WWII Italian Armor

Tanks

Fast Tanks

Self Propelled Guns

Armored Cars

Other Armor

Prototypes

Anti-Tank Weapons

Tactics

Historical Context – The Rise of Mussolini

After the First World War, the Regno d’Italia (Eng. Kingdom of Italy) came out among the victors of the conflict, but with serious economic and cultural problems. Three years of war had destroyed a minimal portion of the Italian territory but had further impoverished the already poor nation.

In the years following the war, there was popular discontent because of the low salaries and, following the example of the Russian Revolution, many Italian peasants and workers occupied the agricultural lands and the factories, some being armed.

This period between 1919 and 1920 is known as the Biennio Rosso (Eng. Red Biennium). In order to counteract these actions, many Italian citizens, including many war veterans, joined together under the leadership of Benito Mussolini to create the Fasci Italiani di Combattimento (Eng. Italian Fighting Fascists), which later became the Partito Nazionale Fascista (Eng. National Fascist Party) in November 1921. The Fascists often used Action Teams called “Squadracce” (Eng. ‘Bad’ Squad) to free, often by force, the occupied factories and agricultural lands, destroying the hopes of the Italian Communists.

When Mussolini’s power was strengthened, in October 1922, the March on Rome took place. About 50,000 fascists took part in a long march from Naples to Rome. The King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele III, who saw in Mussolini and his political party a deterrent against a Communist Revolution in Italy, tasked him with creating a moderate government composed of various political ideologies.

In the political elections of 1924, the National Fascist Party gained 65% of the votes and came to power. This allowed Benito Mussolini to create laws that allowed him, on December 24, 1925, to become Prime Minister and Secretary of State, holding all the political power of the Kingdom of Italy.

Mussolini and Fascism inaugurated a new period of Italian colonial expansionism. After the conquest of Libya in 1932, the ‘Duce’ expressed his desire to found a New Italian Empire, based on the Roman Empire of antiquity. For this plan, Benito Mussolini wanted to claim total control of the Mediterranean Sea – ‘Mare Nostrum’ in Latin – and then colonize and conquer many nations overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Other nations in this area were to become vassals.

Some of the improvised vehicles used by the Italian soldiers to fight the rebels in the Libyan colony. Source: pinterest.com

However, he was unable to conquer nations on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, such as Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt, because they were already colonized by the French and British. Thus, in 1935, the Royal Italian Army launched a military campaign against Ethiopia, which was a member of the League of Nations. Italy was punished with a trade embargo by the member states.

To overcome the economic crisis caused by the embargo, the Fascist government inaugurated a period of economic autarky, trying to show that the Kingdom of Italy did not need other nations to prosper and could maintain itself. This economic isolation led to a radicalization of fascism in the Italian population and hatred towards other European nations. This paved the way for friendship between Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Italy and Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany.

The friendship between the two leaders was strengthened during the Spanish Civil War, between 1936 and 1939, when Italian and German troops fought alongside the Spanish Nationalist soldiers of General Francisco Franco. In 1938, German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop proposed an alliance between Italy and Germany to Mussolini, as other European nations were allying themselves to prevent another world war. After initial hesitations on the part of Italy, given the worsening of the international situation, Mussolini decided on May 22, 1939, to sign the Steel Pact, which provided mutual offensive and defensive support in case of a new European war.

A month before the signing of the pact, on April 7, 1939, Italy occupied Albania and conquered it in three days, suffering a total of 25 casualties and 97 wounded whilst inflicting 160 Albanian casualties.

Italian troops and CV33 or 35 light tanks in Durrës, Albania, April 1939. Source: wikipedia.com

Brief Military Overview

After the First World War, due to damage to the urban and industrial centers economic difficulties and the incorporation of new territories annexed by the Kingdom of Italy, the Regio Esercito (Eng. Royal Italian Army) kept in service the armored vehicles that survived the war without developing new vehicles for several years.

The armored component of the Regio Esercito immediately after the war consisted of 4 French Renault FTs (one armed with a 37 mm cannon), 1 Schneider CA, 1 (with the second under construction) FIAT 2000, between 69 and 91 Lancia 1Z and 1ZM armored cars, 14 FIAT-Terni Tripoli armored cars and less than 50 trucks armed with artillery pieces.

Between 1919 and June 1920, 100 FIAT 3000 Mod. 21 were produced and delivered, a licensed copy of the Renault FT armed with two machine guns, ordered by the Army in 1918. To these 100 were added, in 1930, another 52 FIAT 3000 Mod. 30 armed with 37 mm cannons of Italian production.

In 1923, with the reconquest of Libya, most of these armored vehicles were sent to the North African continent to fight the rebels. For the whole period from 1919 to 1928, the Royal Army did not issue any request for the development of new vehicles, preferring to keep in service the vehicles that participated in the First World War. Especially in the case of armored cars, the Royal Army’s high commanders were impressed by their capabilities, considering them formidable vehicles still in the late 1920s.

First World War era armored cars

The FIAT-Terni Tripoli armored car was produced by the steelworks of Terni in 1918. Only the prototype took part in the last actions of the Italian Front of the First World War. Some 12 vehicles were sent to Libya in order to fight against local rebels in 1919. It was used in this role up to the late twenties, when, due to its obsolescence, it was used for police duties only. In the mid-thirties, the armored car was also deemed obsolete for police duties and was shelved.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, the Italian colonies were in a very precarious situation, with very few motorized and armored vehicles. The steel plates of 6-8 surviving FIAT-Terni Tripoli were dismantled from the chassis of the FIAT 15 and reassembled on more modern Fiat-SPA 38R trucks. The turrets were rearmed with aeronautical 12.7 mm Breda-SAFAT machine guns. All the armored cars were lost in the early months of the North African campaign.

FIAT-Terni Tripoli used in Libya during the Colonial War. Source: wikipedia.it

Armed with three FIAT Mod. 1914 machine guns, with two in the main turret and one in the secondary turret (in the 1Z) or in the rear hull (in the 1ZM), the Lancia armored car had armor of 8 mm on all sides. The effectiveness of the Lancia 1ZM should not be questioned lightly. It was a well-designed vehicle, but the tasks assigned to it after the First World War soon made its negative sides and its obsolescence noticeable.

In the colonial wars in Africa, it showed its inadequacy because the sandy soils limited its use. Its use during the Spanish Civil War in 1937-1939 demonstrated its obvious obsolescence. Despite this, it would remain in use until 1945, mostly in patrol tasks of occupied territories and anti-partisan actions. After the end of the Lybian Colony War in 1932, four Lancia 1ZMs were sent to Tianjin, the Italian colony in China.

Lancia 1ZM of the Corpo Truppe Volontarie before entering the city of Malaga, 1937. Source: wikipedia.it

Armored car development during the interwar period

In 1932, Ansaldo and FIAT developed the prototype of a new armored car as a private project, the FIAT 611 on the chassis of the 3-axle FIAT 611C (Coloniale – Eng. Colonial) truck. The vehicle was of no interest to the Regio Esercito, but had a second chance with the Italian Police, which, after a request for small modifications, in 1934 ordered some 10 examples in addition to the prototype. Five Mod. 1933 vehicles were armed with 3 Breda Mod. 5C 6.5 mm caliber machine guns, two in the turret and one in the back of the hull. The remaining five Mod. 1934 vehicles had a Cannone Vickers-Terni da 37/40 Mod. 30 and two Breda caliber 6.5 mm, one in the back of the turret and one in the back of the hull.

In 1935, at the outbreak of the war in Ethiopia, the Royal Army, short of modern armored cars, requisitioned the 10 armored cars and ordered the production of another 30 to be sent to Ethiopia by 1936. The vehicle proved inefficient due to its high weight, low speed, and poor maneuverability on various terrain. Although the vehicles that survived the Ethiopian War took part in the early stages of the Second World War in the Italian colonies of East Africa, almost all were lost due to the lack of spare parts.

The FIAT 611 armored truck armed with the Vickers-Terni 37 mm cannon. Source: pinterest.com

In 1923, the P4 agricultural tractor was presented, from which several prototypes of Italian unorthodox armored cars were developed from 1924 to 1930. The first was the Pavesi 30 PS, weighing 4.2 tonnes, equipped with the turret of a Renault FT. The second was the Pavesi Anti Carro (Eng. Anti-Tank), weighing 5.5 tonnes and armed with a 57 mm cannon of naval origin in the hull. The third was the Pavesi 35 PS, weighing 5.5 tonnes, similar to the 30 PS but with a wider turret and a new hull.

The three vehicles had 4×4 traction and steel wheels with a diameter of 1.55 m and a 20 hp (30 PS and Anti-Carro) or 35 hp (35 PS) engine, with speeds of 20, 22 and 35 km/h on the road. In 1925, a fourth vehicle was produced, the Pavesi L140, as the first three had been rejected by the Royal Army. The diameter of the wheels was 1.2 m, the engine produced 45 hp and the maximum speed was 20 km/h. The armament consisted of two 6.5 mm SIA Mod. 1918 machine guns, one on the driver’s side and one in the turret.

Pavesi Anti Carro. Source: WeapoNews.com

In 1928, a new armored car was developed by Ansaldo on the chassis of the Pavesi P4/100, an improved version of the tractor. The vehicle was armed with a 37 mm short barrel cannon and a rear machine gun. It had 1.5 m diameter wheels and 16 mm thick armor. Built in 1930, the tests showed the poor visibility of the crew and driving difficulties and the project was abandoned.

Ansaldo Modello 1929. Source: Ansaldo Archives

Between 1927 and 1929, an armored car called Ansaldo Corni-Scognamiglio or Nebbiolo was developed privately by Ansaldo and the engineers Corni and Scognamiglio. A prototype was built in 1930 and tested but did not prove to the Royal Army officers that it could outperform the Lancia 1ZM, so the project was discarded. It was an armored car with a characteristic silhouette, completely rounded instead of angled. Equipped with a 40 hp engine and 4×4 traction, it was armed with three FIAT-Revelli Mod. 1914 6.5 mm caliber machine guns, one on the driver’s left, one in the rear, and one in an anti-aircraft position.

Autoblindo Ansaldo Corni-Scognamiglio. Surce: picclick.it

In 1937, the Regio Esercito and the Polizia Dell’Africa Italiana (PAI – Eng. Police of Italian Africa) made two separate requests for a new long-range armored car to replace the old First World War era armored cars. FIAT and Ansaldo started working on the two prototypes that had most parts in common. In May 1939, the two prototypes were presented to the public. Accepted in service in 1940 as Autoblinda Mod. 1940 or AB40, this vehicle was armed with twin Breda 38 in the turret and another one in the rear of the hull. Only 24 of these vehicles were produced from January 1941 onwards.

An AB40 in Italy, 1941. Source: pinterest.com

The experience gained during the Spanish Civil War demonstrated to the Royal Army that vehicles armed only with machine guns were not suitable to fight against the most modern armored vehicles.

Ansaldo had, until that moment, considered the Breda 38 machine gun an effective anti-tank weapon. It was able, with armor-piercing bullets, to penetrate 16 mm of armor at 100 m (more than suitable to fight vehicles of the First World War). In order to solve the problem, the turret of the L6/40 light tank, armed with a Cannone da 20/65 Mod. 1935 anti-aircraft/support gun produced by Breda, was mounted on the chassis of the AB40. This gave the armored car great anti-tank performance against similar vehicles and light tanks. The new Armored Car Mod. 1941 replaced the AB40 on the assembly lines in March 1941.

AB41 armored car. Source: pinterest.com

In 1941, the Royal Italian Army asked FIAT and Ansaldo for a variant of the AB series for railway patrols, called Ferroviaria (Eng. Railway). FIAT mounted train rail wheel and some other minor changes to use the vehicle on the Yugoslavian railways. These modifications were made on 8 AB40 and 4 AB41.

In 1942, Ansaldo proposed to the Regio Esercito a new variant of the AB armored car family, the AB42, with a totally different hull on the same frame. The engine and the turret were changed too, but the main gun was left the same. This vehicle was developed for the African Campaign, where some characteristics of the AB41 were useless. The vehicle also had better-sloped armor and a three-man crew.

Due to the situation of the African Campaign in November, shortly after the Battle of El Alamein, the project was canceled, but FIAT and Ansaldo continue the development of new vehicles on the same frame.

Also in 1942, an anti-tank variant of the AB41 was presented, with a shielded Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935 on an open-topped hull. The project was also canceled because with the gun shield the silhouette of the vehicle was too high and offered little crew safety.

The AB41 da 47/32. Source: OTO-Melara archives

In 1943, three new vehicles were presented to the Regio Esercito. The first one was the AB41 modernization called AB43, with the AB42 engine and lower turret.

AB43 parked outside the Ansaldo factory. Source: Army Motors

The second was the AB43 ‘Cannone’, which was an AB43 with a new two-man turret armed with a powerful Cannone da 47/40 Mod. 38 anti-tank gun.

The AB43 ‘Cannone’ prototype while it was being tested during the last days of July 1943. Source: beutepanzer.ru

The last one was the prototype of a command version of the AB armored car produced in two variants. Unfortunately, due to the September 8, 1943 Armistice, the AB43 “Cannone” was abandoned, the AB command cars (50 of which were ordered by the Royal Army) were canceled and only the AB43 was produced (102 of them) and used by the Wehrmacht.

Camionette – reconnaissance vehicles

For reconnaissance and patrols in the African theatre, the Regio Esercito used not only armored cars, but also Camionette, the Italian equivalent of the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) vehicles.

The first models to be called Camionette Desertiche were the FIAT-SPA AS37 modified in 1941 by the Libyan workshops of the Italian Royal Army. They removed the cargo bay to mount a platform with a support for the Cannone da 20/65 Mod. 1935 or the Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935. In order to have a firing angle of 360°, the cabin was cut off, removing the roof, the windscreen, and the windows.

Camionetta Desertica AS37 armed with a Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 35. Source: wikipedia.it

In addition to these vehicles produced in a few numbers, some English trucks captured during the first phases of the Italian-German Sonnenblume Offensive were also modified. These were Morris CS8, Ford 15 CWT, Chevrolet 15 CWT and Ford 60L vehicles that were modified for various tasks. Some were used as ammunition carriers, others for the transport of troops and artillery towing while others became Camionette armed with Breda 20/65 Mod. 1935 or Mod. 1939 cannons and used as anti-aircraft vehicles for the defense of convoys. They also proved to be excellent for infantry support and as a counter to the LRDG patrols.

Ford 15 CWT armed with a Breda 20/65 Mod. 1939. Source: La Meccanizzazione dell’Esercito Fino al 1943

In 1942, FIAT-SPA and Viberti proposed to the Italian Royal Army a small truck on the frame of the FIAT-SPA TM40 artillery tractor (the same as the AB41), designed exclusively for long-range reconnaissance and countering the LRDG.

The SPA-Viberti AS42 ‘Sahariana’ proved to be a good vehicle, even though it entered into service when the African Campaign was coming to an end with the desperate defense of the Italian-German forces.

AS42 ‘Sahariana’ at the SPA-Viberti factory. Source: mvsn.forumcommunity.net
In Sicily, the last ‘Sahariana’ were used while, since 1943, the ‘Metropolitana’, or rather the variant for use on the European continent, had begun to be produced, with less range but with the possibility of carrying more ammunition on board.

The AS42s could be armed with a Solothurn S18/1000 anti-tank rifle, a 20 mm Breda cannon, or a 47 mm cannon and up to 3 machine guns. About 200 were produced and were used by the Royal Army until September 1943 and then by the Wehrmacht, who used them in the Soviet Union, Romania, France, and Belgium.

In 1943, two new Camionette were produced on the AS37 chassis, the Camionetta Desertica Mod. 1943 and the SPA-Viberti AS43. The mod. 1943 was a conversion of FIAT-SPA AS37 trucks that mounted a 20 mm Breda cannon and a Breda 37 machine gun in the cargo bay on the driver’s side. The few Mod. 43s were used in Italy and Rome during the defense of the city from the German occupation from September 8 to 10.

Camionetta Desertica Mod. 43. Source: wikipedia.it
SPA-Viberti developed the Camionetta AS43 for desert use, but they were used in Italy and the Balkans only by the Republican National Army and the Wehrmacht. The armament ranged from a 20 mm Breda or Scotti Isotta Fraschini cannon or a 47 mm cannon and a Breda 37 machine gun for vehicles in service with the Italians and a FlaK 38 or an MG13 for German vehicles.

One or two vehicles were modified in Turin, transforming them into Armored Personnel Carriers (APC) by adding armor plates on the chassis and arming them with two Breda 37s.

SPA-Viberti AS43. Source: Viberti Archives

Autocannoni – Self-Propelled Guns on trucks

Italian armored vehicles in the early stages of the war were armed only with small-caliber cannons. Cannons and howitzers towed by horses or trucks were used to support the infantry.

In North Africa, in the vast deserts in which the Italian-German troops faced the British and Commonwealth troops, the truck-towed guns were not suitable for infantry support, so the Autocannoni (Autocannone singular), trucks with guns of any caliber mounted in the cargo bay, were created to support the infantry and then to fight the heaviest British armored vehicles.

The Autocannoni differ from the Portèes in that the guns mounted in their cargo bay are permanently mounted and they cannot be used on the ground.

The Autocannoni were born in the First World War, with the 102/35 su SPA 9000 and the 75/27 CK (Commissione Krupp – Krupp Commission) su Itala X. In 1927, the 75/27 CK su Ceirano 50 CMA was used both in the colonial conflicts and during the Spanish Civil War. 166 were produced.

Some of the first Autocannoni produced in the Second World War were modified vehicles built in the Libyan workshops of the Royal Army, the only workshops in Italian North Africa able to modify trucks in this way. The first were British trucks captured in 1941, Morris CS8 and CMP trucks that received modifications to the cargo bay to house the Cannone da 65/17 Mod. 1913 on a 360-degree support obtained using the turret ring of damaged M13 or M14 tanks. A total of 28 65/17 su Morris CS8 and an unknown number (no more than five) based on CMP trucks were produced.

The 65/17 su Morris CS8. Source: pinterest.com

Another interesting Autocannone, of which about 20-30 units were produced, was the 75/27 su SPA TL37, with a 75 mm cannon mounted on a small artillery tractor.

Above all, heavy trucks such as the Lancia 3Ro were used as handcrafted Autocannoni base, on which the Cannone da 76/30 Mod. 1916 (14 converted) or the Obice da 100/17 Mod. 1914 (36 converted) were mounted. The FIAT 634N truck was used to mount the Cannone da 65/17 Mod. 1913, Cannone da 76/30 Mod. 1916 (6 converted) and the Cannone da 102/35 Mod. 1914 (7 converted).

102/35 su FIAT 634N. Source: pinterest.com

Ansaldo became interested in these vehicles and, from 1942, began to produce some of them in Italy. They were stopgaps waiting for the entry into service of more powerful Italian tanks. Among the anti-tank ones there were the 90/53 su Lancia 3Ro, 33 units of which were produced, the 90/53 su Breda 52, with 96 units, and the fully armored prototypes 90/53 su SPa Dovunque 41 and the Breda 501.

90/53 su Lancia 3Ro. Source: pinterest.com

Anti-aircraft Autocannoni were also developed, such as using the FIAT 1100 Militare car, armed with two FIAT-Revelli Mod. 14/35 machine guns, with 50 units produced. The 20/65 on SPA 38R remained at the prototype stage. Other anti-aircraft Autocannoni produced in Libyan workshops or by the troops were the FIAT 626 armed with FlaKvierling 38 (used only in Italy) and the 20/65 su SPA Dovunque 35 produced in about 20 units and armed with either the Breda 20/65 Mod. 1935 and the Scotti Isotta-Fraschini 20/70 Mod. 1939.

20/65 su SPA Dovunque 35. Source: pinterest.com

Armored Personnel Carriers

Since Italy conquered Libya, Italian soldiers began to produce their own troop transport vehicles on truck chassis and armored them. The Royal Army did not consider, at least at the beginning of the war, the fundamental armored personnel carriers, but it realized almost immediately the necessity of such vehicles.

During the North African Campaign, the Libyan workshops armored some FIAT 626 that were used by the troops. In 1942, more than 200 FIAT-SPA S37 Autoprotetto and 110 FIAT 665NM Scudato (Eng. Shielded) were purchased by FIAT-SPA for patrolling the Balkans.

The first vehicle, on the chassis of the FIAT-SPA TL37 tractor, could carry 8 men plus a driver. The second could carry 20 soldiers plus the driver and the vehicle commander. Even if completely closed, on the FIAT, the soldiers could use personal weapons with 18 slits, 16 on the sides and two at the rear of the armored cargo bay.

FIAT 665NM Scudato. Source: wikipedia.it
In 1941, the SPA Dovunque 35 Protetto (Eng. Protected) was designed. The vehicle was produced starting from 1944 in only 8 examples from normal SPA Dovunque 35 trucks converted into armored personnel carriers by Viberti. It could carry 10 men plus driver and commander and had 4 slits on the sides plus two on the rear. A machine gun could be mounted on the roof or an armored roof could be mounted to defend the 12 men from artillery shrapnel.

Among the prototypes, there was also the Carro Protetto Trasporto Truppa su Autotelaio FIAT 626 (Eng: Armored Personnel Carrier on Hull FIAT 626), able to carry 12 men in addition to the driver, and the FIAT 2800 or CVP-4, an Italian copy of the Bren Carrier able to carry six fully equipped soldiers in addition to the driver and the machine gunner.

In addition to these few vehicles, the Italian soldiers locally produced many armored personnel carriers on various trucks, including captured ones. Most famous were the FIAT 626 and 666 frames on which a lot of APCs were produced after the Armistice by the Black Shirts militiamen. At least two FIAT 666s were armored from the Arsenal of Piacenza, equipped with a turret armed with a 12.7 mm Breda-SAFAT heavy machine gun.

FIAT 666 with Breda-SAFAT MG produced by Arsenale di Piacenza. Source: pinterest.com

Some Renault ADR received from Germany were armored and used in the Balkans, and at least two Lancia 3Ro were armored and used by the Black Shirts. Other vehicles for which there is evidence of armoring include at least one Alfa Romeo 500, Bianchi Miles and an OM Taurus.

Renault ADR Protetto or Scudato. Source: pinterest.com

Armored cars developed during WW2

During the Second World War, new armored cars were developed to accompany the AB series and to replace the obsolete Lancia 1ZM still in service. The first vehicle, produced as a prototype in 1941, was the Autoblindo TL37 on the chassis of the TL37 light tractor. It was an armored vehicle equipped with an open-topped version of the AB41 turret. The vehicle was tested during the African Campaign and was lost during clashes with the British.

Autoblindo TL37. Source: Pignato

Another vehicle that remained at the prototype stage was the Vespa-Caproni armored car. Its strangest characteristic was the position of the wheels, which were placed in a lozenge arrangement, one front and one rear wheel plus two central wheels, placed on the sides of the frame (a 1 x 2x 1 configuration). This vehicle, with a crew of two men and armed with a Breda 38 machine gun on a ball mount, was extensively tested, proving to be an excellent reconnaissance vehicle due to its maneuverability (it could rotate 180° in very narrow streets), its frontal armor of 26 mm, its speed of 86 km/h and range of 200 km. Because of the 1943 Armistice, the prototype was abandoned and its fate is unknown.

The Autoblindo Vespa-Caproni. Source: pinterest.com
The Lancia Lince was an Italian copy of the British Daimler Dingo. It had an armored roof with a thickness from 8.5 to 14 mm. It was armed with a Breda 38 machine gun and had a speed of 85 km/h on roads. It was produced in 263 units for the Royal Army, but could not be used because of the Armistice. It was used by the Wehrmacht and the Republican National Army as a reconnaissance vehicle but, above all, in anti-partisan actions.

After September 8, 1943, the production of armored cars was completely controlled by the Wehrmacht, which used most of them, leaving only a few to the Republican National Army. The Republican National Guard, the RSI military police, had to make do by recovering damaged vehicles from some abandoned depots. The Black Brigades, units of the militia still loyal to Benito Mussolini, because of the desperate situation in Italy in 1944-1945, did not receive armored vehicles but only some trucks. To give an example, of 56 Black Brigades, only 2 received armored vehicles. The others had to make their own trucks. The Arsenal of Piacenza, one of the largest military workshops in Italy, armored two Lancia 3Ro, one for the XXXVI° Black Brigade “Natale Piacentini” and one for the XXVIII° Black Brigade “Pippo Astorri”, as well as a Ceirano CM47 and a Fiat 666N.

The Lancia 3Ro Blindato of the XXXVI° Black Brigade “Natale Piacentini”. Source: pinterest.com
Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ used at least two vehicles produced by Viberti on the chassis of the Camionetta AS43 and armed with the turret of an L6/40. Many other vehicles were armored and used mainly in anti-partisan actions.

An unknown type of armored car (probabli on FIAT 508 hull) used by an Italian anti-partisans unit. Source: pinterest.com

First World War era tanks

Renault FT and Schneider CA

Four Renault FTs were sent from France between March 1917 and May 1918, two with the Girod turret (one armed with a 37 mm cannon) and two with the Omnibus turret. The four tanks were all tested, one was dismantled and analysed to produce the under licence Italian variant. After the war, in 1919, two of them were certainly sent to Libya, another one was used for training and the one disassembled by Ansaldo converted into a self-propelled gun called Semovente da 105/14.

A Schneider CA was received for training but France did not give permission to produce them under license and did not sell others to the Kingdom of Italy. The single specimen remained in a Royal Army training school in Bologna until 1937, after which its fate is unknown.

Renault FT in Italian service. Source: pinterest.com

Fiat 2000

The FIAT 2000 was a First World War-era heavy tank. It had an armament consisting of a Cannone da 65/17 Mod. 1913 placed in a semi-spherical turret together with seven water-cooled FIAT-Revelli Mod. 1914 machine guns. Somewhat ironic is the fact that its 40 tonnes were almost double the weight of the later built P26/40 heavy tank. Due to the overcomplicated design, only two prototypes were ever built. One of the two vehicles was sent to Libya in February 1918, where it fought the Libyan rebel forces. Not much is known about its use and after 1919 nothing is known about its fate.

The huge FIAT 2000. The two soldiers posing in the photo are young members of the Italian Fascist youth organization. The boy standing on the tank is a Balilla (8-14 years old) while the boy in front of the tank is an Avanguardista (14-18 years old). The photo was taken with these young (and short) boys to make the FIAT look even bigger for propaganda reasons. Source: Pinterest.com

The remaining vehicle was modified between 1930 and 1934, replacing the two frontal machine guns with two 37/40 Mod. 1930 guns. From 1936, their trace was lost. Thanks to the FIAT 2000, the Royal Army realized that heavy and bulky vehicles were not suitable for the predominantly mountainous territory of Italy and, as a result, it started to focus on light and manageable vehicles, such as the FIAT 3000.

FIAT 3000

During World War I, the Italian army had plans to buy a large number of French FT tanks. When the war ended, however, the implementation of this plan was suspended. Instead, in 1919, Fiat began experimenting with domestically producing the FT with a number of improvements. Following the successful test runs, the Italian Royal Army gave orders for the production of some 100 such vehicles. The vehicle was known as the Carro d’assalto (Eng. assault tank) model 1921 but was generally best known simply as the Fiat 3000. The main differences in comparison to the original French tank were the introduction of a stronger engine, smaller tail and new armament which consisted of two SIA Mod. 1918 6.5 mm machine guns. Due to the obsolescence of this vehicle in the late twenties, Fiat developed a new version with a new engine and a new Cannone Vickers-Terni da 37/40 Mod. 30 (for command vehicles, which also had radio equipment) mounted on some vehicles. In total, some 52 new FIAT 3000 tanks were produced, known as Fiat 3000 Mod.30. From 1930, the SIA were replaced with two 6.5 mm FIAT Mod. 1929 machine guns in some vehicles. In 1936, all the 6.5 mm caliber machine guns were replaced with Breda 38 8 mm machine guns.

The Fiat 3000 was used to test different kinds of possible adaptation of this obsolete tank, with a fire-throwing system, smoke generators, and smoke screening equipment. Besides a small number of prototypes, nothing came from these projects.

FIAT 3000s, the first one armed with a cannon and the second with machine guns. Source: pinterest.com
CV series

CV series

Due to the obvious obsolescence of the Fiat 3000 tank, the Italian Army began negotiating with the British Vickers company in the late twenties for acquiring new vehicles. After some negotiations, one Carden-Loyd MK VI tankette was purchased for testing and evaluation. Following the successful completion of these tests during 1929, 25 new vehicles were ordered. In Italian service, these vehicles were known as Carro Veloce 29 (Eng. fast tank). These would be used mostly for training and experimenting and none would see any action.

The CV29. Source: pinterest.com

Based on the CV 29, the Ansaldo company began developing a new vehicle. While the prototype was completed in 1929, the Army was not impressed with it, mostly due to its weak and problematic suspension. The following year, the Italian Army requested a number of changes regarding its armor, size, and armament. Ansaldo constructed a few new prototypes with some differences in the suspension and even a tractor version, which were all presented to the Italian Royal Army officials. The Army officials were satisfied with the improved prototypes and, in 1933, the production order for some 240 vehicles was placed. Next year, the first production vehicles, known as Carro Veloce 33, were ready for service. While initially this vehicle was equipped with one 6.5 mm FIAT-Revelli Mod. 1914 machine gun, from 1935 on, all vehicles would be rearmed with two 8 mm FIAT-Revelli Mod. 1914 machine guns.

During 1935, a new slightly improved version named Carro Veloce Ansaldo-Fiat tipo CV 35 was accepted for service. It was shorter, had a slightly redesigned superstructure, with some being constructed with bolted armor instead of rivets. In total, by 1936, some 2,800 CV fast tanks would be built. Of that number, large numbers were sold abroad, including to countries such as China, Brazil, Bolivia, and Bulgaria, while Hungary managed to obtain a license production and produced over 100 vehicles.

The CV 35. Source: pinterest.com
In 1937, in an attempt to improve the overall driving performance of the CV series, a new type of suspension was tested. This torsion spring suspension consisted of four larger wheels suspended in pairs on a spring bogie. In 1938, this version was approved (thus the name CV 38) and a production order for 200 vehicles was placed (while some sources claim that only 84 were built). The actual production did not start before 1942 and lasted until 1943. Interestingly, these were not new vehicles, but instead reused CV 33 and 35 hulls. While, initially, it was equipped with a much stronger 13.2 mm Breda mod. 1931 heavy machine guns, production vehicles were armed with two 8 mm Breda 38 machine guns. The CV designation would be replaced with the L3 designation during the production of these vehicles.

A CV 38 armed with the 13.2 mm heavy machine gun. Source: pinterest.com

Being built in relatively large numbers, the Italians made some attempts to modify the CV fast tanks for various combat roles. In 1935, the production of the flamethrowing version was named L3/33 or CV33 Lf (Lanciafiamme). This was, in essence, a modification that included the removal of the machine guns and replacing them with a flame projector. The fuel load was initially stored in a trailer but the trailer would be replaced with a simple drum fuel container placed on the vehicle’s back. Other smaller containers would also be tested during the later years.

Three different flamethrowing versions of the CV. Source: pinterest.com
The Italians also used the CV series to produce command and radio versions which were built in very limited numbers. A bridge carrier and a recovery version were also built in a few numbers, mostly used for testing and never in combat. There were also a number of experimental attempts at remote-controlled vehicles but these never got any further than the prototype stage. In an attempt to increase the fire power, one vehicle was modified by installing the Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935 anti-tank gun on its chassis and renamed CV35 da 47/32, but neither version was adopted for service.

The 47 mm armed modified CV chassis. Source: OTO-melara archives
Due to the CV fast tank’s weak firepower, different ways to rearm them with better armaments were developed. During the Spanish Civil War, the FIAT CV.35 Breda, armed with Breda’s 20/65 Mod. 1935 cannon, was proposed to the Spanish Nationalist troops in order to use it against armored vehicles. Competing with it was the Carro de Combate de Infantería tipo 1937, a vehicle armed with the same cannon in a rotating turret, with a completely redesigned superstructure.

Italian forces in Africa also tried to solve this problem by replacing the machine-gun armament with a 2 cm Solothurn S-18/1000 anti-tank rifle or a 12.7 mm Breda-SAFAT heavy machine gun. Some crews added a 45 mm Brixia mortar atop their vehicles or an anti-aircraft support for one machine gun.

A CV tankette armed with a 45 mm Brixia mortar placed on the vehicle’s top. Source: Pinterest.com

Light tank development

While the CV series was produced in large numbers, these had a number of shortcomings, including but not limited to insufficient firepower and a limited firing arc and weak suspension, so a request for a new light tank was placed during the mid-thirties by the Italian Royal Army. One of the first attempts was made by Ansaldo, for which a CV was heavily modified with a different suspension (which consisted of four large road wheels) and adding a turret armed with a FIAT Mod. 1926 or 1928 6.5 mm machine gun. Besides the one built prototype, known as the CV.3 “Rossini”, the project was canceled.

One of the first attempts by the Italians to improve the CV’s performance was the CV.3 Rossini. Source: Ansaldo Archives
The project was followed by a new one, called Carro d’Assalto 5 t Modello 1936, which used some elements from the CV series, such as the engine and parts of the hull design. For this vehicle, a new torsion-bar suspension was tested. It consisted of two torsion-bar suspended bogies, each with two small road wheels. In addition, there were two return rollers. The first proposed prototype was armed with a 37/26 gun and a secondary 6.5 mm machine placed in a small turret. A second version of this prototype had two machine guns in the same turret. The Italian Royal Army officials did not like this project and requested more changes to it.

The following prototype project, called Carro cannone mod. 1936, involved installing a 37/26 gun onto a modified CV 33 hull, while twin FIAT Mod. 1926 or 1928 machine guns turret was added on top. Due to overcomplication of the design, in 1936, this vehicle was also rejected. Finally, the Army was presented with a similar vehicle, named Carro cannone (Eng. gun tank) 5t Modello 1936, which was armed with the same gun placed in the hull, but without the turret. While the Army initially ordered 200 of these to be built, nothing would also come from this project.

The Ansaldo proposed Carro d’Assalto 5 t Modello 1936 project armed with a turret mounted 37/26 gun and an 8 mm machine gun Source: Ansaldo Archives
The proposed Carro d’Assalto 6t Modello 1936 prototype armed with a 37 mm gun (placed in the hull) and twin machine guns placed in the turret. Source: Ansaldo Archives
The Carro cannone 5t Modello 1936 prototype. Source: Ansaldo Archives

While not related to these projects, during the mid-thirties, Ansaldo proposed a vehicle that was in essence little more than a mobile shield platform. While two prototypes, the Motomitragliatrice Blindata d’Assalto (MIAS – Eng. Assault Self-Propelled Armored Machine gun), armed with twin Scotti-Isotta Fraschini 6.5 mm machine guns, and the Moto-mortaio Blindato d’Assalto (MORAS – Eng. Assault Self-Propelled Armored Mortar), armed with a 45 mm Mortaio d’Assalto Brixia Mod. 1935, were built, nothing came from this project as it was obviously useless as a combat vehicle.

The 45 mm mortar armed Moto-mortaio Blindato d’Assalto ‘MORAS’ vehicle. Source: pinterest.com

With the cancellation of all these projects, there came a period of short stagnation in the development of light tanks. In 1938, the Italian Royal Army made new requests for a new light tank design. In October 1939, Ansaldo presented a new project, the M6T, weighing some 6 tonnes and armed with two Breda 38 machine guns. As the Army was unsatisfied with the weak armament, they asked Ansaldo to change it. Ansaldo responded with a new prototype armed with a 37/26 gun and an additional 8 mm machine gun.

The M6T twin machine gun armed turret proposal. Source: Ansaldo Archives

Another prototype was tested with the AB41 armored car’s turret, which was armed with a Breda 20/65 Mod. 1935 and a Breda 38 machine gun. This project finally satisfied the Italian Army Officials, who gave production orders for some 583 vehicles. As its performance was somewhat inferior to the AB41 armored car, the final order was eventually reduced to 283 tanks (actual production reached over 400 vehicles plus 17 built by the Germans). The new vehicle received the designation L6/40 or Leggero (Eng. Light) 6 t Mod. 1940. Ansaldo also tested a version armed with flamethrower equipment, but the production ended after only a small number of them were built.

The final form of the accepted L6/40 light tank. Source: Ansaldo Archives
The unsuccessful flamethrowing variant of the L6/40 tank. Source: Ansaldo Archives

While the number of ordered L6/40 was reduced, the remaining 300 were to be instead used for a Semovente (Eng. self-propelled gun) variant armed with a Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935. The modification included adding a new open-top superstructure, increasing the crew number to three, and adding the new gun on the vehicle’s left side. Additional improvements were attempted during the war, such as increasing the armor protection and adding a top-mounted machine gun. While potentially effective against early World War Two vehicles, by the time it was used in great numbers during 1942, it was becoming ineffective. The first prototype was tested in May 1941 and, by May of 1943, some 282 were produced, with an additional 120 being produced by the Germans after the Italian armistice in 1943.

The Semovente L40 da 47/32. Source: worldwarphotos.com

Being available and cheap to build, the Italians reused the Semovente L40 chassis for other purposes. Some Semovente L40 were modified for use as company command vehicles named Commando per Reparti Semovente. This included adding extra radio equipment and removing the main gun by replacing it with an 8 mm machine gun which was covered with a wooden mock-up of the 47 mm gun barrel. There was also a Commando plotone (Eng: Platoon Command Vehicle) that retained its gun but was provided with a telescopic sight.

The company commander’s vehicle with its fake wooden gun barrel. Source: worldwarphotos.com

During 1942, some 30 L6/40s were modified as ammunition carrier vehicles for the Semovente M41 da 90/53 tank destroyer. While the Transporto munizioni (Eng. ammunition carrier), as the version was known, could carry only 24 to 26 rounds, an additional 40 rounds were carried in a trailer.

The ammunition carrier version with its trailer. Source: Ansaldo Archives

The last Semovente L40 modification was an armored personnel carrier that could be also used as an ammunition carrier. The prototype of this vehicle, named Cingoletta Ansaldo L6 (Eng. track light tractor) or simply as CVP 5, was tested by the end of 1941. This vehicle was actually powered by the AB41’s 88 hp engine, had a small modified superstructure, and was armed with a Breda Mod. 38 8 mm machine gun. A second prototype was equipped with a Mitragliera Breda Mod. 1931 13.2 mm heavy machine gun and with radio equipment. The Italian Army was never impressed with its performance and both projects were canceled.

The CVP 5 prototype vehicle. Source: worldwarphotos.com

There was also a proposal to build a Semovente M6 version on the L6 chassis, armed with a Cannone da 75/18 Mod. 1935. Interestingly, the 75 mm gun was to be placed in a large turret with an unknown rotation arc. The project eventually led nowhere and only a wooden mock-up was built.

A wooden mock-up of the proposed M6 75 mm armed L6 tank chassis. Source: Pinterest.com

Italian medium tank development

The development of larger tank designs was delayed in Italy, mostly due to insufficient development in the automotive industry, but also due to a lack of skilled engineers. To speed up the whole development process, Italian Army officials went to the British Vickers company, where they bought a Vickers-Armstrong 6-ton tank. This vehicle was mainly used by the Ansaldo for evaluation and gaining an overall view of the new tank design development. In 1929, Ansaldo engineers began working on building the first Italian tank, named Carro d’Assalto 9t (Assault Tank 9 t). This vehicle was designed as a turretless 9 tonnes vehicle armed with a 65 mm gun and with one machine gun. From 1929 to 1937, many tests and modifications were undertaken on this vehicle, but due to some issues, like its slow speed, its development was abandoned.

Ansaldo 9 tonnes tank, with later improved suspension. Source: worldwarphotos.com

While the first Ansaldo vehicle was discarded, some elements were reused for a new project. While work on a Carro d’Assalto 10t (10 tonnes vehicle) began in 1936, the first prototype was actually built in 1937. The new vehicle was to be armed with a Cannone Vickers-Terni da 37/40 Mod. 30 placed in a casemate and a small turret armed with two 8 mm machine guns. Following the completion of this prototype, a second prototype with an improved suspension was built in early 1938. The armament and the configuration remained the same as on the first prototype. It was built using armored plates which were held in place by using rivets or bolts, as the Italians were lacking in welding capacities. After the second prototype was presented to the Army, an initial order for 50 (later increased to 400) vehicles was given. Due to problems with the lacking production capabilities of the Italian industry, not enough resources, and the introduction of later improved models, only 100 would be built. As the production began in 1939, this vehicle received the M 11/39 designation (M stands for ‘Medio’ – Eng. medium).

The Carro d’Assalto 10t prototype. Source: OTO-Melara archives
The M11/39 in Northern Africa, first month of the war. Source: pinterest.com
Due to the M11/39’s overall poor performance, the Italian Army requested a new tank vehicle, which was to be better armed, with a fully rotating turret, faster and with increased operational range. Ansaldo engineers were quick to respond, simply reusing many components of the M11/39 tank. The prototype was presented to the Army in October 1939. The new vehicle hull design was similar to the previous version, but the 37 mm gun was replaced with two machine guns. On top of the hull, a new turret armed with a stronger Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935 and a machine gun was placed. 400 were ordered for production starting from 1939. Due to many delays, actual production started in February of 1940, which went at a slow pace and with additional delays. As the production began in 1940, this vehicle received the M13/40 designation.

At the end of 1940, some 250 were actually built. By the time the production was canceled, some 710 M13/40 would be built. On the basis of the M13/40, the Italians developed a radio command vehicle named Carro Centro Radio (Eng. radio vehicle). These vehicles received additional radio equipment. The production of this version was very limited, with only 10 completed vehicles being built.

The M13/40 1st series tank in the Ansaldo-Fossato factory. Source: Pinterest.com

Observing the success of the German StuG III vehicles during the 1940 campaign in the West, the Italian Army officials were impressed and suggested that a similar vehicle be developed. This vehicle was to perform two main functions: to act as mobile artillery support and as an anti-tank weapon. The project began in September 1940 and the first prototype was completed by Ansaldo in February 1941. The vehicle was based on the M13/40 chassis with a new modified superstructure and armed with a short barrel Cannone da 75/18 Mod. 1935. After acceptance of the project, the Army ordered a small batch of 30 vehicles to be built, followed by a second order for 30 more vehicles. The new vehicle received the Semovente M40 da 75/18 designation. While still plagued with the problems of the M13/40 chassis, the Semovente would become the most effective Italian anti-tank vehicle during the war.

The Semovente M40 da 75/18 based on the M13/40 chassis. Source: worldstar photos.com

To fill the role of a command vehicle for the new Semovente units, the Italian Army requested a new command vehicle also based on the M series. These vehicles, named Carro Commando Semoventi (Eng. self-propelled command tank), were based on a modified M13/40 (including later models) by removing the turret and replacing it with an 8 mm thick armored cover with two escape hatch doors. Extra radio equipment was added, which consisted of Magneti Marelli RF1CA and RF2CA radios plus extra batteries necessary for their proper functioning. While, initially, the two hull machine guns were unchanged, they would later be replaced with stronger Mitragliera Breda Mod. 1931 13.2 mm heavy machine guns.

The Semovente command vehicle was based on the M13/40 chassis. Source: Genoa Ansaldo-Fossati factory archives

The M14/41

The next slightly improved tank version, named M14/41, was introduced in late 1941. While the designations were changed in August 1942 to M41 and M40 for the previous version, the older designations remained in use during the war. It was powered by a new SPA 15T 145 hp engine which was somewhat stronger than the previously used SPA 8T 125 hp engine. With the increase of weight of some 500 kg (due to, among other things, an increased ammunition load), the overall driving performance was unchanged. While visually almost the same as the previous version, the most obvious difference was the use of longer fenders that were running the entire length of the tracks. From late 1941 to 1942, under 700 M14/41 were produced.

The slightly improved M14/41. Source: Ansaldo Archives

The M14/41 chassis was also used for the Semovente configuration. There were some minor differences, like changing the top-mounted 6.5 mm Breda 30 machine gun with the 8 mm Breda 38. With the introduction of a stronger engine, the maximum speed was slightly increased. In total, some 162 of these vehicles were built during 1942. One (or more, it is not clear) vehicle was tested with the longer Cannone da 75/32 Mod. 1937 which had improved anti-tank capabilities, but no production order was given.

While similar in appearance, the visible difference was the use of longer track fenders. Source: worldwarphotos.com
The prototype of the Semovente M14/41 armed with a 75/32 gun. Source: Pinterest.com

Less than 50 Semovente command vehicles based on the M14/41 chassis would be built. The main difference from the previous version was the use of a larger 13.2 mm Breda Mod. 1931 heavy machine gun placed in the superstructure.

Command vehicle based on the M14/41 chassis Source: Genoa Ansaldo-Fossati factory archives

Using the M14/41 chassis, the Italians tried to build their most ambitious anti-tank vehicle armed with the powerful 90 mm gun. The M14/41 chassis was completely redesigned with the engine moved to the center and adding a new rear positioned gun (with two crew members) compartment. The strong Cannone da 90/53 Mod. 1939 had its crew protected by a lightly armored shield. Due to the small ammunition load of only 8 rounds, additional spare ammunition was stored in support vehicles based on the smaller modified L6/40 light tank. This vehicle was named Semovente M41 da 90/53. While it could destroy any Allied vehicle at that time, only 30 were ever built.

The Semovente da 90/53, while well-armed, had only 30 vehicles ever built. Source: Pinterest.com

The M15/42

Due to the increasing obsolescence of the M13/40 and M14/41, together with the slow development of the heavy tank program, the Italians were forced to introduce the M15/42 medium tank as a stopgap solution. The M15/42 was mostly based on the M14/41 tank, but with a number of improvements. Most noticeable was the introduction of a new 190 hp FIAT-SPA 15TB (‘B’ stands for Benzina – Eng. Petrol) engine and a new transmission. With the installation of the new engine, the tank hull was lengthened compared to the M13 Series tanks by some 15 cm. Most noticeable for the M15/42 was the installation of a new 4.7 cm main gun with a longer barrel, producing a more effective anti-tank gun, albeit still inadequate by this point in the war. The armor protection on the tank was also slightly increased, but this too was still inadequate to keep up with newer and better Allied tanks. In addition, the position of the hull left side door was changed to the right side.

The most modern Italian tank available in 1942 was the M15/42. Source: worldwarphotos.com

The Italian Army placed an order for some 280 M15/42s in October 1942. However, due to attempts to produce more Semovente self-propelled vehicles, the order for 280 was reduced to 220 tanks. These were built by June 1943 and an additional 28 tanks would be built under German command after the September Armistice was signed with the Allies.

Just like the previous tanks, a command tank variant (carro centro radio/radio tank) based on the M15/42 was also developed. By the time of the September Armistice, some 45 M15/42 radio vehicles were built. An additional 40 vehicles were built after September 1943 under German control.

The command version based on the M.15/42 (like all Italian command tanks) lacked the turret and had the two radio antennas on the rear of the casemate. Source: pinterest.com

On an M15/42 chassis, the Italians developed an anti-aircraft vehicle known as the Semovente M15/42 Antiaereo or Quadruplo (Eng: Anti-Aircraft or Quadruple). A new turret armed with four Scotti-Isotta Fraschini 20/70 Mod. 1939 anti-aircraft guns was added instead of the original one. The history of this vehicle is unclear but at least one or two were built.

The M15 Antiaereo, the anti-aircraft variant of the M15/42 remained a prototype. Source: pinterest.com

Due to the M15/42’s obsolescence as a front-line tank, the Italian Army officials instead wanted to concentrate all available resources on increasing the production of Semovente based on this vehicle. The Italians reused the already produced Semovente da 75/18 superstructure and added it on the M15/42 chassis. The main difference was the use of a single 50 mm frontal armor plate. By the time of the Italian surrender in September 1943, around 200 vehicles were built. Under German supervision, an additional 55 vehicles were built with the material available on hand.

The Semovente M42 da 75/18 based on the M15/42 tank chassis. Source: worldwarphotos.com

As previously mentioned, a Semovente based on the M14/41 tank was tested with the longer 75 mm L.32 gun. While it was not adopted for service, the Italians instead decided to upgun the newer Semovente built on the improved M15/42 chassis with the new gun. The first prototype of the Semovente M42M da 75/34 was completed in March 1943 (M – ‘modificato’ Eng. Modified). The production of 60 vehicles was completed by May 1943. An additional 80 new vehicles would be built by the Germans after the Italian armistice.

The Semovente M42M da 75/34. Source: wikipedia.it

The heavy tank projects

While the Italian Army initiated the development of Pesante (Eng. heavy) tanks as early as 1938, due to many reasons, the program actually could not start before 1940. The first requirements for a heavy tank were: the armament was to consist of a 47/32 Mod. 1935 gun with three machine guns, weight of some 20 tonnes with a maximum speed of 32 km/h. In August 1938, the requirements for heavy tanks were changed. The new project was to include increased armament consisting of one 75/18 gun and one 20 mm L. 65 Breda cannon. It was to be powered by a 330 hp Ansaldo diesel engine and the estimated maximum speed was to be 40 km/h. Arthis staged the project and was known either as P75 (due to its main gun caliber) or as P26 (by the weight). The first working prototype was built using the chassis of the M13/40 and was quite similar in appearance. Further development led to the introduction of the longer Cannone da 75/32 Mod. 1937.

The P26 prototype armed with the longer 75/32 gun. Source: Pinterest.com

Following close examination of a Soviet captured T-34/76 Mod. 1941, the Italians completely redesigned the whole vehicle. Larger and angled armor plates were used, the hull positioned machine guns were removed, and the armor thickness was increased to 50 mm at the front and 40 mm at the sides. In July 1942, a new prototype was completed and, after some trials, the Italian Army ordered some 500 to be built. The name was again changed to P40 for the year when the project started. Only a few would be built by the Italians, with some 101 being built by the Germans.

The P40, while an Italian design, would only see action in German hands. Source: Pinterest.com

Even as the P40 was under development, the Italian Army officials were aware that it would be barely sufficient to effectively fight the Allied vehicles. A new heavy tank project was initiated by the end of 1941. Its armament consisted of either a Cannone da 75/34 Mod. S.F. or a Cannone da 105/25 gun, while the maximum armor thickness was to be 80 to 100 mm. This project was named P 43, and despite time invested in it and a production order of 150 vehicles, no actual vehicle was ever built. Another heavy tank project was the P43bis, armed with a 90 mm L. 42 tank gun derived from the 90/53 Mod. 1939, but only a wooden mock-up was ever built.

The P43 wooden mock-up. Source: Wikipedia.it

A hybrid chassis using elements from the P40 and the M15/42 was created. The Italians tried to develop modern self-propelled artillery. The vehicle was armed with the 149/40 modello 35 artillery gun placed to the rear of the hybrid chassis. Due to the slow development speed and lack of industrial capacity, only one prototype was built. This would be captured and transported to Germany. When the war was over, this vehicle was taken over by the advancing Allies.

The experimental long-range self-propelled artillery based on the P40 chassis. Source: wikipedia.it

The new M43 chassis

Due to the slow development of the heavy P40 project, the new planned Semovente series based on this chassis had to be postponed. As a temporary solution, a modified M15/42 chassis was to be used instead. This new chassis, named M43 (also known initially as M42L ‘Largo’, Eng. Large), was wider and lower than the previous built versions. This chassis would be used as the basis for three different Semoventi.

The difference of the older (left) M42 and the new M43 chassis to the right. Source: wikipedia.it

A prototype of a new Semovente version armed with the larger Cannone da 105/25 gun placed in an enlarged superstructure with a 70 mm thick frontal armor was built and tested in February 1943. While the Italian Army officials ordered some 200 to be built, due to the war’s development, only 30 would be built. When the Germans took over what was left of the Italian industry, they produced an additional 91 vehicles.

The Semovente M43 da 105/25. Source: wikipedia.it

Two additional anti-tank versions were also under development, but none were ever used by the Italians and the vehicles which were under construction were taken over by the Germans. The first version was the Semovente M43 da 75/34, of which some 29 were built.

The Semovente M43 da 75/34. Source: Pinterest.com

In order to further increase the anti-tank capabilities, the Italians introduced a tank version of the anti-aircraft Cannone da 75/46 C.A. Mod. 1934, the longer Ansaldo 75 mm gun. While armed with a good gun and with well-designed protection, only 11 vehicles were ever built.

A brand new Semovente M43 da 75/46 outside the factory. Source: wikipedia.it

Carro Armato Celere Sahariano

During the African Campaign, the Royal Army High Command realized that the M13/40 and M14/41 were inferior to the British production vehicles so, in 1941, the development of a new vehicle, often incorrectly called M16/43 or correctly Carro Armato Celere Sahariano (Eng. Saharan Fast Tank), began. After an initial prototype/mockup built on a modified M14 chassis, in 1943 the proper prototype, with clear influences from British cruiser tanks and the Soviet BT series, was ready.

Weighing 13.5 tonnes, with a new torsion spring suspension, likely related to the CV 38 models, and a 250 hp engine, the vehicle could be driven at a top speed of over 55 km/h. The armor-plating was limited, of unknown thickness but well-angled plates at the front and on the sides.

The armament was composed of a Cannone da 47/40 Mod. 1938 derived from the cannon of the M13 and M14, but with improved anti-tank performance thanks to the longer barrel and the 10 cm longer cartridge that increased the speed of the anti-tank shells by 30%. In addition to the gun, there were two Breda 38 caliber 8 mm machine guns, one coaxial and one in an anti-aircraft mount.

The Royal Army was interested in arming the vehicle with the Cannone da 75/34 Mod. S.F. in a casemate, but the end of the African Campaign, the reluctance of Ansaldo and FIAT to produce a completely new vehicle and, finally, the Armistice of September 1943 put an end to any development.

Carro Armato Celere Sahariano prototype. Source: Ansaldo Archives

Foreign tanks in Italian service

Italian industry never managed to satisfy the Royal Army’s requests for war material, so the High Command asked Germany for help, which repeatedly supplied captured material from the occupied nations. During the war, thousands of guns, artillery pieces, cargo trucks, 124 Renault R35 and 32 Somua S35 tanks were supplied to Italy.

After the surrender of France, the French soldiers stationed in the colonies of North Africa gave part of their war material to the Royal Army, mostly consisting of Laffly 15 TOE armored cars and small-caliber cannons.

Somua S35 in Italian Service. Source: modellismopiù.com

The Italians also captured many vehicles during the campaigns in Greece, the Soviet Union and Africa, which they often put back into service immediately after capture.

Italian T-34/76 Mod. 1941. Source: pinterest.com

Unfortunately, there are no certain numbers of foreign vehicles in service with the Royal Army. It is known that at least 2 T-34/76 Mod. 1941, some BT-5 and 7 tanks, at least one T-60, numerous Cruiser tanks and several English armored cars captured in Africa and Greece were reused against their former owners.

An A13 Cruiser tank in service with the Regio Esercito. Source: worldwarphotos.com

In 1942, the Royal Army, having noticed the obsolescence of Italian tanks, asked Germany to produce under license the Panzer III and Panzer IV, but due to bureaucratic problems and resistance both in Germany and in Italy, the project (with the unofficial name of P21/42 and P23/41) remained only a hypothesis until the Armistice. In 1943, to remedy the problem and also to help replace the losses suffered by the Royal Army, Germany provided 12 Panzer III Ausf. N, 12 Panzer IV Ausf. G and 12 StuG III Ausf. G. The vehicles, at Mussolini’s will, should have been sent to fight the Allies in Sicily, but due to the inexperience of the Italian tank drivers, it was decided to wait a few more months. After the Armistice, the vehicles were all requisitioned by the Wehrmacht without the Royal Army ever being able to employ them in action.

Italian Panzer IV Ausf. G during crew training in 1943. Source: wikipedia.it

Markings and camouflage

The Italians initially used geometric shapes painted in different colors for markings. The command vehicles were marked with either a triangle or a circle, while the remaining vehicles in the units received painted stripes. The number of stripes (it went up to three) indicated the vehicle affiliation to the specified unit.

In 1940, a military law for the markings was put into application. For the identification of different companies, a rectangle shape (20 x 12 cm dimensions) was used with a number of colors: Red for the 1st Company, Blue for the 2nd Company, Yellow for the 3rd Company, and Green for the 4th Company

For the command vehicles, these were White for the Regimental Command vehicles and Black for the Squadron or Battalion commander’s tank with one Company, Red and Blue for the Squadron or Battalion commander’s tank with two Companies and Red, Blue and Yellow for the Squadron or Battalion commander’s tank with three or four Companies.

For the indication of the specific platoon, white stripes (from one to four and a cross strip for the 5th) were painted inside this rectangle. In addition, the vehicle number was usually painted atop this rectangle.

Some Semovente da 75/18 equipped units had a similar system that instead relied on the use of triangles. The HQ unit was marked with triangles pointing upward while the remaining units used a triangle facing down. The vehicles belonging to the first battery of the first battalion were painted white, while the second battery was painted black and white. For the second battalion, the colour scheme was yellow and black and yellow.

Representations of different colors used for marking vehicles. Source: pinterest.com
The markings were usually painted on the turret sides and to the rear. Source: pinterest.com
An example of the inverted triangle marking on a Semovente. Source: pinterest.com

One of the first armored vehicles, the Fiat 3000, they were painted in a sand colour with a brown and green blotches combination. The mass produced CV series were initially painted in dark grey-green color. This would be replaced with a combination of brown and dark sand with grey-green stains. During the Spanish Civil War, the Italians used a combination of dark sand with dark green stains.

The Italian Camouflage for the ‘M’ tank series, starting with the M11/39, was of three types. The first one was used only before the war and in the first operations of the war, the ‘Imperiale’ (Eng. Imperial) camouflage pattern, with Khaki Sahariano with some red-brown and dark-green stripes. It is often mistakenly called “Spaghetti”.

The second one, standard until 1942, was the usual Kaki used in North Africa, Europe and the Soviet Union. The last one that saw a very short service with the Royal Army was the ‘Continentale’ (Eng. Continental) camouflage that was used shortly before the armistice. It was a normal Kaki Sahariano with reddish-brown and dark-green spots.

Obviously, a lot of other camouflage patterns were used. The first M13/40s that arrived in Africa were painted with an unusual green-gray camouflage or some M11/39 were painted with reddish-brown and dark-green spots.

An M11/39 with ‘Imperiale’ camouflage. Source: Pinterest.com
A Semovente M43 da 105/35 with ‘Continentale’ Camouflage. Source: Pinterest.com
Unusual green-grey M13/40 camouflage in Africa. Source: pinterest.com

In Russia, the tanks were scented with normal Kaki Sahariano and then covered with white lime and mud during the winter periods.

A destroyed and abandoned L6/40 in Soviet Union. It had the Kaki Sahariano camouflage. Source: Pinterest.com

The armored cars of the ‘AB’ series were usually painted in a bit light khaki color called Kaki Sahariano Chiaro. In 1943, they received the new ‘Continentale’ camouflage even though they tested some camouflage prototypes that never entered service.

Divisional organization

Italy entered the Second World War with three armored divisions, the 131ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Centauro’, the 132ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete’ and the 133ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Littorio’. An Armored Division was composed of an Armored Regiment with three Tank Battalions (55 tanks each), an Artillery Regiment, and a Bersaglieri Regiment.

In addition, it had a Company armed with anti-tank guns, a company of engineers, a medical section with two field hospitals, a section for the transport of supplies and ammunition, and a group for the transport of tanks (in 1942, each Armored Division integrated a Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato or R.E.Co. – Eng. Armored Exploring Group). When Italy entered the war on June 10, 1940, the standard personnel complement of an Armored Divisions was about 7,439 men, equipped with 165 tanks (plus 20 in reserve), 16 Breda or Scotti-Isotta Fraschini 20 mm anti-aircraft guns, 16 47/32 guns Mod. 1935 or 1939, 24 75/27 guns, 410 heavy machine guns, and 76 light ones. There were also 581 trucks and cars, 48 artillery tractors, and 1,170 motorcycles for the transport of tanks, troops, supplies, and ammunition.

For the Semoventi armed with 75 mm cannons, these were aggregated in 1941 in two artillery groups for each Armored Division, composed of 2 batteries with four Semoventi each, four command tanks for each artillery group and two more Semoventi and a Command tank in reserve, for a total of 18 Semovente and 9 command tanks for a division.

For the Battaglioni Semoventi Controcarro (Eng. Anti-tank Self-Propelled Guns Battalions) armed with the Semovente L40 da 47/32, the situation changed. When they entered service, every battalion had two platoons with 10 vehicles each and a battalion tank commander. In December 1942, with the entry into service of the new L40 Company Command, the Battaglioni Controcarro were reorganized with three platoons with 10 L40 and one L40 Platoon Command tank and one L40 Company Command, for a total of 34 self-propelled guns per battalion.

Each Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato was equipped with an AB41 Armored Car Squadron, 2 Bersaglieri Motorcyclist Squadrons, an Exploring Squadron with light L6/40 tanks, a Tank Squadron with 18 Semovente da 75/18 and 9 command tanks, about 20 ‘M’ tanks with their respective command tanks, an Anti-Aircraft Squadron with 20 mm Breda or Scotti-Isotta Fraschini cannons and a Battaglione Semoventi Controcarro with L40 da 47/32.

Often, the losses of armored vehicles could not be replaced. Consequently, tanks captured from the enemy were used or, in the case of the L6/40s, they were replaced with AB41 armored cars.

In combat

Colonial Conflicts

During the reconquest of Libya between 1922 and 1932, in addition to the few armored vehicles produced during the First World War and the FIAT 3000, a number of civilian trucks with improvised armor were produced and used in the colony, mostly to counter ambushes against motorized convoys, police duty and during anti-rebellion actions.

The Ethiopian War (1935-1936) saw a massive use of Italian armored vehicles, with about 400 armored vehicles including FIAT 3000s, CV33s and CV35s, and an unspecified number of Lancia 1ZM and FIAT 611 armored cars. Even if the Ethiopians were almost completely without anti-tank weapons, the Italians still lost several vehicles because of the poor condition of the Ethiopian roads.

Spanish Civil War

In December 1936, the Kingdom of Italy sent the Corpo Truppe Volontarie or C.T.V. (Eng. Volunteer Troops Corps) to Spain to support the Nationalist troops of General Francisco Franco with 10 Lancia 1Z and 1ZM and about 50 CV33 and 35 light tanks. This war demonstrated to the Italian High Command what had only been guessed during the colonial wars.

The armored cars of the First World War were now obsolete and the so-called Carri Veloci ( Eng. Fast Tanks), the CV33 and 35, were more than unsuitable for fighting on plains and against opponents equipped with anti-tank weapons.

The situation in Spain was so desperate that Italian tankers were forced to tow 47 mm cannons in order to defend themselves against Republican tanks, such as the Soviet made T-26 and the BT-5 and also the BA-6 armored car. Another solution was to reuse Republican vehicles captured in battle.

A BT-5 and a BA-6 were sent to the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione Militare (Eng. Centre for Military Motorisation Studies) in Rome to evaluate their qualities. The Royal Army, testing the two vehicles, realized that tanks and armored cars from the 1920s and Fast Tanks were no longer suitable for modern warfare, so in 1937-1938 they began to develop new armored vehicles capable of fighting foreign vehicles.

Second World War

As is well known, the Second World War began on September 1, 1939 with the German invasion of Poland, but for the Kingdom of Italy did not immediately take the field alongside the Nazi ally for some reasons, both logistical, but also because Mussolini and the Royal Army wavered.

On August 12, Hitler informed the Italian Foreign Minister that his wishes to unite Gdansk with Germany would soon come true and that Italy had to be ready to take the field within a few months. The Italian response was that the Italian involvement was to be postponed due to the lack of raw materials for military needs.

On August 25, 1939 Hitler then offered German support to fill the Italian shortage, and to solve the problem on August 26, 1939 Mussolini called an urgent meeting with the High Command of the Royal Italian Army to draw up a list of raw materials to be requested from Germany in order to participate, within a few months, in a new world war.

The list, known in Italy as the “Lista del Molibdeno” (Molybdenum List) was a list whose requests were voluntarily exaggerated, we are talking about 2,000,000 tons of steel, 7,000,000 tons of oil and much more, for a total of 16.5 million tons of material, equivalent to 17,000 trains. The most absurd request that Italy made was the one concerning molybdenum, 600 tons (which exceeded the worldwide quantity produced in a year).

Hitler, sensing that Mussolini did not want, for the moment, to participate in the hostilities, started the Second World War alone and only on June 10, 1940, eleven months later, the Kingdom of Italy entered the war.

In France

When the Second World War started, the Italian Royal Army was mostly equipped with the L3 fast tanks, older FIAT 3000 tanks and a number of different types of armored cars. The first combat action was undertaken against French defensive lines in the Alps in 1940. The fight that lasted from June 23 to 24 saw the engagement of some 9 L3 battalions. Despite numeric supremacy, the Italians managed to achieve only a minor breakthrough and lost several vehicles in the process.

A column of Italian mortar crews pass the border with France some days after the Italian attack. On the left is visible a Carro Veloce. Source: reddit.com

In Africa

During the Italian invasion of British North Africa, their armored force performed poorly. Despite having numerical superiority, the L3 fast tanks were simply useless against British armor, which led to great losses. During the failed offensive into Egypt that lasted from September 8 to 17, 1940, 35 out of 52 L3 fast tanks were lost. The Italians rushed the M11/39 tanks, which offered much-improved firepower, but they were still insufficient. In October, a smaller group of less than 40 new M13/40 tanks also arrived in Africa. The British counterattack that lasted through the end of 1940 and early 1941 led to huge losses of Italian armored vehicles. When the city of Bardia fell to the British, they managed to capture 127 Italian tanks. With the following fall of the important port of Tobruk, the Italian losses increased.

The shattered Italian forces were resupplied with 93 fast tanks together with some 24 flamethrowing versions of the same vehicle, together with 46 M13/40 tanks in early 1941. During 1941, the number of fast tanks was in decline while the Italians were desperately trying to increase the number of M13/40 tanks. In September 1941, there were nearly 200 M13/40 available on the African front. Due to attrition, by early 1942, the number was reduced to less than 100. During 1942, new vehicles like the M14/41 and Semovente M40 da 75/18 were available in some numbers. 1942 saw extensive use of Italian armor with huge losses. By the start of 1943, there were only 63 ‘M’ series tanks left with smaller numbers of Semoventi and L6 tanks. In April 1943, there were only 26 M14/41 and some 20 Semoventi left, which were lost by May 1943 with the surrender of Axis troops in Africa.

In Africa, the fast tanks performed poorly, while the ‘M’ series tanks were able to destroy early Allied vehicles. This did not last for long and, with the introduction of more modern American and British tanks, the Italians tanks were almost powerless to stop the Allied tanks. The most effective armored vehicle was the Semoventi M40 and M41 da 75/18 which, with their 75 mm short barrel gun, could destroy most Allied vehicles at that time.

During the first years of the war, the L3 fast tanks were the Italian main combat vehicles. In this photo an L3/33 of first series. Source: pinterest.com

Italian East Africa

After the conquest of Ethiopia in 1936, the Kingdom of Italy occupied a territory that included the modern-day states of Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia. The Italian colonies in East Africa were renamed Africa Orientale Italiana or AOI (Eng. Italian East Africa).

These colonies were very dependent on the motherland and received periodic civilian and military supplies from merchant ships passing through the Suez Canal.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, the British denied access to the Suez Canal to Italian merchant ships. Thus, during the entire Italian East African Campaign, the soldiers had to fight with whatever they had prior without being able to replace losses or receive spare parts and ammunition for their armored vehicles. In total, 91,000 Italian soldiers and 200,000 Àscari (colonial troops) were present in the three colonies.

At the outbreak of the war, there were 24 M11/39 medium tanks, 39 CV33 and 35 light tanks, about 100 armored cars and about 5,000 trucks in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. Due to the lack of spare parts, many vehicles were abandoned during the campaign.
There were several attempts of the various Italian military workshops to produce improvised armored vehicles to be supplied to Italian troops.

The Culqualber and Uolchefit were two examples of armored tractors on Caterpillar hulls armed with water-cooled FIAT machine guns (two for the Uolchefit and seven for the Culqualber). The armor was produced using the leaf spring suspensions of trucks out of service due to the lack of spare parts. This gimmick proved to be very good in fact, the armor of this very elastic steel was claimed to be more effective than ballistic steel armor.

Another vehicle built was the Heavy Armored Car Monti-FIAT on the chassis of the heavy truck FIAT 634N (‘N’ for Nafta, Diesel in Italian) produced in a single model by Officine Monti in Gondar.

The vehicle was equipped with the turrets of a Lancia 1Z armored car, probably damaged, and it was armed, besides the three machine guns in the turret, with another four FIAT Mod. 14/35 caliber 8 mm machine guns.

The scarcity of armored vehicles forced the Italians to produce a total of about 90 armored trucks of various models. Besides the Italian FIAT and Lancia trucks, Ford V8, Chevrolet (purchased before the autarky policy) and some German Bussing trucks were also used.

The Monti-FIAT heavy armored car near a FIAT 500A. Note the dimensions and five machine guns. Source: pinterest.com

In the Balkans

When the Italians attacked Greece in late October 1940, their force included nearly 200 fast tanks (of which some 30 were flamethrowing variants). Even on this front, the Italians did not perform well and the war dragged on for months. Eventually, the Germans invaded Yugoslavia to help their ally and to secure their flank for the upcoming Operation Barbarossa. The Italian armor was redirected toward the new enemy and achieved limited success. Following the fall of Yugoslavia, the Greek Army was, with the support of the Germans, also defeated. Until the Italian surrender in 1943, they would maintain a number of older armored vehicles in the area for fighting the Partisan forces in the Balkans.

In the Soviet Union

Like other German allies, Italy also contributed units supported with some 60 fast tanks. While these met only a small number of Soviet tanks, a great number were lost mostly due to mechanical breakdowns. During 1942, the Italians increased their armor presence by sending 60 L6/40 light tanks and some 19 L40 da 47/32 self-propelled anti-tank vehicles based on the L6 hull. By the end of 1942, all vehicles were lost either to enemy action or mechanical breakdowns.

Defense of Italy

Despite losses on all fronts, in 1943, the Italians were desperately trying to rebuild their destroyed armored units. This was an almost impossible task, mostly as the Italians were lacking the industrial capacity and resources to do so. Due to a lack of equipment, the island of Sicily could only be defended with a small number of Semovente L40 da 47/32s, M41 da 90/53s, Renault R35s, L3 fast tanks, and old FIAT 3000s. With the upcoming Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943, all these would be lost.

On July 24, 1943, realizing that by now nothing would stop the Allied advance, King Vittorio Emanuele III asked Benito Mussolini for his resignation as Prime Minister and Secretary of State so that he could sign a surrender with the Allies because during the Casablanca Conference the Allied powers had discussed a possible government of Mussolini after the war, deciding that it would not be possible. Also the Council of Fascism (the National Fascist Party council) discussed in the same hours of a possible arrest of Benito Mussolini.

In agreement with the members of the council, the King summoned Benito Mussolini to his residence the next day and by deception had him arrested. For the moment, however, the Kingdom of Italy under the command of General Pietro Badoglio (successor wanted by the King of Mussolini) continued to fight alongside Nazi Germany. In the following months, however, the Italian government sought in great secrecy an agreement with the Allies to sign a surrender. The Armistice of Cassibile, signed by Italy and the United States on September 3, 1943, in great secret and made public only on September 8, 1943, provided that Italy surrendered unconditionally to the Allies.

The Germans, however, were not taken by surprise because the secret services had already communicated all the information about the surrender in Berlin so the already alerted Wehrmacht launched Fall Achse (Eng. Operation Axis) that in only 12 days brought Germany to occupy all the North Italian Center and all the territories held by the Royal Italian Army with the capture of more than one million Italian soldiers, 16,000 vehicles and 977 armored vehicles. After the Armistice of September 8th, 1943 the Italian soldiers often divided into divisions, but sometimes also the single soldiers left without orders chose their destinies autonomously.

The soldiers loyal to Mussolini and fascism surrendered to the Germans, those loyal to the King and the Royal Army, when possible they surrendered to the Allies or in other situations created the first nuclei of the partisan brigades and finally others returned to their homes by their families if possible.

In German hands

During the Fall Achse, the Germans managed to capture nearly 400 Italian tanks, ranging from small tankettes to more capable Semoventi self-propelled vehicles. They also managed to gain possession of some Italian military industry with many spare parts and resources. These were used to produce a number of Italian vehicles that were put to use by the Germans.

While some vehicles were used against the Allies in Italy, the majority of them were operated in the occupied Balkans for fighting the Partisan forces there. In the Balkans (the most common vehicle was the M15/42) they were used to replace the older French captured armored vehicles. Despite the general obsolescence, lack of spare parts and ammunition, these would see extensive action up to the war end against Partisans and later even Soviet forces. Those that survived were captured by the Partisans who used them for a short time after the war before being replaced with more modern Soviet equipment.

The Germans used fairly large numbers of Italian armored vehicles after 1943. Source: beutepanzer.ru
A bizarre combination of an M15/42 tank chassis fitted with a German Panzer 38(t) turret, used in the Balkans. This vehicle was possibly used by the Croatians, Germany’s ally .Source. Paluba.com

Republican National Army

On September 12, 1943, the Germans launched a daring operation (Fall Eiche) to free Mussolini, who was secretly locked away in a hotel on Gran Sasso, a mountain located in central Italy.

L3/33 and 35 of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ in parade in Via Roma, Turin 1944. Source: pinterest.com

Arriving in Germany, Mussolini met with Hitler to discuss the future of fascism and war. On September 23, 1943, Mussolini returned to Italy and formed a new state in the territories under Italian-German control. The Repubblica Sociale Italiana, or RSI (Eng. Italian Social Republic), had three military arms, the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano (Eng. Republican National Army), the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (Eng. Republican National Guard), which acted as military police but on more than one occasion was equipped and used as a real army, and finally, the Brigate Camicie Nere (Eng. Black Shirt Brigades), which were a paramilitary corps.

The German soldiers no longer trusted the Italian soldiers, so they kept control of the factories that produced armored vehicles, and only in a few cases did they supply military material to Italian soldiers.

The various units of the three armed corps of the RSI were forced to arm themselves independently with vehicles abandoned in the workshops or in the depots that once belonged to the Royal Italian Army.

In this period, to make up for the lack of armored vehicles, many armored cars and troop transport vehicles were produced on truck chassis.

Some ‘M’ series tanks and a L6/40 of the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano. Source: pinterest.com

Italian Cobelligerent Army

One of the few tanks in service with the Esercito Cobeligerante Italiano. Source: pinterest.com

After the Armistice of Cassibile, the Italian troops that surrendered to the Allies were formed into different units, but they had few armored vehicles, as they mostly carried out logistic functions to supply the Allied divisions with ammunition and fuel.

Some AB41 armored cars were employed by the scouting divisions that were soon replaced by British or American production vehicles.

Italian soldiers of the Co-Belligerent Army with three AB41 armored cars. Source: pinterest.com

Partisans

The Italian partisan movement was born after the 1943 Armistice. It was composed of former members of the Royal Army, Soviet, British or American prisoners of war who had escaped from prison camps and simple citizens who, due to political ideas or personal reasons, had decided to fight Fascism.

M42 da 75/18 captured by partisans in Turin. Source: Resistenza.it

These men and women were often badly armed and badly trained, but thanks to the support of the Allies, they were able to provide considerable support to the Allies from behind the Axis lines. In many cases, Italian partisans took possession of armored vehicles of various kinds and origin.

In most cases, these vehicles were captured by the partisans around April 1945, a few weeks before the end of the war, and used them to liberate the various cities of northern Italy. The city in which many of the vehicles were used by the partisans was Turin, where armored cars, armored trucks, light tanks and self-propelled vehicles were used.

An AB43 in Milan during the Great Partisan Parade after the battle. Source: pinterest.com

Milan saw the capture and use of the last example of the M43 from 75/46, while Genoa even saw the use of a StuG IV by the partisans.

A page by Marko Pantelic and Arturo Giusti

Source:

Illustrations

Fiat 3000 modele 1921
FIAT 3000 Model 1921, serie I, Abyssinia, 1935.
Fiat 3000 modele 1921
FIAT 3000 Model 21 serie I, Italy, 3rd Battalion of the 1st Armored Division, 1924.
Fiat 3000 modele 1921 radio
FIAT L5/21 serie II with radio, Corsica, March 1941.
Fiat 3000 modele 1930
FIAT L5/30, Italy, Calabria, January 1939.
Carro Armato L6/40 prototype, 1940
Carro Armato L6/40 prototype, northern Italy, March 1940. Notice the model 1932 gun.
Carro Armato L6/40 preserie
Carro Armato L6/40, preseries, LXVII Battalion of Armored “Bersaglieri”, Celere Division, Armir, southern Russia, summer 1941.
Carro Armato L6/40 Radio tank
Carro Armato L6/40, radio version, Bersaglieri recce unit, Eastern front, summer 1942.
L6/40 serie 1942
L6/40 1941 series, Vth Regiment “Lancieri di Novara” – North Africa, summer 1942.
L6/40 supply version
L6/40, supply version, serving the Semovente 90/53 self propelled howitzers, “Bedogni” artillery group, Sicily, September 1943.
Pzkpfw L6/40 733(i)
Pzkpfw L6/40 733(i), SS Polizei division, Athens, 1944.
M13/40 El Alamein june 42
Early production M13/40 from the 132nd Tank Regiment, Ariete Division in Libya, fall 1941.
Captured by the Australians, Tobruk, fall 1941
Over 100 M13/40s were captured at Beda Fomm. Some equipped the British 6th Royal Tanks and the Australian 6th Cavalry. Here is one of the squadron “Dingo” at Tobruk, October 1941.

M13/40 in Greece, April/May 1941.
M13/40 El Alamein fall 1942
M13/40 of an unknown unit, second battle of El Alamein, November 1942. Notice the extra protection consisting of spare tracks and sandbags, which had dire consequences for the engine.
M13/40 early 1943
Surviving M13/40 of the Centauro division, Tunisia, early 1943. Notice the fourth Breda 8 mm(0.31 in) on an AA mount.
Italy mid-1943
M13/40 of an unknown unit, Italy, mid-1943.

German Captured Pz.Kpfw. 736(i) M13/40 of the Pz.Abt.V SS-Gebirgs-Division “Prinz Eugen”, identified by the runic symbol. This unit used a total of 45 related tanks in the Balkans and northern Italy in 1944-45, including M14/41 and M15/42 models.
M14/41, early model Libya 1942
Early model, Libya, Littorio division, El Alamein, June 1942. Notice the AA Breda mounted on the roof.
M14/41 132nd armored division Ariete nov 1942
Early model, 132nd Armored Division “Ariete”, second battle of El Alamein, November 1942.
M14/41
Up-gunned model, Ariete division, Mareth line, March 1943.
M14/41
Unidentified unit, Littorio division, Tunisia, May 1943.
M14/41 Italy 1944
2nd tank, 2nd platoon, 1st company, 4th battalion, Italy, winter 1943-44.
PzKpfw M14/41 736(i)
PzKpfw M14/41 736(i), 7th SS-Freiwilligen-Gebirgs-Division “Prinz Eugen”, Italy, 1944.
Carro Comando Semoventi M41
Carro Comando Semoventi M41, Libya, 1942.
M14/41
Semovente M41M, or da 90/53, one of the most potent tank hunters used by the Italian army. The Breda 90 mm (3.54 in) AA shared similar characteristics with the German 88 mm (3.46 in).
cv35 Ariete div. Libya 1941
Carro Veloce CV-35 serie II, Ariete division, Libya, May 1941.
cv35 Breda twin 13 mm Ariete div. Libya march 1942
Carro Veloce CV-35 with the special twin Breda 13 mm (0.31 in) heavy machine-gun mount, Ariete division, Libya, March 1942.

Hungarian FIAT-Ansaldo 35M from the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion in early 1941, still bearing the old national insignia.
Three tone camouflaged Ansaldo-Fiat 35M
FIAT-Ansaldo 35M H241 from the 1st Hungarian Cavalry Battalion, Eastern front, summer 1941

FIAT-Ansaldo 35M of the Hungarian Military Police in Galicia, 1944.
L3/38
L3/38 of the so-called “Repubblica Soziale Italiana” (Fascist “Republic of Salo”), LXXXXVII “Liguria” Army (Graziani), September 1944. This vehicle was in the Gothic line tactical reserve, facing French forces. This model was also used by the Wehrmacht.
L3/38R
L3/38R (radio version) used as a command tank, “Friuli” division based in Corsica, November 1942 (General Umberto Mondino). Four Italian divisions were committed to the occupation of Corsica after the German invasion of the French Vichy so-called “free zone”. This was a strategical response to the Allied landings in North Africa (operation Torch).
L3/38
Beute L3/38 of a Gebirgsjager unit, Albania, 1944.
L3/38
Carro Veloce L3/38 in German service, Rome, 1944.

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

German StuG L6 mit 47/32 630(i), summer 1944.

German StuG L6/47/32 SPG Version G with side add-on armor and shielded Breda MG

Carro Comando from the 557th Grupo Asalto, Sicily, January 1943. The vehicle was later sent to Tunisia, participating in the last stand of the Italo-German forces in Africa.

Semovente M42 da 75/34 with operational markings in Italy, summer 1943.

Sturmgeschütz M42 mit 75/34 851(i), Balkans, 1944.

Semovente M43 da 75/46 tank hunter, used by German forces on the Gothic line, fall 1944. The gun was much longer than the previous 75/34, and imposed a heavily modified superstructure. The M43 chassis was also wider.
Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 75/46 852(i)
Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 75/46 852(i), Gothic line, fall 1944.
Semovente 105/25 M43
Semovente 105/25 M43 in Italian service, prior to the armistice.
Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 105/25 853(i)
Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 105/25 853(i), Gothic line, fall 1944.
Semovente 105/25 with RSI
Semovente 105/25 in service with the RSI (Social Republic of Salo), Northern Italy, fall 1944.
Semovente 90/53 Sicily 1943
Semovente da 90/53 in Sicily, July 1943.

Semovente da 90/53 in Southern Italy, early 1944.
Pz.Sp.Wg. Lince 202(i) in Wehrmacht service, Northern Italy, 1943
Pz.Sp.Wg. Lince 202(i) in Wehrmacht service, Northern Italy, 1943
Pz.Sp.Wg. Lince, Wehrmacht, Northern Italy, 1944
Pz.Sp.Wg. Lince, Wehrmacht, Northern Italy, 1944
Lancia Lince, Italian army, 1949
Lancia Lince, Italian army, 1949
Lancia Lince, Italian Police, 1951
Lancia Lince, Italian Police, 1951
AB 611, MG version
AB 611, machine-gun version, 1933.
Gun-armed AB 611
Autoblinda AB 611, 1st corps, Tambien, Ethiopia, February-March 1936.

The AS43 in Leonessa’s standard sand yellow color. This scheme was used by the unit until January 1945. Afterward they might have received a camouflage scheme made of green and brown spots on top of this.
M16/43 Sahariano prototype
M16/43 Carro Celere Sahariano

Regio Esercito, ww2 italian tanks poster