P 40 Heavy Tank

The P 40 was the only heavy tank to be produced in Italy during the Second World War and would have been the best tank to be used by the Italian Army if more than one had been completed before the Italian armistice of September 1943.

The 1938 armoured troop regulations for the Italian Army had included a role for heavy tanks, but development didn’t get underway until 1940. A first mock-up, of a 26ton heavy tank with a 75mm gun, 20mm cannon, a 330hp engine and 40mm of frontal armour was ready by December 1940 but after that development slowed down. The engine took most of 1941 to develop, while experience of armoured warfare in North Africa and then in the Soviet Union forced a number of modifications. Frontal armour had to be increased to cope with the increasing power of Allied guns. The gun to be installed changed from the 75/18 to the longer 75/32 and eventually the Ansaldo 75/34, which had a higher muzzle velocity and thus a lower trajectory and increased accuracy. The appearance of the T-34 also caused delays as the designers examined the Soviet tank and decided to use sloped armour in places.  The 20mm cannon of the early design was replaced with a co-axial 8mm Breda machine gun.

The P 40 had similar suspension to the Italian M 13 and M 15 medium tanks, with a raised drive wheel at the front, idler wheel at the rear and eight pairs of road wheels on each side, carried on two bogies. The angular turret was mounted towards the front of the superstructure.

Five hundred P 40 heavy tanks were ordered on 22 April 1942, and in October that order was increased to one for 579 vehicles. The first tanks were to be delivered in August 1943 and the first heavy tank battalion was to be formed in the same month. These ambitious plans didn't come to pass. According to Ansaldo's own records only one P 40 was completed before the Italian Armistice of September 1943. Twenty three had been built by the end of 1943 although only 22 of these had engines. Seventy seven were built during 1944, of which 48 had engines. These tanks were taken over by the Germans and used in Italy.

Three companies were equipped with the P 40, two Schutzpolizei (Protection Police) companies and one in Waffen-SS Grenadier Brigade 24. In both organisations the P 40 was used for anti-partisan operations in northern Italy and they don't appear to have been involved in any clashes with Allied armour. The P 40 was similar in capacity to the M4 Sherman, but was produced too late and in tiny numbers and had no impact on the course of the Second World War. 

Weight: 26 tons/ 58,267lb
Crew: 4
Armament: 75mm Ansaldo L/34 gun main gun plus one 8mm machine gun
Engine: 330hp SPA eight-cylinder liquid-cooled inline engine
Top Speed: 26 mph
Armour: 14-50mm
Length: 19ft 0.4in
Width: 9ft 2.2in
Height: 8ft 2.4in

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (18 May 2012), P 40 Heavy Tank , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_P_40_heavy_tank.html

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