Italian Medium Tanks, 1939–45
Series & number: New Vanguard 195
Authors: Pier Paolo Battistelli; Filippo Cappellano
Illustrator: Richard Chasemore
Formats: Paperback book; PDF eBook; ePub eBook
Length: 48 pages
PrefaceSeveral factors delayed and greatly hampered the development of an Italian medium tank during World War II. The first was the strategic stance of the country, focussed on a war against neighbouring countries such as France and Yugoslavia, and ill-prepared for a war in the Western Desert. Since these European countries bordered with Italy in mountainous areas, light tanks were preferred as these were deemed much more suitable for the narrow roads and bridges of the Alps. Furthermore, development was hampered by the limited number of Italian industries, whose production was also heavily fragmented. All these factors delayed the development of the first prototype of an Italian medium tank – the M 11 – which would only appear in 1937 and did not enter production until 1939. Although technically inferior to their German and Allied counterparts in 1941–43, the Italian M tanks proved to be quite effective when used by experienced crews with adequate combat tactics. In fact, their major shortcoming actually proved to be their limited production figures. While production was limited, innovation was not and, between 1941 and 1943, several experiments were carried out on the Italian tanks that produced interesting prototypes such as the anti-aircraft semovente.
Fascist Italy was a major power at the beginning of the Second World War. Historians and modelers of the North African campaign cannot ignore Italian presence. Yet their military hardware has been discounted by modelers and historians until lately. I have been interested in Italy’s tanks since Tamiya and Italeri released 1/35 M 13/40s back in the 1970s, and the lack of Italian subjects has been disappointing. Fortunately, model vendors have begun to fill the void of Fascist Italian ground force model subjects and that is reigniting interest in the history of these weapons.
In the 1980s I found the Avalon Hill board game Tobruk
, which prominently featured Italian units. The booklet included historical information on the troops and weapons; the M 13/40 it was described as, “Despised by its crews and not feared by the enemy….” I am happy that this book sheds light on these misunderstood tanks and their crews.
Content Italian Medium Tanks, 1939–45
brings us the story of the ‘M tanks.’ The authors have solid backgrounds in Italy’s WW II war machine. The book recounts the history through 48 pages in 11 chapters and sections:
1. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND THE MEDIUM TANKS
• The M 11/39 tank2. THE HEAVYTANK
• The M 13/40 and M 14/41 tanks
• Development of the medium tank: the M 15/42 tank
• TheP40 tank3. THE SEMOVENTE- SELF-PROPELLED GUN
• The M 13/40 and M 14/41-based semoventi4. PRODUCTION AND USE
• The M 15/42 and P 40-based semoventi
5. M TANKS AND SEMOVENTI IN COMBAT
6. MEDIUM TANKS IN GERMAN SERVICE
7. CAMOUFLAGE AND MARKINGS
8. SURVIVING VEHICLES
Curiously, Messer’s Battistelli and Cappellano did not start out the book with the small table translating terms and units, unlike most Osprey books I have. Technical development is explored and the resultant successes and shortcomings explained. For historians and designers this information is fascinating. Modelers can breathe a satisfied sigh that the book discusses camouflage and markings, with full-color photos and artwork of several vehicles, both pre- and post-surrender. The standard tanks Italy entered the war with are detailed, as well as the attempts to make a competitive tank for 1942.
‘Despised by its crews and not feared by the enemy’ is addressed in part. Italy’s industrial base produced some excellent ships and aircraft, yet did not keep up with wartime demands. Italian tanks were competitive when war broke out but did not progress. Italy lacked a powerful engine for tanks, which constrained them to light to light-middle weight vehicles. Italy’s automotive reputation failed in the tanks. Riveted armor of dubious quality made the M tanks vulnerable to every enemy they faced. Penetration performance of many of the Italian weapons is shown compared to Allied weapons. While their 4.7cm gun was competitive, poor training and doctrine hobbled the crew’s ability to engage the enemy. The authors include that, in fact, British manuals encouraged troops to disregard the presence of Italian tanks!
Like their Nazi allies, Italy used the chassis to build a self-propelled gun, the semovente
. This machine suffered from weight and armor issues yet, like German StuGs, they could bear thicker armor and bigger guns that the M tanks. Their success and failures are also explored in fair depth.
When Italy fell, their tanks were divided up between Germans and Fascist Italian forces. Advanced tanks like the P 40 were continued by the Nazis but not all were used as tanks. Regardless, Germany kept some of the vehicles in production until 1945.
The authors organized the text well and the book is generally easy to read. However, there is some confusing and contradictory text, such as whether Germans used M tanks in combat.
Photographs, artwork, graphics
I didn’t count the number of black-and-white photos. Surprisingly, although many are field shots, they are very good quality. Sharp-eyed modelers will glean a lot of weathering and ideas from these tanks, as well as inspiration for external stores. The big news is the eight color photos, seven of which are present day shots of preserved and restored tanks and semovente
. These include some interior photos.
Those interior shots compliment the color cut-away of an M 14/41, one of 10 illustrations by artist Richard Chasemore:
A. M 11/39 Comando Carri Armati Della Libia, Egypt, September 1940
B. M 13/40 XXI Battaglione Carri, Libia, January 1941
D. M 13/40 of Ariete Armoured Division, Western Desert, August 1942: a single page battle scene of two M tanks in combat.
E. Semovente M 40 DA 75/18, Ariete Division, May 1942
F. M 15/42 Tank of the Ariete Division, Rome, Summer 1943
H. M 14/41: cut-away displaying 55 components, with technical and operational commentary.
I. Semovente M 40 DA 75/18 of the Ariete Division, Western desert, January 1942: single page action scene of an advancing Semovente.
J. M 14/41 XIII Battaglione Carri Ariete Division, Egypt, Autumn 1942: 3-side study of an M 14/41.
Technical types will appreciate tables showing the number of different vehicles built, both before and after the German takeover. The back of the book concludes with tables of vital specifications of the M tanks and semoventi
Conclusion Italian Medium Tanks, 1939–45
is a long awaited book for my library. My main complaint is that some of the text is contradictory and confusing, the prime example being a statement that no German parachute division used the mediums, yet in the same paragraph identifying Fallschirm units equipped with them. Regardless, I am impressed with the exceptional artwork, which I think will be eagerly scrutinized by modelers, as will the many photographs.
I am enthusiastic about this book and very happy to add it to my library. I happily recommend it to modelers, military historians and enthusiasts of the Italian fascist era; the North African campaign; the Italian Front; Italian AFVs.