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WW2 Italian SPGs

Semovente M40, M41 and M42 da 75/18

Nation Flag IconKingdom of Italy, 1941-1955, Self-propelled gun- 288 built (60 M40, 162 M41 and 66 M42)

The Semovente da 75/18 was a family of Italians self-propelled guns based on the chassis of the Italian medium M13/40, M14/41, and M15/42 tanks armed with a 75 mm L.18 Ansaldo cannon in a casemate. It is the most widely produced self-propelled gun in the Kingdom of Italy during the Second World War, capable of fighting against almost all opposing armored vehicles. It was used in various roles by the Regio Esercito (Eng: Royal Italian Army) for infantry support and a tank destroyer. 288 vehicles were produced in total. It was also appreciated by the Wehrmacht, which captured several of them and put them back into service in its armored divisions.

An M40 da 75/18 in Africa 1942. To increase the range of the vehicle, crews carried jerry cans everywhere outside the vehicles. Source: wikipedia.com


Development

In 1938, the Regio Esercito realized that it had no vehicles capable of dealing with the Soviet tanks of the period, such as the BT-5 and the T-26s that were encountered during the Spanish Civil War, and a new self-propelled gun project was started. Its task was to destroy enemy tanks and infantry positions. A prototype was developed on the M.6 chassis (which later became the L6/40) called the Semovente M.6. The initial version was armed with a 47/32 cannon, followed by one with a 75 mm cannon. The 75 mm project was abandoned due to unclear reasons, but the 47 mm version would go on to become the Semovente L40 da 47/32.

In 1939, the Regio Esercito established its first two armored divisions, and the problem of adopting a tank destroyer into service resurfaced. It was desired to use the Cannone da 75/34 Mod. S.F., but Ansaldo’s project of mounting this 75/34 gun on the hull of a L.6 tank failed.

Wooden prototype of the Semovente M.6 with the 75 mm gun. Source: Pignato

With the outbreak of World War Two, the success enjoyed by the German assault cannons derived from the Panzer III and equipped with a 7.5 cm StuK 37 L/24 cannon, the StuG III, became evident. Ansaldo proposed a new project to the Army General Staff, designed by the Colonel of the Servizio Tecnico d’Artiglieria (STA or Technical Service Artillery), Sergio Berlese, in collaboration with Ansaldo technicians. This project involved the use of a 75/18 Mod. 1934 howitzer mounted in a casemate on the hull of the M13/40 medium tank. Later models used a M14/41 or M15/42 hull. Under Berlese’s supervision, a prototype was quickly built by Fiat and delivered for testing in February 1941. After firing tests, the army ordered a first batch of sixty 75/18 self-propelled vehicles to be delivered before the middle of 1941. However, these self-propelled only appeared in North Africa in January 1942.

Design of the Semovente da 75/18

The vehicle was very similar to the medium tank it was based on, with a riveted hull, the crew located in the combat compartment inside the riveted casemate at the front, and a separate engine compartment at the back. There would be some differences based on what medium tank it was based on, either the M13/40, M14/41, or M15/42. The semi-elliptical leaf spring suspension, bogies, and the tracks were the same.

The crew was reduced to three men, however. The driver was at the front on the left side, with the loader behind him. The commander sat on the right side and he also had to aim and shoot the gun besides give orders to the crew. The loader also acted as the radio operator.

Main Armament

The cannon was located in the front of the vehicle, slightly to the right, on a tilting ball support that allowed a notable 38° of traverse, 20° to the right and 18° to the left, and an elevation from -12°to + 22°. The 75/18 was a fairly modern piece of artillery, equipped with a muzzle brake punctured by small blast holes. The ammunition supply consisted of 41 rounds.

The gun was the Ansaldo Obice da 75/18 Mod. 1935, a howitzer developed for infantry support in early 1935 and had a low muzzle velocity (about 450 m/s). Although the original gun had a maximum range of 9,500 m, the lower elevation of the self-propelled version reduced the range to 7,000-7,500 m. It proved to be versatile and even deadly against many Allied tanks, such as the lightly-armored British Cruiser tanks, but also the heavier and better protected M3 Grants, M4 Shermans and Mk Vlll Cromwells using HEAT ammunition. With the EP (Effetto Pronto), the first type of HEAT rounds the vehicle could fire, it could penetrate those tanks at distances of about 700 m. The second type of HEAT rounds, called EPS (Effetto Pronto Speciale), could penetrate 120 mm of vertical armor tilted at any distance.

The Semovente da 75/18 also served as mobile artillery, providing indirect fire. These vehicles were very useful for infantry support thanks to their shrapnel, High Explosive (HE) and smoke rounds.

Secondary Armament

For close support and air defense, the crew carried their personal weapons which could be fired through two round pistol ports in the rear of the fighting compartment and by using the large hatch on top of the superstructure. A 6.5 x 52 mm Breda 30 machine gun could be mounted on a support bracket on the right side of the vehicle’s roof, in an anti-aircraft mount, and was generally kept inside the vehicle when not used. In the fighting compartment, a box with ammunition for the machine gun was present under the commander’s seat. The Semovente did not have any smoke extractors for the crew compartment. When engaging enemy targets, the crew needed to keep the upper hatch open in order to ventilate the noxious fumes from firing the gun, which caused many problems if the opposing forces fired artillery or conducted airstrikes on the Semovente’s position. To protect themselves from these circumstances, the crews onboard Semoventes began to wear infantry helmets.

Semovente M40 da 75/18 of the second battery of the DLI group of the “Ariete” Division. Note the Breda 30 machine gun mounted in the anti-aircraft position. Source: flamesofwar.com

Suspension

The suspension was of the semi-elliptical leaf spring type. On each side, there were four bogies paired on two suspension units with eight doubled road wheels in total. This model was obsolete and did not allow the vehicle to reach a high top speed. In addition, it was very vulnerable to enemy fire or mines.

The tank had 26 cm wide tracks with drive sprockets at the front and idlers at the back, with three return rollers on each side.

Close-up of the suspension. Source: zimmerit.com

Interior

The radio onboard the Semovente was a Magneti Marelli RF1CA placed on the left side of the hull, under its standard 1.8 m high antenna. The inverter and four Magneti Marelli 3NF-12-1-24 batteries were on the radio’s right. Further to the right was the driver’s instrument panel.

The ammunition for the cannon was transported in three racks, two on the right (14 and 15 rounds, respectively) and one with 15 rounds on the left, immediately in front of the air filter fan and behind the driver’s seat. The loader used this rack as a seat.

The back of the crew compartment had four cumbersome filters for the air, oil and two for the fuel, the fan, an engine cooling water tank, the batteries for engine ignition, and the transmission shaft. The transmission was of the Fiat 8 F2 type with four forward gears and one reverse gear.

A blueprint of the interior space of the fighting compartment of the M40 da 75/18. On the right side was the Breda 30, the two ammunition racks, the commander’s seat, and machine-gun ammunition. On the left were the radio, the driver’s instrument panel, the other ammunition rack, and the driver’s seat. In the center was the transmission shaft. Source: warthunderforum.com

On the left side, there was a maintenance kit and a fire extinguisher. On the roof, on the left side, there was a fully rotatable periscope and an opening for the cannon’s sight.

An M40 da 75/18 abandoned in the Egyptian desert after the Battle of El Alamein. Some vehicles survived the battle but were abandoned due to mechanical failures or lack of fuel. Note all the makeshift armor mounted on the vehicle in an attempt to increase the protection, including spare track links and sandbags. Source: Military-photo.com

Differences between models

The Semovente M40 da 75/18 model, which weighed 13.1 tonnes, had the original 125 hp Fiat SPA T8 diesel engine from the M13/40 and a frontal superstructure with a maximum armor thickness of 50 mm and 25 mm on the sides. Its maximum speed on road was 33 km/h and the range was 215 km. The more powerful M41 version weighed 13.5 tonnes and had a 145 hp Fiat SPA T15 diesel engine with a road speed of 35 km/h and a range of 210 km. The superstructure’s armor consisted of two 25 mm welded armored plates with a combined thickness of 50 mm. The ammunition racks were the same as on the M40.

A Semovente M40 da 75/18 during a march in the African desert. Source: El Alamein Battle archive

The front of the hull was 50 mm thick, the sides were 25 mm, while the back was 11 mm thick, with 15 mm on the roof and 9 mm on the floor. The original 6.5 mm Breda was replaced in the M41 series by a more powerful 8 x 59 mm Breda 38 with a supply of 864 rounds in two wooden racks, one with 16 magazines on the left side and one with 20 on the right side, above the radio inverter. Another feature that distinguished the M40 from the M41 were the mudguards that covered the entire length of the hull in the M41 models.

On 8th May 1943, the Semovente M42 da 75/18, derived from the M15/42 hull, was delivered to units. A new base for the Italian self-propelled guns, weighing 15 tonnes with improved protection of 35 mm of armor on the hull and sides and 20 mm on the rear. The frontal superstructure armor changed to a single 50 mm plate. It also had smoke grenade launchers transported in a box in the rear of the hull. The M42 was a little longer (5.06 m compared to the 4.92 m of the M40 and M41) because the engine compartment needed to accommodate the new more powerful engine, a Fiat SPA T15B (‘B’ stands for Benzina – Petrol) with 190 hp and its accompanying fuel tanks with a capacity of 307 liters (including 40 liters of the reserve). It also had improved fire fighting equipment due to the increased flammability of the petrol fuel. It had a consumption of 1.5 l/km, the maximum road speed was 39 km/h and the range was decreased to 200 km. The number of rounds carried was 44 in the usual three racks and 1,104 rounds (46 magazines) for the Breda 38 machine gun.

Production and deliveries

The production of the Semovente da 75/18 took place in the same factories that produced, in parallel, the M13/40 and the subsequent M14/41 and M15/42. The model evolved accordingly, both in terms of weight, power, speed, autonomy and protection.

Production was programmed to finish at the end of 1943, when it was planned to be replaced with more powerful models. These were at that time at the prototype phase, including the better armed Semovente M42M da 75/34 and the better armored and armed Semovente M43 da 75/46 and M43 da 105/25.
The Semovente da 75/18 was seen by the Italian High Command as a temporary vehicle before the P26/40 heavy tank could enter service and replace the M13/40 and M14/41 tanks and the self-propelled vehicles derived from their hulls. The 8th September 1943 Armistice stopped the Royal Army’s plans in their tracks.

Self-propelled guns built with the 75/18 howitzer were produced from early 1941 to late 1944. These consisted of 60 M40 da 75/18 on the M13/40 hull, 162 M41 da 75/18 on the M14/41 hull and 66 M42 da 75/18 on the M15/42 hull. These numbers could have been higher, but Allied bombings of the Fiat and Ansaldo factories and worker’s strikes hindered production.

Another M40 in the African desert, notice the two frontal 25 mm armored plates. Source: worldwarphotos.com

During the first desert combat operations in Egypt in 1942, it was observed that the self-propelled guns did not have an adequate quantity of ammunition on board. Thus, out of necessity, they were always assisted by supply vehicles. AS.37 Autocarro Sahariano were used for the transport of ammunition while, for recovery and towing, the larger Lancia 3Ro was used, capable of transporting one Semovente da 75/18 in the Mod. Bianchi trailer.

The Semovente da 75/18 in action

Regio Esercito

Tactically, the Semovente da 75/18s were delivered to the Armored Divisions primarily as divisional mobile artillery. However, the divisions also used them as tank destroyers as their tanks were not capable of destroying the better armored British tanks, such as the Matilda and Valentine, and also the US tanks in service with the British Army such as the M3 Lee and M4 Sherman.

The divisional structure consisted of two artillery groups for each armored division, composed of 2 batteries of four Semovente da 75/18s each, four command tanks for each artillery group and two more Semoventi and a Command tank in reserve, a total of 18 tanks and 9 command tanks. The production run of the M40 version consisted of 60 vehicles that were divided into 6 groups from DLI to DLVI in Roman numbers (551st to 556th)

The first two batteries delivered were IV and VI, part of the DLI group on April 30, 1941. After the crew training, the two batteries went to equip the 132ª Divisione Corazzata “Ariete” (Eng: 132nd Armored Division) on May 14, 1942, also the DLII went to equip the “Ariete”. DLIV formed on May 15, 1942, and went to arm the 131ª Divisione Corazzata “Centauro” (Eng: 131st Armored Division). DLV and DLVI, also formed on 16 May, went to the 133ª Divisione Corazzata “Littorio” (Eng: 133rd Armored Division).

DLI, DLII, DLIV, and DLVI came to the forefront on January 18, 1942, and saw use during the African Campaign but were all destroyed at El Alamein. The fate of DLV is not known, although it is presumed that it was used as a reserve in order to replace the destroyed self-propelled vehicles used in the other armored divisions.

Because of the subpar quality armor produced by Ansaldo, the crews put sandbags and spare tracks to improve protection from Allied guns. Additionally, petrol cans were often fixed to the sides of these vehicles to increase the operational range. On the M42 version, some racks were mounted directly from the factory. The water tanks were marked with white-colored crosses in order to distinguish them from the petrol ones.

When large Semovente M40 formations were sighted, British tank crews preferred to request Hawker Hurricane Mk IID (with two 40 mm anti-tank guns) strikes instead of directly engaging them. 35 self-propelled guns of DLIV and DLVI fought admirably at the Second Battle of El Alamein. On this occasion, they were all loaded with about one hundred rounds each. They fought near Hills 33 and 34, but only two Semovente M40s survived.

12 M40s of the DLI and DLII fought during the night between 4th and 5th November 1942 together with the entire “Ariete” Division, which had a total of 27 tanks. The division had until then remained in the rear. It now covered the retreat of the entire Italian-German Army, not far from Bir El Abd, in an attempt to stem the enemy armored brigades which were now on the attack. They claimed to have destroyed about 30 enemy tanks, including M4 Shermans, M3 Grants, and Crusaders. The last radio message of the “Ariete” was transmitted at 15:30 on November 5th by commander Francesco Arena:

“Carri nemici fatta irruzione sud Divisione Ariete. Con ciò Ariete accerchiata. Trovasi circa 5 chilometri nordovest Bir el Abd. Carri Ariete combattono”.
“Enemy tanks broke through south of the Ariete Division. Because of that Ariete is surrounded, located five kilometers north-west of Bir-el-Abd. Ariete tanks are still fighting”.

Some sources speak of three Semovente M40s still in action on the Fuka Road on November 6th and of the last radio message claiming “Three self-propelled guns remain, we strike back”. However, most sources speak of the total destruction of the Ariete Division in the night between November 4th and 5th with no survivors. The two surviving self-propelled guns of DLVI were lost during the defense of Fort Ridotta Capuzzo on November 9th against the Australian Army.

A map showing the position of the Italian units during the Second Battle of El Alamein. Source: AFV NEWS Volume 5 No. 6

From 6 December 1941 to May 1943, a total of 162 Semoventi were ordered on the new chassis of the M14/41 tank called Semovente M41 da 75/18. Other groups were created but only three were sent to Africa, DLVII, DLIX, and DLIII. The last two were lost due to British air attacks that sunk the ships carrying the units and were brought back to strength with additional vehicles sent in the weeks after. In October 1942, the batteries were reorganized. Three groups of 6 vehicles and a command tank divided into nine squads. Each battery now consisted of 18 Semoventi M41s and three command tanks.

At the beginning of 1943, the men and the very few armored and logistic vehicles of the surviving ‘Ariete’ and ‘Littorio’ divisions, together with the infantry of the 5° Reggimento Bersaglieri (Eng: 5th Bersaglieri Regiment) and several Semoventi of the 31° Reggimento Carri (Eng: 31st Tank Regiment) arrived in Africa from Greece, forming the ‘Centauro’ Division. Ironically, this division of the Royal Army, formed from veterans and survivors of the British onslaught, was the only one to record successes against the US Army in the rest of the African Campaign.

In January 1943, the division participated in a clash at Ousseltia, where it forced the participating Free French forces to withdraw and captured some vehicles and cannons. The ‘Centauro’ Division became part of the 5. Panzerarmee on February 23, 1943. In the Battle of Kasserine Pass, the units of the ‘Centauro’ division attacked American units armed with Sherman tanks, forcing them to retreat and captured abandoned military material. On February 23, a massive British airstrike forced the Italian-German troops to retreat and Kasserine Pass returned to American control. The ‘Centauro’ Division had very few vehicles remaining, with only thirty combat vehicles in service on March 10, 1943. These consisted of two Semoventi M41 da 75/18s, eighteen M14/40 medium tanks, and ten AB41 armored cars that went to create the Raggruppamento Corazzato ‘Piscitelli’ (Eng: Armored Grouping).

Ten days later, the Division was deployed to Gafsa and was attacked by the US Army ll Corps. The ‘Centauro’ resisted for 12 days, until March 21, when it was replaced by the 21. Panzer-Division. On 7 April 1943, the division was moved to El Guettar but, due to a lack of men and vehicles, it was merged with the 10. Panzer-Division under Italian command. The Raggruppamento Corazzato “Piscitelli” continued to fight with seventeen M14/41 tanks of the XIV battalion, ten Semoventi M41 da 75/18s of the DLVII Group and fourteen German tanks of the 21. and 15. Panzer Divisions, facing about two hundred British armored vehicles. In a clash that lasted about two hours, the Semoventi M41 da 75/18 participated in pushing back the British armored division, claiming the destruction of twenty-eight tanks with the loss of only four Italian vehicles. As of 10 April, the “Piscitelli” had only eleven M14/41 tanks, twelve Semoventi M41 da 75/18s and forty AB41s armored cars in its inventory.

The ‘Centauro’ Division was no longer mentioned in documents after April 7, 1943. On April 22, the command of the 1st German Army, part of the Afrika Heeresgruppe, decided to bring together all the surviving Italian vehicles in the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Lodi’ or R.E.Co (Eng: Armored Scouting Group) which received several armored vehicles and cargo vehicles including a pair of M41 da 75/18 found in some other unit and several captured British, French and American vehicles.

Their last victorious action in North Africa was in the defense of Capo Bon, before the unit was moved to Bizerte, where five M14/41 tanks, four German Panzerkampfwagen Tiger, and six Semoventi M41 da 75/18s remained operational on 8 May 1943. The R.E.Co continued to fight, but the Allied assaults caused serious losses to the Italian-German units and, on 11 May, after having fought northwest of Boufichia, the last armored vehicle of the R.E.Co. was destroyed in battle against Allied tanks, a few days before the surrender of the Axis forces in North Africa.

A Semovente M41 da 75/18 and another Semovente in the African desert during a march to the front. Source: Flickr.com

The self-propelled guns present in Sicily during the Allied landing in July 1943 were employed by armored units operating on the peninsula: the 135ª Divisione Corazzata “Ariete II” (Eng: 135nd Armored Division) employed 94 M41 da 75/18s (10 in the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato and 84 in the Reggimenti Corazzati). Other self-propelled guns were employed by the Reggimento Motorizzato Corazzato (Eng: Armored Motorized Regiment) stationed in Sardinia which did not see combat during the Second World War, the XII Gruppo Anticarro (Eng: 12th Anti-Tank Group) of the Divisione di Fanteria “Sassari” (Eng: Infantry Division) and six squadrons belonging to the Reggimento “Lancieri di Vittorio Emanuele II”.

After the Armistice on September 8, the “Ariete II” was engaged in fighting against the Germans during the defense of Rome in the days after the armistice. There were also engagements in the city of Cesano, and on the Via Ostiense leading to Rome.

At Porta San Paolo, one of the entrances to the city of Rome, at the dawn of September 10, the Italian soldiers of the 21ª Divisione fanteria “Granatieri di Sardegna”, the I Squadrone (Eng: 1st Squadron) of the Reggimento ‘Genova Cavalleria’, some units of the Divisione di Fanteria ‘Sassari’, Paratroopers of the X° Reggimento Arditi Paracadutisti (Eng: 10th Paratroopers Regiment) and lots of civilians (including the future president of the Italian Republic, Sandro Pertini) fought bravely against the German Paratroopers who wanted to enter the city. During mid-morning, eleven Semoventi M41 and M42 da 75/18s of the 4° Reggimento Carri Armati (Eng: 4th Tank Regiment) of the 8ª Brigata Bersaglieri (8th Bersaglieri Brigade) commanded by the Second Lieutenant Vincenzo Fioritto came in support of the Italian troops, fighting furiously against the German vehicles of the 2. Fallschirmjäger-Division (Eng: 2nd Paratrooper Division). Fioritto was wounded in one arm by a grenade explosion, but refusing medical treatment, he urged the soldiers to continue fighting. He died shortly after. The soldiers under his command continued to fight the German soldiers until 17.00 (even though the surrender of the city was signed at 16.00) when, together with the other Italian fighters, they withdrew, joining the partisans and destroying some of their vehicles and abandoning the others which would fall into German hands.

Semovente M42 da 75/18 of the 4° Reggimento Carri Armati destroyed near Porta San Paolo on September 10, 1943. Source: Wikipedia.it

The captured self-propelled guns of the 4° Reggimento Carri Armati went to equip the 2. Fallschirmjäger-Division together with other vehicles captured in Rome, such as some Camionette AS.42s, some AB.41 armored cars, and other vehicles. All the vehicles available in the Italian territory occupied by the Germans and the DLVIII group vehicles assigned to the 11ª Divisione di Fanteria “Brennero” (the only group not assigned in Italy or Libya armed with the self-propelled gun) which was captured in Albania were pressed into service with German Armored Divisions. In some cases, the vehicles were repainted and given German coats of arms and other markings.

Another M42 da 75/18 at Porta San Paolo on September 10, 1943. Behind are some AB.41 armored cars of the 8° Reggimento “Lancieri di Montebello”. Source: milesforumcommunity.net

Esercito e Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana

Some vehicles captured by the Germans were then given to some units of the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano or ENR, (Eng: Republican National Army) of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI (Eng: Italian Social Republic), Mussolini’s collaborationist army which was created in October 1943, after the Armistice, and fought alongside the Germans.

The Gruppo Corazzato “San Giusto” (Eng: Armored Group “St. Justus”) received three M42 da 75/18s for the medium tank squadron, together with a Semovente M42M da 75/34 and four medium tanks of different versions. The Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani or RAP (Eng: Anti-Partisan Group) had two M42 da 75/18s and the Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa” (Eng: Armored Group “Lioness”) had two command tanks on M42 hulls, used to coordinate the operations of 35 M13/40, M14/40 and M15/42 medium tanks.

Italian partisans

During the strike that began on April 18, 1945 (which led to the Turin insurrection on April 25), about 12,300 workers from FIAT’s Mirafiori Turin factory occupied it by erecting barricades, digging trenches, placing machine guns and blocking entrances.

The first days of protest were calm but, on the morning of April 24, news of an impending Fascist attack arrived. The workers began to repair three armored vehicles which were in the factory to be repaired. After a few hours, they managed to find the materials and start the recovery of two M15/42s and an M42 da 75/18. At 18:00 the same day, the fascists attacked the factory with three tanks and a dozen armored cars, while the repairs on the vehicles were still underway. The workers fought tenaciously, but the tanks and an armored car (unknown models, the FIAT archives describe the enemy tanks only as “heavy”) penetrated the main courtyard of the factory, but a rain of Molotov cocktails and hand grenades made the enemy forces fall back, leaving behind a burning tank and at least three armored cars.

At 21:00, the Fascists, supported by some German soldiers, attempted a new attack, but the workers had finished building their tanks. These were supplied with ammunition and fuel. However, they were not fully repaired, missing many components. They came out of the factory at full speed, opening fire against the enemies. The Fascist and German troops withdrew, and the worker’s tanks destroyed some armored cars and a tank that tried to stop them.

They were used to defend the Porta Nuova train station of Turin from German sabotage. Other information about their service is not available, but it is known that they were paraded in Turin to celebrate the liberation of the city by the Italian partisans.
The vehicles had hammer and sickles painted on them in red to avoid friendly fire and the inscription ‘CLN’ or Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale (Eng: National Liberation Committee), the committee that organized the partisan units scattered throughout central and northern Italy.

The M42 da 75/18 repaired during the strike, photo taken before the great partisan parade in Turin. Source: fotostock.com

An M42 da 75/18 self-propelled gun was used by the 7ª Divisione Partigiana Autonoma “Monferrato” (Eng: 7th Autonomous Partisan Division) which arrived in Turin on April 25, 1943, from the north. This vehicle can be distinguished by the markings “W LA MONFERRATO” and “W STALIN” on the hull and the nickname of the division commander, “Ali”, who one night captured a tank of the ‘Leonessa’ Division without the RSI forces noticing it. However, this was probably a myth created by the partisans.

On April 27, 1945, the 7ª Divisione attacked and conquered the local government area of Turin with the support of the M42 da 75/18. The Semovente is shown in more than one picture in the center of Turin together with an L3/35 captured by the RAP or the “Leonessa” Division.

An interesting detail is that the division was “autonomous”, i.e. it was not linked to any political group, unlike the Garibaldi Partisan Brigades which were mostly composed of Communists and the Matteotti Partisan Brigades which were mostly composed of Socialists. This means that the members of the division most likely painted “W STALIN” on the transmission cover just to avoid friendly fire.

The Semovente M42 da 75/18 of the 7ª Divisione Partigiana Autonoma “Monferrato” in a street in Turin after 27th April. Source: Resistenza.it

There are no other known details of usage of the Semovente da 75/18 in Milan, Genoa, and other cities of northern Italy which were freed from the Nazi-Fascist oppression in the days between April 24 and 30. In Milan, only an M43 da 75/46 and some Italian armored cars were employed by the partisans and by the Fascists and German, while Genoa only saw the use of a couple of L3/35s.

Germany

In the aftermath of the Italian surrender in September 1943, the Germans began Operation Achse (Axis) which envisaged disarming all Italian divisions in Italy and the occupied territories. The Operation began on September 8 and ended on September 19, 1943, and led to the capture of over 800,000 Italian soldiers and the capture of thousands of vehicles and military equipment. According to Thomas Jentz and Werner Regenberg in their book Panzer Tracts No. 19-2, the Germans had captured 123 vehicles on October 1, 1943, which they renamed Beute-Sturmgeschütz mit 7.5 KwK L/18 (850)(i) sometimes mentioning the M41 or M42 or mentioning the chassis of the average tank from which they were derived: M14/41 or M15/42, for example, Beute-Sturmgeschütz M15/42 mit 7.5 KwK L/18 (850)(i). On October 5, production was restarted and a further 55 M42 vehicles were produced until 1945. The Germans, however, modified them slightly, adding another spare wheel on the back of the vehicle and welding four large teeth to the frontal wheel to avoid the track slipping. Another modification that was not made on all vehicles was the replacement of the Breda Mod. 1938 (and its ammunition) with a German MG34 or MG42.

A German captured Semovente M42 da 75/18 with a German MG belt and four additional teeth welded on the wheel to avoid the track slipping. Source: beutepanzer.ru

They were employed by 16 German divisions in Italy and the Balkans: 18 were supplied to the XI. Fliegerkorps under the command of the Luftwaffe, 25 were supplied to 15. Panzergrenadier-Division. 48 divided into groups of 6 went to arm 8 Infanterie-Divisionen: 65. Infanterie-Division, 71. Infanterie-Division, 94. Infanterie-Division, 162. ‘Turkistan’ Infanterie-Division, 305. Infanterie-Division, 334. Infanterie-Division, 356. Infanterie-Division, 362.Infanterie-Division together with other Italian self-propelled guns mostly M42M from 75/34 and L40 from 47/32.

Beute-Sturmgeschütz M15/42 mit 7.5 KwK L/18 (850)(i) from the Panzerjäger Abteilung 171 (part of the 71. Infanterie-Division) abandoned in Ausonia near Frosinone, Italy, May 1944. Source: beutepanzer.ru

Another six went to the 44. Reichs-Grenadier-Division “Hoch und Deutschmeister” and to the 5. Gebirgs-Division and five others to the Panzer-Ausbildungs-Abteilung Süd which was founded in Verona, Northern Italy, in October 1943.

Beute-Sturmgeschütz mit 7.5 KwK L/18 (850)(i) abandoned during the battles for the Gustav Line. Note that on the three-tone camouflage painted in the factory before the armistice of 1943, the coat of arms of the 71. Infanterie-Division was painted on the left and the Panzerjäger-Abteilung 171 one on the right. Above the coats of arms, it can be seen that the plate of the Royal Italian Army was covered with a layer of grey paint. On the fender, you can also see a German-made jack and on the right side of the superstructure the name of the vehicle, ‘Margarete 3’. Source: beutepanzer.ru

Others were employed in unknown numbers by a Jäger-Division, 3 assault brigades, and a company of the 12. Division Panzer SS ‘Hitlerjugend’. The remaining vehicles were kept in reserve and used to replace the losses suffered by the divisions that used them.

Beute-Sturmgeschütz M42 mit 7.5 KwK L/18 (850)(i) abandoned in an Italian road near a destroyed British M4 Sherman. Source: beutepanzer.ru

After the war

After the war, a total of 62 Semovente survived, consisting of 50 M41 da 75/18s and 12 M42 da 75/18s that were reused by the Esercito Italiano (Eng: Italian Army) from 1946 to November 1955. They began to be withdrawn in 1953 when the newer and more powerful M47 Patton arrived from the United States. In 1955, they were completely withdrawn from service but remained in reserve until 1965 when they were scrapped. 21 of them were repaired by the Turin arsenal between 1945 and 1950. All the vehicles were repainted in NATO green and received more powerful N.19 radio equipment of Canadian production.

M41 of the 28ª Divisione fanteria “Aosta” in Rome during a parade, 1948. Source: modellismosalento.it
A Semovente M42 da 75/18 used after the war by the Esercito Italiano with two new radio antenna supports. It was later shown during a military exhibition restored with a desert camouflage. Wikipedia.it

Problems with the Semovente da 75/18

The Semovente da 75/18 self-propelled guns suffered from a series of problems during their time in service. Firstly, the small quantity of ammunition carried, only 44 rounds, which required the close support of vulnerable supply vehicles. The range and power of the cannon were lacking compared to the Allied self-propelled guns, such as the Priest or the Sexton, or the German Wespe, limiting its effectiveness during indirect support missions. Thirdly, they did not have a coaxial machine gun, leaving them vulnerable to infantry attacks. Fourthly, the obsolete riveted hull was weaker and heavier than a welded one. Finally, the suspension did not allow for great speed.

Semovente M40 da 75/18 with the Breda 30 machine gun in the anti-aircraft position. Photo taken in the spring of 1942 during the advance on Tobruk. Source: ComandoSupremo.com

Variants

M40, M41 and M42 Command Vehicles

The M40 command version was an M13/40 tank with the turret removed and the turret whole covered by four hatches. It was equipped with the usual Magneti Marelli RF1CA and a Magneti Marelli RF2CA radio with two inverters and eight Magneti Marelli 3NF-12-1-24 batteries. The dual 8×59 mm Breda 38 machine guns in the hull were retained, along with 1,560 rounds in five racks. A signal gun with 45 rounds was kept inside the vehicle. Each battery had eight Semovente self-propelled guns and two command tanks.

Command tank on the M40 hull used by the Italian Royal Army in Africa. Source: modellismopiù.it

This version was succeeded by the M41 command tank on the hull of the M41/41. It was armed with a 13.2×96 mm Breda Mod. 1931 heavy naval machine gun with 37 magazines. One Breda 38 machine gun with 504 rounds was mounted in an anti-aircraft position. The radio equipment remained unchanged.

The last version, the M42 command vehicle on the M15/42 hull, was meant for aerial communication and therefore equipped with the standard RF1CA station and the RF3M radio. This had a greater signal range than the RF2CA radio device. The ammunition stowage for the main machine gun remained unchanged, but the ammunition for the Breda Mod. 1931 machine gun was reduced to 20 magazines.

Semovente M40 da 75/32 and M42 75/34

Another self-propelled gun version was the M40 da 75/32, a prototype Semovente armed with a 75/32 Mod. 1937 gun with better anti-tank performance mounted on the M40 hull. This version remained a prototype and was replaced by an improved version on the M42 hull with a 75/34 cannon Mod. S.F. which needed less work to adapt for the confined space of the SPG’s hull. The longer barrel of the 75/34, along with the more powerful ammunition, increased the anti-tank performance.

M40 da 75/32 prototype with the short 75/18 barrel. Source: picclick.it

The Semovente da 75/18 on the M40, M41 and M42 hulls did show that a self-propelled gun with better armament, armor and more ammunition on board was needed. This led to the design of a new Semovente M43 hull, 10 cm lower and 20 cm wider than the M42 with the frontal armor plate 75 mm thick and with more internal space for ammunition.

One of the first M42M da 75/34 produced at the Ansaldo factory. Source: pinterest.com

Semovente M43 da 105/25

Another design, the Semovente M43 da 105/25, using the new hull, fired rounds that were more powerful than the 75 mm of the 75/18 with its 105 mm gun, but could only carry 48 shells. The German StuH 42, armed with a similar cannon, carried only 36 rounds.

One M43 da 105/25 in the Ansaldo factory with ‘continental’ camouflage. Source: pinterest.com

Even the Semovente M43 da 75/46 transported 42 rounds, but its rounds were significantly longer than those of the 75/18 howitzer. The Semovente M43 da 75/34 produced in very few numbers carried 65 rounds. They were very similar in size to the rounds of the German 7.5 cm KwK 40 tank cannon mounted on the German Panzer IV.

The M43 da 75/46 with ‘continental’ camouflage. Source: modellismopiù.it

Surviving vehicles

Out of the 288 vehicles produced, 18 Semoventi da 75/18 vehicles have survived to this day.

There are two M40 75/18s, one at the ‘Musée des Blindés’ in Saumur and the second, damaged, shown at the ‘El Alamein War Museum’ in El Alamein, Egypt.

The M40 da 75/18 at the Musée des Blindés. Source: Tank-Hunter.com

11 Semoventi da 75/18 survived, 7 used as monuments in barracks in several Italian cities such as Lecce, Rome, Maniago and Vercelli. The other four are exhibited in museums, the first at the ‘U.S. Army Ordnance Training and Heritage Center’ in Fort Lee, Virginia, United States while the others are exhibited in Italy, one at the ‘Museo della OTO-Melara’ in La Spezia, ‘Museo Storico della Motorizzazione Militare’ in Cecchignola near Rome and the last M41 is exhibited at the ‘Museo di Guerra per la Pace Diego de Henriquez’ in Trieste.

The M41 da 75/18 shown as a monument in the Caserma “Scalise” in Vercelli. Obviously the barrel is dummy. Source: pietredellamemoria.it

Even 4 M42 75/18s survived the war, one of them became a monument at the “Babini” Barracks of Bellinzago Novarese, headquarters of the 4th Tank Regiment. One is on display at the ‘Museo dell’Aviazione’ in Rimini while the last two are on display in monuments against the war at Lonate Pozzolo and Bergamo.

An M42 da 75/18 repainted in the usual ‘continental’ camouflage used from mid-1943 exhibited at the Museo dell’Aviazione in Rimini. Source: pinterest.com

Only one example of a Command Semovente survived. It is an M41 on display at the ‘Museo Storico della Motorizzazione Militare’ in Cecchignola.

The Carro Comando M41 frontal view. Source: genovaest.com

Only two vehicles are still in running conditions. These are two 75/18 M41s that have been restored, one is the one at the ‘Museo Storico della Motorizzazione Militare’ and the second is the one at the ‘Museo della OTO-Melara’. The first, however, is equipped with the Canadian radio system mounted on the vehicles used after the Second World War by the Italian Army, the second, having been restored in the same factory that 60 years before had built it, was repaired and repainted in 2008.

The M41 da 75/18 restored by the OTO-Melara factory with an unusual two tone camouflage. Source: ferreamole.it
The M41 da 75/18 at the Museo Storico della Motorizzazione Militare in Cecchignola, notice the new radio antennas. Source: pinterest.com

Conclusion

The Semoventi da 75/18 were initially developed as infantry support vehicles and to support the tanks but, having proved to be able tank destroyers, they became indispensable to fight against enemy armored vehicles.

But their production failed to supply sufficient vehicles to the Italian Army. The transformation of the medium tank hulls into Semoventi could only start in 1942 with deliveries in 1943 when the African campaign was practically lost and Italy was heading towards serious internal political problems.

Nonetheless, the variants of the Semovente da 75/18 served until the end of the war with the various parties fighting in Italy and even after the war, well into the early Cold War, although their utility at the time was doubtful at best. They provided valuable infantry support and some anti-tank capabilities to the Italian Royal Army at a time when it was in dire need of competent armored vehicles.

Carro Comando from the 557th Gruppo Assalto, Sicily, January 1943. The vehicle was later sent to Tunisia, participating in the last stand of the Italo-German forces in Africa.
A comparison between an M42 da 75/18 on the left and the M43 da 105/25 prototype on the right. Notice the sloped armor without tow hooks of the M43 and the absence of the radio antenna. Source: OTO production archives in Genoa
A group of italian soldiers along with an M41 da 75/18 of the Vincenzo Fioritto group block the road against some German soldiers. Source: corriere della sera
Semovente M40 da 75/18, Vth gun group (unit commander insignia), “Ariete” Armored Division, Bir Hakeim, May 1942. It was the first unit to see combat.
Semovente M40 da 75/18, 2nd battery, 1st group, from the Ariete Division, El Alamein, June 1942.
Semovente M41 da 75/18, Littorio division, Sicily, August 1943.
Semovente M41 da 75/18 from the 4° Reggimento Carri Armati, Rome, September 1943.
Beute-Sturmgeschütz mit 7.5 KwK L/18 (850)(i) from the 2nd Fallschirmjäger Division, Rome, October 1943.
Semovente 75/18 M42, unknown unit, place unknown, February 1943.
Beute-Sturmgeschütz mit 7.5 KwK L/18 (850)(i). All illustrations by David Bocquelet

Semovente da 75/18 specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) M40 and M41: 4.92 x 2.20 x 1.85 m
M42: 5.06 x 2.20 x 1.85 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready M40: 13,1 tons
M41: 13,5 tons
M42: 15 tons
Crew 3 (commander/gunner, driver, loader/radioman)
Propulsion M40: Fiat-SPA 8T V8 diesel, water-cooled, 125 hp with 145 liters diesel tank
M41: Fiat SPA 15T V8 diesel, water-cooled 150hp with 145 liters diesel tank
M42: Fiat SPA T15B V8 petrol water-cooled 190hp with 307 liters gasoline tank
Speed M40: 33 km/h
M41: 35 km/h
M42: 39 km/h
Range M40: 215 km
M41: 210 km
M42: 200 km or 380 km with 6 20-liter jerry cans
Armament M40: Cannone da 75/18 Mod. 1934, 44 rounds and one Breda 30 (unknown number of rounds)
M41: Cannone da 75/18 Mod. 1934, 44 rounds and a 8×59 mm Breda 38 with 864 rounds
M42: Cannone da 75/18 Mod. 1934, from 44 rounds and a 8×59 mm Breda 38 with 1104 rounds
Armor M40: 25+25 mm front 25 mm sides, 11 mm rear, 15 mm roof, and 9 mm floor
M41: 25+25 mm front, 25 mm sides, 15 mm rear, 15 mm roof, and 9 mm floor
M42: 50 mm front, 35 mm sides, 20 mm rear, 15 mm roof, and 9 mm floor
Total Production M40: 60
M41: 162
M42: 66

Sources

Nicola Pignato – Semovente da 75/18.
Nicola Pignato – I mezzi blindo-corazzati italiani 1923-1943.
Nicola Pignato, Filippo Cappellano – Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano, vol. II (1940-1945).
Antares – La divisione Littorio ad El Alamein.
Fiat Turin Archive
Filippo Cappellano, Nicola Pignato – Il semovente italiano da 75/18
Thomas Jentz, Werner Regenberg – Panzer Tracts No. 19-2: Beute-Panzerkampfwagen

 

2 replies on “Semovente M40, M41 and M42 da 75/18”

“With the EP (Effetto Pronto), the first type of HEAT rounds the vehicle could fire, it could penetrate those tanks at distances of about 700 m. The second type of HEAT rounds, called EPS (Effetto Pronto Speciale), could penetrate 120 mm of vertical armor tilted at any distance.”

This statement had left me confused when I was listening to audio version of this article. HEAT shells penetration does not change throughout its engagement range. So why penetration of a first shell is measured by distance and another HEAT shell has normal armor penetration metric?

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