Sahariana: “The Desert Jeep”

This picture shows vehicle 797 B, from the original "Raggruppamento Sahariano AS".

This picture shows vehicle 797 B, from the original "Raggruppamento Sahariano AS".

As used by Italian Reconnaissance Groups

Designation

Officially the Camionetta 42 ‘Sahariana’ – however, they are also referred to as – Camionetta ‘Sahariana’ AS 42 – or – Camionetta SPA 43 ‘Sahariana’ – (and incidentally the word Sahariana is singular, so if you are talking about more that 1 vehicle it is ‘Sahariane’).

The letters AS are the Italian code for North Africa, “Africa Settentrionale“, which pretty literally translates as “North African” but is often translated as “African Service” in English texts. Any equipment, unit organization, or formation that was designed or organized specially for North Africa was given this designation. In this case, it refers to the mechanical specifications of the vehicle being able to handle the harsh environment.

SPA is a brand name, like FIAT, and they were one of the largest vehicle manufacturers in Italy (they were part of the Fiat group).

42 and 43 refer to respective models, effectively the year of production with each successive model featuring technical and/or weaponry improvements over the previous while retaining the same basic appearance (similar to AB 40, 41, 43 Armoured Cars, M13/40, M14/41, M15/42 Tanks and so on).

Camionetta loosely translates as Jeep, and is usually used to refer to most trucks and soft vehicles modified to mount a weapon and fight “in the front line”.

This photo clearly shows three vehicles from the original "Raggruppamento Sahariano AS", the nearer is the SPA TL37 Camionetta AS mounting the 47/32 Anti-Tank Gun, the further vehicle is a Sahariana, probably 790 B, 792 B, or 798 B as it appears to mount a 20mm and a single MG, and finally in the right distance can be seen a second Sahariana.

This photo clearly shows three vehicles from the original "Raggruppamento Sahariano AS", the nearer is the SPA TL37 Camionetta AS mounting the 47/32 Anti-Tank Gun, the further vehicle is a Sahariana, probably 790 B, 792 B, or 798 B as it appears to mount a 20mm and a single MG, and finally in the right distance can be seen a second Sahariana.

The First Unit: Raggruppamento Sahariano AS

A “Raggruppamento Sahariano AS” was formed with some of the first vehicles manufactured. A Raggruppamento normally is a group of units (battalions) and is often larger than an equivalent British brigade or German Regiment. In this case, however its use would seem to be “untypical” and it may have been chosen to imply a force considerably larger than actually existed!

A Sahariano in North Africa, March 1943, crewed by the PAI. It is part of the "103rd Compagnie Arditi Camionettisti", half of which fought on the Tunisian Front and the other half on the Libyan Front.

A Sahariano in North Africa, March 1943, crewed by the PAI. It is part of the "103rd Compagnie Arditi Camionettisti" (the second unit of Sahariane), half of which fought on the Tunisian Front and the other half on the Libyan Front.

The Raggruppamento was equipped with 10 vehicles, their details are:

VEHICLE ID / REGISTRATION ARMAMENT
Sahariane
790 B armata 1 x 20mm AA & 1 x 8mm MG.
791 B armata 1 x 47mm CAN & 1 x 8mm MG.
792 B armata 1 x 20mm AA & 1 x 8mm MG.
793 B armata 1 x 20mm ATR & 2 x 8mm MG.
794 B armata 2 x 8mm MG.
797 B armata 1 x 20mm AA & 2 x 8mm MG.
798 B armata 1 x 20mm ATR & 1 x 8mm MG.
SPA TL37 Camionetta AS
(probably 795 B?) 1 x 47mm CAN.
(probably 796 B?) 1 x 20mm AA.
Unknown Vehicle Type
(possibly 799 B?) (Possibly a TL37 Supply/Radio Truck?)

The two converted SPA TL 37 4×4 Trucks, “Camionetta AS 37″, I would guess at their number plates probably being 795 & 796 respectively, but this is only a guess. The 10th vehicle I have no information on, but probably is a SPA TL 37 Truck or similar either to carry supplies, or mounting radio & command equipment. Again, I would guess the number plate is possibly 799 B armata.

The weapons are:

8mm MG: Breda Mod. 37 Medium Machine Gun (which uses 24 round magazines).

20mm ATR: Solothurn S18/1000 semi-automatic 20mm Anti-Tank Rifle (10 round magazines).

20mm AA: Breda Mod. 35 20mm Dual Purpose AA Gun (uses 12 round “chargers”).

47mm CAN: 47mm Mod. 37 Cannon (i.e. Anti-Tank Gun).

The Raggruppamento was active on the African front from 29 November 1942 until 08 April 1943 and numerous records (photos and documents) exist of this unit and its vehicles in action.

A pair of "Sahariane" on patrol in North Africa.

A pair of "Sahariane" on patrol in North Africa. These are probably from the first unit formed - the "Raggruppamento Sahariano AS" and provide excellent details of the vehicles. The closest vehicle mounts the Breda 20mm L/65 AA Gun (which was used as a dual purpose weapon and usually engaged ground targets), while the further one mounts the 47mm L/32 Gun (the same gun as used by Infantry and Anti-Tank Gun units, and mounted in the M13 & M14 Medium Tanks). Both vehicles clearly display the stowage arrangement with racks of "Jerry Cans" along the sides, and sand chutes can be seen hanging above the rear wheel of the further vehicle. The typical crew of 3-5 men is clearly evident, the drivers position at the extreme front of the vehicle clearly visible.

More Units

Seeing the excellent results of operations by the first group against the LRDG four new units were raised, called “Compagnie Arditi Camionettisti” (or literally Jeep Scouting Companies) and containing about 100 personnel. These new units were stationed & equipped as follows:

103rd Compagnie Arditi Camionnettisti: 24 x AS 42 – Stationed in North Africa, it was in action around Sfax & central Tunisia

112th Compagnie Arditi Camionnettisti: 24 x AS 42 (II series) – Stationed in Sicily but may not have been engaged during Allied conquest.

113th Compagnie Arditi Camionnettisti: 24 x AS 42 – Stationed in Sicily and participated in defence against Allied conquest.

123rd Compagnie Arditi Camionnettisti: 24 x AS 42 and AS 43 – Stationed at Rome and appears to have seen no action (although elements may have fought against the Germans in defence of Rome after the armistice).

Each of these companies consisted of a small HQ (probably in SPA TL37 4×4 Trucks) and 3 “Sahariana” Platoons, each of 8 AS Sahariane vehicles.

These units served as a normal Reconnaissance units, rather than as long range recce chasing the LRDG & SAS, etc. Elements of the 103rd Co. appear to have been involved in Rommel’s Kasserine Pass campaign going by photos…

112th Doesn’t seem to have been in action in Sicily during the invasion, so what happened to it I don’t know?

After the armistice on 18 September 1943, the remaining groups appear to have disbanded, although 123rd Coy may have participated in the attempts to deny Rome to the Germans.

Service With The R.S.I.

The R.S.I. (Italian Socialist Republic) later used a few remaining AS 42 and AS 43 vehicles. Seven of these were used by a gruppo of the Xth Mas that served in Russia, and afterwards finished up on the Western Front in France.

After The War

After the war, another 7 vehicles (apparently the total remaining of the type) were used to equip the XXth Mobile Detachment of the P.S. and were used until 1954.

Basic Specifications

Speed: 80 kph.

Range: 800 km.

Tyres: normally 9.25″ x 24″; but in Libya 11.25″ x 24″.

No armour.

These vehicles are often mistaken for AB 43 Armoured Cars, due to their AS 42 and AS 43 designations that are easily confused with the AB 40, AB 41, and AB 43 Armoured Cars.

Bibliography

  • Veicoli Speciali del Regio Escertio Italiano nella Seconda Guerra Mondiale – Giulio Benussi
  • Courage Alone: The Italian Air Force 1940-43 – Chris Dunning
  • The Observer’s Fighting Vehicles Directory (World War II) – Bart Vanderveen
  • Great Aeroplanes of the World – Enzo Angelucci
  • Mare Nostrum, Italian Army Handbook (2nd Edition) – Jack Greene
  • Italian Army Order of Battle 1940-44 – Victor W Madeja
  • Italian Army Handbook – Victor W Madeja
  • Handbook on the Italian Army – Terrence Wise
  • Italian Order of Battle WWII (3 Volumes) – George F Nafziger
  • Mussolini’s Soldiers – Rex Trye
  • Rommel’s North African Campaign – Greene & Massignani
  • Miscellaneous other publications & Articles

 

This article © 1996 John Moher.

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