The M 11-39 Medium Tank was the first in a series of medium tanks that provided the main equipment of the Italian Armoured Divisions during the Second World War, but the M 11 itself was outdated by 1940 and most were lost in the first British offensive in the Western Desert.
The design of the M 11 can be traced back to a Carro Armato 12 ton prototype of 1933. This was a turretless vehicle that carried its main gun in the hull. It was followed by a Carro Armato 8 ton tank of 1935-36. This carried a 37mm gun in the hull front and a machine gun in a small turret. This prototype appeared just at the right time, for in 1936 the standard Italian tank, the CV.35 (L 3-35 Light Tank) had proved to be inadequate during the fighting in the Spanish Civil War. The Italian army decided to order a heavier tank, and selected the 8 ton prototype as the basis of the new vehicle.
The new tank became the M 11-39 medium tank (signifying that it was an 11 ton tank that was accepted during 1939). It had a purpose built V8 diesel engine (SPA 8T eight-cylinder liquid cooled inline diesel). The 37mm Vickers-Terni L/40 main gun was carried in the right of the superstructure and had a 30 degrees range of movement. A small turret was mounted on the left of the superstructure and was armed with two 8mm Breda Model 38 machine guns. Armour ranged from 6mm to 30mm in thickness, but it was only designed to stop 20mm shells and would prove to be one of the tank's main weaknesses. The tracks were carried in a similar way to on other Italian tanks of the period with a rear idler wheel, raised drive wheel at the front and four bogies on each side. In this case each bogie carried eight wheels, mounted side-by-side in pairs, with two pairs to each bogie. These four-wheeled bogies were themselves mounted in pairs onto two larger bogies.
One hundred M 11-39s were ordered in 1938, to be constructed by Ansaldo and Fiat. A second order for fifty tanks was placed, but was cancelled late in 1939 and replaced with a much larger order for the M 13-40, which carried its main gun in the turret.
The M 11-39 had a very short combat career. The Ariete armoured division received its M 11s between the summer of 1939 and the spring of 1940, while two companies of M 11s were posted to East Africa. Both of these forces came up against the British. Two battalions of M 11s reached North Africa in July 1940, just after the Italian entry into the war. They took part in the Italian advance to Sidi Barrani, just inside the Egyptian border, but were destroyed during the first British offensive in North Africa late in 1940 (Operation Compass). A small number of M 11s were captured and used by the Australians early in 1941, at a time when British tanks were in short supply. The surviving M 11s were withdrawn from Italian service during 1941 and replaced with the M 13-40 and its successors. The tanks in East Africa did a little better, but they were all lost (partly due to mechanical wear) by the spring of 1941.
Weight: 11 tons
Armament: 37mm Vickers-Terni L/40 gun gun and two 8mm Breda Model 38 machine guns
Engine: 125hp SPA 8T eight-cylinder liquid cooled inline diesel
Top Speed: 21mph
Length: 16ft 0.9in
Width: 7ft 6.6in
Height: 7ft 6.6in