P.26/40 – Italy’s finest Tank of WW2

Author: Vollketten (US forums)

Today, we have another guest article by Vollketten. Enjoy!

I’ve been running a thread with a suggested Italian tech tree on the NA forum for some time and have occasionally put out an article of the TOG and Matilda tanks so I thought I would share with the FTR record the details of what was Italy’s best tank to see service in WW2.

In December 1938 a heavy tank (a vehicle weighing over 20 tonnes) for the Royal Italian Army (Regio Esercito) was called for in Troop Regulations. It was envisaged to be armed with a 47mm gun of 32 calibers and two 8mm machine guns to work with the standard ‘M’ series tanks but to be of the 20 to 25 tonne range with a top speed of 32 kmh. Very quickly though it was apparent that the 47/32 gun wasn’t going to cut it as the main gun on this tank so by July 1940 new characteristics was chosen. It was to be increased in weight up to about 32 tonnes, maintain the same top speed but be armed with a 75mm gun with a coaxial 20mm cannon and either machine gun fixed in the hull and/or a secondary turret mounting machine guns.

In October 7th 1940 Marshal Graziani chief of staff publishes a note of Mussolini’s (From July 1940 demanding production of a 75mm gun armed tank with approval of this tank to weigh 28 tonnes on 7th August 1940) calling for the construction of 500 tanks armed with a gun of 75/18mm (or a 75/34 Ansaldo gun) and a coaxial 20mm Breda cannon. It was to have a 330hp Ansaldo diesel engine and a top speed of 40kmh. This prototype became known as the P.75.

The initial design (below) under the (then) Italian nomenclature of P.75 (P=’Pesante’ meaning Heavy and 75 being the gun calibre, later the number was to mean the design year) The designers appear to have been strongly influenced by the German Neubaufahrzeuge in the initial phase but later revised the design significantly.

Above a slightly revised P.75 with the large hull gun replaced and the rear turret removed has shortened the hull allowing for a single rear road wheel instead of a double wheel unit. Doing this allows for much better gun depression at the back of the vehicle.

However with the increases in armour and weight necessitating a larger engine this was reversed by the time of the later prototypes. The turret design however maintained a good degree of elevation and depression.

A wooden mock up was prepared by Ansaldo some time at the end of 1941:

But was already evolving in the P.40 we know in the form of the second prototype:

Before it could go into production though the prototype had to go through many modifications in particular to the rear of the hull and to the turret which was still at this time retaining the coaxial 20mm cannon. The initial plan to use a 330hp diesel engine was replaced with a petrol engine delivering 420hp. The Royal Italian Army Supreme Command however still favoured production under licence of the Panzer IV but eventually yielded to pressure and the first 500 P.40’s were ordered on the 22nd April 1942. This was increased to 579 in October.

Prototype mounting 75/18 (coaxial 20mm cannon has been abandoned)

Upgunned mounting 75/32

Testing of the armour took place in August 1942 and serial production was due to begin in November 1942 as it was officially adopted on 22nd November 1942. However delays from the SPA factories caused by allied bombing meant that production did not begin until May 1943 with an order for 1200 vehicles but by the time of the fall of Italy on the 8th September 1943 only 21 vehicles had been completed.

Production version P.40

The production version maintained the prototypes suspension system of four double wheeled suspensions units using semi-elliptical leaf springs. This system was common to many Italian tanks of the era and was found to be robust and reliable giving good cross country performance. Why reinvent the wheel right?

The transmission system gave 5 forward and a single reverse gear with two universal joints and the ratio 1:8.53. The braking system was actuated by compressed air and the turret was electrically rotated. (The Italians fielded one of if not the first tank to use an electrical turret traverse)

Fitted with episcopes for vision an internal intercom system and the Marelli RF1CA radio the vehicle was a sound design incorporating many of the lessons of the war up to that date. At some point consideration was given to the use of a Maybach HL-120 440 hp engine for the P.40 which would have given it a power to weight ratio of 16.9hp/tonne.

The armour of the P.40 was well sloped having clearly been inspired by the Italian lessons fighting against the Soviet T-34s in Russia with their own very outclassed 5 tonne light tanks. A captured T-34 had been shipped to Rome for study.


Length: 5.705m
Width: 2.750m
Height: 2.500m
Speed: 40 kmh
Ground pressure: 0.940kg.cm2


Pignato describes the armour as having been made from ‘special’ armour plates bolted to internal rigid steel plates with added angled bars strengthening the armor plated-floor. Which suggests a mix of high hardness armour plate fastened to softer metal underneath.

Front: 50mm at 70 degrees (rounded gun mantlet is an additional 50mm thick) So 100mm total.
Top: 20mm at 8 degrees
Sides: 45mm at 85 degrees
Rear: 45mm at 70 degrees
Upper Glacis: 58mm at 45 degrees
Lower Glacis: 30mm at 10 degrees
Nose: 45mm at 45 degrees
Lower front hull: 45 mm at 52 degrees
Upper Side: 45mm at 55 degrees
Lower Side: 40mm at 80 degrees
Rear hull: 40mm at 80 degrees
Rear Upper: 40mm at 80 degrees
Rear Lower: 40mm at 50 degrees

There was even a 16 wheel 4 axle heavy trailer 14 metres long which reached prototype stage for the haulage of this tank made by the firm of Viterbi:

At the same time that the P.40 was being developed though and partially as a result in delays in the production of a newer more powerful vehicle under the designation P.43 was already under development. This vehicle was to feature a 480hp engine and with frontal armour between 80 and 100mm thick, armed with a 90mm gun and weighing about 35 tonnes with a power to weigh ratio of 14hp/tonne.

The P.43 was due to be ready in October 1943 and an order for 150 copies had already been placed. A further improvement still was also under development known as the P.43 bis which was to feature a 105mm gun but due to Italy’s capitulation neither the P.43 nor the bis version ever came to be. But that is another story.

After the fall of Italy on 8th September 1943 the Germans continued the production of the P.40 at the Ansaldo works in Genoa producing another 101 vehicles although about of 40 of which were never fitted with engines and were relegated to either being buried as bunkers or having their turrets removed and used as part of defensive positions in Italy. A number of being fitted the German 7.5cm KwK 40 gun.

Above: P.26/40 (P.40) turret fitted with 7.5cm German KwK 40 and another fitted onto a concrete bunker. The second turret is noteable because it is all welded and fitted with a covers over the side vision port

Those which were operational were designated Panzerkampfwagen P40 737 (I). One was certainly sent to Kummersdorf for testing an inspection where it is believed to have formed a company with a Pz VI, A tiger II, two M4 Shermans, a Jagdpanzer VI Jagdtiger to engage advancing soviet forces in early April 1945.

Above: P26/40 on display at Kummersdorf proving grounds possibly October 1943.

Today surviving examples are on display at the Museo Storico della Motorizzazione Militare in Rome albeit with no engine and the School of Italian Cavalry in Lecce which is in running order. (Ironically this one has a 190hp diesel engine fitted to it reportedly giving it performance cross country comparable to that of a Leopard 1)

My old thread at: http://forum.worldoftanks.com/index.php?/topic/200193-italian-tanks/#top


Veicolo da Combattimento dell’esercito Italiano dal 1939 al 1945 by Falesi and Pafi
‘Beute-Kraftfahrzeuge und Panzer der Deutschen Wehrmacht’ by Walter Spielberger


Circular 7/873 / dated 22nd November 1942
Hitler’s Italian Allies:Royal Armed Forces, Fascist Regime, and the War of 1940–43 by MacGregor Knox
Italian Medium Tanks in Action by Nicola Pignato
Italian Armoured Vehicles of WW2 by Nicola Pignato
Italian Medium Tanks 1939-45 by Battistelli

71 thoughts on “P.26/40 – Italy’s finest Tank of WW2

    • Not a decoration but ridges pressed into the thin gauge steel to make it more stiff and stop it flexing and flapping about and to prevent it being bashed out of shape by debris thrown out of the tracks. The guards over the tracks on the Type have similar pressed features for the same reason.

      • Technical term would probably be “embossing”. Also used in scale armour since God knows when, both as a protection reinforcing measure and more relevantly to guard against the individual scales bending out of shape (a medial “rib” was another version of the theme).

        Corrugated sheet metal and corrugated fiberboard (you know, that brown packaging cardboard) make use of the same basic principles.

  1. Interesting read! Thx!
    I believe that “Neubelfarhzeuge” should be “Neubaufarhzeuge” (as in newly built vehicle)

  2. and im from germany…its called “Neubaufahrzeug” or “Nb.Fz.” not “Neubelfahrzeuge” seems to be a typo so no hurt feelings here :D

    • A better case can be made for it being a medium tank. While it was started as a heavy support tank, it was redesigned several times, culminating in the current version of the P.26/40, which was meant to be Italy’s main battle tank on with its contemporaries the T-34, M4 Sherman, and Pz.Kpfw. IV. Its successors, the P.43 and P.43bis are also compared to the Panther, and indeed there’s a picture showing such. As to his tree, what Vollketten is failing to mention about his tree is that his entire medium, heavy and SPG lines are dependent on foreign vehicles, and that his TD line is not only stretched out way ahead of where it should be, but is entirely dependent on fictional vehicles. Basically as soon as reality ends up anywhere near Vollketten’s Italian tech tree, the whole thing crumbles. For instance, his Tier 7 and 8 mediums, the Panther and M26 Pershing, actually weigh more than his Tier 7 and 8 heavies, the P.43 and P.43bis. His Tier 9 and 10 heavies, are the M48 and M60. one third of his SPG line are US arties, culminating in an Italian modified M109. His TD line has the Semovente M42L (or M43 as the Italians started a new designation) 105/25 as a Tier 8 TD and an entirely fictional vehicle as the Tier 10. The whole thing is a mess.

    • (on volkettons tree) we currently have the P26/40 at tier 6 medium. although recently we have found proof of a P26/40.bis effectly better armed, and armoured. we have that version on tier 6 heavy currently.

  3. So going by the armor and gun, this would probably be a tier 4 with the P.43 being tier 5?

  4. Is it just me or the suspension reminds me of Czechoslovakian LT 35 (Pz. 35 (t))?

            • youve just proved my point firstly thank you. and maybe you should stop reading propaganda…. it preformed to all of italies needs. italy had the blueprints to both the christie suspension and the Torsion Bar… tell me what they did? they ignored it

            • They got owned … even before Romania and Hungary and those other shitty collaborators.

            • They were in a somewhat exposed as well as *important* geostrategic position, whereas the Central European “Axis Minors” were functionally unreachable until the Red Army advanced far enough.
              Between Mussolini’s cock-eyed masterblasterplans and the blunt fact the industrial capacity plain wasn’t up to what was demanded of it no surprise they got kind of hammered.

    • Didn’t the Brits also use rather similar arrangements prewar? They stuck with the “Horstmann” external-bogie suspension long into the Cold War era, apparently considering the hull-space savings and ease of maintenance worth the price paid in speed. I do know that the Israelis used Shermans and Centurions in the Golan specifically because the bogie suspension tolerated the volcanic rubble terrain better than torsion bars (which tanks were conversely deployed on the Sinai front)…

  5. What propaganda Imperator? I’d honestly like to know how it performed to all of Italy’s needs when they only had a handful of them in service for a few months before the Armistice? But nice try justifying your idiotic speculation.

      • Which proves what exactly? Just because someone sticks with a faulty or less effective design doesn’t make it a good design. Way to sidestep my point and try changing the subject.

        • ?????”they only had a handful of them in service for a few months before the Armistice”

          as for propaganda most everything you know about italy in ww2 is propaganda of britian, bc they were pissed it took the entire allid force 4 years to take out 700000 italians and 300000 germans out of africa

          i did an essay on that i got a 98% and it was due to spelling and grammical mistakes.

          have a nice day

          • From Vollketten’s own article:

            “However delays from the SPA factories caused by allied bombing meant that production did not begin until May 1943 with an order for 1200 vehicles but by the time of the fall of Italy on the 8th September 1943 only 21 vehicles had been completed.”

            Please learn to read sometime. You’re worse than the damn Wehraboos at this point.

    • Stop being an idiot, L_I_B. When he’s talking about “meeting all of Italy’s needs” he’s talking about the SUSPENSION DESIGN, not the tank specifically. What the Italians desired of their tanks was ultimately dictated by their conditions – as with everybody – and if you know ANYTHING about the geography of the peninsula you should understand why they presumably tended to prioritise ability to survive and negotiate some pretty harsh terrain indeed over raw maximum speed.

      • He typed and I quote:

        “italy had the blueprints to both the christie suspension and the Torsion Bar… tell me what they did? they ignored it”

        This is completely false as the Sahariano used a torsion bar suspension. I think you need to learn how to read too.

        • Now you’re just splitting hairs and making mountains out of molehills. The Sahariano, as the name itself indicates, was a somewhat specialised project for the particular conditions of the North African theater. As well as rather newer – do recall that for their part the Germans didn’t actually start deploying tanks with torsion bars until about ’42.

          All *that* indicates is the Italian engineers had no qualms about picking the option they though best for the purpose from those available at the time. They certainly don’t seem to have regarded the Christie system as suited for their purposes, although this might be related ot the detail that by the time they started designing the kinds of tanks that would’ve benefited from it the design was getting rather long in the tooth.

          • So because I’m pointing out where he’s wrong, I’m making mountains out of molehills. He speculates randomly and wildly with blatantly false information, and that’s ok. Nice to meet another Italian Wehraboo.

          • Where you went off on a hyperbole was taking a sentence which should have included a suitable caveat and claiming it was “completely wrong”.
            Oh, and what I pointed out in the first place.
            Stop being so fucking wilfully literal.

  6. In German service they were mostly employed by the Police (Polizei-Panzer-Kompanie 10 & 25) and the 24. Wa.Geb.(Karstjäger)Div.d.SS of the Waffen-SS. They even fought other Italian tanks, as in late April 1945 a few P.26/40 of SS-Pz.Kp. 24 knocked out five former RSI tanks employed by partisans.

  7. On one of the pic you claimed the turret was armed with a german 7.5cm KwK 40, which is rather long with 43 or 48 caliber lengths, while the gun in the picture clearly is the 7.5cm KwK 37 L/24.

    • The T-127 was a light infantry tank; this was a heavy tank, which would usually imply a specialist “breakthrough reserve” role.

      Sure is similar concept. :|

      • Funny, as that specialist “breakthrough reserve” role as you put it is a far cry from what the P.26/40 became.

        • Not like the Char B1s got USED for it either, but that’s what they were concepted and designed for. Ditto the Tigers actually.

  8. “A number of being fitted the German 7.5cm KwK 40 gun. Those which were operational were designated Panzerkampfwagen P40 737 (I).”

    Premium German P40 tank anyone?

  9. the armour figures quoted above are slightly incorrect-apologies. turret roof is 8 degrees not 9, front glacis is 50 not 58.