Heavy Tank – 2 built
The first Italian tank
The FIAT 2000 was the first Italian tank. Already being developed in 1916, it was presented on 21 June 1917 as a mock-up to a military commission and became operational in 1918. At first, the government approached the Allies asking for tanks to be supplied directly. However, this never came to fruition, as tanks were already in short supply on the western front. The army turned to FIAT to produce a local design. The result was a 40-ton monster, which is considered the heaviest tank of the First World War.
Fiat 2000 Prototype Tank trials 1918 (photographer unknown)
A bit like the German designs of the same era, which were no more than armored boxes on tracks, the FIAT 2000 separated the engine and drivetrain completely from the crew, thanks to a vertical compartmentalization (and not horizontal like British and French designs). This choice made the vehicle more comfortable for the crew, but much higher and heavier.
This “armoured box”, dotted with machine guns and firing ports, plus a turret on top, was not perfectly symmetrical, as the driver was located in a protruding central “cabin” at the front, which was given a large armored shutter and a periscope.
The 6 forward and 2 reverse gearbox and low range transmission were installed directly under him, and it was transversal in order to save space. The engine was located in the rear section, but the choice was innovative: A powerful but compact FIAT Aviazione A12 engine, water-cooled, 6 cylinders, producing 240 hp.
Fiat 2000 Italian Army tank front view taken from a low angle which enhances the height of the tank. The soldier on the ground should be around head high with the top of the tracks. Total height to top of turret was 3.9 m (12ft 10 inches).
The radiator was installed behind with exhaust grilles on the wall. For its 40 tons, it gave 6 hp/t, which was enough for the FIAT 2000 to cruise at infantry pace on even ground. The top speed was 7 km/h (4.3 mph) for a 75 km operational range (47 miles), thanks to two gravity-feeding tanks with 600 l total capacity (160 US or 130 imperial gallons).
The drive-train comprised a mix of four two-wheels bogies on each side, two single track tender wheels, and a large front idler and rear drive sprocket. The tracks were made of heavy links, relatively narrow, and protruding both from the rear and front, allowing good grip on uneven terrain and avoiding overhang problems.
The bogies were suspended on robust leaf spring assemblies and the ground clearance was 40 cm (1 ft 4 in). Six 6.5 mm (0.25 in) FIAT-Revelli Model 1914 machine guns were located on barbettes, giving an excellent coverage of all angles. In addition to the main gunner, driver, six machine gunners and commander, there was also a loader/mechanic, raising the crew number to ten men.
The boxy hull had a sloped upper side section, sloped front and rear plates and a large hemispheric turret housing the 65 mm (2.55 in) compact fortress 65/17 howitzer. The gun had full 360° traverse and 10/+75° depression/elevation, allowing it to also provide fire support in mountainous areas.
The hull was assembled by riveting 15 to 20 mm (front) (0.59-0.79 in) thick hardened steel plates on a frame. There two access doors on each side, while the engine could be reached through doors in the floor of the fighting compartment, which was divided into two sections. The front one was tall enough to allow for a man to stand, while the rear one was stepped up because of the height of the aviation engine, and allowed only a kneel-down position. The turret was topped by a small “mushroom” type fume extractor.
All in all, and despite arriving too late in the war, the Fiat 2000 was an excellent tank with several innovative features, like the aviation engine, full compartmentalization, driver’s periscope, well-balanced tracks, not too heavy, but efficient for cross-country performances, good protection and consistent firepower. But, above all, it was the second to feature a turret, after the Renault FT, and the first to feature a two-man turret, roomy enough for a gunner and loader to stand inside.
The rear section was modified to increase protection, with the ventilator relocated to the roof and the machine gun positions swapped to two on each side, three at the rear and two in front. The order of 50 was cancelled and the two prototypes were briefly displayed for their propaganda value.
They were later sent to Libya to fight guerrilla forces, in the very first Italian tank unit, the 1° Batteria autonoma carri d’assalto completed by several FT tanks purchased from France. It did well, although penalized by its average speed of 4 km/h (3 mph) cross country against fast and mobile horse-mounted guerrillas.
After the pacification, one remained in Tripoli, while the other was sent back in Italy and displayed in front of the King at the Stadium in Rome in 1919, performing field trials with success. It however failed to convince the general staff and there were no more heavy tank produced by Italy before 1942 and the Carro Armato Pesante P26/40.
The tank that returned to Italy was displayed again in the Forte Tiburtino, and at Campo Dux parade in 1934, repainted and given two 37/40 mm (1.46 in) modern guns at the rear. It was later converted as a monument in Bologna. Its fate and that of the one left in Tripoli are unknown.
FIAT 2000 specifications
|Dimensions||7.4m x 3.1m x 3.9m
(24’3″ x 10’2″ x 12’10” ft.inches)
|Total weight, battle ready||40 tons|
|Crew||10 (commander, driver, gunner, loader, 6 machine gunners)|
|Propulsion||Fiat Aviazione A.12 wc, 6-cylinder, petrol, 240 hp, 6 hp/t|
|Suspension||2×4 leaf spring bogies|
|Speed (road)||7 km/h (4.5 mph)|
|Range||75 km (47 mi)|
|Armament||65 mm (2.55 in) howitzer
6 x 6.5 mm (0.25 in) FIAT-Revelli M1914 machine-guns
|Armor||15 mm sides to 20 mm front (0.6-0.8 in)|
|Total production||2 in 1918|
The FIAT 2000 in camouflage in service in Libya, 1919.
Fiat 2000 tank being put through its paces in front of an audience. The Fiat company name is painted on the front and sides of the tank. (photographer unknown)
The rear of the Fiat 2000 tank was as heavily armed as the front of the tank. (photographer unknown)
The driver sat in the middle of the vehicle at the front in an armoured compartment. (photographer unknown)
The Fiat 2000 tank did see operational service. The Italian Army used it to intimidate the locals in Libya and used in parades in Italy to impress the population. (photographer unknown)
Libyan Colonel Gaddafi issued some commemorative stamps showing the Fiat 2000 taking part in the battle of El-Tangi and Bir Tagreft