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Italy's History

World War I

The Italian Commando Supremo (High Command) acquired a Schneider C.A.1 medium tank in 1917 from France. It was tested in mountainous terrain as was found on the Italian Front. Based on these tests more tanks were going to be purchased. However, the Italians were defeated at the Battle of Caporetto that took place from October 24 to November 12, 1917. The retreat of the Italian Army to the Piave River delayed purchase of any additional vehicles.

In July 1918 the French delivered a FT-17 to the Regio Esercito (Royal Italian Army) with three more sent soon afterwards. An order for 1,400 was placed, and these were to be completed by Mary 1919. Only 100 were completed when World War I ended with the rest cancelled.

The Italians did design the Fiat 2000 Model 17 which weighed 44.1 tons, had 20 mm of armor, had seven 6.5 mm Fiat-Revelli Model 14 machine guns, and had a 65 mm gun. It had a 250 HP Fiat A12 engine which propelled it at a maximum speed of 3.7 MPH / 6 KPH. A prototype was delivered in June 1918, but production was cancelled when Austria-Hungary surrendered on November 4, 1918.



A FT-17 was converted into a self-propelled gun with a 105 mm gun. This vehicle, the other FT-17s, and the Fiat 2000 were used for training up until 1923.

Next Development

100 Fiat 3000s were delivered in 1923.

The First Tank Regiment

In 1926 a separate Corpo Carristi (Armored Corps) was formed. 100 Fiat 3000 tanks were organized into a five battalion tank regiment (Reggimento Carri Armati).

Once Benito Mussolini came to power tanks were given more notice.

Expansion of Tank Development

In 1929 four Carden-Loyd tankettes were purchased from Britain. These were copied at the Fiat-Ansaldo works (OTO) in Genoa and called the CV-29 (Carro Veloce - Fast Tank). Fiat was also producing and improved Fiat 3000 with a long-barreled 37 mm gun and one version that had two machine guns in the turret. However, the CV-29 was chosen as it was thought it would be better in mountainous terrain. This was superseded by the CV-33 built by Ansaldo in 1930.

These were allocated to cavalry groups and infantry support battalions. In 1936 they were reorganized into 4 administrative infantry tank regiments. Later they were organized into the first Brigata Motomeccanizzata (Mechanized Brigade) was formed from 2-company tankette battalion, light infantry (bersaglieri) regiment, artillery battery, and an engineer battalion. In 1937 this was increased to 2 brigate corazzate (armored brigades), each with a new regiment of 3 to 4 tankette battalions, motorized bersaglieri regiment, antitank and antiaircraft guns, and engineers.




The first action with Italian armor occurred in East Africa in April 1936 where they used approximately 500 tanks and tankettes in Abyssinia.

Spanish Civil War

The light tankettes were used in the Spanish Civil War with little affect against the better armed oppostion.

Changing Formations

In 1937 a new motorized brigade was formed that included:

  • 1 tank regiment
    • 4 light battalions
  • motorized Bersaglieri regiment
  • 2 antitank companies
  • antiaircraft battery
  • engineer company

This was designated the 1st Armored Brigade and shortly after it was formed the 2nd Armored Brigade was created. On February 1,1939, the 2nd Armored Brigade, became the 132nd Armored Division, and then on April 8 it was named Ariete (Ram). On April 20, 1939, the 1st Armored Brigade was formed into the 131st Armored Division Centauro (Centaur). Late in 1939 the 133rd Armored Division Littorio (Fasces, the emblem of Fascism) was created.

The divisions were to contain:

  • 1 tank regiment
    • 4 battalions
  • 1 Bersaglieri regiment
    • motorcycle battalion
    • trucked infantry battalion
  • motorized artillery regiment
  • antiaircraft troop
  • engineer company

Most often the divisions had only one light and one medium tank battalion.

In the Autumn of 1939 there were 1,400 Italian tanks available, with 1,300 of them being the L3s.

World War II

Invasion of France

On June 21, 1940 Italy invaded southern France and the French Alpine division had tanks that inflicted many casualties on the Italian tanks.

By 1940 the Italians had built 1,320 tankettes, 27 light tanks, and 100 medium M11/39s. There were only 3,296 aircraft in the Italian air force with approximately half ready for combat. There were 594 fighters (most of these were the CR.42s), 783 bombers, 268 observation, and 151 reconnaissance aircraft.

Aircraft Manufacturing

There were 22 Italian companies that manufactured airplanes and six that made the engines.

African Desert

In November 1940 the Italians captured Sidi Barrani in Egypt. After that they formed a Special Armored Brigade with two M11/39 battalions and a M13/40 battalion. There were also two light tank battalions. The brigade never achieved full strength and was later lost in December of 1940 during the British Operation Compass.

In December 1940 in the Western Desert 2 armored-battalion groups were formed. However, these were used piecemeal.

As the M13/40s started being massed produced they were rushed to Africa and the Ariete was the first to be completely equipped with these tanks.

In August 1941 the Corpo d'armata di Manovra (Mobile Army Corps) was formed by combining the Ariete and Trieste motorized infantry divisions and an armored reconnaissance unit.

Towards the end of 1941 the Littorio division was sent to Africa and was formed with a three battalion M13/40 regiment (with two groups of Semovente 75 mm assault guns), two desert patrol units, support elements, extra recon group of besaglieri, and a group of L6/40 light tanks. These never saw action as a unit as the infantry were destroyed in transit and many of the others were used as replacements for divisions already in place.

The Ariete was restructured with this new organization but both divisions were destroyed at Alamein.

North Africa

The Centauro, Littorio, and Ariete armored divisions all fought in North Africa. Each had the following:

  • 1 armored regiment
    • 3 medium tank battalions
      • 50 tanks
      • 90 trucks
      • 600 men
    • 1 anti-aircraft company
    • 1 officina (repair and recovery) company
  • 1 bersaglieri (light infantry) regiment
  • 1 artillery regiment
  • engineers

Eastern Front:

The Italians primarily had their main armored units in the Balkans. The only main units were the 3 Divisione Celere with its LXVI I Battaglione Bersaglieri Corazzato with L6/40 and the XIII Gruppo Semoventi with a squadron of Semoventi da 47/32. The tanks were sent to the front with a dark yellow sand color. Most often mud was smeared on the tanks to provide camouflage.

Losses of Aircraft

By the time of the armistice on September 8, 1943, approximately 10,000 planes had been lost. There were only 877 (359 fighters, 108 bombers, 247 reconnaissance, 61 torpedo, 102 two-engined combat planes) that were still operational.

Fighting with the Allies

During the time that Italy had sided with the Allies, they flew 4,893 missions and downed 23 Axis planes for a loss of 147 Italian planes.



43,800,000, 44,026,000, 44,200,000

Foreign Vehicles



  1. Tanks of World War II, Duncan Crow, 1979
  2. Italian Medium Tanks in Action, Nicola Pignato, 2001
  3. No Simple Victory - World War II In Europe, 1939-1945, 2006, Norman Davies
  4. World War II Airplanes Volume 1, Enzo Angelucci, Paolo Matricardi, 1976
  5. World War II, DK, 2004
  6. Tank War 1939-1945, Janusz Piekalkiewicz, 1986
  7. World War II in Numbers, Peter Doyle, 2013
20th Century American Military History Crucial Site