M-13/40 gallery

In December 1937, the Italian Army requested a prototype of the M-13/40 tank, to which Ansaldo responded with the presentation of the same in October 1939. Nevertheless, the entry into service did not occur until March 1940.
The main armament was the Austrian Bohler 47/32mm anti-tank gun installed in a rotating turret. This gun was manufactured under license in Italy by Ansaldo and it was an accurate weapon with a good rate of fire. The turret was operated manually or by an oleodynamic servomechanism.
The “Cannone Model 35” fired two different types of ammunition. One was the 1.44 kg AP type and the other was the 2.37 kg HEAT type that could penetrate up to 43mm of armour at 500 meters away. The muzzle velocity was 630 m/s for the HEAT round, quite low indeed, but enough to penetrate the British Cruiser tanks armour.
This gun had a telescopic gunsight and there were also two rotating periscopes to observe the outside. The driver had a viewfinder and several pistol ports were installed around the turret and the superstructure to allow the use of individual weapons from inside the tank.
The first M-13/40 carried 104 47mm rounds, 70 inside the hull and 34 inside the turret, but later this amount was reduced to 87 rounds. Ammunition for the four machine guns was of 3,048 rounds at first, although it would be reduced to 2,592 rounds later.
The internal layout was conventional, similar to the previous M-11/39. Driver and the radio operator / machine gunner in front of the hull along with the transmission. The combat chamber was in the midle with the commander / gunner and the loader inside the turret. And the engine was located in the rear of the vehicle.
The first fifty M-13/40 were delivered without radio, which meant a huge tactical limitation. Nevertheless, from number 51 onwards it was installed a Magneti Marelli RF-1-CA radio and some improvements were made. Among them, the turret was raised to obtain a greater depression of the gun. From spring 1941, a new coolant tank and some mechanical improvements were also installed.
Each side of the tank’s suspension was made up of semi-elliptical leaf springs that acted on a pair of bogie trucks with two double wheels each. This system had been designed to allow a good mobility on rough terrain, but in the desert it was not effective due to the narrowness of its tracks. The suspension was completed with a drive sprocket in front, the idler wheel at the rear and three return rollers.
The protection was formed by riveted steel plates because the Italian industry lacked the capacity to make large castings pieces. In addition, the steel used was of low quality and tended to crack when it was hit by gunfire. The maximum armour thickness was 42mm, insufficient to resist the fire of anti-tank guns. Especially weak was the hull’s bottom, with only 6mm of thickness, totally useless against mines.
The M-13/40 was powered by a 125 hp Fiat SPA 8T diesel engine, clearly insufficient for a 14-tonne vehicle. The diesel engine had the advantage of greater range, lower consumption and being less prone to catch fire if was hit by the enemy. This tank was one of the first to use a diesel engine, a fact that would become standard in most later tanks.
The Italian armoured forces were concentrated mainly in three Armoured Divisions, baptized as “Ariete”, “Centaur” and “Littorio”. In these units a good part of the built M-13/40 were framed. The first deployment of M-13/40 tanks was made in Greece, which was invaded by Italy at the end of October 1940. Two companies belonging to 4th Tank Battalion were sent, which had a really poor release due to the fierce Greek resistance and due to the ineptitude of the Italian commanders.
At the end of March 1941, some units with M-13/40 tanks were sent to Yugoslavia in support of the Germans to end an uprising that had overthrown the Yugoslav Government. There, they remained inactive until April 11 due to the talks about an armistice between Italy and Yugoslavia. However on that date the Italian forces suffered an attack by the Yugoslavs that got them fully into the fighting.
The M-13/40 performed most of its career in North Africa. From June 1940 to May 1943 the Italians, with the support of the famous Afrika Korps, fought against British forces in the deserts of Libya and Egypt mainly.
Unfortunately, the harsh weather of the desert soon revealed the huge deficiencies of M-13/40 tanks. This tanks broke down constantly and the lack of training of the crews was alarming. The crews usually received a training of about 25 days in which they only drove the tanks for two hours before being sent to combat!
The lack of experience of the Italian commanders was soon evident, and this, coupled with the lack of radios made it nearly impossible to lead operations on the battlefield. However, there were units, such as the 132th Tank Regiment, belonging to the Ariete Division, that fought with courage and received praiseworthy references from the Germans.
Though the 47mm gun was superior to that of British tanks at the start of the North Africa Campaign, the poor protection and lack of engine power eliminated this advantage. It was usually for crews to mount sandbags and spare track links over the chassis to improve the protection as much as possible. This practice forced the engine and reduced mobility even further, to the despair of the commanders.
In less than three months, the Italians had been almost totally defeated by the British. Then, Mussolini insistently requested the help of the Germans, who finally came to the aid of their allies in February 1941. From this moment, some of the problems of the M-13/40 were solved and RF-1-CA radios were installed in all the tanks, adding another RF-2-CA radio to the command tanks.
The breakdowns of tanks and lack of preparation of the Italian troops was once again confirmed in February 1941 after the Battle of Beda Fomm. During this battle, more than 100 M-13/40 tanks were abandoned. There were so many that British put them at their own service, since they were short of armoured vehicles in this stage of the war. They were framed with the 6th British Royal Tank Regiment and the 6th Australian Cavalry Regiment (on the image).
The M-13/40 tank were carried to the battlefield on Viberti trailers, towed by Lancia 3/Ro trucks. These trucks gave an excellent result in the desert and were nicknamed “King of the desert” by the Italian soldiers. The use of these trucks limited the number of kilometers that tanks circulated, preserving the suspension and the suffering engines.
On November 19, 1941, occured one of the few successes of the M-13/40 tanks over the British. After a series of fierce combats, the Italian 132nd Tank Regiment defeated the British 22nd Armored Brigade during the “First Battle of Bir el Gubi” near Bir el Gubi, Libya. The Italians lost 29 M-13/40 tanks and destroyed 42 British tanks, (52 according to some sources), and showed that they had learned some tactical lessons from the Afrika Korps on the use of combined forces.
Despite some isolated success, the M-13/40 was a rather poor tank that had the bad luck to be used with a wrong doctrine. Usually they were handled by really inexperienced crews who did not trust in their vehicle performance, and who were too prone to leave them as soon as the fighting got complicated, which was most of the time. All these circumstances, together with the arrival of the American M-3 Lee and M-4 Sherman medium tanks in the desert, reduced the effectiveness of these vehicles except at suicidal combat distances.
After WWII, some M-13/40 tanks fought in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War within the Egyptian army. The Italian Army’s survivors were used by the post-war Italian Army until the early 70’s in some cases!. Some vehicles were destined to the Italian Police that replaced the gun with an 8mm Breda machine gun.

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