Carro Armato P43. Mussolini’s forgotten secret weapon

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Carro Armato P43 specifications

Weight: 30 tons

Maximum speed: 40 km/h(25 mph)

Frontal armor: 80-100 mm

Side armor: 50 mm

Main gun: 90 mm(3.5 in) Cannone da 90/53

Length: 8.16 meters(26 feet 9 in)

Width : 3.04 meters(10 feet)

Height: 2.24 meters(7 feet, 4 inches)

Crew members: 5

Carro Armato P43(shortened P43) was a proposed Italian heavy tank during World War 2, unfortunately for Mussolini and the Italian Army, the project didn’t get past the planning stage, although the works on it started at the same time with the P26/40 medium tank model.

What would’ve happened if the P43 did manage to get into mass production earlier? Did this Italian “heavy tank” could’ve had any significant impact on the course of the war? Mussolini wonder weapon or not?

I. Historical context

Carro Armato P43 wooden prototype

In 1938 the Italian army called for the modernization of their tank units with heavy tanks.

In October 1940, Il Duce approved the starting of the development of the first classified Italian tank: the Carro Armato P 40. However, during later developments of this project, the Italians discovered that it wasn’t enough to compete with the other superior tanks of the time. The solution found by them was to start the designing of a better version of the P40, which would be later known as Carro Armato P43.

In documents, the development of the Carro Armato P43 began in late 1942, when the tide of war in Africa turned against the Axis Forces.

Unfortunately for Benito Mussolini and Fascist Italy, the development of this project started too late and it never get past the wooden prototype designs phase.

II. Technical specifications and development

The P43 or in some documents P 30/43 was jointly developed by the big Italian industrial manufacturers FIAT and Ansaldo at the same time with the P26/40 medium tank.

Unlike the P40, which only had an engine of 330 hp, the P43 would’ve been equipped with a more powerful 420 hp engine for better mobility.

In the initial versions from the planning phase, the caliber of the gun for the P43 remained unchanged(same as the P40 – 75/43 mm cannon).

Most probably after studying the abilities of the superior Panther tanks and captured T-34 tanks by the Germans, the Italians decided to slightly modify the project.

While still in the design phase, proposals for replacing the 75/34 mm cannon with other guns started to appear. The best candidates were the 90/42 gun which represented a modified weapon from an anti-aircraft gun: Cannone 90/53 and the heavier 105/23 gun which was used on the Semovente self-propelled guns.

Apparently, the Italian engineers realized that the P43 only with 75/34 mm gun would have inferior fighting capabilities in comparison to other armored vehicles, like the Panther tank from their German Allies.

The Cannone 90/53.was an Italian artillery gun that could’ve been used for both anti-air and anti-tank purposes.

So like the Germans who mounted the 88 mm gun on the Tiger tanks, the Italians considered that mounting the Cannone 90/53 would improve their capabilities in combat.

The Cannone 90/53 proved during the field tests to be capable to pierce with AP shells 140 mm of armor at a distance of 500 meters and 120 mm at 1000 meters so we can expect that similar performances would’ve been achieved on the newly created P43 tank.

This would’ve represented a significant improvement from the P40 gun capabilities, the 75/34 gun from the P40 medium tank could’ve only penetrated 70 mm of armor at 500 meters.

The hull armor of the first Sherman M4 variants was only 50.08 mm(2.00 in) thick, which angled gave protection of 90 mm.

If the Italians could’ve deployed the P43 in combat, its gun would’ve been a real threat for the American armored units.

III. P40 vs Carro Armato P43 vs Panzer IV Ausf G – military comparison

SpecificationsCarro Armato P40Carro Armato P43Panzer IV Ausf G
Weight26 tonnes30 tonnes23.5 tonnes
Maximum speed40 km/h40 km/h40 km/h
EngineV-12 Spa 342 diesel, 330 hp420hp eight-cylinder SPA engine on the first version Maybach HL120TRM
Frontal armor50-60 mm80-100 mm50-80 mm
Side armor45 mm50 mmOne 7.5cm KwK40 L/43 or L/48
Main gun75 mm L/34 gun90/42 gun 
Penetration capabilities   
Length5.80 m8.16 m6.62 m
Width2.80 m3.04 m2.88 m
Height2.50 m2.24m2.68 m
Crew members455
Numbers produces1 before the Italian surrenderOnly wooden prototypes, never into production1687 units

 IV. Planned production and impact on P40 production
FIAT-Ansaldo Carro Armato P43 bis

The Italian army and authorities ordered 150 units of P43 heavy tanks to be produced before June 1944, while at the same time the number of P40 tanks was reduced from 1200 to only 500 units because the P40 tank was considered to be obsolete.

Sources:

Cesare Falessi&Benedetto Pafi, Veicoli da combattimento dell’escercito italiano dal 1939 al 1945, Intyrama Books.

Nicola Pignato, Italian armored vehicles of World War 2, Squadron signal publications.

Filippo Cappellano & Pier Paolo Battistelli, Italian Medium Tanks 1939–45, Osprey Publishing.

Ralph A. Riccio, Nicola Pignato, Marcello Calzolari; Carri Armati e Veicoli da Combattimento Italiani della Seconda Guerra Mondiale.

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