WW1 French Unarmored Vehicles

Latil 4×4 TAR Heavy Artillery Tractor and Lorry

France (1913)
Tractor/Lorry – 3000 Built

The Latil TAR 4WD was a popular French lorry and known for its very good off-road capability, which made it an excellent choice for the French Army. It had very good ground clearance that helped the lorry negotiate undulating ground and obstacles like rocks, building rubble, and tree branches. It still occasionally got stuck in the mud as it tried to get supplies and weapons to the front across the battle-scarred French countryside.
The Latil company saw the need to build an all-terrain supply vehicle that could negotiate shell craters, ditches, debris from damaged buildings and trenches. Their design team looked at various ways of using caterpillar tracks on the axles of their lorries.

This photograph was taken in 1919 and shows a fully tracked Latil TAR 4WD lorry in French Army service. The wheels have been removed and replaced with four tracked units to help it negotiate muddy undulating rough terrain. These are the later version of the ‘Mécanisme à Chenille’ track units as they are more triangular in shape. This gave the lorry higher ground clearance. (Photo

The Latil Company

The French vehicle manufacturing company called Latil designed and built the first French four-wheel-drive trucks at the end of the 19th century. Auguste Joseph Frederic Georges Latil patented the system in 1897. In 1903, the company moved to Levallois-Perret and, in 1908, it was renamed and became “Compagnie Française de Mécanique et d’Automobile – Avant-Train Latil”. They started to build 4×4 trucks with the ability to pull or carry a 3-tonne load. They were called Tracteur d’Artillerie Roulante, which is abbreviated to TAR. (the word roulante translates to rolling)
After World War I, Latil began to build tractors for the agriculture and forestry industry and trucks for civil engineering. In 1955, Latil merged with the vehicle manufacturers Somua and ‘Renault truck and bus’.

The Latil TAR

Prior to the outbreak of WW1, in 1913, Latil began manufacturing trucks that were designed to be used as tractors to tow heavy artillery guns. The Latil TAR used a 4-cylinder, 4,200 cc, 30 hp petrol engine. Only heavy guns were moved by mechanical vehicles, as lighter field artillery and other guns under 6-tonnes were still moved by teams of six or eight horses. Mechanically powered vehicles still required roads that were in good condition or firm ground.
A Latil 4×4 TAR tractor had some advantages over horse-towed guns: it was significantly faster than horses, it also took up less space than a team of horses, shortening transport columns, fewer soldiers were needed to transport the guns, and they could cover longer distances. The Latil 4×4 TAR was used to pull guns such as the 155 mm Grande Puissance Filloux (GPF) mle.1917, the 220 mm Schneider mle. 1917 cannon and the 280 mm Schneider mle. 1914 mortar. The French abbreviation ‘mle’ is for the French word ‘Modèle’. In English that would translate to model but a better translation would be type or version. Latil trucks were also used by the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) during WW1. The French Army kept them in service up until the start of WW2.
In order to use its maximum traction force on good ground, the tractor had to be loaded with 2-tonnes. It was particularly suited for service with artillery units because of its pulling power. The company claimed that, on firm ground, it could tow 20-tonnes on a 15% gradient slope (9 Degrees), 25-tonnes on a 12% gradient slope (7 Degrees) and 35-tonnes on an 8% gradient slope (5 Degrees).

The French Army Latil TAR 4×4 lorry could climb up a steep incline. (Photo
The clutch was of the inverted leather cone type. It had five forward gears and one reverse gear. The engine, clutch, gearbox, and front differential assembly formed a single block, connected to the chassis at three points: a ball joint at the front and two spring tabs at the rear.
The transmission of the engine power to the wheels was done by side gimbals that terminated the transverse shafts of the two differentials by a ball joint whose center was on the axis of the steering pivot. The movement was transmitted to the wheels via a straight crown and a pinion. Differentials could be locked to improve traction on soft ground. Steering, by screw and nut, controlled the front wheels and a longitudinal shaft transmitted the same movement to the rear wheels and thus allowed for fast turning. It had a minimum turning diameter of 8.50 m.

The French Army Latil TAR 4×4 lorry was powerful enough to tow a tank transportation trailer loaded with a Renault FT tank. (Photo
The chassis frame was made of 200 mm high stamped sheet metal with a profile of equal strength. It had a ground clearance height of 0.45 m. The stamped soft steel axles were connected to the chassis by the springs, which were, in turn, terminated by clevises which, engaging in special supports, allowed them to oscillate relative to the frame. The towing hook was combined with a spring giving a particularly flexible hitch, which reduced the jolts from the trailer.
The engine cover has a very distinctive rounded and narrow shape. This was specific to French automotive designs of the time, also being found on the Renault 60CV truck and a couple of cars, such as the Renault AG1. The front is quite distinctive in not having a radiator grille. The radiator air intakes were at the rear of the bonnet, on the sides. A large Latil badge usually adorned the front of the bonnet. There was a hand crank in the lower frontal part to start the engine manually. The crew compartment was open, with only a tarpaulin cover to protect from most of the elements, and a bench for seating. Two lights were mounted just in front of the crew cab, one on each side, close to the posts supporting the tarpaulin cover structure. Another larger light was sometimes present at the front on the left side. Interestingly, the steering wheels and controls were on the right-hand side.
The wheels were made of cast steel, and rotated to allow the use of twinned rubber tires. All four wheels were interchangeable. In 1913, the list price of the Latil 4×4 TAR without the bodywork was 35,000 francs. More than 3000 copies were built in total by the factory at Levallois-Perret between 1913 and 1922.

Latil TAR tractor fitted with the early version of the Delahaye ‘Mécanisme à Chenille’. Illustrated by Jaroslaw ‘Jarja’ Janas, funded by our Patreon campaign.

The Delahaye ‘Mécanisme à Chenille’ Tracked Units

The tracked vehicle used a standard Latil TAR truck with a differential that could be locked when required. Each wheel was removed and the track unit was fitted to the axle. The first version of the track unit was an elongated oval shape. The next version, seen photographed on a vehicle in 1919, was more triangular in shape. It gave the vehicle increased ground clearance. It is not known how many track units were built and supplied to the Army.

The standard French Army Latil TAR 4×4 lorry would have difficulty driving over this muddy landscape but, when fitted with Delahaye ‘Mécanisme à Chenille’ track units on each axle, it could successfully negotiate water-filled shell holes and embankments. (Photo

The first version of the Delahaye ‘Mécanisme à Chenille’ track units. (Photo
The track units were designed and built by the Delahaye factory. They submitted a patent for the invention in 1915 under the name ‘Mécanisme de Chenille Delahaye’. The French Delahaye automotive manufacturing company, founded by Émile Delahaye in 1894, is more famous for their cars rather than agricultural equipment. The man responsible for its development was Paul Morane who had owned the Delahaye company since the founder Émile Delahaye sold his company in 1898. The official name for the tracked units was ‘Mécanisme à Chenille’.
Each unit consisted of a drive sprocket, an idler wheel and three roadwheels. The drive sprocket was connected by a chain to a smaller sprocket on the hull. The track links were from pressed steel with a raised lip on the rear in order to gain traction on soft ground.

Surviving Vehicles

A restored Latil TAR 4×4 lorry part of a private collection on display at a motor vehicle show in France. (Photo – TautauduO2)

A restored French Army 1918 Latil TAR 4×4 being used to tow a tank transportation trailer loaded with a Renault FT tank. (Unknown photographer)

Sources & Acknowledgements

Automobiles Industriels LATIL
French Tank Museum (Musée des Blindés)
Christophe Mialon
John Harris
Marco Pütz

WW1 French Unarmored Vehicles

Schneider CD Artillery Tractor

France (1917-1918)
Tow and Supply Vehicle – 330 Built

Schneider Char de Dépannage

The French phrase ‘camion de dépannage’ translates to tow-truck. The Schneider CD was a WW1 tow truck that used the same Holt chassis as the Schneider CA1 tank. It was fitted with a winch. There is a dispute as to the reason why the letters CD were used. Some sources state that it was just a standard Schneider factory product code, just like the Renault FT tank’s FT letters were just a two letter code, having no other meaning.

The Schneider CD's winches can be seen above the driver's compartment and at the rear - Source: François Vauvillier
The Schneider CD’s winches can be seen above the driver’s compartment and at the rear – Source: François Vauvillier
During the planning and construction stage of the Schneider assault tank, it was given the factory code name ‘Tracteur Estienne’ after the project leader, Colonel Jean-Baptiste Estienne, but later had the official designation of Schneider CA. The letters CA stood for ‘char d’assaut’ which translates to ‘assault tank’ in English. It seems the argument for the letters CD being an abbreviation of the French term ‘Char de dépannage’ is quite strong.
But, on a Schneider factory produced manual front cover the vehicle is called ‘Tracteur A chenilles (Type CD)’ which translated simply means a caterpillar tractor. This appears to favour the argument that the letters CD are a factory code, but the use of the word ‘type’ in front is ambiguous. It could mean that this ‘type’ of caterpillar tractor is a CD ‘Char de dépannage’ tow truck. We still do not know for sure.

Design and Production

By 1915, some of the French WW1 offensives had managed to breach the German front lines. The infantry attack across ‘no man’s land’ had been preceded by days of artillery bombardment to ‘soften-up’ resistance. This had turned the battlefield into a churned up lunar landscape covered in muddy shell craters. To support the breakthrough, the French artillery needed to be able to move their gun batteries, otherwise they would be out of range. Artillery barrages were needed to disrupt and hopefully stop German counter-attacks.

Most French artillery guns were drawn by a team of up to six horses. The terrain was just too difficult for them to move across. A new answer had to be found. The French Army looked towards an agricultural solution. For a number of years, French farmers had been using tracked steam driven tractors and tracked tractors powered by petrol engines. They were purchased by the Army and put to use towing howitzers to the front lines.

Tracteur Schneider CD instruction book
This is the front cover of a Schneider CD manual. The vehicle is called ‘Tracteur A chenilles (Type CD)’ which translated means caterpillar tractor (type CD).
Agricultural tractors like the early Holt built tractor were slow and found it difficult to tow the heavier artillery howitzers. They also did not have any onboard storage. They had to tow trailers to deliver artillery ammunition and supplies. The French Army needed a heavier more powerful vehicle to move and service the heavy guns adequately. Once the guns were in position, the Army wanted the same vehicle to be able to transport ammunition from the supply dump to the battery’s new location.

The French Renault EG and Latil TAR large 4-wheel drive trucks were capable of carrying the heavy artillery shells, that ranged in weight from 40 kg to 100 kg, along the muddy roads to the front lines. They could not cross the churned up battlefield. The proposed tracked artillery tractor had to be capable of collecting these shells from just behind French lines and take them across the churned up, scarred landscape without getting stuck in the mud.

Le tracteur d'artillerie chenillé Schneider CD
A tracteur d’artillerie chenillé Schneider CD being loaded onto the back of an articulated transport lorry
The French manufacturer Renault decided to submit a design for a fully tracked artillery tractor but decided to build a vehicle that could carry the gun rather than just tow one. This ‘en portee’ vehicle would only be able to carry light field howitzers and not the heavier guns. The small size of the flat wooden deck at the rear of the vehicle limited the size of weapon it could transport. The prototype was given the factory code Renault FB: the letters FB were not an abbreviation. It did not meet the French Army’s requirements.

The Schneider CD was built using a Schneider CA char d’assaut tank’s lower chassis. It had a large storage area behind the driver’s cabin. The design used a lengthened Baby Holt tractor suspension and caterpillar track. The front of the tank was shaped like the front of a ship. The idea was that this feature would help free the tank from the side of a muddy trench wall. This design was replaced by a driver’s cabin at the front with a strong curved metal lower shield ‘skid’ that could slide up muddy embankments and the sides of shell craters. The rear metal ‘skid’ used on the tank was not fitted to the Schneider CD, but the tractor used the same engine and transmission.

There was room for a crew of four in driver’s cabin but seats for just two of them. The two in the back would have to sit on the boxes. It would not have been a pleasant vehicle to operate in cold and wet weather conditions The only protection they had was a canvas hood. There were no side doors or front windscreen. The heat from the engine would help keep them warm but they would be at the mercy of the biting winds, rain and snow. In the summer, the canvas hood could be folded back.

At the back of the drivers cabin, a large cable stowage reel was mounted. It had a handle attached to the side for manually winding up the towing cable. A powered revolving cylinder with a vertical axis was fitted to the rear of the vehicle and used for winding up and letting out the towing cable. This capstan winch was powered by the engine.

Schneider CD driver's position
The Schneider CD was apparently difficult to drive over rough ground but it proved to be tough and reliable – Source: François Vauvillier
After a successful demonstration of the prototype, Schneider received an initial order for fifty vehicles. In October 1916, that order was increased to five hundred. In December 1916, General Robert Georges Nivelle, a French artillery officer, became Commander in Chief. Priorities changed and Schneider was told to put all efforts into completing the order for the artillery tractor and supply vehicle at the expense of meeting the Schneider CA1 tank production targets.

In August 1917, the first production Schneider CD artillery tractor was completed. Only 20 vehicles had been delivered to the French Army by the end of December 1917. This averaged at a production figure of five vehicles a month. In 1918, this figure rose to an average of eight vehicles produced each month. By the end of the war, on 11th November 1918, Schneider had only delivered 110 Schneider CD artillery tractors, failing to reach the 500 vehicle target.

Le tracteur d'artillerie chenillé Schneider CD
A tracteur d’artillerie chenillé Schneider CD off to the front – Source: François Vauvillier

Post WW1 service

The French Army continued to receive Schneider CD tracked tractors after the war. Deliveries stopped after the 200th vehicle was delivered. Schneider manufactured a further 130 vehicles for civilian use on farms, by civil engineers and by forestry workers. The Schneider CD was still in French Army service when the German Army attacked in May 1940.

Many were captured and used by the German Wehrmacht as towing and supply vehicles. The rear capstan winch and cable reel behind the driver’s cabin were removed on many of the vehicles. A few were used after WW2 but only one is known to have been saved from the scrap heap. It was used by the company Barthez until the 1950s. It was rescued and restored by a private collector and can occasionally be seen by the public at exhibitions of classic vehicles in France.

The Schneider CD3 Char de dépannage

In December 1917, the French Army also issued a requirement for a tracked artillery tractor that was capable of towing the very heavy 9 ton howitzer. Schneider built a prototype based on the extended chassis of the Schneider CA3 tank. The company had designed an improved version of the Schneider CA tank with a longer chassis and slightly more powerful engine.

To improve weight distribution on soft ground, the track width was increased to 45 cm wide rather than the original 36 cm wide track link. The initial order for two hundred of these tanks was cancelled in favour of building a tank fleet of lighter, more agile, Renault FT tanks.
The crew cabin canvas cover was removed and a long metal arm was extended, at an angle, over the front of the engine. It was held in place by an ‘A’ shaped metal support. At the end of the metal boom there was a pulley, over which ran the powered winch tow cable. On the left side of the vehicle, Schneider fitted a small crane. This was used to hoist up the trail legs of the guns over the back of the vehicle.

Development took a long time. The prototype finally underwent trials in October 1918. Different artillery pieces like the 7.45 tonne 220 mm TR Schneider howitzer and the 3.3 tonne 155 mm L Mle 1917 Schneider field gun were attached to the rear of the vehicle and driven across the undulating proving ground course. It successfully completed these tests. Although not designed to transport heavier guns, it was found that it could tow the 13 tonne Canon de 155mm Grande Puissance Filloux (GPF) mle.1917 howitzer.

Schneider CD Char de dépannage
Schneider CD3 Char de dépannage – Source: François Vauvillier
Although it passed all the French Army requirements, Schneider was not given a production order for the new Schneider CD3 tracked artillery portee vehicle.


Dimensions (L x W x H) 6.32 m x 2.30 m x 2.05 m
(20ft 9in x 7ft 6in x 6ft 9in)
Total weight 13.6 tons
Crew 2
Propulsion Schneider 4 cyl petrol, 60 hp (45 Kw)
Speed 8 km/h (5 mph)
Range on/off road 80/30 km (50/19 miles)
Load Capacity 3,000 kg
Total production 330

The Schneider CA-1 tank

Schneider CD, artillery grey livery

Schneider CD in later brown-sand livery. Only one is known to have survived and it is in a private collection.

In WW2 the German Army captured a number of French Schneider CD tracked vehicles. They removed the winch system and used them as tracked supply vehicles that had a towing capacity. They added a camouflage livery scheme.


Schneider CD towing an artillery gun up to the front in muddy conditions.
Schneider CD towing an artillery gun up to the front in muddy conditions. This was the task it was designed for – Source: François Vauvillier
Schneider CD on the back of a transport lorry.
Schneider CD on the back of a transport lorry – Source: François Vauvillier
Schneider CD with canopy up
There was a crewman’s position at the front of the vehicle on the left. The driver sat on the right. The bad weather canopy could be folded back – Source: François Vauvillier
Schneider CD being loaded on to an articulated lorry
Schneider CD being loaded onto an articulated lorry. Notice its two-tone camouflage – Source: François Vauvillier

WW2 German Army Schneider CD tractors

Captured Schneider CD
The soldier in this photograph appears to be wearing a German uniform. This would suggest that some Schneider CD artillery tractors were captured and used by the German Army – Source: François Vauvillier
Schneider CD being towed by a German Tractor
The prime mover tractor unit in this photograph appears to be a WW2 German ‘FAMO’ 18-ton tractor unit halftrack (Sd.Kfz.9). This would suggest that some Schneider CD artillery tractors were captured and used by the German Army. Notice that the winch at the back of the driver’s cabin and at the rear have been removed – Source: François Vauvillier

WW2 5 cm Pak für Küstenbefestigung auf Selbstfahrlafette Schneider CD(f)

During the Second World War the German army modified a captured French Schneider CD artillery tractor and fixed a 5 cm Pak für Küstenbefestigung (5cm Anti-tank gun for coastal defence) on the cargo section of the vehicle. An armoured superstructure was built around the front cabin and the sides and rear of the vehicle. The gun crew were protected from small arms fire by the gun shield at the front but they were exposed at the sides and rear as the armour was not fully enclosed. It was photographed being re-captured by the Free French Army at La Rochelle in France when the Germans Surrendered the city 8 May 1945.
5 cm Pak für Küstenbefestigung auf Selbstfahrlafette Schneider CD(f)
German Army 5 cm Pak für Küstenbefestigung auf Selbstfahrlafette Schneider CD(f) self-propelled gun displaying a white flag as the crew surrendered to Free French troops in La Rochelle in France in May-June 1944- Source: unknown
German Army crew 5 cm Pak für Küstenbefestigung auf Selbstfahrlafette Schneider CD(f) self-propelled gun displaying a white flag
German Army crew 5 cm Pak für Küstenbefestigung auf Selbstfahrlafette Schneider CD(f) self-propelled gun displaying a white flag as the crew surrendered to Free French troops in La Rochelle in France in May-June 1944- Source: unknown
Diagram of the 5 cm Pak für Küstenbefestigung auf Selbstfahrlafette Schneider CD(f) self-propelled gun
Diagram of the 5 cm Pak für Küstenbefestigung auf Selbstfahrlafette Schneider CD(f) self-propelled gun – Source: unknown

Surviving Schneider CD

Surviving Tracteur Schneider CD
The only surviving Tracteur Schneider CD is in a private collection and is rarely seen in public – Source: Yalta Productions
Tracteur Schneider CD brass makers plate
The Tracteur Schneider CD brass makers plate – Source: Yalta Productions
Tracteur Schneider CD Cabin
The Tracteur Schneider CD’s Cabin – Source: Yalta Productions
Tracteur Schneider CD brake levers and winch
The Tracteur Schneider CD driver’s brake levers and winch capstan at the rear of the vehicle – Source: Yalta Productions


François Vauvillier “Des Tracteurs à Chenilles pour l’Artillerie I – Les Caterpillars Remorqueurs Holt, Baby Holt et Schneider CD” in “Histoire de Guerre Blindés & Materiel” No. 86, Jan-Mars 2009, pp. 54-63.
François Vauvillier “Des Tracteurs à Chenilles pour l’Artillerie II – Les Caterpillars Porteurs Renault FB et Schneider CD3” in “Histoire de Guerre Blindés & Materiel” No. 87, Avril-Juin 2009, pp. 80-87.

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