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In the 1930s the Italian Army in East and North Africa had used some high mobility vehicles armed with heavy machine guns, but the beginning of military operations in Libya against British forces in autumn of 1940 revealed the good performance of enemy wheeled weapon carriers, some of which were captured and utilized during the Italian counter attacks of 1941. The Italian Army captured a large number of British light trucks, some of which were later armed with Italian-made machine-guns and light guns. The Italians were so impressed with these that in 1942 several AS 37 Autocarro Sahariano (Sahara trucks) were modified for use as weapons carriers. These mainly unarmoured vehicles were used to support the armoured cars (available in insufficient quantity) for patrolling and scouting, especially against the British Long Range Desert Group.

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Picture 1 One of the first examples of the Sahariana fitted with ‘Libya’ desert tyres. (Fiat) Picture 2 Side view shows the fuel cans and the support for a Solothurn 20mm antitank rifle. (Fiat) Picture 3 Rome, 9th September 1943. Italian troops were ready to fight the Germans a few hours after the Italian Armistice with the Allies. (AUSSME)

In July 1942 the Indipendent Compagnie Camionettisti (weapon carriers companies) of the 10° Reggimento Arditi, an elite unit specialized in long range patrolling and offensive raids was formed. The Regio Esercito (Royal Army) requested some new high mobility armed vehicles from Italian industry and the SPA-Viberti Company proposed two solutions at the beginning of that year, the Camionetta AS 42 and the Camionetta AS 43. The first one was directly derived from the AB 41 armoured car and the second one from the AS 37 truck. The AS 42 or Camionetta Desertica Modello 42 was also known to the troops as Sahariana and produced from August 1942 onwards. It was narmoured, with its engine in the rear and a large space for the crew of five and weapons in the middle of the hull. The vehicle could carry four cans of water on the front and 20 gasoline cans on the sides plus ammunition and food for long-range operations. The armament was usually one to three 8mm Breda 37 machine guns, with either a 20mm Solothurn anti-tank rifle, 20mm Breda 35 anti-aircraft cannon or a 47/32 gun. The chassis and automotive parts were those of the AB 41 armoured car, but there was no rear-steered wheels or driving position. A long-range radio set was installed only on very few samples, used as command vehicle and these were armed only with one machine-gun. The open compartment’s only overhead protection was a waterproof canvas sheet. In January 1943 the Camionetta II (Sahariana II or Metropolitana), was adopted which had two additional boxes in the rear and two, long side containers instead of 10 jerrycans. The sand-channels carried on both sides were no longer fitted.

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Picture 5 One of the six Sahariana IIs manned by Italian crews serving with the recce battalion of the 2. Fallschirmjäger-Division, operating on the Eastern front from October 1943. (Cioci) Picture 6 Most of the vehicles were armed with a 20 mm Breda 35 cannon and a 8mm Breda 37 machine-gun. (AUSSME) Picture 7 Interior of the Sahariana. Note the supports for the machine guns. Picture 8 Sahariana II used by the PAI (Italian Africa Police) in Rome, in 1944.

The performance was very good, but the vehicle was expensive and mechanically complicated. Little more than 80 of the AS 42s completed went to the Raggruppamento Sahariano, to the 10° Reggimento Arditi and to some training schools or minor units. Twenty six Sahariana I vehicles were used in Libya and Egypt from October 1942 and in Tunisia from January 1943, whereas 18 of the Sahariana II vehicles were used in Sicily in July and August 1943. Many AS 42s were destroyed by Allied bombing in the factories or during transit. A few of them fought against the German paratroopers in Rome on 9th and 10th September 1943, after the Italian-Allied Armistice. Six joined the 2. Fallschirmjäger Division on the Eastern Front, with Italian crews, and were all lost during the fighting in the winter of 1943-44. Ten remained in Rome with the PAI or Polizia Africa Italiana (Italian African Police), and a Sherman tank destroyed one when American troops entered the Italian capital city on 4th June 1944. Neither the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (Mussolini’s Social Republic) nor the Germans used any of the AS 42 produced and after the War the surviving AS 42 Sahariana II were used by the Italian Police until the middle of the 1950s. These had a crew of six and were fitted with a radio set.

Picture 9 Sahariana II used by the Italians was very effective against Soviet troops. (Cioci) Picture 10 One of the few samples armed with a 47/32mm gun, a powerful weapon for a scout carrier. (AUSSME) Picture 11 The Sahariana II was used by the Italian Police in the 1950s and was painted red. (Zuliani)

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Camouflage and markings

The first AS 42s produced were painted in the Italian yellow sand colour. Most of the Sahariana II were painted in the standard factory three-colour camouflage of medium green and red-brown patches on the base yellow sand used for Italian fighting vehicles from the Spring of 1943. After the War Italian Police vehicles were a shade of red. No units marking were used on these vehicles during the War, but all carried Italian licence number plates.

Picture 12 The 8 mm Breda 37 machine gun was a reliable and accurate weapon. Note the strip feed. Picture 13 The 8mm Breda 37 on its tripod mounting was a standard issue weapon for Italian forces. The gun was fed on the left side with strips holding 20 lubricated cartridges and was unusual in that the fired cartridge cases were placed back into the strip! Note the long heavy barrel necessary for an air-cooled weapon. This gun was Breda’s first gas-operated machine gun design, had a rate of fire of 500rpm and weighed 42.5 pounds. (Ken Jones)

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  • Designation: Camionetta AS 42 Sahariana I
  • Manufacturer: SPA-Viberti
  • Crew: 5
  • Weight empty: 4,500 kg
  • Combat weight: 6,000 kg
  • Length: 5.62 metres
  • Width: 2.26 metres
  • Height: 1.80 metres
  • Ground clearance: 0.35 metres
  • Engine: SPA Abm 1, six-cylinder in line, petrol, 100 hp @ 2,700 rpm
  • Transmission: Six forward speed, one reverse
  • Max speed: 84 kph on road
  • Range: 300 km on road, 1,100 km using the 20 reserve cans
  • Gradient: 23°
  • Fording height: 0.70 metres
  • Bibliography

    La meccanizzazione dell’Esercito sino al 1943 –Ceva e Curami.
    Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano - Volume II - Pignato & Cappellano.
    Storia Militare - various issues
    Notiziario IPMS Italy - various issues
    Original drawings and manuals 40 Military Modelling Vol.36 No.11 2006