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Italian Tanks - Early Developments

Light tanks
Carro Armato
Fiat 3000192115337mm5
Carro Armato L6/40194024120mm7
Medium tanks
Carro Armato
Carro Armato M11/3919409237mm11
Carro Armato M13/40194071047mm14
Carro Armato M14/41194169547mm15
Carro Armato M15/42194310047mm16
Carro Armato M16/431941 147mm13
Heavy tanks
Carro Pesante
Fiat 2000191715365mm40
Carro Pesante P26/40194310275mm26
Self-propelled guns
Semovente M40 DA 47/32194245932mm7
Semovente M41 DA 75/18194246775mm13
Semovente M42 DA 75/34194318275mm14
Semovente M41M DA 90/5319433090mm17
Semovente M42L DA 105/251943100105mm16

The Italian word for armor is corazuti. It comes from the Latin word corium, which means a leather hide and, more precisely from corruzzu or armaturs. The word “armor” derives from the latter word, which was the name for the leather protection worn by the Roman legionnaires in combat.

The designations of the Italian vehicles was very simple. Carro Armato (armored vehicle) was the Italian Army's designation for tanks from 1938. This would be followed by a letter and a series of numbers. For example, the “L6 / 40” - 6-ton light tank of 1940, the M15 / 42 - 15-ton medium tank of 1942, the “P26 / 40” 26-ton heavy tank of 1940. In addition to tanks, the Italian industry during the war years mastered the production of self-propelled guns. A striking example of this class of Italian technology is the ACS "Semovente da 75/18" with a 75-mm gun with a length of 18 calibers. Italy also produced armored vehicles of high traffic, armored personnel carriers and armored vehicles.

The Italian designers in the early 20th century went a long way from creating light armored cars to designing tanks and self-propelled guns. The origins of the Italian tank building were in 1911. It was then that engineer Justino Cattaneo created the first armored car, armed with two 7.62mm machine guns and developing speeds of up to 37km/h with light bulletproof armor. In subsequent years, the creation and design of armored vehicles involved such Italian companies as "Bianchi", "Lancia IZ" and "Fiat". All of them produced relatively good samples of armored vehicles for their time, for example, "Lancia IZ", "Lince", "Fiat Ansaldo", "Fiat Tripoli". Italians began to develop tanks by the end of the Great War.

Italy, having entered the Great War in 1915, very soon attended to equipping its not too victorious army with all sorts of novelties used by the allies on the fronts. The number of such novelties were tanks. Already in 1917, Italy began the development of a light tank based on the French Renault FT 17. But the Italian commanders followed closely the British tank building, in particular, the idea of creating heavy breakthrough tanks. In 1917, an order was issued for the creation of a heavy tank with a gun in a rotating turret (similar to French tanks) and a large number of machine guns in the casemates.

The Italian Army’s first tanks were tested in 1917 and were organized in separate assault tank batteries under the concept that armor units were mobile assault artillery. During the Great War, the Italians used Lancia armored cars and, after British successes with true tanks (armored, track-laying vehicles), initiated a tank production program. However, due to technical difficulties, no Italian tanks were completed until 1919. The Fiat 2000, which was not completed in time for war service, was a 44-ton tank armed with six machineguns and a 65mm main gun. It was crewed by 10 men.

For the Italian army at that time, the main theater of operations was the north-east of the country, where the highlands prevented the effective use of tanks, so they were not in a hurry with the development of these combat vehicles. And yet the company "Fiat" began developing a heavy tank, which would later be called the "Fiat 2000". The tanks of foreign designs had practically no effect on the Italian tank building and the resulting machine was not similar to the tanks used at that time by the European armies, except it looked a bit like the German "A7V". Maximum armor for the "Fiat 2000" was 20mm, the tank was equipped with an engine with a capacity of 240l.s and a 65-mm cannon, as well as a large number of machine guns for a round-up attack on the area around the tank.

A further development of the Italian tank building was the creation of a light tank "Fiat 3000", which was essentially a copy of the French "FT-17", from which Italy refused to manufacture it licensed, believing that it could create an analog of its own. And it turned out great. The characteristics of the first created tank "Fiat 3000" were quite good for its time: 16 mm body reservation, armament 2 6.5mm machine guns, 63-horsepower engine, which developed speeds up to 21km / h. The crew of the car - 2 people. The tank was produced in several versions with different weapons, all produced 152 units.

“Any tankette that Duce will fit into becomes a heavy tank!” - this joke of the times of the war very finely reflected the problems with creating a heavy tank in Italy. An interesting feature of the Italian tank building in the 1920s and 1930s was the concept of the so-called high-wheeled tanks. The design of the wheel propulsion instead of the caterpillar had a number of advantages, and the Italian designers proposed a whole series of four-wheel drive four-wheel vehicles. Their development involved the company "Ansaldo" and "Pavesi". However, the ideas did not take root and wheeled combat vehicles could not compete with tracked.

By the 1930s, Italian designers and manufacturers already had considerable experience in the design and production of armored vehicles. The Italian government acquired from the British a license for the release of the British wedge shoes "Carden-Loyd" and, on its basis, the Italians in 1933 made their sample - "CV-3/33". These combat vehicles participated in the invasion of Ethiopia, where there was almost no resistance and fought on the side of the Franco during the Spanish Civil War, where they met a serious opponent in the face of the Soviet T-26.

From 1919 to 1927, only one company sized tank organization existed. On 01 October 1927, Italian armor was organized as a separate branch of the ground forces. In 1926, an independent five battalion tank regiment was formed. During 1936 and 1937, the Italians merged their armor units with the infantry branch, although the tanks were not an organic part of the infantry divisions. They remained as separate support battalions and gained their first combat experience during the Italian-Ethiopian War of 1936 to 1939.

Observers did not consider Italy’s war in Ethiopia a modern conflict between belligerents possessing similar war capacities. This perception, as well as the rugged terrain of the operational theater, resulted in the conflict’s categorization as a special case from which few lessons could be drawn. Yet analysts did note with interest the Italian use of independently operating motorized columns, the reliance on motor vehicles for supply purposes, and the close cooperation between air and ground elements in attack and pursuit operations. Similarly, it considered worthy of further study the Italian use of aircraft for the sustained supply of combat units.

Italian tanks in Ethiopia merited less consideration. The small, light Fiat tanks proved unsuited to the terrain. Ethiopian soldiers would clamber onto them, bend their machine-gun armament, and burn the tanks. Their poor visibility so interfered with control efforts that commanders of tank units began directing tank operations on foot. High losses among tank commanders resulted.

Mechanization was one of the most controversial and baffling factors in modern warfare. Operations in Spain were watched with intense interest, hoping for final answer. In Spain, German and Italian tanks, the Fiat Ansaldo and the German 6-ton model, were pitted against Russian light (T-26) and medium (T.28) types. A British observer believed that the German tanks proved to be mediocre implements of war, and the Italian tanks even more so; that the Russian tanks had been generally superior to the others but had not obtained successes comparable with those of the World War.

Nor did Italian mechanized operations in Spain prove an unqualified success. American intelligence noted the Italian reliance on light, fast tanks with limited armor protection and armament. The reported weakness of Italian tank tracks increased the incidence of breakdowns, especially on extended road marches. The failure of these tanks to fulfill expectations in Spain resulted in the disillusionment of some Italian officers, who believed that only equipping them with flamethrowers would redeem their combat value.

Italian doctrine emphasizing the employment of motorized and mechanized units to exploit a breach of the enemy’s defenses also came into question following the disaster of Guadalajara in March 1937. Advancing in pursuit of Republican forces, Italian tank and motorized infantry became separated from supporting infantry and artillery. Control of the advance disintegrated. Under sustained Republican counterattacks — especially in the air — the pursuit became a disastrous Italian rout. This defeat discouraged the Italians from employing mobile elements in independent operations. Consequently, Italian tank employment focused predominantly on Infantry support missions.

Analysis of tank battles between Soviet tanks supplied to the Republicans and the German and Italian light tanks delivered to the Nationalists favored the more powerfully armed and armored Soviet vehicles. German and Italian light tanks had limited value as reconnaissance vehicles and poor cross-country mobility. They became bogged in mud or mired while crossing the innumerable natural obstacles that characterized the Spanish countryside. Upon entering combat their insufficient armor could not protect them from antitank weapons that their machine-gun armament could not eliminate. The tendency of the Nationalists and the Republicans to commit tanks in small numbers to unsupported attacks against fortified lines resulted in the rapid ruination of the attacking tank force without any appreciable gain. Ultimately, both Nationalists and Republicans condemned the light tank as a failure on the battlefield.

Poorly trained Spanish tank crews among the Republicans and Nationalists proved undisciplined and prone to attacking heavily defended positions equipped with antitank weapons. Tank attacks occurred with little prior reconnaissance and without coordination with supporting infantry and artillery. Too often tanks made themselves vulnerable to destruction by moving alone through village streets or remaining on roads; and in general the tank tactics appeared incorrect. Aware of these developments, tank operations in the Spanish Civil War were a disappointment. They did not appear to prove or disprove any of the existing, conflicting theories regarding the employment of tanks.

However, those tank operations performed clearly indicated the importance of supporting tanks with infantry and artillery. This was corroborated by the repeated destruction of groups of tanks that simply charged enemy positions. Isolated and unsupported, these tank units became victims of a variety of antitank means, including Molotov cocktails. Spanish tank crews did, however, prove difficult to train and were not as efficient as those of the major military powers.

"Everywhere that tank attacks have encountered defensive elements in sufficient number and quality, the attacks have been broken up or become immobilized without accomplishing the mission. If, on the other hand, these elements of defense have been lacking or are no longer intact (owing to neutralization or destruction by an artillery preparation) the tanks habitually reach their objective with almost mathematical certainty.2' "The Spanish War has shown also that the possibility and usefulness of great speed in combat have been greatly exaggerated. It was thought that speed would protect tanks from enemy fire, but this has not proved to be the case. In fact, at the speeds visualized (25 to 30 mph.), the precision of hostile fire becomes a trap and the fatigue of crews is such that they lose all idea of the friendly and hostile positions . . ." Except for Franco's drive to the sea, employment of tanks in mass has apparently not been practiced; there were probably never enough of them to risk it.

Italian mechanization and motorization efforts surpassed those of Japan but did not match those of Britain, France, and Germany. Italian tank organization included independent tank regiments of multiple tank battalions primarily for infantry support and exploitation missions, as well as the inclusion of light tanks within both cavalry and motorized infantry divisions. Large tank formations appeared nonexistent.

When Italy entered WW II, her armored divisions were equipped with the MMll/39 and M13/40 tanks. The former was a light tank weighing 11 tons and armed with one 37-mm main gun and two 8mm machineguns. The latter was a medium tank weighing 13.5 tons and armed with a 47-mm main gun and four 8mm machineguns. Both vehicles had 30-mm frontal armor. Three Italian armored divisions were sent to North Africa in 1941 where, along with Italian infantry divisions, they became part of the North Africa Command which included the Italian armored divisions along with the German Afrika Korps. They served without distinction until they were forced to withdraw due to maintenance and resupply problems caused by allied air attacks from Crete against the Mediterranean convoys.

The Italian Army was unprepared for World War II in many ways. Most units were poorly equipped and trained, and were poorly led by officers who did not understand the nature of modern warfare. The morale of most units was low, and there were indications that many soldiers and officers did not want to fight a war against the British.

Upon Italy's entry into the war in June, 1940, the African littoral suddenly took on new importance as a theater of operations. Although the British armored division was successful against the Italians in North Africa, this campaign was not a complete test of the armored division's doctrine and organization. Part of the doctrine for a British armored division was to destroy enemy armored formations. Since the Italian Army did not have any armored divisions in this campaign and deployed its armor in small tank units supporting its infantry formations, the division did not fight a large armored force during the campaign.

Finally, a comparison of tanks in the two armies clearly favored the British. The Italian tanks were no match for the British cruiser or infantry tanks. One vulnerability which surfaced was the mechanical unreliability of many British tanks in the desert. In the campaign, the British lost more tanks to breakdown than to enemy fire. This vulnerability had serious implications for the future.

Tanks can be compared in many different ways. A few of these ways include; armor, radius of action, speed, size of gun, armor penetrating capability of the gun at various ranges, ammunition capability and mechanical reliability. Armor protection is not uniformly the same over the complete tank so this comparison could be made in terms of frontal, side or turret. No tank was superior in all features. Each side had several types of tanks with each tank having advantages and disadvantages when compared with tanks of the other side, except possibly the Italian tanks which were uniformly disadvantaged in all categories. Additionally modifications to correct specific faults or to make improvements occurred constantly so it was impossible to know the complete status of the opposing tanks at any given time.

The M11/39 weighed eleven tons and had a 37mm main gun mounted in the hull and two machine guns in a turret. With a crew of three, it was under-powered and its armor was riveted and thin (30mm maximum), making it susceptible even to the fire of British anti-tank rifles. The M11/39 was originally designed as an infantry support tank, but mounting the main gun in a limited traverse mount in the hull made it a poor main battle tank. Only seventy M11/39 tanks were produced, and all were in the two battalions of the 4th Tank Regiment in the desert at the start of 1940. A few M13/40 medium tanks, mounting a 47mm cannon in a turret, made it to the desert by December 1940. The L3 light tank barely weighed three tons, with twin 6.5-mm machine guns in the turret. It was by far the most numerous Italian tanks in the desert, making up the bulk of the Italian armored strength. The L3 propelled its two crewmen at 25mph on roads and 9mph cross country, but had only 13mm of frontal armor protection.

When the most powerful tank produced by a state with a developed industry has a riveted body, it says a lot. The Italians built a beautiful fleet (foolishly fooling it) and understood aviation. But they had such tanks for themselves. The most effective among those built and in service was the 26-tonne Carro Armato P40. It appeared in 1942, almost simultaneously with the Tiger. And given the quality of the Italian tank, it was late by at least a couple of years. An archaic undercarriage, a weakly riveted armor design, a disgusting view, only a gun could show something worthy if it had decent projectiles.

The Italian military industry in the future could not boast the release of a large number of equipment, firing in the first four years of the war, only 1,710 tanks. For World War II, these were very modest figures, given that at that time the USSR, Germany, the United States and Great Britain produced tens of thousands of combat vehicles. Italy had only one factory for the assembly of medium tanks and one for the production of engines

Italy was inferior to all belligerent states in terms of military technology, except perhaps Japan, not only quantitatively but also qualitatively. The design of the Italian combat vehicles left much to be desired, attempts to overcome the backwardness by acquiring licenses from Germany led nowhere. It should be said about the classification of military vehicles in Nazi Italy during the Second World War. Initially, the Italians used their old version with the division of combat vehicles into "assault tanks", "fast tanks" and "armored cars", but with the time it was decided to abandon this clearly outdated division. In the new version, reflecting the current trends at that time, all the equipment was divided into tanks and armored cars, and the tanks, in turn, were divided into light, medium and heavy, later a class of self-propelled guns appeared.

In 1943, the new Italian authorities concluded an armistice. After the Second World War, Italy had no right to produce heavy weapons. Being an active member of NATO since its inception, Italy received tanks from the United States.

Page last modified: 19-01-2019 18:38:04 Zulu