The Carro Armato M14/41 served in the medium tank role for the Italian Army (as well as a few notable others) during World War 2. The type was adopted for service in 1941 (hence its designation) and was a rather unspectacular armored vehicle with very limited tactical value concerning World War 2 tank warfare. The Italian company of FIAT produced upwards of 800 of the type throughout the war years and the tank would serve in the ranks of the German, British and Australian armies within time. The M14/41 first saw combat action in North Africa though its slight protection scheme coupled with Italian tank doctrine, limited armament and mounting losses shown the type to be overmatched by what the Allies offered. The M14/41 was born from the preceding M13/40 series which was also produced by FIAT though both tanks took their queue from the widely-accepted British Vickers 6-Ton light tank of 1928.
The designation of "M14/41" breaks down as follows: "M" for "Medio" (or "Medium"), "14" for its listed operating weight in tonnes and "41" for the initial year of production. Of note concerning Italian armor of World War 2 was the classification method used with Italian tanks. While classified by the Italian Army as a "medium" tank due to its weight, the M14/41 was - for all intents and purposes - a "light" tank design to the rest of the world, comparable to the American M3/M5 Stuart for example. This would show true when the M14/41 would be pitted against heavier tank types in combat.
With the M13/40 series already in production and serving the Italian Army in numbers (779 were built), thought was given to upgrading the design with a more powerful engine. While the same chassis was to be retained in the design, a new armor configuration was ordered around a revised hull superstructure to help improve crew protection. After the appropriate changes had been made the tank emerged as the "M14/41" and entered service with the Royal Italian Army in 1941.
Design of the M14/41 was conventional by tank standards of the time. The vehicle featured side-mounted track systems enveloping four double-tired road wheel bogies suspended on a Vertical Volute Spring Suspension system (VVSS). The drive sprocket was at the front of the hull with the track idler at the rear and three track return rollers used to guide the upper track portions about. The tracks were slim in their width which was common for many light/medium tanks of the time, especially those emerging from accepted design doctrine of the 1930s. The hull sported a near-flat glacis plate but whatever ballistics protection this offered was negated by the multi-faced hull superstructure. The superstructure was required for the fighting compartment with the driver seated at the front left of the vehicle and a bow machine gunner to his immediate right, these positions separated by the transmission system running along the cabin floor. The sides of the superstructure were near-vertical which presented a tempting target to anti-tank teams as well as a tall profile along the horizon in general. The engine was situated at the rear of the hull in a conventional manner. A 360-degree traversing turret was affixed to the hull superstructure roof and managed the main gun armament. A two-piece hatch system along the turret roof allowed for entry/exit of the tank as required. Armor protection ranged from 6mm to 42mm in thickness about the various faces of the vehicle, though armor was generally more concentrated along the front facings for obvious reasons. The Carro Armato M14/41 tank was crewed by four personnel to include the driver, tank commander, machine gunner and gunner.
The M14/41 was primarily armed with a 47mm main gun which, at a certain point in armored warfare history, was actually a very capable weapon caliber. However, as the war increasingly grew to include more armored battles, gun calibers soon grew in turn. With this growth also came new hulls that were better armored than in the past and, thusly, the 47mm as a main tank-killing gun was more or less made obsolete. However, utilizing High-Explosive (HE) shells, an antiquated tank gun could still find some value on the battlefield in engaging enemy infantry emplacements and other "soft" targets of note. The 47mm main gun was supplemented by a pair of 8mm Modello 38 series general purpose machine guns. Both were fitted to a limited-traverse gun position in the right of the bow. Another 8mm machine gun was fitted in a coaxial position in the turret next to the main gun.
Power for the tank was supplied by a FIAT SPA 15-TM-40 series 8-cylinder diesel-fueled engine developing 145 horsepower. This allowed for a top speed of 22 miles per hour on ideal surfaces and operational ranges out to 124 miles.
In practice, the limitations of this medium tank design residing in the body of a light tank became painfully clear, especially when combat was encountered. The armor was realistically too thin to contend with the guns of the modern battlefield and the engine made the type extremely prone to catching fire when hit (this was a detrimental value of some other tanks in the war). Additionally, the powertrain proved wholly unreliable especially in the desert conditions it was being asked to fight in. Crews also held a certain disdain for the rather cramped conditions they would be asked to fight it. Once must remember that tanker conditions, in general, were quite unforgiving regardless of what tank it was - some nations offered some creature comforts but most did not - especially under war time circumstances. Tankers certainly had a rough go of warfare.
After the Italians were run out of North Africa, the M14/41 was used in a limited capacity from then on. Perhaps the biggest claim to fame for the series was the use of its chassis to form the basis of the "Semovente 90/53" series tank destroyer which held a greater battlefield value. The Semovente90/53 lacked a working turret and sported a shallow hull superstructure armed with a fixed 90mm Cannone da 90/53 series tank-killing gun. However, only 48 of the type were completed, these beginning to see action in 1941.
The British and Australians only made use of the M14/41 in their respective precarious circumstances. As the Italians fled, they left behind scores of equipment including tanks such as the M14/41. Needing whatever armored vehicles they could muster, the Allies used what they could to help reinforce their depleted armored stocks until better alternatives could be found/received. However, these Italian tanks were quickly replaced when possible, bringing an end to their rather lackluster legacy in the war.