WWI Armoured Cars: 1 of 3 Parts


The Ministerio della Guerra commissioned an engineer, Guido Corni Ansaldo, to develop an armored vehicle based on the experiences during the first months of combat on the Western Front. Ansaldo presented a project inspired by the brilliant results attained by the Belgian Army Automitrailleuses Minerva in 1914 on the chassis of the Lanzia 1Z light truck from the Italian Army, Model 1912.

The prototype tests were conducted in April 1915, after which, the Capo di Stato Maggiore, proposed the acquisition of twenty units because there were not enough Maxim machine guns to arm more than this amount of vehicles. The petition was confirmed on May 7. The first two units were delivered on June 14th, another on July 8th, and the remainder in August. On January 6, 1916, the Chief of the Supreme Command, Generale Luigi Cardona, decided to split all available armored vehicles into five Squadriglie. The first Squadriglia, with six Aumomitragliatric was assigned to the 5th Armata, the 2nd and 3rd Squadriglia, also with six vehicles, to the 1st Armata. The 4th and 5th Squadriglia, with only four Aumomitragliatrice, were assigned to the 2nd and 4th Armata.

This was an armored vehicle, with nickel steel plates of 6.5 mm equipped with a conventional compartment for the engine and the fighting compartment. The vehicle was equipped with a circular turret provided with a gun carriage for two Maxim-Vickers machine guns. Some vehicles had another small turret with another gun. This arrangement gave it considerable fire- power for the time. It also had two steel rails on the front of the top of the vehicle to cut barbed wire and downed wires.

On March 11, 1917, Ansaldo signed a contract N.ª 979 for another 12 vehicles with two turrets but with the front fenders unshielded and armed with Maxim Mod. 1911 machine guns, and another five vehicles without the top turret but with a reinforced chassis.

With this second delivery, the 4th and 5th Squadriglie now had seven vehicles and the 6th and 7th were endowed with four vehicles, including the Aumomitragliatrice Bianchi Tipo 1914 and Pallanza. Five of the Squadriglie were assigned to the 2nd Divisione di Cavalleria and another to Gruppo Ayroldi of the Corpo d’Armata speciale of General Di Giorgio.

After the unexpected loss suffered by the Squadriglie during the unfortunate 12th Battle of the Isonzo and the subsequent retreat to Piave, only 28 Aumomitragliatrice Lanzia 1Z remained. This forced the Ministerio delle Munizioni to urge Ansaldo to construct another 65 Aumomitragliatrice and later was petitioned to raise the number to 100 copies on January 13, 1918. The construction of these vehicles, which was performed with plates that were 8mm thick, was not without problems, especially the lack of guns, so the 6.5 mm Maxim machine guns had to be replaced by 8mm Saint-Étienne Mod. 1907.

The first 17 units were delivered in April 1918. Ten deliveries continued into July, 18 in August, 10 in September, 10 in October, 10 in November and 16 in December. Bringing the number of vehicles to 101.

In anticipation of these new units, the Squadriglie number was reduced to four, the 1st, 2nd, 5th and 6th. In October 1918, the 1st Reggimento Artiglieria da Fortezza informed the Supreme Command that it had 88 new armored Ansaldo-Lanzia vehicles and that with 77 of them had endowed the Squadriglie numbers three through fifteen. Another ten went to the 1st Reggimento Marcia Mitraglieri de Mira and subsequently Squadriglie number 16, 17 and 18.

The Battle of Vittorio Veneto (October 23 to November 2, 1918) developed in northern Italy near the present border with Austria, led to the final defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In it, the Squadriglie participated in the persecution of the enemy and the occupation of Istria in Dalmatia.

In 1919, twenty-two of these vehicles were part of the troops of Gabriele D’Annunzio when he led Italian nationalists from Fiume, currently known as Rijeka in Croatia, who seized it and forced the withdrawal of American, French, and British troops who occupied it. They intended to annex Fiume to Italy again but the request was denied. After the war, the Lanzia IZ and IZM remained in service until World War II, both in Libya and Albania. One detachment was sent to Spain during the Civil War, forming part of the Corpo Truppe Volontarie.


We can say that light armored vehicles were built only in small quantities. With many imported parts, ultimately, adaptations of trucks and tractors to meet military needs and were used in a irregular manner for several reasons: lack of employment doctrine, ignorance of their capabilities, the military chiefs did not know of its existence or despised their use and, finally, their capabilities on the road and their shields weren’t actually suitable for military use in a scenario as complex as the East European front.

Construction of such vehicles began near the beginning of the war. The same day, August 17, 1914, General Suchomlinov, Minister of Military Affairs, and Colonel Dobrzanski called and ordered him to train and equip a “battery of guns on armored cars.” This task was carried out in record time and already on October 19, 1914, the First Auto-machine guns Vehicle Company at 2nd Army was sent.

The Russo-Baltique Wagon Automobile Co. was the only factory in Russia with heavy vehicle production capabilities, and it was consistent with the previous requirements for civilian production, and therefore their ability to adapt and new product orders was very slow, so that the number of vehicles produced was very low. The Chiefs decided to send a buying commission to France and England, under the direction of Colonel Siekrietev, Commander of the Motor Company, that would facilitate the purchase of the chassis.

The result was the construction of 48 armored chassis based on the Austin brand, 40 vehicles based on the Renault chassis, and only one Isotta Fraschini chassis. The material began arriving for assembly in December 1914 and soon after was already operating the first Austin auto-firing machine guns, which would be the backbone of the “Pulemetny Avtomobilny Vzvod” or PAW. Its use in operations soon exposed its insufficient 4mm of shielding armor which was replaced at the end of 1915, in Izorski factory, by another 7mm Russian. Also, experience in battle exposed the need for vehicle manufacturers to not only install auto-machine guns, but also auto-cannons.

To meet this need, in early 1915, work began on an American Armored Car called the Garford 4 ton in the Putilov factory. They were armed with 76 mm cannons and three machine guns. According to a new tactic distribution, each platoon of armored vehicles should be equipped with two armored tanks with machine guns and one cannon.

During the spring of 1915, the first transports of disassembled Renault armored vehicles began to arrive. These were equipped with a machine gun but lacked full armor and did not meet the requirements established by the Commission of Armored Vehicles.

Some of them were used in the supply of armored vehicles and the other 11 were taken to the Izorski factory in order to armor them, according to the design of Captain Mgiebrov. Finally, there were 16 armored cars according to Captain Mgiebrov.

Gradually, in the Izorski Factory, in Russo-Baltique Wagon Co. and in A. Bratolyubov workshops in St. Petersburg completed another 11 vehicles with chassis from Pierce-Arrow, Benz, Isotta Fraschini and Russo-Balt “E”. And then another 10 Russo-Balt and one Renault.

When assigned, four of them were considered unfit for service, six were armed with 37mm Hotchkiss cannons and were assigned to an armored rail- road platoon. While in the factory, Obukhowski had three cars that were being shielded under the direction of Captain Bylinski of Staff, two based on a Mercedes chassis (with engines 45 and 50 hp), and one in the Lloyd chassis.

At first they were designed for joint military action with cavalry units. The armored car Lloyd had two turrets with Maxim machine guns, and the Mercedes had one. The last two were also armed with a 37mm cannon in the lower rear of the hull. A unique feature of these vehicles was the use of light armor made  of chrome-nickel-vanadium and the then-new suspension system “Asteering” on the rear pair of wheels. With these vehicles, the 25th Platoon of auto-machine guns was formed.

During the remainder of 1915 and early 1916, 161 vehicles from Allied countries came to Russia. Of these, 60 were based on the chassis of the Second Series of Austin, 10 were Armstrong-Whitworth-Jarrot, 30 vehicles Armstrong-Whitworth-Fiat, 25 vehicles Sheffield-Simplex, and 35 vehicles from British Army factory of Engines and Trucks. However, only the Austin were really usable for military requirements.


The Belgian Army was the front-runner when it came to the use of armored vehicles in combat. They showed the other fighters how they could be used, anticipating the campaigns movements that would be frequent during World War II.

Although the automobile industry was already flourishing in 1914, the Belgian Army was devoid of vehicles. They were limited to eight courier bikes they acquired between 1910-1911 for the `Battalion des Carabiniers Cyclistes’. Four `Auto-Mixte’ were acquired in 1910 for `Compagnie Spéciale des Telégraphistes’ of the `Regiment du Genie Anvers’, designed to supply electricity to wireless telegraphy stations along with four Bovy trucks, four Pipe Trucks, and some Ambulances and Staff. As soon as the Germans invaded Belgium, the army was provisioned with vehicles requisitioning those of their fellow citizens.

As for the armored vehicles, there was not the slightest trace of them before 1914.

The first were given by Lieutenant Charles Henkart. He gave his unit two vehicles, a Pipe Truck and an Opel shielded by the Minerva factory in Antwerp with 4 mm thick plates from the naval arsenal in Cockerill Hoboken and armed with Lewis recovery guns.

The first two vehicles were followed soon by others with more elaborate armor and dual rear wheels to better support the extra weight imposed by the shield but retained the same general characteristics. In total, there were between 25 and 30 units built. In August 1914. The Minerva vehicles formed a `Groupe d’Auto Mitrailleuses’, which were distributed in Escuadrilles from the Headquarters and `Divisions d’Armée’ and the `Division of Cavalerie’.

But this period of movement did not last long, in October 1914 they began digging trenches in Yser, and at this point the Belgian Army stalled until 1918. The area was too wet and swampy for the armored vehicles to be used effectively. As a result, their activity decreased markedly and now they were merely used for protection of communication lines even though during the few weeks that they had been in action, they demonstrated the effectiveness of these types of vehicles for war movements. The Belgian example was copied directly by the British Royal Naval Air Service and the Germans also imitated them, leading them to their decision to manufacture their own armored cars.

While the Western Front became an impossible terrain for armored wheeled vehicles, the Belgian Army organized an expeditionary unit to operate in Russia against the Germans. This unit was organized in November 1914 at the initiative of Baron Pierre de Caters. The unit was composed of voluntary personnel known as `Corps d’Autos-Canons-Mitrailleuses’ and was equipped and trained in Paris. It was organized by two `Batteries de Blindées’ (1st and 2nd) each provided with two Automitrailleuses on a Mors 20/30 HP chassis, armed with Hotchkiss 8mm machine guns and three Auto-canons as well as a Mors 40 HP chassis, armed with a rapid fire 37mm cannon from the French Marine, along with other cars and trucks. The third Battery of resupply was equipped with 26 trucks and cars. It was composed by a Section of 23 Indian and Harley-Davidson motorcycles, some with sidecars. The 5th Battery (Russian) had four cars and two trucks.

In 1915, it was transferred to Russia under the name of `Corps Expéditionaire Belge des Auto- canons Mitrailleuses’ in Galicie. There, the Belgian vehicles rendered excellent services until the outbreak of the 1917 revolution and they were subsequently shipped back.

Back to the front of the Yser, in early 1915, the Belgian Army received some Lanchester armored vehicles provided by the RNAS, the Minerva’s already in service, and 2 or 3 armored Sheffield-Simplex vehicles acquired in Britain, it was enhanced `Groupe d’Auto Canons – Mitrailleuses’ which was assigned to the `Corps de Cavalerie’ on August 12, 1915.

On December 20, 1916, the `Groupe d’Autos Canons Mitrailleuses’ was dissolved. The Lanchester returned to the British Army and the remaining vehicles were divided between the Armored Divisions and `Divisions d’Armée Cavalerie’. Finally, in September 1917, each of the six `Divisions d’Armée’ of the Quartier Général disposed of two `Escuadrilles d’ Automitrailleuses’, while the Grand Quartier Général had four. Meanwhile, a `Groupe d’autosblindées’ was framed in the 1st `Division of Cavalerie’ with eight Automitrailleuses and three auto-canons. The 2nd `Division of Cavalerie’ only had a Automitrailleuses. The reorganization of the Army on January 24, 1918 abolished the 2nd `Division of Cavalerie’, but the other units actively participated in the Great Offensive of 1918.