them in anti-partisans actions.

Yugoslavian Liberation Army

After the armistice, some Semoventi were captured or spontaneously delivered from Italian soldiers to the Yugoslavian Partisans that used them against the occupants of their territories until they ran out of ammunition or for lack of fuel.

Post-War Service

After the Second World War, an unknown number of Semoventi L40 47/32s were put into service with the Polizia di Stato (Eng: State Police) police corps of the nascent Repubblica Italiana (Eng: Italian Republic) founded on June 10, 1946.

Being a police corps of a state no longer at war, Semoventi were used only as a deterrent in demonstrations, elections, or political rallies, leaving the barracks only a few times throughout the late 40s.

During the first years of the Italian Republic, the Italian government and the USA feared that the former partisans and factory workers could attempt a communist coup d’état supported by Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. For this reason, the police and the Arma dei Carabinieri (Eng: Arm of Carabiners) were equipped with light armored vehicles and armored cars that were rarely used.

The event in which the most vehicles were employed was during the Italian institutional referendum between 2 and 3 June 1946 and on the 10th, when the results of the referendum were made public.

The L40s were only used, according to the information available, in Rome, with no more than 4 vehicles, which were repainted in Amaranth Red, a reddish-pink shade, taking to the streets.

Photo of two Semoventi L40 taken in Rome in June 1946. The oil barrel placed on the engine deck was unusual. Source: pinterest.com

Camouflage and markings

As on all Italian vehicles of the Second World War, the standard camouflage applied in the factory on 47/32 L40 self-propelled vehicles was the Kaki Sahariano Chiaro (Eng: Light Saharan Khaki). The vehicles used in the Soviet Union left for the Eastern Front in the classic khaki camouflage, but in an unspecified period between Summer and Winter 1942, the vehicles were repainted in olive green, leaving some stains of Light Saharan Kaki clearly visible. This camouflage was used only on the Eastern Front on the L40, it is not known why the Italians decided to repaint the self-propelled guns with this camouflage pattern, but they kept even during winter, at which time the camouflage made them easier to observe.

A Semovente L40 da 47/32 first series self-propelled gun used by the 2nd Platoon of the 1st Company of the XIII Gruppo Squadroni Semoventi Controcarri abandoned in a Russian village south of Stalingrad. The vehicle is clearly visible in the unusual camouflage. Source: pinterest.com

The self-propelled guns used in North Africa, Italy, and France had the standard khaki camouflage pattern, often with the addition of foliage to better camouflage them from potential aerial attacks. Many Italian vehicles received new camouflage patterns painted in the field by the crews, Italian flags to avoid friendly fire, mottos or phrases, though no other camouflage patterns are known before German service.

In the final months of the North African Campaign, the Royal Air Force had complete control of the skies over North Africa so it could act almost undisturbed at any time to support Allied ground troops on the battlefields.

To avoid being spotted by Allied ground attack aircraft, the crews of the L40 self-propelled vehicles began to cover their vehicles with foliage and camouflage netting.

This practice was also used by the crews who fought in Sicily even if, in that campaign, the Regia Aeronautica (Eng: Italian Royal Air Force) and the Luftwaffe were able to provide more efficient cover against the Allied ground attack aircraft.

A Semovente L40 in Saharan Khaki Camouflage in Tunisia with foliage to better hide it. Source: pinterest.com
An abandoned Semovente in Saharan khaki inspected by a British soldier, probably in Sicily. Source: pinterest.com

The markings that the L40s possessed placed them in the platoons and companies of the Regio Esercito they belonged to. This system of cataloging vehicles was used from 1940 until 1945 and was composed of an Arabic number indicating the number of the vehicle within the platoon, a rectangle of different colors for the company; red for the first company, blue for the second and yellow for the third company of a Battaglione Controcarro.

White vertical lines were then inserted inside the rectangle to indicate the platoon to which the vehicle belonged.

Three L40 da 47/32s of the 2nd Platoon of the 1st Company during a march in Tunisia. Source: worldwarphoto.com

Battalion command vehicles had the rectangle divided into two red and blue parts if the battalion had two companies or three red, blue and yellow parts if the battalion had three companies.

L40 Platoon Command vehicle used in an Anti-Tank Self-Propelled Gun Battalion with two companies. The ‘R’ over the rectangle stood for ‘Radio’ to identify this vehicle as a Radio Center vehicle. Source: pinterest.com

The vehicles of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana had different camouflage depending on the unit that used them. Note that the original plates were in some cases kept, but deleting the references to the Royal Army.

The 1° Battaglione Bersaglieri Volontari ‘Benito Mussolini’ added big olive green stripes to the standard camouflage in an unspecified moment between early 1944 and Spring 1944.

A Semovente L40 da 47/32 first series of the 1° Battaglione Bersaglieri Volontari ‘Benito Mussolini’ with a clearly visible two-tone camouflage. The bad photo quality is explained by the fact that the image is a still from a propaganda video. Source: modellismopiù.com

The Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’ painted on top of the standard camouflage of one L40 dark brown and dark green stripes while the second one was delivered to the unit with the standard three-tone Continentale (Eng: Continental) camouflage pattern i.e. dark green and reddish-brown painted on standard khaki camouflage. To repaint the first vehicle, the unit did not use military-grade paint and completely covered the previous plates while with the second vehicle they only covered the reference to the Regio Esercito, that is, the letters R.E. on the right side of the frontal armor plate of the hull keeping the original serial numbers. On the second vehicle, a Balkenkreuz was painted on the frontal armor of the superstructure in February 1945.

The vehicles of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ kept the khaki camouflage but painted on the sides of the superstructure a red ‘m’ (for ‘Mussolini’) with a lictorian beam, the Italian Fascist Party symbol, used also by the Armored Group.

Some sources also mention Continentale camouflage. The vehicles probably received this camouflage in Emilia Romagna but there is no precise information on how many were repainted.

Members of the Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’ on an L40 da 47/32 with a three-tone camouflage scheme, February 1945. The absence of the original number plate is visible. Source: reddit.com

Surviving Vehicles

Unfortunately, today, there are only two 47/32 L40 self-propelled guns remaining. One is at the U.S. Army Ordnance Training and Heritage Center, Fort Lee, in the US state of Virginia. This vehicle was probably captured in Sicily and taken by ship to the United States. It seems in good condition even if a good part of the interior has been removed. Between 2018 and 2019, it was restored externally and also repainted in a khaki color similar to the original Italian camouflage. Before that the vehicle was at the United States Army Ordnance Museum at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland before the museum was relocated to Fort Lee. There, the vehicle had been left in a poor state and had previously been painted white.

The L40 da 47/32 at Fort Lee, United States. Source: pinterest.com

The second L40 is located in Corsica where, after the war, it was demilitarized by removing the cannon and ammunition racks and used by the Forest Guards of the island for an unspecified period of time and then abandoned to rust in a warehouse.

In recent years, it has been restored and is now on display in Zonza in Corsica.

The L40 da 47/32 second series exhibited in Zonza, Corsica. Note the jerry can support, probably mounted by the forest guards to most likely increase the range of the vehicle. Source: pinterest.com

Conclusions

This self-propelled gun armed with a 47 mm cannon proved ineffective against the most modern British, American, and Soviet tanks when it appeared on the battlefield in late 1942.

Developed primarily for providing close support to Italian Army assault units, the L40 was very effective in the infantry support role, where it could hit targets up to 4,000 m with efficient accuracy.

Its weaknesses were the absence of secondary armament and radio equipment, feeble protection and the small and cramped internal space. These problems were mostly resolved by the third series produced for the Germans after November 1943, but due to the vehicle’s overall size, little could be done to increase the firepower with a more potent gun.

The article was written by Arturo Giusti, who provided the parts concerning the design and Italian operational service, and by Marko Pantelić, who provided the parts concerning the German, Croatian and Yugoslav partisan history operational service.


Semovente 47/32, 3rd Fast Division “Principe Amedeo Duca d’Aosta”, 8th Army (ARMIR), Ukraine, August 1942.

Semovente 47/32, CXXXVI Battalion Controcarri, Tunisia, January 1943

Semovente 47/32, Stalingrad area, southern sector, winter 1942-43.

Semovente 47/32, possibly from a Black Shirts unit, 6th Army, CXXXII self-propelled antitank battalion, Sicily, July 1943. All illustrations by David Bocquelet

L40 da 47/32 specifications
Dimensions (L-W-H) 3.82 x 1.92 x 1.63 m
Total weight, battle ready 6.5 t
Crew  3 (commander/gunner, driver, loader)
Propulsion Fiat SPA, 6 cyl. gasoline, 68 hp
Speed 42 km/h, 25/20 km/h (cross-country)
Range 200 km
Armament One Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935 gun and one machine gun
Armor 30 mm front, 15 mm sides and rear and 10 mm floor
Number Built 414 Semoventi L40 da 47/32 plus 93 command tanks

 

Sources

Bojan B. Dumitrijević and Dragan Savić (2011) Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd
T. L. Jentz (2008) Panzer Tracts No.19-2 Beute-Panzerkampfwagen
F. Cappellano and P. P. Battistelli (2012) Italian Light tanks 1919-45, New Vanguard
Nicola Pignato e Filippo Cappellano – Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano, Volume secondo (1940-1945).
Filippo Cappellano – Le artiglierie del Regio Esercito nella Seconda Guerra Mondiale
Nicola Pignato – Armi della fanteria Italiana Nella Seconda Guerra Mondiale
Gianni Oliva – I vinti e i liberati. 8 September 1943-25 aprile 1945: storia di due anni
FIAT Archives
AREP Archives
Olivio Gondim de Uzêda – Crônicas de Guerra

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