Fiat M13/40

The Fiat-Ansaldo M13/40 was an Italian World War II tank designed to replace the Fiat L3, the Fiat L6/40 and the Fiat M11/39 in the Italian Army at the start of World War II. It was the main tank the Italians used throughout the war. The design was influenced by the British Vickers 6-Ton and was based on the modified chassis of the earlier Fiat M11/39. Production of the M11/39 was cut short in order to get the M13/40 into production. The name refers to "M" for Medio (medium) according to the Italian tank weight standards at the time, 13 tonnes was the scheduled weight and 1940 the initial year of production.

Country Name Origin Year
Italy 1940
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Italy 1940 1943 View

The M13 was constructed of riveted steel plates as follows: 30 mm front (as the M11), 42 mm on turret front (30 mm for the M11), 25 mm on the sides (the M11 had only 15 mm), only 6 mm bottom (that made it very vulnerable to mines) and 15 mm on top. The crew of 4 were housed in a forward fighting compartment, with the engine at the rear and transmission at the front. The driver and machine-gunner/radio operator were in the hull, with the commander/gunner and the loader in the turret.

The Vickers-derived running gear had two bogie trucks with eight pairs of small wheels on each side, using leaf-spring suspension. The tracks were conventional skeleton steel plate links, and were relatively narrow. Together, this system was thought to allow good mobility in the mountainous areas in which future combat was expected. In the desert where most M13s were actually employed, mobility was less satisfactory. The tank was powered by a 125 hp (93 kW) diesel engine. This was an innovation that many countries had yet to introduce, as diesel engines were the future for tanks, with lower cost, greater range and reduced danger of fire compared to petrol engines.

The tank's main armament was a 47 mm gun, a tank mounted version of the successful Cannone da 47/32 M35 anti-tank gun. It could pierce about 45 mm of armour at 500 m (550 yd); this was sufficient to penetrate the British light and cruiser tanks it would face in combat, though not the heavier infantry tanks. One hundred and four rounds of mixed armour-piercing and high explosive ammunition were carried. The M13 was also armed with three or four machine-guns: one coaxially with the main gun and two in the forward, frontal ball mount. A fourth machine gun was sometimes carried in a flexible mount on the turret roof for anti-aircraft use. Two periscopes were available for the gunner and commander, and a Magneti Marelli RF1CA radio was also fitted as standard equipment.

First actions

The first of over 700 M13/40s were delivered following a rate of production of about 60–70 a month, before the fall of 1940. They were sent to North Africa to fight the British; however, most units were hastily formed (and thus lacked cohesion), the tanks had not been fitted with radios (giving them a serious tactical disadvantage even against inferior enemies) and their crews had almost no training (in 1940 the crews were given 25 days of actual tank training and then sent to the front). The baptism of fire came with a special unit, the Babini Brigade.[citation needed] Arriving too late to fight in the September offensive, this unit was ready the next December, for a major British offensive operation. Further action took place in Derna, where the V battalion had just arrived. Tanks of III battalion were also present near this position, at the battle of Bardia. In two days of fighting (January 3–4, 1941), the Australians suffered 456 casualties while the Italians lost 45,000 men captured. On February 6–7, the British offensive penetrated so far that the Babini Brigade sought to open a breach in the British lines at Beda Fomm in an effort to allow cut-off Italian troops to retreat along the Libyan coast. The brigade's action was unsuccessful and all 20 of their tanks were lost. The last six surviving tanks entered a field near the local British command post. They were destroyed one after another by a single 2-pdr (40 mm) anti-tank gun. Many tanks were lost in this campaign to artillery fire rather than other tanks.[citation needed] A number of captured M11 and M13s were re-used by the Australian 2/6th Cavalry Regiment and the 6th Royal Tank Regiment, until the spring of 1941, when their fuel ran out and they were destroyed.

The M13s also fought in Greece, in difficult terrain. Subsequently, in April 1941, M13s of the Ariete division took part in the Siege of Tobruk, with little success against British Matildas. The first successful action for the M13 was the Battle of Bir-el Gobi.

Later use in the desert war

In April 1941, at the time of the arrival of the Afrika Korps, the Italians had around 240 M13 and M14 tanks in first-line service. In 1942, as the Allies began deploying Grants and Crusader IIIs, along with towed 6 pounder anti-tank guns in their infantry units, the weaknesses of the M13 were exposed. In an attempt to improve protection, many crews piled sandbags or extra track links on the outside of their tanks, but this made the already-underpowered vehicles even slower and increased maintenance requirements; such practice, while popular, was discouraged by the commanders for the same reason. The Italians equipped at least one company in each tank battalion with more heavily armed Semovente 75/18 assault guns.

The Second Battle of El Alamein saw the first appearance of the M4 Sherman, while some 230 M13s were still in front line service. In several days of battle, the Ariete and Littorio divisions were used to cover the Axis retreat. The Centauro Division was virtually destroyed fighting in Tunisia. By then, the M13/40 and the M14/41 were completely surpassed, and their armament was all but useless against the enemy's M3 Lee and M4 Sherman medium tanks at all but point-blank range (however, both could easily destroy an M13/40 from a distance); they resorted to firing at the suspensions and the tracks, and to rely on fire support by the Semoventi and artillery.

Type Medium tank
Place of origin  Italy
Service history
In service 8 July 1940 – c. 1943
Used by  Italy
 United Kingdom
 Nazi Germany
Wars World War II
Production history
Designer Fiat
Designed 26 October 1939
Produced 1 January 1940 – c. 1941
Variants M14/41, M15/42
Weight 13.5 t (13.3 long tons)
Length 4.9 m (16 ft 0.9 in)
Width 2.2 m (7 ft 2.6 in)
Height 2.39 m (7 ft 10.1 in)
Crew 4
Armour 42 mm or 0.2–1.7 inches
47 mm Cannone da 47/32 M35
104 shells
3–4 × 8 mm Breda machine guns
Engine Fiat V8 diesel SPA 8 TM
125 hp
Power/weight 8.92 horsepower per ton
Suspension Leaf spring bogies
200 km (120 mi)
Speed 32 km/h (20 mph) (road speed)

End notes