Evolution of Italian Tank Battalions

jwsleser

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Posted 31 October 2006 - 07:10 PM by Davide Pastore

If I understood it all correctly (the sources are a bit unclear) in 1936 there were twenty-four tank battalions: five with Fiat 3000 A or B (from June 1938: M.21 or M.30; from June 1940: L.5/21 or L.5/30 [see note #1]) and nineteen with L.3/33 or L.3/35 (and later L.3/38 ). The "heavy" ( :lol: !!) tanks were called "carri di rottura" (Breakthrough tanks), the lights "carri d'assalto" o "carri veloci". The battalions were named after a gold medal recipient. Seventeen were grouped into four tank rgts:

Fiat 3000, part of 1°-4° tank regiment:
- I R (3° rgt) => 1937: I/31°
- II R (4° rgt) => 1937: II/31°
- III R (2° rgt) => 1937: I/32°
- IV R (1° rgt) => 1937: II/32°
- V R (4° rgt)

L.3, part of 1°-4° tank regiment:
- I L (1° rgt) "Ribet"
- II L (1° rgt) "Berardi"
- III L (1° rgt) "Paselli"
- IV L (2° rgt) "Monti"
- V L (2° rgt) "Suarez", later "Venezian"
- VI L (3° rgt) "Lollini"
- VII L (3° rgt) "Vezzani"
- VIII L (4° rgt) "Bettoia"
- IX L (4° rgt) "Guagagni"
- X L (4° rgt) "Menziger"
- XI L (2° rgt) "Gregorutti"
- XII L (4° rgt) "Cangialosi"

L.3, non-regimented (many formed for the war against Ethiopia and/or for service in Libya):
- XX L "Randaccio"
- XXI L "Trombi"
- XXII L "Coralli"
- XXIII L "Stennio"
- XXIV L (name unknown)
- XXXI L "Cerboni"
- XXXII L "Battisti"
Note: The existence of two different series ("twenties" and "thirties") is intriguing, but its significance escapes me.

In 1937 two (I and II) armoured brigades were created (later to be expanded into 131ª Centauro and 132ª Ariete divisions). Their armoured units were 31° rgt (created ex novo) and 32° rgt (old 2° renamed), each with two R btns (by this time "medium", see above) plus one L btn (XXXI for 31°, an unknown one for 32°).

In 1939 the third armoured division (133ª Littorio) was created, with its 33° rgt receiving the old VI, XXII, XXIII and XXXII L btns. By this time Centauro's and Ariete's rgts had received a fourth (unknown) L btn. The three unknown btn listed above (fourth of 31°, third and fourth of 32°) were apparently (IMHO) the old III, VII and X L btns (maybe not in this order).

Addendum: according to Cappellano & Pignato, Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell'Esercito Italiano, page 363, III/32° was formed with the old XXI. However XXI was still present as an independent unit in 1940, so maybe this is a typo for XXIV. If so, one of the above three (III, VII, X) disappeared at some time.

All the divisional btns had been renumbered, while the others were not. The logic of this escapes me.

The final situation before the war was:

1° rgt, HQ Vercelli (North-Western Italy - later 1° Army reserve):
- I L "Ribet"
- II L "Berardi"
- IV L "Monti"
- CCCXXIII btn (ex V R) (name unknown) => 1940: transformed into III btn M (M.13/40) and apparently transferred to 32° rgt

3° rgt, HQ Bologna (North-Eastern Italy - later 4° Army reserve):
- V L "Venezian"
- XI L "Gregorutti"

4° rgt, HQ Roma (Southern Italy):
- VIII L "Bettoia" (Roma)
- XII L "Cangialosi" (Sicilia)
- XIII L (name unknown) (Sardegna, formed after war start)

31° rgt, HQ Siena (Centauro):
- I/31° (ex I R) => 1938: CCCXI btn "Raggi" (I/31° was re-raised with L.3 tanks)
- II/31° (ex II R) => 1938: CCCXII btn "Suarez" (II/31° was re-raised with L.3 tanks)
- III/31° (ex XXXI L "Cerboni")
- IV/31° (maybe ex III L "Paselli" ?)
Note: either the new I or II might have been the old XXIV L (trace lost).

32° rgt, HQ Verona (Ariete):
- I/32° (ex III R) => 1938: CCCXXI btn "Matter" (I/32° was re-raised as I M btn with M.11/39 tanks)
- II/32° (ex IV R) => 1938: CCCXXII btn "Prestinari" (II/32° was re-raised as II M btn with M.11/39 tanks)
- III/32° (maybe ex VII L "Vezzani" ?)
- IV/32° (maybe ex X L "Menziger" ?)

33° rgt, HQ Parma (Littorio):
- I/33° (ex VI L "Lollini")
- II/33° (ex XXII L "Coralli")
- III/33° (ex XXIII L "Stennio")
- IV/33° (ex XXXII L "Battisti")

Libya (outside any regiment):
- IX L "Guagagni"
- XX L "Randaccio"
- XXI L "Trombi"

Additionally in Libya: four "mobilization" btns (to be formed in war, tanks already in place):
- LX L (name unknown)
- LXI L ( " " )
- LXII L ( " " )
- LXIII L ( " " )
Note: Apparently these four btns paralled the 60ª-63ª infantry divisions stationed there since peacetime.

Each L.3 btn had 46 tanks [error, see next post]. Of the twenty-five L.3 btns listed above (plus some independent companies) just a handful were left in 1943 (XII, XIII, II/4°, II/31°, III/31°, II/33°). Many were destroyed in action (including all the ones in Libya) but many others simply "disappeared". Some of these might have been re-named and converted into one of the new M btns, but the only one I know for sure is XXI.

Each Fiat 3000 btn should have 37 tanks [error, see next post] but the vehicles were so aged that by 1939 each btn had just 2 coys x 7 tanks, and in 1940 the five btns so equipped were eventually reduced to five companies of 10 tanks each (the surplus personnel might have ended into the "re-raised" btns listed above). In 1940 1ª coy (ex CCCXI btn) was stationed in Albania, 3ª coy (ex CCCXII btn) in Aegean islands, the others three in metropolitan Italy on border guard duty. They were disbanded in late 1940, but in late 1942 1ª and 2ª were re-raised and employed in the defence of Sicilia (an act of real desperation).

Note that the above lists do not include the cavalry units.

[note #1] The A or 21 type had two MGs, the B or 30 type had a 37/40 gun.

Addendum: by 1939 there was no B or 30 left, since all the available guns had been taken to be installed on the first M.11/39 tanks
 

jwsleser

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Staff member
Posted 01 November 2006 - 02:35 PM by Davide Pastore

Each L.3 btn had 46 tanks [error, see next post].
Each Fiat 3000 btn should have 37 tanks [error, see next post]
Tank battalion strength

BHQ = battalion HQ
CHQ = Company HQ

1) Fiat 3000
1 x BHQ - 1 x mod.30 (hq)
2-3 x CHQ - 1 x mod.30 (hq), 2-3 (one per pto) x mod.21 (reserve)
4-9 x pto - 1 x mod.30 (hq), 3 x mod.21
Total for a full strength btn (3 coy x 3 pto): 49 tanks (13 with 37/40 gun, 36 with dual MG).
However by 1939 the btns were down to 2 coy x 2 pto, with all the mod.30 gone and no reserve tanks.

2) L.3
1 x BHQ - 1 x L.3 (hq), 4-6 (two per coy) x L.3 (reserve), 8-12 (four per coy) x L.3 with flamethrowers
2-3 x CHQ - 1 x L.3 (hq)
6-9 x pto - 4 x L.3
Total for a 3-coy btn: 58 tanks (46 with dual MG + 12 with flamethrowers)
Total for a 2-coy btn: 39 tanks (31 + 8 )

When Ariete was sent to Libya in early 1941, its three light btns (the fourth was absent) had the 31+8 establishment. OTOH a number of btns seem to have had 46+0 tanks (since there were not enough flamethrowing tanks available).

3) M tanks
There were various establishments:

3a) 37 tanks (early 1940)
1 x BHQ - 1 x M (hq), 4 (two per coy) x M (reserve)
2 x CHQ - 1 x M (hq)
6 x pto - 5 x M
The first btns formed (I-II with M.11/39, II-III-IV-V-XXI with M.13/40) had this structure, according to Cappellano & Pignato. Problem: the official army history is very clear about III having three coys during Compass.

3b) 46 tanks (late 1940 - early 1941)
1 x BHQ - 1 x M (hq), 6 (two per coy) x M (reserve)
3 x CHQ - 1 x M (hq)
9 x pto - 4 x M
This is the structure from VI btn on, switching (at some unspecified time) to the following one.

3c) 52 tanks (late 1941 - 1942)
1 x BHQ - 1 x M (hq), 3 (one per coy) x M (reserve)
3 x CHQ - 1 x M (hq)
9 x pto - 5 x M

3d) 20-25 tanks + 26 semoventi (1943)
1 x BHQ - 1 x M (hq), 3 (one per coy) x M (reserve)
1 x CHQ - 1 x M (hq)
3-4 x pto - 5 x M
2 x CHQ - 1 x carro comando (semovente without gun)
6 x pto - 4 x Semovente da 75/18 or 75/34
XVI-XVIII-XIX btns had the 20 tanks type. The three btns of 135ª Ariete II armoured cavalry division had the 25 tanks type.
XV might had had two tank coys plus one semovente coy.

Medium tanks battalions 1940-43
The (rgt) shows which HQ regiment raised the unit, not which one the unit fought in.
The (year) is the time the btn was ready for action.

A) early units formed (most rushed to Libya in a haphazard fashion)
- I (32°) M.11/39 (1939 - personnel from CCCXXI btn)
- II (32°) M.11/39 (1939 - personnel from CCCXXI btn)
- III (1° or 4° ?) M.13/40 (fall 40 - personnel from CCCXXIII btn)
- IV (?) M.13/40 (winter 40-41)
- V (32° ?) M.13/40 (winter 40-41)
- VI (32° ?) M.13/40 (winter 40-41)
- XXI [outside main numeration] (?) M.13/40 (old XXI L re-equipped in January 1941)

B) according to a plan of May 1941, the armoured division were to be re-equipped in this way:

1st armoured rgt
- VII (?) M.13/40 (1941)
- VIII (?) M.13/40 (1941)
- IX (?) M.13/40 (1941)

2nd armoured rgt
- X (?) M.14/41 (1941-42)
- XI (?) M.14/41 (1941-42)
- XII (?) M.13/40 (1941-42)

3rd armoured rgt
- XIII (32°) M.13/40 (1942)
- XIV (31°) M.14/41 (1942)
- XV (?) M.14/41 (1942) might have had a semovente coy

Outside main numeration:
- LI (?) M.13/40 (1941)
- LII (?) M.13/40 (1941)

The first rgt to be equipped should have been 31° of Centauro but the division received 131° rgt with French tanks (see later) instead, so the first three btns went to 132° rgt of Ariete (it had was also 32° rgt with L.3 tanks, shipped to Libya) and the next to 133° rgt of Littorio (it had also 33° rgt with L.3 tanks, at least initially) with 31° scheduled for the last three. About LI and LII, I suspect they were intended for the motorized divisions Trieste and Trento (numbered 101 and 102).

Actually, due to the continuos fighting, this nice plan went largely unfilfilled and the btns were shuffled many times amongst divisions.

C) Last units created
- XVI (32°) M.14/41 + Sem. 75/18 (late 42)
- XVII (31°) M.14/41 (late 42)
- XVIII (33°) M.15/42 + Sem. 75/18 (summer 43)
- XIX (31°) M.15/42 + Sem. 75/34 (summer 43)
- I gruppo / 10° cav rgt "Lancieri di Vittorio Emanuele II" (cav) M.15/42 + Sem 75/18 (spring 43)
- II " " " "
- III " " " "

D) French tanks
- CC (4° or 31° ?) Somua S.35 (mid 41) 2 coys
- CI (4° or 31° ?) Renault R.35 (mid 41) 3 coys
- CII (4° or 31° ?) Renault R.35 (mid 41) 3 coys
These three btns formed initially 131° rgt of Centauro (but later became independent units).
 

jwsleser

Member
Staff member
Posted 09 January 2007 - 05:39 PM by Inspecteur Clouzot

Looking at the information you provided more closely, I'm struck by the following:

1. What happened to V. ® battalion? Logically it should have been part of Littorio but you write that L battalions were used instead.

2. Unless I'm mistaken, the Italians created only the two medium tank battalions between 1936 and 1940: they remained at 24 L & R battalions throughout, plus the four mobilization ones in Libya, and added 2 M ones in 1939. Is that correct?

The British seem to have had 19 in the heavy & light armoured brigades, plus the 3 unbrigaded regiments sent with the BEF and I'm probably missing some. It was definitely increasing, though I don't have the figure for 1936. So it looks like the Italian and British tank forces were more or less evenly matched in 1939. By 1940 the British had Matilda IIs, but not many of them (24 deployed to, and lost in, France), but the bulk of their force consisted of Vickers MkVI which were really no better than the Italian light tanks.

The German panzerwaffe was also increasing. Given the way the Germans changed their battalion organization, I'll count companies instead and use "battalions" to mean "3 companies". Unless I'm mistaken, there were 3 "battalions" in each of the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Pz divisions, plus 2 each in 10 and Kempf Pz divisions, plus one in each of the 4 light divisions, total 23 for September 1939.
By May 1940 this was up to 35 battalions.

The French are tricky, all the more so as one would have to count the mechanized infantry component of the cavalry and light mechanized divisions, plus the reconnaissance groups of infantry divisions and corps in addition to regular tank battalions, since their AMRs were equivalent to the Italian L3s. I now have to cook dinner for the children rather than do such a count, but at first glance it looks like the French had at least twice as many "tank battalions" (by Italian standards) as the Italians.

Posted 09 January 2007 - 07:48 PM byv Davide Pastore

1. What happened to V. ® battalion?
It simply disappeared. As noted, the Fiat 3000 was mechanically very unreliable, and the numbers steadily declined.

Logically it should have been part of Littorio but you write that L battalions were used instead.
Note that Littorio did not exist as such until later:

Davide Pastore said:
In 1937 two (I and II) armoured brigades were created (later to be expanded into 131ª Centauro and 132ª Ariete divisions). Their armoured units were 31° rgt (created ex novo) and 32° rgt (old 2° renamed), each with two R btns (by this time "medium", see above) plus one L btn (XXXI for 31°, an unknown one for 32°).
When it still existed, V ® was independent outside the two brigades; by the time Littorio was formed, the battalion had disappeared.

2. Unless I'm mistaken, the Italians created only the two medium tank battalions between 1936 and 1940: they remained at 24 L & R battalions throughout, plus the four mobilization ones in Libya, and added 2 M ones in 1939. Is that correct?
Correct. Note that the cavalry had another three strong (four companies [squadrons] each) L3 battalions, part of the three Celere divisions.

So it looks like the Italian and British tank forces were more or less evenly matched in 1939 [...] the bulk of their force consisted of Vickers MkVI which were really no better than the Italian light tanks
I don't think so. The Mk VI was obviously superior to L.3, as was the Matilda I. Every Cruiser from the earliest Mk I [series production from 1937] was a supertank in comparison (ditto for the 1923 Medium Mk I).

The German panzerwaffe was also increasing.
I moved the discussion about German and French 1939 tank strength here.
 
Last edited:

jwsleser

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Posted 10 January 2007 - 08:59 AM by Inspecteur Clouzot

It simply disappeared. As noted, the Fiat 3000 was mechanically very unreliable, and the numbers steadily declined.
Thanks, this makes sense. The French had the same problem, but they were working from a much larger initial stock that they could cannibalize from.

Note that Littorio did not exist as such until later:
I had indeed noted that, just found it strange that no ® battalion be assigned to it as had been the case with the other two. On second thought, L.3s were better suited for an armored division than the Fiat 3000s, the latter being just too slow.

Strange that the Italians didn't keep the battalion, just filling it with L.3s.

Note that the cavalry had another three strong (four companies [squadrons] each) L3 battalions, part of the three Celere divisions.
Ok, so we have 24 battalions, down to 23 when V® disappeared, plus 3 cavalry ones, plus two (M) ones in 1939 plus the four mobilization ones in Libya for a total of 34 on June 1940, right?

I don't think so. The Mk VI was obviously superior to L.3, as was the Matilda I. Every Cruiser from the earliest Mk I [series production from 1937] was a supertank in comparison (ditto for the 1923 Medium Mk I).
I wouldn't rate the Matilda I as superior to anything: it had good armor but that was about all it had. Exactly how was the Mk VI superior to the L.3? Both had armor that was only good against MG fire, neither had an armament that could harm the other (except at close range, with rear shots etc), essentially they were both fairly ineffective as tanks. The MkVI had a 20 km/h advantage but that's about it.

Regarding the cruisers, I was going to mention how few of these there were, then I remembered that we are discussing Italian tanks here so 100+ tanks is a large number. Therefore you're right :)

Another interesting point is how late the Italians were to wake up to the need of a heavier tank, at a time when everyone else was fielding them. As far as I can tell, they only started ordering what would become the M.11/39 in 1938, at a time when Germany was already producing PzIIIs and when France - the designated enemy - had since 1934-35 been deploying hundreds of light tanks which were in the same weight class as this Italian medium (10-13 tons) but with better armor and armament.

Posted 10 January 2007 - 09:22 AM by Davide Pastore

Ok, so we have 24 battalions, down to 23 when V® disappeared, plus 3 cavalry ones, plus two (M) ones in 1939 plus the four mobilization ones in Libya for a total of 34 on June 1940, right?
23+3+2+4 = 32 (not all of them existing at any given time)

Exactly how was the Mk VI superior to the L.3? Both had armor that was only good against MG fire, neither had an armament that could harm the other
The Matilda's .50" could hole the L.3, I think, at least at close range. Same for Light Mk VI. This last vehicle had the great advantage of a two man turret and a good radio, making it very useful in the scouting role. I consider it a more useful asset than a Pz I, for example.

Another interesting point is how late the Italians were to wake up to the need of a heavier tank, at a time when everyone else was fielding them. As far as I can tell, they only started ordering what would become the M.11/39 in 1938
And initially it was just a 8t "heavy" StuG-like vehicle...

Posted 10 January 2007 - 12:24 PM by Inspecteur Clouzot

23+3+2+4 = 32 (not all of them existing at any given time)
Right... :oops: I'll be back after I've slept more than 3 hours per night.

Anyway, with 25 battalions in 1936-7 and 30 or so by 1939, the Italian tank force was losing ground but was still, at least on paper, a semi-respectable force. The problem, of course, was the equipment.

The Matilda's .50" could hole the L.3, I think, at least at close range. Same for Light Mk VI. This last vehicle had the great advantage of a two man turret and a good radio, making it very useful in the scouting role. I consider it a more useful asset than a Pz I, for example.
That's one way to look at it. Another is to note that the average Mk VI would have accumulated more wear than the average Pz I, not sure how the L.3 would compare in such an equation.

Anyway, in a Mk VI vs Pz I vs AMR comparison we're talking about tracked tin cans with at best a marginal ability to harm one another except at close range, and inadequate protection against anything above rifle-caliber machine-guns. Which is why I considered them comparable. Hundreds of Vickers Mk VI were sent to France where they were all lost without achieving anything (only a handful of tanks was evacuated, I don't remember offhand if there were any Vickers but we would be talking of a single-digit number in any case).

In that regard, the Italian tank force wasn't too disadvantaged compared to the British one, at least in 1939. Obviously, lack of a replacement and most inadequate production meant that the discrepancy could only grow. Blame Mussolini for declaring war 4 years too late! :)

And initially it was just a 8t "heavy" StuG-like vehicle...
Well, the L.3 design had sold very well and it was not turreted either. So I don't necessarily blame the Italians for going that way, plus they must have lacked the engineering experience to manufacture turrets with useful armament.

What I find more surprising is how the tank they were planning to build in 1938 was already obsolete compared to designs in service at the time like the French light tanks of the 1934/35 program (R-35, H-35, FCM), the Czech tanks, the Soviet T-26s and BTs (encountered in Spain) as well as the first British cruisers and German mediums. One would expect design teams to anticipate and aim in 1938 for something that would look good for at least the 1940-42 timeframe. When that couldn't be done immediately, building interim designs in recognition of the production learning curve is also ok (as the Americans did), but it looks like the Italians were asking for that relatively useless vehicle.
 

jwsleser

Member
Staff member
Posted 26 January 2012 - 09:00 PM by david

Where did III Battaglione Carri (M) disembark? Tripoli or Benghasi?

And is October 1940 the correct date?

Posted 27 January 2012 - 12:20 AM by arturolorioli

IIRC Benghasi, in the last days of September 1940

Posted 27 January 2012 - 11:22 AM by nmao

I don't have an exact date, but AFAIK it landed in Benghazi in the last days of September.

See in this document:
www.paginedidifesa.it/libri/carristi.rtf

"Il III Battaglione Carri M 13/40, comandato dal Tenente Colonnello Carlo GHIOLDI (M.A.V.M.), proveniente dall’Italia forte di 37 carri M 13/40 suddivisi tra le due compagnie, che si aggiungevano ai 417 carri di vario tipo presenti in Libia, arrivò a BENDARSI[Bengazi] a fine settembre 1940 e iniziò una intensa attività addestrativa in previsione dell’impiego."

google translate:
"The III M 13/40 Tank Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Ghioldi (MAVM), from Italy of 37 wagons strong M 13/40 split between the two companies, which were added to 417 wagons of various types present in Libya, arrived in Bend in late September 1940 and began an intense training activities in preparation for employment."

This document is a goldmine about the italian armour in NA.

regards,

-Nuno Oliveira

Posted 08 May 2012 - 09:21 AM by david

I don't think that IV ever made it to North Africa, what do you all think?

Posted 08 May 2012 - 10:34 AM by nmao

Hello.
IV (4th) was deployed to Albania, it eventually made it to North Africa in 1942 (August?) assigned to Littorio.

-Nuno Oliveira
 

Andreas

New Member
Nuno - do you have the document? The link is gone.

All the best

Andreas
 

jwsleser

Member
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I tried to update all the links I found. I couldn't do it for this one, so I am hoping someone has either a link or a copy of the information.

Pista! Jeff
 

Webmaster

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Staff member
Here you go. I changed it to a PDF.
 

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jwsleser

Member
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Thanks Jim. I do have that article in my files. From only the link, I didn't know to what he was linking to.

Pista! Jeff
 

Andreas

New Member
Thank you Jim!

All the best

Andreas
 
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