So I’ve done a couple of Italian tank articles now and I haven’t done the most famous of all; the Fiat 2000. I also must thank Zarax too for his help with this one too.
Having witnessed the success of tanks in France in 1917 Italy set out about obtaining FT-17 and Schneider tanks from France. Fiat however perhaps sensing a lucrative contract in the offing had started designed a Special Assault Tank as early as August 1916 before any official Italian Government interest.
This design was finally ready in January 1918 in the form of the Fiat 2000.
Most sources agree that two examples (some say 6 but it could be a mistake just like the first edition of’Taschenbuch der Panzer’ mistakenly assumed 10 were produced) were built and accepted for service under the name Carro d’Assaulto Fiat 2000 M.17. Changes from the prototype were the use of a large and very distinctive domed turret.
Original specifications vary slightly from source to source (often due to conversions back and forth between Metric and Imperial units) but even so the vehicle is large. A mass of just under 40,000kg and a crew of 8 to 10. It’s possible that the original design using a hull with the mechanicals separate from the upper structure was to allow the hulls to be the basis of other vehicle types such as SPG’s.
Fiat spent a lot of money on these vehicles using the best quality armour available from the steel works at Terni using vanadium armour plate intended for Italian warships such as the ‘Christopher Columbus’ and was significantly more expensive than standard armour. The armour was made from standardised 20mm armour plate with 15mm armour plate for the roof.
The Fiat 2000 had an aviation engine in the form of the original Fiat A12 petrol engine producing 200 horsepower from 6 cylinders delivering 5hp/tonne and a top speed of 7.5kmh.
Large armoured skirts made from 20mm plate cover the 4 bogied suspension units on each side, although track chains were noted as being exposed to enemy fire as weakness.
On the issue of armament Major Bennicelli (the man responsible for bringing the Renault FT-17 to Italy) seems to have been pushing for a 75mm gun or 76mm.
Major Bennicelli being an artillery man was probably choosing the 75/27CK or similar type of gun he would have been familiar with. A later plan on 1st May 1918 planned to install an improved 77mm gun but in the end the chosen gun was the 65mm Mountain Howitzer with 8 machine guns.
One source states that a 14mm heavy machine gun was also either planned or fitted with the main gun but it cannot be verified photographically at this time.
A final improvement which was mulled was the installation of the improved A12 Fiat aviation engine which produced 240hp (some sources mentions 245-250hp) which would have improved performance to a little over 6hp/tonne.
When Italy however adopted the Renault tank design Fiat had these vehicles in hand and officially dropped production on 4th November 1918. This Renault design would be produced but under their own name ‘Fiat 3000’ and thus Fiat managed to very successfully hedge their bets and ensure they got the contract for manufacture of Italy’s early tank force. This kind of industrial machination would later plague Italian tank production but that’s for another time.
Italy in this period controlled modern day Libya having taken it before World War I. Post WW1 there was a series of Arab revolts in Libya and one or both of them (sources disagree) were dispatched in No.1 Batteria Autonoma Carri D’Assaulto in the early 1920’s.
The only known account of their combat use comes from ‘Le Forze Armate’ saying that they were both to be used for the reconquest of Giarabub but that one broke down at Porto Bardia and the other some distance from the action leaving the actual battle to be carried out with only Fiat 3000s and a variety of armoured cars and trucks. Col. Pederzini states that one of the Fiat 2000′s was later dismantled in Benghasi prior to 1935 for unstated reasons. Whether they saw any action elsewhere in Libya is not known at this time but the late Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi put them on his stamps in action.
Following service in Libya the Fiat 2000 did not go away. Indeed Fiat made very good use of it for promotion and propaganda purposes and in 1934 received its last known modification bringing it to M.34 status. Two of the front machine guns on the corners were removed and replaced with 37mm L.40 guns. It’s possible that at this time the engine was improved too but its not clear.
Despite the improvements though, even this remaining example has faded away prior to WWII despite having been used at some point as a monument in Bologna. The final fate remains a mystery which is a shame for a vehicle to my mind is a truly interesting and distinctive vehicle.
Ironically this was to be the heaviest tank produced by Italy for almost the next 40 years and a technological peak that was soon lost due to obsolete military doctrine that stubbornly focused on the concept of “mountain tanks” and saw land war limited to defending the alpine peaks despite being a colonial power.
All in all, the Fiat 2000 could be considered the ultimate WWI heavy tank at least in concept, sporting decent but not brilliant mobility for its time, adequate armour protection and more than enough fire power to support infantry assaults.
The Fiat 2000 is a unique design which had its faults but was a very advanced vehicle for its age and deserves a place of its own in the World of Tanks.
Le Forze Armate, 1935 – Colonel Pederzini, Italian Tanks 1917-1945 by Dr.Emiliano Ciaralli, Taschenbuch der Panzer, Fighting Tanks Since 1916 by Robert Icks