Home » Italian Armor in German Service during WW2

Italian Armor in German Service during WW2

by Danilo Morisco

Following the armistice of 8 September 1943, German military forces captured a significant amount of Italian vehicles. These vehicles would play a new role in German-occupied Italy. Here are some examples of Italian armor in German service during World War Two.

Preface

Although Italian vehicles were considered inferior, they could provide German forces a much-needed reinforcement to counter-guerrilla units and static defenses. The German intent was to use the Italian vehicles for occupation duties and anti-partisan warfare, thus freeing German units for the war effort.

Evaluation and Production

By the end of September 1943, Germany seized 910 serviceable vehicles. At the end of the year, that number increased to over 1,200 by adding repaired vehicles and other captured units from the Balkans. All the captured models received new denominations according to German practice.

German troops inspecting an Italian tank depot in September 1943.

German troops inspecting an Italian tank depot in September 1943.

Most of the captured Italian medium tanks were obtained from the 1a Divisione Corazzata Camicie Nere ‘M’ (1st Blackshirts Armored Division ‘M’) and Ariete II Divisions. German forces also recovered some Pz. IV and Pz. III destined for Italian divisions before the armistice.

Following the occupation of Italian territory, German forces identified several Italian manufacturers that could quickly begin production in support of the German military. By the end of September 1943, most of the factories resumed production under German control. Italian manufacturers produced 844 armored vehicles during the German occupation of 1943 to 1945. 

Armored Cars

One-third of all production pertained to armored cars. This clearly indicates Germany’s desire for continued Italian domestic production of useful vehicles, especially in counterinsurgency warfare.

The Autoblinda Lince was one of the most used Italian armor in German Service. Here is one in German markings holding three Indian prisoners in Florence, 18 August 1944.

The Autoblinda Lince was one of the most used Italian armor in German Service. Here is one in German markings holding three Indian prisoners in Florence, 18 August 1944.

One of the most requested vehicles was the Autoblinda Lince armored car, which was considered excellent for anti-guerrilla operations. The German high command in Italy ordered about 300 Lince, but only 129 were produced. The German designation for these vehicles was Panzerspähwagen Lince 202(i) and use mainly with the Organisation Todt engineering organization. They also served in reconnaissance, escort, and protective roles in Italy and Balkans.

italian armor in german service (Autoblinda Ab 41).

Autoblinda AB 41 in German markings.

Another highly requested vehicle was the Autoblinda AB 43 armored car. The German designations for the original AB 41 and AB 43 were Panzerspähwagen AB41 201(i) and the AB41/43 201(i). They served with the Aufklarungsabteilungs reconnaissance detachment. German forces seized 37 AB 41s after the armistice with a further 120 AB 43s built during the occupation.

Carro Armato P26/40

German forces also requested the continued production of the Italian Carro Armato P26/40, commonly known as the P40. German forces redesignated it as the Panzerkampfwagen P40 737(i).

Adolf Hitler (far left) inspecting the P40 in October 1943.

Adolf Hitler (far left) inspecting the P40 in October 1943.

The P40 was the most important program for the Italian armored vehicle program during WWII. The project began in 1940, but the Italian army only officially accepted the project in January 1943.

On 8 September 1943, German forces seized 22 P40 hulls in Genova. Following an evaluation in Germany, the Heeresgruppe C requested a timetable for the delivery of the P40 tanks. This was a sure sign the tank was deemed useful by the German command in Italy.

However, German forces quickly found a weakness in the P40. Specifically, the engine was prone to break-downs. Because of that, they decided to order 75 P40s with engines and 75 without. The tanks without engines became used as “Panzerturmstellung,” which are static armored turret emplacements.

P40 Operational Use

The 24th Waffen SS Division Karstjager made extensive use of Italian vehicles. The unit, based in the Operationszone Adriatisches Küstenland (OZAK), formed from Italian, Slovenian, and Volksdeutschen volunteers. In October 1944, the division received 14 P40 tanks, but a lack of diesel fuel limited the use of these Italian vehicles.

In April and May 1945, the unit fought against partisans and British units. These combat operations resulted in the destruction of four P40 tanks. What remained of the unit abandoned the remaining tanks in Austria and surrendered to the British on 9 May 1945.

Ordnungspolizei forces with a P40 tank

Ordnungspolizei forces with a P40 tank.

German police (Ordnungspolizei) in Italy conducted public order services and anti-partisans operations during the German occupation. This responsibility required the use of armored vehicles. The German command assigned the Polizei Italian vehicles, considered obsolete for frontline use, but particularly suitable in this function.

The 10th Polizei-Panzer-Kompanie, reformed in Vienna in September 1944, moved to Italy for anti-partisan duties. During this time, it received 15 P40 tanks.

In April 1945, a platoon of P40 tanks covered the retreat of other units. The units surrendered to the U.S forces in Bolzano in May 1945.

Self Propelled Guns

German forces also ordered the production of several self-propelled guns (SPGs) such as the Semovente M42 75/34 [Sturmgeschütz, or[StuG M42 mit 75/34 851(i)], and the Semovente da 105/25 [StuG M43 mit 105/25 853 (i)].

A Semovente da 75/34 in German service.

A Semovente da 75/34 in German service.

Operational Use of Italian Armor in German Service

Panzer-Ausbildungs-Abteilung Sud was one of the first German units equipped with Italian vehicles. This unit, part of the armored reserve forces of Wehrmacht, trained armored units. In late 1943, they received five L40 SPGs, 15 M14/41 tanks, two Semovente da 105/25 SPGs, and five P40 tanks for training operations and evaluation.

The end of September 1943 saw the establishment of the Italienischer Herkunft-Panzer-Abteilung. This unit, headquartered in Bologna, repaired Italian armored vehicles.

The first combat unit to use Italian vehicles was the 26th Panzer Division. In November 1943, it received 18 Semovente da 75/34 and seven Semovente da 105/25. They utilized these Italian vehicles on the front used until January 1944. However, the lack of spare parts forces the withdrawal of the SPGs from the unit.

A Fiat M15/42 (PzKpwf M15/42).

A Fiat M15/42 (PzKpwf M15/42).

In the Balkans, the Panzer-Abteilung 202 began replacing captured French tanks with 67 M15/42 tanks (PzKpwf M15/42). The unit utilized the Italian tanks against Yugoslav partisans. However, these tanks proved inadequate when faced against Soviet forces toward the end of the summer of 1944. They fared so poorly that the unit commander frequently requested headquarters to replace the Italian vehicles with German armor. In April 1945, only 19 M15/42 were still considered combat-ready. The unit dissolved in late April.

The Wehrmacht infantry divisions utilized various Italian vehicles. In particular, the Semovente M42 SPG. 

The Luftwaffe used some Italian vehicles for airport security duties and anti-partisan operations. The most requested were the Semovente M42 and M43 SPGs and AB armored cars.

A Semovente da 75/18 of the 278th Infantry Division seen with German markings.

A Semovente da 75/18 of the 278th Infantry Division seen with German markings.

Many SS units became equipped with Italian armor. The 21st Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Skanderbeg utilized 7 M13/40 tanks, M14/41 tank, and two Semovente da 75/18 M42 SPGs [StuG M42 mit 7,5 KwK L 18(850)(i)].

Italian Armor in German Units (31 December 1944)

Here is a list of Italian tanks and SPGs used by German forces as of 31 December 1944.

Carro Leggero L3

German Unit Amount
Pz. Ausb. Abt. Sud 7
369. Infanterie-Division 10
392. Infanterie-Division 2
I./Pol. Rgt. Bozen 2
16. Pol. Pz. Kp. 8

Carro L6/40

German Unit Amount
Pz. Ausb. Abt. Sud 3
7. SS-Geb. Division 1
118. Jg. Division 4
181. Infanterie-Division 11
264. Infanterie-Division 4
369. Infanterie-Division 2
373. Infanterie-Division 1
392. Infanterie-Division 3
16. Pol. Pz. Kp. 2

Carro M13/40 and M14/41

German Unit Amount
Pz. Ausb. Abt. Sud 6
SS-Pz. Abt. 105 11
SS-Pz. Abt. Skanderbeg 8

Carro M15/42

German Unit Amount
Pz. Ausb. Abt. Sud 5
Pz. Abt. 202 30
Pz. Abt. zbV 12 38
22. SS-Kav. Division 8
12. Pol. Pz. Kp. 5

Carro P26/40

German Unit Amount
Pz. Ausb. Abt. Sud 5
24. SS-Brigade 12
10. Pol. Pz. Kp. 15
15. Pol. Pz. Kp. 13

Semovente L40 da 47/32

German Unit Amount
Pz. Ausb. Abt. Sud 5
356. Infanterie-Division 2
SS-Pz. Abt. 105 1
Pz. Abt. zbV 12 6
7. SS-Geb. Division 2
11. LW-Feld Division 2
117. Jg. Division 2
118. Jg. Division 4
297. Infanterie-Division 10
369. Infanterie-Division 5
373. Infanterie-Division 7
392. Infanterie-Division 3
Pz. Jg. Kp. LXVIII. AK 3
14. Pol. Pz. Kp. 20

Semovente da 75/18

German Unit Amount
Pz. Ausb. Abt. Sud 8
5. Geb. Division 14
114. Jg. Division 11
162. Infanterie-Division 13
278. Infanterie-Division 1
305. Infanterie-Division 7
334. Infanterie-Division 8
356. Infanterie-Division 8
362. Infanterie-Division 7
SS-Pz. Abt. Skanderbeg 2
71. Infanterie Division 6
12. Pol. Pz. Kp. 9

Semovente da 105/25

German Unit Amount
Pz. Ausb. Abt. Sud 3
Fallsch. StuG Brig. 21 49
278. Infanterie-Division 3
305. Infanterie-Division 4
334. Infanterie-Division 4
356. Infanterie-Division 3

The website Flames of War also has an informative article on Italian armor in German service. 

Analysis

Following the Armistice, German forces found a good use for captured Italian vehicles and ordered some to continue production.

The role of Italian armor by German forces reveals the inadequacy of Italian military vehicles. Their primary use was anti-partisan warfare and not the frontline. Even the P40, the only heavy tank produced by Italian industry, was considered inferior to German tanks. In fact, half of the P40s produced became utilized as static artillery.

However, Italian armored vehicles were deemed excellent for counterinsurgency operations, thus confirming the exceptional tradition of Italian light combat vehicles.

Sources

On Amazon: Italian Armour in German Service 1943-1945 by Daniele Guglielmi (2005-12-01)
Il Tradimento Tedesco by Kuby
Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano 1940-1945 by Nicola Pignato e Filippo Cappellano
Italian Medium Tanks in Action by Nicola Pignato

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