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Book Review of

"Italian Soft-Skinned Vehicles of the Second World War: Motorcycles, Cars, Trucks, Artillery Tractors 1935-1945

(Volumes 1 & 2)"


By Glen Phelan - Dublin, Ireland



Basic Item Information


Italian Soft-Skinned Vehicles of the Second World War: Motorcycles, Cars, Trucks, Artillery Tractors 1935-1945

(Volumes 1 & 2)


Volume 1 Information via Casemate Publishers

Volume 2 Information

Author, Editor and/or Illustrator

Ralph Riccio, Mario Pieri & Daniele Gulielmi


Helion & Company 

ISBN Number

Vol 1: 978-1-804513-27-9

Vol 2: 978-1-804514-91-7 


Italian Soft-Skinned Vehicles of the Second World War


Softcover Book: Portrait Format (10” x 8”

Number of Pages

Vol 1: 146 Pages

Vol 2: 226 Pages 

Number/Type of Photos and/or Illustrations

Vol 1: Over 330 B&W Photographs & Illustrations with several in colour and six (6) Colour Profiles.

Vol 2: Over 480 B&W Photographs & Illustrations with several in colour and six (6) Colour Profiles.

Text Language


Retail Price

$59.95 USD/for Each Volume 


Glen Phelan 

Review Date

March 5, 2024 

Review Summary*







Detailed Review

The review copy was provided by WarWheels sponsor Casemate Publishers.

I was delighted to receive these books to review, and I immediately started flipping through the pages, and getting sucked into the content. On first viewing it’s hard to focus on any one subject, or its derivatives. There’s just so much in there; And I mean this as a compliment. The scope of these books is very wide ranging, and quite impressive. Looking at the list of sources (often absent from such volumes) and of course the subject matter itself, it’s evident that a large amount of research and work have gone into the production of these volumes. There are two volumes, but I will review and refer to them in most regards, as one work; Which, in fact they are really. The main subject matter (the vehicle types) is broken down into eight (8) categories, in addition to the usual list of plates, acknowledgements, Foreword, glossaries, etc. Categories 1 to 4 are covered in Volume 1 with 5 to 8 being covered in Volume 2. The authors are Ralph Riccio (I have read several of his other books, on Irish subjects, and they are fine works), Mario Pieri and Daniele Guglielmi. The Colour illustrations are drawn by David Bocquelet, and are of a quality and style like that seen in the better monthly modelling magazines.

Before I go into the detailed breakdown and discussion about the various content sections, let’s discuss the background of the subject matter, and how welcome it is in book form; be you an avid historical enthusiast or modeller, or both. The authors claim this is the first English language study focussing on soft-skinned vehicles of the Italian Armed Forces of the 1930s through to the 1940s. This covers a period of aggressive colonial expansion and the conflicts that elicited participation. They include (unofficially) the Spanish Civil War and the cauldron of the Second World War; particularly in North Africa, the Mediterranean and Italy itself. With that in mind, it is a shame it is only now such a volume has been published.  Most could agree the subject is much less covered than that of the other major belligerents in the Second World War. Add to that, while Italian subjects are a rarer beast, even more so is coverage of their soft-skins (indeed of any nation).

When we think of dynamic military vehicles, most will picture in their minds-eye tanks or armoured cars; charging across the fields of France, Steppes of Russia, or the deserts of North Africa. Rarely is one’s view of the canvas covered truck ferrying supplies to the front and wounded to the rear. Or, the tractor hauling artillery into position or immobilised vehicles from mud, swamp, or water. Yet, these are the vehicles that were the veins and arteries of war, some even finding a place at the front line in a combat role. We’ve all heard the sayings of how “an army marches on its stomach” or when asked what three things a combat infantryman needed more of, they replied: “ammo, ammo and ammo”. And dare I quote the statement: “Amateurs talk strategy. Professionals talk logistics.”? These books cover the very vehicles which carried out the above essential tasks (and many more) and were the logistical muscle of the Italian Armed Forces.

While the Italians did have tanks and other AFVs, they were light, and relatively few. The Italians, influenced by their colonial ambitions and a doctrine of light mobile forces, concentrated their limited resources on wheeled vehicles; the majority being soft-skinned. Yet, there were issues, foremost of which was that the automotive industry of Italy was never able to supply the number of vehicles that the RE (Regio Esercito – Royal Italian Army) needed. While you will read within the pages of these books how successful, well designed, and effective many of the soft-skin vehicles of the Italian Armed Forces were, they just did not have enough of them. The authors cite this as perhaps a very large part of the reason the RE did not perform, at least against other modern western militaries, as well as it may have. An army that was designed around mobility was just not mobile enough, especially when compared to its opponents and allies.

For example, Volume 1 outlines that Nicola Pignato (mentioned a number of times in the book’s bibliography) estimated that Italy produced about 163,200 motor vehicles between 1940 and 1945. By comparison, Germany produced 130,000 Opel Blitz trucks, alone. The US: over 200,000 Studebaker, 382,350 Dodge WC, and 572.500 GMC trucks. The Italian’s civilian motor vehicle ownership is also discussed as being not much better, and neither it nor the colonies Italy had conquered could offer a solution. In fact, the colonial conflicts had absorbed and degraded much of the fleet Italy did have. There were also performance capability issues. While Italian vehicles were of good quality, they lacked the range, cross country ability and power of the opponent’s trucks previously mentioned above. While the number of motor vehicles in Italy at the time may have been low, the range was certainly diverse, and this was reflected in the RE fleet. These books are a rich source of information and pictures on that diverse range of military vehicles. Sold yet?

How are these volumes laid out? You will see by the tables of content, the layout is standard enough: Volume 1 differs in having the authors’ notes and Foreword, as well as the Overview and Explanatory Notes (which makes up Section 1). Volume 2 on the other hand, contains the bibliography, and appendices covering such topics as camouflage/markings, manufacturers and even production under German control (’43 to ’45). That said, the essential and best coverage in these volumes is the eight (8) categories dedicated to the various vehicle types.  So, buying just one of either volume is not, in and of itself, problematic. Each vehicle category is then laid out thusly: Development and Service History, Technical Description, Variants and Specifications. There are also several (almost entirely black and white) pictures accompanying each vehicle type. In addition, there are also a handful of colour, or colourised, photographs here and there.  If, say, your interest was confined to motorcycles, motor cars or light trucks, Volume 1 will suffice. On the contrary, if your tastes were more based around the medium to heavy trucks, trailers, tractors and or specialised vehicles, then Volume 2 is for you. It’s easy for me to say, sitting here with both books in hand, but if such a topic as Italian military vehicles in general is something that interests you, do yourself a favour and get both volumes.

Let’s get into the weeds a little, shall we? This, and the following paragraph will detail the vehicle subjects covered in each category. If you’re already sold on the books, then kudos to me, and read no further. If you’re still wondering what bang you’re getting for your buck, then read on:

Volume 1:

Section 1: Overview and Explanatory Notes

·      Historical Context.

·      Standardised Military Trucks.

·      Engines and fuels.

·      Wheels and Tyres.

·      Right-Hand Drive.

·      Types of Bodywork.

Section 2: Motorcycles

·      Motocicletta Volugrafo Aermoto

·      Motociclo Benelli 250 M37

·      Motociclo Benelli 500 VL Militare

·      Mototriciclo Benelli 500 M36

·      Motociclo Bianchi 500 M

·      Motociclo Gilera 500 LTE

·      Motocarrozzetta Gilera Marte 500

·      Motocarro Gilera Mercurio

·      Motociclo Sertum 500 MCM

·      Motociclo Guzzi 500 Alce

·      Mototriciclo Guzzi Trialce

Section 3: Motor Cars

·      Autovettura Alfa Romeo 2500 C

·      Autovettura Bianchi VM6 C

·      Autovettura Fiat 518 Coloniale

·      Autovetturetta Fiat 508 M

·      Autovettura Fiat 508 C and 508 C Coloniale

·      Autovettura Fiat 508 CM (1100 Mimettica)

·      Autovetturetta Fiat 500 Topolino

·      Autovettura Fiat 2800 CMC

·      Autovettura Lancia Aprilia Coloniale

·      Autovettura Lancia Artena Militare

Section 4: Light Trucks

·      Autocarretta OM 32, 35 and 36

·      Autocarro Leggero SPA 25 C

·      Autocarro Leggero Militare SPA 38 R and 36 R

·      Autocarro Leggero Fiat 618 MC

·      Fiat 508 M Camioncino and Furgoncino

·      Fiat 508 C and 1100 Camioncino and Furgoncino

·      Autocarro Leggero SPA CL 39

·      Autocarro Sahariano SPA AS 37

Volume 2:

Section 5: Medium and Heavy Trucks

·      Autocarro Medio Alfa Romeo Tipo 500 and 500 RE

·      Autocarro Unificato Medio Alfa Romeo Tipo 430 RE

·      Autocarro Medio Bianchi Mediolanum

·      Autocarro Unificato Medio Bianchi Miles

·      Autocarro Pesante Militare Ceirano 50 CM

·      Autocarro Medio Militare Ceirano 47 CM

·      Autocarro Pesante Fiat 633 NM

·      Autocarro Militare Pesante Unificato Fiat 634 NM

·      Autocarro Militare Medio Unificato Fiat 626 NM and NLM

·      Autocarro Militare Pesante Unificato Fiat 666 NM

·      Autocarro Militare Pesante Unificato Fiat 665 NM

·      Autocarro Militare Unificato Pesante Isotta Fraschini D80 NM

·      Autocarro Militare Medio Isotta Fraschini D70 M

·      Autocarro Militare Medio Isotta Fraschini D65

·      Autocarro Pesante Lancia Ro NM and Ro BM

·      Autocarro Militare Pesante Unificato Lancia 3Ro NM

·      Autocarro Militare Medio Unificato Lancia Esaro

·      Autocarro Pesante Militare OM 3 BOD

·      Autocarro Militare Medio Unificato OM Taurus

·      Autocarro Fiat Dovunque 33 and SPA Dovunque 35

·      Autocarro SPA Dovunque 41

·      Autocarro Breda 51 and 52

Section 6: Artillery Tractors

·      Trattore Pavesi P4

·      Trattore Pavesi P4-100 Modello 26 and 30

·      Trattore Pesante Breda Mod 32 and 33

·      Trattore Pesante Breda Mod 40 and 41

·      Trattore Da Montagna Fiat OCI 708 CM

·      Trattore Fiat OCI 40

·      Trattore Leggero SPA TL 37

·      Trattore Medio SPA TM 40

·      Trattore Semicingolato Fiat 727

·      Trattore Semicingolato Breda 61

Section 7: Special Purpose Vehicles

·      Camionetta Desertica SPA-Viberti AS 42

·      Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS 43

Section 8: Trailers

·      Tank Transport Trailers

·      General Purpose Cargo Trailers

As an added bonus, here is a list of the twelve (12) colour plates drawn by David Bocquelet:

Volume 1:

       Fiat 508 CM. Italy, 1939.

       Autocaretta 35 light truck, Italian Alps, 1935.

       Fiat 618, East Africa, 1936.

       SPA 38R light truck, Eastern Front, 1941.

       SPA CL 39 light truck, Eastern Front, 1941.

       SPA AS 37 light truck, North Africa, 1942.

Volume 2:

       Fiat 634 NM heavy truck, Balkans, 1940.

       Lancia 3Ro heavy truck, Eastern Front, 1941.

       Fiat 626 NLM medium truck, Libya, 1942.

       SPA Dovunque 35 medium truck, Libya, 1942.

       Breda 32 heavy artillery tractor, Eastern Front, 1941.

       SPA TL37 light artillery tractor, Eastern Front, 1942.

Final thoughts: I have many. However, I’ll share a few for an overall flavour. Negatives? I have none really. They’re more “nitpicks”. For instance, I think an index would have been helpful. Linked to this, the flow of each section (from vehicle to vehicle), is such that you can miss the fact one vehicle has finished and you’re into the next. Clearer delineation between each subject would be better, especially flipping through pages to find a specific vehicle you wish to view. Finally, there were no motorcycle colour plates. To me as a former military motorcyclist, I’d have liked to have seen one. Like I said, nitpicking. All small stuff, and by far eclipsed by the plethora of pictures, and fascinating information covering all kinds of soft-skins.

On the plus side, you will find endlessly fascinating and interesting subjects in both volumes.  In Volume One, there’s a photo comparison of a Fiat 500 A Topolino, in German service, parked alongside the massive Bussing-NAG Typ 650.  Then you’ll see a Lancia Aprilia Coloniale staff car in Ukraine, or an Autocarretta Ferroviaria Blindata modello 1942 converted to an armoured railway truck. Then on the very next page there’s a SPA 25 C/10 ambulance in a wonderful, WWI style, camouflage. In Volume 2 you’ll get much the same when discovering the huge range, comparatively, of medium to heavy trucks.  On one page there’s a Fiat 626 in German service towing a Stuka across a field, then a large section covering the Lancia 3Ro (including the mounting of artillery, workshops, bowsers and wood fuel systems). These subjects are augmented by the Dovunque 41s towing 88mm Flak guns, Fiat 727 and Breda 61 half-tracks (both licensed-built German vehicles) and certainly not to be forgotten, the iconic Camionetta Desertica AS 42 and Camionetta AS 43.

Verdict? Highly Recommended.

Copyright: Glen Phelan - March 5, 2024