Land combat of World War 2 went beyond the storied engagements involving masses of tank formations. A portion of this combat fell to lighter vehicles such as armored cars, a category that was born in the fighting of World War 1 and had evolved to considerable forms by the time of World War 2 as powerplants, armor and weaponry were better balanced on these wheeled machines. Armored cars presented a low-cost alternative to full-fledged combat tanks - including light tanks - and proved highly adaptable and agile in the environments they were called to fight in. The most famous of the Italian armored cars of World War 2 became the "Autoblinda" that gave rise to the initial Autoblinda 40 (AB 40) production mark which was then evolved through succeeding designs that attempted to improve upon the limitations of the original while staying in tune with ongoing battlefield requirements.
With growing empirical aspirations in Africa (in an effort to control the Mediterranean and Suez Canal, Italy found itself with colonies in Libya and Ethiopia. And with these new holdings, there required a certain logistical reach, consistent governing and security in helping quell local upheavals and rebellious groups. Colonial police forces were in need of better tools for the job and it soon became clear that an armored car was required as a fast-reaction force which could also protect its crew from harm. At the same time, the Italian Army was seeking to modernize its stable of light armored vehicles and sought a similar design. Authorities elected to seek out a single solution for both branches and formulated a requirement for a four-wheeled design. A pilot vehicle then appeared in 1939, was adopted by the Italians thereafter and serial production ordered to begin in 1940 under the designation of "Autoblinda 40" (abbreviated to "AB 40"). Manufacture was handled by Ansaldo-Fossati.
The AB 40 took on a conventional automobile arrangement that included four rubber-tired road wheels fitted across two axles. Two spare wheels were affixed to the hull sides in reserve. The engine was fitted to a rear compartment with the crew cabin to the front. Armament was held in a 360-degree traversing turret mounted on the superstructure roof. Design of the turret was, in fact, based on that of the preceding FIAT L6/40 light tank of 1940. The superstructure and turret featured riveted/bolt-on, angled plates for overall protection reaching 18mm in thickness across vital faces (6mm at lesser faces). The entire hull was then bolted to the awaiting chassis during final assembly. The vehicle's powertrain allowed for all four wheels to be driven which fulfilled the 4x4 all-terrain quality. The engine was a FIAT-SPA 6-cylinder gasoline-fueled system outputting at 88 horsepower and allowing for a driving range of 250 miles at a maximum road speed of 46 miles per hour. The entire crew complement numbered four and included the primary driver, the commander/gunner, a secondary gunner and a secondary gunner. One of the unique design qualities of the AB 40 was its inclusion of a secondary driver's position fitted at the rear of the cabin. This position featured only basic driving controls but allowed the car to be steered in reverse without the entire vehicle having to turn around to escape.
The AB 40 was given a rather unique transmission system arrangement set up in an "X" form. The engine was mated to a dry-plate clutch which fed into a 5-speed gearbox within the clutch compartment itself, giving the drivers access to all available speeds, sans the fifth for the secondary driver, and useful for when the vehicle would be driven in reverse. The X-form gave steering to all four of the available wheel units.
The AB 40 was modestly armed with 3 x 8mm Breda machine guns, two fitted to the turret and a third facing rear and set to fire over the engine compartment, offset to the right side of the hull.
The AB 40 was quickly put into service and it fulfilled its policing and reconnaissance roles faithfully across North Africa. By this time, it was seen that the machine gun-only armament of the AB 40 series was a limitation and an up-gunned variant was soon ordered as the "AB 41" of 1941.The AB 41 proved the most popular of the Autoblinda armored car line in all of World War 2 for its turret now incorporated a 20mm Breda 35 series autocannon in addition to a coaxial 8mm Breda 38 series machine gun. The rear-facing 8mm machine gun was retained. The cannon was typically fielded with 456 projectiles while ammunition stocks for the two Breda machine guns totaled 1,992 rounds. The engine was uprated to output at 120 horsepower. Maximum speed was 48 miles per hour while range remained a respectable 250 miles. The vehicle continued to be crewed by four personnel. The forward-reverse driving quality was retained. Production of AB 41s numbered 550 examples and spanned from 1941 into 1943. Every fourth AB 41 was completed with an anti-aircraft machine gun placed on the turret roof for self-defense against low-flying aircraft. Some former AB 40 marks were converted to the AB 41 standard when possible. September of 1942 saw a total of 298 AB 41 cars available and these serving Italian interests across North Africa, Greece and Yugoslavia.
AB 41 models were pressed into service along the East Front against the Soviet Union and alongside German and other Axis groups in the fighting that stemmed from the invasion of June 1941. The terrain played up to the strengths of the AB 41 as its 4x4, all-wheel nature took over. The value of AB 41 vehicles was such that several modifications were put in place to further their usefulness in the field and as protective components tied static fronts. One such modification was a railway conversion kit which allowed the AB 41 to operate on train tracks and patrol vital sections of line against possible enemy exposure. A spotlight and extra field lighting equipment were part of the conversion kit which created the Ab 41 "Ferroviaria" designation. Railway AB 41s proved particularly useful in the Balkans where partisans were actively engaged against Axis overseers. Some AB 41 vehicles had their turrets removed to be used as command cars or artillery spotters offering excellent viewing out of the hull.
Several final Autoblinda developments became the AS 42 and AB 43. The AS 42 was known as "Camionetta Sahariana" and developed primarily for hot and dry desert warfare (lacking turret and crewed by five) while the AB 43 was a proposed 47mm-armed armor car destined never to see production - the Italians formally surrendered to the Allies in September of 1943. After the surrender, the new Italian Army renamed their AB 40 and AB 41 cars to "Lince" ("Lynx"). The cars did manage to continue fighting under both Allied and Axis flags until the end of the war in Europe in May of 1945. Some 57 AB 41 models fell to the regrouping/retreating Germans (as the "Panzerspahwagen AB41 201(i)" - the lower-case "i" signifying their "Italian" origins) while enemy factories contributed a further 120 examples to the Axis cause before the end of the Italian Campaign.
The Autoblinda 40/41 series of armored cars was arguably one of the best and most important Italian-originated contributions in all of World War 2.