Armored Trains

Throughout World War I, armored trains were one of the principal means of defense against Austrian ships in the upper Adriatic, and were particularly used in the final stages of the conflict. Practically, at least one train was always on the move along the higher risk areas of the coastline. Naturally, these trains served more as spotters and means of first reaction rather than real defense because they were poorly armed, and therefore quite vulnerable. At the end of the conflict, all armored trains were disarmed and converted to civilian use.

An armored traini Breda Mod. 37 with a 47/32 Mod. 1935 gun.

During the arms race of the 1930s, when conflict with France appeared very probable, it was thought that armored trains could be of use and therefore it was ordered the construction of 8 armored trains with two logistical bases: La Spezia and Taranto (the two largest naval bases). In August 1939, two Command Groups Armored Trains were constructed under the authority of two C.C.; one in Liguria, with headquarters in Genoa, and one in Sicily, with headquarters in Palermo. These two regions were the closest to French territories from which could have easily originated both naval and aerials attacks (Tunisia to the south and Provence to the northwest). On April 15th, 1940, assuming Italy’s imminent entry into the war, the trains were placed in full war conditions as dictated by the mobilization act.

A train ready for action had, in addition to the railroad personnel, three officers and a variable number of crewmembers based on the train’s firepower. At the very most, it would include 25 non-commissioned officers, and 101 petty officers and ratings. The makeup of the trains varied over the years, evolving from the experience meantime acquired; the final layout included 1 locomotor (at one of the two ends), 4 to 6 cars for heavy guns, 2 flat cars for the machine guns, 1 car for the fire control equipment, 1 car for ammunitions, 2 cars for additional ammunitions, 1 car for administrative use, 2 cars for housing, 1 car for the kitchen, 1 car for baggage, 1 car for spare parts, and another locomotor (at the other end).

On June 10th, 1940 there were 9 armored trains with naval guns and 3 with antiaircraft guns; the latter, statically placed, assisted with the antiaircraft defenses in the area where they had been located. The other trains used their antiaircraft guns only in self-defense. The two groups of armored trains were organized as follows:

Group based in La Spezia:

T.A. 120/1/S with 4 120/45 mm and 2 13.2 mm machine guns
T.A. 120/2/S with 4 120/45 mm and 2 13.2 mm machine guns
T.A. 120/3/S with 4 120/45 mm and 2 13.2 mm machine guns
T.A. 120/4/S with 4 120/45 mm and 2 13.2 mm machine guns
T.A. 152/5/S with 5 152/40 mm and 2 13.2 mm machine guns
T.A. 76/1/S with 6 76/40 mm and 2 13.2 mm machine guns

Group based in Taranto:

T.A. 152/1/T with 4 152/40 mm, 2 76/40mm and 2 13.2 mm machine guns
T.A. 152/2/T with 4 152/40 mm, 2 76/40mm and 2 13.2 mm machine guns
T.A. 152/3/T with 4 152/40 mm, 2 76/40mm and 2 13.2 mm machine guns
T.A. 152/4/T with 4 152/40 mm, 2 76/40mm and 2 13.2 mm machine guns
T.A. 102/1/T with 6 guns 102/35 and 2 13.2 mm machine guns
T.A. 76/1/T with 4 guns 76/40 and 2 13.2 machine guns

These trains were deployed as follows:

In Liguria 5 T.A. in Vado, Albenga, Albissola, Cogoleto, Recco and an antiaircraft T.A. in Sanpierdarena

In Sicily 4 T.A. in: Carini, Termini Imerese, Crotone, porto Empedocle, and Antiaircraft A.T in Syracuse and Porto Empedocle.

In August 1940, following the armistice with France, two trains with 120/45 guns were transferred from Liguria to Sicily and Calabria, while another one, at the beginning of the campaign against Greece, was sent to Puglie. In November 1941, it was decided to replace the two a.a. (antiaircraft guns) 76/40 guns on each of the T.A. 152 in Taranto with 20 mm machine guns. The eight guns made available were used to arm new trains with 4 76/40 guns and 2 20 mm machine guns each; these new trains were the 76/2/T and T.A. 76/3/T and were assigned to Licata and Mazara del Vallo.

During the conflict, armored trains intervened several times against enemy ships, while during the land offensive against France they were used against bunkers on the Ligurian-French border. These trains had special depots in which they were kept ready to move with the locomotors fired up. In case of alarm, the decision to stop all traffic on the rail line was solely up to the train’s commander, as was the reopening of the line to commercial traffic.

On July 1st, 1943, at the beginning of the Allied landing in Sicily, there were 10 armored trains located as follows:

T.A. 152/1/ T in Termini Imprese
T.A. 152/2/T in Carini
T.A. 102/1/T in Syracuse
T.A. 120/3/S and T.A. 76/1/T in Porto Empedocle
T.A. 76/2/T in Licata
T.A. 76/3/T in Mazara del Vallo
T.A. 120/4/S in Catania
T.A. 120/1/S in Sidereo
T.A. 152/3/T in Crotone.

Practically, all these trains were lost during the Sicilian campaign; only single cars from some of the trains were transported to the mainland where they were used as stationary batteries.

An Italian armored train hit near Licata, Sicily

Only the armored trains left in Liguria were utilized up to the armistice, continuously moving along the coast; at least two were later utilized by the Germans.

Translated by Cristiano D’Adamo and edited by Laura K. Yost