Concluding the story about little-known tanks of World War II, it is worth talking about the Italian P26 / 40 tank, which was supposed to occupy the same niche in the Italian armed forces as the T-34 in the Red Army. The history of this tank is interesting at least because work on it began in 1940, but the tank went into mass production only in 1943, when the new Italian government had already decided to withdraw from World War II. As a result, the combat vehicle was released in a small series (no more than 100 tanks), but already by order of the German occupation forces and took part in battles with Anglo-American troops in Italy on the side of the Wehrmacht. The Germans adopted this tank under the designation Panzerkampfwagen P40 737 (i).
The full name of the tank is Carro Armato Pesante P26 / 40 - according to the Italian classification, it was considered heavy, but by mass it was a medium tank. P stands for Pesante - heavy, 26 - the mass of the tank, 40 - the year the development began - 1940. The Italian designers began to create the P26 / 40 tank at the end of 1940, when the command of the Italian armored forces formulated technical requirements for a new type of tank, which was supposed to get more powerful armor and armor. Although the work began in 1940, they advanced with varying degrees of success, which delayed the adoption of the tank into service.
Launched in 1940 in Italy, the program for creating a new medium-type tank implied the development of a more advanced combat vehicle, which was supposed to surpass the recently adopted M11 / 39 "support tank" in its characteristics. In this case, the designers of Ansaldo decided to follow the path of least resistance, using the existing undercarriage to accommodate the new hull and turret with weapons. The prototype M13 / 40, built in 1940, did not fully suit the representatives of the High Command of the Italian Army (Commando Supremo). In their opinion, the maximum armor of 42 mm and the 47-mm cannon were not an adequate response to the massive appearance on the battlefields of British Matilda II tanks and the first American M3 tanks. The Italian military was interested in a more powerful tank.
A prototype of the P26 / 40 tank in Germany, in the background a wooden model of the Jagdtiger
As a result, work began on the project, which received the designation P26. As in the case of the M13 / 40 tank, a standard undercarriage was chosen for this project, but the hull and turret began to be developed anew. According to the terms of reference, the combat weight of the tank was limited to about 25 tons; it was supposed to use a 75-mm gun as the main armament.
In the fall of 1941, when the Italian Expeditionary Force in Russia (CSIR) was already in the USSR, the Italians got acquainted with the design and features of the Soviet T-34 medium tank, which made a strong impression on them, this acquaintance gave Italian designers new food for thought. They paid the main attention to the rational angles of inclination of the armor of the Soviet "thirty-four", this solution at that time was not enough not only for Italian, but also for German tanks. In addition, their genuine interest was aroused by the V-2 diesel engine. As in the case of the Germans, the Italians were initially going to even start producing a completely similar T-34 tank, but then settled on a domestic project, in which they decided to use some of the design features of the thirty-four.
At the end of 1941, a mock-up of the future P26 tank was shown to representatives of the Italian General Staff. Outwardly, it still very much resembled other Italian medium tanks, differing from them mainly by the frontal hull plates, which were installed at a significant angle of inclination and a more squat turret. The military demanded that the industry finalize the project and, without fail, ensure the installation of a diesel engine, similar to the Soviet one. The difficulty of the situation was that at that time in Italy there simply did not exist either a tank diesel engine or a gasoline engine with a capacity of more than 300 hp. Work on a new 420 hp diesel engine. just started.
Tanks P26 / 40 inside the Ansaldo plant
The first prototype of the new tank was ready at the beginning of 1942. In the summer, he was already handed over for testing. The delay of almost two years was due to the lack of a suitable diesel engine and the change of weapons. So the first prototype was armed with a short-barreled 75-mm cannon with a barrel length of only 18 calibers, the second received a 75/32 cannon, and the fourth received a modified hull and turret and a new gun, this time a 75-mm cannon with a barrel length of 34 caliber.
The new tank retained the chassis of the M13 / 40 project. Applied to each side, it consisted of 8 double track rollers with a rubber band, which were interlocked with each other in 4 bogies. Each pair of such bogies was assembled into a single unit with general depreciation on leaf springs. This suspension system for a 26-ton combat vehicle was already quite archaic, but at the same time it was recognized by the Italians as an acceptable solution. The rest of the undercarriage elements also included 4 carrier rollers per side, front driving and rear idler wheels.
The hull of the new Italian tank vaguely resembled the Soviet thirty-four in its design, the similarity was especially noticeable in the frontal part. The upper frontal part was installed at a large angle of inclination, it housed a rectangular hatch for the driver, but the sides of the hull were installed at slight angles. In terms of armor thickness, the P26 / 40 tank almost completely repeated the T-34, armor of the hull's forehead - 50 mm, sides and stern - 40 m, armor of the turret's forehead - 60 mm, sides and stern - 45 mm. The bottom and the roof of the hull had the weakest armor - 14 mm. If, in shaping the appearance, the Italians really tried to take into account the influence of the Soviet tank, they clearly borrowed the layout from the Germans, placing the transmission and control compartment in the bow. In general, the layout was classic, with the fighting compartment in the middle of the tank and the engine compartment in the stern. Due to the fact that the 420-horsepower diesel engine was not ready by the target date, a 12-cylinder SPA 342 diesel engine had to be installed on the tank, which developed a maximum power of 330 hp. at 2100 rpm. The tank's crew consisted of four people: the commander of a combat vehicle (also served as a gunner), a loader, a driver and a radio operator. The tank was equipped with a radio station RF 1 CA.
Quite quickly, the Italian designers abandoned the short-barreled 75-mm cannon, replacing it with a more advanced gun with a barrel length of 34 caliber. Exactly the same artillery system was placed by them on the Semovente da 75/34 self-propelled gun, this installation proved to be excellent during the battles in the deserts of North Africa. At the same time, the rate of fire of the new gun reached 6-8 rounds per minute, and the armor-piercing projectile fired from the gun developed a speed of 620 m / s. The penetration of this gun was similar to that of the Soviet F-34 tank gun or the 1942 American Sherman tank gun. Additional armament was provided by two 8-mm Breda 38 machine guns, one of which could be placed on the turret and used as an anti-aircraft gun.
The prototype of the tank, presented in July 1942 for testing, known as the Carro Pesante P.40 or P26 / 40, already slightly differed from the production vehicles, despite the difference in details, the appearance of the tank did not change anymore. For the Italian tank building, this combat vehicle was a significant step forward: the tank received anti-cannon armor with rational slopes of armor plates, good armament by Italian standards and good, modern observation devices. However, the new tank could no longer help the Italian army. Serial production of the tank was launched only in the spring of 1943 and proceeded very slowly. By that time, Italy had already lost all its colonies in North Africa, where the American M4 Sherman tank became the main enemy on the battlefields, which, in terms of armor thickness, surpassed all Italian not only serial, but also experienced tanks. However, Ansaldo simply did not have any special options at that time, the P26 / 40 was still put into mass production, since otherwise the Italian armed forces risked being left completely without new military equipment.
In terms of its class, the new Italian P26 / 40 tank was similar to the Soviet thirty-four and the German Pz. IV tank. But at the same time it was significantly inferior to both tanks, primarily its chassis, which was built on an archaic suspension at that time, as well as riveted body armor. But even in spite of these shortcomings, compared to other models of Italian-made serial tanks, this was a significant step forward. In terms of its main characteristics - security, firepower, mobility, it could be compared with foreign counterparts, but adjusted for the use of outdated solutions. In addition, the Italian designers made the turret of the tank two-seater, in such a situation the commander of the combat vehicle also performed the functions of the gunner, and this reduced the combat capabilities of the entire tank, the lack of a commander's cupola was also a problem. The reliability of the diesel engine chosen was also questionable.
In total, from 1943 to 1945, a little more than 100 tanks of this type were produced in Italy, it is believed that up to 103 units. At the same time, some of them, and quite significant, did not even receive engines, but such combat vehicles also found application. Serial production of tanks started in the spring of 1943, but by the time Italy surrendered in September 1943, none of the tanks had left the factory walls. As a result, the Germans captured 5 pre-production vehicles at the plant, as well as about 200 sets for the production of serial tanks. At a meeting with Hitler held on September 23, 1943, at which the fate of the captured Italian equipment was discussed, it was noted that the P26 / 40 tank has the best armor, but its weapon will not be effective enough to combat modern Allied tanks. Despite this, it was decided to take the tank into service, its unhurried release continued until March 1945.
The largest exploiter of Italian pseudo-heavy tanks was the 24th SS Mountain Jaeger Brigade Karstjager, which received 20 or 22 P26 / 40 tanks in October 1944. Of these, it was possible to form a full-fledged tank company, these combat vehicles were used by the Germans against the Yugoslav army in the Balkans, as well as against the Italian partisans in northern Italy. In early May 1945, this company fought in the Tarvisio Pass, where it lost two tanks. After the surrender of the German army, all the remaining tanks in the ranks were simply abandoned on the road near the village of Villach in Austria.
In mid-November 1944, 13 tanks of this type were added to the 15th Police Tank Company. These tanks were used by the Germans in northwestern Italy. At the end of the war, the company surrendered to the Italian partisans, the tanks remained in Novara. In December 1944, 15 P26 / 40 tanks were received by the 10th Police Tank Company, which was stationed in Verona. At the end of April 1945, this company surrendered to the Americans near Bolzano.
Italian partisans on the armor of the P26 / 40 tank
About 40 tanks, which never received engines, were used by the Germans as fixed firing points. Such impromptu bunkers were located on the Anzio River, as well as on the Gothic line of defense in northern Italy. As Italian researchers noted, German troops used Italian P26 / 40 tanks mainly in secondary military formations that acted against the partisans. This was largely due to the tank's diesel engine and supply difficulties (all German tanks had gasoline engines), technical imperfections, difficulties with maintenance, modest armor and weapons, and the absence of a commander's cupola. Despite all of the above, the Carro Armato Pesante P26 / 40 was the most powerful tank that was designed and embodied in metal by the Italian defense industry during the Second World War.
The performance characteristics of the Carro Armato Pesante P26 / 40:
Overall dimensions: body length - 5800 mm, width - 2800 mm, height - 2500 mm.
Combat weight - 26 tons.
The power plant is a 12-cylinder diesel engine SPA 342 with a capacity of 330 hp.
The maximum speed is up to 40 km / h (on the highway), up to 25 km / h on rough terrain.
Cruising range - 280 km (on the highway).
Armament - 75 mm Ansaldo L / 34 cannon and 2x8 mm Breda 38 machine gun.
Ammunition - 74 shells.
Crew - 4 people.