Cold War French Unarmored Vehicles Has Own Video

Piaggio Vespa TAP 56 and 59

France (1956-1960)
Anti-Tank Weapon Carrier – 600~800 Built

The Piaggio Vespa TAP [Troupes AéroPortées] (English: Airborne troops) 56 and 59 were French-developed military motorbikes, based on the iconic Vespa, Italy’s most famous two-wheeler. The Vespa TAP carried a US M20 75 mm recoilless rifle with the aim of countering enemy light armored vehicles with an agile and robust vehicle that could be parachuted in where it was needed.

Vespa T.A.P. equipped with a M20 recoilless rifle. This motorbike was requested by the French Ministry of Defence, in order to procure an agile and robust vehicle.

The Vespa: how to motorise the Italian people after the Second World War

During the latter period of the war, Piaggio studied how to convert military factories to adapt them to the production of civilian vehicles, especially at the technical offices in Pontedera, which had moved to Biella during the period of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (English: Italian Social Republic). There, Piaggio technicians studied this problem. After the end of the Second World War, the Regno d’Italia (English: Kingdom of Italy) – which became Repubblica Italiana (English: Italian Republic) after the referendum of 2nd June 1946 – was devastated. The railways and road infrastructure were in a pitiful state. There was a serious lack of public vehicles and it was essential for the country to provide the population with cheap, practical, and fuel-efficient vehicles so that communications and travel could be resumed.
Already in 1944, a motorbike with these characteristics had been produced, the MP5, called ‘Paperino’ (English: Donald Duck), but this motorbike did not satisfy Enrico Piaggio, the owner of Piaggio, together with his brother Armando. They asked engineer Corradino D’Ascanio to revise the design. Armando Piaggio did not like the Paperino at all and, together with his collaborator, Mario D’Este, created the MP6 in April 1946, which took the name Vespa (English: Wasp) because of its shape.

MP5 ‘Paperino’ preserved at the Piaggio museum.
Source: vespaforever
MP6, the Vespa prototype.
Source: pinterest @First Versions

On 23rd April 1946, the new vehicle was patented under the name of Motocicletta a Complesso Razionale di Organi ed Elementi con Telaio Combinato con Parafanghi e Cofano Ricoprenti tutta la Parte Meccanica, a real long name meant to designate a fully metallic bodywork. Mass production was immediately started for 2,000 Vespa 98s with a 98 cm3 engine.

Vespa 98, the first mass-produced Vespa. It had a 98 cm3 engine.

There is an urban legend that claims that the Vespa‘s wheels and engine were the tail wheel and starter engine of the Italian Piaggio P.108 four-engine bomber, respectively, but no aeronautical components were actually used on the Vespa.

The vehicle was very successful. 19,822 had been produced by 1948 and new versions with 125 and 150 cm3 engines were developed in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The vehicle was also successful abroad. In 1951, the French ACMAAteliers de Construction de Motocycles et Accessoires (English: Workshops for the Construction of Motorbikes and Accessories) workshops began license production of the Vespa. In later years, it was produced by Messerschmitt and Hoffmann in Germany, Douglas in Great Britain, MISA in Belgium and Moto Vespa S.A. in Spain. In a short time, the Vespa was produced in 13 countries and marketed in 114.

The first military Vespa

In the early 1950s, the French army needed a light and robust vehicle capable of carrying an anti-tank weapon, for units deployed in Indochina that had to deal against the badly armed Viet Minh communist militias. The scooter was preferred in favor of heavier vehicles because it was light, agile and robust and could be parachuted into inaccessible areas or behind enemy lines. Thus, the Piaggio Vespa Troupes Aéro Portées 56 was born, to be followed three years later by the 59 model used by the Légion Etrangère (English: French Foreign Legion) and paratroopers.

Vespa T.A.P. 56.
Source: vespa tecnica
Vespa T.A.P. 59.
Source: vespa tecnica
Vespa T.A.P. dropped by parachute.
Source; vintagescooters



The chassis was reinforced by a metal tube that surrounded the vehicle and served to protect it from impacts and to support the side ammunition carriers. The front mudguard was much smaller than on other Vespe. Above it, there was a rack supported by four bolts fixed to the reinforcing tube at the front of the ‘shield’ – the term ‘shield’ on the Vespa refers to the sheet metal that protected the rider and on which the handlebar was mounted -.

Frontal image of the Vespa T.A.P., in which the ‘shield’ without the rifle is clearly visible.
Source: automotorinews
This photograph shows the handlebar, odometer and spare wheel.
Source: vespa tecnica

Underneath the shield were two sturdy independent brackets that acted as a tripod and were put into position by rotating them outwards. On the inside of the shield were two slots that served to hook the parachute.

On the left side of the shield was an open hole through which the cannon was placed. The hole was reinforced with a leather padding held by rivets that prevented the cannon from rubbing against the plate.

The rifle was fixed under the saddle on a special metal trapeze; the saddle could be opened sideways to allow the cannon to be removed from the vehicle and be used as a field weapon.

The hole was reinforced with a leather rim held by rivets to prevent damaging friction between the rifle and the shield.
Metal trapeze, located under the saddle, which was used to support the rifle.
Source: vespa tecnica

The rear of the vehicle was left open and a rubber mud flap was inserted in place of the sheet metal, which also acted as a plate holder.

The rubberized splash guard that also fulfilled the task of a number plate holder.
Source: vintagescooters

Under the chassis, there were reinforcements protecting the engine and muffler and also metal-coated rubber padding to prevent the vehicle from breaking during parachute jumps.

Metal-coated rubber reinforcements under the hull.
Source: vespa tecnica

The military Vespa was delivered in two colors, sand yellow or dark green. The Vespa could carry a small one-wheeled trolley to transport useful material. The only difference between the two models was that in the 56, the ACMA badge, located on the inside of the shield, was metal while on the 59, it was plastic.

Vespa T.A.P. with its single-wheel trolley.
Source: la stampa


The engine was the same as on the Vespa VL3 “Struzzo” (English: Ostrich), a 150 cm3 single-cylinder two-stroke engine with a three-speed gearbox. The transmission was modified by making the gear ratios shorter to adapt the Vespa to carry the greater weight. The carburettor was also changed from a Dell’Orto MA 19 to a Gurtner. The only engine difference between the models 56 and 59 was that, in the former, the cylinder cover was made of aluminum while, in the latter, it was made of sheet metal.

The Vespa could reach a top speed of 66 km/h and had a range of 200 km, which could be increased thanks to the two oil and fuel tanks carried on the luggage rack.

Engine of Vespa T.A.P. This was a modified Vespa VL3 ‘Struzzo’ engine.
Source: vespa tecnica


Although this vehicle is often called the Vespa Bazooka on the internet, it was actually armed with a US-made M20 recoilless rifle of 75 mm caliber. The weapon could not fire while mounted on the vehicle. It had to be dismounted from it and used as a field weapon; the M20 rifle was mounted on the tripod of the M1917A1 machine gun.

M20 recoilless rifle on the tripod of the M1917A1 machine-gun used by Ethiopian soldiers during the Korean War.

The breech is constructed so that, on ignition of the propellant charge, the resultant gasses are allowed to escape to the rear through orifices in the breechblock, thereby eliminating recoil. The gas escape orifices are so designed that the momentum of gas discharge effectively counteracts the momentum of recoil and the angular momentum induced by the motion of the fired shell, and the rifle remains motionless. The M20 had a depression angle of -27° and an elevation angle of +65°.

The M20 was developed in 1944, being used by US forces in the final parts of the Second World War. The rifle was later used during the Korean War in the early 1950s, but there it showed its limitations as an anti-tank weapon, as it could not penetrate the T-34/85 tanks used by North Korean forces. After this, the M20 was intended for use as an infantry support gun and to destroy bunkers. Being a light weapon, with a total weight of 75 kg together with the tripod, it was easily transportable. The rifle was used by French forces during the First Indochina War after 1946, while the Chinese versions, named Type 52 and Type 56, were used by the North Vietnamese army and Viet Cong guerrillas during the Vietnam War.

French paratroopers with one carrying the M20 recoilless rifle.
Source: vespa tecnica


The ammunition was carried in six ammunition boxes placed in groups of three on either side of the Vespa, that could hold one shell each. The special feature of the 75 mm rounds in the M20 rifle was the perforated casing, which was used to let propellant gasses escape into the barrel chamber. The rifle used various shells , such as the M309 High Explosive (HE) grenade, weighing 6.53 kg, with a TNT charge of 0.63 kg; the M310 High Explosive Anti Tank (HEAT) grenade, weighing 5.94 kg, which had a useful range of 400 meters and penetrating up to 100 mm of armor; and the M311 Smoke (WP) grenade, weighing 6.84 kg, which was intended to create smoke screens but could also be used to fire on enemy soldiers. There were also training and inert grenades.

HE and WP shells had a muzzle velocity of 301 m/s while the HEAT rounds had a muzzle velocity of 304 m/s.

Ammunition for the M20 recoilless rifle
Name Type Muzzle velocity in m/s Weight (kg) Penetration in mm
M309 High-Explosive 301 6.53 //
M310 High-Explosive Anti Tank 304 5.94 100
M311 Smoke 301 6.84 6.84
M310 HEAT grenade, note the perforated casing.
Source: wikipedia
M309 HE grenade.
Source: wikipedia


The Vespa was usually driven by a single soldier, but there could be a passenger if necessary, although the added weight certainly affected the ride.

French paratrooper on a Vespa T.A.P. during training.

Operational Use

Between 600 and 800 Piaggio Vespa T.A.P. 56 and 59 were built from 1956 to 1959. They did not participate in the war in Indochina, which had ended in 1954. It was used by paratroopers and the French Foreign Legion in the Algerian War, a conflict that lasted between 1954 and 1962, fought between French forces and Algerian independence fighters, who eventually won the war, which led to the independence of the country.

The M20 rifle carried by the Vespa was very useful for destroying the fortifications and light armored vehicles of the Armée de Libération nationale (English: National Liberation Army – NLA -) i.e. the Algerian Independence Army. However, there is no further information on the use of the Vespa in Algeria or on other fronts.

It is unclear when these were withdrawn from service.

Vespe T.A.P. ready to be loaded onto a plane to be deployed in Algeria.
French soldiers with some Vespe T.A.P. near Bizerte.
French paratrooper in Algeria poses in front of a Vespa T.A.P. The recoilless rifle is missing.


Due to lack of information, it is difficult to provide an assessment of the vehicle as a military asset to the French forces. As it appears, the Vespa T.A.P. was not a great success in the military but, today, it is highly sought after by collectors. In 2020, a Vespa T.A.P. 56 was sold by Ruote da Sogno, a Italian classic car and motorcycle dealer, for €40,000.


Vespa T.A.P. in tan camo. Illustrations by the illustrious Godzilla funded by our Patreon Campaign.
Vespa T.A.P. in green camo. Illustrations by the illustrious Godzilla funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Specifications of the Piaggio Vespa T.A.P. 56

Dimensions (Length, Width and Height) 1.76 x 0.69 x 1.11 m
Weight 115 kg
Engine Two-stroke single cylinder 150 cm3
Maximum speed 66 km/h
Range 200 km
Armament M20 recoilless rifle
Ammunition Six 75 mm grenades
Crew 1 – 2
Production Between 600 and 800 units


Roberto Leandri, Luigi Frisinghelli and Giorgio Notari “Vespa Tecnica 4. Record and special production” Fornacette 2001
Department of the Army “75-mm Rifle M20” Washington 1948
Roberto Leandri, Luigi Frisinghelli and Giorgio Notari “Vespa Tecnica 1. 1946 to 1955” Pontedera 1998

Cold War French Unarmored Vehicles Has Own Video

Renault 4L Sinpar Commando Marine

France (1962-~1966)
Air-Transportable 4×4 Car – 10 Purchased

During the late 1950s and the 1960s, the French Navy’s airborne services generally found themselves lacking in terms of easily air-transportable vehicles. These were needed to provide a means of quick transportation for airborne navy infantrymen and had to be able to be deployed by helicopters.

This issue was first encountered in Algeria and led to the creation of a particularly interesting improvisation on the basis of the popular and very light Citroën 2CV car, the 2CV GHAN1. This was a surprisingly heavily armed vehicle, equipped with either a 20 mm MG151 autocannon or a 75 mm M20 recoilless rifle, depending on the configuration picked. However, it remained a one-off conversion, not a vehicle formally offered by a manufacturer. Something along those lines, a vehicle based on the Renault 4L, perhaps the only light and affordable French car of the time to outdo the 2CV in production numbers, would be offered to French services a few years later. Though formally rejected by the French military, 10 would be acquired by the French Navy’s elite Commando Marines.

The Renault 4: The Other French Economy Car of the Post-War Years

In the collective mind, when one thinks of a quirky French economy car from the post-war years, the Citroën 2CV immediately comes to mind. This distinctive-looking vehicle, introduced in 1948, though prototypes dated back as far as 1939, was indeed a resounding success, and it may well be the most famous French car in history.

However, somewhat less famous (more so in the English-speaking world than in France) is another model of economy car that would follow more than a decade after the 2CV and meet an even greater success. This would be the Renault 4, generally known as the 4L, after its ‘limousine’ version that would quickly become the most popular model. Introduced in 1961, this front-wheel-drive vehicle was the world’s first mass-produced hatchback car. It was offered along with an even cheaper version, the R3, which managed the significant feat of being cheaper than even the cheapest 2CV offering, but unlike the R4, never met a great success. As with the 2CV, the 4L was offered alongside utility versions which also proved majorly successful. The utility vehicles were two-doors, while the civilian versions were ‘5-doors’ (including the hatchback).

A classic commercial view of a 4L. The vehicle was the typical affordable French family car of the era. Source: autonews

The Renault 4 was offered with a 747 cc (from 1963, an 845 cc engine was offered as well) 4-cylinder water-cooled engine with a variety of carburetors, which would vary the horsepower output between 27.6 to 30 hp from the cheapest to the most expensive version. The vehicle had been designed to offer an economy car that would be more of a ‘proper car’, with superior performances in comparison to the 2CV, and this it achieved stellarly. Whereas the puny 2CV would only reach about 70 km/h on a good road, the R4 could reach over 100 km/h. Its torsion bars suspension necessitated no regular maintenance, the car had a simple design, but was larger, with a hatchback body that granted more and more practical cargo space as well as more comfortable seating for passengers. The only aspect of the car which was typically judged as obsolete in comparison to the 2CV was the three-speed transmission. The move to a four-speed transmission would be done in 1968.

Despite the three-speed transmission it was originally offered with, the 4L proved to be a massive hit. The car was the most sold vehicle in France from 1962 to 1965 and again in 1967 and 1968, establishing its hegemony over the economy car market, and it would remain a sight on French roads for many years. Regularly updated, its production would only end in 1992. With more than 8 million units produced, the 4L is the second most-produced French car in history, behind the more recent Peugeot 206, and the most produced one of the 20th Century. Even to this day, the vehicle is still a somewhat common sight on French roads, arguably more than the 2CV, with the later models of 4L being a more practical car in modern days.

A Four-Wheel Drive Renault 4: The Rally Craze and the 4L Sinpar

Automotive rally events were particularly popular in France from the 1950s to the 1970s and saw vehicles from all kinds of categories compete.

Vehicles competing in rallies generally were modified versions of civilian cars. The Citroën DS, for example, is quite known for its successes in rallies during its career. As a popular car of the era, the 4L was not exempt from such modifications, being a potential competitor in lightweight categories.

At this point in time, rally vehicles would generally be modified by private, small manufacturers basing themselves on a production vehicle, generally with approval or even in cooperation with the main manufacturer. For the 4L, the rally vehicle would be created by Sinpar.

Founded in 1946, Sinpar (Société Industrielle de Production et d’Adaptation Rhodanienne – Rhodanien Production and Adaptation Industrial Society) had been specialized in modifying truck chassis to make them 4×4, 6×6 and 8×8, as well as performing similar modifications in cars, for which they were well-known with the greater public. Sinpar extensively worked on Renault vehicles, with some Sinpar modifications of Renault designs even being sold for the French Army, such as a 4×4 version of the Renault Goëlette lorry.

As soon as the Renault 4 became available, Sinpar started working on a 4×4 version, which was first unveiled in October 1962 in Paris’ Automobile Salon. The modified Sinpar vehicles were distributed by Renault. Sinpar is not known to have converted any 747 cc Renault 4, and instead appears to have started with 845 cc vehicles as well as more powerful models later. The kit could be applied indifferently to car and utility models. The vehicle which would eventually be offered to the French Army, while it may have the appearance of a car, was actually based on the utility model.

The Sinpar variant modified a considerable number of parts on the Renault 4. The vehicle used a lengthened output shaft and a specific conical torque output. The vehicles received three drive shafts, and used modified rear suspension arms in order to accommodate the drive shafts. The fuel tank was moved rearward, taking the space of the spare wheel, which was itself moved inside the body of the vehicle. The 4L Sinpar vehicle would still be able to use the classic 2-wheel drive, and would be able to shift to 4-wheel drive by a button on the dashboard. Considering the vehicles were conversions, and not purpose-built 4x4s, this 4-wheel drive was to be used very carefully. The main purpose of the 4-wheel drive was to drive at moderate speed on hazardous or slippery terrain, or to cross terrain which would be uncrossable in 2-wheel drive at a very slow speed. It was heavily recommended not to use the 4-wheels drive on the third speed and, generally, in all terrains where 2-wheels drive was acceptable, as this could lead to significant wear and tear. However, when 2-wheel drive could not cut it, the 4-wheel drive could grant quite surprising agility and crossing capacities to Renault’s economy car.

A French Gendarmerie 4L Sinpar. Because of the significant up in cost in comparison to a standard 4L, individual customers were fairly uncommon for Sinpar vehicles. Source:

The Sinpar transformation kit was a significant increase in price for a Renault 4L. A base 4L cost 6,350 Francs, and adding the Sinpar kit would bring that up by 3,988 Francs. Most private customers had no interest in this modification at such a cost, and as such, the main customers of the 4L were companies and official agencies.

Sinpar Torpédo

The Citroën 2CV GHAN1, here armed with a 75mm M20. Source:

Likely aware of the existence of the 2CV GHAN1 a couple of years prior, and of the general lack of air-transportable vehicles for the French Navy, Renault and Sinpar saw an opportunity their vehicle could perhaps fill. Like the 2CV, the 4L was a particularly light car, with a weight varying from 600 to 750 kg depending on the configuration. With some changes, perhaps the weight could be brought even lower.

The civilian model of the 4L Sinpar Torpédo, also offered from 1964 onward, though it would not meet great success. Source:
A top view of a 4L Sinpar Torpédo. The benches suggest a military vehicle, but the vehicle lacks the swinging arms for air-transportation mounting points. This may be the prototype that was offered to the French military, before modifications were made specifically for the Commando Marines. Source:

To fulfil the very low weight which would be desired for an airborne military vehicle, Renault modified a utility 4L vehicle. All of the rear body of the car higher than the front engine hood was pretty much stripped off the vehicle to save weight. However, the need for cover from the elements was not entirely disregarded. The Torpédo version adopted a lowerable windshield which could be put up or rest a few centimeters above the engine hood. A tarpaulin could be placed on top of this windshield, with mounting points on the rear of the vehicle’s body, in order to protect its passenger and cargo from the elements. The Torpédo version of the 4L retained just the two seats of the utility version, and to the rear was a storage area, which would either be used to carry troopers or cargo. It featured small benches on the side for personnel.

The 4L Sinpar Torpédo which took part in the 1964 Rallye des Cimes, with its pilot Marcel Ricarte. Source:
The same vehicle snapped during the race. The windshield appears to have been entirely removed. Source:
The same vehicle during the rally. Source:

In 1964, two 4L Sinpars were presented in the fairly popular Rallye des Cimes, competing in the less than 1,000 cc discipline. One of these was a 4L with a standard car body, while another one had a torpedo body referred to as a ‘French Army’ type. This appears to be the first known appearance of the militarized 4L Sinpar. Competing against several other vehicles, including a Willys MB and a Land Rover, the Sinpar vehicles managed to finish the course in first place and made a lasting impression on the public in attendance.

Likely around a similar timeframe, the 4L Sinpar Torpédo was offered to the French military. However, for unclear reasons, the French military did not formally acquire the vehicle. Considering the vehicle was a converted civilian car, it likely lacked the ruggedness of vehicles like a jeep, which would be quite necessary for an airborne mobile vehicle.

Sinpars for the Commando Marines

The rejection of the 4L Sinpar by the French military authorities did not, however, lead to absolutely no vehicle being sold to French army services. Indeed, the French Navy’s Commando Marines did take some limited interest in the vehicle, with four being purchased in 1965 and a further six in 1966.

A front view of a Commando Marine 4L Sinpar with the airborne mounting point arms raised. Source: O Globo
A colored photo of a Commando Marine 4L Sinpar. Source:
A Commando Marines 4L Sinpar in its factory. Source: Milinfo

The Commando Marines are an elite service of the French Navy. Generally considered as the direct successors of the Free French Commando Kieffer which took part in D-Day, in the 1960s, the service comprised five combat groups, four generally specialized in airborne assault and hostage rescue operation based in Lorient, and a fifth unit specialized in underwater operations based on the Mediterranean coast. The service is overall quite small, with around a maximum of 600 members. The 4L Sinpars were purchased for use in Lorient, perhaps due to interest by a local commander or for experimentation.

The 4L Sinpar used by the French Commando Marines featured some further modifications in comparison to the Torpédo used in the 1964 Rallye des Cimes. The most noticeable modification is the two swinging ‘arms’ on the sides of the vehicle, at the level of the seats. These were hardpoints for cables that would allow the vehicle to be slung under a helicopter, with more hardpoints likely being present on the rear of the car’s body and perhaps the front of the engine hood. Sadly, no known photo of a 4L Sinpar being carried in the air exists, and it is not known if this experiment was ever carried out.

The vehicles are also known to have had a mount that could equip a machine gun. Considering the time frame, this would likely have been 7.5 mm AA52. No photo appears to show the vehicles armed, however, and it is likely these would only have been mounted in operations.

One of the vehicles during its service with the Commando Marines in Lorient. Source:
A side view of a Commando Marine 4L Sinpar. Source: Milinfo

The vehicles were painted in an overall French Army Green color. Markings appear to have been limited to a French Army registration plate, featuring a French flag to the right, a registration plate in the middle, and an anchor to the left. So far, the identification plates of two vehicles have been seen, 4610274 and 4610275. In addition to the registration plate, “Commando Marine” was inscribed in white letters on the lower bar of the windshield.

Conclusion – A Unique Vehicle with an Unknown Service

The few 4L Sinpar which were purchased by the French Commando Marines had a fairly mysterious service life. Little is known of what was done and experimented on them, but they likely were never used operationally. Similarly, how long their service lasted is unknown. Considering the small size of the purchase, this may have been short, but then again, considering the very peculiar nature of the Commando Marines, general rules may not necessarily apply, and considering the parts commonality of the vehicle with the more than ubiquitous civilian 4Ls, maintenance would likely not have been much of an issue.

No vehicle appears to have survived to this day. At least one replica appears to exist and have been featured in some classic car shows in France though.

A replica of a 4L Sinpar Commando Marine in a former military vehicles parade in Cholet, France. Source: flickr
The Renault 4L Sinpar, Illustrated by Godzilla and funded by our Patreon campaign

Renault 4L Sinpar Commando Marine Specifications

Length ~3.6 m
Width ~1.485 m
Engine 845 cc Billancourt 4-cylinders gasoline engine producing 30 hp
Maximum Speed Around 100 km/h
Suspension Torsion Bars
Transmission 2×4 with toggleable 4×4
Gearbox 3 forward + 1 reverse
Weight Likely around 600 kg or less
Crew One driver
Passengers One seated at the front
Likely four in the rear stowage area
Armament One optional machine gun (likely a 7.5 mm AA52)
Armor protection None



Le Progrès

L’Automobile Ancienne

Ecurie des cimes


Cold War French Unarmored Vehicles Has Own Video

Citroën 2CV GHAN1

France (1959-1961)
Armed Air-Transportable Car – 1 Converted

The Citroën 2CV is arguably the most famous French car in history. Designed by Citroën’s vice president in the late 1930s and produced from 1948 onward, the small car was originally conceived to offer a very cheap and simple design for French farmers and rural communities, but it would find success far beyond rural communities and all the way to the French Navy’s airborne services.

The GHAN1’s 2CV, armed with the 20 mm MG 151, is seen driving. Source:

The Algerian War, the French Navy, and its Helicopters

French colonization of the territory which would become the country of Algeria began in 1830. One of the colonies closest to mainland France, just across the Mediterranean, Algeria would soon become one of the jewels in the crown of France’s colonial empire. Progressively, Algeria’s European population grew, far more than other French African colonies. Nonetheless, as the tide of anti-colonial pro-independence movements swept all across the vast French colonial empire, tensions soon grew in Algeria. While the neighboring protectorates of Morocco and Tunisia were granted independence in 1956 in a mostly peaceful process, this was not the case for Algeria. Independence groups in Algeria were faced with ruthless crackdowns, leading to the situation in Algeria developing into war between the French armed forces and the independence movement (the FLN, Front de Libération National, Eng: National Liberation Front, and its armed wing, the ALN, Armée de Libération Nationale, Eng: National Liberation Army)

Though the Algerian conflict was never described as a war in France during its duration, it resulted in the mass mobilization of the French Army against the FLN, with over 450,000 soldiers in Algeria at any time between 1956 and 1962 (including a large number of conscripts), and about 1,5 million Frenchmen having being mobilized by the Army in Algeria during the duration of the war, which only concluded in 1962.

This Algerian conflict saw the French make heavy use of helicopters, most commonly the American-built Sikorsky H-34 and its variants, and, from 1957 onward, the French-built Alouette II. Within the services of the French military which operated helicopters were ‘flotillas’ of the French Navy: the 31F, which was created in June 1955; 32F, created in June 1957; and the 33F, created in January 1958. Though the 31F first operated Piasecki H-21 and the 33F the Sikorsky H-19s, all three flotillas were eventually equipped with the Sikorsky HSS-1, the naval variant of the H-34.

Piasecki H-21Cs of Flottille 31F in flight over Algeria. The H-21 was operated by the flotilla from 1955 all the way to April 1960, when it was replaced by the more modern Sikorski HSS-1. The aircraft was nicknamed the ‘Flying Banana’. Source: avion légendaires

The three helicopter flotillas were put under a unified command on 1st November 1957, forming the Groupement des hélicoptères de l’Aéronautique Navale n°1, or GHAN 1 (Eng: Naval Aviation Helicopter Group). It most commonly operated alongside the DBFM, Demi-brigade de Fusiliers Marin (Eng: Navy Riflemen Half-Brigade), a unit created in 1956 and comprised three naval infantry battalions and five additional companies. The DBFM mostly operated in the northwest of Algeria, around the large city of Oran, and near the Moroccan border. The helicopters of the GHAN 1 were often used to support it. The HSS-1 could be used for troop transport or medical evacuation but was also used for fire-support duties. One helicopter in each of the three helicopter flotillas was fitted with an MG 151/20 20 mm autocannon of German origin. Those helicopters were named Couleuvrine-Canon (31F), Rameur-Canon (32F) and Barlut-Canon (33F).

Two crewmen operating the MG 151/20 autocannon abordard the Barlut-Canon, flottille 33F. The German gun was widely used in post-war France, not only on the Navy’s helicopters, but also on a number of vehicle designs, such as the Foch casemate tank destroyer, or the SNCASO SO.8000 “Narval” naval fighter prototype. Source: anciens col bleus
A Sikorski HSS-1 helicopter of flotilla 33F lands in front of French troops, Algeria. Source: chemin de mémoire parachutistes

Lieutenant Commander Babot and the Armed 2CV

On 26th September 1959, command of the GHAN 1 was granted to a Capitaine de Corvette (Eng: corvette captain, the equivalent rank generally being lieutenant commander) Eugène Babot, a Free French Navy and Indochina veteran. Babot appears to have been the one to decide to arm three helicopters of the GHAN 1 with MG 151/20 20 mm autocannons. He also initiated the search for a light-armed vehicle that could be air-transported by the HSS-1 helicopters of the GHAN.

Babot was quick to consider the ubiquitous French car of the era, the Citroën 2CV, a small, rustic car in production since 1948 which had been designed for rural use. He imagined that, stripped of most of its body, the 2CV would provide a very light platform that could potentially be fitted with some form of weaponry. The particular type of 2CV which was used appears to be a 2CV AZU, a utility vehicle that replaced the rear seats for storage space. This vehicle type was very widely used by French shopkeepers. The engine used on the vehicle in the late 1950s and early 1960s production was a boxer-two cylinder 425 cm3 gasoline engine producing 12 hp. At 530 kg, a 2CV AZU was a particularly light vehicle. It was 3.6 m long, 1.48 m wide, and 1.7 m tall.

A promotional photo of a Citroën 2CV AZU. Source:

Modifying the 2CV

In order to reduce the weight of the vehicle as much as possible, as well as make it a more suitable platform for armament, the personnel of GHAN1 would cut away most of the upper body of the vehicle. Pretty much everything above the driving wheel was removed, as was almost all the roof and rear superstructure and the passenger seat mounted at the front.

The original windshield was entirely removed, alongside the upper body of the vehicle, but instead of simply having the front being entirely open, a small, centrally-mounted glass windshield was added, reinforced by two support bars that connected with it on the upper sides.

A front view of the vehicle. The lower front was the least modified part, with the 2CV retaining its two signature headlights and its radiator grille. A new windshield was installed. Source:

The rear of the vehicle was modified to create an open space, pretty much a pickup configuration. This was made much simpler by the use of an AZU utility vehicle. Creating an empty space at the rear was pretty much as simple as removing the roof. The lower sides of the body, made of sheet metal, were retained to form a barrier for the armament section of the vehicle.

This open rear space was used to install an armament mount. This was a cut-cone shape mount, quite similar in general appearance to the one that could be found on many warships from the early 20th century. On top of this mount, a rotating support was mounted, on which the weapon which was chosen to be employed would be placed. A seat was mounted to the rear of this pedestal mount, but was not rotatable. When firing towards the sides, the gunner would instead lay on the vehicle’s sides. The combat crew for the vehicle would have been of two, a driver and a gunner.

The 75 mm M20 recoilless rifle being installed onto the pedestal mount of the vehicle. Source:

The modified 2CV was nicknamed ‘Jules’, Captain Babot’s radio code. The vehicle was given a registration number of “442 433”, painted on the rear left of the vehicle’s side and present on the frontal registration plate. On top of this registration number, a French flag and an anchor, a commonly used symbol of the DBFM, were drawn. The vehicle was painted in a sea blue color. On the rear sides, “GHAN 1” was inscribed in white, as well as an inscription that appears to read “Vle GHAN1 type G1A.”. The Vle likely was an abbreviation for véhicule (Eng: vehicle), with the inscription being a designation given to the vehicle, despite its ad hoc nature.

The weight of the vehicle is unknown, but it was said to be considerably lighter than a Jeep (most likely either a Willys MB or the Hotchkiss license-built variant, the M201), which weighed around 1.1 tonnes. A base AZU was 530 kg, and while the armament would make the vehicle heavier, this was offset by the removal of much of the body as well as one of the vehicle’s seats. The weight at around half a tonne could have been a realistic prospect for the vehicle.

Armament Options

The 2CV fire-support vehicle was tested with a variety of different armaments.

The vehicle is seen with the two existing armament options dismounted, as well as ammunition stowage for the 20 mm MG 151, likely a 60 or 80-rounds belt. This photo also gives a good view of the absent front passenger seat, and seat created for the gunner, mounted on a transversal bar. Source:
Corvette Captain Babot examines the 75 mm recoilless gun mounted on the vehicle, surrounded by French Navy servicemen. Source:

The first option available to the vehicle consisted of recoilless rifles. It is mentioned that the vehicle was tested with two different recoilless rifles, a 57 mm one (the American M18) and a 75 mm one (the American M20). All known photos of the vehicle armed with a recoilless rifle appear to show it with the larger M20.

The main advantage of the M20 was the low weight (47 kg) of the weapon in relation to the large size of the projectiles it could fire. The gun fired 75×408 mmR shells. A variety of shells existed for the gun, including High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT), High-Explosive Plastic (HEP, often better known under the British designation of HESH), and smoke shells. Considering the French Army’s operations in Algeria, with no ALN armor and little fortifications to speak of, the most commonly used shell was without a doubt the High-Explosive (HE) projectile. This was designated as T38 or M48. The round had a complete weight of 9.91 kg, with the shell and fuze weighing 6.53 kg. The explosive charge had 676 g of TNT. The maximum effective direct-fire range was considered to be about 1 km, though the gun could also be used in an indirect fire role at ranges up to 3 km. Though the gun had a quite short range, the firepower it offered in comparison to its lightweight was considerable.

A 75 mm high-explosive shell is loaded onto the 75 mm M20 mounted on the vehicle. Source:
A photo of the vehicle during firing trials. The same type of high-explosive shell is placed on the vehicle’s sides. Source:
With the rest of servicemen having vacated the area and joining the man further back to avoid the backblast, the gunner now aims, preparing to fire. Source:
A photo, likely taken during the same trials but from a different angle, showing the gunner aiming. Source:
The immediate aftermath of the gun being fired during the same trials. Source:

The 75 mm M20 appears to have been mounted on the 2CV for a while, and a variety of photographic views of the vehicle have surfaced with such armament. However, it appears there were some issues with this configuration. Despite being recoilless, the M20 still caused vibrations that would have over time likely have proved damaging to the car’s frail suspension.

As such, it appears the preferred option for the vehicle’s armament was instead automatic armament. The automatic weapon armed 2CV should not be considered as merely a successor of the M20 armed 2CV, as it appears both armaments were considered for a time and could be swapped depending on which would have been preferable in any given situation.

The automatic weapon on the 2CV was the German MG151/20 20 mm autocannon. This German aviation gun was widely used in a variety of roles in post-war France. Inside helicopters, like those used by GHAN1, the autocannon was first used with a 60-80 round belt, and later, because of more advanced mounts, a much larger 500-rounds belt. Inside the 2CV GHAN1 vehicle, the shorter belts appear to have been more likely to be used due to the more limited space.

The MG151 fired at a rate of fire of 600 rounds per minute, with muzzle velocities of 700 to 785 m/s. The gun weighed 42 kg. There was a variety of high-explosive ammunition available for the type, with the shells generally having either 20 g or 25 g of high-explosive filler. The French considered the gun to be surprisingly sturdy and reliable even in the dust and sand-filled environments of rural Algeria. It was noted as being easy to operate by a single crew member, even when in flight, so in a support vehicle like a 2CV, that would likely not have been an issue either.

The 20 mm MG 151 is aimed to the side during trials. Source:
In this photo, likely taken seconds after the previous one, the gun fires and the vehicle’s side visibly lifts. Source:
The 20 mm MG 151 is lifted as it is inspected. Below it, the container for the gun’s ammunition belt can be seen. Source:
Ammunition is set up to be fed into the gun. This appears to be a much larger, perhaps 500-rounds belt. Source:

Unlike the M20, however, the MG151 was not at all a recoilless weapon. From the existing photographs, it appears that firing over the sides would make the vehicle quite unstable and even lifted the rear wheel of the direction the gun was firing towards in the air by some extent. Still, the firepower provided by such a gun being mounted on a vehicle as light as the 2CV was once again very considerable.

La Terreur du Djebel?

The Jules conversion appears to have taken place sometime in or around 1960.

The 20 mm gun on the vehicle is aimed by Captain Bastard, who commanded the intervention battalions of the DBFM. Captain Babot is present within the servicemen seen behind. The armed 2CV could be described as his pet project. Source:

The vehicle was employed between 1960 and 1961. Plenty of firing trials were carried out, in which Captain Babot was directly involved, sometimes serving as the gunner of the vehicle. Interestingly enough, the unit also carried out air-transportability experiments. For this purpose, the vehicle was lifted under a Sirkorski helicopter by several cables, with seemingly a mounting point on each of the vehicle’s wheels, one on the rear, one on the gun, and possibly more.

In what is perhaps the most famous photo of the vehicle, the 2CV GHAN1 is lifted into the air by a Sikorski HSS-1 helicopter. Colorized by Smargd123. Source:

At the time, the vehicle already appeared to have been considered as somewhat of a curiosity in the hands of GHAN1. It does not appear the conversion was actively used in combat. Nonetheless, when recounting it, veterans of GHAN1 appear to affectionately give it the nickname of “Terreur du Djebel” (Eng: Terror of the Djebel, Djebel being a word taken by the French from Arab which designates mountains in the Middle East and North Africa).

A 2CV Disappearing into the Sands

Captain Babot was relieved from command of the GHAN1 on 17th July 1961. Seemingly, around the same time, the trail of the armed 2CV goes cold.

What eventually happened to the vehicle is entirely unknown. It may have had its armament removed and used as a pickup truck, lost due to an accident or breakdown, or abandoned in Algeria. Though one cannot exclude the possibility it was shipped back to France during the French Army’s retreat from Algeria in 1962, this would likely have been known and captured on camera. There is no evidence of that ever happening.

The vehicle, as such, forever remains a curiosity, of the time the 2CV, one of the most famous and popular French cars of the 20th century, got turned into an armed vehicle for warfare in Algeria. This is, surprisingly enough, not the only time the 2CV was used by a military. Some vehicles were used as air-transportable pickups by no other than Royal Navy Commandos, with these unarmed vehicles seemingly seeing service during the quelling of the Malayan Insurgency, in a fairly similar timeframe to the Algerian War. In modern times, a replica of the vehicle appears to have shown up in a number of French classic cars meetups.

A Royal Marines helicopter lifts one of the service’s 2CV pickups. The use of the 2CV by the Royal Navy serves as an interesting parallel to the one of 2CV ‘Jules’ and the GHAN1. Source:
The Citroën 2CV GHAN1 with the 75mm M20.
The 2CV GHAN1 with the 20 mm MG 151. Illustrations by Godzilla, funded by our Patreon campaign

2CV GHAN1 Specifications

Length ~3.6 m
Width ~ 1.48 m
Engine 425 cm3, 2-cylinders Boxer gasoline engine producing 12 hp
Weight Less than a tonne, perhaps as light as around 500 kg
Crew Likely 2 (driver, gunner)
Armament Alternatively:
M18 57 mm recoilless rifle (reported, never seen)
M20 75 mm recoilless rifle
Mauser MG151/20 autocannon
Armor None
Numbers converted 1


Veterans testimonies on


75mm M20 manual exerts