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Cold War French Prototypes Modern French Prototypes

Wieczorek Engin blindé de combat (EBC) and Engin blindé de combat lourds (EBCL)

France France (1986-2000)
Main Battle Tank – None built

Patents, the government license issued to an inventor or company to commercially protect or exploit an innovation or design, are wide ranging and can be as small as a new way of doing something up to a total rethink of how an existing thing might work. Julien Wieczorek, a Polish national living in France, falls into this latter category. Between 1986 and 2000, he submitted a set of design patents for a completely new tank. That is, a tank not just new in design, but new in philosophy as well. Wieczorek’s designs are from a skilled engineer looking at some of the fundamental problems associated with tank design and finding a way to work around them to produce a new bigger, and better tank. A tank with formidable armament, impenetrable armor, and a level of mobility to surpass any contemporary vehicle in NATO or beyond. His designs were not built but they not only provide an insight into some alternative solutions to the technical limits of current tanks, but perhaps also more widely into the design of modern tanks at the turn of the Cold War, where massed tank combat became less and less likely. At a time when nations were reducing tank numbers or seeking lighter and more ‘flexible’ vehicles, Wieczorek doubled down with a design nearly twice the weight and larger than any other – a true super tank for the 21st century.

The Man

Julien Wieczorek left a long catalog of engineering and design work in the patent office, yet is somewhat hard to trace from just those records. What can be discerned from them, however, is that Wieczorek was a Polish citizen who was living in France. His address, provided in British and American patent applications, showed him living in an apartment complex in Les Fougeres A2-36, Avon, which is southeast of Paris.

Wieczorek was clearly a professional engineer rather than the amateur armchair type of inventor. This is evidenced by the fact that he had taken part in one of the submission ideas for the road/rail link between the United Kingdom and France which became the Channel Tunnel. His idea was for a large suspension bridge and barrage-type crossing rather than a tunnel.

Over the years, Wieczorek had turned his mind to all sorts of large civil engineering projects, from commercial ship construction and a modular passenger aircraft (1969), a method of moving a large iron furnace by sea (1970), bringing water to the desert (1974 and 1984), and even plans for a new European capital between Berlin and the Polish border (1999).

On the military side of things, Wieczorek was no less inventive, with ideas for multiple drone fighters controlled from a single aircraft (1977), a huge flying boat which could launch and land fighters as a flying aircraft carrier (1977), a means of creating an artificial island as a military air base (1987), and a dual body helicopter with intersecting blades (1989-1990). Of particular note, however, are three designs from him relating to armored vehicles.



Twin-rotor dual-body helicopter designs, 1990. Source: French Patent FR2659934

The first was filed in October 1986, titled ‘Independent armoured modules for the driver, observer, and gunner for an automatic-loading armoured fighting vehicle’. The patent was granted in April 1988 as French Patent 260509. The second of these was filed as ‘Additional armour units with rocket-launching systems for an armoured fighting vehicle with automatic loading’ in March 1987. The application was granted in September 1988 as French Patent FR2613061. The third design was filed in August 1996 titled ‘Method for constructing, repair, maintenance and transport of heavy armoured fighting vehicles consisting of several modules’. This filing was also approved and a patent was granted in March 2000 as French Patent FR2782789 and European Patent EPO982560. There is significant overlap between all of the ideas in those patents as the idea has evolved in this time.

Spanning a period of not only nearly 14 years but also straddling the collapse of the Soviet Union and the new political situation in the world as a result, the designs are still complementary to each other, with a lot of similarities. As such, looking at these designs together provides a view of the thinking of Wieczorek and ideas which he wanted to build into a new generation of heavy main battle – one which was not only capable of dominating the late Cold War battlefield, but also the new post-Soviet world.

Birth of the EBC 1986

The first two designs are deliberately linked by Wieczorek in his applications, with FR2613061 (March 1987) directly referencing the slightly earlier application which was granted as FR2605095 (October 1986). The vehicle in FR2613061 was, for 1987, certainly ahead of its time in several areas, not least of which was an overall shape of a slab-sided tank which stands apart from its cast steel and rounded predecessors from the 1970’s or before, whether it was the British Chieftain, French AMX-30, or German Leopard 1. In fact, Wieczorek alludes to the inspiration for this new shape as coming from the public unveiling of the new French tank, the replacement for the AMX-30 known as the ‘Leclerc’ at Satory, France in 1987.

This new vehicle was what Wieczorek called an “Engin Blindé de Combat” (English: an armored combat vehicle). Wieczorek has preceded this unveiling with his own submission in October 1986, which was eventually issued as French Patent FR2605095, which was notionally about the separation and individual protection of crew positions within a new autoloaded main battle tank.

Design of the 1986 Patent

Dimensions

The 1986 vehicle is only mentioned as being of a similar size to modern Main Battle Tanks such as the M1 Abrams and Leopard 2. This probably means a length (without gun) of about 10 m, a width of 3.5 m and a height of about 2.5 m.

Crew

In the French patent from 1986, Wieczorek is clear that his goal was the creation of a modern tank that used an autoloading system to reduce the crew from 4 men to just 3, as it would no longer require a human loader.

The three crew members would sit in separate armored pods placed in the turret and the hull. The driver would stay in the hull in the 1986 patent, whilst the gunner and commander would stay in the turret in their pods. It is made clear, however, that, although the vehicle is shown with the driver in the front and engine in the back, it was also possible to put the engine and transmission in the front in a manner akin to the Israeli Merkava.

Wieczorek also avoided the common design choice of moving all the crew members into the hull for extra protection, preferring to maintain the observation advantage given by an elevated position. The tank commander would be located on the right, whilst the gunner would be on the left in the turret.

Despite being separated by their individual armored pods and being physically apart within the vehicle, the 1986 patent makes it clear that they would be in communication with each other continuously using both video and the internal radio communications.

The driver seems to have had access to three vision ports mounted on a rounded hatch. It is unclear how this hatch opened and if it would have interfered with the gun or turret. The commander had access to eight vision ports on his cupola, while the gunner on the left had access to four vision ports and a telescopic sight. Of course, these were just tentative placements, as the patent did not concern itself much with such details.

The great advantage of pods, except for the obvious addition of protection, was the supplementary protection of the crew from internal fires, explosions, fire extinguisher gases and NBC threats. It was far easier to insulate just the small pods than the entirety of a fighting compartment.

What Wieczorek seems to pay no mind to is the psychological comfort of the crew. While being in the small confines of a tank with other men in combat is certainly not a calming situation, finding yourself alone closed off in an even smaller space is possibly even less so.

The three compartments for the crew are clear in this top-down view from French Patent FR2605095 of October 1986. This idea remained through to the March 1987 patent, albeit with the driver’s modules moved to the rear. Source French Patent FR2605095

Protection

Like other heavy tanks, Wieczorek’s design was planned to be well protected by means of a modern multi-layered arrangement, presumably composite armor. The sides of the vehicle would be covered by very thick side skirts that were connected to the hull over the tracks and to the extended magazine in between the tracks.

Wieczorek also mentions that, should a front-engine arrangement be chosen, the engine itself can help protect from a part of the shrapnel.

To protect against fire, including from fuel, ammunition, or hydraulic fluid, Wieczorek proposed an automatic fire fighting system based on releasing a gas concentration of 5% Freon 1301 (Bromotriflouromethane – CBrF3). This, he postulated was preferable to alternative systems like Halon as it was roughly as toxic as Carbon Dioxide and could only be tolerated by the crew for up to 5 minutes.

Should anything manage to penetrate the outer armor of the tank, or should a fire ensue inside, the crew were protected by their individual pods. Those ‘pods’ were to be made from a composite material involving steel or some other and lighter alloy and Kevlar. This provided protection from shrapnel and fire alike.

Automotive

Very little is mentioned in the 1986 patent about the automotive components of the engine. The engine and the transmission are at the rear of the vehicle, under a raised engine deck cupola with two large fans for cooling. The air intakes are on the side of the vehicle. It should be noted that the space allocated for the engine and transmission is very small.

However, Wieczorek mentions not only that these components can be moved to the front, but also that it should be possible to mount two engines and two transmissions, one at the front and one at the rear. How wise such a solution is mechanically and space-wise is not discussed by the inventor.

It is not exactly clear where the fuel tanks are supposed to be, although it is possible they were meant to be placed in the floor of the hull.

Suspension and Track

The tank was to be supported on 7 sets of double road wheels on each side. Each pair of wheels was fixed on a common trailing arm. Unusually too for the design, was that the roadwheel pairs were not all the same size. The leading two and rearmost two pairs of wheels were of a larger diameter (750 mm) than the 3 central pairs (600 mm), as this decrease in height allowed for the hull width extensions inside the track run. Making them slightly smaller allowed them to still deflect upwards by up to 200 mm without striking the hull side extensions.

The drive sprocket was to be at the rear, the idler at the front and just two return rollers were used, one on each side of the bulging ammunition compartment.

Side and top-down views from French Patent FR2605095 showing the unusual arrangement of the 7 road wheel pairs to allow for the hull side extension needed for the autoloader carousel. Note the track return rollers either side of the hull side extension. Source: French Patent FR2605095

Although the drawings appear to show torsion bars across the width of the bottom of the hull, this is misleading. Wieczorek determined that torsion bars would not provide suitable suspension across the potential temperature ranges in which the tank was potentially going to operate at, namely -55 C to +60 C, and, therefore, the design would use hydro-pneumatic suspension instead. This system would allow for both manual and automatic adjustment of height, meaning Wieczorek’s design would be able to keep good ground clearance for off-road running and then lower itself in a fighting location to the extent of the hull floor being in contact with the ground. This allowed the vehicle to make itself a smaller target as well as harder to see.

Armament

The tank would engage an enemy with its primary armament – an autoloaded 120 mm gun. Ammunition for the main gun was to be either Kinetic Energy (KE) i.e. Armor-Piercing Fin Stabilised Discarding Sabot (APFSDS) or High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT), which Wieczorek called a ‘multi-purpose round’. With an assumed overall weight of 55 tonnes, 40 rounds of these shells at 20 kg each would be just 800 kg, or 1.45 % of the overall mass of the tank. As such, Wieczorek saw that as long as they could be made to fit in the space of a tank, then increasing ammunition storage could increase the firepower of the tank without much of an increase in mass. The plan therefore, was to adopt an 80-round loadout for a total of just 1.6 tonnes / 2.9% of the total mass.

The autoloader speed was estimated to be able to provide 10 to 12 rounds per minute, but far more unusual than the prospective high rate of fire was the layout of the loading system and how Wieczorek amended the hull shape to accommodate it. The problem was going to be where the autoloader would go. If he could make it fit and potentially cram in 80 or more rounds then this tank would be carrying twice or more than its equivalent Western MBTs. His solution was to place the ammunition in the bottom of the hull, in two large circular carousels.

No secondary armament is mentioned in the patent.

Ammunition Resupply

As previously mentioned, one of the advantages of carrying more ammunition was less frequent reloading and less exposure outside of the tank by the crew. Wieczorek proposed the use of a semi-trailer to be towed by the EBC and then used to reload the two magazines. The two magazines would be reloaded through the belly of the tank through two intermediary magazines.

Autoloader

Wieczorek was clear even in the first filing in October 1986 that the goal was an autoloaded tank to both increase firepower and also to reduce the number of crew from four to three. In his journey to deciding on an autoloader, he considered the alternative MBT autoloading projects of the time. The Soviets had their own 125 mm autoloader on the T-72 MBT and clearly, in some quarters, it was felt that this gave a firepower edge over Western vehicles. From the USA, Wieczorek looked at the Tank Automotive Command (TACOM) projects to replace the M1, known as the SRV and TTB, both of which used a drum under the turret storing 40 rounds with a rate of fire of 8 rounds per minute. The Leopard 2 120 mm smoothbore autoloader project from the firm Rheinmetall in the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) could hold just half of that number of shells, just 20, and these were held in the back of the turret. The British had their own projects with several ideas considered by the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment (R.A.R.D.E.) and one from Alvis which loaded an externally mounted gun from an ammunition supply on the back of the tank.

The French too were in the process of finding a replacement for the elderly AMX-30 in the form of the new ‘Leclerc’ MBT and a variety of ideas for what that vehicle would eventually look like had been proposed. Ammunition storage for an autoloader had featured within that work too and had, at one point, even included the same kind of idea as considered by Alvis, with ammunition at the back in a pod for restocking the autoloader.


Mock-up model of the Leclerc with the rear-mounted external ammunition resupply pod concept. pholdeer.com

Storing additional rounds in pods on the back was not going to be a viable solution and was just one of several ideas floated around to bolster the available stock of ammunition. If the ammunition stowage for the autoloader was going to be in the back of the turret, then it was going to be limited by the volume available, although it had the advantage of accommodating the length of a unitary shell well. Nonetheless, not more than 20 or 30 rounds could be carried effectively in this manner and, if there was a move to an even larger calibre gun of say 140 mm, then even fewer could be carried due the width of the shells and the dimensions of the bustle rack. The solution to this was to put the rounds in the hull and this is exactly what the Soviets had done with the carousel-type loader on the T-72. However, herein lies an additional problem – hull width. Unitary 120 mm caliber shells would not be able to fit in a normal type of hull with a carousel autoloader, so even considering 140 mm rounds in such a way was completely out of the question.

The greatest single limiting factor in tank design is not weight, nor speed, or even cost – but width. Width, because most long tank movements are by rail and this means the railguage limits how wide of a load can be transported without fouling on a neighboring track, platforms, or bridges. This is generally around 3 to 3.5 meters in real terms for maximum width and excluding any side armor modules added later. This has been the fundamental maximum width, give or take, since the very first tanks in WW1. When Wieczorek was considering his carousel-type loading system with shells arranged in a circle and pointing inwards, this width restriction was the source of serious problems.

The length of a tank shell, such as a 120 mm NATO APFSDS, is 1 meter. Arranging such full-size shells on a carousel would mean placing them facing each other, doubling that in terms of required width. Even before considering the mechanism of the carousel to rotate it or move the shells to deliver them to the gun, a full 2 meters of the internal width of the tank is taken up. Allowing just 10 cm all around the outside of the carousel (total diameter 2.1 m) for clearance, problems can be plotted out as per Table 1 using a simple theoretical limit of 3 m of width to illustrate the problem.

On a conventional hull, where the sides of the hull do not project through or over the tracks (Table 1 Row a) and where the overall width is 3 m, it has to be factored in that the tracks on each side deduct from this maximum width. A track of even 60 cm width on each side, a little clearance between the hull side (~5 cm) and the track, and then the thickness of the hull sides (~4 cm) means a central internal space of just 162 cm – well short of being able to make a carousel autoloader using unitary shells.

This is one of the reasons why Soviet tanks using a carousel type loader tend to split the shell up into two parts (propellant and shell) and automatically load both parts to form a single shell. That ingenious solution is certainly very clever, but when it comes to an APFSDS round, one of the factors affecting anti-armor performance is the length of the APFSDS rod itself. Generally speaking, longer rods are preferable to shorter ones so, if your shell is split in two pieces, it is inherently harder to get a longer APFSDS rod. The goal, therefore, is to have a unitary shell to keep the APFSDS rod as long as possible. Assuming this was done with a conventionally laid out tank where the tracks and suspension project from the sides of the hull (Table 1 Row b), then the only possible solution is to have very narrow tracks. This is even more acute, as even larger calibre guns with longer unitary shells are considered and clearly, the central width could be made larger, the tracks get substantially narrower, which is limiting on the performance.

Wieczorek’s solution (Table 1 Row c) skipped deftly around this problem. As can be seen from the table, it can retain a track of the same width as the conventional or normally laid out tank and still provide substantial internal width without exceeding the maximum 3 m overall tank width limit. The dimensions for Wieczorkes tank were actually a maximum hull width of 3.42 m and, with the side skirts on, a total width of 4.3 m.

The way this was done was simply to revert to using sponsons – projections from the side of the tank. These projections did not go over the track but actually projected within it, so that the track ran both below and above the projection. In doing so, the tank could increase the maximum available width for a carousel autoloader and fit those unitary rounds. This available width was increased even more by angling the rounds so that they pointed down and thus decreased the effective width taken up. It also meant one more thing for Wieczorek’s design – the ability to create a double stack of such shells and increase the ammunition capacity of the tank.

Wieczorek decided to place the APFSDS and HEAT shells on separate stacks, with the APFSDS in the top one in his drawings. This would then allow for very simple choosing of the next shell to be loaded, making it very easy to keep track of which shell is which. Both the gunner and the commander could select what type of round would be loaded next. These would be loaded into the gun by two ‘robotic’ mechanisms.

The spacious turret is largely occupied by two things – the individual protective cabins for the crew and the breech of the main gun. The ingenious double-stacked carousel autoloader fits neatly within the hull, where it is well protected. Source French Patent FR2605095

1987 – Rocket Armor!

While the 1986 patent set the general tone for Wieczorek’s view of how a modern MBT should look, the 1987 patent came in and added rocket launchers to the vehicle. The grand idea of Wieczorek’s new patent was that his EBC could use the rockets carried inside the sides of the turret and hull to bombard enemy positions before being attacked by massed enemy tanks. The launchers would then remain to act as armor for the tank.

Design of the 1987 Patent

Crew

The 1987 patent followed up from the 1986 one, keeping the idea of crew pods for the men in the tank. However, citing critical voices within the army about the reduction of the tank’s crew to 3 men, Wieczorek added another crew member and reshuffled all of their positions.

The only crew member to retain his position was the gunner, remaining on the left side of the turret. He was accompanied by the new crew member, probably placed on the right side of the turret, the observer. What this man’s actual duties within the operation of the tank were supposed to be is not specified. They would be further protected by individual armored pods, creating in effect a semi-turret position for both of them, where most of their bodies would actually be below the turret ring.

The most drastic changes, however, were the placements of the driver and commander. They were moved from their initial positions into the middle of the tank, sandwiched between the turret and engine, in their own protected capsule. While this would arguably have been the safest place in the tank, it would also have provided significant problems with access and, most importantly, emergency exits. They would have to use cameras and displays to see their surroundings, drive and control the tank. It is worth noting that, in several countries, this would also mean his tank would not be legal to use on the road in some countries as the driver would have no ‘eyeball’ view of the road ahead of the vehicle.

Protection

This move of the driver into the rear of the tank divided the vehicle into a front unoccupied compartment, a sealed-off armored turret compartment, including the space under the turret (which was used for the loading system), and the two spaces at the rear for the crew compartment and engine/transmission, respectively.

Cross-section side view of the tank showing the location of the driver safely ensconced in the rear sandwiched between the turret ring and engine. The front space, formerly occupied by a driver, has become a heavily armored and moveable rocket launching pod isolated from the rest of the tank. Source: French Patent FR2613061

It is said that the best defense is attack and Wieczorek took this to heart with perhaps the least well-considered part of his idea – fitting bombardment rockets to the sides of the turret, the sides of the hull and the hull front. The rocket pod in the front of the hull, whether full or empty, also created a large distance from the outer armor to the crew space, forming a heavily protected frontal aspect made from composite armor with a line of sight thickness of 2 to 3 metres in places. However, this also meant that a large weight would be added to the design and a lot of mostly useless space would be present, space that could far better be used for something else (or removed altogether).

This, Wieczorek felt, would provide protection against the current Soviet 125 mm caliber tank guns and also guns up to 140 mm caliber, which were being hypothesized as potential future tank guns.

Seen in cross-section, the heavy side armor on the turret and spaced armor over the side hull extensions is clear. Also note the rocket launchers on the sides of the turret and hull French Patent FR2613061.

Just as the rocket pod in the front added a substantial level of protection, Wieczorek provided for the rest of the tank to be well protected too. The cross-section of the tank from French patent FR2613061 shows not only a heavily reinforced floor to protect from mines, but also a heavily protected turret both on the sides and roof. Not only are the sides of the turret thick, allowing for an arrangement of armor that can make good use of that space, like a spaced or composite array, but the bottom sides of the turret extend out forming a shelf on each side. Onto this shelf was an angled and armored compartment containing the rockets. Regardless of whether the rockets were a good idea or not, the pocketting of this area meant a well-shaped and angled spaced armor layer with a good distance from the sides of the equally well-angled turret sides.

Assuming the rockets were dropped as a poor idea, the basic turret shape, as outlined with these pockets, would allow for space on the sides ideal for stowage of maintenance or crew equipment whilst keeping the outside of the tank clean and uncluttered – something important to provide the vehicle with a small radar signature to help keep it hidden. A similar concept was indeed adopted on the Leclerc, with stowage modules on the turret sides.

French Leclerc MBT showing the turret boxes open and used for stowage. Closing the boxes keeps the exterior clear of clutter as well as allowing for extensive stowage for all of the kit used by the crew for themselves and to maintain the tank. Source: Pinterest

Moving vertically downwards from the shelf of the turret side was a trackguard to keep mud from being thrown up onto the deck of the hull. The top run of the track then ran in the gap below this mudguard and the top of the hull side extension. The extension itself was the same width as the outer edge of the turret shelf and is clearly drawn with a double thickness of armor over the projection, providing for additional security of the ammunition which lay directly behind. Moving down the hull side, below the extension, the hull then cut away sharply at an angle down to the belly plate, with the suspension units attached to this inwards angled lower hull side. Not only would angling this lower side add an increased level of protection to direct fire with a sloping surface and increased line of sight thickness, but it also improved the lower hull shape of the tank to provide increased protection from explosions underneath, such as landmines.

Cross-section side view of the tank showing the very heavy protection at the front both on the hull and turret and the unusual double stacked and angled carousel autoloader. Source: French Patent FR2613061

On the outside of the hull were the other rocket pods. Formed into long side skirts full of rockets, it actually created a double-thickness side skirt for the tank along its length. It particularly added value to the tank in providing additional coverage over the side extensions with the ammunition in them. However, Wieczorek makes it clear that these pods were optional and would only be fitted to the tank when required to fight from a defensive position. They would have made the tank too wide to be transportable.

Just like the turret sides, if the rockets were dropped, the extensions could be repurposed as large open boxes for stowage or an additional form of armor array. Just as with the turret side rocket pods being hollow boxes on the real Leclerc, here the hollow side skirts could be interpreted as being along the lines of the box-like extensions which ended up on the front of the Leclerc.

Cleaned cross-section of the March 1987 vehicle showing key elements of the protection including tack (blue), permanent hull armor (red), moveable hull armor (green), permanent turret armor (orange), moveable turret armor (yellow). The rocket modules are shown without rockets to show the extent of armor modules which might be fitted (pink). French Patent FR2613061 amended by Author

Mobility

In terms of power for this 55 tonne main battle tank, Wieczorek wanted something better than either the Ka-500 series 12 cylinder MTU diesel, as used on the Leopard, or the engine on the Leclerc, which he called the “Suralmo Hyperbar” – a high-pressure gas turbine. Instead, he preferred the idea of a pair of MTU-880 V8 diesel engines combined with an automatic gearbox. Each engine was capable of delivering 1,000 hp and the pair together a total of 2,000 hp. At 55 tonnes this would have meant an incredible 36.4 hp/tonne. Without all of the rockets of dubious practical value, possibly saving another 5 tonnes, it is reasonable to estimate he could have been looking more towards 40 hp/tonne assuming all of the other elements remained viable.

The track itself was made from steel, light metal, or composite materials, such as polyester reinforced with kevlar or glass fiber. It would be fitted with three rubber pads on the outside across the width, with the center pad of those three slightly thicker than the ones on either side. On the inner face of the track, the links were cushioned with kevlar pads. Across the top of the track run, the track would slide along the top of the hull side extensions but was supported at each end by a single return roller. The suspension type was retained though to the 1996 patent application.

View of the composite track links with the 3 pads shows the larger centre pad to be offset to the smaller ones on each side. Source: European Patent EP0982560.

Rockets

Wieczorek planned to use technology to disrupt an attacking enemy tank force starting at ranges beyond those for direct tank fire. This was to be fulfilled by using supplementary rockets. These were not to be just any old rockets either, but were to be a version of the Multi-Launch Rocket System (MLRS) which was at the time in service with the United States, France, the United Kingdom, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), and Italy when the need was for long-range enemy suppression. Able to inflict damage well beyond tank-gun range, the MLRS rocket modules on the turret sides could deliver high explosive or presumably a load of anti-personnel or anti-tank mines 25 to 35 km away.

Wieczorek did at least hedge his bets with rockets by suggesting alternative and progressively more practical rockets instead of these. These included 120 mm to 150 mm rockets with a 15 km range, an unspecified ‘medium’ sized rocket for ranges up to 10 km, and ‘light’ LL11 40 mm to 60 mm calibre rockets for ranges between 3 and 6 km. Each rocket pod for these LL11 rockets would be able to hold between 15 and 20 rockets each, for a maximum of 30 to 40 rockets in total. These rockets were fitted all over the tank. The MLRS would go on the turret sides, more rockets of a large calibre in the armored side skirts on each side, a pod of light rockets in the front hull, and more within the sides of the turret.

Frontal cross-section of Wieczorek’s 1987 design showing the giant and somewhat ludicrous ‘ears’ on the sides for 6 or more rockets. Source: French Patent FR2613061
Seen with the MLRS pods removed, the cross section is still heavily laden with ammunition both internally, with the carousel, and with the various rockets on the turret sides and hull side skirt pods. French Patent FR2613061.

The likelihood of such an idea ever having been adopted, notwithstanding the good parts of his designs, is extremely low as it was just too complex. Adding another complex and heavy weapons system to a tank added nothing which a smaller investment in artillery could not accomplish. Certainly, the idea of the large MLRS rocket and the potential firepower it could add was tempting and Wieczorek speculated that such a system could be added to the sides of the German Leopard 2 or British Challenger tank. It is hard to imagine either wanting to add six of these 4 m long, 300 mm caliber rockets, each weighing 300 kg. Six of them would mean a minimum of 1.8 tonnes, not including any launch pod or control equipment. There was one further rocket module as well, containing between 100 and 200 50 mm to 70 mm calibre rockets in the space in the front, where there would usually be a driver. This would allow Wieczorek vehicle to deliver maximum possible firepower forwards at short range with additional small rockets. This too could simply have been omitted to reduce complexity, cost and weight, or replaced with something more useful, like more fuel to increase range. Had Wieczorek dropped these ideas for at least 2 tonnes of unnecessary encumbrance from the MLRS rockets alone, the weight savings could have been reused elsewhere on the tank or just left off to help reduce the weight. Dropping all ideas for these rocket pods would have simplified the design, made it cheaper, and also substantially lighter.

The well drawn but somewhat implausible turret-mounted MLRS pods could be elevated for launch when the turret was rotated. Note that the belly is fully lowered to the ground to reduce the profile of the tank. French Patent FR2613061.

Air Defence

The final firepower for the tank was a dedicated anti-aircraft gun of either 30 or 40 mm caliber and/or a pod for surface to air (SAM) missiles allowing for self-contained protection from enemy aircraft, including helicopters. This was yet one more thing adding unnecessary complexity and cost to the vehicle for a marginal benefit. These weapons were to be mounted in the back of the turret, as there was space available, having dropped the position of loader.

EBC Redux 1998 – the EBCL

Just a few years on from the original filing, the world had changed enormously, with the end of the Soviet Union and the utter destruction of Iraqi forces during the 1990/91 Gulf War demonstrating the enormous power of the modern MBTs over those even just a little older, like the T-72. Despite the T-72’s autoloader and the lack of such a device on the American M1 and British Challenger tanks deployed against them, it was an incredibly one-sided fight when it came to tank vs tank combat. Even Wieczorek’s consideration of substantially larger tank guns up to 140 mm was not in place and it could be argued that the British 120 mm rifled gun and the German 120 mm smoothbore on the American Abrams were more than adequate to deal with the Iraqi T-72s.

Nonetheless, work on a 140 mm gun had been taking place in Germany (now unified), the United Kingdom, France, and the United States. Wieczorek once more submitted for patent, in France and Poland, his idea for an ‘EBC’ – this time, however, the vehicle was larger and heavier with more suitable armament (no rockets). Yet, it was clearly an evolution of his earlier work – a culmination of a decades-long effort by him to create a tank better armed and armored than anything else at the time and suitable for up to 30 years of service.

With this in mind and an appreciation of the several or more years that it can take to get a tank design from drawing board concept to production and the cost of doing so, Wieczorek rightly saw that, for this concept to work, it would have to be adopted widely. This was not just going to be an idea for a giant French tank, but a giant tank that could be mass-produced and used by the members of NATO – grand ideas indeed.

Design of the 1998 Patent

Crew

In 1998, with the submission of the evolved EBC now an EBCL, Wieczorek stuck to his ideas of protective pods for the crew although this time all three crew were collated and all three were in the hull, a solution repeated decades later by the Russian T-14 Armata. This would greatly aid intercommunication between the men without the need for a video link although it was at the price of the commander being able to look out of the top of the vehicle.

The previous ideas of individual crew armored pods and of placing some crew members uncomfortably between the turret and the engine were gone. While the drawings show this crew compartment being in the front of the vehicle, Wieczorek mentions that this could have been put the other way around, with the crew in the back and the engine in the front.

In an effort to overcome the loss of awareness from detaching the crew from an elevated position, Wieczorek opted for an elevated observation periscope which could reach between 12 and 30 m high and fitted with a CCTV system and night vision equipment. The idea of a periscope would overcome some of that loss of situational awareness, as well as provide a significantly advantageous ability to see over obstacles or from behind cover. It would also mean that the gun could not be rotated past the periscope, hindering the ability of the tank to engage targets when the periscope was up.

Side mounted observation periscope. Note the single access door in the front lower hull. Source: European Patent EPO982560.
Seen from the rear, the EBCL shows how the periscope was fitted not to the tank hull itself but to the side armor module. Source: European Patent EPO982560.
Crew positions in the amended design of 1998, with the crew moved to the front in a separate pod. Crew seats are marked as ‘8’ and their control consoles as ‘12’. Source: French Patent FR2782789.
Plan view of the EBCL hull. Values are for the EBCL 1 and for the EBCL 2 (in brackets). Numbers 11,12, and 13 show the positions for the 3 crew in the front hull module. Note this drawing shows a single hull floor access hatch. Source: European Patent EPO98250302
Plan view of an alternative layout of the EBCL front hull module, showing the positions of the 3 crew as numbers 8, 9, and 10 respectively. Note the double front access doors. Source: French Patent FR2782789.

Protection

By 1998, these ideas for protection were not seen as being sufficient by Wieczorek, who was conscious of a new generation of Russian guns to surpass the older 125 mm guns, specifically mentioning a new Russian 135 mm smoothbore gun. To increase protection for the EBC, Wieczorek proposed the use of composite armor involving multiple layers of different types of steels, light metals, ceramics, and kevlar to provide roughly four times the protection available from just using traditional steel armor for the same weight. The disadvantage of this new armor was bulk and cost. Heavy protection from use of this new armor would be arrayed across the front of the hull and a similar level of protection across the front of the turret, in modules that could easily be replaced if they became damaged.

Seen in cross-section looking backwards from the front, the heavily protected crew space for the EBCL is readily apparent. Note that the side skirts are now simply referred to as side armor and all idea of mounting rockets in them has thankfully been removed. Source: European Patent EPO982560.

In order to provide as thick of an upper front aspect as possible, Wieczorek once more did away with a driver’s hatch. Unlike the 1987 ideas of sticking the driver in the back, now all the crew were in the hull and in the front of it, so he had to come up with a method of access to and from the tank for these men which would not compromise the frontal armor. The solution was to adopt a pair of rectangular belly plates behind the front armor and under the crew space. Additional changes to the 1986/87 concept was the use of Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA) on the hull, with special attention to the area between the hull and the turret for this armor.

Two views of the armor section on the front hull formed. The base armor is ‘31’, topped with a removable section of composite armor, of which the outer layer is indicated as ‘32’. The space between 31 and 33 is filled with composite layers of armor to suit requirements. Additional layers of armor can be laid over section 33. If required, ERA blocks ‘25’ could also be added. Source: French Patent FR2782789.

Even with the crew all together in a pod in the front of the hull, the use of bulky composite-type armor arrays provided a line of sight thickness of armor of between 1,200 and 1,800 mm.


Front aspect of the hull armor, with the Chobham armor array indicated by the ‘30’. Of note is that the floor armor is two layers with a small gap between them. Source: French Patent FR2782789


Two views of the front of the EBT both in 50 to 60 tonne form (solid outline) and 120 to 150 tonne form (dashed outline) showing the closed (left) and open (right) positions for the front hull access hatches. Source: French Patent FR2782789

By the time of the 1998 application, the weight had swollen faster than a cop on night shift near a doughnut shop. Gone was the 55 tonne ‘modest’ EBC, equivalent to other NATO tanks and a little lighter than some, and incoming was this new EBC at a mammoth 120 to 150 tonnes instead. At 120 tonnes, the EBCL would be ‘EBCL 1’ and at 150 tonnes ‘EBCL 2’. At this new weight, the EBC was now an Engin Blindé de Combat Lourds (EBCL) (English: a heavy armored combat vehicle).

With the switch to a front crew module Wieczorek retained the hydro-pneumatic suspension as shown here for the range of motion available. Source: French Patent FR2782789

Firepower

By 1998, the firepower, which was seen as adequate in 1987 in the form of a 120 mm smoothbore, was still adequate. However, as he discussed in his earlier patent application, he wanted a bigger gun. Somewhat thankfully, all attempts to clad the EBC as some form of mobile artillery were abandoned and the 1998 design featured no rockets at all.

Although the USA, UK, France, and Germany had all produced versions of a 140 mm smoothbore, the existing NATO tanks were not well suited to fitting them due to size and weight considerations, as well as recoil management. For example, the 120 mm smoothbore, as used on the Leopard 2 and M1 Abrams, had a recoil force of around 80 tonnes – heavier than the tanks themselves. The recoil force from a 140 mm gun would be even more severe and Wieczorek saw that the solution was to effectively take his 1986/87 EBC concept and make it bigger and heavier to accommodate this new generation of bigger tank guns. In his final part of discussion of tank guns, Wieczorek postulated that should his ideas for scaling up a tank to this size take place, then there would be no reason to suppose guns could not go up to 155 mm for the tank or a tank-based howitzer, or even bigger, although even he seems to have sounded skeptical when he suggested 210 mm as a caliber. It has to be considered though just what would warrant such a move to such a huge gun, as no Soviet era or Russian contemporary tank could warrant such an upgrade.

Making the next generation of EBC 120 to 150 tonnes would solve this problem in the sense that there would be more room for the bigger gun and ammunition as well as the new armor weight carried. Wieczorek made no mention of some of the problems with an MBT of that size, like fuel consumption, or whether or not it could cross smaller bridges. He did, however, consider transportation in terms of a road trailer and rail flatcar, and mentions that some contemporary cargo planes can carry 120 tons.

Two side views of the EBC with a soldier stood at the front to indicate the size of the vehicle (Fig. 24). A turret roof mounted remotely operated machine gun turret is shown, as are the planned SAMs in the back in the turret. In the lower view, the crew are visible, seated in the front heavily armored module. Source: European Patent EP0982560

The EBCL was also going to be using shells of at least 140 mm caliber as well as surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) fitted in the turret rear. All of these shells and missiles would be bulky and heavy, meaning that some assistance was going to be required to replenish ammunition. Wieczorek details some assistive measures for ammunition resupply.

The first of these measures is a dedicated resupply vehicle with a manipulator arm. This arm would take the weight of the SAM and lift it to the height of the turret, whereupon the large side armor would hinge forward, revealing a supply port into which the missile could be loaded.

Ammunition resupply for the SAMs in the turret assisted by a manipulator arm vehicle. Source: European Patent EP0982560

By having a closed-off system for the gun and ammunition to keep it apart from the crew, the vehicle gained valuable protection, but it also meant ammunition resupply by the crew would be difficult. The turret was, afterall, crewless, so there would be no manual loading of shells into the turret to then pass down into the carousel. Instead, Wieczorek solved the problem and substantially reduced the burden on the crew by simply accessing the ammunition supply from the side.

The side armor panels on the EBCL could be removed so that ammunition could be loaded directly into the carousel from the side. Source: European Patent EP0982560

For the new tank, Wieczorek, somewhat confusingly, switches his ammunition types. He sticks to the APFSDS and HEAT shells, but no longer are these unitary rounds. No longer too are these angled downwards and inwards to further reduce the width they take up. Instead, the drawings show the ammunition, once loaded into the side, being two-part with a seperate propellant charge stacked on top of the ammunition part, all on a horizontal carousel. These were to be 140 mm or 155 mm rounds and it is possible he was simply trying to show a semi-artillery type of gun, where the amount of propellant could be varied to vary the range, or that he was trying to simplify the design. Whichever was the case, in doing so, he also removed one of the key advantages of his own design in moving back from unitary rounds. This would lead to a shorter APFSDS penetrator and this would drastically affect anti-armor performance.

The outline drawings of the EBC with the front crew pod from European Patent EP0982560 include dimensions of the vehicle, which reinforces the enlarged dimensions of this 100+ tonne tank. The front crew pod alone was to measure between 3.5 and 3.6 meters long measured from the front of the nose to the back of the module. The top of the hull was calculated to be 2.1 m high and, with the turret, a total height of up 3.65 to 3.8 meters, depending on which version of EBCL was going to be built. Ground clearance was good for a tank as well, with 0.5 m between the ground and the belly plate, which could obviously be reduced by use of the hydro-pneumatic suspension. At the lower end of the weight class ~120 tonnes, the tank (EBCL 1) would have a ground contact length of 7 meters and, at the upper weight ~150 tonnes (EBCL 2), a length of 7.2 meters.

EBCL during loading on a 5-axle heavy trailer and showing the prospective dimensions. Source: European Patent EP0982560

Transport

As mentioned previously, it is width – specifically rail width, which is the dominant limiting factor for tank dimensions. When the EBC swelled from the 55-tonne range to that theoretical 120 to 150 tonnes, it did not just get heavier – it got larger too. Too large, in fact, to fit as a standard load on a rail car and awkwardly large for road transport.

Wieczorek did not ignore these issues and simply proposed moving the tank in separate pieces to reduce the individual load, somewhat ironically returning to one of the first problems to plague British tanks in WW1, where they were too wide to fit on rail cars and had to have the sponsons removed.

The solution was perhaps less grand than might be expected. It was simply to break the vehicle down into 3 modules: 1) the front crew module, 2) the central robotic and weapons module including the turret, and 3) the rear automotive module with the engine and transmission.

The three modules separated and together. This arrangement would not only make transportation easier, but also repair and maintenance. Source: European Patent EP0982560
Divided into 3 sections, A, B, and C, the EBC outline is surprisingly understated with a well sloped front. Note that the design, as drawn here, shows not only a coaxial and unidentified armament on the left side of the gun, but also the shape of the side skirts and that all 7 of the road wheels are of a uniform size and no side hull extension is used. Source: French Patent FR2782789.

The American HET (Heavy Equipment Transport) was made by Oshkosh and consisted of the M1070 tractor and M1000 semi-trailer unit. It provided long-range haulage on and off road for US Army equipment, including the M1 Abrams MBT. Weighing in at 41,000 lbs (18.6 tonnes) for the tractor and 50,000 lbs (22.7 tonnes) for the trailer, the HET had a combined unladen mass of 91,000 lbs (41.3 tonnes). Able to haul a maximum load of 140,000 lbs. (63.5 tonnes), the trailer used 5 sets of quadruple wheels for a total of 20 wheels to take the load. With a haulage limit of 63.5 tonnes, this would not be sufficient for Wieczorek’s new heavier tank, but he proposed a vehicle similar to the existing in-service HET, albeit modernized and with an extra axle with 2 wheels each side, for a total of 24 tyres instead of 20.

M1 Abrams MBT on the M1000 semi-trailer and towed by the M1070 tractor. Source: FAS.org

This was not the only change that would be needed to the HET trailer to move the EBCL. The side skirts on the hull and turret would also have to be removed at times for transport, so Wieczorek proposed a simple crane arm be added to the front of the HET trailer.

Modified HET trailer above with 5 axles and crane (top) and 6 axles (bottom). Note that the boxes under the crane are the maximum capacity and distance of the capacity of the arm. Source: European Patent EP0982560
Front and rear EBCL modules loaded onto a 5-wheel HET type trailer, showing the centres of gravity for each module. Source: European Patent EP0982560
The 65 to 75 tonne central EBCL module (5) and turret loaded onto a 5 axle HET type trailer, with the turret side armor sections removed and placed forward on the trailer (7) and the turret (6) turned sideways to align with the axis of the trailer. Source: European Patent EP0982560
Method of loading on three HET type trailers placed alongside each other. The tank simply drives over all three from the side, rotates the turret to the side and then the tank is split into its three modules. Source: European Patent EP0982560

For haulage by rail, a special rail car with a lowered central portion and two 4-axle bogies would be used, with the platform suspended between the two bogies, similar to the rail car designed for the German Maus. Much like the HET-type trailers for road transport, Wieczorek saw a relatively simple method for loading the tank onto both road trailers and also railcars. For transport, three HET-type trailers or rail cars would be placed alongside each other and the tank loaded on from the side to straddle all three trailers or cars. The track would be broken and the three modules separated. This method obviously would make loading and unloading tanks (reversing the process) easier where large flat hard surfaces, like car parks (for the HET trailers) or railheads with three parallel lines of track were available. Where they were not, life would have been significantly more difficult.

Shown on an 8-axle special rail car, the heavy EBC is shown in sections, having been loaded onto the lowered part of the rail car. The solid line is the conventional 50-ish tonne EBC and the dotted line showing the outline of the 120 – 150 tonnes heavy EBC. Source: European Patent EP0982560

Conclusion

If the 1986/87 EBC was not a sufficient step-change in design for a tank, then the 1998 EBCL was a leap into a future where a military budget for a giant tank might once again exist. The designer himself, Julien Wieczorek, is a bit of an enigma, leaving a long legacy of well-thought-out and carefully considered patents on a wide variety of civil and military engineering topics.
The EBL from the late 1980s shows a level of out-of-the-box thinking which is extravagant enough to solve that critical problem of a unitary ammunition carousel loader. It was also an idea sufficiently grounded that it is not hard to see it legitimately considered at a time of the Leclerc being prototyped.

The respawning in the post-Cold War of the idea is perhaps less clear in its reasoning. Certainly, before, the prevailing threat to Western Europe was Soviet aggression, so considerations of tanks capable of delivering a level of firepower never seen before on a tank was somewhat understandable. Post Cold War such a tank would be hard to comprehend and although the idea of strapping MLRS rockets to the sides of the turret disappeared, Wieczorek doubled down on his design in other regards. At a time when many nations were scaling back their tank fleets, with the Soviet Union now gone, Wieczorek instead planned for a tank bigger than any other in service, armed with a gun far larger too. The logistical burden of such a huge tank, whether 120 to 150 tonnes in weight, was answered in part by his novel ideas for transporting it on trucks and rail cars in modules. Certainly, the idea of an autoloading 155 mm heavy main battle tank has some appeal, but in drawing it, he also sacrificed the whole point of making the carousel in the first place. With the width issue resolvable by means of module transport, such a complex system would not be needed and why he would then choose to go back to a two-part ammunition system is likewise unclear. If width was solved by just breaking the tank down into 3 parts, why not just make the tank wider and fit it normally without the extensions.

There were other problems too. The periscope for visual assistance would obstruct the turret traverse – something which could have been easily resolved by putting it on the turret. The front crew access hatches reduced the frontal protection of the tank and provided access in a very awkward location – one which in a hull down position with the hydropneumatic suspension employed would actually trap the crew.

Nonetheless, Wieczorek worked hard to come up with realistic, if perhaps impractical ideas and his goal was clear – a big, more powerful and safer tank, and a really thorough consideration of how to reload, move, and operate such a machine. None of his designs came to fruition. The French adopted the Leclerc MBT and no armies in the year 2000 were looking for a 120 tonne, let alone a 150 tonne MBT.

The EBC was the sanest of Wieczorek’s designs, featuring an interesting autoloader in the hull which projected between the tracks. Illustration by Yuvnashva Sharma and funded by our Patreon campaign.

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Wieczorek EBC/EBCL Tanks specifications

EBC EBCL 1 EBCL 2
Crew 3 3 3
Weight 50 – 60 tonnes 120 tonnes 150 tonnes
Armament 120 mm smoothbore
Rockets
SAMs
120 – 140 mm smoothbore
SAMs
140 – 155 mm smoothbore
SAMs
Length 10.5 m 10.8 m
Width 5.5 m 6.4 m
Height (hull) 2.6 m 2.7 m
Height (total) 3.65 m 3.8 m
Ground Clearance 0.5 m 0.5 m
Categories
Cold War French Prototypes

Chasseur de Char de 76.2mm AMX sur châssis S35

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France (1945)
Tank destroyer design – None built

Following the liberation of France, which started in June 1944 and was mostly concluded, with the exception of areas towards Alsace and some western ports by the end of August that same year, rebuilding France’s military industry quickly became a new priority for the French government. Once a world leader, the French military industry had been considerably weakened by years of German requisitions and Allied bombings. If France wanted to retain an important and independent place on the world stage, a healthy military industry would prove a massively useful tool.

The first phases of the French military industry getting back on its feet often took the basis of pre-1940 vehicles being modernized to suit modern needs (such as the Panhard 178B, the first armored fighting vehicle produced by France post-war) or used as the basis for vehicles swaying away from the original hull’s role. Within these, one could name three tank destroyers projects which were submitted by the Atelier Mécanique d’Issy-Les-Moulineaux (AMX) in November 1945, mating the hulls of two pre-1940 French tanks, the R35 and S35, with the British 17-pounder anti-tank gun.

A ¾ front view of the S35 tank destroyer, showing the general shape of the casemate, driver’s hatch, and the large rear ammunition locker. Source: Mémoire des hommes

AMX’s proposals

There were three different proposals for 17-pounder-armed tank destroyers based on old French hulls. Two were based on the Renault R35 hull, one with a front-facing, and one with a rear-facing gun. These both dated from 8th November 1945. The third project actually predates both, with two documents, a ¾ top view of the vehicle dated from 11th October 1945, and a set of plans dated from 10th October.

As for the choice of the old French tank hull, while a number of S35s were seized after the liberation of France, this number remained limited, and the project was most likely never seriously intended for production. Instead, it likely was a ‘proof-of-concept’ and a way for AMX’s engineers to get back into designing armored vehicles on the basis of familiar components. One could argue that, in comparison to the R35, the S35 would provide a more viable basis, being a larger vehicle more suited to mount a heavy gun the like of the 17 pounder.

Overall superstructure

A front view of the S35 tank destroyer, showing the offset gun, driver’s post, and location of the most important ammunition stowage. Source: Mémoire des hommes

Mounting the 17-pounder on the hull of the Somua S35 obviously required some major changes to the superstructure and hull, though perhaps more moderate than on the lighter and smaller base of the R35. In the case of the S35, pretty much the whole front section of the upper hull and turret would be removed in order to accommodate the 17-pounder and fighting compartment. However, the engine compartment and rear part of the hull would be kept pretty much unchanged.

Overall, removing the turret would free up 2,350 kg. A further 1,850 kg of upper hull armor plates would be removed as well, and an additional 200 kilos of equipment. With all of this removed, the Somua, before receiving any of the additional equipment, would go down from 20,000 to 15,600 kg.

In place of the previous front upper hull, a new large armored superstructure would be installed. This was a fairly high superstructure, though, at a maximum height of 2.25 m, the tank destroyer would overall be shorter than the S35 tank. This superstructure, however, retained a bulky and massive silhouette the tank would have lacked. To the front, the sides angled forward towards the gun, which was offset to the right of the hull. The weight of this armored superstructure would be 2,000 kg, which was a lot more than on the R35 proposals. Though this may partially be explained by the superstructure simply being, to an extent, larger, it was also likely better armored to an extent – though the vehicle’s armor protection would most likely still have been lower than on the S35, not even accounting for the open top.

A side cutaway view of AMX’s S35 tank destroyer, showing the considerable length of the vehicle, of which an ample proportion was represented by the barrel. Source: Mémoire des hommes

This new casemate housed the British 17-pounder anti-tank gun, one of the most powerful anti-tank guns fielded by the Allies during the Second World War. In the form mounted in the tank destroyer, it weighed 1,630 kg. The gun was installed quite far forward in the hull, so as to leave sufficient internal space between its breech and the engine compartment for the vehicle crew. As a result, it overhanged the front of the hull by a whopping 2.86 m, bringing the length of the vehicle to 7.93 m. This gun, placed far to the front, also brought the center of gravity forward by 0.48 m, or from about the middle of the fifth roadwheel from the front to about the middle of the fourth roadwheel from the front. The gun had a field of fire of 29° to the right, and 16° to the left. It could elevate to 22° and depress to -9°.

The vehicle featured a 250 kg rounded mantlet, similar to the two R35 proposals. Unlike those two, the larger size of the S35 hull meant there was little overhang of the casemate over the engine compartment; though the casemate featured a form of bustle which contained an ammunition locker. The engine was still basically free to access. The vehicle retained the same powerplant as a conventional S35, a Somua 8-cylinders 190 hp engine. However, the S35 tank destroyer would be somewhat heavier than the S35, with an estimated weight of 21,658 kg, which would have resulted in a power-to-weight ratio to drop to about 8.8 hp/tonne, and the vehicle could overall be expected to be somewhat less mobile than the original S35 tank.

Internal arrangement, ammunition stowage, and crew

The plans of the S35 tank destroyer, as with the two R35 projects, depict it with a crew of only two – a driver sitting on the left of the vehicle and given a vision hatch through the new armored superstructure, and a commander which would presumably also operate the gun all by himself. It is very unlikely such a crew configuration was actually intended to be used. More so than on the R35 projects, the armored superstructure of the S35 allowed for enough place to accommodate at least one, if not two, additional crewmen, which would be more than helpful to operate a gun such as the 17-pounder in optimal conditions.

A top view of AMX’s S35 tank destroyer, showing the internal space that would be allocated to the crew between the massive gun and the engine compartment. Though portrayed with two crewmen, it is likely the vehicle would realistically have had a larger crew. Source: Mémoire des hommes

Two different ammunition lockers were provided for the vehicle. One was located to the right of the driver, below the gun’s breech, and accommodated 24 shells. A larger ammunition rack was installed in a form of bustle formed by the armored superstructure towards the rear, which would contain 54 shells. Finally, four shells would be stored on each side of the armored superstructure to form ready-racks, giving the vehicle a total ammunition carrying capacity of 86 rounds – or 1,978 kg of ammunition, to which one may add 200 kg for the weight of the ammunition locker and racks. This meant that firing all of the vehicle’s ammunition would considerably lighten it up, by more than 9%. This was not, however, as impressive as the front-facing R35 tank destroyer proposal, which would lighten up by around 13% after firing all of its ammunition.

Conclusion – Not a way you want to use a Somua’s hull

This S35 project could be argued to be the most reasonable and realistic design out of the three which were proposed by AMX’s engineers in late 1945. This was simply due to the fact the larger S35 hull would provide a far more viable basis for a large anti-tank gun such as the 17-pounder in comparison to the R35 hull, which would struggle to accommodate such a gun in a way that would make its operation viable. Nonetheless, it remained an obsolete concept. A fairly slow, not amphibious nor airborne, open-topped tank destroyer would have served as an anachronism in the post-war battlefields, had it been chosen for production. This would not, however, be the case, with the few remaining Somua S35s in French hands continuing their service as cavalry tanks until 1946 in the 13ème Régiment de Dragons, and even as gendarmerie vehicles for some years in French North Africa.

Wargaming’s S35 CA, fictionally armed with a 90 mm gun. Source: youtube

The Somua S35 tank destroyer would likely have remained an obscure project in the archives of AMX, were it not for its introduction in Wargaming’s World of Tanks as the “S35 CA”. Even for what was only a blueprint, the vehicle could be modified by the player into an ahistorical configuration there, by replacing the 17-pounder by a 90 mm anti-aircraft gun. From the start, the vehicle is also powered by the 220 hp engine intended for the S40, and is later given a so-called “S40 Bis” 260 hp engine. This is also wrong compared to the historical configuration of the vehicle, and was obviously added as a gameplay element, disregarding the historical project – a pretty systematic policy for Wargaming, which many other French paper projects, the likes of the AMX-40, have suffered from as well.

The AMX S35 tank destroyer in a fictional French post-war scheme. Illustration created by Pavel “Carpaticus” Alexe on the basis of work by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquellet

Chasseur de Char de 76.2mm AMX sur châssis S35 specifications

Dimensions (L x w x h) 7.93 x 2.05 x 2.25 m
Weight in battle order 21,568 kg
Engine Somua 8-cylinders 190 hp engine
Power-to-weight ratio 8.8 hp/ton
Armament 17-pounder anti-tank gun
Ammunition stowage 86 rounds
Crew Uncertain (a driver and commander for sure; likely a loader, perhaps a gunner)
Gun traverse 16° to the left, 29° to the right
Gun elevation +22 to -9°

Sources

Categories
Cold War French Prototypes

17-Pounder AMX R35 tank destroyer (front-facing version)

Nation Flag IconFrance (1945)
Tank destroyer design – None built

The liberation of France began in June of 1944 and was mostly concluded, with the exception of a few areas towards Alsace and some western ports, by the end of August of the same year. Rebuilding France’s military industry quickly became a new priority for the French government. Once a world leader, the French military industry had been considerably weakened by years of German requisitions and Allied bombing. If France wanted to retain an important and independent place on the world stage, a healthy military industry would prove a massively useful tool.

The first phases of the French military industry getting back on its feet often took the form of pre-1940 vehicles being modernized to suit modern needs (such as the Panhard 178B, the first armored fighting vehicle produced by France post-war), or pre-1940 hulls being modified to fit roles other than fighting tanks. Within these, one could name three tank destroyers projects which were submitted by the Atelier Mécanique d’Issy-Les-Moulineaux (AMX) in November of 1945, mating the hulls of two pre-1940 French tanks, the R35 and S35, with the British 17-pounder anti-tank gun.

A ¾ front view of the front-facing proposal with an upward angle. On the left is a view of the front of the casemate, where the gun would be inserted. Source: Mémoire des hommes

AMX’s proposals

There were three different proposals for 17-pounder-armed tank destroyers based on old French hulls. One was designed on the S35 hull, and used a forward-firing gun. Two were designed on the R35 hull, one with a forward-facing gun and more ammunition stowage at the cost of being nearly a tonne heavier, and one with a rear-facing gun and more limited ammunition stowage, but about a tonne lighter. Both R35-based projects are dated from 8th November 1945, and as such, it is impossible to estimate whether one precedes the other.

As for the choice of the old French tank hull, only a small number of R35s were seized after the liberation of France, and the project was most likely never seriously intended for production. Instead, it likely was a proof-of-concept and a way for AMX’s engineers to get back into designing armored vehicles on the basis of familiar components.

Overall superstructure

Fitting the 17-Pounder into the diminutive hull of the R35 required some major changes. The gun would require a large, preferably open-topped casemate to be operated in decent conditions. In order to accommodate for this, pretty much all of the upper hull, as well as obviously the turret, was removed, and replaced by a thin, open-topped superstructure. This superstructure had simple, somewhat curved shapes, outside of the rear plate, which was pretty much flat. The superstructure narrowed down, extending towards the front to match the gun’s barrel. The armored superstructure had an overall weight of exactly one tonne or at least was planned as such by AMX’s engineers. Interestingly enough, when taking only the superstructure into account, the vehicle would be lightened by the removal of the turret and upper hull, which freed up 2,860 kg.

A front view of the front-facing R35 tank destroyer, showing the hatch which had been cut into the simple-shaped superstructure for the driver as well as the general, very basic silhouette of the vehicle. Source: Mémoire des hommes

The armor thickness of this casemate is unknown but was likely very thin. The front rounded part extending forward was cast. The rest was welded, with the exception of the rounded corners, which were cast pieces assembled to the rest via welding. The R35 was fairly diminutive in terms of size, and the casemate would cover pretty much the entire hull – the engine compartment was also entirely located under the casemate, which would highly complicate the maintenance of the tank’s powerplant.

This new casemate housed the British 17-Pounder anti-tank gun, one of the most powerful anti-tank guns fielded by the Allies during the Second World War. This gun had a large breech and considerable recoil, which is why a particularly large casemate would be needed in order to operate it from the hull of the R35. This obviously changed some of the vehicle’s dimensions. From 4.02 m, the vehicle would be extended to 6.64 m, while it would reach 2.10 m in height instead of 1.92 m, and be near this maximum height over a larger part of the vehicle. The large casemate dramatically increased the silhouette of the R35. This also changed the vehicle’s center of gravity, though a lot less with the full ammunition load, unlike the rear-facing version. However, the front-facing vehicle had a higher ammunition load, meaning expending it all would modify the center of gravity, bringing it forward by the length of more than half of one of the vehicle’s two bogies.

A cutaway side view of the R35-based tank destroyer, also showing the mounting of the mantlet on a frame. Source: Mémoire des hommes

The gun was placed through an armored mask and aimable frame. A thick cast mantlet was also found protecting this armored frame and the recoil cylinder of this gun and was attached to the rest of the casemate by a frame with several mounting points. This orientable frame would give the gun a lateral traverse of 21° to each side, identical to the other R35 tank destroyer proposal. Maximum elevation would be +20°, and depression -9°.

The tank destroyer would retain the same engine as the R35, meaning a Renault 447 4-cylinders engine producing 85 hp. However, the front-facing tank destroyer would add some considerable weight to the R35, which would rise from around 10.6 tonnes (up to 11 battle-ready) to 11.91 tonnes. This would further reduce the vehicle’s already mediocre power-to-weight ratio, going from 7.7 to 7.1 hp/tonne, likely reducing the R35’s already imperfect off-road mobility and an anemic maximum speed of 20 km/h even further.

Internal Arrangement, ammunition stowage, and crew

A top view of the vehicle, showing its internal arrangement and gun traverse. With the driver sitting right below the breech, some amount of space could perhaps house a third crew member remained within the hull. Operating the 17-Pounders gun alone while also commanding the driver would have been a herculean task to a single crewman, to which not even the overtasking of the B1 Bis’ commander could compare. Source: Mémoire des hommes

In the plans that were submitted by AMX, the R35-based tank destroyer is depicted with a crew of two, as on the original R35. It is unclear whether the vehicle was intended to be sent into operation with this tiny crew, way insufficient to reasonably operate a powerful gun firing a heavy shell such as the 17-Pounder, or if a third crewman would perhaps be present, and was just not included in the schematics. This would perhaps be accomplished seeing the size of the vehicle’s combat compartment but would make it a lot more cramped.

The driver retained the same position as on the R35, meaning he was located at the vehicle’s front, to the center. In this proposal, this made him sit right under the massive breech of the 17-Pounder anti-tank gun, meaning care would be needed in order to enter and exit his position quickly without hitting his head on the gun – particularly if it was orientated to the right. A hatch appears to have been cut through the new armored superstructure, which could be opened when not under fire. It could likely feature some form of episcopes to retain some vision while closed.

The gun was located to the vehicle’s front, with the rear of the breech roughly in the same position the turret would have been on a normal R35. Ammunition for it would be located to the rear of the fighting compartment. A large ammunition locker containing 58 rounds was located in a bustle on the rear of the casemate, extending over the engine compartment. A further 12 rounds were carried in a locker in the floor, just in front of the engine compartment’s bulkhead. This meant the vehicle would have a total of 70 rounds of ammunition at its disposal or 1,610 kg of 17-Pounder ammunition. If it fired all of its ammunition, the tank destroyer would lighten up by more than 13%.

Conclusion – An overly ambitious French Marder

This R35-based project was not the first project aimed at mounting a heavier gun on the basis of a French pre-1940 hull. During the war, several German conversions took the hulls of FCM 36 light tanks or Lorraine 37L armored tracked tractors to create tank destroyers armed with the 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun, creating two conversions both referred to with the “Marder I” designation.

However, these generally used larger hulls and a gun still somewhat smaller than the massive British 17-Pounder. Mounting this large and heavy gun onto the small and diminutive hull of the R35 – with a significant ammunition stowage of 70 rounds no less – was an overly ambitious prospect, with the hull likely being, simply, too small and underpowered to produce a reasonably effective tank destroyer. By the time they were presented in November of 1945, the R35-based 17-Pounder tank destroyers would have been hopelessly obsolete. Limited-traverse-gun, open-topped tank destroyers were far outclassed by decently armed medium tanks by this point in general, and the vastly underpowered nature they would have had from the R35 chassis meant the tank destroyer would have been of little to no effectiveness in a modern, post-WWII battlefield. The French were very likely aware of this though, and it does not appear AMX’s proposals were ever seriously considered for production or even prototype construction. They were little more than training exercises for AMX’s engineers to get back in the field.

Illustration for the Chasseur de Char de 76,2mm AMX sur châssis R35 (front-facing proposal), created by Pavel “Carpaticus” Alexe based on work by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet

 

Chasseur de Char de 76,2mm AMX sur châssis R35 (front-facing proposal) specifications

Dimensions (L-H-W) 6.64 x 1.85 x 2.10 m
Weight in battle order 11,910 kg
Engine Renault 447, 4-cylinders gasoline producing 85 hp
Power-to-weight ratio 7.1 hp/ton
Armament 17-Pounder anti-tank gun
Ammunition stowage 70 rounds
Crew Either 2 (driver, commander/gunner/loader) or 3 (driver, commander/gunner, loader)
Gun traverse 21° to each side
Gun elevation +20 to -9°

Sources

Archives du Service Technique de l’Armée via Mémoire des Hommes
Char-français
Tous les blindés de l’Armée Française 1914-1940, François Vauvillier, Histoire & Collection editions

Categories
Cold War French Prototypes

Chasseur de Char de 76,2mm AMX sur châssis R35 (rear-facing proposal)

Nation Flag IconFrance (1945)
Tank destroyer design – None built

The liberation of France began in June of 1944 and was mostly concluded, with the exception of a few areas towards Alsace and some western ports, by the end of August of the same year. Rebuilding France’s military industry quickly became a new priority for the French government. Once a world leader, the French military industry had been considerably weakened by years of German requisitions and Allied bombing. If France wanted to retain an important and independent place on the world stage, a healthy military industry would prove a massively useful tool.

The first phases of the French military industry getting back on its feet often took the form of pre-1940 vehicles being modernized to suit modern needs (such as the Panhard 178B, the first armored fighting vehicle produced by France post-war), or pre-1940 hulls being modified to fit roles other than fighting tanks. Within these, one could name three tank destroyers projects which were submitted by the Atelier Mécanique d’Issy-Les-Moulineaux (AMX) in November of 1945, mating the hulls of two pre-1940 French tanks, the R35 and S35, with the British 17-pounder anti-tank gun.

A ¾ rear view of the R35-based tank destroyer from an upward angle, showing the very simple and clean-looking casemate, with only the engine compartment being truly recognizable from the old hull of the R35. Source: Mémoire des Hommes

AMX’s proposals

There were three different proposals for 17-pounder-armed tank destroyers based on old French hulls. One was designed on the S35 hull, and used a forward-firing gun. Two were designed on the R35 hull, one with a forward-facing gun and more ammunition stowage at the cost of being nearly a tonne heavier, and one with a rear-facing gun and more limited ammunition stowage, but about a tonne lighter. Both R35-based projects are dated from the 8th November 1945, and as such, it is impossible to estimate whether one precedes the other.

As for the choice of the old French tank hull, while a number of R35s were seized after the liberation of France, this number remained limited, and the project was most likely never seriously intended for production. Instead, it likely was a proof-of-concept and a way for AMX’s engineers to get back into designing armored vehicles on the basis of familiar components.

Overall superstructure

A rear view of the R35-based tank destroyer, showing the larger silhouette caused by the casemate, which outside of the gun’s mask, had very simple welded shapes. Source: Mémoire des hommes

This R35-based tank destroyer made major changes to the original vehicle, which would be needed to accommodate a gun as large as the British 17-pounders. The upper hull and turret were completely replaced by a new, much bigger open-topped armored superstructure. The removal of the turret and upper hull would free the tank of 2,860 kg, with the new superstructure – on its own – only weighing 800 kg. This small weight was likely accomplished by a very thin construction. The casemate was open-topped, though it reached high enough for a crew member standing on the vehicle’s floor to not stick out of the vehicle from a point of view at the same level of the vehicle, which would mean the vehicle would not be as vulnerable to firearms as other open-topped designs. However, it would also massively increase the silhouette of the R35. The casemate peaked at 2.17 m, in comparison to the R35’s 1.92 m.

The casemate mostly used welded construction. However, rounded corners as well as the rear section where the gun was located were cast instead. This formed a bulbous shape extending towards the barrel’s direction. The vehicle used the British 17-Pounder, one of the more powerful anti-tank guns fielded by the Allies during the Second World War. When facing the rear, the gun would need to be placed pretty far rearward in order to offer sufficient space to be operated properly within the casemate. This meant that this casemate extended rearward on top of the engine compartment, and the gun obviously extended further towards the rear. The overall length of the R35 was extended from 4.02 m, counting only the hull, to 6.22 m counting the 17-Pounder. The vehicle’s configuration, with not only the gun but even the casemate somewhat extending over the engine deck, would likely highly complicate the maintenance of the R35’s powerplant.

A cutaway view of the project, showing the casemate’s extension on top of the vehicle’s engine compartment, as well as the large amount of space occupied by the 17-Pounder and its breech, and the changing center of gravity. Source: Mémoire des hommes

The 17-Pounder in itself weighed 1,630 kg in the form that was mounted in the R35 tank destroyer. This was mounted with a gun mask on a movable mount, all weighing 280 kg. This would allow for a lateral traverse of 21° to each side, an elevation of +22°, and a depression of -9°.

The tank destroyer would retain the same engine as the R35, meaning a Renault 447 4-cylinders engine producing 85 hp. The rear-facing tank destroyer version was planned to have a fairly similar weight to the R35 – only raising the weight from around 10.6 tonnes (up to 11 in running order) to 11.046 tonnes, with the power-to-weight ratio only being reduced from 7.7 to 7.6 hp/tonnes. To be fair, this was already quite little, with the R35 being generally a somewhat anemic tank, rated for 20 km/h (up to 23 km/h according to Soviet trials of a captured example).

The center of gravity of the tank would be somewhat modified by the changes. It would be brought a little higher up and towards the rear, going from around the third roadwheel and the height of the sitting driver’s knees to the front of the fourth roadwheel, and the height of the driver’s torso. This would, however, remain fairly reasonable.

Internal Arrangement, ammunition stowage, and crew

A top-down view of the R35-based tank destroyer, showing the crew positions. It is unclear whether a third crew member could be present, to the left of the gun, to support the commander, or if he would be on his own to operate the armament. Source: Mémoire des hommes

In the known schematics, the R35 tank destroyer is portrayed with two crew members. The driver retained the same driving position as the R35, meaning he would be located at the center of the hull. The other crew member portrayed would if he was the only one, operate the 17-Pounder gun and command the tank all on his own, unless the driver would leave his position in combat operations, or if a third crew member would be present – which appears somewhat realistic seeing the casemate’s dimensions – and was just not portrayed in the schematics.

The gun was located on the higher part of the casemate, with the breech located around the level of an average crewman’s neck. On its sides, in parts of the armored hull that advanced inward to form the shroud-type armor surrounding the gun, a ready-rack for 6 rounds was located on each side of the gun. A further ammunition locker containing 30 rounds was located on the left of the hull, below the gun and just in front of the engine compartment. In total, ammunition stowage would account for 966 kg (included in the planned 11,066 kg weight figure). If it had fired all of its ammunition, this R35-based tank destroyer would have lost more than 8% of its weight.

Conclusion – A poor Frenchman’s Archer

This R35-based 17-pounder tank destroyer was not the only tank destroyer design using the British gun in a rear-mounted fashion. This rear-faced configuration had, in theory, some advantages, notably the ability to retreat immediately after firing and had even been used in a French 1940 wheeled tank destroyer, the Laffly W15 TCC. The same configuration had been used by the British for the Self Propelled 17pdr, Valentine, Mk I, more often than not known as the “Archer”. The Archer, however, used a hull much more well-suited to the task of mounting a gun as heavy and large as the 17-Pounders – the heavier and longer Valentine hull allowed for a more reasonable, lower casemate to be mounted, while only the gun itself would stick over the engine deck. The vehicle also had a somewhat better power-to-weight ratio, and, an obvious advantage, was introduced earlier, in 1944, in a context in which most tanks were still more lightly armored than what a French project proposed in late 1945, and which would likely have required months to a year to enter service, would have had to face were an armed conflict to break out in this time.

Thankfully, the project was never adopted, and was, very likely, never seriously considered for adoption, to begin with. The poor quality of the R35 hull, already very discussable by 1940 standards, was very obvious post-war, and even fixed gun, open-topped tank destroyers had generally proven to be inferior to medium tanks equipped with potent anti-armor weapons. As such, the R35 and S35-based projects were likely shelved very quickly after being proposed. Nothing is known of them outside of the schematics which were submitted by AMX.

Illustration of the rear-facing AMX R35 tank destroyer in a hypothetical camouflage of the French army towards 1945, created by Pavel “Carpaticus” Alexe and funded by our Patreon campaign

 

Chasseur de Char de 76,2mm AMX sur châssis R35 (rear-facing proposal) specifications

Dimensions (L-H-W) 6.22 x 1.85 x 2.17 m
Weight in battle order 11,046 kg
Engine Renault 447, 4-cylinders gasoline producing 85 hp
Power-to-weight ratio 7.6 hp/ton
Armament 17-Pounder anti-tank gun
Ammunition stowage 42 rounds (12 in ready-racks, 30 in an ammunition locker)
Crew Either 2 (driver, commander/gunner/loader) or 3 (driver, commander/gunner, loader)
Gun traverse 21° to each side
Gun elevation +22 to -9°

Sources

Archives du Service Technique de l’Armée via Mémoire des Hommes
Char-français
Tous les blindés de l’Armée Française 1914-1940, François Vauvillier, Histoire & Collection editions

Categories
Cold War French Prototypes

Voisin CA 11 amphibious light tank

France (1949-53)
Light colonial amphibious tank prototype – 1 built

Immediately after the conclusion of the Second World War, France found itself embroiled in a large-scale guerilla war in its colony of Indochina as it attempted to reassert control over the area. Seeking to overthrow their colonial rulers was the Vietnamese Việt Minh, led by Hô Chi Minh, as well as associated Laotian and Cambodian movements.

 French colony of Indochina map
The French colony of Indochina map with its various territorial subdivisions: Cambodia, Laos, Cochinchina, Annam and Tonkin. Source: croiseur-lamotte-picquet.fr

Indochina was a particular theater that was characterized by a large number of swamplands and jungles, particularly along the Mekong Delta in the south of the country and the Hong River in the north. This type of terrain was particularly hard to operate in for French armored vehicles, particularly wheeled armored cars like the Panhard 178B or the British Coventry Armored Car, but even for tracked vehicles, such as the American M8 Scott or M24 Chaffee. Tracked amphibious vehicles were an obvious answer as to how to bring armored firepower into swamplands and rivers; however, by 1949, France was yet to have any of those vehicles in its inventory. While the USA had a potential answer in the form of the LVT-4 amphibious assault vehicle and its assault version, the LVT-4(A), the acquisition of such vehicles by the French had yet to be negotiated.

A Panhard 178B armored car
A Panhard 178B armored car in Indochina. Though armored cars were quite useful for patrolling roads, the limitations of such vehicles in rice paddies or swamps are obvious. Source: char-français

Setting requirements for an anti-guerrilla amphibious tank

On the 18th of January 1949, as the Indochina War had been raging on for more than three years by that point, the French EMA (Etat Major des Army – ENG: Army Headquarters) requested from DEFA (Direction des études et fabrications d’armement – ENG: Direction of Armament Studies and Manufacturing), the service in charge of directing France’s military research and production a light amphibious tank to be used in Indochina and, generally, in France’s colonies and overseas territories. Those other colonies and territories included Equatorial and Western Africa, and French Guyana – all places which would also benefit from the use of amphibious light tanks. This vehicle was desired to weigh not more than 11 tonnes, offer good off-road performance, particularly in swampy terrain, and mount a 75 mm howitzer in a turret.

Voisin/SNECMA’s proposal

On the 25th of April 1950, the Voisin branch of the state company of SNECMA accepted to design a vehicle for the light amphibious tank requirements, as well as to produce a scale model which would be used for floatation trials.

The Société des Avions Voisins (ENG: Voisin Planes Society) was, despite its name, more of a car-manufacturing company that had been founded by an aviation pioneer than an aircraft-manufacturing company. Founded in 1919, this company took the place of Aéroplanes Voisins (ENG: Voisin Aircrafts), an actual plane-manufacturing company that had manufactured a number of different aircraft for France’s aviation during the First World War. This included aircraft, such as the Voisin III to XI biplanes, which were notable for their pusher configuration.

The Société des Avions Voisins had, after the end of the Second World War, been incorporated first into the engine manufacturer Gnôme-Rhône, which was nationalized in 1945 to form the core of the state manufacturer SNECMA (Société nationale d’études et de construction de moteurs d’aviation – ENG: National aircraft engines study and construction society). Despite the Société des Avions Voisins being out of operations for five years by 1950, its name remained in occasional use for designs which were produced by what remained of its design bureau. This was the case of the CA 11 light amphibious tank; alongside a couple of other colonial amphibious projects from the same era, such as the CA 2 and CA 4 troop-transport tankettes, the CA 11 appears to have been Voisin’s sole foray into armored vehicles manufacturing.

The manufacturing of a scale model apparently went quite well, with an order for a mild steel prototype being made quickly. This prototype was manufactured in 1951-1952 and presented to the French military at Satory on the 20th of March 1953 for trials.

Voisin’s amphibious tank design

Voisin’s amphibious tan
Voisin’s amphibious tank from a ¾ angle. Source: Les véhicules blindés français 1945-1977, Pierre Touzin, éditions EPA, 1978

The vehicle designed by the Voisin design team was a 12.5-tonne tank. Despite this light weight, the vehicle had fairly large dimensions, closer to a WW2-medium tank than a light tank, measuring 5.81 m long, 3.05 m wide, and 2.66 m high, with a ground clearance of 0.40 m. These large dimensions are likely a consequence of the vehicle’s amphibious hull design.

The fairly large hull of the Voisin tank bears some resemblance to the general shape of the LVT-4, likely due to some inspiration being taken from the American design. The boat-like hull shape optimized floatation capacity, with a bow striking out at the front, the drive sprockets being installed at its side, and, further back, a frontal plate angled backward. The suspension of the vehicle was relatively large, covering most of the hull’s side, in a fashion that can be reminiscent of vehicles such as the pre-war B1; such large suspension is typically installed to optimize all-terrain capacity. The suspension featured six fairly large road wheels at the bottom of the hull, as well as what appears to be a tender wheel at the rear. Three large box-shaped elements are located between the drive sprocket and tender wheels; the purpose of these may have been to improve floatation. The tracks were also clearly influenced by the LVT vehicles with a large curved grouser or spud on each link to improve traction is very soft ground as well as drive when negotiating water obstacles.

The engine, likely installed at the rear, was an air-cooled 8-cylinder, 10.857-liter unit producing 300 hp at 3,000 rpm, although it is not known whether it ran on petrol or diesel. This engine gave the CA 11 a very respectable power-to-weight ratio of 24 hp/ton; while the fuel consumption and capacity are unknown, the vehicle is known to have had a respectable range of 300 km. On road, the vehicle could reach a maximum speed of 54 km/h; on water, the maximum speed was 12 km/h. The CA 11 did not feature any hydrojet system; on water, its propulsion was assured by the tracks. These were 0.35 m wide, and appear to have used a flexible, most likely rubber construction. The armor layout of the vehicle is unknown, but the combination of light weight and fairly large dimensions of Voisin’s tank likely meant the armor was very thin, as typically expected of a counter-insurgency vehicle or amphibious tank. The crew configuration of the hull is also unknown; it may have had either merely a driver, or perhaps two crew members.

The SAGEM turret

rear view of the Voisin CA 11
A rear view of the Voisin CA 11, showing the flat rear of the turret’s basket. Source: Les véhicules blindés français 1945-1977, Pierre Touzin, éditions EPA, 1978

The Voisin CA 11’s turret was not designed by Voisin, but instead, by another company, SAGEM (Société d’applications générales d’électricité et de mécanique – ENG: Society of general electricity and mechanic applications). Although there is little detailed information on it, observing the few known photos of the CA 11 show the turret appears to have used a welded construction. To the left, a large commander cupola featuring a number of episcopes (perhaps 8) is located; another observation device can be found on the right-side. Though the crew configuration of the CA 11 is unknown, the turret generally appears to have been geared to house a two-man crew, with the commander to the left and the gunner to the right.

The main armament of the CA 11 was a 75 mm howitzer. Though the exact model is not specified in any source, the gun present on the vehicle shows many similarities with a 75 mm gun that was developed for the Panhard 178B, but never ended up used in the post-war model of the Panhard 178 armored car. This was a 75 mm gun based on the old 75 mm mle. 1897, shortened but firing the same shells with a lower velocity (though only by 15 m/s according to French documents). This gun was designated as the 75 mm SA 45. This gun was never known to have been mounted on a Panhard 178B prototype, and if it was actually the gun present on the CA 11, the Voisin amphibious tank may have been the first known vehicle to mount this obscure armament. It would have had the notable advantage of using the same ammunition as the 75 mm mle. 1897 – a mainstay of the French Army for decades, with large stocks of ammunition still in existence. That being said, while the CA 11’s gun appears visually similar to the SA 45, if it actually used this gun has not been confirmed. The vehicle’s ammunition stowage is unknown as well; it is, however, it is known that it used a 7.5 mm MAC31 as a coaxial machine-gun, likely on the right of the main gun.

75 mm SA 45 in a turret
Plans for the mounting of the 75 mm SA 45 in a turret, for the Panhard 178B armored car which ended up using the 47 mm SA 35 instead. This gun was likely the one used on the CA 11. Source: French military archives

Conclusion – Overtaken by the LVT-4

Voisin’s CA 11, though an interesting design for the challenges faced by France in Indochina, arrived way too late; by 1953, when the prototype was presented to the army, a solution had already been found to the problem of bringing armored firepower to the swamps and rivers of Indochina: The acquisition of American LVT-4s had been negotiated, with the first examples being delivered in 1950 – before the prototype CA-11 was even unveiled. While the CA 11 could arguably have filled a niche for the French if the American deliveries had only included machine-gunning armed examples it was rendered redundant as the American deliveries included 75 mm-armed LVT-4(A). The French themselves would eventually modify a number of the troop transport LVTP-4s to accommodate 75 mm recoilless guns or even turreted 40 mm Bofors autocannons.

With the presence of the LVT-4 in the French army, the procurement and production of the CA 11 would have been a costly and redundant affair. The Indochina War in general was, by that point, a costly and very unpopular affair in which France was embroiled, with no hope of quickly recovering the colony. With little enthusiasm for the idea of remaining involved in the region, France ended up pulling out in 1954, leaving, as far as possible, friendly local governments in place. The end of the Indochina war likely removed all enthusiasm for a colonial amphibious tank for a time although the LVT-4s which had been obtained were conserved. They went on to be used to form an amphibious assault school in Algeria and eventually being used during the Suez Crisis against Egypt in 1956. The Voisin CA 11 project was likely shelved indefinitely, marking an end to Voisin’s short foray into armored vehicles manufacturing. As for the manufactured prototype, its fate is unknown, but it very likely ended up scrapped.

French 40 mm-armed LVT-4s in rice paddies
French 40 mm-armed LVT-4s in rice paddies, Indochina. The use of the LVT-4 by the French army, including this local conversion performed by units in Indochina and retained in the following years, made the CA 11 redundant. As for the LVT-4, it would remain in French service until the 1970s.
Tentative side profile of the Voisin CA-11, as no side drawings or good side pictures exist. Illustration by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Specifications

Dimensions 5.81 m  x 3.05 m x 2.66 m
Total weight, battle ready 12.5 tonnes
Crew Likely 3 (driver, commander, gunner)
Propulsion 8-cylinder 10.857 litre air-cooled engine producing 300 hp at 3000 rpm
Range 300 km
Ground Clearance 0.40 m
Max. Speed (road) 54 km/h
Max. Speed (water) 12 km/h
Armament 75mm howitzer (perhaps 75mm SA 45)
MAC 31 7.5 mm coaxial machine-gun
Power-to-weight ratio (in hp/ton) 24

Sources

Les véhicules blindés français 1945-1977, Pierre Touzin, éditions EPA, 1978
Char-français: https://www.chars-francais.net/2015/index.php/engins-blindes/engins-divers?task=view&id=103
https://www.chars-francais.net/2015/index.php/engins-blindes/engins-divers?task=view&id=680
https://www.chars-francais.net/2015/index.php/engins-blindes/engins-divers?task=view&id=102
French military archives at Châtellerault: Note pour la direction du matériel, N°28.750, 8 Juin 1945

Categories
Cold War French Prototypes

Bouffort Tractor Tank Conversion

France (1983)
Tractor Conversion –  Design only

Agricultural tractors are essential machines in farming. In times of war, these machines have become the donor for an equally bewildering array of armored vehicles to meet some urgent need, usually the imminent threat of an invasion when existing stocks of armored vehicles are in short supply. A strong platform, with decent off-road characteristics, cheap, simple, and plentiful, the abundance of agricultural tractors around the world means that there is a ready supply on which to base an expedient armored vehicle. Given just how different these vehicles can be, however, this usually has meant a bespoke solution for each vehicle. There is at least one thing which almost all tractors have fitted since WW2 – the 3-point linkage on the back. If a system of armoring a tractor could be made so that it fitted this type of linkage, then virtually any tractor around the world could be made into an armored vehicle. It is that logic which, in February 1983, led to Frenchman Victor Bouffort designing exactly such a system.

The 3-point Linkage

Attaching implements to a tractor is vital to having them perform roles from ploughing fields attaching cutting equipment, to dragging logs. Prior to WW2, there was no real international standard for how this was done. A simple drawbar from the rear was the common solution. Between around 1919 and 1926, British inventor Harry Ferguson, from Belfast, Northern Ireland, developed a standardised linkage system for the back of a tractor, submitting several patents for elements of the idea.

The rear of one of the first commercial tractors fitted with Ferguson’s 3-point linkage. The 3 points are two at the bottom on either side and one at the top, forming an A-shape. Source: wiki modified by author

The 3-point linkage system was, like all great inventions, simple. Two connection points at the back of the tractor on either side of the rear structure formed the bottom of an ‘A’ shape. The top point of the ‘A’ was attached in the middle above the back end and, thereby, any device, such as a plough connected, could be controlled in both the vertical and horizontal axes. Despite being a hundred years old, this system is widespread in use today around the world because it works and is so simple it is hard to improve upon. Effectively, not only does this mean in agricultural terms that the majority of equipment fits the majority of tractors, but also that there is a ready supply of donor vehicles which can be turned into an armored vehicle by connecting to those points.

From Tractor to Combat Vehicle

Bouffort was to utilize the 3-point linkage as the point at which he wanted to attach what he called a “firing station”, forming the armored body and combat area of a new vehicle.

Able to mount any kind of offensive firepower from rifles to machine guns or light cannons, the cab or ‘nacelle’ was made in a single piece.

A small armored cab on the back of the tractor provided just enough space for a crew-served weapon like a machine gun. Note that the image has been cleaned digitally to improve clarity. Source: French Patent FR2540618
Expanding the cab to cover the sides of the tractor and add additional protection around the weapon mounted in the back. Note that the image has been cleaned digitally to improve clarity. Source: French Patent FR2540618

The design was foreseen as something which could be made in advance and, being a simple box with no complicated electronics or even its own power source, to be something which was cheap and simple enough to be put into storage until it was needed.

This would offer a user a cheap and rapid means by which, in the event of war or civil unrest, they could be deployed onto existing tractors with these 3-point linkages.

This would, it was felt, provide an alternative or a supplement to existing armored vehicles held in reserve. Various forms or shapes for this box could be done to form either a single or double firing station and it was further possible to use this nacelle to carry food or supplies, etcetera.

Even More

Placing just an armored body on a tractor would cause problems, not the least of which would be the total lack of protection for the original vehicle and driver. One partial solution to this was to provide within the design the means for attaching a second nacelle at the front of the tractor and attach it to the first one (at the back). The space between the two nacelles could then have armored plating attached to cover the unprotected vehicle and driver in the middle.

Mounted on the front instead, the driver would have no view ahead of him. Note that the image has been cleaned digitally to improve clarity. Source: French Patent FR2540618
Plan view of the front-mounted cab option with a pair of machine guns. The two men would stand alongside the front of the engine. A noisy prospect. Note that the image has been cleaned digitally to improve clarity. Source: French Patent FR2540618

Protection would still be light. The weight of armor from the armored cab/cabs and any additional plates would significantly affect the balance and performance of the vehicle underneath. Any cab on the front would also make steering or driving virtually impossible, as the driver would not be able to see where they are going and, in addition to that, the extra weight would make the vehicle prone to falling over.

With two weapons mounted alongside each other, the cab provided a firing platform but little else. Note that the image has been cleaned digitally to improve clarity. Source: French Patent FR2540618
Seen facing the cab at either end, the body provided the appearance of the turret from a diminutive castle. Note that the image has been cleaned digitally to improve clarity. Source: French Patent FR2540618

Conclusion

The design was somewhat retrograde. This sort of idea was more suited to the desperate times of Allied home defense in 1939 or 1940 than a serious attempt at an armored vehicle for the 1980s. The idea of using the 3-point linkage was certainly an inventive one and meant that this idea was universal, as any tractor-based vehicle could use it, but it was simply impractical.

No independent power supply, no simple means of communication with the driver, a lack of protection for the vehicle, difficulty driving, instability, and all on a slow type of platform.

Outside of extremely limited policing work somewhere in a third-world country, it is hard to envisage any potential use for this and even then, a limited one. It is hard not to see that the amount of effort involved here could not simply have been applied to a small utility vehicle of some description like a pickup truck and make a far more capable vehicle far more simply. Unsurprisingly, to date, no examples of Bouffort’s tractor cab-armored vehicle can be found in use around the world.

The first Bouffort Tractor AFV conversion, featuring a rather simple rear compartment with a machine-gun.
The second Bouffort tractor AFV version, with a larger rear compartment and armor over the sides of the driver’s position. This would have probably created problems with the vehicle’s balance and going on steep slopes.
The third Bouffort tractor AFV version, featuring an unusual front-mounted compartment with two unfortunate machine-gunners sitting next to the engine. Visibility for the driver would have been very poor. All illustrations by Pavel Carpaticus Alexe, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Sources

British Patent GB160248 ‘Improvements in or relating to means for coupling agricultural implements to tractors. Filed 15th December 1919, granted 15th March 1921.
French Patent FR2540618 ‘Armoured Body element to be mounted at the front and rear of a cab vehicle’. Filed 4th February 1983, granted 10th August 1984.
Worldwide Patent WO03010041 ‘Auxiliary structure particularly for increasing the carrying capacity of multipurpose tracked vehicles’. Filed 24th July 2002, granted 6th February 2003

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
Cold War French Prototypes

Lorraine 40t

France (1952)
Medium tank – 1 prototype

The 50 tonne tank project

During the late 1940s and early 1950s, France was developing a new tank to replace the now obsolete captured German Panther and the short lived ARL 44 heavy tank in French military service.

This project, designated M4, aimed at producing a vehicle weighing 50 tonnes which would allow France to compete with other tank producing nations on the battlefield and in export. The main goal was the revival of the French tank industry that had been one of the best in the world prior to WW2.
The M4 project was eventually handed over to the AMX company (Atelier de Construction d’Issy-les-Moulineaux) which created the AMX 50 tanks. However, as the tank development continued on its course through the 1950s, the tank weight grew from the initial specified 50 tons to more than 60 tons, due to the attempts to upgun and uparmor the vehicle. This was necessary to cope with new Soviet tank designs. This led the authorities to the search for an another firm able to provide an alternative 50-tonne design.
The 100mm armed AMX 50 designThe 1945 plans for the AMX M4

The Lorraine Company

In the early 1900’s the French engineering and manufacturing companies Lorraine and De Dietrich merged to form Lorraine-Dietrich. They designed and produced some of the first automobiles. By the first decade, the company’s factory in Luneville, Lorraine was renowned in the automobile industry having produced great vehicles and hired engineers such as the famed Ettore Bugatti in their workshop.
The Lorraine-Dietrich plant in the 1920s
After WW1, the company continued production of automobiles and aircraft engines, but in 1928 De Dietrich sold their share of the company and from then on, the company was renamed Lorraine. Production of automobiles ceased by 1934 and Lorraine began focusing on military work. One such military product was the Lorraine 37L armored supply tractor used by France and later Germany during WW2.
The Lorraine 37L military tractor
With yet another war over, Lorraine, like so many private companies in France, was financially crippled. It tried to rebuild its military and rail locomotive business. Lorraine was eventually bought by an American company, producing trucks before entering obscurity after the 1950s.

The Canon D’Assaut Lorraine

During the development of the M4 tank in the late 1940s, the Lorraine company was developing and testing a self-propelled gun (SPG) that had a visual similarity to the WW2 Jagdpanzer IV. It was called the Canon D’Assaut Lorraine. Weighing in at 25 tonnes, this SPG was equipped with a version of the 100 mm SA47 and could reach a top speed of 60 km/h (37 mph). It had a novel Veil Picard pneumatic air core tire/ road wheel as opposed to a steel road wheel, lowering the weight of the tank. The road wheels were mounted on torsion bar suspension with hydraulic shock absorbers. Many of its components would be used in future Lorraine tank development such as the Lorraine 40t and the various Lorraine experimental self-propelled artillery guns until 1953, when the project was abandoned.
The Canon D’Assaut LorraineThe Canon D’Assaut Lorraine

Lorraine 40t specifications

Dimensions 10.8  x 3.30 x 2.85 m
35ft 5in x 10ft 10in x 9ft 4in
Total weight, battle ready 39.7 tonnes
Crew 4 (driver, commander, gunner, loader/radio)
Propulsion Maybach HL 295, 850 hp
Suspension Torsion bar suspension with Veil Picard tires
Speed (road) 60 km/h (37 mph)
Armament 100 mm SA47 gun
7.5 mm coaxial machine-gun
7.5mm AA machine-gun
Armor Hull front: 40 mm @ 58°
Hull side: 30 mm @ 30°
Turret: 45 mm @ 55°

Links

The Lorraine 40t on Chars Francais
The Cannon D’Assaut Lorraine on Chars Francais
The WoT Wiki page on the Lorraine 40t
The AMX-50 on Wikipedia
About the Lorraine 40t’s depression on FTR
The Lorraine factory

The development of Lorraine 40t

The Lorraine company kept a close eye on the designs made by AMX, and were tasked with producing a lightweight variant of the AMX 50. Their design mated a hydraulically operated oscillating turret to the then experimental Canon D’Assaut Lorraine’s chassis, thus creating the Lorraine 40t. Similar to the turret designed by FAMH (Compagnie des forges et aciéries de la marine et d’Homécourt) for the AMX-50, the turret for the Lorraine 40t was designed in 2 sections. The lower section allowed the turret to rotate horizontally and the upper section could depress and elevate along with the gun with respect to the lower portion, with an elevation range of -8 degrees to +15 degrees.
Front view of the Lorraine 40t, showing the pike nose and oscillating turret
Front view of the Lorraine 40t, showing the pike nose and oscillating turret
Like on the AMX 50 project, the 100mm SA47 (The same version of the gun that the Canon D’Assaut Lorraine mounted) was chosen to be mounted in the turret, allowing the Lorraine 40t to achieve a similar amount of firepower as its heavier counterpart. Another notable feature the Lorraine 40t had in common with the AMX 50 was the introduction of a drum autoloader to the main armament with 50 rounds stored in ammo rack within the hull. The fact that the gun was mounted in an oscillating turret meant that engineers were able to easily install an autoloader mechanism without worrying about the possibility of the limited vertical movement of the gun within the turret. The commander and the gunner shared a linked firing system, allowing both crew members the ability to operate the gun.
Like many French tanks developed or prototyped during the post war period, the Lorraine 40t’s engine was of German design, inspired from the many German Tiger and Panther tanks that littered the French countryside, a few of which entered French military service after the WW2. In the case of the Lorraine 40t, a French built turbocharged water cooled Maybach HL 230 V12 called the HL 295 was used, producing 850hp at 3000 RPM. This engine was also used to power the AMX-50. Using an engine which was designed to propel much heavier tanks such as the Tiger and AMX-50, allowed the Lorraine 40t to reach speeds of up to 60 km/h (37 mph) during testing with relative ease. This was roughly 10 km/h faster than the AMX50.
In order to meet the requirements of weighing less than the then overweight AMX-50, the tank had drastically thinner armor. It was of welded construction, with thicknesses of 25 to 40mm. The tank was equipped with 10 Veil Picard tires (5 on each side) instead of steel road wheels to save weight. The inclusion of these tires also increases crew comfort by reducing vibrations and shocks when the vehicle was in motion. These attributes were carried over from the Canon D’Assaut Lorraine.
The Lorraine 40t undergoing some maintenance
The Lorraine 40t undergoing some maintenance
Another notable feature of the Lorraine 40t was the pike nose design of the tank. It was similar to the second hull design of the AMX 50, which was inspired by several Soviet tank designs of its time like the IS-3, which had appeared publicly during the 1945 victory parade in Berlin. This was done in order to maximize the protection of the vehicle within the weight constraints. However, the effect of this design choice was probably limited, given that the vehicle had only 40 mm of frontal armor.
Two prototypes were finished in 1952 and testing of the vehicles went on through 1953 and 1954 but never reached the production stage.

The end of the line

Because America, as part of NATO, supplied surplus M47 Pattons to the French during the outbreak of the Korean war, interest in the AMX-50 and Lorraine 40t wavered. The high cost of producing and maintaining these vehicles eventually caused the cancellation of the tanks related to the M4 project in favor of the vehicles provided by NATO. Further development of a French main battle tank would not surface again until the Franco-German collaboration which sprouted the Leopard and AMX 30 in the late 1950s. The Lorraine 40t and its variants were supposedly the final attempts of Lorraine to reenter the military market.
An article by Velocity
A French M47 Patton at the Saumur tank museum
A French M47 Patton at the Saumur tank museum

Gallery



The Lorraine 40t medium tank – illustration by Jaroslaw Janas