Categories
Cold War French Tanks Has Own Video

Japanese Armor in French Service

France (1945-1946)
Light and Medium Tanks – 11 Operated

If the French colonial empire was to have two shining pearls, one would be the close shores of French North Africa. The other would be the distant colonial ensemble that was French Indochina. The result of a long process of colonial expansion began during the Third French Empire establishing control over Cochinchina and Cambodia in 1862-1863. The formation of the French far east colony ended with France taking over lands previously belonging to the Rattanakosin Kingdom in 1907.

This far-away colony comprised the lands of current Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. It suddenly became very vulnerable when France fell to Germany in 1940. French Indochina was nominally loyal to the legal government of France, which was the Vichy Regime. However, in practice, the long distance between what remained of the unoccupied mainland and Indochina – thousands of kilometers of ocean, patrolled by British ships to which the Vichy French were by no means friendly – meant the colony was practically on its own. This resulted in East Asian powers taking back the initiative against the French colonizers. First, the Japanese-supported Kingdom of Thailand attacked during the Franco-Thai War of October 1940-January 1941, leading to an inconclusive military situation but Thailand taking back some contested territories. The decisive hit to Indochina’s integrity and French control would be made by Japan though, with the Japanese first entering Indochina in September of 1940. Japan would then progressively eat at the integrity and independence of the French colonial authorities, until all French administrators and soldiers were detained, in conditions not different from those of other war prisoners, in March of 1945.

Return of the tricolor

The surrender of Japan left a big power gap in what used to be Indochina, which the local independence movement – the Viet Minh – would use to try and seize power during what would be called the “August Revolution”. From late August 1945 onward though, French troops would start to return to Indochina – with the French government determined to keep its eastern colonial jewel intact. At first, there was a sort of uneasy peace between the French and Viet Minh, with only some occasional skirmishes, as both sides were trying to reach some sort of compromise. At the same time, a conflict in the future was still a likely occurrence, and French forces in Indochina were preparing for such an eventuality.

Though French forces did return with some armor, in the form of mostly M5A1s, M8 Greyhounds and Scotts, Coventry and Humber armored cars, many of these were war-weary, and it took time to ship them to Indochina. As such, any additional armor that could be found locally was welcome.

A column of the Commando Blindé du Cambodge, headed by a Type 89, in 1945. The vehicle appears to retain a Japanese camouflage, and this photo was likely taken in the first months of the French use of Japanese vehicles. Source: char-français

In Cambodia, several Japanese armored vehicles could be found – these likely being located in the capital, Phnom Penh. 11 tanks were found in total – including at least 4 Type 95 Ha-Gos and 1 Type 89 I-Go. A number of Renault UE tankettes were also found – they may have been some vehicles converted into light armored fighting vehicles by mounting a small machine gun armed casemate back in 1940.

The formation of the Commando Blindé du Cambodge

All these armored vehicles recovered in Cambodia would be used to create an ad-hoc unit, the Commando Blindé du Cambodge (ENG: Armored Commando of Cambodia). This was a small unit of three platoons, each comprising three tanks and two Renault UEs, formed in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Phen on 16th September 1945.

The unit’s service life appears to have been fairly uneventful – seeing as most of the year 1946 was spent with little to no open conflict. The unit was moved from Phnom Phen to another city to the north-west, Siem Reap, in August 1946, in order to reinforce the local garrison formed by the French 1er Bataillon de Parachutistes SAS (SAS paratroopers battalion).

A Type 95 Ha-Go of the Commando Blindé du Cambodge with all hatches open, likely on parade. Source: char-français

Operation of the Japanese armor

Very little is known of the Commando Blindé du Cambodge, on how it used and how it maintained its Japanese vehicles. The most that is known can be deduced from the photographs of the unit’s Japanese vehicle fleets.

The most noticeable thing can be found on the Ha-Gos. The French up-armored the vehicles they used.

Four Type 95 Ha-Gos. They have the symbol of the 5ème Cuirassiers Regiment, suggesting the photo was taken shortly after the Commando Blindé du Cambodge’s reform into one of the unit’s squadrons. This photo gives a decent view of the French up-armoring of the Ha-Go. Source: char-français

This was done by the addition of bolted-on armored plates both to the hull front and turret sides. The thickness of these is unknown, but it is distinctly observable, particularly on the hull. The plates included a cut-out for the central hull machine gun. When it comes to the turret, the additional plates did not cover the entire sides, but rather the top three-quarters of the turret’s flanks. It is also on these additional side-plates that the names given to the vehicles by the troops of the Commando Blindé du Cambodge were inscribed. Three vehicle names are known currently: “Joffre”, “Lyautey” and “Dupleix”. Lyautey and Dupleix were both figures of France’s colonization progress (Lyautey in Morocco in the early 1900s, and Dupleix in India back in the 18th century) while Joffre was a famed World War One Marshall of the French Army. As for the Type 89s, one is known to have been named “Bugeaud”, after a figure of the French colonization of Algeria.

A view of four Ha-Gos and one I-Go of the Commando, likely in Phnom Phen. Source: char-français

Out of operation… before the fighting actually began

In September of 1946, the Commando Blindé du Cambodge would be reformed into the 8th escadron of the 5ème Régiment de Cuirassiers. The Japanese tanks were apparently used by the regiment for a very short time, and appear quickly have been replaced by the standard vehicles operated by the 5ème Cuirassiers at that time: British Coventry and Humber armored cars. This was before hostilities escalated in Indochina, from the November of 1946 Haiphong Incident onward. As such, it would appear that the Japanese tanks re-used by the French were never employed in combat, or if so, only in very light protection duties.

A photo of the Type 89 “Bugeaud”. The large symbol of the 5ème Cuirassiers on the sides as well as the camouflage, which appears more along the line of classic French camouflages than the original Japanese one, suggests this photo was taken later in the service life of the vehicle. Though the exact retirement date of Japanese armor is unknown, there is no known information of its use in combat during the war. Source: char-français

Conclusion – Another example of the use of captured vehicles by the French

The Commando Blindé du Cambodge was but one of multiple examples of the French making use of captured Axis material during the last months of the Second World War and the following months. In Europe, the use of vehicles captured from the Germans was also very common. Another ad-hoc unit was formed in France using captured German vehicles, the Escadron Autonome Besnier, and it would actually see some action against German coastal pockets in the last months of World War Two. On the front itself, the French re-used captured Panther tanks, which would soldier on for several years after the war. Much lesser known is the fact that the French also reused Italian armor in North Africa. L6/40s, M13/40s and AB 41 are known to have been used by the French, with the later appearing to still remain in use by the French Gendarmerie in 1949.

On the flip-side, Japanese forces appear to have made use of whatever few armored vehicles were captured in Indochina, though their use of French armor is even more nebulous. A notable known case is that a rare (only four were fully completed and sent to Indochina) colonial version of the Panhard 178 armored car, the Panhard 178 colonies, fitted with a one-man APX 5 turret, was captured by the British in Malaysia at the end of the hostilities – suggesting the vehicle had been actively used and moved between different Japanese-occupied territories.

A poor quality photo showing a colonial Panhard 178 among Type 89 tanks in a British captured vehicles park in Malaysia, 1945. Only four of the colonial Panhard 178, which had a smaller turret ring, were completed and sent to Indochina. Four others were not given a turret in time in 1940, and were apparently used during the campaign of France without turrets. It appears some may even have been used for the Panhard 178 CDM conversion. Source: war-thunder forums
The up-armored Type 95 “Joffre”; the symbols on the vehicle are, from left to right, the French flag, the symbol of the 5ème Cuirassiers, and a Cambodian flag.
The unmodified Type 89 “Bugeaud” with the same symbols. Both illustrations created by Pavel “Carpaticus” Alexe, based on work by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

Sources

Char-français
Tous les blindés de l’Armée Française 1914-1940, François Vauvillier, Histoire & Collection editions
French Armour in Vietnam 1945-1954, Simon Dunstan, Osprey Publishing
http://indochine54.free.fr/cefeo/orgs.html
La Cavalerie en Indochine, Michel Bodin, Guerres mondiales et conflits contemporains 2007/1 (n° 225)

Categories
Cold War French Tanks

AMX-13 Avec Tourelle FL-11

France (1954)
Improvised Light Tank – 5 Built

By February 1952, the French had been fighting in the First Indochina War (1946 -1954) for six years. This war was fought between the French and Việt Minh (Việt Nam độc lập đồng Minh, Fr: Ligue pour l’indépendance du Viêt Nam, Eng: League for the Independence of Vietnam). The Việt Minh wanted to put an end to French rule and take control of Indochina. The French Minister of State for Relations with Associated States, Jean Letourneau, requested that the French Military’s latest tank, the AMX-13, be sent to Cavalry units battling the Việt Minh. The tanks equipping the Cavalry at the time – namely the M5A1 and M24 Chaffee light tanks – were too heavy and poorly armed to fight a guerilla war in a dense jungle environment.

However, the AMX-13 was also unsuitable for such warfare in its current configuration. Its large FL-10 turret and long, high-velocity 75 mm (2.9 in) gun was simply impractical for this Asian environment. There was also a requirement for air-transportability, but the AMX was just a bit too heavy to achieve this.

To meet the requirements, it was decided that modifications were needed for the AMX-13 to be suitable for constricted environments and light enough to be transported by air, thereby allowing it to be fielded in colonial policing operations, no matter the environment or enemy. This was achieved by mating the newly developed FL-11 turret – designed for the Panhard EBR (Engin Blindé de Reconnaissance, Eng: Armored Reconnaissance Vehicle) – with the existing AMX hull. This created the AMX-13 Avec Tourelle FL-11 (AMX-13 with FL-11 Turret). While it was a successful conversion that saved 1.5 tonnes (1.6 tons) of weight, the vehicle, for a number of reasons, would not go into large scale production.

The AMX-13 with FL-11 turret. This mated the hull of the AMX light tank with the turret of the Panhard EBR armored car. Photo: Pen & Sword Publishing

The AMX-13

Designed and built by Atelier d’Issy les Moulineaux or ‘AMX’, the officially titled Char de 13 tonnes 75 modèle 51 (Tank, 13 tonnes, 75mm gun, model of 1951) – often shortened to Mle 51, was more commonly known as the ‘AMX-13’. The tank was designed in the late 1940s and appeared in service in the early 1950s. It was designed to be a lightweight, highly mobile tank destroyer that could also perform the reconnaissance tasks of a light tank.

It was lightly armored, with the toughest plates being just 40 mm (1.57 in) thick. Its main armament consisted of the 75 mm Canon de 75 S.A. Mle 50, often known simply as the CN 75-50 or SA-50. The design of this gun was derived from the powerful Second World War German KwK 42 gun mounted on the Panther. The gun was mounted in an innovative oscillating turret and was also fed via an autoloading system.

The AMX weighed in at around 13 tonnes (14 tons) and was 6.36 m (20 ft 10 in, with gun) long, 2.51 m (8 ft 3 in) wide, and 2.35 m (7 ft 9 in) tall. It was operated by a 3-man crew consisting of the Commander, Driver, and Gunner. The tank went through many upgrades with many variations based on its highly adaptable chassis. The French Military only retired the AMX in the 1980s, but many other nations retain it in service.

The Standard AMX-13 Light Tank or, as it is officially known, the Char de 13 tonnes 75 modèle 51. Photo: weaponscollection.com

Fives-Lille (FL) Turrets

The engineering company Fives-Lille – shortened to FL – was responsible for the design of the turrets used on the AMX-13 series of light tanks. They were based in Fives, a suburb of Lille in Northern France.

The FL-10 turret. Note the long, high-velocity 75 mm SA 50 gun and the large turret bustle containing the autoloading system. Photo: Peter Lau, Rock Publishing

For the AMX-13 program, FL produced the 2-man FL-10 turret. This became the standard turret for the 75 mm armed Mle 51s. The high-velocity 75 mm Canon de 75 S.A. Mle 50 was fed via an auto-loading system which consisted of two revolving cylinders located in the turret bustle. It was an oscillating turret. These consist of two parts that move on a separate axis. The first is the top ‘roof’ section which holds the rigidly mounted main armament which moves up and down. In a conventional turret, the gun moves separately from the turret body, on its own trunnions. The second is the bottom ‘collar’ part attached to the ‘roof’ via trunnions and fixed directly to the turret ring, allowing conventional 360-degree traverse. The gap between the ‘collar’ and ‘roof’ could be covered with either a canvas or rubber covered material screen known as bellows. The FL-10 turret was the source of the problem for military heads that wanted the tank to operate in constricted environments, such as the dense jungle of Indochina, to provide close infantry support, not an ideal task for the SA 50. The high-velocity gun was long and, due to the autoloading mechanism, the turret bustle was large.

The FL-11 Turret

As the AMX-13 was in development, so too was the Panhard EBR armored car, which utilized a smaller oscillating turret produced by Fives-Lille – the FL-11. These turrets were manufactured alongside those destined for the EBR by Société des Ateliers de Construction du Nord de la France (SACNF, Eng: ‘Society of Construction Workshops in Northern France’) and the Société Alsacienne de Constructions Mécaniques (SACM, Eng: ‘Alsatian Society of Mechanical Constructions’).

It was decided that the FL-11 turret would replace the FL-10 on the AMX-13 hull. The FL-11 had the same level of armor protection as the FL-10 at 40mm (1.57 in) thick. The FL-11 turret was much smaller than the FL-10. This was because it lacked the bustle, due to the fact that the FL-11s gun was manually loaded.

Production diagram of the FL-11 turret. A: roof section, B: collar, C: turret basket. Note the lack of bustle and shorter 75mm SA 49 gun. Photo: Peter Lau, Rock Publications

The new gun was the 75 mm SA 49. It was shorter and had a lower velocity of 625 m/s (2050 fps) compared to the 1000 m/s (3280 fps) of the 75mm SA 50. This made the use of High Explosive (HE) shells far more effective, making the tank far more appropriate for close support tasks. The lower velocity, however, made it less effective against armored targets. Even so, firing Armor-Piercing Ballistic Capped (APBC), the gun could punch through 80 mm (3.14 in) of armor at 1000 meters (1093 yards). Secondary armament consisted of a coaxial 7.5 mm MAC31 Reibel machine gun located on the left of the main gun. Elevation range of the gun in this turret was +13 to -6 degrees. Four smoke-grenade launchers were also installed with two on each side of the ‘collar’.

The manually loaded 75 mm SA 49 gun. It was much shorter and had a lower shell velocity than the 75 mm SA 50 gun. Photo: Peter Lau, Rock Publishing

Like the FL-10, the FL-11 was a two-man turret with the crew consisting of the Commander and Gunner. However, with the lack of an auto-loader, the Commander also had the responsibility of loading the SA 49 gun. The Commander sat on the left of the turret with the gunner on the right. Both men had their own turret hatch. The Commander sat under a large cupola featuring 7 periscopes around its circumference. A mounting for an external machine gun could be installed on the cupola but, while it was used occasionally on the EBR, it is unknown if it was utilized on the AMX. The vehicle’s antennae were installed into the turret’s ‘collar’ with a base on the left and the right side.

Production diagram of the rear of FL-11 turret. Note a few details such as B: Commander’s cupola, H: Gunner’s hatch, P: smoke grenade launchers, K: ventilator, and J: stowage straps. Photo: Peter Lau, Rock Publishing

The AMX Hull

The AMX hull went through no alterations. It retained the same dimensions, as well as its forward-mounted engine and transmission. The tank was powered by a SOFAM Model 8Gxb 8-cylinder, water-cooled petrol engine developing 250 hp, propelling the tank to a top speed of around 60 km/h (37 mph). The vehicle ran on a torsion bar suspension with five road-wheels, two return rollers, a rear-mounted idler, and a forward-mounted drive-sprocket. The driver was positioned at the front left of the hull, behind the transmission and next to the engine.

Production

The conversion was approved by the French Military, with an order for 5 vehicles being placed in February 1954. One was to be built immediately for test purposes. Air transport tests then commenced in March of 1954. By May of that year, the remaining 4 vehicles had been built and troop testing was underway. At this time, an additional 15 vehicles were also ordered.

Left side view of the AMX-13 FL-11 test model. The FL-11 turret was placed on an unmodified AMX hull. Photo: chars-francais.net

Air Transportability

One of the key aspects of this conversion was to give the AMX-13 the ability to be air-transportable in the Armée de l’Air’s (French Air Force’s) cargo aircraft. The typical cargo aircraft of the Air Force’s fleet at this time was the Nord ‘Noratlas’. The original AMX-13, weighing in empty at 13.7 tonnes (15.1 tons), was too heavy. Replacing the FL-10 for the FL-11 resulted in the vehicle losing 1.5 tonnes (1.6 tons) of weight, making the new variant 12.2 tonnes (13.4 tons). This was still too heavy for the Nord, which had a load capacity of 6.7 tonnes (7.5 tons). Because of this, further tests were carried out using the larger English-built Bristol Type 170 Freighter, with a capacity of 7.9 tonnes (8.75 tons).

In the end, it was found that the vehicle was compatible with air transportation, but there was one small snag; the vehicle had to be completely stripped down and disassembled. The only way engineers could achieve the task of transporting the AMX was to take it apart and strap it down to three separate pallet loads of roughly 4 tonnes (4.4 tons) each. One pallet carried the entirety of the turret and rolled up tracks, the second carried the suspension and most of the automotive components, and the last pallet carried the entire hull unit with integral components. One aircraft could only carry one pallet, this meant that there would three aircraft to one tank, assuming three were available. If not, one craft could be making three round trips.

The AMX-13 FL-11 disassembled into three separate loads. Left to right we have the hull unit, suspension components, and the turret and track. Photo: Pen & Sword Publishing

Not only did this result in the logistical nightmare of transporting the loads, but also of reassembling the thing at the destination. This may not have been an easy task depending on the environment of said destination. The split also presented the risk of things going missing, not ideal when you need an operational tank on the front lines.

Service

Unfortunately, not much is known about the service history of this AMX-13 variant. By the time the initial batch was built in 1954, the First Indochina War had come to an end and the need for this tank had evaporated, resulting in the cancellation of the order for 15 more units.

An AMX-13 FL-11 is taken down a steep embankment. Both the driver and gunner are visible in this photo. Date and location unknown. Photo: chars-francais.net

The 5 vehicles that were built were dispatched to Morocco (still a French Protectorate in the early-mid-1950s) to be operated by the 2e Régiment Étranger de Cavalerie, (2e REC, Eng: 2nd Foreign Cavalry Regiment), a cavalry regiment of the French Foreign Legion, based in Oujda, Northeast Morocco. Their time here is not well documented, but it is known that in 1956 – when Morocco gained independence – the tanks were sold to the fledgling Moroccan Army. Details of their service here are also unknown. They were still present in the Moroccan arsenal in 1973.

There is a possibility that the Moroccan Army used the tanks in combat. In 1963, Morocco fought a border war with Algeria – the ‘Sand War’. Morocco fielded AMX tanks in that conflict, so the FL-11s may well have been among them.

In a typically French fashion, the crew (the three closest to the tank) of this AMX-13 FL-11 relax with what appears to be a bottle of wine next to their vehicle with an unknown guest. Date and location unknown. Photo: chars-francais.net

Conclusion

It is currently believed that no examples of the AMX-13 Avec Tourelle FL-11 survive today. How long they served and what happened to them in Morocco is currently a mystery.

This variant of the AMX-13 highlights what can happen when tanks that are designed for a specific purpose arrive too late to serve that purpose. They become destined to see out their service in obscurity, never having the chance to prove themselves in combat. The vehicle was also a bit of a failure when it came to the illogical air-transport element of its design. A feature that was one of its most important aspects. Despite this, however, the vehicle was a stepping stone to more French experiments with the concept of an air-transportable tank. These experiments would lead to the ELC EVEN and AMX-ELC programs.

As for the FL-11 turret, it would continue seeing service for a long period in the French army on its original mount, the EBR. Though the fleet of FL-11 equipped EBR were supplemented by some FL-10 equipped vehicles from the second half of the 1950s onward, the vehicles fitted with the original turret would be re-armed with a 90mm low-pressure gun with high-penetration HEAT-FS ammunition in the 1960s. Re-armed in this fashion, the FL-11 equipped EBRs would continue seeing service until the early 1980s, whereas the FL-10-equipped ones were phased out in the 1960s.



The AMX-13 Avec Tourelle FL-11. This was a mating of the AMX’s 13-tonne light tank and the Fives-Lille FL-11 turret, more often found on the Panhard EBR. Illustration by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet, modified by Andre ‘Octo10’ Kirushkin.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 6.36m (4.88m without gun) x 2.5m x 2.3m
(20’9″ (16’0″) x 8’2″ x 7’5″ ft.in)
Total weight, battle ready Aprx. 15 tons
Crew 3 (Commander, Gunner, Driver)
Propulsion Renault gasoline, 8-cylinder water-cooled 250 hp
Suspension Torsion arms
Maximum speed 60 km/h (40 mph)
Range (road) 400 km (250 mi)
Armament 75 mm SA 49
7.5 mm MAC31 Reibel machine gun
Armor Hull & turret 40 mm (1.57 in)
Production 5

Sources

M. P. Robinson, Peter Lau, Guy Gibeau, Images of War: The AMX 13 Light Tank: A Complete History, Pen & Sword Publishing
Peter Lau, The AMX-13 Light Tank, Volume 2: Turret, Rock Publications
Olivier Carneau, Jan Horãk, František Kořãn, AMX-13 Family in Detail, Wings & Wheels Publications.
R. M. Ogorkiewicz, Profile Publications Ltd. AFV/Weapons #39: Panhard Armoured Cars
National Intelligence Survey #48, Morocco; Armed Forces, March 1973.


Categories
Cold War French Tanks

AMX-US (AMX-13 Avec Tourelle Chaffee)

France (1957)
Improvised Light Tank – 150 Built

In 1956, the French Army and the Direction des Etudes et Fabrications d’Armements (Directorate of Studies and Manufacture of Armaments, DEFA, an institution within the French Military) were looking into affordable methods of modernizing their fleet of aging M24 Chaffee light tanks. One method was to somehow combine France’s new domestic light tank, the AMX-13, with the M24.

The officially designated AMX-US was a result of this. It would ‘mate’ the turret of the M24 with the hull of the AMX-13. The AMX-13 would become one of the world’s most popular light tanks to come out of the Cold War era, appearing in the early 1950s. While this particular variant goes by the official name of ‘AMX-US’, there are many other unofficial names, including ‘AMX-13 Chaffee’ – as it was known by troops – or ‘AMX-13 Avec Tourelle Chaffee (with Chaffee Turret)’.

Just a small number of these vehicles were produced. They initially found service in French Military Units tasked with policing colonies such as Algeria. They eventually found use as driver training vehicles once they were discharged from frontline service.

Two AMX-US’, ‘Lamarck’ and ‘Lagalissoniere’, sit side by side in Algeria in the early 1960s. The AMX-US was a convenient improvisation, ‘mating’ the new AMX-13 hull, with the older turret of the M24 Chaffee. Photo: chars-francais.net

French Chaffees

After the Second World War, France’s armored force consisted, almost entirely, of US-built vehicles, such as the M4 Sherman, M26 Pershing, and M24 Chaffee (among others). France received these vehicles as aid as part of the Marshall Plan and the Mutual Defense Assistance Act (MDAA). These aid pacts also financed the reconstruction of France’s economy and armed forces from 1948 until the late 1950s. In April 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed, and NATO was born, resulting in the United States extending the MDAA. This resulted in France receiving newer vehicles, such as the M47 Patton II tank.

In total, France would operate around 1,250 M24s which were identical to their US counterparts. It was a small tank at 5.45 meters (16 ft 4 in) long, 2.84 meters (9ft 4in) wide, and 2.61 meters (9ft 3in) tall. It weighed 16.6 tonnes (18.37 tons), utilized a torsion bar suspension, and was armed with a 75 mm gun. The tank had a 5 man crew: Commander, Gunner, Loader, Driver, Bow Gunner. The ‘Chaffee’ was named after WWI US Army General, Adna R. Chaffee Jr.

The French Army deployed its M24 in both the 1954-1962 War in Algeria, and the 1946-1954 First Indochina War. It served with distinction in both theatres but would ultimately end up being fully replaced by the AMX-13.

M24 Chaffee of the French Army’s 3rd Company, 1st Light cavalry Regiment (3/1 RCC), in Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam. Photo: Osprey Publishing

The AMX-13

Designed and built by Atelier d’Issy les Moulineaux or ‘AMX’, the officially titled Char de 13 tonnes 75 modèle 51 (Tank, 13 tonnes, 75mm gun, model of 1951) – often shortened to Mle 51, was more commonly known as the ‘AMX-13’. The tank was designed in the late 1940s and appeared in service in the early 1950s. It was designed to be a lightweight, highly mobile tank destroyer that could also perform the reconnaissance tasks of a light tank.

It was lightly armored, with the toughest plates being just 40 mm (1.57 in) thick. Its main armament consisted of the 75 mm Canon de 75 S.A. Mle 50, often known simply as the CN 75-50 or SA-50. The design of this gun was derived from the powerful Second World War German KwK 42 gun mounted on the Panther. The gun was mounted in an innovative oscillating turret and was also fed via an autoloading system.

The AMX weighed in at around 13 tonnes (14 tons) and was 6.36 m (20 ft 10 in, with gun) long, 2.51 m (8 ft 3 in) wide, and 2.35 m (7 ft 9 in) tall. It was operated by a 3-man crew consisting of the Commander, Driver, and Gunner. The tank went through many upgrades with many variations based on its highly adaptable chassis. The French Military only retired the AMX in the 1980s, but many other nations retain it in service.

The Standard AMX-13 Light Tank or, as it is officially known, the Char de 13 tonnes 75 modèle 51. Photo: weaponscollection.com

Char Meets Chaffee

In 1956, DEFA and the French Military were investigating ways to efficiently upgrade the aging Light Tank M24. Initially, this led to the mating of the Mle 51’s FL-10 oscillating turret to the hull of the Chaffee. While cheap and feasible, this configuration never went further than trials. This was largely due to a perceived safety issue with the High-Explosive (HE) rounds fired by the CN 75-50 cannon. Inside the FL-10 turret, the CN 75-50 gun was fed via an automatic loading system, which was reloaded externally. If an alternate shell-type needed to be fired, HE, for example, it had to be loaded into the breach manually by the Commander. This was a tricky task in the tight confines of the turret on the standard AMX, made worse by the notoriously sensitive fuze of the HE rounds. This process would be even more dangerous on the smaller hull of the Chaffee. As a result, the inverse of this mounting was decided upon, mounting the Chaffee’s turret on the Mle 51’s hull.

M24 Chaffee hull fitted with the Mle 51’s (AMX-13’s) FL-10 Oscillating turret. This version of the mating of the two tanks was not pursued, largely due to the sensitivity of the fuses on the HE shells fired by the CN 75-50 gun. Photo: reddit

Avec Tourelle Chaffee

By 1957, work on the inverse of mounting the Chaffee turret to the AMX hull had begun. This was seen as a safer and easier alternative. It was also a convenient way of recycling useful Chaffee turrets by separating them from their worn hulls. It also created a vehicle lighter than the regular Chaffee, meaning it was easier to transport.

The M24 turrets went through very little modification for their installation, retaining all the same main features. The only modification necessary was the introduction of an adapter or ‘collar’ to the AMX hull’s turret ring. This was needed as the Chaffee turret had quite a deep basket. The collar granted the basket clearance from the hull floor for uninterrupted, full 360-degree rotation.

This photo shows what happened to these tanks once they were retired from active service. They were disarmed and became training vehicles. However, this photo also shows the adaptor ‘collar’ installed on the Mle 51s turret ring to allow the attachment of the Chaffee’s turret. Photo: chars-francais.net

Turret Details

The Chaffee turret was a standard design with a typical 3-man crew of the time: Gunner, Loader, and Commander. The Commander sat at the left rear of the turret under a vision-cupola, the gunner sat in front of him. The loader was located at the right-rear of the turret under his own hatch. Armor on the turret was 25 mm (.98 in) thick on all sides, with the gun mantlet being 38 mm (1.49 in) thick. Armament consisted of the 75 mm Lightweight Tank Gun M6 which had a concentric recoil system (this was a hollow tube around the barrel, a space-saving alternative to traditional recoil cylinders). Variants of this gun were also used on the B-25H Mitchell Bomber, and the T33 Flame Thrower Tank prototype. The shell velocity was 619 m/s (2,031 ft/s) and had a maximum penetration of 109 mm. The elevation range of the gun was around -10 to +13 degrees. Secondary weapons were also retained. This included the coaxial .30 Cal (7.62 mm) Browning M1919 Machine Gun, and the .50 Caliber (12.7 mm) M2 Browning Heavy Machine gun which was mounted on the rear of the turret roof.

A regular M24 Chaffee (left) sits alongside a Mle 51 ‘Avec Tourelle Chaffee’. The Mle 51 is noticeably lower. Photo: chars-francais.net

The AMX Hull

Apart from the adaptor or ‘collar’, the AMX hull went through no alterations. It retained the same dimensions, and forward-mounted engine and transmission. The tank was powered by a SOFAM Model 8Gxb 8-cylinder, water-cooled petrol engine developing 250 hp, propelling the tank to a top speed of around 60 km/h (37 mph). The vehicle ran on a torsion bar suspension with five road-wheels, two return rollers, a rear-mounted idler, and a forward-mounted drive-sprocket. The driver was positioned at the front left of the hull, behind the transmission and next to the engine.

Service

Trials with what would be designated the ‘AMX-US’ were undertaken between December 1959 and January 1960. The vehicle was well received, with an order for 150 conversions being placed by the French military in March 1960. Conversion work was carried out at a plant in Gien, North-Central France.

A French tank platoon consisting of 3 AMX-US’ and a single M8 HMC enter an urban area in Algeria during the conflict. Photo: Pen & Sword Publishing

The AMX-US was operated by a four-man crew, as opposed to the three-man crew of the standard Mle 51, due to the three-man turret of the Chaffee. The AMX-US saw brief service in the War in Algeria – otherwise known as the Algerian War of Independence or Algerian Revolution. They served well, but a few were lost in combat. One known operator was the 9e Régiment de Hussards (9th Hussar Regiment) based in Oran. There is no evidence to suggest they served in any other location with the French military, such as in France or West Germany based regiments.

After the conflict in Algeria, the vehicles were returned to France. They did not last long in active service after this, with many vehicles being repurposed into driver trainers. For this, the vehicles were disarmed, with the 75 mm gun and mantlet removed from the turret face. In its place, a large plexiglass windscreen was installed. In this capacity, the AMX-US stayed in service until the 1980s, when they were finally completely retired. After this, many were ‘sentenced to death’ as range targets or simply scrapped.

An AMX-US Driver Trainer with removed armament. Photo: chars-francais.net

Conclusion

The AMX-US is an example of an effective improvisation. It ‘mated’ old technology with new technology, creating a cheap yet effective light tank that did its job without issue. It also solved the problem of what to do with useful surplus and excess material. An interesting observation is that this is the only AMX-based upgrade or conversion that resulted in the hull being used and not the turret – apart from the AMX-13 (FL-11). The M4/FL-10 is a successful example of this.

Due to the AMX-US’ fate, the vehicles are now extremely rare, with almost none surviving. Some, however, do still sit rusting away on military ranges.

The crew of two AMX-US tanks take a break in Algeria. Photo: Wikimedia Commons


AMX-US ‘Lamarck’ during the Algerian Conflict of the early 1960s. The combination of the Mle 51’s hull with the M24 Chaffee’s turret was achieved with a simple adaptor ‘collar’ placed on the turret ring.


When they were retired from active service, many AMX-US’ were turned into driver trainers. They were completely disarmed, with a large window on the front of the turret replacing the gun and mantlet.

These illustrations were produced by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 6.36m (4.88m without gun) x 2.5m x 2.3m
(20’9″ (16’0″) x 8’2″ x 7’5″ ft.in)
Total weight, battle-ready Aprx. 15 tons
Crew 4 (Commander, Loader, Gunner, Driver)
Propulsion Renault gasoline, 8-cylinder water-cooled 250 hp
Suspension Torsion arms
Maximum speed 60 km/h (40 mph)
Range (road) 400 km (250 mi)
Armament 75 mm Lightweight Tank Gun M6
.30 Cal. (7.62 mm) Browning M1919 Machine Gun
.50 Caliber (12.7 mm) M2 Browning Heavy Machine gun
Armor Hull 40 mm (1.57 in), turret 38 mm (1.49 in)
Production 150

Sources

M. P. Robinson, Peter Lau, Guy Gibeau, Images of War: The AMX 13 Light Tank: A Complete History, Pen & Sword Publishing, 2019.
Olivier Carneau, Jan Horãk, František Kořãn, AMX-13 Family in Detail, Wings & Wheels Publications.
Steven J. Zaloga, New Vanguard #77: M24 Chaffee Light Tank 1943-85, Osprey Publishing
Jim Mesko, M24 Chaffee in Action, Squadron/Signal Publications
www.chars-francais.net