History of the Italian Tank corps (1916 - 1945).

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History of the Italian Tank corps (1916 - 1945).

Berichtdoor Giuseppe » 03 aug 2008, 08:39

The Italian Tank Corps.
On October 1, 1927 the first Reggimento Carri Armati (Tank Regiment) was formed in Rome. Its Order of Battle comprised five Batallions, four Companies each, totalling 180 Fiat 3000 mod.1921 tanks, the Renault FT-17 Italian version.

Afbeelding

Weight : 5.0 ton
Dimensions (Length/Width/Height) : 4.29 x 1.65 x 2.20 mt
Armor (max) : 16 mm
Range : 100 km
Speed (max - route) : 22 km/hr
Weapons : n.1 gun 37 mm + n.1 or 2 6.5 mm MG
Crew : 2

The new Corps formation was a milestone in a process started more than ten years before.

The first days of the Armored Figthing Vehicles.
Along with aeroplane and chemical warfare, the armored fighting vehicle was one of the major innovations of WWI. The decision to develop this new weapon was the result of the trench war in which the western front had been bogged down since the early months of 1916 because this vehicle (nicknamed tank for its odd shape) was actually regarded, vis a vis the terrain constraints, as a better infantry support than armored cars, faster but less effective on soft and muddy soil.

The tanks saw their first action on September 15, 1916, when the British Commander-in-Chief in France, Marshal Haig, ordered the first two tank companies to be employed against the German forces during the Battle of the Somme.
Albeit the modest results of this action, due to lack of trained crews, mechanical damages and inexperience in tanks field employement , the new weapon had, however, a highly remarkable psychological impact.

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In the meantime the Italian Army Staff Headquarters.
Due to the mountainous configuration of the Italian battlefront, tanks were not employed in Italy. Nevertheless the Italian Army Staff Headquarters, following advice given by the appointed observer Major Alfredo Bennicelli, asked for and obtained, on trial from the French, one Schneider M 16 tank (13.5 tons, crew of 6, one 75mm gun and two machine guns) and later received a small number of Renault FT-17 tanks.
On September 1, 1918 the first Italian armored unit was formed in Verona : the "Sezione speciale carri armati" (Armored Vehicles Special Section).This unit, later denominated "Reparto speciale di marcia carri d'assalto" ( Special Forward Assault Tank Unit) and, after the WWI end, "Batteria autonoma carri d'assalto" (Autonomous Assault Tanks Battery"), comprised :six Renault FT-17 and two Fiat 2000 heavy tanks
(the only two prototypes produced)

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Afbeelding

In 1921 the "Compagnia autonoma carri armati" (Autonomous tank company) was formed and equipped with the Fiat 3000 mod.1921.
In 1926, following the Italian Army reorganization, the tank unit changed its status and became one of the Infantry Corps.

New Corps' infancy (1927-1939).

Afbeelding

Fiat 3000 B mod.1930
Weight : 5.6 ton
Dimensions : 4.29 x 1.67 x 2.20 mt
Armor (max) : 16 mm
Range : 100 km
Speed (max - route) : 22 km/hr
Weapons : n.1 gun 37 mm + n.2 6.5 mm MG
Crew : 2

The Fiat 3000 (both A and B models) tanks had, however, a short life. At the beginning of the 30's they were regarded as obsolete, vis a vis the foreseen employment requirements of the Tank Corps.
From 1933 a new generation of armored vehicles was developed at Ansaldo (an arsenal and heavy industry company located in Genoa) : the "Carro Veloce CV33" (Fast Tank CV33) followed, two years later, by the "Carro Veloce CV35". These "tanks" (it would be more appropriate to call them "tankettes", as they were an improved version of the Vickers-Carden-Loyd Mk VI tankette ) were developed in different variants : flame-thrower, bridge carrier tank, command tank.

Afbeelding

CV 33 (L3/33)
Weight : 2.7 ton
Dimensions :3.03 x 1.40 x 1.20 mt
Armor (max) : 12 mm
Range : 110 km
Speed (max - route) : 42 km/hr
Weapons : n.1 MG 6.5 mm
Crew : 2

CV 35 (L3/35)
Weight : 3.3 ton
Dimensions :3.15 x 1.40 x 1.28 mt
Armor (max) : 13 mm
Range : 150 km
Speed (max - route) : 42 km/hr
Weapons : n.2 6.5 mm MG
Crew : 2

The L.3 tanks saw action during the Ethiopian War (1935) and the Spanish Civil War (1936-39).
While the Abyssian campaign benchmark, in spite of a severe handicap given the machine guns' narrow traverse capability, had demonstrated the L.3 sufficient reliability as infantry support tanks, even on impervious and mountainous terrain, the Guadalajara event, during the Spanish War, represented a real "fiasco" for the Italian tank units (the "Corpo Truppe Volontarie" or "CTV", supporting General Franco's Nationalists).
The failure can be, however, attributed mainly to the following reasons :

- the Italian armored force were inadequate, being limited to only four tank companies and one armored car company
- heavy rains precluded the possibility of providing adequate air protection to the tanks
- the L.3's narrow tracks were totally unreliable on soft and muddy soil
- the Russian T-26 tanks, supporting the Republican troops' counterattack, were superior to the Italian tanks in terms of both gunnery (45 mm gun + 2 MG 7.62 mm) and armor (25mm)
The Spanish Civil War represented, however, a sort of "rehersal" of what was to happen in the forthcoming.

World War II (1940-1945).
When WWII was ignited, the three Armored Divisions ("Ariete", "Centauro", and "Littorio"), the Italian Tank Corps backbone, totalled less than 2.000 L.3 (both /33 and /35 model) light (very light!) tanks and nearly 70 M.11/39 medium tanks.
The L.3 tanks were employed on various battlefronts : Greece, Albania, some early North African campaigns but, as they proved to be a real death trap in case of fighting with the more heavy and modern British tanks, they were withdrawn at the end of 1941.

The M.11/39 was developed as an infantry support tank. In total, between 1937 (when the prototype was ready) and 1940 (when it was replaced by the M.13/40) 92 (ninety-two) units were produced.

Afbeelding

M.11/39
Weight : 11.0 ton
Dimensions : 4.74 x 2.17 x 2.25 mt
Armor (max) : 30 mm
Range : 200 km
Speed (max - route) : 33 km/hr
Weapons : n.1 gun 37 mm + n.2 8.0 mm MG
Crew : 3

They were used as medium tanks, a task far beyond their capacities (due to their modest armor, light and narrow traverse gunnery, small road wheels and narrow tracks), during the early fightings in Lybia and had no chance against the British Matilda and Valentine.

The drawbacks of the M.11/39 led to the decision of producing a new tank which, carrying over some features of the previous design (diesel engine, transmission and road wheels), could eliminate the previous tank's main defects. The new tank, produced by Ansaldo Fossati in Genoa, was the M.13/40, immediately followed by its improved variant, the M.14/41.

Afbeelding

M.13/40
Weight : 14.0 ton
Dimensions : 4.92 x 2.20 x 2.37 mt
Armor (max) : 40 mm
Range : 200 km
Speed (max - route) : 32 km/hr
Weapons : n.1 gun 47 mm + n.4 8.0 mm MG
Crew : 4

Afbeelding

M.14/41
Weight : 14.0 ton
Dimensions : 4.92 x 2.20 x 2.37 mt
Armor (max) : 40 mm
Range : 200 km
Speed (max - route) : 32 km/hr
Weapons : n.1 gun 47 mm + n.4 8.0 mm MG
Crew : 4

Both M.13/40 and M.14/41 proved to be much more serviceable tanks, especially as the 47 mm anti-tank gun was an excellent weapon. In total about 2,000 units were produced.
These tanks ("The" WWII Italian tanks) were widely used in North Africa and deserved enemy's respect (the British and Australian often employed captured examples).

In 1940, in addition to the aforementioned medium M.13/40, Italy developed also a new light tank, the L6/40, specially destined to reconnaissance tasks.

Afbeelding

L6/40
Weight : 6.8 ton
Dimensions : 3.80 x 1.80 x 2.17 mt
Armor (max) : 15 mm
Range : 200 km
Speed (max - route) : 42 km/hr
Weapons : n.1 gun 20 mm + n.1 8.0 mm MG
Crew : 2

Afbeelding

Weight : 15.5 ton
Dimensions : 5.04 x 2.23 x 2.39 mt
Armor (max) : 50 mm
Range : 220 km
Speed (max - route) : 40 km/hr
Weapons : n.1 gun 47 mm + n.4 8.0 mm MG
Crew : 4

The improvements (thicker armor, petrol engine) were not, however, sufficient to give the Italian tanks the same features of their likely opponents (which now included also the American M3-Lee/Grant and the M4 Sherman with their 75 mm guns). The M.15/42 were shot-lived as the production ceased after the first 82 units.

The Italian Army could have had a better chance, had the P.40 heavy tank entered in service.

Afbeelding

Weight : 26.0 ton
Dimensions : 5.80 x 2.80 x 2.52 mt
Armor (max) : 60 mm
Range : 150 km
Speed (max - route) :35 km/hr
Weapons : n.1 gun 75 mm + n.1 8.0 mm MG
Crew : 4

This tank, potentially capable to peer the M3 and M4, never saw action (under the Italian colors). One prototype only was delivered, while about 200 were confiscated by the Germans directly at the Ordnance Repository in Turin after the armistice (September 8, 1943) and employed by the Wehrmacht.

Whereas the Italian tanks never had the possibility to perform at the same standards of their opponents, better proves were given by the Semoventi (self-propelled guns or SPG), often derived from the existing tank hulls. Among the others, the best weapons in this category were :

Afbeelding

SPG with 75/18 gun.

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SPG with 90/53 gun.

Afbeelding

SPG with 105/25 gun
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Giuseppe
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