Carro Armato L6/40 (Fiat-Ansaldo)
In 1937 it was realised that the L3/35 tankette was obsolete, though factories were still producing them. By September a prototype for a new light tank was in development.
The Italian Army initially rejected the new design as too heavy, despite it being a mere 6-tons, because they wanted a tank for deployment in mountainous areas.
Fiat-Ansaldo then made attempts to find a foreign buyer, but by early 1940 Italy’s involvement in the war led to the adoption of the new light tank. Over 450 vehicles were ordered, and it was christened the L6/40. The first deliveries took place in spring 1941.
The tank was armed with the 20mm Breda modello 35 anti-aircraft cannon. It was lightly armoured, though the quality of its armour plate often proved superior to the larger and heavier M13/40.
It had 30mm for the hull front, 40mm for the turret front and gun mantlet.
It had a crew of two, the driver positioned in the hull, while the commander was stationed in the turret. The commander manned the gun and rotated the turret by hand. The commander was relatively overworked commanding the tank and working the gun. 583 L6/40s were initially ordered, but this was reduced to 444. By April 1943 400 had been delivered.
The L6/40 was first used in action for reconnaissance in late 1941. First formation to use the tank in significant numbers was the III Raggruppamento of the Lancieri di Novara, which was sent to North Africa as the armoured force of Littorio Armoured division in spring 1942.
The L6/40 was used for reconnaissance in North Africa, Russia and Sicily. Some were used in Yugoslavia against partisans.
Vehicles were issued to Bersaglieri and cavalry units and used to support infantry as well as for reconnaissance. When facing enemy tanks the L6/40 was often found wanting, though used against infantry it 20mm and co-ax machine-gun could be devastating. They were often found in cavalry reconnaissance and were used in conjunction with the AB41 armoured car.
55 L6/40 light tanks were sent to Russia with the LXVII Armoured Bersaglieri Battalion (3a Celere Division). In Africa they served with III Raggruppamento of the Lancieri di Novara up to El Alamein, and with the XV Cavalleggeri di Logi (131a Divisione Corazzata Centauo) in Tunisia.