During World War II, armored units played decisive roles in the European and African theaters. In Italy’s case, some of the most important armored vehicles used during the war included the Fiat Ansaldo Autoblinda models. These armored vehicles came onto the scene in 1940 and eventually became a critical component of Italy’s expeditionary forces. The AB 41 played a major role in the invasion of the Soviet Union and in Axis operations in North Africa.
Background on the Fiat Ansaldo Autoblinda AB 40 and AB 41
These armored cars originally came about as the result of a design request made by the Italian Royal Army in 1938. At the time, the majority of the Italian armored units lacked the ability to perform well in off-road conditions. Most armored units were based on designs dating from World War I. In response to the need for more robust armored vehicles, the Italian manufacturing and design company SPA created the Autoblinda 40, followed by the AB 41 in 1941.
An initial production run of only about 25 AB 40 vehicles occurred in 1940. However, many of these were later converted to Autoblinda 41s. Italy produced over 550 of these armored vehicles during the course of World War II. With an 8-ton overall weight and a 120-horsepower 6-cylinder engine, the later AB 41 could achieve top speeds of 48 miles per hour and had an effective range of just under 250 miles. Each vehicle could carry up to four men.
As originally produced in 1940, the AB 40 vehicles boasted two 8-millimeter Breda 38 machine guns, each of which was turret mounted. A third air-cooled Breda 38 in the rear of the vehicle gave the three gunners maximum coverage. The AB 41 variant retained the rear-facing Breda 38, but replaced one of the turret guns with a 20 mm Breda 35 autocannon and moved the remaining gun from the turret to a coaxial mounting. This incarnation would see much more use during the early years of the war. A further model, the AB43, with a 47 mm cannon found its way onto Europe’s battlefields beginning in 1943.
When deployed on the battlefield, the Autoblindas often formed into groups consisting of four vehicles apiece. These smaller groups then combined to form larger platoons and usually used as a fast-moving reconnaissance formation.
Despite its short production run, the AB 40 served in both Europe and Africa before the introduction of the AB 41. For instance, when the Italian army invaded France in June of 1940, it used the AB 40 as a mobile armored unit. That same year, Italy mobilized the vehicles for its campaign in Libya. The AB 41, however, was the model that would see by far the most combat during World War II.
The Autoblinda distinguished itself in June of 1941 when the Italian moved against the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa. As it turned out, the vehicle was well-suited to the rough terrain of the easternmost regions of Europe.
Design development led to the Autoblinda AB43 which mounted a 47 mm anti-tank gun in the turret. An open-hulled version mounting a German 50 mm anti-tank gun was also explored. Production of AB-43s consisted of very few samples before the Italian surrender.
AS.42 Sahariana: Throughout 1942, armored vehicles saw heavy use in both Africa and the eastern theater of Europe. During this period, Italian engineers modified the vehicle to create the AS.42 Sahariana variant specifically for operations in the Libyan desert. The AS.42 Sahariana, based itself on the 41 chassis and effectively performed reconnaissance missions in North Africa.
Autoblinda Ferroviaria: During the campaigns on the Eastern Front, additional variations became present. Perhaps the most drastic of which included a rail-driven model that allowed the vehicle to move along existing railway tracks as a patrol unit. AB 41s fitted with these kits conducted anti-partisan patrols in the Balkans.
An additional variant included an open-hulled command vehicle or forward observation post for artillery units. However, this variant was produced in small numbers.
In short, these armored vehicles made up an important part of the Italian army during World War II. Although the AB 40 saw only limited use in the earliest days of the war, the AB41 and its assorted variants remained extremely important in offensive and reconnaissance operations until 1943.
|Specifications||Autoblinda AB 41|
|Class||Italian Armored Car|
|Length||17.1 ft (5.21 m)|
|Width||6.4 ft (1.93 m)|
|Height||8.2 ft (2.48 m)|
|Range||250 miles (400 km)|
|Armament||(1) 20 mm Breda mod. 35 autocannon (456 rounds) (2) 8 mm Breda 38 machine guns (1,992 rounds)|
|Speed||48 mph (78 km/h)|
|Powerplant||SPA I6 petrol (120 hp)|
|Ground Clearance||16" (40 cm)|