Italian Armour in the Desert


Carro Armato M13/40 Medium Tank

Assessment of the M13/40

A former Italian tank regiment commander said :
"The M13/40 had good maneuverability, an accurate 47mm gun, effective optical equipment (gunsight and periscopes) for external vision, and good crew habitability. The tank's armor was sufficiently thick, but lacked tensile strength. The modestly fuel efficient diesel engine did not easily catch fire when hit by gunfire; however, the engine’s lack of power made the M 13-40 an underpowered vehicle. The vehicle’s low speed over uneven ground and slopes made the tank vulnerable."

The British however :
"We captured several M 13-40s during the 1940 offensive and observed that this vehicle's main failures were its poor bullet splash protection and its light armor. These drawbacks were made worse by poor training for Italian tank crews during 1940, when they received only 25 days and two driving hours before going into combat. The Italian tanks were also made ineffective by inept leadership in the field."

Source: Nicola Pignato, "Italian Medium Tanks in action"

Short fender version, introduced to save metal, in service with "Ariete"
Rommel and Nehring (on turret) inspecting a M13/40 of the Italian Ally, summer of 1941
Note Breda AA gun on turret roof, jack and sparewheel on hull rear

The 8mm Breda 38 Machine Gun

The Breda 38, which resembled the Bren LMG, was developed in 1938 from the Breda 37. When used in the anti-aircraft role, a ring and post sight was fitted to the gun's left side. The Breda could only be fired from the open hatch and there were no provisions for ground use (ie buttstocks, bipods or iron sights).

Tracklinks as urgently needed additional armour...
...not always preventing loss in battle
Reporter of LUCE newsreel taking pictures for the homefront
Posing for LUCE again...
"Freccia d'acciaio" - Arrow of Steel
At 3:30pm the last of "Ariete" sent out their last transmission over the radio:
"Enemy tanks broke through south of Ariete Division. Ariete thus surrounded, located 5kms northwest of Bir-el-Abd. Ariete tanks keep fighting!"

Sacrifice at El Alamein
Sottotenente Luigi Pascucci fought as a Tenente Capo Compagnia (Lieutenant in charge of a company) in the 132° reggimento fanteria carrista of the famed Ariete Armoured Division, during the Second Battle of El Alamein.
His company took part in the bitter fighting against the British 22nd Armoured Brigade around Bir El Abd just west of El Alamein on November 4, 1942.
The next day his company was assigned to hold the left flank of the Regiment against the British 8th Armoured Brigade during Ariete’s fighting withdrawal to Fuka.
Despite being outnumbered and outgunned by the superior Allied armour, he succeeded in holding the flank long enough to allow the rest of the regiment to fall back in good order. Knowing that he was cut off and the main body of the Italian force still needed time to regroup, Pascucci bravely ignored heavy enemy fire to lead the remaining eleven tanks of his company in a charge straight at the centre of the British armoured formation.
The unexpected ferocity of this attack buckled the British line, then broke it in disorder. Leading from the front he continued the pursuit of the fleeing British. Pascucci was found after the battle lying in his burnt out tank.
The 132nd was wiped out, all 100 of it's tanks sacrificed. Not one surrendered on that day...
In recognition of his heroic actions and his fighting spirit, Luigi Pascucci was awarded the Medaglia D’Oro Al Valore Militare, the Gold Medal for Military Valor, Italy’s highest award.

Regular field maintenance...
...indispensable under the rough climate
Taking care of the ex-Austrian 47mm M35 Boehler gun and the 125hp SPA 8T Diesel engine

Another Assessment

"Within a year after it's introduction in 1940,
the M13 was undergunned and underarmored.
The running gear required massive amounts of lubrication,
the crew compartment was cramped, while
the power plant and the filters were insufficient for hard desert use.
Crew communication in battle was awkward and frustrating. Finally,
the armor plates were brittle and prone to shattering and even complete disintegration."


Transport to the front
A convoy of Lancia 3/Ro trucks haul M 13-40 tanks on their Viberti transport trailers to the combat zone in North Africa. The 3/Ro weighed 6,2 tons (5.6 mt) and was powered by a 93 hp diesel engine. Italian soldiers nicknamed this truck the "King of the Desert" for its superlative performance in North Africa. The 3/Ros and Viberti trailers were organized into Tank Transport Groups beginning in June of 1942. Each Group consisted of 258 3/Ro trucks and 243 trailers. The transporters reduced running gear wear and fuel consumption on the tanks before and after the battle.

Bersagliere on Gilera LTE 500 coming by
Finally surrendering...

In Australian service
M13/40 "Wally", captured by the Australians, which is evident not only by the presence of the white kangaroos on the sides of the tank, but also by the Insignia of Imperial Australian Forces that the tanker wears on his beret: a rising sun. It may seem surprising that an infantry division — in this case the 6th Australian — has tanks, but these belong to the Divislonal Cavalry Regiment. With three squadrons called "Rabbit", "Ringo" and "Wombat", the regiment recovered some Italian tanks in Bardia: five M 11/39 and one M 13/40 for "Ringo", two M13/40 for "Rabbit" and "Wombat". Source: Militaria, Hors-Serie #3, "Tobrouk" [Though in French :-( , yet excellent!!]
Devotedly painting the kangoroos onto the Italian steel...

Semovente da 75/18 Self-Propelled Gun
Successful combi of the M13 chassis and the 75mm Ansaldo Obice da 75/18 modello 35 howitzer

The Semovente da 75/18 self-propelled gun/howitzer was the first Italian self-propelled gun to be produced in series in World War II. It consisted of the 75/18 howitzer on an M13/40 chassis. Several modifications were made to the 75/18 Model 1935 howitzer to render it compatible for use as a self-propelled system. Modifications included addition of the characteristic perforated muzzle brake, which assisted in limiting the recoil travel of the gun to 350mm (13.8 inches).

The first vehicles of this type to participate in combat were assigned to two self-propelled artillery gruppi of the Ariete Division, and received their baptism of fire in May 1942 at Gazala with accurate and devastating effect on British and commonwealth armored formations as the M3 Grant and even the M4 Shermans at El Alamein later.

Additional protection thru sandbags and tracklinks
Note 8mm Breda modello 38 AA machine gun
Semovente crew wearing softcabs...
...and the typical black tanker helmet
One of 30 Semovente of the 132nd Art.Reg. of 132nd Armd.Div. "Ariete"
Captured Semovente with HE and AP shells presented on roof top

The Semoventi were employed in an anti-tank role, although they originally were designed to be utilized in a self-propelled artillery role in the armored divisions. At the time of their introduction in North Africa, their armament (despite the rather short barrel length, low muzzle velocity, and consequent relatively short effective range) was formidable in comparison to both British and German tank guns. The effectiveness of their gun was further enhanced by the use of shaped-charge ("effettopronto") ammunition.

Crews of these vehicles were very confident of their capabilities and found the 75/18 gun to be an extremely reliable weapon. Crews in at least one gruppo (the DLIV of Littorio) increased ammunition stowage capacity to about 100 rounds by removing the crew seats and simply sitting on the extra ammunition.

Whole Battery incl. Command tanks lined up in the Egyptian desert
Rommel on visit of his Italian ally...
...with Horch and FIAT staff cars side by side
Bersagliere on Gilera LTE 500 receiving information
Our shell presenting friend from behind
Note 8mm Breda modello 38 AA machine gun again
Loading the Semovente onto the Viberti tank trailer
Well camouflaged Lancia 3Ro
Advertisement artwork of Sapper Leslie John "Doc" Daws of Australian 6th Div.
Bitter Ale of the Victoria Brewery, Melbourne, Australia
A long way to Griffith Bros.Tea, Melbourne, Australia
20-30 mls. west of Tobruk
M13/40 of 133rd Armd.Div. "Littorio", June 1942
>>> "Doc" Daws' advert paintings available for download and printout here <<<
Autoblinda AB41 Armoured Car
Autoblinda AB41 Armd.Car of III Gruppo Corazzato of the Cav.Reg.“Nizza”

When arrving in North Africa, the "III Gruppo Corazzato ‘Nizza’"" had at its disposal a force of 47 armored cars AB41, 13 assigned to the Command Company and other two companies with 17 armored cars each.
In May 1942, after being renamend "III Gruppo Autoblindo ‘Nizza’" it operated with two squadrons within the 132ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete’ in the XX Corpo di Armata.
It participated in the offensive against the British 8th Army, especially in the fighting at Bir Hakeim on 27th May. The unit was successfully supported by the 132° Reggimento Carri Armati at Bir Harmat on 28th and 29th May. It had reconnaissance tasks at Ain El Gazala, in the preparatory battle for the reconquest of Tobruk, supported by the 132° Reggimento Carri Armati of the Ariete division.
Afterwards, the III Gruppo Autoblindo ‘Nizza’ operated in the Siwa Oasis and in the Qattara depression. In June 1942, it had only 38 armored cars in its ranks, but not all were serviceable.
In August 1942, following the loss of other armored cars, a single squadron was formed by consolidating the remains of the two squadrons. [ Source : Tank Encyclopedia ]

Italian tricolore applied after nasty friendly fire events
Unit slogan "Nicea fidelis" meaning "Faithful Nice"
Note lateral 3m antenna and rear baggage cage
8mm Breda 38 AA MG on turret roof, wheels covered against the merciless sun
Usually tires "tipo Libia" applied
Inscription :"III.Gr.Corazzato Nizza Cav."
Burning out in Tunisia...

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Last Updated: Feb 06, 2023