The Fiat 3000 was a highly-modified Italian version of the French FT-17. Modifications included (but were not limited to) side skirt armor and a redesigned turret. It became the first tank of note to be produced on Italian soil and formed the backbone of the foundation of Italian armored corps leading up to World War 2. Like the French and American systems, the Fiat 3000 had a pronounced "hull-up" appearance. The turret sat atop a superstructure and all facings were given angled surfaces. The driver was situated in the forward hull with a vision port and hinged rectangular door at face height while the commander/gunner took up his position in the traversing turret. External mufflers were fitted along each side of the engine compartment. When applied with the side skirt armoring, the Fiat 3000 showcased four distinct mud chutes along the skirt sides. Make no mistake, the Fiat 3000, like the Renault FT-17 before it, was a small vehicle - appearing as something akin to a child's riding toy when seen in person - as opposed to the imposing tank forms we are accustomed to seeing today.
The original Renault FT-17 was a French-designed light tank design appearing in 1917. While most of the French authorities were gravitating towards the design, construction and fielding of super-heavy tanks for the war effort, Colonel Jean-Baptiste Eugene Estienne envisioned a much lighter support vehicle that could progress alongside infantry. The FT-17 would sport a single engine mounted to the rear, a cast hull, machine gun armament, a crew of two and a fully-traversing turret. Little could anyone realize that the FT-17 would influence tank design philosophies for years to come. The FT-17 was first deployed in March of 1917 and saw combat over a year later in May of 1918. Needless to say, the FT-17 proved a success for the time and was widely used in the post-war years where nations could operate their FT-17's in the interim while their engineers focused on building more modern armored fighting vehicles. The United States fielded the type under the "Six-Ton Model 1917" designation.
1,400 examples of the Fiat 3000 were on order by the end of World War 1 (November 11th, 1918) with deliveries not expected to begin until May of 1919. As such, the outstanding wartime order was subsequently cancelled and as little as 100 example were ultimately delivered. It would not be until 1921 that the first series Fiat 3000s (carro d'assaulto Fiat 3000 Model 21) entered service with the Italian Army.
The first-run Fiat 3000s were fitted with a 50-horsepower gasoline engine providing a top speed of 13 miles per hour. Armament was rather modest and consisted of a pair of 6.5mm machine guns. Operating weight was listed at 5.5 tons. The Model 21 was made ready in time for actions in Libya in February of 1926. Some were eventually exported to Abyssinia (modern-day Ethiopia) and Albania as well as Lithuania. In 1935, the Fiat 3000 was put into action once again, this time against Ethiopia in the counter-insurgency role.
It was soon realized that the machine gun armament of the Model 21 was of little value on the modern battlefield and thought was given to up-gunning the type with a more powerful 37mm main gun. A 37/40 cannon was selected, fitted into the turret (offset to right) and tested sometime in 1929. By 1930, the improved Fiat 3000B (carro d'assaulto Fiat 3000 Model 30) was available for service.
Beyond the inclusion of the 37mm main gun, the Model 30 was also given a new and more powerful Fiat 4-cylinder gasoline engine outputting at 65bhp at 1,700rpm. The new engine was housed under a revised engine compartment which slightly altered the tanks profile. The suspension system was revised for the better and external storage facilities were rearranged. The tanks operational weight increased to a manageable 6 tons. While the 37mm main gun was a major change from the earlier Fiat 3000 production series, it was not uncommon for Fiat 3000Bs to also be produced with a pair of 6.5mm machine guns in place of the 37mm cannon.
Sources are conflicted as to whether or not the Fiat 3000 served with the Italian Expeditionary Force in the Spanish Civil War of 1936. There were a limited number of Fiat 3000s available at the beginning of World War 2, with Italy officially jumping into the fray in June of 1940. By this time, the Italian Army had adopted an all-new designation system and thusly the names of the Fiat 3000 and Fiat 3000B were changed to L.5/21 and L.5/30 respectively.
Some Fiat 3000s were known to have deployed to Greece in 1940 and may also have been used in the East African campaign of 1941. The Fiat 3000 did become the last Italian tank to face off against the Allied forces driving up Italy before the Italian surrender. Of the two Fiat 3000 companies encountered there, one was used as fixed defensive gun positions in an attempt to halt, harass and slow down the Allied advance. The other company operated in a more conventional battlefield role.
Despite its use in World War 2, the Fiat 3000 series was generally labeled as obsolete by the beginning of the 1930s. A new generation of Italian armored vehicles based on a British design were soon developed to take its place, this beginning with the Carro Veloce CV.33 fast tank series, leading the Fiat 3000 to take on secondary roles such as that of training future tank crews.