Categories
Cold War French Wheeled Vehicles

Coventry Armoured Car in French Service

France (1946-1952)
Armored Car – 40-64 Operated

The French Army in Indochina used a large variety of armoured vehicles originally produced during the later stages of the Second World War by either the USA or Great Britain. This situation was forced upon them due to the abysmal state of French industry immediately post-war. The French military, for a time, depended on its allies to equip its military forces, which were quickly becoming engaged in a conflict in French Indochina. One of the vehicles France was provided with was the Coventry Armoured Car.

French crews stand at attention in front of their Coventry Armoured Cars during the Indochina War. Source: char-français

The Coventry Armoured Car

The Coventry Armoured Car was designed by the Rootes Group during the Second World War. It was envisioned as a potential successor to previous British 4×4 armored car types, such as the Daimler and Humber. Production orders would, however, end up being fairly moderate, as it was decided production of the Daimler should continue. As such, only 220 Coventry Armoured Car Mk I would ever be produced. A version outfitted with the 75 mm QF gun was designed and designated the Coventry Mark II, but never progressed beyond prototype stage.

The Coventry was fairly heavy for a 4×4 armored car at 10.35 tonnes. It was lightly armoured, only 14 mm at its maximum thickness, and notably featured a crew of four, with a driver in the hull and three crew in the turret, something which was far from systematic in armoured cars of the time. With a dedicated loader, the 2-Pounder 40 mm main gun could provide a high rate of fire. It, however, lacked any mass-issued high explosive shell, which would prove a major issue, particularly against an enemy which fielded no armor. In this context, the coaxial BESA 7.92 mm machine gun would be a more efficient weapon. The vehicle was powered with a 6-cylinders Hercules RXLD engine producing 175 hp, giving a hp/ton ratio of 16.9 and granting a maximum speed of up to 68 km/h on a good road.

A Coventry at a stop on the side of a road in Indochina. Mediocre roads were often the best infrastructure these armoured cars could hope for within the French colony. Source: char-français

France procured the Coventry Armoured Car in 1946. The most commonly cited number of Coventry procured by France tends to be 40, but regimental organisation papers from the 5e RC tend to suggest more may actually have been employed, up to 64.

The First Indochina War

The French colony of Indochina comprised modern-day Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. It was a large area, progressively conquered by the French in wars and agreements with local kingdoms and states from 1862-1863 to 1907. It suddenly became very vulnerable when France fell to Germany in 1940, and the colony, nominally loyal to Vichy, quickly fell under Japanese influence. It was eventually fully taken over in March 1945, with the French authorities deposed and French colonial troops and administrators taken as prisoners by the Japanese. Following the conclusion of the war, French troops returned to Indochina facing a bolstered independence movement, the Viet Minh. Though an uneasy peace existed at first, the possibility for conflict was obvious, and the French Army spent high efforts in mobilizing troops to send to Indochina with all kinds of various armored vehicles, even briefly re-using a number of Japanese tanks.

French Coventry Armoured Cars in Indochina. Both vehicles feature additional stowage boxes on the rear of the turret sides, and the rear vehicle notably features a prominent spare tire on the engine deck. Source: char-français

At the outset of the First Indochina War in 1946, two regiments were equipped with the Coventry Armoured Car Mk I: the 1er Regiment de Chasseurs A Cheval and the 5e Regiment de Cuirassiers. However, the 1er RCC soon gave up their Coventries when they were transferred north, to the Tonkin theater. Those Coventries they left behind were then given to the 5e RC, which formed two escadrons (ENG: squadrons) with them. Thus, the 5e RC was the main user of the Coventry Mk I for the duration of the First Indochina War.

Organization of the 5 RC

Due to the chaotic nature of the Indochina War and the transferring of units as operational conditions changed, the organization of the 5e RC was rarely set in stone. In 1946, the 5e RC was organized on the basis of a British Reconnaissance Regiment and thus consisted of a Regimental Headquarters, a Headquarters Squadron, and three Reconnaissance Squadrons. In February 1946, each of the squadrons consisted of two Coventry Mk I equipped ‘heavy’ pelotons (ENG: platoons) and 2 Humber Scout Car-equipped ‘light’ pelotons.

In August 1946, 2 escadrons equipped with Coventry Armoured Cars were transferred from the redeploying 1er RCC to the 5e RC. Sources differ on the exact number of escadrons transferred, but all agree that at least two escadrons were transferred – the total number of escadrons by the end of 1946 was 6, and it would remain at that number until 1951.

Infantry riding on the Coventry Armoured Car “Epervier” (ENG: Sparrowhawk). Source: char-français

From 1947-1951, the 5e RC’s organization appears to have remained mostly consistent. In 1948, the unit’s six escadrons were divided into two Groupes d’Escadrons (ENG: Squadron Groups) for easier command and control. According to CEFEO (Corps Expéditionnaire Français en Extrême-Orient/ ENG: French Expeditionary Corps in the Far East) documents, the organisation of the 5e RC consisted of:

1 Etat-Major et Transmissions (ENG: Staff and Communications)
2 Escadron Hors Rang (ENG: “Rankless” squadrons not part of a squadron group)
2 Etat-Major Groupe d’Escadrons (ENG: Squadron Group Staff)
5 Escadron Mixte (A.M. et S.C. Anglais) (ENG: Mixed Squadrons, outfitted with both Humber scout cars and Coventry Armoured Cars)
1 Escadron Type A (ENG: Type A Squadron)

All 6 of the 5e RC’s Combat Escadrons possessed Coventry Armoured Cars. Each Escadron Mixte possessed 9 Coventry Armoured Cars, in addition to 6 Humber Scout Cars. Each of the Escadron Mixte’s three Pelotons Mixtes possessed 3 Coventry Armoured Cars, while 5 of the 6 Humber Scout Cars were concentrated in a separate Peloton S.C. Humber. The Escadron Type A possessed 6 Coventry Armoured Cars and 11 Humber Scout Cars. The 6 Coventry Armoured Cars were divided between two Peloton Lourd (ENG: Heavy Platoons) and the Humber Scout Cars were divided between two separate Humber Scout Car Platoons. In total, this meant that the 5 RC would have 52 Coventry Armoured Cars and 41 Humber Scout Cars at full strength.

A Coventry aside a Humber scout car during a parade. The two types were employed in tandem by the 5e RC. A number of Humbers would be fitted with a makeshift machine gun-armed turret. Source: char-français

This organization changed from 1951-52, however. Two of the 5e RC’s squadrons were transferred to the Vietnamese National Army in this period. By 1952, the 5e RC had been reorganized to utilize the newly-arriving US equipment. Instead of 4 Escadrons Mixtes with British armored cars, the new Escadrons de Reconnaissance began to utilize US armored cars. One of the squadrons appears to have been converted to an Escadron de Chars Legers M5 (Type Sud), leaving the 5e RC with 3 Escadrons de Reconnaissance. The Coventries do not appear on the CEFEO TO&E for mid-1952, so it appears that they had been withdrawn by this time.

French servicemen camp up by the side of a Coventry Armoured Car in front of a bridge. Source: char-français

Use of the Coventry

The operational situation in Indochina, with rough terrain, Viet Minh harassment campaigns, and inadequate stocks of armored vehicles, meant that the Coventry saw wide use in the campaigns in southern and central Indochina in 1946-1951. The nature of the campaign meant that the armored cars could only be used for a few roles: road-opening operations, convoy escort missions, and outpost security. Reconnaissance units tended to disperse themselves widely, conducting these missions in peloton (and sometimes escadron) strength. The units were not without their problems. A lack of adequate mobile fire support and infantry inhibited the ability of armored cars to effectively conduct operations. French soldiers also noted that the armored cars were poorly suited to the terrain and that the guns were much too weak. This is no surprise, as the 2-Pounder was not mass issued with any high-explosive shell and, as such, could only damage an enemy target by direct hit, something far less reliable when facing enemy infantry using guerilla tactics in comparison to enemy armor. The Coventry Armoured Car was also noted to be particularly hard to maintain. This is not much of a surprise either, as only a small production type of the vehicle was ever made and it did not truly stick around in the producer’s militaries. While many other armored vehicles employed by the French in Indochina, such as the M5 Stuart or M24 Chaffee, or even M8 Greyhound, had been produced in massive numbers with an abundance of spare parts, such was not the case of the Coventry.

A Coventry patrolling a dirt road alongside local infantry, which was widely employed by the French. Source: char-français
A Coventry Armoured Car provides cover to a convoy on an Indochinese road. The vehicle prominently features the emblem of the 5e Cuirassiers Regiment. The turret smoke dischargers are also very visible in this photo. Source: char-français

The 5e RC, and thus the Coventry, saw extensive combat action in Cochinchina, Annam, and Laos. Viet Minh forces there put immense pressure on the French forces from 1948 to 1951, and thus forced France to devote considerable resources to pacifying the southern countryside. Terrain was difficult to navigate, and the Viet Minh proved to be particularly adept at harassing French forces. However, the Viet Minh did not possess as much popular support in the south as they did in the north, limiting their capabilities severely. After years of hard fighting, French forces were able to gain the upper hand by 1952, and by 1954 had essentially pacified the south.

Conclusion – A British Armored Car Placed into a French War in Vietnam

The Coventry was retired from service by the French in 1952, replaced in the 5th Cuirassiers regiment by the M5 Stuart. In most regards, the Coventry had been pushed into a war it was not designed to fight in. The wheeled configuration of the vehicle was more often than not an issue in Indochina, where infrastructure was often below par and the ability to navigate through rough terrain, particularly marshes, jungles, and rice paddies, was a major positive. The armament was inadequate for counter-insurgency warfare, and the chronic lack of spare parts which plagued the French Coventry fleet made operation of the type an uphill struggle.

Enthusiastic French servicemen haul a Coventry Armoured Car out of a difficult situation. The type was suboptimal for Indochinese warfare in comparison to tracked vehicles which provided better crossroads mobility, particularly the amphibious LVT-4. The name Raspail in France is mostly known as the family name of a family which comprised François Vincent Raspail, a socialist politician and chemist of the 19th century, and his four sons, one of whom, Xavier Raspail, made a name for himself during the 1870 siege of Paris. It may also be the family name of a member of the regiment or perhaps a casualty. Source: char-français
A Coventry Armoured Car stationed in front of an old temple in Indochina. The armored car would be one of many, many types of armored vehicles which would roll among the roads and jungles of Indochina and later Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia during the 20th century. The vehicle is named Potiphar, after the commander of the pharaoh’s guard who took Joseph in as a slave in the Torah’s Book of Genesis and the Quran. The registration number of the vehicle features prominently under the name. Source: char-français
A 5e Cuirassiers Coventry Armoured Car as seen during the Indochina war. Illustration by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

Sources:

http://indochine54.free.fr/cefeo/orgs.html
http://1project2far.blogspot.com/p/indochina-war-ressources.html?m=1
5e Régiment de Cuirassiers TOEs, 1950 & 1952
Char-français
https://balagan.info/french-ground-force-organisation-in-the-first-indochina-war-1946-to-1954
Trois guerres dans les blindés au service de la France, Pierre Jarno, Editions le Grand Blockhaus, 2009
http://cavaliers.blindes.free.fr/rgtdissous/5cuirsh4.html
French armour in Vietnam 1945-1954, Simon Dunstan, Osprey publishing, 2019

Categories
Cold War French Wheeled Vehicles

AMX-10 RC & RCR

France (1979)
Wheeled Tank Destroyer – 457 Built

Roues-Canon

The AMX-10 RC first appeared in the late 1970s, in an effort to replace the Panhard EBR heavy armored car, which was then approaching 30 years in service. The project was started at the Ateliers de construction d’Issy-les-Moulineaux in September 1970. The vehicle does share some parts with the similarly named AMX 10P, but are otherwise totally different.

AMX-10 RC
AMX-10 RC – Photo: Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
The first AMX 10 RCs entered service in 1979, and the vehicle has cemented the French Army’s love for wheeled tank destroyers. In 2000, the RCs were upgraded to the Renové standard, and are expected to remain in service until 2020-2025, at which point they should be replaced by the EBRC Jaguar.

Design

The AMX 10 RC is a 6×6 vehicle. It features a hydropneumatic suspension, which allows the driver to change the ground clearance of the vehicle. It can be varied between 21 and 60 cm, the choice depending on the type of the ground the vehicle is on.
The suspension can also be used to tilt the vehicle forward, backward or to the side, as required by the tactical necessities. The vehicle does not have any steering wheels, instead using skid steering. The principle is similar to how a tank turns, with the wheels on one side turning faster or slower to turn the vehicle.
The vehicles originally featured a HS 115 diesel engine built by Renault, which supplied 260 hp. However, the last production batches received a more powerful 280 hp Baudouin Model 6F 11 SRX engine. By 1995, all the previous vehicles were retrofitted with this engine.
The vehicle can reach 80 km/h on-road and 65 km/h and a range of 800 km. The transmission had four forward and four reverse gears. The vehicle is also amphibious, being propelled by two water jets up to a speed of 7.2 km/h. A trim vane must be erected before entering the water. The vehicle is air-transportable.
The turret of the vehicle is made out of welded aluminum, and the armor is said to protect against medium caliber weapons, meaning most 20-30 mm autocannons. The turret is called Toucan or TK105. Four smoke grenade dischargers are mounted at the rear of the turret. The turret is electro-hydraulically rotated.
AMX-10 RC
AMX-10 RC – Photo: As taken from Chars-Francais.net
The crew consists of four men. The driver sits in the hull, on the left side. He can use a hatch and 3 periscopes. The commander is seated on the right-rear side of the vehicle, with a hatch above his head. He has 6 periscopes and an M398 rotatable telescope at his disposal.
The commander is able to override the gunner, and rotate the turret or aim the gun. The gunner is seated in the turret front-right. He also has 3 periscopes and a telescope, which is connected to a laser range finder.
The main gun of the vehicle is an F2 105 mm medium-pressure gun, specially designed for light vehicles. The length of the barrel is 48 times the caliber without the muzzle break. The gun can fire high-explosive, high-explosive anti-tank, armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot and smoke rounds.
These shells are not NATO compatible. Its APFSDS round can penetrate a NATO triple heavy tank target at 2000 m. This is a standard which is meant to simulate the side of a Soviet MBT, with the side-skirt, a roadwheel and side-armor being factored in. The APFSDS round leaves the gun at 1400 m/s.
38 rounds are carried in all, of which 12 in the turret. A 7.62 mm machine-gun is fitted coaxially to the main gun. Some vehicles also have a roof-mounted machine-gun.

The AMX 10 RCR

In 1994, the French army decided to retrofit and modernize its fleet of AMX 10 RC vehicles. The intended upgrade involved a new turret and gun, applique armor and some modifications and improvements to the electronics. However, due to budget cutbacks, the upgrade was not given the go ahead.
The problem of modernizing the AMX 10 RC was finally addressed in 2000, when a contract was signed with Nexter Systems for the upgrade of 256 vehicles to a new standard. The improved AMX 10 RCR (the last R stands for Renové) is meant to remain in service until 2020-2025, when the new EBRC Jaguar will replace it.
The upgrade included the SIT-VI battlefield management system, which allows the vehicles to exchange battlefield information between themselves and with the command structure. An infrared missile jammer, the LIRE, was installed on the forward-left part of the turret, and a new thermal camera was installed for the gunner and the commander.
Protection-wise, the AMX-10 RCR has received add-on armor. Most visually notable are the side-skirts, but the front of the vehicle and the turret sides also received attention. Also, the turret was extended at the rear, creating more equipment space inside it.
The gun has received a new type of HEAT rounds. Also, a Galix system is mounted on the turret. This can fire a wide-range of grenades, including smoke, IR-decoys or explosive.
The gearbox was replaced, as was the control system of the hydro-pneumatic suspension. Furthermore, the driver can now vary the pressure in the tires, allowing him to better adapt the vehicle’s traction to the terrain. However, the added weight means the RCR is no longer amphibious, and the water jets were removed.
The first deliveries took place in 2005, and the whole retrofit program was finalized in 2010.

Variants

The AMX 10 RC has spawned a number of variants, however none have made it into production

AMX-10 RP

The RP was an APC version developed in the late ’70s. The turret was removed and the engine was moved to the front, making room for 8 soldiers in the rear compartment. The vehicle was to be armed with a 20mm autocannon and a coaxial machine-gun. Most of the other features of the AMX 10 RC were kept. However, the vehicle didn’t attract any attention and was never bought. The prototype of the vehicle is currently at Saumur, not on display.

AMX-10 RTT

The RTT was another APC version, appearing in 1983 as a replacement to the unsuccessful RP. It was similar to the previous vehicle, but featured a GIAT Dragar one-man turret fitted with a 25 mm autocannon and a coaxial machine-gun. However, the RTT similarly failed in garnering any attention, and it was discontinued.

AMX-10 RAA

This was an AA version first presented at Satory in 1981. It featured a large turret armed with two 30 mm autocannons produced by SAMM. Another turret, made by Thales, was also available.

AMX-10 RAC

An AMX-10 RC fitted with a TS 90 turret and CS Super 90 high-velocity riffled gun. This turret-gun combination can also be found on the AMX 10 PAC 90 and Renault VBC-90.

AMX-10 C

A tracked vehicle with the RC’s turret, and sharing the same automotive components.

AMX-10 RC TML 105

One of the upgrade proposals for the AMX 10 RC was the installation of the TML 105 turret, which had a new 105 mm gun, compatible with NATO rounds. This modular turret was also tested on the Vextra, CV-90 and Piranha III. The version on the AMX 10 RC seems to have some add-on armor on the sides.

AMX-10 RC T40M

An AMX-10 RC hull with the Nexter T40M turret, presented at the Satory 2013 exposition. This turret features a 40 mm autocannon, a roof mounted machine-gun and 2 ATGM pods. Meant as a demonstrator a fire trial vehicle for the turret.
Moroccan AMX-10RC
Moroccan AMX-10RC – Photo: As taken from arabic-military.com

Other operators

Morocco

Morocco ordered 108 AMX-10 RCs as soon as 1978. The vehicles supplied to them were not fitted with water jets.

Qatar

Qatar also ordered 12 AMX-10 RCs. The vehicles were delivered in 1994 from French Army stocks.

Operational use

The AMX 10 RCs first participated in the 1983-84 military intervention in Chad, codenamed Operation Manta. It was meant to stop the combined Lybian-rebel Chadian advance into the country.
AMX-10RC, Operation Desert Storm 1991
AMX-10RC, Operation Desert Storm 1991 – Source: Dopuldepepluta.blogspot.com
Some vehicle have apparently also been involved in the UN operations in Kosovo.
After upgrading, the RCR first saw action in the Cote d’Ivoire in 2006, with the French Foreign Legion, as part of the UN peacekeeping operation there.
Two platoons of AMX-10 RCRs have also been in action in Afghanistan, in the Suroba and Kapisa regions. At least one was hit by an IED.
Two squadrons and one platoon of RCRs were also deployed in Mali during the French intervention there. The vehicles helped repel the Islamists from Northern Mali, as part of Operation Serval.

The AMX 10 RC during Desert Storm

Probably the most important operation of the AMX 10 RCs was during Operation Desert Storm. Prior to the actual fighting, however, the vehicles received some upgrades. Their front armor was reinforced, an ATGM decoy system was added, such as the one fitted afterwards on the RCR, along with a DIVT-16 thermal camera.
The 96 AMX-10 RCs were the most numerically important armored component of the 6th Light Armored Division. The division covered the left flank of the invasion force, protecting the Coalition forces against an enemy counter-attack. During the attack, also named Operation Daguet, the French forces clashed with the Iraqi 45th Infantry Division, which was defeated. The French also captured the As-Salman airfield.
The results of the fighting are impressive. Almost 3000 Iraqis were captured, with twenty enemy tanks being destroyed and two captured. Multiple other light vehicles and artillery pieces were destroyed or captured. The French didn’t lose a single vehicle, and no losses were suffered due to enemy action.

Gallery

Video: Documentary on the 1st REGIMENT of SPAHIS

French Foreign Legion AMX-10 crew interview

In 1984, I joined the 1et Escadron 1er REC. Orange, France (French Foreign Legion), after I left the British Army having completed my length of service. I wanted to try something different. We used AMX-10 heavy armored cars. We were a reconnaissance unit.
You started off being posted to long-range desert modified jeeps and motorbikes. Then you were ‘promoted’ to AMX-10 loader and then gunner. I completed the AMX-10 driver’s course. Our Regiment and 1et Spahis were the recce units for the 6th Light Armored Brigade, which was in turn part of the FAR force action rapide.
By coincidence, the Spahis had visited us when I was serving in the British Army 2nd Royal Tank Regiment in Germany as part of a tri-nation force designed to keep open the Helmstedt corridor to Berlin in case of a crisis.
We operated 3x AMX-10RC per troop. Each Squadron had 4x troops. The Regiment was comprised of 4x Squadrons: number 1 to 4 and a HQ unit. The 4th Squadron was kitted out with VAB (Véhicule de l’avant blindé) armored personnel carriers and troops.
The Nexter Armoured campaign shooting exercise video you have on this page was exactly like the exercise I completed in 1985. Contrary to popular belief the French Foreign Legion does not just operate in the deserts of North Africa. The Legion practices battle craft in all environments including the snow.” – Neill Stuart Thomson.

AMX-10 RCR specifications

Dimensions 9.13 x 2.95 x 2.6 m (29’11” x 9’8” x 8’6”)
Total weight, battle ready 17 tons
Crew 4 (driver, gunner, loader, commander)
Propulsion Baudouin GF-11SX diesel, 280 hp, 520 l of fuel
Suspension Hydro-pneumatic
Speed (road) 85 km/h (53 mph)
Range 800 km (500 mi)
Armament 105 mm (4.13 in) F2 rifled cannon
1-2x 7.62 mm (0.5 in) machine-guns
Galix grenade launching system
Armor Protected against medium-caliber weapons
Total production 256 vehicles upgraded to RCR

Links

The AMX-10 RC on Army-Guide
The AMX-10 RC on Army Recognition
The AMX-10 RCR on Army Recognition
Article on Forecast International about the AMX 10P and RC
Operation Daguet on Wikipedia (French)
The AMX-10 RCR French Defense Ministry page
Originally published on 23 August 2016