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Two M11/39s (foreground) and an M13/40 captured by the Australians at Tobruk, January 1941
|Place of origin||Italy|
|In service||28 July 1939 - c. 1944.|
|Used by|| Italy
Italian Social Republic
Australia (After WW2)
|Wars||World War II|
|Produced||c. January–June 1939|
|Number built||100 (96 operational tanks, 4 prototypes)|
|Variants||M13/40, M14/41, M15/42|
|Weight||11,175 kg (24,640 lb)|
|Length||4.7 m (15 ft 5 in)|
|Width||2.2 m (7 ft 2.5 in)|
|Height||2.3 m (7 ft 6.5 in)|
|Crew||3 (commander/radio operator, loader/gunner, driver)|
|Armour||Front armour (30 mm)
Side armour (14.5 mm)
Top and floor armour (6 mm)
Rear armour (8 mm)
Turret armour (30 mm)
Turret top armour (6 mm)
|37 mm Vickers-Terni L/40
|2×8 mm Breda 38 machine gun
|Engine||Fiat SPA 8T V-8 diesel
|Suspension||Two 4 wheel bogies, semi-elliptic leaf spring|
|200 km (125 miles)|
|Speed||32.2 km/h (20 mph) road|
The Fiat-Ansaldo M11/39 was an Italian medium tank first produced prior to World War II. The M11/39 saw service in Africa and Italy (1939-1944). The official Italian designation was Carro Armato ("armoured vehicle") M11/39. The designation for the M11/39 is as follows: "M" for Medio (Italian: "medium"), followed by the weight in tonnes (11) and the year of adoption (1939).
The M11/39 was developed as a "breakthrough tank" (Carro di Rottura). The design of the M11/39 was influenced by the British Vickers 6-Ton. This influence is reflected particularly in the track and suspension design. A novelty of the design was the placement of the final reduction gears inside the front-mounted drive sprockets, eliminating the need for enlarged final drive housings in the bow armour.
The M11/39's career was cut short due to several weaknesses of its design. The most important was the placement of the main 37 mm armament in the hull. The 37 mm gun was in a fixed position with traverse restricted to 15° to port or starboard. The only other armament was the dual 8 mm machine guns in a rotating turret. While only one man operated the machine guns, the turret was small with manual controls.
The concept was to use the main gun against heavy targets and defend the tank against all-round threats with the turret armament. The layout was similar to the American Grant/Lee tanks, still to come in 1939. The original intent was to place the 37 mm /L40 armament in the turret, but there was insufficient space. A redesign of the M11/39, in order to mount the main gun in the turret, was commenced, finally resulting in the development of the M13/40. In the meantime an order for 100 M11s was placed.
In addition to the poor gun positioning, the M11/39 had other shortcomings: its endurance and performance were both poor, it was relatively slow, its mechanical reliability was very poor, and its 30 mm maximum riveted steel armour, designed to withstand only 20 mm fire, was vulnerable to British 2-pounder guns at any range at which the M11/39s main gun was useful.
All M11/39s were designed to carry a radio, but none of the production vehicles were so fitted. The M11/39 hull design, with modifications, was used in the development of the more successful Fiat M13/40.
Italy delivered 72 M11/39s to the North African Campaign, 24 to the East Africa Campaign and kept the first 4 prototypes in Italy. The M11 was a vast improvement compared to the 36 L3/33 and L3/35 tankettes stationed in East Africa.
The M11/39 proved somewhat successful in early encounters with British light tanks like the Mk VI. The 37 mm gun of the M11 acted as a deterrent against attacks by these relatively fast but thin-skinned vehicles armed only with machine guns. However, the M11/39 was outclassed by heavier British cruiser and infantry tanks such as the A9, A10, A13, and Matilda.
On 13 September 1940, M11s participated in the Italian invasion of Egypt. On 9 December 1940, M11s also operated defensively in the opening stages of the British counter-offensive, Operation Compass. When Operation Compass was launched, many of the M11/39s were damaged, broken, or immobilized inside some of the static Italian positions. The British used Matilda tanks to overrun many of the Italian positions and the M11s could do little against the heavy armour of the Matildas.
From 10 April 1941, during the siege of Tobruk, a few captured M11s were employed by the 6th Australian Division Cavalry Regiment over some months. They painted large white kangaroo symbols on the tanks to clearly identify them. The Australians used the captured M11s, together with several M13s, until they ran out of diesel fuel. The tanks were then destroyed to prevent re-use by advancing Axis forces in the spring of 1941.
In 1940, Italian East Africa received 24 M11/39s. In East Africa, the M11s fought as the only medium tank available to the Italians. On 3 August 1940, M11s participated in The Italian Invasion of British Somaliland. By January 1941, M11s were used on the defensive in Eritrea when the British launched their counter-offensive there. Unfortunately for the Italians, the British had a small number of Matilda tanks available to them during the Battle of Keren and this negated any value that the M11s may have added. By the end of May 1941, the Italian forces were defeated on the East African fronts where M11s were deployed. By November, organized Italian resistance in East Africa was over. There is no indication that captured M11s were re-used by the captors in East Africa.