Categories
Israeli Armour

Hotchkiss H39 in Israeli Service

Israeli FlagIsrael (1948- Unknown)
Light tank – 10 vehicles used

The Hotchkiss H39 was an improvement over the previous H35 model, a light infantry tank created for the French 1933 infantry tank program. However, the H35 was rejected by the infantry and ended up being adopted by the French cavalry. The newer H39 model brought a more powerful engine and, from about the 480th tank produced onward, a newer, more potent 37 mm SA 38 main gun was installed. Used widely by the French army in 1940, and then in a secondary role by the German Wehrmacht, a number of H39s were recaptured by the French upon the liberation of the country in 1944. In comparison to other pre-1940 vehicles, the Hotchkiss light tank would see a more extended post-war service, being used by French occupation forces in Germany, in the earliest phases of the Indochina war and exported to the state of Israel upon its creation in 1948.

Israeli Acquisition

The region of the British Mandate for Palestine was a major area of conflict during the decolonization of the Levant and the Middle East. Populated both by Arab Muslims and a Jewish population that was rising in number following the conclusion of the Second World War, the future of the area was violently disputed between these two sides. The United Nations’ partition plan (Resolution 181) was not being accepted by the Palestinian population nor by the neighboring Arab states.

On 14th May 1948, the State of Israel was declared by David Ben-Gurion, head of the internationally recognized Jewish Agency which defended the interest of Jews in Palestine. The next day, the Arab-Israeli war began as troops from Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, and Iraq entered the claimed territory of the new Israeli state. Israel relied, at this point, on the Haganah, a paramilitary organization that had been founded in 1921 and was often criticized for being nearly terrorist in its nature; with the independence of Israel, this Haganah morphed into a form of militia that defended the new state. Israel had to scramble and search for military equipment on an international market that was mostly hostile to arm this mostly poorly equipped Haganah. Some Israeli agents had been sent to search for surplus equipment to purchase in France, and by the end of May 1948, had managed to acquire a variety of equipment; mostly field artillery pieces of various caliber, but also ten Hotchkiss H39 light tanks, which were brought back to the nascent State of Israel in early June. This was in spite of a military embargo that had been placed on 29th May along with a truce declared by the United Nations that had no effect. The tanks had reportedly been acquired for a price of US$41,000 (US$450,000 in 2020 values) each, and all ammunition included with them was High-Explosive (HE). Unloading the H39s outside of the eyes of the UN and British forces still present was difficult; the port of Haifa was still partly run by the British, whereas no dock featuring a crane able to pick up the vehicles existed in Tel-Aviv. The cargo ship carrying the tanks, camouflaged as another ship to conceal the fact that it may be laden with weapons, was finally unloaded by another ship that featured a crane, after its captain had been bribed, and told he was to unload agricultural machinery. He had to be bribed a second time to continue unloading the ship upon discovery that the vehicles were in fact not agricultural, but combat tanks. Some sources describe the tanks as H35s instead of H39s, however, all photos of Hotchkiss tanks in Israel show H39s, which can be easily differentiated by their raised engine deck. At least one appears to have been armed with the 37 mm SA 18 found on the first 480 H39s. The SA 38 found on vehicles produced later appears to be somewhat more common on the Israeli vehicles. Interestingly enough, some vehicles featured a German-style commander cupola similar to that found on the Panzer II, indicating some vehicles had been operated by German forces and at some point refitted to suit their needs, before falling back into French hands and then being sold to Israel. It should be noted a source mentions that the H39 came from Yugoslavia, and not France, though the French hypothesis seems more believable.

Into Service with “Brigade 8” and Difficulties

The Hotchkiss H39 light tanks were, upon delivery, given to the newly created “Brigade 8” unit, a part of the Palmah, the elite component of the Haganah militia. Brigade 8 was supposed to be the first Israeli armored unit; composed of two battalions, the 81st which was supposed to be a mechanized infantry unit, operating a variety of motorized vehicles and some armored cars alongside its infantry, and the 82nd, which was to be the armored battalion. The 82nd had four mechanized companies which operated half-tracks and armored cars, and two armored companies; the first, Company Bet, operated two Cromwells and a single M4A3 tank, and the second, Company Vav, operated the ten Hotchkiss H39s. This division was actually formed more because of language than equipment; Company Bet was composed of English-speaking Western European personnel, while company Vav comprised mostly Russian-speaking Slavic personnel who had immigrated into Palestine following the devastation of the Second World War and Holocaust. Its commander, Felix Beoatus, was a veteran of the Soviet Red Army.

The tanks of Brigade 8 used a three-letter designation number found on their turret, a system similar to the one found on German tanks of the Wehrmacht; this was because this system had been chosen by Felix Beatos, a Polish Jew who only knew German tank markings. This meant that, for example, an H39 with the number 611, such as one which is preserved in Latrun today, was the 1st tank of the 1st Platoon of the 6th company (which was company Vav).

The tanks proved to be in a very poor state and hard to maintain. Those tanks had been produced from 1938 to 1940, and had often been used by both French and German armies before ending up in Israel, making them hard to maintain; not only that but parts, including engines, had to be imported from France to be able to maintain the fleet running. While each tank had been ordered with 2,000 37 mm rounds for the main guns and 15,000 7.5 mm rounds for the machine guns, all the shells delivered were high-explosive, and as the Arab armies did use armor, a solution had to be found to allow the H39 to face those potential enemies. This was done by refitting SA 38 shells with armor-piercing (AP) heads taken from stocks of American 37 mm shells. In total, some 400 rounds were converted before the end of Operation Danny (an Israeli attack to capture territory to the East of Tel Aviv, 9th to 19th July 1948). Outside of armament issue, engines too proved to be a problem as well; parts were lacking, and the cooling was vastly insufficient for the Middle-Eastern climate. This problem was so bad that only five of the original ten tanks could be made to be operational at the beginning of Operation Danny, and six in total during the war.

The Hotchkiss Tanks in the Arab-Israeli War

Hotchkiss H39, Lod airport
A Hotchkiss H39 in front of the control tower of Lod airport during operation Danny, July 1948. Source: Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

Brigade 8 was engaged in the Arab-Israeli war, taking part in several operations. The first major engagement of the unit was Operation Danny, in which Brigade 8 was involved in the capture of Lod, a city on the road from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem which notably had a considerable airport, where the H39s were photographed. The tanks had only been lightly engaged in this operation, however, all five operational H39s had breakdowns or other malfunctions, with one needing to stay in maintenance for a “long time”.

When they were operational, the performance of the H39’s, in particular, was underwhelming. In a following attack against Egyptian-held positions near the villages of al-Fallujah and Iraq al-Manshiyya, four H39s were damaged by mines or drove into anti-tank ditches, and had to be abandoned in front of Egyptian lines. A source mentions that seven out of twelve tanks available to Brigade 8 by that point were knocked out during this operation. Shortly after the end of this operation, the guns were removed from the H39s and fitted on some armored cars, ending the history of the light tanks as combat vehicles. Ironically, it was about this time that ten replacement engines had finally arrived from France and would have made the vehicles a lot easier to operate.

Hotchkiss H39 of Brigade 8
Hotchkiss H39s of Brigade 8, presumably at Lod airport. The vehicle at the forefront, N°600, features a German commander cupola, indicating that it was used by German troops after being captured in 1940. Source: bukvoed.livejournal
Three H39s
Three H39s alongside an armored car at Lod airport. Source: bukvoed.livejournal
Hotchkiss H39 Crew
Israeli H39 crews receiving orders from who appears to be Yitzhak Sadeh, commander of Brigade 8, on the left. Source: bukvoed.livejournal
Hotchkiss H39 being reviewed
Crew climbing into their H39 parked for a review, presumably at Lod Airport, 1948. Source: bokvoed.livejournal

The SA 38 Gun in Other Vehicles

The SA 38 gun featured in the Hotchkiss light tanks was mounted on some armored cars after they were removed from their original carriers. SA 38 guns have been identified on Marmon-Herrington armored cars of South African origin, as well as armored cars manufactured on the chassis of GMC and White trucks and fitted with an armored body that appears to come from an M3 Scout Car or M3 half-track. Some sources mention five of these White or GMC trucks as having “37 mm guns”, though it is unknown if all of those were SA 38s. These armored cars were quite likely used by the 8th Brigade, as the 81st battalion and the first four companies of the 82nd are known to have made use of these armored cars. The fact that these guns might have remained within the same unit makes sense in the disorganized context of the first Arab-Israeli war. These armored cars, mostly makeshift vehicles, were phased out quite quickly after the end of the Arab-Israeli war.

Armored Car on GMC Chassis
An armored car on a GMC or White chassis, featuring an SA 38 in a fully rotating turret as well as an MG34 in the hull. This photo appears to have been taken during Operation Horev, in December of 1948 or January of 1949. Source: bukvoed.livejournal
Marmon-Herrington armored Car
Marmon-Herrington armored car refitted with the same SA 38 37 mm gun. Unknown source.

Brigade 8 also had a “deception company”, of which the function was to confuse the enemy about the number and position of Israeli tanks. This unit placed H39 mockups on Jeeps to operate; those mock-up had some fairly regular markings, such as a number similar to what the H39s would have had in service, but also a skull and bones on the front of the mockup’s hull. Those were used to feint movement of armored vehicles near Egyptian lines.


Jeeps Disguised as H39sJeeps Disguised as H39s

The “Deception Company’s” jeeps disguised as H39s. Source: https://smolbattle.ru/threads/Деревянные-мaкеты-военной-теxники.55476/

Continued use of the H39s

Despite being disarmed, the H39s were not immediately sent to the scrapyard. By April of 1949, eight were mentioned to be in Brigade 8 workshop, with Company Vav (the Slavic company), having been dissolved. It appears that, at some point, at least some had a sort of dummy gun installed. This device had a long barrel ending with some form of a muzzle brake, and a square-shaped armor plate installed in place of the former mantlet. This has caused some confusion, as rumors of H39s refitted with 2-pounders have also showed up. These, however, are most likely some sort of confusion with Lebanese R35 light tanks, which used the same APX-R turret as the H39 and did receive QF 2-pounder anti-tank guns.

H39 with Dummy Gun
An H39 refitted with a dummy gun on static display. Source: bukvoed.livejournal
H39 during a ceremony
An H39 refitted with a dummy gun during a ceremony, 1977. Source: bukvoed.livejournal

The H39s appear to have been retained for ceremonial and perhaps training use for some time, with a photo of one in static display as well as some being present in military reviews, including aside a much more modern Merkava main battle tank. As of today, an H39 remains in the Israeli tank museum of Latrun. It has been refitted with a 37 mm SA 38 gun, returning it to the original state it fought in during the first weeks of the Arab-Israeli war of 1948.

Hotchkiss H39 at Latrun
The surviving Hotchkiss H39 at Latrun. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Conclusion

The Hotchkiss H39 light tanks were the first tanks used by the State of Israel in numbers higher than just one or two, as was the case for Cromwells and Shermans in the first weeks of the Arab-Israeli war. These long-obsolete French light tanks, delivered to the nascent state in secrecy and unloaded chaotically, were engaged in some of the first armored battles of Israel during Operation Danny and the battle for Lod and its airport.

The vehicle’s operational service was brief, being retired from combat service after several were knocked out by Egyptian defenses in October 1948. Nonetheless, the guns of some of these H39 light tanks would go on to continue fighting until the end of the war in some armored cars. The tanks themselves were, at least in part, preserved as ceremonial vehicles, and at least one appears to survive to today as part of the tank museum of Latrun.

Illustration of the sole surviving Israeli H39, as it is sitting in the Latrun miltiary museum in Israel. Illustration by David Bocquelet, modified by Pavel ‘Carpaticus’ Alexe.

Sources

Chariots of the Desert: Story of the Israeli Armored Corps, David Eshel, 1989, pp 13-18
The Origin of the Arab-Israeli Arms Race, Amitzur Ilan, 1996, pp 187 & 238
bukvoed.livejournal: https://bukvoed.livejournal.com/209631.html https://bukvoed.livejournal.com/157255.html
Israeli Armour in detail (Red Special Museum Line №6), Daniel Petz, pp 2
First Signs of Armor, Amiad Brezner

Categories
Cold War Lebanese Armor

Renault R35 in Lebanese service

LEBANON Lebanon (1945 – At least 1958)
Light tank – Unknown numbers

The Renault R35 was born as a result of the French 1933 light infantry tank program, which set requirements for what would basically be a remake of the WW1-era Renault FT with more modern technology. The most common of the three tanks that were adopted following this program was the R35 (the others being the H35 and FCM 36), a slow (20 km/h) two-crew light tank which featured a puny 37 mm SA 18 main gun alongside a coaxial MAC 31 7.5 mm in a fully rotating turret. Poorly designed ergonomics-wise and lacking a radio, perhaps the only redeeming feature of the vehicle was a quite respectable 40 mm of all-around armor, considerable for a 1930s light tank. While originally meant to be used as a support vehicle alongside the French infantry in a European war, the R35’s large production run meant it saw service beyond the plains of Northern Europe, including former French colonies which reached independence: this was the case of, for example, Lebanon.

Lebanese Independence

The current country of Lebanon fell under the authority of the French Republic following the victory of the Entente powers in the First World War. A former Ottoman territory, Lebanon, alongside its neighbor Syria, became a League of Nations mandate under French management following the 1920 treaty of Sevres. Both territories were generally joined together as the “French Levant”.

Following the invasion of France in the spring of 1940, the French Levant remained loyal to the legal government of France, which became the Vichy regime. After German aircraft were allowed to transit through airfields in Lebanon to support Iraq in the Anglo-Iraqi war of May 1941, the Vichy colony was invaded by Commonwealth and Free French forces in June and July of that same year. Now in possession of these colonial territories, Free France made considerable concessions. Lebanon was granted independence on 22nd November 1943. However, this independence was still not in full effect; most of Lebanon’s troops, about 3,000 men, remained a part of the French Army as the Troupes Spéciales du Levant, which were finally transferred to the Lebanese government on August 1st, 1945.

Formation of a Lebanese military

The new Lebanese Army that was formed from 1945 onward was, at first, overwhelmingly equipped with whatever the French colonial troops had left in the Levantine country. The infantry used MAS 36 rifles, and the country’s first armored vehicles were Renault R35 and Hotchkiss H35 light tanks, as well as Renault UE and Lorraine 37L armored tractors and supply vehicles.

While Lebanon kept a moderate military budget, which never reached over 4% of its GDP, it quickly acquired a variety of armored vehicles from other sources to replace those long-obsolete French light tanks. As a result of the conclusion of the Second World War, vast quantities of military equipment were available at a cheap price. In 1949, Lebanon acquired 16 Sherman Fireflies from Italy and 56 Staghound armored cars, including some fitted with AEC Mark III or Crusader turrets, armed with a 75 mm Ordnance QF and 6-pounder guns, respectively. In the 1950s, the material used by the Lebanese Army would only continue to diversify by including M41 Walker Bulldogs, AMX-13s and Charioteers.

French light tanks in Lebanon
A parade of French light infantry tanks in Lebanese service. The tank at the forefront is an H35, the others are R35s. Source: Military in the Middle East blog
French Infantry Tanks in Lebanon
Another photo of French light infantry tanks in Lebanese service, all four vehicles in this photo are R35s. Source: Military in the Middle East blog.

The 2-pounder refit

Despite this quite considerable influx of modern armored vehicles, particularly for a small country with a moderate military budget such as Lebanon, the old French equipment was not immediately phased out. The R35 light tanks, particularly, were subject to a particularly interesting and considerable modification.

Some R35s, the exact number of conversions being unknown, had their 37 mm SA 18 main gun removed and were refitted with a British QF 2-pounder anti-tank gun, which had a far more impressive anti-armor performance. As the coaxial MAC 31 machine-gun was part of the gun system that was fitted in the R35’s APX-R turret, it was removed as well, but a photo seems to indicate a hole for a coaxial machine gun was included in the new mantlet. Whether the vehicles re-used the MAC 31 machine gun or were re-armed with another model is unknown.

The 2-pounder was, in comparison to the SA 18, a much larger gun. While similar in caliber (37 mm for the French gun, 40 mm for the British one), it was much longer, larger and heavier. The R35’s gun was particularly small and light. The gun and its mount weighed only 110 kg, and the 37 mm gun had a barrel length of 777 mm. In comparison, the British QF 2-pounder Mark XI had a barrel length of 2080 mm. The shells of the 2-pounders were also much longer, being 40×304 mm in comparison to 37×94 mm for the SA 18 shells.

Incorporating a larger gun required some significant modifications in the vehicle’s turret. The gun mantlet area was quite obviously lengthened on the Lebanese 2-pounder conversion, having a very rounded shape, whereas the French one had a straight shape. The gun’s barrel obviously extended much further than it did for the SA 18. Under this barrel, the recoil chamber also stuck out of the turret, which indicates that the 2-pounder used was a field gun, as the tank gun model used on British vehicles lacked this feature. Despite this, the breech of the gun most likely took far more internal space in the turret than the original 37 mm gun, which would have made the vehicle even less ergonomically viable. Interestingly enough, the vision port on the left of the gun appears to have been filled with a fixed rounded cover on the Lebanese conversion. The reason why this modification was undertaken is unknown.

Lebanese Renault R35 Tank
A Lebanese 40 mm-armed R35 seen from the side, showing the new gun mantlet and filled vision slot. Source: Military in the Middle East blog

When or where the R35s were converted, as well as how many received this larger gun (beyond that it was at least two vehicles), is unknown. It should be noted that the same conversion was theoretically possible on H35 light tanks, which Lebanon is known to have used. Those featured the exact same APX-R turret as the R35, and the conversion process would have been the same. Refitting the R35 with a 2-pounder gun vastly improved the anti-tank capacity of the vehicle. The SA 18 was a gun known for its sluggish muzzle velocity and puny capabilities, penetrating just 18 mm of armor at 35° and 400 m with its model 1935 armored-piercing projectiles firing at 600 m/s. In comparison, the 2-pounder’s standard armor-piercing tracer shot could penetrate 37 mm of armor at 60° at 500 yards (457 m). However, while formidable by 1930s standards, those penetration values were still subpar by the late 1940s and early 1950s standards. In addition to this, the reduced internal space in the turret may have ended up reducing the R35’s capacities even more. However, they could have limited utility against the mishmash collection of armor of the neighboring countries. For example, Israel operated H39 tanks that were not vulnerable to the 37 mm SA 18 but definitely were to the 2-Pounders, and even against vehicles that both guns could penetrate, such as lightly armored Marmon-Herrington or makeshift armored cars, the higher velocity of the 2-Pounders made it a far more accurate weapon, particularly at intermediate ranges or longer.

Lebanese Service

Details about the use of R35 light tanks in Lebanon’s Army are scarce. While Lebanon was theoretically engaged in the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, its army barely engaged, and nothing suggests their R35s were ever used in this conflict. Lebanon’s neighbor and ally in this conflict, Syria, is known to have made use of R35s, while Israel operated 10 illegally-acquired Hotchkiss H39 tanks.

Leabanese tank column
A column of at least four Lebanese Renault R35s. At least two feature the 2-pounder gun, the armament on the rear vehicles cannot be seen. Source: tank rarities blog

The use of the R35 in the Lebanese military is known to have lasted until at least 1958. From July to October of this year, Lebanon faced a considerable political crisis, with clashes between the US-supported Christian-aligned government forces, and a variety of Arab Nationalists and socialists supported by the United Arab Republic, the union of Syria and Egypt that existed from 1958 to 1961. Particularly violent clashes happened in the city of Tripoli, north of the capital Beirut, where the Lebanese military made use of a variety of its armored vehicles against the insurgents. Photos show the use of Staghounds, Sherman Fireflies and Charioteers. Alongside more modern vehicles, at least one Renault R35 was engaged. The photo sadly only shows the turret’s rear, which prevents the gun from being identified, though the source does mention this vehicle was re-armed with a 2-pounders gun.

Tank in Lebanese Crisis
An R35 used by the Lebanese military during clashes in Tripoli, Lebanese Crisis, 1958. It is interesting to note all soldiers using the R35 as a barricade are using French weapons, some using the MAS 36 rifle that predates Lebanese independence, some other the more recent MAT 49 submachine gun. Source: Military in the Middle East blog

The surviving example

While the R35 conversion was most likely applied on a limited number of vehicles only, at least one has survived to this day. This vehicle was recovered in Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, and shipped to the Musée des Blindés de Saumur, in France. When exactly this happened is not confirmed, but it may have occurred during the French intervention in Lebanon as part of the United Nations’s MNF peacekeeping mission, from 1982 onward; a photo from 1982 does show an R35 very similar to the one currently in existence, down to the missing commander cupola. The Saumur Tank Museum is known to sometimes receive vehicles recovered in French military interventions, such as their Iraqi T-55.

Lebanese R35 with 2 pounder gun
An R35 with a 2-Pounders gun trapped by falling debris in Beirut, Lebanon, 1982. source: AP Wirecolor Photos

The vehicle, when recovered, had obviously been lying abandoned for a while, being covered in rust, and with a large part of its interior absent. Nonetheless, it remained in a quite good state, though it was missing the rounded commander cupola. Restoration of the vehicle is being undertaken by the association France 1940 véhicules, and a photo from 2017 shows the efforts to restore the vehicle have advanced quite considerably. As several Renault R35s in their original state already survive around the world, the vehicle recovered in Lebanon will keep its unique modification.

old Renault R35
The poorly-maintained R35 prior to the restoration efforts undertaken by France 1940 véhicules. Source: France 1940 véhicules blog
restored Lebanese R35 tank
The surviving Lebanese Renault R35 seen in 2017. The machine gun slot in the mantlet can be seen, as well as the vehicle’s missing cupola. Source: Surviving WW2 French tanks, shadock.free.

Conclusion – The last of the R35s

The R35 is generally viewed as a quite disappointing tank, plagued by horrendous ergonomics, anemic armament and poor mobility. It proved to be a light infantry tank that was absolutely incapable in mobile warfare scenarios during the Battle of France. This, however, did not mean the vehicle’s service ended completely in the Spring of 1940.

The large number of R35s produced, 1540, the most produced French tank of the 1930s, meant that the type stuck around for several years longer, first in German second-line and training units, but also in colonial service of the Vichy Regime, then Free France, and, finally, newly-created local forces such as the Lebanese military.

Nonetheless, one should not necessarily view the long service of the R35 in Lebanon, lasting at least well into the 1950s, as a testimony of the vehicle’s rusticity and durability. While not the most unreliable French tank, the R35 was far from a flawless mechanical design, with complaints already being raised against it in pre-1940 France. The use of the vehicle for decades in Lebanon stems more for a will not to let military hardware go to waste, even if this implies applying makeshift modifications to improve its capacities such as fitting a 2-Pounders gun. Considering how hard maintaining armored vehicles that are out of production and have uncertain supply chains can be (Israel, for example, struggled considerably with their quite similar Hotchkiss H39 light tanks), the fact that some R35s were still fully operational in Lebanon as late as 1958 is a testimony to the quality of the mechanics and crews that kept the vehicles operational for more than a decade post-independence.

A 2-pounder armed R35 in Lebanese service. Color scheme based on the vehicle restored by the France 1940 véhicules association. Illustration by David Bocquelet, modified by Pavel ‘Carpaticus’ Alexe

Sources

Military in the Middle East blog
Tank rarities blog
France 1940 véhicules blog
Surviving French tanks
http://www.tbof.us/data/tanks/r35/renault_r35.htm

Categories
WW2 French AT Weapons

Canon de 25mm Semi-Automatique Modèle 1934 (25mm SA 34)

France (1934-40)
Anti-Tank Gun – 6,000 Built

During the First World War, France was the most important producer and user of armored vehicles alongside Britain. As France started to produce its first tanks, starting from 1916 onwards, studies began concerning anti-armor weapons able to defeat similar vehicles, meant to be useful if French troops were to face enemy tanks. In those last two years of the war, a French Chef d’escadrons (Chief of squadrons), Filloux, designed some light, high-velocity anti-tank weapons: a 13 mm anti-tank rifle, surprisingly similar to the German Tankgewehr in concept, and a 17 mm gun that could be mounted on the carriage of the standard 37 mm SA 16 infantry support gun. Only one or two prototypes of this high-velocity gun were made in 1918. The gun fired a 17×209 mm cartridge at a muzzle velocity of 1000 m/s. While studies of this “17 mm Filloux” stopped with the conclusion of the First World War, they set a precedent for the concept of a small, high-velocity anti-tank guns in the French military.

The 17 mm Filloux anti-tank gun on the carriage of the 37 mm TR SA 16 infantry support gun, 1918. Source: French Military Archives (Service Historique de la Défense)

With the studies of the Filloux anti-tank rifle and gun discontinued, and similar anti-tank projects, such as Delaunay-Belleville’s 20 mm “anti-tank machine-gun”, remaining at prototype stage, the French Army had to rely on the 37 mm TR SA 16 gun to defeat enemy armor. This gun, the field gun model from which the FT’s 37 mm SA 18 gun was derived, was a low-velocity infantry gun, with lackluster accuracy and penetration against armored targets. It quickly became clear that, against an army well equipped with tanks, this gun would be vastly insufficient.

Hotchkiss, a giant of the French industry particularly when it came to light artillery pieces, offered an anti-tank gun to the French military as early as 1926. Perhaps inspired from Filloux’s concepts, the Hotchkiss anti-tank was a long, 25 mm gun installed on a light carriage. This Hotchkiss design was not immediately adopted though. The French Army waited until 1934, after extensive trials and perhaps out of fear caused by the rise of the Nazis in Germany, as well as the beginning of modernization and expansion of Soviet and Italian tank forces, to adopt Hotchkiss’s anti-tank gun as the 25 mm anti-char semi-automatique modèle 1934 (25 mm anti-tank, semi-automatic, 1934 pattern).

A Renault UE with a prototype of the 25 mm Hotchkiss anti-tank gun in tow, early 1930s. The gun lacks the distinctive multi-layered shield as well as the flash suppressor. Source: CAAPC (Centre des Archives de l’Armement et du personnel)

Small Shell, High Velocity

Hotchkiss’s anti-tank gun was a low-caliber one, even for the era. While most anti-tank guns of the 1930s exceeded 37 mm, the SA 34 fired 25×193.5 mm rimmed projectiles, which French documents refer to as cartridges, and not shells. The gun had a 1.8 meter, 72-calibers long barrel, resulting in a high muzzle velocity of 950 m/s.

The standard anti-tank shell of the 25 mm SA 34 was a 900 grams cartridge with a 320 grams projectile. It had a tungsten core, surrounded by an internal shell of hardened lead, and an external shell of brass. The propellant powder contained in the cartridge was 138 grams, which was sufficient to be considered “charge forte” (high charge). With the socket, the cartridge had a length of 193.5 mm. The projectile itself was 109 mm long. French tests of this cartridge indicated a penetration of 40 mm on a vertical steel plate at 500 m, and 32 mm on a plate at an angle of 35° and a range of 200 m. German tests performed with captured guns give a more extensive range of values: against a vertical plate, the shell penetrated 47, 40 and 30 mm of armor at 100, 500 and 1,000 meters respectively. At 30° degrees, the penetration values were of 35, 30 and 20 mm; finally, at 45 degrees, they were 18, 16 and 15 mm. A tracer variant of the shell, offering almost equal performance, was also issued, apparently existing in red or white variants. The non-tracer armor-piercing cartridge was designated Balle P (for perforant), whilst the tracer armor-piercing cartridge was designated Balle TP (for traceur-perforant)

German documents on the trials of the 25mm SA 34’s Balle P anti-tank ammunition, from Kennblätter fremden geräts heft 8a, Munition bis 3,6 cm, Berlin, 1941. Image: German National Archives

Two cartridges with different projectiles existed, but were designed not for combat, but instruction: the Balle PR (for portée réduite – reduced range) had a smaller, steel projectile, and the Balle O (for ordinaire – ordinary) had a less strongly hardened core, being otherwise identical to the standard Balle P. A blank cartridge with reduced charge also existed. In operations, only P and TP projectiles were issued to the gun. There were no explosive projectiles and, as such, the 25 mm Hotchkiss gun was ill-suited for fighting against enemy infantry.

Figure showing the various types of projectile as well as the standard Balle P and its tungsten core, extract from the Notice d’instruction de l’école des chars de combat, 1937, via the French National Library/Gallica

The sights used on the 25 mm SA 34 were the lunette L.711 APX modèle 1936, which offered a 4x magnification, 11° field of vision, and markings for firing at up to 3,500 m. It was not fixed to the carriage, and was carried in a separate case. If it was missing, or damaged, backup notches on the barrel could be used to establish the proper elevation to fire at 400, 600, 800 and 1,000 meters.

The view offered by the APX L.711 sights. Extract from the Notice sur le canon semi-automatique “Hotchkiss” de 25mm du 2 Janvier 1935, in its 1937 edition, by the Ecole Militaire & d’Application de la Cavalerie et du Train

The gun was mounted on a small split-trail carriage, which, deployed, gave it a 60° field of fire, a maximum depression of -5°, and maximum elevation of 15°. The gun had a small profile, being 1.10 m high at its highest, while being 1.05 m wide when deployed. The carriage was typically towed ethier by hippomobile traction (horse-drawn), Renault UE logistical tankettes, or other motorized tractors. In motorized traction, it was specified that the speed should not go over 15 km/h, higher speeds bringing risks of damage for the quite frail carriage. The gun shield was 7 mm thick, and the gun on its carriage had a weight of 490 kg. The 25 mm gun had a semi-automatic action, with the only required actions from the crew being the introduction of a new cartridge and the firing of the gun. As such, the 25 mm SA 34 could achieve a quite high rate of fire. In the French Army’s manual for the gun’s operators, it stated that 18 to 20 rounds per minute could be reached, and figures of up to 25 rounds per minute against stationary targets are sometimes mentioned.

The transportation of a 25 mm SA 34 gun by its crew. Used only for very short displacements, the small size of the gun allowed this technique to be carried out much more easily than with the larger 47 mm anti-tank guns. Source: Le Canon de 25 mm antichar modele 1934 Hotchkiss, François Vauvillier

French Anti-Tank Use

French documents published in the late 1930s, such as the user manual, lay out the principles under which the gun was to be used. Unsurprisingly, they recommend the use of the gun’s low profile, fairly good mobility and small dimensions to hide in unexpected emplacements.

The manual also gives the recommended ranges to start firing on enemy targets. While purely indicative and depending on the conditions, the notice notifies that firing on tanks should begin at a maximum range of 800 m, while armored cars and other lightly armored or unarmored vehicles could be engaged at a maximum range of 1,250 m.

The crew of the 25 mm SA 34 was comprised of six: a commander, a gunner placed to the left of the gun, a loader placed on the right, and three additional servants. If the gunner was knocked out, his replacement was the loader, and if the loader was knocked out, he was replaced by the second servant, who otherwise cleaned and handed over the 25 mm cartridges from the crates. In practice, the gun could remain reasonably effective with two crew members, and still be operated, albeit with a much lower rate of fire, by a single crew member.

Staged photo showing the operation of a 25 mm SA 34 gun. As the photo suggests, only two crewmembers, the loader and gunner, really are actively operating the weapon. Source: Le Canon de 25 mm antichar modele 1934 Hotchkiss, François Vauvillier

Derivatives

A number of variants of the 25 mm SA 34 were developed in the 30s to fulfill a variety of different roles. A version used in armored vehicles existed, designated as the 25 mm SA 35. This version of the gun was shortened to fit into small armored vehicles, being L/47.2 instead of L/72. While this would normally have reduced the muzzle velocity, it was compensated by giving armored vehicles cartridges with an increased charge, resulting in almost identical muzzle velocity and penetration between the armored vehicle and field gun variants of the gun. The 25 mm SA 35 was not the most common armored vehicle gun though, as it only featured in a few cavalry armored cars and tanks, such as the AMD 35/Panhard 178 reconnaissance armored car, the anti-tank variants of the AMR 35 reconnaissance light tank, and six of the twelve AMC 34 cavalry tanks; generally, it was used in turrets which were too small to host larger guns such as the 47mm SA 35.

A side view of a Panhard 178/AMD 35 armored car, showing the shorter 25 mm SA 35 gun. Source: chars-français.
AMC 34 of the Chasseurs d’Afrique in Morocco. Six of the twelve Renault YR AMC 34 cavalry tanks produced were armed with the 25 mm SA 35 gun. Despite their lower caliber, those were far more effective than the vehicles armed with low-velocity 47 mm SA 34 against tanks, though the AMC 34 never encountered an enemy tank it its service life, nor an enemy to begin with. Photo from lesffi.vraiforum.com

A much more common variant of the 25 mm SA 34 was the SA-L 37. Designed by the state workshop of APX (also known as Puteaux) and offered as early as 1936, the SA-L 37 was a lightened model of the original Hotchkiss gun, designed specifically for infantry use. It was easier to move around for the six-men crew. The gun was considerably different from the original 25 mm SA 34. It was a lot lighter, weighing just 300 kg in all, making it one of the lightest anti-tank guns of the Second World War. In order to maintain the same performances despite this lighter construction, the gun featured a longer, 77 calibers, 1.92 m-long barrel. The carriage provided more depression and elevation than the Hotchkiss carriage (-10° to +26°) while keeping the same 60° field of fire. It used a foldable shield with an irregular top, as to make it harder to identify as a man-made object and to spot. However, the lighter construction meant that the gun was even more fragile, with motorized traction being prohibited, and only horse-drawn transport under 6 km/h being allowed. Despite those limitations, the lightened APX model was produced alongside the Hotchkiss model, being adopted as the SA-L (L stands for léger, light) 37 in 1938. In theory, the APX model was to equip the infantry, while the Hotchkiss was to be used by motorized and mechanized units. In practice though, the production of the APX models, while it reached more than a thousand examples in 1940, was not sufficient to fulfill the enormous need of the infantry, thus the more widespread Hotchkiss 25 mm SA 34 was a common sight among infantry divisions.

An APX SAL 37 gun at the Saumur tank museum. The SA-L 37 is easy to differentiate from the 25 mm SA 34 thanks to the different barrel, shield, and muzzle brake.- Picture by Rama via Wikimedia commons.

A fortification variant of the 25 mm anti-tank gun was also developed for the Maginot Line, being interchangeable with a twin MAC 31 7.5mm machine gun. It was used in a number of bunkers, but appeared to have been less common than the 37 mm and 47 mm RF fortification anti-tank guns.

In the Battle of France

In the spring of 1940, the 25 mm SA 34 was, by far, the most common anti-tank gun of the French Army. Including SA-L 37 guns, about 6,000 25 mm field anti-tank guns had been manufactured. While some three hundred had been delivered to troops of the British Expeditionary Force, and 400 may have been exported to Turkey, there was still a large quantity of guns in French service.

25mm SA 34 operated by the Royal Irish Fusiliers on a firing range, France, 1940. Imperial War Museum collections via Wikimedia Commons

It should be noted that the gun was used not only in France, but also during the Norwegian Campaign. An interesting anecdote is that the only German Neubaufahrzeug multi-turreted tank to ever be knocked out in combat, one of the three vehicles of that type that had been sent to Norway, was the victim of a British 25 mm Hotchkiss, which also knocked out its accompanying Panzer II light tank escort.

Two photos of British 25 mm SA 34 in 1940, 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers, from the Imperial War Museum’s collections via Wikimedia Commons
French 25 mm SA 34 crew, from the 20th issue of French magazine Le Miroir, January of 1940

The 25 mm SA 34 had both some considerable advantages and flaws in operation. Its armor-piercing capacities, while inferior to the excellent 47 mm SA 37 anti-tank gun that had started to enter service in the last years of the interwar, could easily handle the most common German tanks, which were still the Panzer I, Panzer II, and Panzer 35(t) at the time of the German invasion of France. The Panzer 38(t), Panzer III and Panzer IV, as well as the StuG IIIs, could be challenging to penetrate at the theoretical engagement range of 800 m, but were still far from invincible for the small French gun at closer ranges.

A Royal Irish Fusiliers 25mm SA 34 firing during training, France, 1940. Source: Imperial War Museum via Wikimedia Commons

Instead of being fired at the intended range of 800 m though, 25 mm SA 34 guns often operated at far shorter ranges. French tank historian Stéphane Ferrard referred to the 25 mm SA 34 as a “wood corner gun”, which was typically used at 600 m meters or less – the majority of tank combat happening at this range and lower in 1940. In those conditions, the 25 mm SA 34 could also fairly reliably penetrate the Panzer III and IV.

Royal Irish Fusiliers moving a 25 mm SA 34 gun around, 1940. The gun’s lightweight and small size made it quite easy to move and to conceal; the SA-L 37 version was even easier to conceal and move around, at the cost of high-speed towing capacity. Source: Imperial War Museum via Wikimedia Commons

The small size of the 25 mm projectile did mean that, quite often, enemy tanks would be knocked out, but not destroyed. Typically, side hits, where the thinner side armor did less to slow down the projectile and therefore its impact, did result in the destruction of enemy tanks, but even frontal penetration only resulted in the tank being immobilized, but potentially repairable. As a result, quite a number of vehicles penetrated by 25 mm SA 34 guns were recovered and repaired by German troops during or after the campaign. However, it should be noted that the 25 mm guns were often used in cooperation with a number of other anti-tank devices, such as the more powerful 47 mm SA 37, or anti-tank mines. The accurate and quick-firing 25 mm SA 34 could, when coordinated with other artillery pieces, immobilize enemy tanks, making them easy targets for larger anti-tank guns.

A 25mm SA 34 laying in ambush in a building in the city of Epinal, 1940. Source: 201day.wordpress.com

Despite this relative effectiveness, the 25 mm anti-tank gun did little to prevent the defeat of France against a German army that was generally better equipped and led by better tacticians. The vast majority of guns were abandoned or knocked out during the campaign, and while crews could occasionally perform quite well, that was far from sufficient to prevent a disaster years in the making.

An abandoned SA-L 37 at a crossroads in Nord-Pas de Calais, May of 1940. Source: Tank Archives

It should be noted that, as a result of the gun’s poor mobility when towed, the “portee” system came into use, developed in both the British and the French armies during the campaign of France. The 25 mm SA 34 would be loaded onto the rear of a truck, and used as a mobile, motorized anti-tank vehicle. The British would go on to widely use this system with their own 2 and 6-pounders guns in the North African campaign. In the last stages of the campaign, a conversion was also devised in France to mount the 25 mm SA 34 on the back of a Renault UE, the only photos of such a vehicle show it captured by German troops.

A 25 mm SA 34 gun loaded onto the back of a Laffly S20 TL during the campaign of France. Source: warmotors.ru
Two photos of a British 25 mm SA 34 being loaded onto the rear of a Bedford truck of the 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers. From the collections of the Imperial War Museum via Wikimedia Commons.

Beyond 1940 and Beyond France

Thanks to its large production numbers, the 25 mm SA 34 and its lightened model, the SA-L 37, remained in service for a number of years after the campaign of France, in a variety of different countries, including several nations of the Axis and other German allies.

One of the first foreign users of the 25 mm anti-tank gun was Finland. 50 guns had been ordered from France prior to the outbreak of the Winter War (December 1939-March 1940), in order to reinforce the Nordic nation’s anti-tank capacities against a Red Army that had the largest tank force in the world at that time. Out of those 50 guns, 40 arrived in Finland, of which only 20 had time to be used on the frontlines prior to the end of the war. 10 others were transiting through Norway during the German invasion, and were subsequently captured by the Wehrmacht.

After the end of the Winter War, Finland was able to purchase captured guns from Germany, 200 in total, of which 67 were SA-L 37s. Designated 25 PstK/34 and 25 PstK/37, and nicknamed “Marianna”, the French anti-tank guns were widely used in the early phases of the Continuation War. Their penetration made them fairly capable against Soviet 1930s tank such as the T-26, BT series and T-28s. However, once those started to be massively replaced by T-34s and KV-1s, the 25 mm guns became completely obsolete, being phased out from the frontlines towards 1943. Photographic evidence suggests at least one gun was captured and re-used by Soviet troops.

Photos of a PstK/34 and PstK/37 in Finnish service. Source: Tank Archives
Soviet soldiers operating a 25 mm SA-L 37 gun. Notice the very visible L.711 sight. Source: www.ww2enimagenes.com

Germany had captured a number of 25 mm guns, likely in the thousands, with the Fall of France. As with the vast majority of captured French equipment, the anti-tank guns were put into second-line service for German troops. Designated Pak 112(f) for the SA 34 and Pak 113(f) for the SA-L 37, the French guns were typically issued to second-line units operating in the Balkans or in Norway. They were also used on the Atlantikwall. The French anti-tank guns were quite often used alongside their original tractor, the Renault UE. Following the example of a French conversion designed in the last weeks of the 1940 campaign, German troops did also mount the 25 mm on Renault UE to create a makeshift tank destroyer; the same conversion is known to have existed on the hull of the Universal Carrier in North Africa.

A captured Universal Carrier with a Pak 112(f) gun, North Africa. Source: beutepanzer.ru
A park of captured 25 mm SA 34s in the spring of 1940. Source: Tank Archives
Use of the Renault UE (Infanterie UE-Schlepper 630(f)) alongside the Pak 112(f). Source: Tank Archives
Two photos of Pak 112(f) used on the Atlantikwall. Source: www.ww2enimagenes.com

It is also known that some guns were delivered by Germany to Italy, where, in Italy’s designation system, they were given the name of Cannone da 25/72. 150 guns of the SA-L 37 model were sold to Spain in 1943, alongside a variety of other military equipment, including small quantities of Panzer IV Ausf. H tanks and StuG III Ausf. G assault guns. It appears small quantities of 25 mm SA 34 may previously have seen service with Republicans forces during the civil war.

The 25 mm SA 34 and SA-L 37 were retained in Vichy French service as well, forming the backbone of the anti-tank defences of the French Levant during its invasion by Commonwealth and Free French forces in June and July of 1941. A good number of these 25 mm guns, alongside many small arms and 75 mm mle 1897 field guns, were subsequently captured, and passed onto the Free French 1st BFL (Brigade Française Libre), which was mostly comprised of French veterans, many of which had experience operating those guns. The 25 mm guns were notably widely used during the Battle of Bir Hakeim, both as field guns and mounted on a variety of different hulls, such as Marmon-Herrington armored cars or Universal Carriers. The 25 mm guns would only be phased out from French service at the end of the North African campaign in 1943, and it is likely some re-captured guns were shortly used by makeshift units of the FFI (Forces Françaises de l’Intérieur – French Forces of the Interior) resistance during the Liberation of France

Free French Universal Carrier armed with a 25 mm SA 34 anti-tank gun, circa 1942. Source: Institut National de l’Audiovisuel via leadadventuresforum
Free French Universal Carrier, fitted with a 25 mm SA 34 in an unusual configuration putting it above the Carrier’s structure and keeping the gun shield, Syria. Source: char-français
Free French Moris 15CWT truck fitted with a rear-mounted 25 mm SA 34 including gun shield. Such vehicles were named “Derviche”, after a type of muslim religious figures. Source: leadaventureforum
Free French Marmon-Herrington Mark III. Two out of three vehicles retained the Boys anti-tank rifle, while the others featured the 25 mm SAL-37 anti-tank gun. Source: leadadventureforum
Marmon-Herrington armored car of the Afrika Korps with a 25 mm SA 34 gun with shield replacing the turret, with Commonwealth soldiers in front. Whether the conversion was Free French and then captured by German troops or originated from them is unknown. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

As for other operators, while the United States never used the 25 mm SA 34 in combat, a small number of guns had been purchased for trials in the 1930s. Interestingly enough, it appears some of those guns were then placed along a small monument which very shortly appeared in a clip of the 1985 film Back to the Future, giving the small French anti-tank gun an appearance in a classic of science-fiction cinema.

Two 25 mm SA 34 briefly seen in Back to the Future, 1985. Photo: Universal Pictures

Conclusion

The 25 mm SA 34 was, during the Battle of France, the most common anti-tank device used by the French Army, playing in that sense a similar role to the German PaK 36 or the British 2-Pounders. In that role, it was a fairly decent weapon, which contrasts with some of the very lacking equipment operated by the French military, such as the Renault R35/R40 and Hotchkiss H35/H39 light tanks. The 25 mm SA 34 was indeed a small, fairly easy to operate and accurate gun, and while its small caliber was destined to obsolescence fairly soon, against the armored vehicles operated by the Wehrmacht in 1940, high-velocity 25 mm shells were still powerful enough in the majority of situations.

After the end of the Campaign of France in June of 1940, the 25 mm SA 34 and its SA-L 37 variant found themselves being used as a secondary anti-tank gun in a variety of militaries on both sides of the war, however, by 1941-1942, the gun became increasingly useless against newer models of tanks being introduced, such as the T-34, M4 Sherman, and newer models of Panzer III and IV. With neither a caliber high enough to give the gun much of an evolutionary potential, nor an industrial base remaining to study and produce such potential improvements, the 25 mm anti-tank gun remained confined to secondary fronts and internal security, despite its lack of high explosive shells also being a handicap in this domain. With the war concluded, it seems that the small anti-tank gun did not see service beyond 1945, unlike some other pre-1940 pieces of French equipment such as the Panhard 178 which, fitted with a new turret armed with a 47 mm SA 35 gun, soldiered well into the 1950s.



Illustration of the Canon de 25mm Semi-Automatique Modèle 1934 (25mm SA 34).


Panhard 178 armed with the 25mm SA 34. This is an early production vehicle of the 6th GRDI, 2nd Squadron, France, May 1940


AMR 35 ZT-2 tank hunter, armed with a 25 mm SA 35 in an APX 5 turret (built at Atelier de Rueil) with a secondary 7.5 mm Reibel coaxial machine gun. Only ten built after production dragged on until 1940. AMR 35 ZT-2 and ZT-3 were used alongside machine gun armed ZT-1 in Dragons Portés (Motorized Dragoons) regiments, to give them armored and mobile anti-tank escort.


AMR 35 ZT-3 SPG tank hunter, which was armed not with the shorter SA 35, but the longer SA 34 in a casemate. Ten were built at APX (Ateliers de Puteaux) until September 2, 1939.

All illustrations were produced by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet

Specifications (SA 34 & SA-L 37)

Weight (Deployed) 490 kg (SA 34), 300 kg (SA-L 37)
Length (With Carriage) 3.71 m (SA 34), 3.46 m (SA-L 37)
Height 1.10 m (SA 34), 1.03 m (SA-L 37)
Width 1.05 m (SA 34)
Calibre 25 x 193.5 mm
Barrel Length L/72 (SA-34), L/77 (SA-L 37)
Traverse 60°
Elevation -5° to +15°
Rate of Fire 8 – 20 rpm, up to 25 rpm with a well-trained crew
Sight Range 3,500 meters
Effective Range 800 meters

Penetration Figures (Balle P, German tests)

100 Meters 47 mm @ 0°
500 Meters 40 mm @ 0°
1000 Meters 30 mm @ 0°
100 Meters 35 mm @ 30°
500 Meters 30 mm @ 30°
1000 Meters 20 mm @ 30°
100 Meters 18 mm @ 45°
500 Meters 16 mm @ 45°
1000 Meters 15 mm @ 45°

Sources

Notice sur le canon semi-automatique “Hotchkiss” de 25mm du 2 Janvier 1935, in its 1937 edition, by the Ecole Militaire & d’Application de la Cavalerie et du Train via Wikimaginot
German documents on the trials of the 25mm SA 34’s Balle P anti-tank ammunition, from Kennblätter fremden geräts heft 8a, Munition bis 3,6 cm, Berlin, 1941
Notice d’instruction de l’école des chars de combat, 1937, via the French national Library/ Gallica
Le canon de 25 allégé APX modèle 1937, 1940, Saint-Cyr military school
ATF 40 forum post by historian Stéphane Ferrard
tankarchives.blogspot.com
beutepanzer.ru
wikimaginot.eu
Free French 25mm-armed tank destroyers
www.chars-francais.net


Categories
WW2 French Prototypes

Panhard 178 with Renault 47 mm Gun-Armed Turret

France – 1940
Armored Car – 1 Prototype Built

In 1931, the French Cavalry formulated a request for an AMD (Automitrailleuse de Découverte / ‘Discovery’ armored car), an armored vehicle meant to perform reconnaissance while having enough combat capacities to be able to engage enemy units. This was in opposition to the AMR (Automitrailleuse de Reconnaissance / Reconnaissance Armored Car), smaller vehicles with more limited combat capacities. Panhard, the leading French armored car producer at the time, designed the Voiture Spéciale 178, more often simply known as Panhard 178, to answer this request. The vehicle was adopted by the French cavalry as the AMD 35 in 1934. Formal orders were placed in January of 1935, production beginning in 1936, and the first operational vehicles delivered in February of 1937.

A Panhard 178 in service with the 6th GRDI, a reconnaissance group, during a parade, late 1930s; this may have been either in Compiègne (where the unit was formed), or in either Vitry-le-François or Bar-le-Duc, in the Ardennes, where the unit was deployed in 1939. Source: char-français

The Panhard 178 was an 8-tonne armored car powered by a 4-cylinder 105 hp engine and able to reach a maximum speed of 72 km/h. One of its most interesting features, which separated it from the vast majority of other French armored vehicles, was its two-crew APX 3 turret, which allowed the commander to concentrate on his tactical and spotting missions, leaving the operation of the gun to the gunner/loader. This was a major improvement in comparison to the one-crew turrets which featured on the vast majority of French tanks, where the commander also had to reload and operate the vehicle’s armament.

This APX 3 turret featured a 25 mm SA 35 anti-tank gun as well as a coaxial MAC 31 7.5 mm machine gun, with 150 25 mm and 3,750 7.5 mm rounds. This armament was fairly capable for an armored car, being, for example, generally sufficient to deal with early Panzer III and IV models fielded in the campaign for France, as well as the earlier Panzer I and II, with a penetration of 40 mm of vertical armor at 500 m, and 30 mm at 30° at the same distance. This gun was significantly better than the 37 mm SA 18 found on many tanks and armored cars, but the 47 mm SA 35 gun found on Somua S35 and B1 Bis tanks offered better armor-piercing capacities, as well as explosive shells which the 25 mm lacked.

The Panhard and the SA 35

Outfitting the Panhard 178 with the 47 mm SA 35 gun was considered before the campaign for France actually began. In a letter from January 1939, the French Army General Staff and the Direction of the Cavalry stated that mounting the 47 mm SA 35 gun on the Panhard armored car was a possibility, at the very least for the vehicles destined for service in North Africa. However, the same letter reported that Panhard 178 armored cars would only be outfitted with the 47 mm SA 35 gun if the production of the latter was sufficient to equip tanks being produced with the gun (the S35 and B1 Bis) and to refit the older B1 and D2 that were temporarily armed with the short-barrel 47 mm SA 34. The letter ends with the General Staff requesting the acceleration of the production of 47 mm SA 35 guns “as much as possible” from the Direction of Armament Manufacturing.

Despite the General Staff urging for more 47 mm guns to be produced in order to outfit the Panhard 178 with them as early as January of 1939, there had been little to no advance in this field by May of 1940. It is known that arming the already used APX 3 turret with the 47 mm gun was considered instead of designing a new turret. However, it was still uncertain whether the APX 3 turret could practically be modified to mount a 47 mm SA 35.

The invasion of the Low Countries and France, beginning on the 10th of May 1940, led to the Panhard 178 being fielded in large numbers against German armored vehicles, where some issues with the 25 mm SA 35 arose. While sufficient against most German-made tanks, the gun notably struggled at range, particularly against what accounts from French tankers refer to as “Škoda tanks”, most likely describing both the Škoda Panzer 35(t) and CKD Panzer 38(t). Furthermore, the gun lacked any high-explosive shell and was not automatic, making it of very little use against infantry.

At the same time, a significant problem arose in the production of the Panhard 178, hulls were being manufactured at a significantly faster rate than APX 3 turrets. While not particularly a problem during the Phoney War, as hulls could be stored while waiting for a turret, in a context where the survival of the French state was now in question, finding military use for these unarmed hulls became a priority. It is in this context that a French officer, Squadron Chief d’Astorg, who commanded the 1st RAM (Régiment d’automitrailleuses / Armored Car Regiment) of the 1st DLC (Division Légère de Cavalerie – Light Cavalry Division), unable to receive APX 3 turrets for the Panhard 178 hulls he received, requested the Renault tank design office to come up with a way to arm Panhard 178 hulls with a 47 mm SA 35 gun behind a mere gun shield instead of a fully rotating turret. This request was most likely made on 31st May 1940.

Design of the Renault Turret

Renault’s design bureau, led by engineer Joseph Restany, managed to design an entire turret within three days. The production of a prototype of this turret began immediately, with a turret being mounted on a hull on the 5th of June 1940, and went on firing trials that proved successful the next day.

Unsurprisingly enough for a turret that had been designed and then manufactured in less than a week, the design Restany and his team came up with was fairly rudimentary, particularly in comparison with the original APX 3 turret. The Renault turret was entirely welded, with a simple shape. The frontal plate, one of the distinctive elements of the design, was sloped quite considerably. It was made from two different plates, the first was 13 mm thick followed by a 25 mm one, giving a thickness of 38 mm not accounting for the slope, something which was quite respectable even for medium tanks by 1940 standards. The sides and rear of the turret were 25 mm thick. The main armament was an SA 35 47 mm gun. This gun fired 47×193 mm rimmed shells. Its standard anti-tank shell was an armor-piercing capped (APC) shell, the Obus de rupture modèle 1935, fired at a velocity of 660 m/s. According to German tests, it could penetrate 40 mm of armor at an angle of 30° and a range of 400 m. Additionally, the gun could also fire a high-explosive (HE) shell with a muzzle velocity of 590 m/s and 142 grams of explosives.

Like the APX 3 turret, the Renault one could accommodate two crew members. However, as expected because of its short design circle, it was fairly primitive. The top hatch through which the crew accessed the vehicle was reported to be “more of a lid”, and despite the rear of the turret being quite spacious, there was no rear door. Vision on the sides was provided by simple, fairly large round holes which could be closed by a rotating cover. The turret did not feature electrical traverse and therefore had to be rotated by hand.

The first prototype was not kept for experimental purposes, as is usually the case, but instead delivered to the d’Astorg’s 1st RAM as early as 6th June 1940. Accomodations for production of more examples with a slightly revised turret to offer better conditions for the crew as well as mounting a FM 24/29 machine gun in the hull began. Renault stated it could produce four turrets a day on 11th June 1940. However, the next day, the French industrial giant’s main factories of Billancourt, west of Paris, were evacuated to secondary facilities further south. This put any potential production into disarray. By the time an official order for forty turrets came on 13th June 1940, Renault was not able to fulfill it, and the single produced turret remained unique.

A photo of the 47 mm-armed Panhard 178 where it was scuttled. The top hatch of the turret is opened, and the round view port is closed. Source: Collection Pascal Danjou
Another view of the 47 mm-armed Panhard, with the turret pointed at a different angle and the side view port opened. This photo was most likely taken at a later point than the first, as suggested by the tires being removed. Source: Collection J. Beauval

Service in the 1st RAM

The hull outfitted with the Renault turret was delivered to the 1st RAM. This regiment was part of the 1st DLC, which had been engaged in the battle of the Meuse. Its men were evacuated from the vast encirclement performed by the Wehrmacht in Northern France and the Low Countries, while their heavy equipment had to be abandoned. The unit was reformed into a DLM (Division Légère Mécanique – Light Mechanized Division, in practice quite similar to a German Light Division). It was as a part of this new 4th DLM that the 1st RAM continued to fight in the campaign of France. Thanks to d’Astorg, we know about one particular skirmish in which the 47 mm-armed Panhard played a pivotal role, on 15th June 1940. Near a bridge on the river Yonne at Etigny, about 100 km south-east of Paris, a patrol led by this vehicle engaged a German motorized column including 15 vehicles escorted by two “heavy tanks” (a term which, in French testimonies from the campaign of France, generally designates a Panzer IV and occasionally a Panzer 38(t)). The Panhard 178 was able to knock out the two tanks with three 47 mm shells, allowing the patrol led by Sous-Lieutenant (sub-lieutenant) Bouhier to then knock out the rest of the German column. D’Astorg also reported that the armored car’s turret resisted multiple hits, though he does not specify whether those were hits from anti-tank weapons or merely firearms.

The 47 mm-armed Panhard met an unfortunate end shortly after this skirmish. On the morning of 17th June, the 1st RAM was attempting to cross the largest French river, the Loire, in order to defend its southern banks, where the French High Command hoped a defensive line could be formed. By the point the regiment arrived in the town of Châtillon-sur-Loire, where it was supposed to cross, the bridge had already been blown up to prevent German crossings, with all bridges south from there being unusable. Left with no other option, the unit scuttled the vast majority of its equipment in order to prevent its capture, including the 47 mm-armed Panhard. All photos we have of the vehicle show it scuttled near the railway bridge of Châtillon-sur-Loire, including some in which German soldiers pose in front of the vehicle. The fate of the vehicle beyond this point is unknown, though it is very likely it ended up scrapped.

German soldiers examining the 47 mm-armed Panhard. This photo is particularly interesting, as it shows the Panhard with its tires, in a different location, and with its inside seemingly ripped out from the door. Source: char-français

Another photo of the vehicle’s inspection by German troops. A seat is visible in the foreground, as well as the ammunition storage inside the vehicle. Source: char-français.

The Future of 47 mm Gun-Armed Panhard Armored Cars

While only a single example of this particular 47 mm-armed Panhard turret was produced, the Panhard and the 47 mm SA 35 would be mated two different times in the future. During the German occupation of France, Joseph Restany, the engineer who had designed this first 47 mm turret, was recruited by a secret organisation within the army of the Vichy regime, the CDM (Camouflage du Matériel – Material Camouflage). His job was to lead the design and production of turrets accepting both 47 mm and 25 mm guns in order to outfit them on turretless hulls which had been evacuated to Southern France and remained stored away from the eyes of the Armistice Commission. The design of those turrets would be directly based on the first model designed by Restany in 1940, though being both more advanced thanks to a longer development time, and in some others more rudimentary due to the lack of materials and the high secrecy of the project. 45 of those CDM turrets were manufactured in 1942 and installed on a variety of Panhard 178 hulls, some which would be captured by German troops during the occupation of Southern France in November of 1942 and then issued to security units operating within France.

Panhard 178 CDM in service with the German Sicherungs-Aufklärung-Abteilung 1000, a reconnaissance group of the 189. Reserve Infanterie-Division, France, 1944. All vehicles in the photo are armed with 47 mm SA 35, but it should be noted that around half of the Panhard 178 CDM received 25 mm SA 34 guns instead. Source: Christophe Grégoire collection

After the end of the occupation of France, production of yet another 47 mm SA 35 Panhard began in 1945. This new model was designated Panhard 178B, and featured the gun in a quite large, cylindrical turret, the FL1. Unlike the Renault and CDM models, which were just mounted on pre-existing hulls, new, upgraded hulls were produced alongside those new turrets. 414 of these armored cars would be produced and would be in service during the late 1940s and the 1950s. They were used for securing the French colonial empire in its last decade. In this way, despite being a single prototype rushed in June of 1940, the 47 mm-armed Panhard would have a quite significant legacy.

A Panhard 178B, the vastly modernized, 47 mm-armed model of the Panhard 178 manufactured in the late 40s for colonial service. Source: char-français

Conclusion

The 47 mm-armed Panhard 178 designed by Renault’s design office and operated by the 1st RAM is a quite peculiar vehicle when it comes to France’s armored production. One of the various improvised vehicles which appeared during the collapse of France in the spring of 1940, it is notable because, despite being a prototype, it was used operationally, and in the only instance where it is known to have fought, performed brilliantly.

The combination of the 47 mm SA 35 gun and the Panhard 178 hull is indeed one which appears full of potential. The 47 mm weapon was quite effective against tanks by 1940 and the two-crew turret featured on the Panhard 178 meant it could be operated more effectively than in one-crew turret tanks such as the S35 and B1 Bis. While the armor of the vehicle, outside perhaps of the turret’s front, left much to be desired, as on most armored cars, it retained a great mobility. While the turret manufactured by Renault in 1940 was very much experimental, the concept of a 47 mm SA 35-armed Panhard was indeed full of potential, and had even been theorized earlier. But the fall of France would prevent it from reaching its full potential and being mass-produced in a mature form, though the CDM turrets manufactured in secrecy and based on the Renault turret were one of the most extensive armament projects undertaken in Vichy France.



Illustration for the Panhard 178 outfitted with the 47 mm gun-armed Renault turret produced by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

Sources

Une entreprise clandestine sous l’occupation Allemande, Joseph Restany, Charles-Lavauzelle & Cie editions, 1948
GBM (Histoire de Guerre, Blindés et Matériel) N°86, January-February-March 2009, pp 22-31
char-français.net (1) (2)


Categories
WW2 French Armored Cars

Panhard 178 CDM

France (Vichy Regime) – 1941-1942
Armored Car – 45 Turrets Built For Pre-Existing Hulls

With the defeat of France by Germany in the spring of 1940, an armistice was signed between the two countries on 22nd June 1940, going into effect three days later. Some of the most important clauses of the treaty were the occupation of France’s northern half and all of the Atlantic coast by Germany, and the establishment of a “free zone” administered entirely by French authorities in the South. The French army was limited to a mere 100,000 men, with no armor outside of 64 Panhard 178 armored cars which had to have their 25 mm SA 35 main guns replaced with 7.5 mm MAC 31 machine guns.

A Panhard 178 in its original configuration, armed with a 25 mm SA 35 anti-tank gun and a 7.5 mm MAC 31 machine gun in an APX 3 turret, in service with the 6th GRDI, a reconnaissance group, during a parade, late 1930s. Source: char-français
Vichy Panhard 178, having had their 25 mm SA 35 gun removed and replaced by a second 7.5 mm MAC 31 machine gun. Source: www.warwheels.net

In June and July of 1940, the Third Republic’s democratic government was replaced through a series of votes in parliament by an authoritarian one led by WW1-hero Philippe Pétain. He and his government enacted collaboration policies in the following months. Despite this, the army of this armistice government, which came to be referred to as the “Vichy Regime”, was far from entirely collaborative. Indeed, the vast majority of the remaining army’s soldiers and particularly officers were veterans of the campaign of France, and many did not accept the occupation of France. While stockpiling of weapons that had been evacuated into Southern France, away from the eyes of the Armistice Commission, started as early as June 1940, it started to take a more elaborate form the next month, as the CDM (Camouflage du Matériel/Camouflage of Equipment) was founded under the direction of colonel Emile Mollard. A secret organization within the army, unknown by a large part of its higher-ups, let alone the German armistice commission, the CDM focused on creating weapons caches for a variety of equipment – mostly firearms and other infantry equipment, but even some armored vehicles. Notably, 45 Panhard 178 hulls which had been evacuated without turrets during the 1940 retreat were secretly kept around by several cavalry regiments. The idea behind the CDM was that, in case of a German invasion of the free territory, enough weapons could be provided to extend Vichy’s army to 300,000 men, which would then delay the German invasion until reinforcements from overseas (both the colonial empire where the CDM also organized caches and the occidental Allies) could arrive and stabilize a front in Southern France.

The CDM’s stockpiling effort quickly took a large scale in 1940 and 1941; French historian and resistance veteran Henri Amouroux reported 65,000 rifles, 9,500 machine guns, 200 mortars, fifty-five 75 mm mle 1897 guns and a variety of anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns had been stockpiled during the winter of 1940-1941. American historian and Vichy specialist Robert Paxton estimates the amount of secretly stockpiled equipment to be equivalent to 80% of the weapons officially used by the armistice army. By November of 1942, 1,520 people were involved in the organization.

By the spring of 1941, as most weapons that could be stockpiled had already been found, the CDM began to expand its service beyond the mere stockpiling and hiding of already existing equipment. In April of 1941, Mollard met with engineer Joseph Restany in the headquarters of the 16th division of the CDM, in Montpellier. Restany had been the lead engineer behind Renault’s tank design bureau prior to the collapse of the French Army in 1940. He had notably designed and produced, in record time, a turret for the Panhard 178 armored car that mounted a 47 mm SA 35 gun instead of the 25 mm SA 35. The time between the start of the work on the turret’s design and a produced example being mounted on a hull was less than a week. Mollard requested that Restany take the lead of an industrial project to manufacture 45 turrets to match the 45 turretless Panhard 178 armored car hulls that had been evacuated in 1940. These new turrets could be armed with a variety of armaments, with the CDM having at its disposal some 47 mm SA 35 and 25 mm guns as well as 13.2 and 7.5 mm machine guns. Restany promptly accepted the offer and adopted the pseudonym of J-J Ramon to lead this highly secretive project.

A photo of the Panhard 178 which received a turret designed by Restany and his team, scuttled on the 17th of June 1940. Designed in less than a week, the turret was mounted on a hull which was then sent to the 1st Armored Car Regiment of the 4th DLM (Division Légère Mécanique/Light Mechanized division). It is claimed to have knocked out two German tanks. Source: Collection Pascal Danjou

Designing the CDM Turret

It was decided that the production of the CDM turrets would be concentrated around the town of Castres-sur-Agout, in a fairly rural part of South-Western France. Several reasons motivated this choice: despite being fairly rural, the area comprised a number of mechanical workshops; and the town of Castres itself included an artillery park led by a colonel aligned with Mollard, as well as the presence of the 3rd Dragons regiment, a cavalry unit which possessed some of the un-turreted Panhard 178s, which would considerably ease the testing process for the turrets.

Restany designed the turrets himself in his hotel room of the Grand-Hôtel de Castres. While he originally intended to find an industrial designer to create the turret, it proved impossible to find one in Castres. As for the plans of the Renault turret which Restany had produced in June of 1940, those had been lost, and he reported that even if they had been available, this design required pieces that would have been too difficult to produce for the industrial capacity available around Castres.

The turret which was designed by Restany had a shape very similar to the one produced in 1940, being very clearly inspired by this previous example. The turret had what Restany describes as a “pseudo-pyramidal” shape. The turret’s front, sides, and rear were given 20 mm of armor, while the top and turret ring were 10 mm. The front of the turret was quite considerably changed in comparison to the 1940 vehicle, with the gun going through a more complex superstructure, and ditching the original mantlet that was the same as the S35 and Char B1 Bis. This turret used a turret race that was quite different from the ones manufactured in normal conditions. The internally dented race found on the turrets originally used for the Panhard 178, most notably the APX 3, was far too complex for the remote workshops around Castres, and turning the turret was accomplished in a much more rudimentary fashion. It was rotated by hand, and once the orientation was found, the turret was kept in the desired direction via a rack and pinion piece that was “blocked on the fixed circle”, blocking the turret in place. As for vision, when moving, the top hatch could be opened for the gunner to stick his head out of the turret. When fighting, vision slots could be used for observation. The turrets were painted in the French artillery gray color. In comparison to the 1940 turret which only featured a basic top hatch, the CDM turrets had both a rear-door and a better-designed top hatch. The CDM turret housed two crew members, in addition to the two others located within the vehicle’s hull.

The turret was designed by Restany to accept both the 47 mm SA 35 and a 25 mm gun, though whether those were the shortened 25 mm SA 35 meant for armored vehicles or the original and more common 25 mm SA 34 is unknown. The 47 mm gun was more potent than the 25 mm; it penetrated 40 mm at 30° and 400 m, whereas the 25 mm SA 34 penetrated 30 mm at the same angle but at 500 m. Furthermore, the 47 mm SA 35 did have an explosive shell, which the 25 mm lacked.

A German soldier showing off on a Panhard 178 CDM. This photo also shows one of the best views of the turret’s front on a 47 mm-armed vehicle. Source: armedconflicts
A photo of German personnel standing aside a Panhard 178 CDM of unknown armament, showing the rear of the turret. Source: armedconflicts

Secretive Manufacturing

A manufacturing process which was as discreet and secretive as possible, so as not to be found out by the Armistice commission, was set up to produce the CDM turrets.

Before work began on the production of actual turrets, a wooden mockup was produced towards late May 1941 in a workshop of a Castres industrialist, Henri Delmas, which also took the orders for mechanical pieces that would be needed to manufacture the turrets. It is through Delmas that subcontractors would be hired to manufacture the various elements of the turrets, which would reduce the interaction of Restany with third parties and the risk of the whole scheme being found out.

Delmas lended a workshop in the town of Mazamet, near Castres, which belonged to a society he managed to Restany and the CDM. This workshop was used both as a warehouse for deliveries of armor plates and turret races, and to manufacture some races.

The manufacture of turret races is what appears to have been the hardest hassle to overcome for Restany and his personnel. Those were fairly complicated pieces of engineering, and the workshops around Castres usually only had fairly rudimentary industrial machinery. Therefore, despite the limited number of turret races needed, production took place in a number of different workshops, including the one in Mazamet, and some in Saut-du-Tarn and Saint-Juéry. The ball bearings were manufactured way further east, around the industrial center of Saint-Etienne, and then delivered to the area around Castres. The welding electrodes were brought from Toulouse, to the west of Castres. The armor plates necessary for the turret were sneaked out of the Saint-Chamond steelmaking plant, way to the north-east, despite the heavy surveillance those were under. The cutting of those armored plates took place in the Mazamet workshop, while the production of mechanical, foundry and forge parts was assured by Delmas and his sub-contractors in Castres. The assembly of the turrets was assured at first in a workshop in Saint-Cyprien, on the Mediterannean coast and near the Spanish border. However, it was replaced mid-production by a workshop installed in an abandoned mine in Griffoul. All the transport that was needed for this extensive manufacturing process was assured by the large truck fleet the CDM had set up previously.

The first turret was assembled at Saint-Cyprien on 1st October 1941. It was vastly satisfactory, requiring a single change in the subsequent turrets, the application of a fixed shield to seal the potential gaps between the gun and the turret. Nine turrets were then assembled each month, with the last of the 45 being finished on 28th January 1942.

The turrets in Vichy’s Army

Once the turrets were manufactured, they were delivered to the various units that possessed turretless Panhard 178 hulls. Those deliveries were conducted using a workshop truck similar to those used by the French Army prior to 1940. Some minor problems arose during those deliveries. In an annoyed tone, Restany reported in his account of the production of the CDM turrets that the hulls in Châteauroux had been “tweaked” by “amateurs”, without extending on what this meant outside of noting it caused difficulties to the team that had to mount the turrets. Interestingly, he notes that at Montauban, near Toulouse, the hulls on which the turrets had to be mounted featured a smaller turret ring, which required remaking the top of those hulls to then mount the turret. While Restany did not mention why those turrets had a smaller ring, if he even knew, it has been theorized those may be hulls intended for colonial use: eight Panhard 178 modified to mount a smaller APX 5 turret were ordered in August of 1939, but only four are known to have received the turret and have been sent to Indochina. It is possible the four others may still have lacked their turrets when they were evacuated in the spring of 1940.

In his account, Restany mentions the cities of Auch, Clermont-Ferrand, Châteauroux, Limoges (where he reports the hulls had be hidden so well they were hard to access – following up by saying this was not a criticism at all), Lyon, Marseilles, Montauban and Castres. Castres, despite being the center of the manufacturing scheme, is actually where the delivery ended up being the most risky. Restany reports that a truck that transported two turrets, while stopped, had six cars pull up aside it, those being none other than the German control commission of Toulouse on a tour of the area. He reported that the Germans chatted with the CDM personnel, but did not inspect the innocent-looking truck, much to the relief of the delivery personnel.

The regiments which received the CDM turrets were the 2nd Dragons in Auch, the 3rd Dragons in Castres, the 8th Cuirassiers in Châteauroux, the 8th Dragons (operating in Issoire, but the turretless hulls onto which the turrets were mounted were in Clermont-Ferrand), the 6th Cuirassiers in Limoges, the 11th Cuirassiers in Lyon, the 7th Chasseurs (operating in Nîmes but with the hulls in Marseille) and the 3rd Hussards in Montauban.

The Machine Gun Refit

While the turrets produced under Restany’s management were functional, the only armament they featured was either a 25 mm or a 47 mm gun. While an anti-aircraft mount for two machine-guns was designed, and one was produced and tested on a turret, it did not reach production, being deemed too complicated. However, CDM command made a request to Restany that the turrets should be fitted with a 7.5 mm machine gun, this request being done once the turrets were already mounted. This was not a complicated modification according to Restany, but it required teams to be sent to each location where the armored cars were stored to perform it. The modification consisted in making a small opening in the turrets, left of the main gun. Through this opening, a FM 24/29 light machine-gun was inserted. Restany reported this modification took less than an hour per turret. The FM 24/29 is quite an interesting choice for a coaxial machine gun. It was a weapon quite similar in design and capacities to the British Bren, though it predates it. One may have imagined the standard tank machine gun, the MAC 31, should have been used instead. While firing the same 7.5 mm cartridge as the FM 24/29, the MAC 31 had a higher rate of fire (750 rounds per minute instead of 450) and larger magazines (150 rounds instead of 25). However, it is likely the CDM did not have many, if any MAC 31. The ubiquitous FM 24/29, found in the vast majority of French units in 1940, was in comparison a common sight in the service’s caches. The refit of the turrets to mount machine guns is known to have been completed by early November of 1942, just before the German occupation of the Free Zone beginning on November 11th.

Plans of the mounting of the FM 24.29 light machine gun through on opening in the turret. Source: Une entreprise secrète sous l’occupation Allemande, Joseph Restany, 1946

Some CDM turrets did not receive the same machinegun opening as the one described by Restany though. While he does not mention it, three photos show turrets (whether this was a single or several different turrets is not known) which had the machine gun in a quite large boxy superstructure to the right of the gun, an element which most likely required far more extensive work. Coincidently, the only known photos of 25 mm-armed turrets are those photos, while all 47mm-armed turrets feature the machine gun going through an opening to the left of the gun, as described by Restany. It has been theorized that the boxy superstructure may in fact have been found on all 25 mm-armed vehicles, though this cannot be proven.

A photo of a Panhard 178 CDM with a 25 mm gun and a FM 24/29 in a boxy structure to the right of the gun. This photo was taken upon the vehicle’s capture by German troops. The turret is still painted in French artillery gray, instead of the German camouflage it later received. The hull was painted as standard in the 1940 French camouflage. Source : Pascal Danjou Collection
Two German soldiers stand in front of a 25 mm-armed Panhard 178, with the machine gun appearing on the right of the main gun. Source: albyminiatures.e-monsite.com

Other Projects of Restany

As the manufacturing of the CDM turrets was finished by January of 1942, Restany continued to use the industrial network he had constructed for other re-armament projects. 64 Panhard 178 retaining the APX 3 turret were officially in service of the Vichy army, but those had been deprived of their original 25 mm SA 35 gun, replaced by a mere MAC 31 machine gun. To prevent those being re-armed with 25 mm guns, the Armistice Commission confiscated the mantlets. The CDM requested the manufacture of new ones from Restany, who got to work on a simplified mantlet which would both look less suspicious to avoid detection and simpler for manufacturing in the modest facilities he operated in. 92 mantlets were to be manufactured. Despite difficulties encountered, about half were manufactured by the end of activities in November of 1942.

A far more ambitious work was the production of 225 armored cars, based on the chassis of G.M.C trucks that were in the possession of the CDM. This very ambitious project began in 1941 and took most of Restany’s attention in 1942, as it involved producing not just turrets, but basically an entirely new armored car. By November of 1942, a prototype had been completed, and parts for the 224 vehicles that would have followed were being produced, with, notably, 65 completed armed turrets and 15 more being armed by November of 1942.

German Occupation

On the 11th of November 1942, following the invasion of French North Africa by Allied forces beginning two days prior, the Germany Army moved in to occupy the free part of France. The military was ordered to stay in its barracks by the collaborationist government led by Pierre Laval. In the following days, as Vichy’s military was dissolved, German troops found a number of the vehicles that had received CDM turrets. How many came into their hands is unknown, as it is rumored some units threw their turrets into ponds before they were found. Even more elusively, some may have remained hidden all the way until the large-scale resistance uprisings of August of 1944, when they would have been found by the Resistance. No photographic evidence backing up any of these claims exist.

A 47 mm-armed Panhard 178 CDM of Sicherungs-Aufklärung-Abteilung 1000 in Paris, extract from a German newsreel. Source: GBM 86

In any case, Panhard 178 CDMs are known to have been put to use by German security troops. Several photos show the vehicles used by the Sicherungs-Aufklärung-Abteilung 1000, a reconnaissance group of the 189. Reserve Infanterie-Division. A single company, designated as Panzer Späh Kompanie, is known to have used Panhard armored cars. One vehicle has been clearly identified, the “Jaguar”, 3rd vehicle of the 1st platoon of Sicherungs-Regiment 1000’s 14th company (the Panzer Späh Kompagnie), whilst another German Panhard 178 CDM is known to have had the name of “Hagen”. Another vehicle appears to have been modified with radio equipment. The eventual fate of the German Panhard 178 CDM armored cars is unknown.

A German 25 mm-armed Panhard 178 CDM on the side of a road, with both the turret’s top hatch and the hull’s front hatch and side door open. Source: armedconflicts

After the end of the war, a Panhard 178 CDM was found in Tours in 1948. It had taken a major hit to the front, though whether this was from being used on a firing range or from combat is unknown. A turret was reported by French historian Pascal Danjou to be awaiting restoration in the reserves of the Saumur tank museum back in 2009.

Conclusion

The Panhard 178 CDM is a particularly interesting vehicle, as it is one of the most extensive armament projects undertaken under the Vichy regime. This was done away from the eyes not only of the German armistice commission, but also of the military and political higher-ups which, far more collaborative than most of the Army, would not have allowed such a breach of the armistice. While Restany started an even more extensive project, the manufacture of armored cars on GMC truck chassis, only the turret-manufacturing project reached completion by the point all work had to be interrupted because of German occupation.

Looking at the bigger picture, the CDM ended up being an important weapons supplier to the resistance in 1943 and 1944, with the weapon caches that were not found by German troops being used to arm numerous resistance units. This was not without consequences. Most notably, Colonel Emile Mollard and his son, Lieutenant Roger Mollard, were found by the Gestapo and deported to Germany in September of 1943. While Emile survived the war and was awarded the Légion d’Honneur as well as the rank of Brigadier-General, his son Roger did not survive the war. Despite the CDM’s considerable role in arming the resistance as well as the large armament project undertaken by Restany, it remains one of the more obscure and little-known aspects of the French resistance, far from the glory of the Liberation of Paris for example.

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Profile of the German Panhard 178 CDM “Jaguar”, Sicherungs-Aufklärung-Abteilung 1000. 3rd vehicle, 1st platoon, 14th company. Illustration produced by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet

Sources

Une entreprise clandestine sous l’occupation Allemande, Joseph Restany, Charles-Lavauzelle et compagnie editions, 1948
GBM (Histoire de Guerre, Blindés et Matériel) N°86, January-February-March 2009, pp 22-31
char-français.net
armedconflicts.com (only for specified photos)


Categories
Cold War French Prototypes

ELC EVEN with 120 mm Recoilless Rifles

France (1953-57)
Airborne Light Tank Destroyer – 1 Prototype Built

In the years that followed France’s liberation at the end of the Second World War, the French arms industry, once a world leader but vastly weakened by years of war and occupation, started to re-develop. A number of original vehicle concepts were experimented. One of the odder, but also one which was studied the most extensively, was the concept of very light tank destroyers. These vehicles were rather similar in size and weight to the ‘tankettes’ of the interwar years but were intended to perform a different role. New anti-tank technology, particularly recoilless anti-tank rifles, were used to turn vehicles of this size into efficient tank destroyers. The first known design of such a vehicle appears to date from 1950 and was designed by a military engineer named Pommelet. Apparently it was a very small vehicle armed with an American M20 Super Bazooka and had a crew of just one. While little to no information and no photographs of this prototype appear to have survived to this day, a number of prototypes based on similar principles would appear in the following years.

In 1951, a tank destroyer concept was submitted by an engineer by the name of Henry. This is the oldest of such vehicles of which visual evidence is available. The ‘Henry tank destroyer’ was a tiny, tracked vehicle, armed with a recoilless gun of unknown caliber firing through the vehicle’s axis. The vehicle was planned to have a crew of two men and included inflatable balloons and hydraulic skis. These were supposed to make it amphibious as well as to allow it to easily cross swamps or snowy terrain. This particular vehicle did not go past the design board.

One of the oddest designs of the early Cold War, the ‘Henry tank destroyer’ would theoretically have been a very light, air-droppable, amphibious tank destroyer with very good mobility on all terrains. Photo: chars-francais.net

Endorsement of Light Tank Destroyer Projects

Marshall Juin was one of the most prestigious and well-known French officers after the Second World War, having notably commanded the Free French Corps in Italy. In July 1952, he officially requested the development of a very light tank destroyer armed with recoilless guns. In March 1953, a military commission confirmed the request. The vehicle wanted was a light ‘intervals machine’ (a vehicle meant to cover the spaces left between tank units) armed with either 75 mm, 105 mm or 150 mm recoilless guns, or a Brandt 120 mm rocket launcher. Following this official call for designs, the scope of designers and companies working on a very light tank destroyer expanded, as large companies such as AMX-Hotchkiss and Lorraine got involved. One project, though, was developed by the Etablissements Brunon-Valette – a smaller company that had been producing various products, from bridges, to bottles, to chassis, but had little to no previous experience in the field of military vehicles. The company’s efforts at making a light tank destroyer were led by an engineer of which we only have the last name, Even; this name would be given to his design as well.

The First EVEN Design

The design process of the first version of Even’s light tank destroyer was rather swift, with a mockup being ready for presentation by January 1954, alongside the Lorraine and AMX-Hotchkiss designs. Even’s vehicle had a small and particularly short hull, with a height of 1.4 m with the turret, a width of 2.15 m and a length of 5.3 m. It was very lightly armored, with a maximum of 10 mm on the frontal plate, and 8 mm on the rest of the hull. The vehicle was intended to resist 7.62 mm rounds, anti-personnel landmines and artillery shell splinters. Unsurprisingly for such a small and lightly armored vehicle, it had a very modest weight of just 5 tons and was powered by a SOFAM 168 hp engine placed at the rear of the vehicle. The engine compartment was separated from the rest of the hull by a fireproof partition. The vehicle was able to reach a maximum speed of 75 km/h on-road, and 40 off-road. Two headlights featured on the front armor plate. The driver was placed at the front, gaining access through a large hatch. Unlike the vast majority of armored vehicles, the driver did not sit, but lay down on his back in an awkward position. The internal space was too low for him to even sit. A rather peculiar turret was fitted to the vehicle. as it was not centered, but off to the left, whilst the driver’s compartment and hatch were on the right side of the vehicle. The space given to the gunner was rather small, and he sat on a seat placed on the bottom of the vehicle’s hull. The vehicle was so short that the eyes of a man of average height would be well-placed to align with the gun’s sights. The gunner could enter and exit the vehicle through the turret’s top hatch.

The vehicle was armed with four Brandt 120 mm rocket launchers, two sitting on each side of the turret, firing SNEB rocket-powered projectiles. A 7.5 mm AA52 machine-gun featured on both sides of the turret. It appears that the turret’s armor was somewhat thicker than the hull’s, with 15 mm of steel. With the turret on, the Even vehicle had a weight of about 7.4 tons, reducing its maximum speed to 68 km/h. The vehicle was protected from combat gas and, according to the French Army’s reports on the vehicle, even from nuclear fallout, thanks to a filtered pressurized air system. Communications were assured by an ANVRC 7 radio placed at the rear of the turret. Intercom was used inside the vehicle, though direct voice commands could also be formulated in case it did not work.

The EVEN with the four Brandt 120mm Recoilless Rifles. Photo: French Military Archives, Châtellerault

One of the hardest challenges faced by Even was planning the vehicle’s reloading process. The guns were attached to the turret, and their breeches could not be reloaded from inside of the vehicle. Two different ways of reloading the vehicle existed, both performed by the driver:

The first allowed him to reload without leaving his seat, the turret would rotate so the breeches would be near the driver’s position (meaning the gun would face the rear). The driver then had to open his hatch and could shove the 120 mm rocket-shells into the breeches while remaining in his lying down position. This technique allowed him to remain inside the vehicle but was quite slow and hard to perform.

A simpler alternative, but also one that made him more vulnerable, was exiting the vehicle and reloading the breeches from the outside.

A third alternative existed on paper, but appears not to have been carried on the mockup and prototype: making the rear of the barrels rotatable, so the gunner could reload them from his position by opening the turret’s hatch.

A drum-loaded variant of the vehicle was also considered. It reduced the number of 120 mm Brandt rocket launchers to just one per side of the turret. Each one was fed by a 5-round magazine that could load a shell every 3 to 4 seconds before running out. This version did not leave the drawing board, as it raised Even’s vehicle height by about 20 centimeters and reloading the drums under fire was judged to be very hazardous, even more so than for the four-gun version of the vehicle.

Two photos of the mockup showing the different ways of reloading the guns. Photo: French Military Archives, Châtellerault
Diagram of the EVEN equipped with the revolver mechanism. Photo: French Military Archives, Châtellerault

The 1956 Prototype

The first prototype of Even’s vehicle was completed in July 1955, with testing performed in July 1956. In the meantime, the official requirements had changed quite a bit. In 1955, the French Army requested that the vehicle should use classic anti-tank guns, as the recoilless option, while attractive considering it could allow an impressive amount of firepower on a very small platform, lacked the accuracy and range for proper anti-tank warfare. The project also officially received a name in December 1955, as the Engin Léger de Combat – Light Combat Machine, or ELC for short. Despite the change in requirements, the first prototype of Even’s vehicle, now named the ELC EVEN, still featured the recoilless 120 mm rocket launchers.

The trials performed in July 1956 concerned both the guns and EVEN’s platform itself. These trials showed that, at a range of 451 meters, the Brandt rocket launched SNEB rockets had a horizontal dispersion of up to 4.36 m, and a vertical dispersion of up to 3.05 m, making the vehicle’s accuracy unreliable past almost point-blank range. The shells had a penetration of about 300 mm, which was the same at all distances thanks to the use of shaped charges.

The mobility trials were performed on two different terrains: the first one was a relatively flat, grassy and dry terrain, which the ELC EVEN crossed easily at a speed averaging 40 km/h. The second type of terrain was one that included a number of potholes, ditches and trenches. In it, the vehicle ended up getting stuck at the bottom of a ditch, after the driving shaft of the right sprocket was damaged.

The vehicle was apparently repaired rather quickly, as documents from November 1957 noted that the vehicle had crossed more than 7,000 km without any major technical issues. The documented results of the 1956 trials can be found HERE.

Conclusion – Abandoning the Recoilless Option

However, with prototypes of the next generation of ELCs in the work, this first recoilless gun-armed prototype would soon be abandoned. By November 1957, the prototype of the new version of the ELC would start undergoing trials. While the recoilless version of the ELC EVEN was not as successful as its successor, which would go pretty close to being adopted by the French Army, it nonetheless paved the way for the vehicle’s evolution. The fate and whereabouts of the 1956 prototype remain unknown to this day.

While they would never be adopted in a tank, recoilless guns would still remain in service in the French Army for many years to come. The most notable example would be the Hotchkiss M201 – a mere copy of the WW2 classic Willys MB Jeep. This French-produced model would, from 1963 onward, be fitted with 106 mm M40 recoilless guns in large numbers. These Jeeps were commonly used by the French Army, particularly during its intervention in various Sub-Saharan and Middle Eastern countries, in which its small weight and firepower were greatly appreciated, both against infantry and armor. They would remain in active service until they were replaced with vehicles armed with MILAN missiles in the early 90s.

Picture of the vehicle stuck at the bottom of a ditch, detracked, during the mobility trials. Photo: French Military Archives, Châtellerault


The ELC EVEN with the four Brandt 120mm Recoilless rifles during the 1956 trials.


The ELC EVEN with the projected revolver loading system.

These illustrations were produced by Brian Gaydos, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 5.30 x 2.15 x 1.60 meters (17.3 x 7 x 5.2 ft)
Weight, battle ready 6.7 tonnes (7.3 tons)
Crew 2 (commander/gunner and driver/loader)s
Engine SOFAM 168 hp
Suspension Leaf springs
Speed (road/off road) 70 km/h / ~40 km/h (43 – 24 mph)
Range (road) ~350 km (217 miles)
Armament Four 120 mm Brandt recoilless guns/rocket launchers
Secondary: Two AA52 7.5 mm machine-guns
Armor 8-15 mm (0.3 – 0.59 in)
Total built 1 prototype, 10 (5 90 mm armed and 5 30 mm-armed) pre-production vehicles

Sources

French military archives in Châtellerault (see imgur albums)
www.chars-francais.net


Categories
Cold War French Prototypes

ELC EVEN

France (1957-1963)
Airborne Light Tank Destroyer – 1 Proto., 10 Pre-Prod. Units Built

Through the late 1940s and early 1950s, the French military studied several concepts of lightweight tank destroyers. The objective was to produce a cheap, simple and mobile vehicle with sufficient firepower to knock out vehicles such as the Soviet IS-3 and IS-4 heavy tanks. Thus, significant armor, beyond protecting the vehicle from small arms fire, was out of the equation. After several prototypes and concepts, a set of requirements was determined in 1953, which led to several projects being offered. Some of these projects involved the giants of French military industry, Renault and Hotchkiss, but one came from engineer Even of the Etablissements Brunon-Valette – a somewhat small company with no experience in tank development whatsoever.

Most of these early designs, including Even’s, were armed with recoilless guns. These weapons, which had started appearing in large numbers in the later stages of the Second World War, were notable because of the impressive firepower they could offer. At the same time, due to their non-existent recoil, they could be fitted on lighter platforms than their recoil counterparts of similar caliber. They had some flaws though, most notably their lack of accuracy beyond short ranges. In 1955, the French military came to the realization that such weapons would not provide an effective tank destroyer in plains and open fields, where much of armored warfare in a hypothetical conflict with the Eastern Bloc would take place. Therefore, it was requested that vehicles designed to fulfill the 1953 requirements should be re-designed with more classic, non-recoilless weapons. The program also received its name with this updated set of the requirements in July 1955, becoming the Engin Léger de Combat (Light Combat Vehicle), or ELC for short.

A pre-series 90mm-armed vehicle compared with the popular Citroën 2CV car, 1961. Source: ECPA-D (Picture service of the French Army)

The 1957 Second Generation

Even’s first prototype had been designed in 1953, following a set of requirements formulated in March of that year after a request in July 1952 by Marshall Juin for a lightweight, recoilless-guns armed tank destroyer. The design Even came up with was a very low vehicle, so low in fact, that the driver was in a crouching position in the hull. The vehicle was armed with four Brandt 120 mm (4.7 in) recoilless rifle in a turret able of 360° rotation. A first mock-up was completed in January of 1954. However, in 1955, the French Army changed its requirements, turning away from recoilless rifles and requesting to have its light tank destroyer projects armed with a more classic anti-tank gun. The prototype was nonetheless completed and trialed in 1956. These trials demonstrated why recoilless guns were to be abandoned: while their firepower was considerable, their accuracy was very poor, with, at a relatively low range of 451 m (493 yards) resulted in a horizontal dispersion of up to 4.36 m (14.3 ft) and vertical dispersion of up to 3.05 m (10 ft). The vehicle not only suffered from a very mediocre accuracy but had problems moving in uneven terrain as well. On the first day of mobility trials, the vehicle got stuck at the bottom of a ditch, the driving shaft of the right sprocket, not being able to handle the shock of falling, was damaged.

Following both the change in requirements of 1955 and the rather unsuccessful results of the 1956 trials, Even went back to the drawing board in order to apply the necessary corrections. He had to adapt his design to fit the new requirements and avoid repeating the failures of the first prototype.

Two new ELC EVEN versions emerged from this new design phase and both would both be tested in November of 1957. One version maintained the anti-tank function of the original ELC EVEN prototype, replacing the 120 mm (4.7 in) rocket launcher with a single, magazine-fed 90 mm (3.5 in) gun. The other version was designed to fight infantry and lightly armored vehicles with two 30 mm (1.18 in) autocannons. Anti-aircraft and missile-carrying versions were first mentioned in documents dating from 1957 too. Both designs used the original chassis of the ELC EVEN, short of a couple of changes such as new, spoked road wheels, remained unchanged in the exterior. The vehicles, outside of those changes, remained the same, featuring a particularly low hull, in which the driver, off to the right side of the hull, had to lie down in order to operate the vehicle. The turret was off-centered to the left and was an entirely new design. While the two versions of the new turret had a number of differences regarding their armament, they both shared a number of general characteristics, such as the fact they were oscillating, a feature particularly popular in 1950s French designs, and had a very rectangular shape. These two turret models had a maximum depression of -9° and an elevation of 13° could complete a full rotation in 15 seconds thanks to a hydraulic traverse system, and automatically locked in place when firing. Both turrets featured off-center armament. The height of the vehicle was raised to 1.60 m (5.2 ft) in both.

Diving view on a pre-series ELC EVEN 90 (registered as W 000885). Source: Char Français

The two turrets had little to no weight difference, with both of the new ELC variants having a weight of about 6.7 tonnes (7.3 tons). Mobility tests performed in November 1957 showed this new generation of ELC EVEN could reach a maximum speed of 70 km/h (43 mph) on-road, and had a cruise speed of 50 to 55 km/h (31 – 34 mph) on-road and 20 to 40 km/h (12 – 24 mph) on various terrains. They had a ground pressure of 440 grams per cm² (6.2 lbs per in²) and were able to cross a 1.8 m (5.9 ft) wide trench, or an 80 cm (31 in) deepwater surface. They had a turning radius of 5.5 m (18 ft) and a maximum climb angle of 60% to 70%. The range was 350 to 450 km (217 – 279 miles) with internal fuel tanks, and it appears unprotected external fuel tanks could be added, raising the maximum range to 500 km (310 miles).

It is reported that, because of the vehicle’s lightweight and small dimensions, it could be carried by a “Piasecki 4I” helicopter – most likely a designation for the Piasecki H-21C, a transport helicopter of which the French Army and Air Force had bought 98 examples of. A couple of other Piasecki models were used by France, but they had been bought by the Navy and were acquired in lesser numbers. The EVEN could apparently also be transported by another helicopter, the “YH I7 A”, though more details about this vehicle are unknown. The at the time new French transport plane, the Noréclair, was reported to be able to load an ELC EVEN in its cargo bay. The two versions of the turret could be exchanged within four hours, and just a single vehicle was involved in the trials of November 1957, being given a different turret depending on the tests which had to be undertaken. This prototype had been completed throughout June 1957 and was subject yo less extensive, preliminary trials during that month.

The ELC EVEN prototype fitted with dual 30mm turret (left) and the 90mm-armed turret (right). Source: French Military Archives

The 30 mm-armed model, designed to operate against infantry and lightly armored vehicles, featured two HS.825 30 mm guns, firing 30×113 mm shells at a muzzle velocity of about 1000 m/s (3280 fps). They were fed by 85-shots clips, with one already loaded and one other in reserve, meaning that it had a total of 340 rounds at its disposal. The HS.825 was originally developed as an aircraft gun but had rather respectable armor penetration against armored personnel carriers and even light tanks such as the PT-76. With API (Armor-Piercing Incendiary) ammunition, it could penetrate 30 mm (1.18 in) of armor at one kilometer (1093 yards), and up to around 100 mm (3.9 in) at point-blank range. The guns could be fired either in salvo or shot-by-shot. The vehicle was also armed with two 7.5 mm AA52 machine guns, one on each side of the vehicle. These were fed by 300-rounds belts, with five belts in total for each machine gun, meaning the vehicle could fire a total of 3,000 7.5 mm rounds before running out of ammunition.

The 90 mm-armed model, which was designed to take up the original ELC’s role of dealing with enemy tanks, was armed with a DEFA D 919 low-pressure gun on the right side of the turret. This gun could fire two different anti-tank shells: the Brandt ‘Energa’, a shell with an effective range of about 700 m (765 yards) and which could penetrate about 300 mm (11.8 in) of armor or a newer Brandt shell with an effective range of about a kilometer and similar penetration values. The vehicle featured a 5-shot drum autoloader, with a reload time of two seconds between each shot. Twenty-five shells were carried in an ammunition locker in front of the gunner, in addition to the five already loaded in the autoloader. Unlike the first ELC EVEN prototype, the breech was located inside the turret, meaning it could be reloaded by the gunner without having anyone venturing outside of the tank. This feature was quite impressive on such a tiny vehicle, as even on the larger AMX-13 light tanks, the crews had to leave the vehicle to reload the drum magazines once they ran out. The turret also featured a coaxial 7.5 mm AA52 machine gun with 1,200 rounds.

A pre-series vehicle of each version undergoing trial between 1961 and 1963. Source: US Department of Defence Military Review, September of 1963

Continued Development of the 90 mm Armed Vehicle

The 90 mm armed turret that was presented on the 1957 prototype was armed with the DEFA D 919. Plans were already made by November to replace that gun with a newer model. The main feature of that newer gun was the ability to fire the 90 mm DEFA feathered shell at a muzzle velocity of 760 m/s (2493 fps). The ability to fire that shell, which could already be used by the only competitor the ELC EVEN still had, the ELC AMX, was requested by the French Military after the first presentation of the 90 mm armed turret in June 1957. The ability to fire another shell, the “G” non-rotating HEAT shell, at a muzzle velocity of 700 m/s (2296 fps), was also requested.

A temporary solution was devised by Even in order to allow his ELC to fire the DEFA shell without requiring extensive changes to the turret. This consisted of the DEFA projectile and a Brandt socket shortened by 38 mm (1.4 in), resulting in a 625 mm (24.6 in)-long shell. The D 919 gun, modified to fire that shell, was designated D 919 A. However, making the D 919 A able to fire the shell at a velocity of 760 m/s required a high pressure of 1300 kg/cm² (18,490 psi), which was judged acceptable for a prototype, but not for future serial-production.

By March 1959, following the success of the 1957 trials, a pre-series order for 5 ELC EVENs was formulated by the French Army. It was requested that the EVENs should be able to fire the DEFA feathered shell in its original configuration, meaning the shell would have a total length of 758 mm (29.8 in) using the DEFA socket. The original shell could be fired at muzzle velocities of 760-770 m/s (2493 – 2526 fps) with more accuracy and in safer conditions than with a Brandt socket. The revised version of the D 919 A gun modified to fire the original DEFA shell did not take more internal space, but the barrel was 30 cm (11.8 in) longer in order to improve the vehicle’s accuracy, the D 919 B could also fire the DEFA shell with the Brandt socket, or the 656 mm (25.8 in)-long Brandt-ENERGA shell. The “G” HEAT shell could not be fired from the D 919 B though, and required another gun, the D 915 (which was employed in the ELC AMX Bis). It appeared that it was impossible to fit this gun on the EVEN turret, and it appears that plans to fire the G shell were canceled without any D 915-armed EVEN prototype being manufactured.

The prototype refitted with what is presumably a D 919 A 90mm gun. Source: French Military Archives

Pre-Series Stage & the Doctrine of the ELC

Ten pre-series ELC were ordered in March 1959. Five were to use the D 919 B 90 mm gun, and five others to be fitted with the 30 mm turret. Such a large number of vehicles was beyond the capabilities of the company behind Even’s efforts, Brunon-Valette. Production was undertaken by one of the giants of the French arms industry, Hotchkiss. The pre-series was completed in 1961.

A photo from the same photoshoot. Source: Char Français (see bibliography)

The objective for the ELC EVEN pre-series was to perform far more extensive trials in operational units in order to seek American funding if the vehicles were successful. Out of the ten new vehicles, seven were given to various units to be tested in operations, one remained at its factory for further trials and one was kept by the French military to continue studying the design. The last one was sent to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland in order to perform trials with American officials and hopefully unlock American funding.

Frontal view of a pre-series ELC EVEN 30 (registered as 224 0489). Source: Char Français

By this time, the use of the ELC in the French military doctrine had been developed pretty extensively. The plan was to produce massive numbers of these small vehicles. At least in the minds of French military theorists, these could be extremely effective anti-tank machines and would be more useful than main battle tanks or heavier vehicles in urban terrain. While the ELC EVEN did indeed have plenty of qualities, such as respectable firepower for its size and the ability to be airlifted, it would very likely not have been able to perform in such roles, as it was far from flawless. It had a crew of just two men, repeating what was perhaps the worst mistake of French armored development in the interwar period, as the commander/gunner would most likely be considerably overburdened. The vehicle’s protection was obviously abysmal, and while its gun was somewhat capable, the capacity of the ELC platform to evolve over time and continue improving its firepower to face newer threats was limited.

For those reasons, the ELC EVEN, while getting a lot closer to mass-production than a lot of other French prototypes of the 1950s, was eventually canceled. The vehicle was indeed unable to access American funding. France, during the early 60s, under President Charles de Gaulle, was already very stretched out in terms of the military budget. Massive funding was already going into the development of a credible nuclear program that included submarines, planes and ballistic missiles, as well as the development of a common tank project with West Germany that would eventually branch out and become the AMX-30. Funding for the mass-production of a vehicle like the ELC EVEN was simply out of the question. It appears tests on the project stopped in 1963.

A vehicle of each type during operational trials. Source: Char Français

Surviving ELC EVENs

Surprisingly enough, for what was only a pre-series, three ELC EVEN have survived to this day. One, fitted with a 30 mm turret, resides in the Tank Museum at Saumur, the largest in France and one of the largest collections of Europe. It is, interestingly enough, one of the only vehicles of the museum in which people can actually enter. This was originally meant for children. The vehicle is exposed, with its hull and turret hatches open, in the small kid’s area of the museum.

Another ELC EVEN, armed with a 90 mm gun, is also in the possession of the Saumur Tank Museum. It appears that it is not in the permanent exposition space, but instead, it is occasionally displayed in temporary expositions. It is still in running condition and is sometimes shown in movement during the museum’s demonstrations.
A third ELC EVEN, also armed with a 90mm gun, decorates the Carpiagne military base, near Marseilles, in Provence.

The fate of the other vehicles is unknown. While most were most likely scrapped, it is not unimaginable to think Saumur’s vast vehicle reserves (the museum has around 200 vehicles on show, but 500 in reserve) may house one or more remaining ELC EVENs. It should be noted that the ELC EVEN’s competitor, the ELC AMX Bis, also has a prototype remaining at Saumur.

The ELC EVEN 30 prototype kept in the Saumur museum. Source: Alf van Beem via Wikimedia Commons
Saumur’s ELC EVEN 90. Source: C.Balmefezol via Char Français
A frontal view of the ELC EVEN 90 preserved at Carpiagne military base. Source: Olivier Carneau


A 30 mm-armed version of ELC EVEN, as it stands today in the Saumur tank museum in France.


An ELC EVEN version armed with the DEFA D 919 low-pressure gun, as it stands in the Saumur tank museum.

Both of these illustrations were produced by Brian Gaydos, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

ELC EVEN (Pre-Series) Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 5.30 x 2.15 x 1.60 meters (17.3 x 7 x 5.2 ft)
Weight, battle ready 6.7 tonnes (7.3 tons)
Crew 2 (commander/gunner and driver/loader)s
Engine SOFAM 168 hp
Suspension Leaf springs
Speed (road/off road) 70 km/h / ~40 km/h (43 – 24 mph)
Range (road) ~350 km (217 miles)
Armament Main: A 90 mm D 919 B, 5 (pre-loaded) + 25 rounds (90 mm version)/ Two HS.825 30 mm autocannons (30 mm-armed version), 170 (pre-loaded) + 170 rounds
Secondary: One AA 52 coaxial machine gun, 1,200 rounds (90 mm-armed version) / Two AA 52 machine guns, 1,500 rounds each/3000 total (30 mm-armed version)
Armor 8-15 mm (0.3 – 0.59 in)
Total built 1 prototype, 10 (5 90 mm armed and 5 30 mm-armed) pre-production vehicles

Sources

French Military Archives of Châtellerault:
Documents from the 1957 trials: https://imgur.com/a/tUltJQJ
Documents from the May of 1959 trials: https://imgur.com/a/mgb47xb
www.chars-francais.net


Categories
WW2 French Armored Cars

Saurer CAT and White Saurer

ww2 french tanksFrance (1929-36)
Armored cars – At least 9 Saurer-CAT and 5 White-Saurer

French Morocco and the CAT

On 15th March 1912, following a Franco-German diplomatic standoff and the Treaty of Fez between the French Republic and the Kingdom of Morocco, part of Morocco became a French protectorate, effectively becoming a part of France’s large colonial empire. In the following years, French troops under Gouverneur-général Lyautey occupied Morocco but had to face rather significant local opposition.
Around 1914 or 1915, as Moroccan resistance, emboldened by the Great War, peaked, a French businessman, Jean Mazères, was hired by the French colonial administration to start doing delivery and supply work in Morocco. Mazères had established himself in Rabat shortly before the war to supply his family’s industry with wool. He owned two trucks which were originally meant to be used for his business, but were very much needed by a French army in need of means to supply its troops across the North African protectorate. Throughout the following years, Mazères received more transport missions from the French Army, which convinced him to progressively acquire more vehicles and expand his services to the French Army. By March of 1919, he had become crucial for the French Army in Morocco, to the point where he was given a monopoly on automobile transport in the Protectorate of Morocco.
Mazères finally turned his supplying service for the French Army into a company in 1922, forming the CAT (Compagnie Africaine de Transport – African Transport Company), associating himself with the truck manufacturer Saurer, which would provide the entirety of the CAT’s truck fleet in the following years. Mazères passed away in 1925, but his company remained in business, and as crucial for the French military. In June 1919, two operators of one of Mazères’ trucks were killed by Moroccan nationalists while on a supply mission for the French Army. Throughout the 1920s, attacks on the CAT’s supply convoys intensified, as Morocco underwent a particularly violent era of the Rif War, which, while mostly concentrated in Spanish Morocco, spilled over into the French protectorate too. With nine drivers killed and four others wounded during the decade, the job was particularly dangerous, and the CAT’s convoys were in dire need of military escort.

Saurer 5AD truck (registered as 1124 MA3/N°341 in the company’s fleet) of the CAT in Morocco, circa 1933

The birth of the “Saurer-CAT”

The CAT’s vehicles were, at first, escorted by the Cavalry Armored Car Squadron of Morocco and the 5th squadron of the 1st REC (Régiment Etranger de Cavalry – Foreign Cavalry Regiment). As the company’s lines continued to expand further into the Sahara and further away from the centers of French activity in Morocco, the needs for escorts rose to the point where the French Army actually gave the CAT responsibility over the escort of its truck convoys. As a consequence of this new mission, the “Saurer-CAT”, an armored car based on the CAT’s Saurer trucks, was born.

Saurer-CAT N°11 and a Renault KZ car of the French Army, ~1930. Pascal Danjou collection.
The earliest photography we have of the Saurer-CAT dates from 1929, which is the commonly assumed date of its entry in service. The vehicle itself uses a Saurer chassis, which actually appears not to have been taken from the company’s 3 AD or 5 AD truck, but to have been purposely-built. Indeed, the GBM magazine (N°119, January of 2017) reports that the vehicle had a 3.70 m wheelbase, which does not match with any known Saurer truck of the era – these had a wheelbase of at least 4 meters. That chassis was fitted with an armored body of unknown thickness, with mostly un-angled, riveted armored plates. On top of that hull, the vehicle was fitted with an octagonal turret that was armed with an 8 mm Hotchkiss mle 1914 machine-gun. It was seemingly powered by a Saurer four-cylinders 6842 cm3 55 hp engine, as found on Saurer 3 AD and 5 AD trucks.

Postcard showing the Saurer-CAT n°3. Pascal Danjou collection
The Saurer-CAT armored car had a rather odd legal status as well as crew composition. While the vehicles themselves were the property of the CAT, the machine-gun was the property of the state. The vehicle’s driver was an employee of the company, but the rest of the crew was composed of French Army soldiers: a commanding non-commissioned officer, a machine-gunner and a spotter. Each vehicle was given a number that was painted on either the turret, the hull, or both. As of today, photos of numbers 3 to 12 have been found, suggesting the existence of at least nine vehicles. There are no known photos of number 1 and 2, and whether or not they were operational vehicles remains unanswered.

Saurer-CATs 3 and 12, with two White-Saurers in the background, Southern French Morocco, 1933. Pascal Danjou collection

Design

While not based on a pre-existing Saurer chassis, the Saurer-CAT very much looked like a truck having been given an armored body, of which the exact thickness was unknown, though it could not withstand more than an 8 mm bullet. The 55 hp Saurer engine and its radiator, typical of 1920s trucks, was visible at the front. Two headlights were present on the vehicle’s front, attached to its lower body.

Saurer-CAT N°9 at a halt with the armor protecting the read wheel not mounted. Pascal Danjou collection
Further back, in the driver’s post, there were two large vision hatches which the driver could open or close depending on whether or not the vehicle was in combat. While most photos show them opened, at least one exists in which these are closed, the vision of the driver being limited to small vision slots on the vehicle’s sides in such a situation.

Saurer-CAT n°12, notable for having a circular base for its turret which the other vehicles do not feature, at a halt with the front hatches open, ~1930, Pascal Danjou collection
The small octagonal turret was located in the center of the hull and, despite its seemingly makeshift construction, some of the vehicles did feature a mantlet that surrounded the Hotchkiss 8 mm mle 1914 machine gun, while a number of others simply had the machine gun go through a hole in the turret. The vehicle’s hull featured two side doors around the driver’s position, towards the front of the Saurer-CAT. These did not cover the entirety of the vehicle’s height, only the lower half of the hull. The gunner took position in the turret, and the commander may have sat next to the driver. The spotter took place in the rear, where another hatch could be opened, allowing him to check to the vehicle’s rear. The two rear wheels featured quite large arches, on which a toolbox was mounted. The tires and wheels used appear to have been the same as in the standard truck of the CAT, the Saurer 5AD. At least one photo shows a vehicle with a spare wheel attached to the side of the hull.

Renault KZs of the French military escorted by two Saurer-Cat in the Middle Atlas. The vehicle leading the convoy, N°5, features a spare wheel on the rear side of the hull. Alain Alvarez collection

CAT armored car
The Saurer-CAT armored car with number 7, in service in North Africa. Illustration by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon campaign.

The White-Saurer: recycling the French Army’s armored car bodies

From 1932 onward, a new model of armored car appeared in the CAT’s inventory, the “White-Saurer”. These vehicles were made using the armored body of White armored cars, which, by the early 1930s were beginning to be very worn out, and, if not upgraded to the White-Laffly 50AM or 80AM standard, were often retired. These armored car bodies were fitted on the chassis of the 5AD Saurer truck, as demonstrated by the similar wheelbase of 4.50 m. The original White armored cars were fitted with a turret that mounted a 37 mm SA 18 gun at the front, and a Hotchkiss mle 1914 8 mm machine gun at the rear. On the CAT vehicles, the 37 mm gun was traded for a second Hotchkiss. Five of these “White-Saurer” conversions were made for the CAT in 1932. They operated similarly to the “Saurer-CAT”, with a civilian driver and a three-man military crew. They were also numbered using the same systems, taking numbers 13 to 17.

Two White-Saurer, N°13 and 16, and Saurer-CAT N°3, Southern Morocco, 1934. Pascal Danjou collection

Saurer-CAT and White-Saurer n°13. This vehicle does not feature the armor that usually protects the rear wheel. Jean-Pierre Decourtil collection

The CAT’s armored car in operation, and their final fate


Saurer-CAT n°7 and two Saurer 5AD trucks during a halt. CBED collection, via Pascal Danjou
The CAT’s armored cars ended up being successful in their intended mission of protecting the CAT’s transport and supply vehicles and crews from attacks. There were no casualties reported in the company’s personnel after the first vehicle entered service in 1929. The two models of armored cars were the property of the CAT and protected its routes until 1934. In February of that year, France officially announced the successful end of its pacification operations in Morocco. Some vehicles at least appear to have then been given to the French army, with at least a “Saurer group” being reported in the 5th squadron of the 1st REC in 1934-1935, and the last known photos of the vehicles in 1935 only showing them with military personnel.

White-Saurer N°16 surrounded by military personnel, 1935. As no civilian personnel or vehicles can be seen, this photo is presumed to be one from the vehicle’s services in the French Army after the end of the pacification of Morocco. Pierre-F Aujas collection.

A Saurer-CAT (in the background), and two unknown vehicles that were supposedly used by the CAT alongside the White-Saurer and Saurer-CATs: In the middle, a vehicle of unknown chassis using the armored body of a WW1-era AMAC Renault-GPAR mle 1914 armored car; in the foreground, a vehicle that uses the armored body of a White armored car, but with a much bigger engine and rear than on the known White-Saurer. The photo being from 1930, it may be a prototype or early model of the White-Saurer. Pascal Danjou collection

Sources

-GBM n°119 (January of 2017): “Les voitures blindées de la CAT” pp. 33-38
-Tout les blindés de l’Armée Française 1914-1940 (François Vauvillier, Histoire & Collections editions) p. 97
-https://mfd.agadir.free.fr/agadirfrontdemer/CAT/CAT.html (Only regarding the CAT itself, not the armored vehicles)