The L 3-33 Light Tank was the first in a series of three-ton light tanks that were still in Italian service during the Second World War. It was based on the British Carden Lloyd Mk VI, an open topped tankette. Italy purchased four of these tiny armoured vehicles in 1929 and then constructed a further 21-25 as the Carro Veloce 29 (fast tank 1929).
In 1931-32 Fiat and Ansaldo worked on an improved version of the CV.29. The prototypes were designated CV.3 (three ton fast tank). The second prototype was armed with a water cooled machine gun and had beam suspension. The third had an air cooled machine gun and scissors suspension.
The CV.29 had been an open-toped vehicle with armoured head covers for the driver and gunner. The CV.33 was a fully enclosed armoured vehicle, with the crew compartment in the rear and the machine gun mounted on the left. It had an adjustable rear idler wheel, two sprung bogie assembles and one unspring wheel. The drive sprocket was at the front and was raised well above the ground, so the top of the tracks sloped down to the rear idler. The vehicle was of riveted and bolted construction.
At first the vehicle was named the Carro Veloce 33 (Fast tank 1933), but in the late 1930s it was re-designated the L 3-33 (Light tank, 3 ton, 1933).
The Italian success in Ethiopia and their contribution to Franco's victory in the Spanish Civil War, served as splendid advertising for the CV.33 and CV.35 and they sold in large numbers overseas. The L 3 light tanks were used in Afghanistan (from 1936), Albania (1938-40), Austria (1935-9), Bolivia (1937-), Brazil (1938-1947), Bulgaria (1936-9), China (1936-9), Greece (captured from Italians, 1941), Hungary (1934-8), Iraq (1936-41) and Nationalist Spain (1936-9)
The first batch of production vehicles were armed with a single 6.5mm Fiat-Revelli Model 14 air-cooled machine gun. The second and later batches were given two 8mm Fiat Model 14/35 machine guns, carried in a single mounting. A third batch was ordered in October 1935, also armed with the two machine guns and at the same time the remaining vehicles from the first batch were modified to carry the same armament.
A flame thrower variant, the CV 33 Lf (Lanciafiamme) was introduced in the mid 1930s. One machine gun was replaced with a flame thrower capable of projecting a 131.2foot long flame for up to 2 minutes 15 seconds, although it was normally used in short bursts. The flame thrower variant was used in Ethiopia and against Yugoslav partisans during the Second World War. From 1940 a number were re-armed with a 20mm anti-tank gun or with a 12.7mm Breda-SAFAT heavy machine gun
A command tank version of the CV 33 that carried a radio was also produced, although the limited space inside the vehicle made operations difficult.
The L 3-33/ CV 33 saw combat during the Ethiopian campaign of 1935 and the Spanish Civil War. It was still an important part of the Italian armoured forces when Italy entered the Second World War on 10 June 1940 and saw limited action during the unsuccessful invasion of France. The Centauro armoured division used the L 3-33 during the invasion of Greece (from October 1940), although there were few clashes with Greek tanks. A number of L 3s were captured and used against the Italians. The L 3 saw combat against the British in North Africa, where its thin armour made it vulnerable. It was also used in small numbers by the Italian 8th Army, which served in Russia. This force was destroyed in late 1942-early 1943 during the Soviet counterattack around Stalingrad. By this point the L 3 series had been withdrawn from North Africa, but it remained in use for internal security and on anti-partisan operations.
Weight: 3.15 tons/ 7,055lb
Armament: One 6.5mm machine gun (early), twin 8mm machine guns (from 1935)
Engine: 43hp Fiat SPA CV3 four-cylinder liquid cooled inline petrol engine
Top speed: 26mph
Maximum Range: 87 miles
Length: 10ft 6in
Width: 4ft 7.1in
Height: 4ft 3.2in