ITALIAN  TANK  M 13/40  III serie

Gruppo Corazzato Leonessa 1944-1945


di Andrea e Antonio TALLILLO


History and development

Until late Thirties, the Regio Esercito (Royal Army) relied on the infantry units for battles field and wasn’t interested in setting up a strong Tank Corps, being based on light tanks to lower production costs. The value of medium tanks as decisive weapon didn’t was recognized and tank tactics was little regarded. This negative attitude was reversed only too late for a better development.

The M11/39 was an important stage in the construction of modern tanks and much of the design was retained in the afvs which appeared later. The tank used some good features but was mostly based on a Vickers Six-ton purchased for test purposes, anyway the Army had meanwhile decided to develop a new medium tank which would benefit from this design but with a suitable high-power gun. So the M13 design can be soon clearly distinguished for the different armament – a 47 mm gun in a horseshoe turret and a couple of mg’s in the hull to achieve some support against enemy’s infantry. The Bohler gun, 32 calibre long, was developed from the standard infantry anti-tank gun of the same calibre,  a good improvement over the Vickers-Terni 37 mm gun of the M11/39. A 8 mm calibre Breda 38 mg was mounted coaxially with the main gun and another was mounted on the top of the turret for anti-aircraft protection. Some other improvements were incorporated, the superstructure was reworked to a more modern standard and the armour thickness was slightly increased. The wheels became of the perforated type to save weight, the front of the hull rounded and rear of the tank was simplified. The layout of the M13 hull became standard for near all later tanks, self-propelled vehicles, command tanks etc.

Design work commenced in the mid of 1938 and was relatively easy but details changed frequently due to the everchanging requirements asked by the Army during development. The Fiat of Turin was charged with the development of the chassis while the design of the armoured plates was entrusted to the Ansaldo of Genoa. The general goodness of the project for its time and purpose led to a sense of complacency which stopped future developments. Suspensions system was comparable to most tanks of other nations but the engine inherited some shortcomings of its predecessor. Results of first testing days were good with various components, following some trials in the summer and fall of 1939 but not a careful examination – faults which appeared in service life were probably due to lack of more tests – the prototype was accepted as M13/40 and ordered in the November of 1939.

Some delays took place in the development and first pilot-vehicle did not appear ready until February 1940. Although Ansaldo plant has some tradition in manufacturing facilities these were too small to be well suited for tank mass production. Other delays came from the critical lack of raw materials : Army resources was barely adequate for the plan, so only a relatively small number of the M13 type was completed and only from July 1940. For such reasons M13 did not arrive in time to take any active part in the very first Italian offensive in the desert. There were three different batches, conventionally dubbed I, II and III  Serie, the external appearance is near the same, with some detail changes in the length of the fenders, layout of the hull details, turret top details etc.  

War service and R.S.I. (Repubblica Sociale Italiana) service

Italy enter to World War II with a number of tankettes but few medium tanks, and tactically Italian tanks was no more than a bit players in the desert warfare. Underestimation in need of modern tank warfare led to a bitter situation when the Italian units must fought their first battles against British motorized and armoured units. The M13, a tank nor sophisticated nor advanced for its time, cannot proved his worth and – plagued with problems which have never been entirely solved – didn’t compare favourably in performance and armour to the enemy tanks. Light weight coupled with a not powerful engine gave bad cross-country performance and speed wasn’t good even on road. The high silhouette and the superstructure armour plates layout gave some shot-traps, a relatively thin armour afforded protection by small calibre guns and shell fragments. The 47 mm gun could penetrate some afvs of the day but in comparision to the British 2 pdr gun fired an heavier but slower AP shot with inferior armour penetration. The tank remain susceptible to infantry attacks and vulnerable to mines so it was really only suited for use in covering defensive or offensive ‘prepared positions’. Under the pressure of tank warfare, some minor improvements were added to the M13 during the production run but unfortunately Italian tank industry will did not keep pace with world trends so the tank in the 1941 was already near outclassed. Third batch of production rolled out the factory featuring short fenders, late type of turret with a bulge on the top, jack relocated to the rear and other few design alterations incorporated, the most noticeable was a mushroom shaped starter cover box. By 1942, some 710 M13 examples had been completed by Ansaldo, most of them went to the North Africa front, by late summer of 1943 heavy losses have reduced the amount. Owing to the general confusion only a few managed to find themselves in the new Italian units, some other might fell into German hands more or less intact.

The new Italian independent R.S.I. – Repubblica Sociale Italiana fielded its own significant army but very few armoured units with only about 200 afvs. One good unit was the Armoured Group Leonessa (Lioness) of GNR (Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana – Republican National Guard) born in the winter of 1943 with an HQ platoon and two companies and built with an establishment of HQ Company, three other Companies and two detachments with a fleet of 96-99 afvs – an array of 55 tanks (5 light self propelled guns L40, 16 tankettes L3, 25 medium tanks M13 or  M15)  and at least 194 softskins. When first formed, it’s leaders had to search to acquire vehicles and equipment. Old tankers and many new recruits were undergoing their primary training at Turin home base from March of 1944. Without help from German HQ, its personnel passed a long drawn-out process, hampered by shortages of fuel and ammunitions and political problems. Between the vehicle maintenance, escort duty, garrison purposes, drill and ceremonial parades, but even some anti-guerrilla operations alongside German units, the 752 all ranks and 70 officers of the Leonessa were kept busy but the battle with the Allied forces never came. A bitter and fierce civil war grew in the North Italy area and partisan forces became a tough fighting force, gaining reluctant support of the Allies for their effectiveness.  The end of the war see the unit with few M13 runners, these last had been demobbed and discarded, possibly taken apart for spare parts, like so much war booty in those days. A score of them eventually entered service in the new Italian Army. The tankers of Leonessa come back to home until 1947, but weren’t greeted as heroes. Now, the old soldiers are fading away but the story of Leonessa unit remain attractive and worth bothering then.    

The 1/35 scale kit 

In our very long modelling story, we appreciate many times the very old (1976) Italeri kit. This delicate moulded tank was again in the shops from October, 1996  but with the Russian Zvezda label, still good enough to be built out from the box – or improved trying to correct various errors and omissions, to the last rivet. The first impression on opening the box is good, fit of the parts and quality of the moulding is again acceptable, the dark gray plastic did not require any work other than a little cleaning up to few little flashes and a more careful treatment. Italeri people have captured near overall the look of the real tank and detail is fine in some areas, the suspension system for example was accurately reproduced and compare favourably with today standards. There are many tricky little parts and the construction can be a bit complicated. In the hands of discerning modeller, the kit needs only detail changes and it is easy to put it to real M13 replica. Instructions sheet look a bit complicated with its exploded drawings, that means You have to study carefully the parts in order to familiarize yourself with the layout of the vehicle.  A little care at this stage saves much tearing off hair later !

The crew figures are much less convincing but now is easy remediable after the entry of some resin new figures, which with or without some adaptations should fit realistically in the tank.

Summing up though, the Italeri/Zvezda kit can builds into an accurate and very attractive addition to any collection of tanks of WWII.  In spite of an interesting career, there is still a new kit available. No doubt this tank cannot prompt the kit manufactures to issue a bran new model and all in all we can found a selection of aftermarket products to build quite a nice little model again with the old Italeri/Zvezda kit. The author’s N.T.S. sketches are for guidance in those pertaining to altering the kit.  

Realisation of the M13 

We will build the model with only little changes with the instructions sequence, so please follow our steps and check the accompanying illustrations and photos. First we set about attempting to correct the basic hull. The suspension units, broken down into many parts, can be built as from the kit, there are only small details to change. Before gluing them in place they need some slices of sprue between pieces to set the leaf springs better and to make the feature visible in a more correct way – see the Fig. 1, number 1. We choose not to leave moveable parts, fixing the suspensions and checking the wheels are level by placing the hull on a flat surface. Because of the many small parts in the suspensions and road wheels, paint all the components before gluing them. Next cut off and reshape the moulded area for the mud chutes to let only a circular riveted piece (2 and 3) and cut off and sand off the rear reliefs for mudguards (4). The rear track tension adjuster (5) must be detailed repositioning upper and lower rivets and adding more in the rear. All the rivets and bolts added to the model are individually scrounged from any suitable old kit and glued with small amounts of cianocrylate glue.

Hull and superstructure are moulded in many pieces and construction may became a bit tedious but a lot of patience and critical eye will get you over the hump. Glue the bow more up than in the instructions, to align better with the glacis plate, before bow and glacis are mated. The kit shows only a single row of rivets for the bow plate, but the row was double. We must apply a new upper row, ensure the new rivets  are parallel to the lower row,  finish with the even more subtle vertical side rivets (6). Tow rope hooks are between few cast parts of the hull (7) so we must merge the hooks into their back plates with putty (7), the same about the bow ring hook (8).

Of course, you can install the mudguards last to ease manhandling and painting. I’d like to point out that after first batch of production, all M13 chassis had a short kind of mudguards (9). A little surgery it’s near all that’s required to have the correct shape of front sections. First reduce the thickness from underside, after trim with a sharp knife blade the mudguards till the appropriate length. Cut off some more plastic than you need and sand the rear edge gently to make sure you have a good result. Other detail of mudguards include the inspection windows (10) : drill the holes double-checking the references, last touch are the brackets (11), built from paper strips and plastic sheets with bolts added. It’s better to assembly the mudguards with slow-setting cement, which allows time to quickly readjust them if necessary. Detail the inspection hatches area (12) raising the contour with a razor saw, adding the fore reinforcement bar and the handle, enlarged in detail (13).

After minor sanding, the superstructure and rear plate are glued together, the first big step !  

The machine gun position it’s another cast part, bolted to the superstructure front, look at some photos and you can see some contrast with other plates. Anyway, this area again lacks of many details so it needs a drastic change of the look. Coat the too smooth piece with glue, then tap the plastic very gently with a stiff, flat old brush so the piece soften enough and a more rough texture emerges on the surface. We must drill four small mounting depressions on the top, toward the superstructure, placing a tiny rivet head in each (14) and set two inner rows of bolts (15). About the front of the position, with some Milliput it’s easy to add the flat, irregular thickness of melted iron around the hole and under the piece 56 that is noticeable (16). The piece lack of the side bullet splash strips (17) and it’s necessary to relocate and add some bolts to upper and lower panels (18). It must be noted that the photos of the M13 tank family shows the details of  Breda armoured sleeves undoubtedly. The piece looks properly if we sand the sleeves to a slimmer and tapered shape (19), adding the bolted locks between sleeves (20) and the telescopic sight tube, don’t forget the disk caps for the machine gun barrels (21) and the hole for the sight (22). The bird’s eye view of all the matter it’s in (23). To improve visual interest in the driver’s area, we can show his port open, (24) scratchbuilding the internal pivoting structure – the U shaped frames – and improving the look of the opening in the armour plate.          

Now we turn our attention to the superstructure top. Made the inner edge of the bullet splash ring out of paper strips and set bolts on. Inner side including five on the fore bar (25), replace bolts of outside edge with rivets (26). Later, sand down the bolts from the top superstructure until they have the more flat look of rivets.  Take care at this stage to improve the driver’s area (27), by cutting off the episcope guard and install the episcope head, carved from plastic stock. Hollow the head, paint the inner surface blue, and fill the opening with clear varnish. Last work it’s to glue two rivets on the top, behind the episcope position.   

Another part that needs attention is sidewalls of superstructure : remove the relief from the  bottom (28), keeping safe the hinge of the crew hatch, last work in this area is to match the upper row of rivets (29). The crew hatch has a five separated panels edge (30), with bolts in fore section and rivets in others. So enhance with care the piece with a blade and choose if to glue hatch open or shut. Replace the kit’s handle (31) with a new one from bent copper wire. I fill the hole under each sponson and tool box (32) with paper strips, even their tops are covered by paper to reproduce the box lid (33), the metal strip for the padlock can be made from paper strip also (34).

Now we can incorporate a bit of further refinements on the rear of the hull. Guided by some reference photos, first phase it’s to apply a row of bolts to the rear sides of the hull  - upper - (35) and more lower (see Fig. 2 – number 36). Add the ‘L’ shaped reinforcement plates (37) with their bolts, the bolts on rear side tow hooks (38), the bolted reinforcement strip between vertical rear plate and engine deck’s plate (39) and the row of bolts to the rear plate at the bottom (40) and over the upper edge of  stowage box (41). This box needs to enhance the central hatch (42) and to add a ‘T’ shaped handle. The towing pintle (43) it’s incorrect for an M13 but it’s an easy work to build a new one with stretched sprue. The radiator’s head cover box (44) in the third batch has a mushroom shape, for a better look moulded on filler cap was sliced off from kit piece, lowered and glued slightly toward the rear, the rear strip lack four bolts nearside (45). Apply another four bolts to the each side of engine deck’s vertical plate (46).

The engine deck had to be refashioned for the version we want to model. To obtain the distinctive M13 pattern grilles it’s enough to cut out these of the kit, sanding the inner edge of openings. Then apply new flanges – 19 for each opening – cut from paper and set in the opposite direction with the help of some white glue (47). We must also change the look of wing nuts of engine deck hatches (48). You don’t have to stow all the tools but at least alter some of kit’s tool if you set them on their brackets made by metal strips. Don’t forget, if you leave off the tools keeping the brackets visible it means re-arrange details carefully. The kit’s pioneer tools are inaccurate and we can correct their shape and lower the engine deck bracket to the level of superstructure top (49). The jack position must be re-sited into the rear plate, instead of the left spare-wheel, replace piece 59, applying the jack in his new, made by plasticard,  bracket (50). The jack was detailed with the handle and the hole for the lever (51). The piece 32 it’s a track tension tool (52), we must change his tick lower jaws with plasticard strips drilling the depressions for rivets in its structure. From references sources, Leonessa’s crews didn’t add other tools or equipments, so only a tow rope can also be added to our tank.

Some minor fitments or the hull are handy like the hull side steps for the crew (53), stretched sprue and plastic sheets need to form them, the new pieces must be glued slightly toward the bow than in the kit’s instructions. Following, bent some copper wire or stretched sprue for a new handle (54) to set over the superstructure top and use plasticard strips for the ‘y’ shaped antenna’s bed (55). The antenna’s base (56) was heightened and the pot detailed with three holes for rivets. Aerial was high 180 cm, 51 mm in 1/35 scale. The location of the rear lights it’s under the upper edge of rear plate, these are two on first batches and one for the third (57), don’t forget to glue a short piece of copper wire to model the electrical cable. The lens for the superstructure lights are model-car parts dug from spare parts box, but you can make them from clear sheet styrene. The miniature lenses from MV Products looks better than kit’s pieces, drill the headlights and put the lenses in place with some white-glue, adding retention strips cut from paper.  The last pieces to apply to the hull are the exhausts (58). They has four low reliefs, so after have sanded off all kit’s piece reliefs cut off the bottom spring, to glue new ones from paper stripes (59), makes the brackets from thin sheet with their bolts – white glue drops – add and enlarge the sprouts with a fine blade to improve their realism.                        

Set the turret aside temporarily. In the tank kits look background, a more realistic trackwork gives high gears to every model realized. Sometime its near impossible to achieve this goal with soft tracks of the tank kits for a lot of troubles, so we preferred to use the track from Model  Victoria’s resin kit, a pleasure to build, only clearing the links separately makes the work more long. But the fitting it’s so good that the entire track can be dried fit before you firm it. Try once more the fit of track length and remove it from the wheels for a better painting and weathering before gluing it to the running gear. Problems don’t arise later if you leave out the bottom run to set dry, placed on a flat surface. A neat job about track sag demands little more accuracy and attention, but time and patience will be rewarded with the entirely convincing trackwork obtained.

Now we return to the turret, it’s another large portion of the work. The turret pieces also can stand improvements, the front it’s taken up by the huge armoured shield which includes gunsight at the left and coaxial mg on the right side. The kit pieces are substituted with a mg barrel and a small section of stretched sprue, drilled and fitted into the slits from inside, gluing them to the inner face of armoured shield. The gun mount was retained in the shield by four large bolts, so four channels for bolts are needed (60). Drill the channels carefully with a pin vice and glue the bolts. The gun barrel it’s a poor offering and really need replacing with something more appropriate. The top portion of the turret needs to be reworked, really old moulds shows little appreciation for rivets real look. First slice off all raised rivets of the sky and sand them until you see only rivets heads, please follow the layout in the (61 – 62) sketches.  Next comes the rear area corrections : the kit lacks the rear plate cut behind the commander’s hatch (63). This can be easily amended with two incisions made with a sharp knife blade, trying to not destroy the adjacent details.

The turret’s periscopes (64) can be modified with better heads: the easier way it’s to sand off them and bore out the periscope housings, then fit new heads carved from plastic rods. The anti-aircraft mg mounting piece it’s inaccurate and it would be better done by scratchbuilding a new one (65). 

Replace the kit’s part  with a new cylindrical plastic stock, holed in the sides to accept the new legs from plastic rod bent over a flame candle. Check some photos to set at right inclination of the whole mounting. It’s better to glue the anti-aircraft system later, when all other parts had dried out, a subsequent handling may knock off some of the pieces. After, wasn’t much left to do before painting the tank than a few minor fittings. The Breda mg lack on many tanks in this unit, so can be omitted.  

Camouflage & Markings 

About the M13 camouflage, indeed don’t be a matter about several choices for colour schemes. painted in ‘khaki sahariano’ – a deep sand-yellow colour more or less comparable to FS 2026O – at the factory after march 1941, photo evidence about Leonessa’s tanks shows many or all still retained this finish until before the end of 1944. Many didn’t carry complete markings – units were split up and thrown together more times and all informations has to be drawn from photos alone. As far we could see markings were restricted to the red M – an abbreviation for the word Mussolini – with fasces and GNR black letters , on turret sides and rear. The licence plate, 32 x 21 cm, was fitted to the rear hull, at the upper left. The licence plate it’s metallic, embossed and enamel painted, a white background with red prefix GNR and four black digits, a typical serial for an M13 was 4340. The ‘M’ insignia came from the A4 size RCR decals set.

When the kit was completed, the market still didn’t have accurate tin to match with Italian sand- yellow.  So a mix of two from Humbrol range – the staple diet for so many of us old modellers - seemed to be the only alternative. Our usual mixes for the ‘khaki sahariano’ (sand yellow) are about 70 to 30 Matt 81 and HB 2 Dark Earth,  or Matt 74 and Matt 83.

A simple method but that works well it’s to cover the entire kit with a first thin coat of base colour to let visible all details. For ease of painting, we only need some way of holding the main parts whilst painting or spraying. Complete this phase turn the attention to painting small parts like tools, handles or brackets carefully, then set a coat of dust mixing sand-tone paints on the glacis, superstructure and engine deck, on the turret a lighter mix. On the lower chassis and on the wheels carry out the same treatment but with a deep mix, there’s no perfect formula but reasonable amounts of tans and light browns, lighter shades of each colour were sprayed. Tracks are painted with Humbrol ‘track colour’ and highlighted with a simple mix of shades from Metalcote range to simulate a bright bare-metal look in the relief areas in contact with the ground. Weathering with a thin, flat black oil wash applying the paint selectively around raised details or engraved lines that you want to accent. The wash flowed easy around bolts and rivets, anyway the excess can be removed with a cloth. The oil colour wash is even lighter around lower hull components and tracks and You can see that it looked at least appealing. Light rust streaks were applied where corrosion naturally occur, around hatches and treads or another areas subject to wear.  The finishing touches are according to your degree of patience, don’t let out the typical diesel stains in the muffler area.

For completion, the M13 model needs a suitable base, with an appropriate groundwork, be it a city cobblestone or a country road; also you need to decide the size of the base, bear in mind the relationship between the size of base and the size of the M13, they should complement one another.     

Crew’s uniforms

The standard uniform in the field for Leonessa’s other ranks and NCO was the one-piece model 1926 or 1941 dark blue smooth canvas overalls, or shortened and modified Italian  parachutists grey-green uniforms (Fig. 3 ). Early black collar patches with small white-metal fasces (66) was later – from December 1944  replaced by red enamel ‘M’ badges, pinned to the lapels (67). Rank chevrons (68) was red for corporals and yellow for sergeants. From June 1943, pilots can wore a small white-metal badge (69) pinned to the left breast pocket. A standard issue for all ranks, when in vehicles, was the black leather model 1932 crash helmet, with his padded rim and neckguard in the same material. On the front, many tankers pin a white metal death’s head (70). 

 Officers had German Panzetruppe style uniforms (Fig. 4 ), with the usual short double breasted jacket, open collar with lapels, fly front with concealed buttons. The uniforms was very similar to the model 1942 version but in a very dark blue – almost black – colour. The accompanying trousers were long and fastened above the laced black ankle boots. On the lapels, photos shows red enamel ‘M’ badges (71). Rank badges was of yellow braid on a grey-green or black background, on both forearms (72) and on the left for the headgear (73), a rather baggy beret with inner stiff felt crash liner. The unit’s badge (74) was pinned to the front of beret. Goggles have alloy frame, reddish rubber eye protections, celluloid lens and brown elastic trap. NCOs, warrant officers and officers wore the ubiquitous brown leather ‘Sam Browne’ belt and leather holster for pistol. A gold and silver wire ‘Ardito’ badge – a proficiency badge - was stitched to the left arm (75).    


One might think that highlighting that kind of unit, with its inherent duty for the Germans, would amount to accusation. Nothing is further from the truth, we are only attempting – to the best of our knowledge – to record history. Research was quite not an easy task this time, truth, it’s said, it’s the first casualty in wars. Earlier books are bad on tech and detail side and historical photos about the GNR armoured group are hard to find, and today we have a situation where only a handful of the originals M13 and M14 survive,  still kept in museums or old barracks. Your best references for history of the tank in English language turn out to be few books like ‘Iron coffins – Museum Ordnance Special Number 2 – Darlington Productions, an old work of the very keen modeller Steve Zaloga on Military Modelling pages and two works from Squadron Signal Publications. More late, You can find a good coverage about M13 tank and other Italian afvs on the pages of November issue of the Italian modelling magazine STEEL ART, with some Italian/English .    

About the unit, a new comprehensive book – a steadily available reference - it’s the work of our friend Mr. Paolo Crippa which deal with all the R.S.I. tank units, packed with many photos from Mr. Borgatti’s personal collection. While paging through this book you can spot many useful  informations about but the text, unfortunately for many, is only in Italian. The authors wishes to thank for the translation Mrs. Annalisa Tallillo.   

Aftermarket resin or white-metal products available

Decals : RCR  (COD. RED. 01) - Model Victoria – Travers
Detail sets :  Royal Model (RM 199 ) – Model Victoria 4033
Engine : Historica PRODUCTIONS
Interiors : RCR (RE-S03)
Photoetched : RCR (RE – S01) -  Eduard 161    
Gun barrels : RCR (RE-M01) - New Connection 105 – Jordi Rubio 60
Wheels and details . E.P. MINIATURES (EPM  ITA-001) 
Tracks : Modelkasten (SK 14 – 18 – 43) – Friulmodellismo (ATL 15 and 18) – Model Victoria 4052 – Brach Model
Transfers : MS TRADE S. 7667









Tanks of the Armoured Group of the GNR during a full dress parade, July 1944. Officers and NCO’s uniforms are of German Panzertruppe style, but the crash helmets are Italian model.   (Borgatti)

The same tanks displays the standard basic Italian deep yellow hue but with the new markings. Useful detail view of the rear of an M13 tank – third batch production model.    (Borgatti)

Two officers of the Armoured Group ‘Leonessa’ of the Italian Social Republic, with the dark blue special uniforms ‘German pattern’ , similar to that used by the Panzertruppe from 1942.       (Borgatti)

An M13 medium and L6 light tank of the unit rolls on the Turin streets, July 1944.You can spot clearly the unit’s badge, displayed on the turret’s sides and also on the back and, again, the German-style uniform of the tank’s commander.  (Borgatti)

A temporary halt for men and machines during the same ceremony of previous photos. A point to note is the very ordinary model 1940 grey-green uniform on the left and the shortened jacket, grey green also, uniform on the right.   (Borgatti)


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