Five little-known tanks of the Second World War. Part of 5. Italian Thirty-Four P26 / 40
The full name of the tank Carro Armato Pesante P26 / 40 - according to the Italian classification, it was considered heavy, but by weight it was an average tank. P stands for Pesante - heavy, 26 - tank mass, 40 - the year the development began - 1940. The creation of the P26 / 40 tank by the Italian designers began at the end of 1940, when the command of the Italian armored forces formulated technical requirements for a new type of tank, which was to receive more powerful armor and armor. Although the work began in the 1940 year, they moved with varying success, which delayed the adoption of the tank.
Launched in 1940 in Italy, the program to create a new medium-sized tank meant the development of a more advanced combat vehicle, which was supposed to surpass the recently adopted "Support Tank" М11 / 39. In this case, the designers of Ansaldo decided to follow the path of least resistance, using the existing undercarriage to house the new building and the turret with weapons. Built in 1940, the M13 / 40 prototype did not fully suit the representatives of the High Command of the Italian Army (Commando Supremo). In their opinion, the maximum booking in the 42 mm and 47-mm gun was not a sufficiently adequate response to the mass appearance on the battlefields of British tanks Matilda II and the first American tanks M3. The Italian military was interested in a more powerful tank.
As a result, work began on the project, which received the designation РХNUMX. As in the case of the M26 / 13, a standard undercarriage was chosen for this project, but the hull and turret began to be developed anew. According to the technical requirements, the combat weight of the tank was limited to approximately 40 tons, and the 25-mm gun was supposed to be used as the main armament.
In the fall of 1941, when the Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia (CSIR) was already in the USSR, the Italians became acquainted with the design and features of the Soviet medium tank T-34, which made a strong impression on them, this familiarity gave Italian designers new food for thought. They paid the main attention to the rational angles of armor of the Soviet Thirty-Four, this solution was lacking not only Italian but also German tanks at that time. In addition, their genuine interest caused a diesel engine B-2. As in the case of the Germans, the Italians at first were going to even launch the release of a completely similar T-34 tank, but then they stopped on a domestic project, in which they decided to use some of the design features of the thirty-four.
At the end of 1941, the layout of the future P26 tank was shown to representatives of the Italian General Staff. Outwardly, he still very much resembled other Italian medium tanks, differing from them mainly by the front hull sheets, which were installed at a significant angle of inclination and a more squat tower. The military demanded that the industry modify the project and ensure the installation of a diesel engine, similar to the Soviet one. The complexity of the situation was that at that time there was simply no tank diesel or gasoline engine with more than 300 hp in Italy. Works on a new hp 420 diesel engine. just started.
The first prototype of the new tank was ready at the start of the 1942 of the year. 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 a change of weapons. So the first prototype was armed with a short-barreled 75-mm cannon with a barrel of all 18 calibers, the second received an 75 / 32 cannon, and the fourth received a modified hull and turret and a new gun, this time an 75-cannon with an 34-barrel caliber.
New tank retained chassis from the project M13 / 40. Applied to each board, it consisted of 8 dual support rollers with a rubber band that were interlocked with each other in an 4 trolley. Each pair of such carriages was assembled into a single unit with a total depreciation on lamellar springs. This suspension system for the 26-tonne combat vehicle was already quite archaic, but at the same time recognized by the Italians as an acceptable solution. The remaining undercarriage elements also included an 4 skating rink onboard, front driving wheels and rear guide wheels.
The body of the new Italian tank remotely resembled the Soviet T-34 with its design, especially the similarity was noticeable in the frontal part. The upper frontal part was installed at a large angle of inclination, it housed a rectangular hatch of the driver, but the sides of the hull were installed at small angles. In terms of the booking thickness, the P26 / 40 tank almost completely repeated the T-34, the booking of the hull's forehead was 50 mm, the sides and the stern were 40 m, the booking of the tower's forehead was 60 mm, the sides and the stern 45 mm. The weakest reservations were the bottom and the roof of the hull - 14 mm. If shaping the appearance, the Italians really tried to take into account the influence of the Soviet tank, they obviously borrowed the layout from the Germans, placing the transmission and control compartment in the bow. In general, the layout was classic with the location of the crew compartment in the middle of the tank, and the engine compartment in the stern. Due to the fact that the 420-strong diesel engine was not ready by the target date, the 12-cylinder diesel engine SPA 342, which developed the maximum power of the 330 hp, was installed on the tank. at 2100 rpm. The crew of the tank consisted of four people: the commander of the combat vehicle (also served as a gunner), charging, driver and radio operator. The radio station RF 1 CA was placed on the tank.
Fast enough, the Italian designers abandoned the short-barreled 75-mm gun, replacing it with a more advanced gun with an 34 barrel caliber. Exactly the same artillery system was placed by them on self-propelled guns Semovente da 75 / 34, this installation perfectly manifested itself during the battles in the deserts of North Africa. In this case, the rate of fire of the new weapon reached the 6-8 rounds per minute, and the armor-piercing projectile fired from the cannon developed the speed 620 m / s. The penetrating ability of this gun was similar to the Soviet F-34 tank gun or the gun of the American Sherman tank of the 1942 of the year. The additional armament was represented by two 8-mm Breda 38 machine guns, one of which could be placed on the turret and used as anti-aircraft.
Presented in July 1942, a prototype tank test, known as the Carro Pesante P.40 or P26 / 40, was already slightly different 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 a counter-booking with rational inclination of armor plates, good armament by Italian standards, and good, modern observation devices. However, the Italian army could not help the new tank. Serial production of the tank was deployed only in the spring 1943 of the year and went very slowly. By that time, Italy had already lost all of its colonies in North Africa, where the main tanker on the battlefields was the American M4 Sherman tank, which, in terms of booking thickness, was superior to all Italian, not only serial, but also experienced tanks. However, Ansaldo simply did not have any special options at that time, P26 / 40 was still put into mass production, because otherwise the Italian armed forces risked remaining completely without new combat equipment.
In its class, the new Italian tank P26 / 40 was similar to the Soviet “thirty-four” and the German tank Pz.IV. But at the same time, it was significantly inferior to both tanks, primarily its suspension, which was built on the archaic suspension by that time, as well as the riveted hull armor. But even despite these shortcomings in comparison with other models of Italian-made serial tanks, this was a significant step forward. According to its main characteristics - security, firepower, mobility, it could be compared with foreign analogues, but adjusted for the use of outdated solutions. In addition, the Italian designers made the tank turret double, in such a situation the commander of the combat vehicle also performed the functions of a gunner, and this reduced the combat capabilities of the entire tank, the lack of a commander's turret was also a problem. The reliability of the selected diesel engine also raised questions.
In total, a little more than 1943 tanks of this type were produced from 1945 to 100 in Italy in the year, it is considered that up to 103 units. At the same time, some of them, and quite substantial, did not even receive engines, but such combat vehicles also found use. Serial production of tanks started in the spring of 1943, but by the time Italy’s surrender in September 1943, none of the tanks had left the factory walls. As a result, the Germans seized 5 pre-production vehicles at the plant, as well as the order of 200 kits for the production of serial tanks. At a meeting of 23 in September of 1943, the meeting with Hitler, which discussed the fate of the captured Italian equipment, it was noted that the P26 / 40 tank had better reservations, but its weapon would not be effective enough to fight modern Allied tanks. Despite this, it was decided to adopt the tank, its unhurried release continued until March of the 1945 year.
The largest exploiter of the Italian pseudo-heavy tanks was the 24 Army Corps-Jäger Brigade SS Karstjager, which received the 20 or 22 of the P26 / 40 tank in October 1944 of the year. They managed to form a full-fledged tank company, the Germans used these fighting vehicles against the Yugoslav army in the Balkans, as well as against the Italian partisans in northern Italy. At the beginning of May 1945, this company was fighting in the Tarvisio passage, where it lost two tanks. After the surrender of the German army, all the tanks remaining in the ranks were simply thrown on the road near the village of Villach in Austria.
In the middle of November, 1944 of the year, 13 tanks of this type replenished the 15 police tank company. These tanks were used by the Germans in the north-west of Italy. At the end of the war, the company surrendered to the Italian partisans, the tanks remained in Novara. In December, the 1944, the 15 tanks P26 / 40 received the 10-I police tank company, which was stationed in Verona. At the end of April 1945, this company surrendered to the Americans near Bolzano.
Around 40 tanks, which did not receive the engines, the Germans used as fixed firing points. Such improvised pillboxes were located on the Anzio River, as well as on the Gothic defense line in northern Italy. As Italian researchers noted, German troops used Italian P26 / 40 tanks mainly in secondary military units that operated against the partisans. This was largely due to the diesel engine of the tank and supply difficulties (all German tanks had gasoline engines), technical imperfections, maintenance difficulties, modest reservations and weapons, the lack of a commander's turret. 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 World War II.
Tactical and technical characteristics of Carro Armato Pesante P26 / 40:
Overall dimensions: body length - 5800 mm, width - 2800 mm, height - 2500 mm.
Combat weight - 26 tons.
The power plant - 12-cylinder diesel engine SPA 342 with HP 330 power.
The maximum speed is up to 40 km / h (on the highway), up to 25 km / h over rough terrain.
Power reserve - 280 km (on the highway).
Armament - Ansaldo L / 75 34-mm gun and 2x8-mm Breda 38 machine gun.
Ammunition - 74 projectile.
Crew - 4 person.
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