mercoledì 1 ottobre 2014

Designing an Italian tank tree for WOT: Part 2 - Completing the tree using licensed foreign components and designs

Disclaimer: the contents of this article are highly speculative and while the discussed components are historical there is no proof of actual plans for tank usage.

In part 1 we discussed the historical WWII Italian tank development, however this leads us to a limited tree, covering roughly half of the needed tanks for a proper WOT tree.
This of course is due to the fact that the Italian industry planned its designs only on what it could be produced with minimal investment and relatively in short time.

This does not mean that the Italian industry was technologically limited to what it produced but rather to the fact that the army was chronically short on funds as the navy and air force took the lion share of the defense budget, while the army had to rely on second hand research and often WWI vintage equipment.
Even the vaunted 90/53 was in fact a navy development adapted to land use (along with other guns like the 75/46), but this doesn't mean that advanced components weren't produced or at least reached prototype stage in Italy.

This article will explore production and prototype components used or planned in Italy during WWII, in addition to post war licensed vehicles modified by the Italian army.
The overall picture will define what tank development could have been had the army received more support and thus followed more aggressive licensing and development.

Tier I
(L) L5
Tier II (M) M13/40 (L) L6/40 (TD) CDR M12
Tier III (H) P 75 (M) M15/42 (TD) Semovente M41
Tier IV (H) P 26/40 (M) M16/43 Sahariano (TD) Semovente M43
Tier V (H) P43 (TD) Semovente 90/53
Tier VI (H) P43 Bis (TD) Semovente 120/44
Tier VII (M) M45/44

Tier VIII (M) M52/45

Tier IX Patton OTO

Tier X Leopard Centauro

Based on WWII license - speculative compotents
Post WWII license - historical components

The need for a sharper edge: technological licenses

Italian military industry developed strong foreign partnerships between late 19th century and early 20th, with partnerships such as Vickers-Terni and Armstrong, while after WWI smaller weapon licensing continued with Czech and Austrian partners.

During WWII technological collaboration with Germany was of course sought, with the most renown products being the licensed DB 600 series engines, which powered the best Italian airplanes of the war. Maybach engine licenses were given in early 1943, thus failing to make an impact.

In the tank field, Skoda T21 was evaluated, while production of Panzer III (for which Germans were ready to give 160% of resources for each tank made!) and especially the Panther was seriously taken in consideration and had war taken a lesser toll on the military-industrial complex it is extremely likely we would have seen localized versions of the Panther strolling in the battlefield, something that was seen favorably by the German high command:

Italian high command on the other side considered both local manufacturing of the tank and importing the parts for local assembly, projects stopped by the allied bombing campaigns and ultimately by the invasion of Italian soil.
Had the Panther been put in production, the Italian army would have had a tank able to carry its most powerful guns in a mobile and relatively well armored platform superior to even the P43, it's most advanced tank project.

Tier VII: M45/44

Fiat-Ansaldo received Panther plans in early 1943 and it's likely that production set-up would have made production start in 1944.
It should be noted that what Italy received in license was just the MAN plans and production data and not other components, as for example they had to separately license the engine:

This means that rather than setting up yet another production line it's extremely likely native components would have preferred.
Engine wise, other than the still in design 700 HP SPA 343 (which is likely an attempt to copy the MB HL 230) the only engines powerful enough to push such an heavy tank were airplane ones, precisely the Daimler Benz 600 series licensed copies.

This wouldn't be new to the Panther, as the German themselves discussed implementing the DB 601 derived MB 507 engine as measure to deal with shortages of Maybach engines.
The closest Italian relative would be the Alfa Romeo RA 1000 RC.41 engine, a slightly less powerful (due to lesser quality material, although sturdier) copy of DB 601.

Using the German conversion as indication, we could estimate that mounted on a tank this engine would deliver something around 750-780 HP, slightly better than the HL 230 in terms of sheer power but at the price of a much bigger engine.

On the firepower side, given that there is nothing on sources pointing out towards a Rheinmetall license we can easily speculate that the Panther would house Italy's most powerful AT gun in production, the 90mm L/53.
Again, a similar caliber was already proposed on Panther's turret, specifically the 88mm L/71:

Translated in World Of Tanks gameplay, the Italian Panther would be more agile (17,3 HP/ton VS 15,5), use a more powerful cannon but likely suffer on long range accuracy and armor penetration, changing the tank's role from that of a long range sniper to mobile medium range support.

Tier VIII: M52/45

Panther license also covered the Panther II plans, which in Germany didn't get beyond prototype stage and would likely merge with the E-50 project.

As Italy didn't have heavy tanks like the Tiger it's likely that the Panther II chassis would have been chosen to face soviet heavy tanks in 1945 and beyond.

To push such an heavy beast it's likely that an aero engine would have been chosen again instead of the HL 230 as Italian doctrine called for mobility (and they saw slower design such as the otherwise formidable KV as unpractical), again a DB 600 series copy.

The Fiat 1050 RC.58I was just coming out of prototype stage in 1943 and it was a pretty decent DB 605 copy, which after conversion would likely have given around 850 HP (for a pretty decent 16,3 HP/ton), just enough to perform properly on hilly terrain but still a good edge against IS tanks.

On the firepower side things are however a bit more complicated as the 90mm L/53 wouldn't cut it anymore against an IS-2 or IS-3 and a longer 90mm cannon was at best at the paper stage.
The 90mm L/71 or L/74 would have been perfect (although a bit heavy for the turret) but its development went beyond paper stage only after the war, while anything from the navy is simply too heavy and cumbersome for a turreted tank.

Looking at German proposals there is however one solution left that would still realistically fit inside a turret and powerful enough to scare heavy tanks: The sturmpanther.

Using such a short gun would mean accuracy going to hell, however no WWII tank would find a 15cm shell as something that armor could shrug off, barring perhaps super-heavy tanks such as the Maus.

A similar gun in army service was the Cannone da 149/13, a Czech artillery piece adopted by the Italian army and used both as short range artillery and anti tank gun thanks to specifically developed EPS (shaped charge) ammunition:

The gun was slightly heavier (and shot at higher MV) than the SIG 33 based STUH43, however still within turret ring capacity as it was lighter than the German 88mm L/71.

 In WOT terms we'd again have a tank poorly suited for long range sniping but able to deliver a devastating (but slow firing and inaccurate) punch at close ranges and with enough agility to evade punishment against unprepared heavy tanks.
While powerful however the design would suffer against enemy medium tanks as it lacks the speed to escape from them and the rate of fire to fight them off.

Tier IX: Patton OTO

In mid 1960s the Italian army sought to upgrade and modernize their M47 Patton fleet.
Several proposals were made, the most remarkable of which included using either M60 or Leopard I engines.
OTO Melara created a tank upgrade  using the Royal Ordnance L7 gun along with M60s Continental AVDS 1750 engine and several minor modifications to hull, electric systems and transmission.

Historically this tank (which was planned as "short term solution") could have served as a nice gap between American designs and the Leopard European tank, although it ultimately never reached production stage.

Tier X: Leopard Centauro 

Not much is known about this proposal, which entailed an automatic loading system for the L7 cannon on a Leopard I chassis, while the rest is assumed to stay pretty much identical.
This would have helped reducing crew requirements in a similar way as contemporary Soviet designs, although bringing with it the same disadvantages.

While not an unique tank in World of tanks, it would offer different play style from the original Leopard I.

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