SPA-Viberti AS.42 Sahariana

Background on the SPA-Viberti Camionetta AS.42 Sahariana

The SPA-Viberti AS.42 Sahariana entered service for the Italian military in August 1942. Its primary role was for reconnaissance and it utilized the Autoblinda AB.41 chassis. The AS.42 Sahariana was extremely maneuverable and performed well in its intended role. The 110 hp engine gave the AS.42 a top speed of 52 mph (84 km/h).

Above photo displays pair of "Sahariane" on patrol in North Africa. These are probably from the first unit formed - the "Raggruppamento Sahariano AS" and provide excellent details of the vehicles. The furthert vehicle mounts the Breda 20mm L/65 AA Gun (which was used as a dual purpose weapon and usually engaged ground targets), while the closest one mounts the 47mm L/32 Gun. Both vehicles clearly display the stowage arrangement with racks of "Jerry Cans" along the sides, and sand chutes can be seen hanging above the rear wheel of the further vehicle. The typical crew of 3-4 men is clearly evident, the driver's position at the extreme front of the vehicle clearly visible.

Above photo displays a pair of “Sahariane” on patrol in North Africa. These are probably from the first unit formed – the “Raggruppamento Sahariano AS” and provide excellent details of the vehicles. The furthest vehicle mounts the Breda 20mm L/65 AA Gun, while the closest one mounts the 47mm L/32 Gun. The closest vehicle clearly displays the stowage arrangement with racks of “Jerry Cans” along the sides. The typical crew of 3-5 men is clearly evident, the driver’s position at the extreme front of the vehicle clearly visible.

About the Designation

The vehicle is officially known as the Camionetta 42 ‘Sahariana‘. However, they are also referred to as Camionetta ‘Sahariana‘ AS 42 or  Camionetta SPA 43 ‘Sahariana‘. Incidentally, the word Sahariana is singular, so if you are talking about more than 1 vehicle it is ‘Sahariane‘.

The letters AS stand for “Africa Settentrionale“, which literally translates as “North African”. Any equipment, unit organization, or formation designed or organized specially for North Africa had this designation. In this case, it refers to the mechanical specifications of the vehicle being able to handle the harsh environment.

SPA was one of the largest vehicle manufacturers in Italy and part of the Fiat group. Viberti manufactured buses, trailers and utility vehicles.

The numbers 42 and 43 refer to respective models, effectively the year of production with each successive model featuring technical and/or weaponry improvements over the previous while retaining the same basic appearance.

Camionetta loosely translates to Jeep and refers to most trucks and soft vehicles modified to mount weapons and fight on the front line.

Raggruppamento Sahariano AS

The Raggruppamento Sahariano AS formed with some of the first vehicles manufactured. A Raggruppamento normally is a group of units (battalions) and is often larger than an equivalent British brigade or German Regiment. In this case, however, its use would seem to be “atypical” and may have been chosen to imply a force considerably larger than actually existed.

This photo clearly shows three vehicles from the original Raggruppamento Sahariano AS, the nearer is the SPA TL37 Camionetta AS mounting the 47/32 Anti-Tank Gun, the further vehicle is a AS.42 Sahariana, probably 790 B, 792 B, or 798 B as it appears to mount a 20mm and a single MG, and finally in the right distance can be seen a second AS.42 Sahariana.

This photo clearly shows three vehicles from the original Raggruppamento Sahariano AS, the nearer is the SPA TL37 Camionetta AS mounting the 47/32 Anti-Tank Gun, the further vehicle is an AS.42 Sahariana, probably 790 B, 792 B, or 798 B as it appears to mount a 20mm and a single MG, and finally in the right distance can be seen a second AS.42 Sahariana.

The Raggruppamento was equipped with 10 vehicles, their details are:

VEHICLE ID ARMAMENT
Sahariane
790 B armata 1 x 20mm AA & 1 x 8mm MG.
791 B armata 1 x 47mm CAN & 1 x 8mm MG.
792 B armata 1 x 20mm AA & 1 x 8mm MG.
793 B armata 1 x 20mm ATR & 2 x 8mm MG.
794 B armata 2 x 8mm MG.
797 B armata 1 x 20mm AA & 2 x 8mm MG.
798 B armata 1 x 20mm ATR & 1 x 8mm MG.
SPA TL37 Camionetta AS
? 1 x 47mm CAN.
? 1 x 20mm AA.
Unknown Vehicle Type
? ?

The number plates of the two converted SPA TL 37 4×4 Trucks, “Camionetta AS 37” may be 795 & 796 respectively, but this is only a guess. The 10th vehicle is unknown, but probably a SPA TL 37 truck or similar used for carrying supplies or mounting radio & command equipment. The number plate is possibly 799 B.

AS.42 Sahariana Armament

8mm Machine Gun: Breda Mod. 37 Medium Machine Gun (which uses 24 round magazines).
20mm Anti-Tank Rifle: Solothurn S18/1000 semi-automatic 20mm Anti-Tank Rifle (10 round magazines).
20mm Anti-Aircraft: Breda Mod. 35 20mm Dual Purpose AA Gun (uses 12 round “chargers”).
47mm Cannon: 47mm Mod. 37 Anti-Tank Gun.

The Raggruppamento was active on the African front from 29 November 1942 until 08 April 1943 and numerous records exist of this unit and its vehicles in action.

Additional Units

Seeing the excellent results of operations by the first group against the LRDG four new units were raised, called “Compagnie Arditi Camionettisti” (or literally Jeep Scouting Companies) and containing about 100 personnel. These new units were stationed & equipped as follows:

Unit Vehicles History
103rd Co.Ard.Camion 24 x AS 42 Stationed in North Africa, it was in action around Sfax
& central Tunisia
112th Co.Ard.Camion 24 x AS 42
(II series)
Stationed in Sicily but may not have been engaged during
Allied conquest.
113th Co.Ard.Camion 24 x AS 42 Stationed in Sicily and participated in defense against
Allied conquest.
123rd Co.Ard.Camion 24 x AS 42
and AS 43
Stationed at Rome and appears to have seen no action
(although elements may have fought against the Germans
in defense of Rome after the armistice).

Each of these companies consisted of a small HQ and 3 “Sahariana” Platoons, each of 8 AS Sahariane vehicles.

These units served as a normal Recon units rather than long-range recon chasing the LRDG & SAS, etc. Elements of the 103rd Co. appear to have been involved in Rommel’s Kasserine Pass campaign going by photos…

During the invasion of Sicily, the 112th doesn’t seem to have seen action. What happened to them is a mystery.

After the armistice on 18 September 1943, the remaining groups appear to have disbanded, although 123rd Coy may have participated in the attempts to deny Rome to the Germans.

Service with the RSI

The R.S.I. (Italian Socialist Republic) later used a few remaining AS 42 and AS 43 vehicles. Seven of these were used by a Gruppo of the Xth Mas that served in Russia and finished up on the Western Front in France.

After the War

After the war, another 7 vehicles (apparently the total remaining of the type) were used to equip the XXth Mobile Detachment of the Polizia di Stato and used until 1954.

AS.41 Sahariana Specifications

Model AS.42 Sahariana
Crew 3-6
Powerplant SPA Abm water cooled inline 6 cylinder
(110 hp)
Speed 52 mph (84 km/h)
Range 720 km -1400 km
Length 18.43 ft (5.62 m)
Width 7 ft 5" (2.26 m)
Height 5 ft 11" (1.8 m)
Weight 9,900 lb (4,500 kg)
Tires Normally 9.25 x 24, but in Libya 11.25 x 24.
Armament 8mm Machine Gun or
20mm Anti-Tank Rifle or
20mm Anti-Aircraft or
47mm Cannon

These vehicles are often mistaken for AB 43 Armoured Cars, due to their AS 42 and AS 43 designations that are easily confused with the AB 40, AB 41, and AB 43 Armored Cars.

Additional resource: Desert Raiders: Axis and Allied Special Forces 1940-43

Article by John Moher

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I created Comando Supremo: Italy at War in 2000 because of the limited amount of information on Italian forces in WWII that was available online. Thanks to people like you, this site has grown to what it is today. Thank you for visiting and please bookmark us.