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GEORGE FORTY
WORLD WAR TWO. ARMOURED FIGHTING VEHICLES & SELF-PROPELLED ARTILLERY

An interesting version of the Renault Chenillette, fitted with a truck cab and body. (TM)

This Chenillette has been modified into a mobile antitank gun by the Germans, who fitted a 3.7 PaK 35/36. (TM)

The most important Italian series of Semovente (self-propelled artillery) included the 75/18 which mounted a 75mm howitzer. This 75/18 has been preserved at the Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG) Maryland, USA. (RJ Fleming)

The Semovente 75/18 da M40, was based on the chassis of the M13/40. The M41 was based on the M14/41 chassis and the M42 on the M15/42. This one was captured, during World War Two, in the Western Desert. (TM)

Another captured Semovente 75/40 da M41, clearly shows the simple, box-like superstructure. (TM)

The most widely deployed Italian armoured car was the AB 41, which mounted a 20mm gun and co-ax MG. It saw service on the Eastern Front as well as in North Africa, Italy and Hungary. (TM)

The smaller Semovente 47/32 su L6/40 mounted a 47mm anti-tank gun on the chassis of the L6/40 light tank. (R) Fleming)

About ninety of the larger Semovente M42/L da 105/25 SP guns were built, but sixty of them were commandeered by the Germans after the Italian surrender. (TM)

The Semovente M43 DA 75/46 never saw Italian service, being built after the surrender in 1944/45 for the Germans (StuG M43 mit 75/46 852(i)). It mounted the powerful Italian 75/46 antiaircraft gun. (TM)

Also preserved at APG, the Semovente M 41M da 90/53, mounted a powerful 90mm gun on the rear of a turretless chassis. The four-man crew were dangerously exposed to enemy fire. (RJ Fleming)

The Semovente da 149/40 would have been Italy's largest SP gun, but it never entered production. The 149mm gun was externally mounted and only six round of ammunition could be carried on the vehicle. (TM)

CHAPTER SEVEN

Italy

Italy possessed some reasonable armoured cars and excellent tracked self-propelled guns which were used to good effect by both the Italians and later by the Germans.

During World War One, Italy had used well designed, reliable armoured cars (Autoblindata abbreviated to AB) and truck-mounted mobile anti-aircraft guns. They had also carried out some excellent experimental work on improving the performance of cross country wheeled vehicles, between the wars, with the use of articulated chassis, all- wheel drive and very large wheels. However, World War Two found them very much in the same position as France, with a mixture of old, partly modernised World War One vehicles and a few more modern ones being introduced into service. Unlike France of course, they were able to perfect some good armoured cars during the early war years, whilst their self-propelled guns (Semoventi) were on the whole far better than their tanks and played an important direct fire role.

Scout & Armoured Cars

Italy did not produce a good scout car until late in World War Two, when around 250 Lince (Linx) were built by Lancia after the Armistice with Italy had been signed. In looks it was an almost exact copy of the British Daimler Dingo and was used by units of the Republica Sociale Italiana (RSI), the Fascist administration set up by Mussolini in Northern Italy during September 1943. It was armed with a single Breda 8mm machine gun, weighed 3.14 tons and had a crew of two. Dimensions were 10ft 7ins long by 5ft 9½ins wide and 5ft 3½ins high.

The Bianchi AB 31 was an updated version of Bianchi's World War One armoured car modernised in 1931, the old Bianchi hull with an open-topped turret being mounted on a SPA 38 truck chassis fitted with pneumatic tyres. Designed for use in the Italian colonies in North Africa, it mounted a single machine gun and had very thin armour. They were easy prey for British armour in the Western Desert.

Dating back to World War One, some 4.3 ton six-man Lancia AB IZ armoured cars were still in service in Italian East Africa and possibly also in Libya, as it had been widely used in the Italian colonies between the wars.

Fiat Ansaldo began work on a new, large, six-wheeled, four-wheel drive armoured car in the early 1930s, based on the Fiat military truck. It had a crew of five and resembled the earlier Lancia AB IZ. The first model of the AB 611 produced in 1932, was only armed with four 8mm machine guns - twin forward firing and one rearward firing in the turret, plus another in the hull rear. The 611B, however, produced in 1934 mounted a 37mm gun in a seven-sided turret in place of the twin MGs. Weighing just under 7 tons, the five man car was 15ft long, 6ft 2½ins wide and 7ft 9½ins high, with a top speed of 47 mph. It could also be driven at the same speed in reverse. They were used operationally by Italian colonial forces in Ethiopia and East Africa.

The first prototype of Italy's new armoured car series AH 39/40, 41 & 43 was tested in mid-1939. It had four-wheel drive, with all four wheels independently sprung. It was fitted with dual-driving controls, one set at each end of the car, so that it could he driven in either direction - not a bad idea for a reconnaissance vehicle which had to get out of tight spots quickly, although it did waste valuable space through this duplication. The 6,85 ton, four-man AH 40 was armed with three 8mm Breda machine guns, two in the turret and one ball-mounted in the hull rear, firing over the back decks. It had spare wheels positioned on either side of the chassis, mounted on free bearings and located in such a position as to be able to assist in crossing difficult obstacles. Dimensions were 17ft 3½ins long, 6ft 5ins wide and 8ft 1in high.

Production of the AB 41 began in 1941, the main difference to its predecessor being that it mounted a 20mm gun with a co-ax machine gun hi the turret instead of twin MGs. It was the most widely-used Italian armoured car of the war, seeing active service in North Africa, Italy, Hungary and the Soviet Union. Weight was now 7.4 tons and its top speed was just over 48mph. The final version, AB 43, mounted a 47mm gun weighed 7.47 tons, had a top speed of 56mph and a range of 334 miles. It was only built in limited quantity, production being ended by the Italian surrender. It is estimated that approximately 550 of the AB-series were produced.

Armoured Personnel Carriers

Designed as a light armoured personnel carrier, the Carro Protetto AS 37 was based on the AS 37 four-wheel drive desert truck and could carry eleven men (including the driver) at about 30mph. It was armed with a single machine gun and weighed around 5 tons.

SPA Autoblindata (AB) 41's on patrol through a village in North Africa. Probably the best Italian armoured car of the war, it carried a crew of four and mounted a 20mm gun and co-ax MG. (TM)

The Lince (Lynx) scout car was almost an exact copy of the Daimler Dingo and was built by Lancia. It was used by units of the Fascist Republica Sociale Italiana. (RSI). (TM)

The Lancia IZM armoured car dates from 1917, however, it was deployed in Italian units during the Spanish Civil War. It was still in service in Italian East Africa and other parts of the Italian colonial empire at the start of World War Two. (TM)

Rear view of the SPA AB 41. It was widely used in North Africa, the Soviet Union Italy and Hungary. (TM)

Sell-propelled Guns

As well as various portée weapons, both AA and field, the Italians designed a number of wheeled SPs, such as the SPA 42, which had a 47mm gun, mounted on the open-topped chassis of the AB 41 armoured car, with a gunshield. Another was the Autocanone Blindata Tip a 102, which had a 102mm naval gun mounted on a low, six-wheeled armoured chassis, firing over the driver's cab. It had side armour, which could be lowered to allow the gun to traverse. Mention must also be made of the Camionetta SPA 43, which was a long, low 4 ton, four-wheeled vehicle mounting one or two 20mm AA guns, which could also be fired in the ground fighting role. It was designed for use in the desert by mechanised cavalry units on long range patrolling. It was also known as the Sahariana Ante Aera SPA.

The Fiat 611B, which dated from 1934, mounted a 47mm gun in a seven-sided turret and weighed some 7 tons. (TM)

Twin-machine guns in the turret was the major difference between the AB 40 and this AB 41. (TM)

I briefly mentioned the Semoventi in my companion book World War Two Tanks, because they really took the place of medium tanks in the Italian Army, however, for completeness they must also be mentioned here. The most important series, the Semovente 75/18, 75/32 or 75/34 da M 40, M 41 and M 42, was based upon the M13/40, M14/41 and M15/42 tank chassis, a box-like superstructure replacing the turret, while the main armament protruded through the front armour. All the series mounted a 75mm howitzer (either the 75/18, 75/32 or 75/34 model) as their main armament. In total 474 were built between 1941 to 1943 and they provided close artillery support for units of Italian armoured divisions in North Africa, Sicily and Italy.

A number were commandeered by the Germans after the Italian surrender and these were designated by them StuG M42 mit 75/18 850(i) and StuG M42 mit 75/34 851(i) depending upon armament. Each vehicle could carry forty rounds of howitzer ammunition for the 75mm gun, which could traverse only twenty-five degrees to either side, so the vehicle had to track to engage targets outside of this arc. The vehicle carried a crew of three and was powered by a V8 SPA 15 TM 41 diesel or V8 15 TB petrol engine (dependent on type of chassis used), giving it a top speed of between 20 and 22mph with a range of approximately 125 miles. Dimensions depended upon type of chassis used, however, the largest the M42 was 16ft 9½ns long 7ft 5ins wide and 6ft 1in high, and weighed 15 tons.

In addition there was a command version, the Carte Commando M41/M42 a turretless M14/41 or M15/42 tank with a heavy machine gun fitted on the righthand side ofthe driving position. A small number of around forty were known to have been built and some were taken over by the Germans after the surrender of Italy. Extra radio sets were fitted for command purposes. The vehicle weighed between 12.5 and 13.25 tons (depending on chassis used) and was normally crewed by four men.

The Camionetta SPA 43 were highly effective, long, low 4 ton vehicles, mounting a mixture of 20mm AA guns and machine guns. They were also ideal for long range patrol missions. (TM)

Other Semovente included:

Semovente 47/32 su L6/40 - Using the L6/40 light tank chassis, this 6.5 ton, 12ft 6ins long vehicle mounted a 47mm anti-tank gun on the left of a small, box-like superstructure with little space for the three man crew or stowage although seventy rounds of ammunition were carried.

The Carro Commando Compagnia da 47/32, was the company command version of the Semovente L40 da 47/32. (TM)

Final model of the SPA Ansaldo series was the AB 43, which mounted a 47mm gun, and came into service in 1943. (TM)

Ansaldo 90/55 gun model 41 on a Breda Tipo 51 heavy 6×4 truck chassis, fitted with six large side jacks for stability whilst firing. This one was abandoned in Sicily, August 1943. (TM)

The Semovente 75/18 da M40 was a straight conversion from the M13/40 tank, with a 75mm howitzer in a simple box-like superstructure. (TM)

The Semovente L40 da 47/32 mounted a 47mm anti-tank gun, which was obsolete by the time it entered service. (TM)

The Semovente M42 da 75/18 was fitted with an SPA 15 TB M42 petrol engine and weighed approximately 20 tons. (TM)

Nearly 300 were built between 1941 and 1942 for use in the Western Desert, but were quickly outclassed. Dimensions were: length 12ft 6ins, width 6ft 2½ins. height 5ft 7ins. It was powered by a four cylinder SPA model 18 engine, had a top speed of 25mph and a range of 125 miles. Alter the surrender the Germans commandeered and dispatched some of those remaining to the Balkans to equip Croat forces. Semovente M 41M da 90/53 - Less than thirty of these powerfully armed SPs were known to have been built. Designed specifically to deal with the Soviet T-34 medium tank but were never actually sent to the Eastern Front. The gun was mounted externally at the rear of the turretless chassis, which meant that the four-man crew were dangerously exposed to enemy fire. Stowage space was at a premium and only six rounds of ammunition could be carried on board for the Ansaldo M90/53 Model 39 dual-purpose gun, considered by some to be the best Italian anti-tank gun and comparable with the dreaded German 88mm. The vehicle weighed 17 tons and measured 17ft 1in long, 7ft 3ins wide and just under 7ft high. It was powered by a V8 SPA diesel and had a top speed of 21mph and a road range of 125 miles. The vehicles were used operationally in Sicily, the one remaining example is now at the Aberdeen Proving Ground. Maryland, USA. Semovente M42L da 105/25 - A total of approximately ninety of these SP guns were built between 1943 and 1944. The initial thirty being delivered to the Italian Army, then after the surrender the Germans had an estimated further sixty built by Fiat-Ansaldo. Most of the original thirty were also acquired by the Wehrmacht. The 105mm gun was mounted in a box-like armoured superstructure on top of a specially widened M15/42 tank chassis, and was sometimes known as the M43. The 15.8 ton M42L had a crew of three, measured 16ft 9ins long, 8ft wide and 5ft tins high. It saw action in both Italy and the Balkans with the Germans who designated it Sturmgeschütz M45 mit 105/25 853(i).

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