Categories
WW2 French Armored Cars

Citroën P28

ww2 French Tanks France (1930-1940)
Armored Car – 1-2 Prototypes + 50 Production Vehicles

The last Kégresses

Through the 1920s, the French company Citroën experimented heavily with military vehicles that used Kégresse suspension. This suspension was initially created by engineer Adolphe Kégresse, who was French but had worked in Imperial Russia prior to and during World War One. Kégresse returned to France in 1919 and was hired by Citroën to produce vehicles using his suspension. The Kégresse suspension consisted of a soft rubber track that had a unitary belt-type structure instead of several metallic interlocked parts. It was often used in a half-tracked configuration, including for artillery tractors but also armored cars such as the Schneider P16, which was developed during the 1920s.

The Citroën P28 was originally designed as a one-man turretless tractor, intended to carry mortars and ammunition, under the ‘Type N program’ of the French infantry, formulated in October 1930. It used an original half-track configuration, with two steering wheels at the front and a suspension using Kégresse tracks at the rear, while the two other vehicles offered for the Type N specifications were both fully tracked tankettes clearly inspired by the Carden-Loyd. While three P28 tractor prototypes were produced and tested in the summer of 1931, they did not provide satisfactory results and were not accepted by the French infantry.

Photo of prototype P28 tractor 4016-W1, showing the P28’s notable headlights. Source: char-français

Cavalry interest

The rejection of the P28 as an infantry tractor did not stop development on the vehicle though. While a program initiated and conducted by the infantry, the Type N vehicles quickly attracted interest from the French cavalry, as they were very light and quite mobile. The cavalry developed the concept of Automitrailleuse légère de contact (Light Contact Armored Car). In essence, this was a very light and only minimally armored and armed vehicle that was tasked with reconnaissance missions.

While the frame in which this was accomplished is uncertain, two variants of the P28 were modified with armament by Citroën in late 1931. It is known that no new vehicles were produced. However, whether a single vehicle was transformed twice or two prototypes were modified is unknown. These modifications, done very hastily and more for demonstration purposes than to serve as a durable, definitive vehicle. These saw the replacement of the rear storage area of the infantry tractor with a fully rotatable turret, adding an additional crew member. Two different turrets were experimented with. One was cylindrical in shape, and seemingly featured a 37 mm SA 18 main gun, similar to the gun-armed Renault FT tanks and a number of other French armored vehicles of the era. This turret was manufactured by the firm Schneider. The other prototype featured a much more rectangular-shaped turret armed with a single machine-gun of unknown model. The prototypes also had some differences in their hull design, with the driver’s hatch being extended further back than on the original tractor prototypes. Being conversions of original P28 tractors, those prototypes kept some of their elements, notably an engine to the front-right of the vehicle, in front of the turret. This prototype also retained the same engine, the Citroën C4 4-cylinders 72×100 1628 cm3 engine, with an output of 30 hp.

The prototype fitted with a rectangular machine-gun armed turret and a seemingly unmodified driver’s hatch. Source: char-français
The prototype fitted with a cylindrical 37 mm SA 18-armed turret and modified upper hull design. Source: char-français

On 15th October 1931, a date which may have predated even the first P28 prototype being transformed, the French cavalry placed an order for 50 armored cars, though those featured a vastly modified design. They were delivered in 1932 and 1933.

The definitive P28

A front view of a P28 during some kind of mobility trial. The notable headlights are placed at the front of the vehicle Source: char-français
Side view of the same vehicle during trials, showing the diminutive size of the 4.5-tonne half-track armored car. Source: char-français
The same P28 preparing to go through a puddle of muddy water, with a man in the back giving a good idea of the vehicle’s limited size. Source: char-français
The same P28 going through seemingly the same puddle, showing a good view of the open vision ports on the turret. Source: char-français
The same vehicle with the turret’s top two-part hatch opened. Source: char-français

The P28 design which entered cavalry service in 1932 appears to have skipped the prototype stage entirely. The two first production vehicles were tested in July of 1932; one was given the C6 6-cylinders 72×100 2 442cm3 engine with an output of 55hp, and the other the K6 6-cylinders 80×100 3020 cm3 engine with an output of 67hp. This later engine was finally chosen as the definitive one for the production P28s, though issues in its development would lead to some technical issues in the first months of the P28’s service life; the vehicle finally entered regular service within the French cavalry in April of 1933.

In comparison to the prototypes, it featured a turret-mounted not on the rear of the vehicle, but instead in its center. This turret had a simple design and theoretically featured the new 7.5 mm MAC 31 machine-gun as its main armament. However, this appears to have been rarely mounted in practice, with the vehicle mostly being used for driver training. The turret had three hatches that could be opened for vision: one on the rear, and one on each side. A vision slot was also present on the front right of the turret. It had a two-part top hatch from which the commander entered the armored car.

The vehicle had a quite significantly revised hull design as a consequence of the addition of this new turret. The previously horizontal mudguards were now angled backward, somewhat similar to the tracks, though at a lower angle. The whole central armored superstructure had been redesigned to accommodate the turret, with a new two-part front hatch being designed to enable the driver to access the vehicle. The commander, who also fulfilled the role of gunner, entered through the turret hatch. Three smaller vision hatches were featured just under the turret, one frontally, one on the front left, and one on the front right. A frontal drum, similar in concept to those found on Schneider P16 armored cars, was fitted at the front of the vehicle, in order to improve crossing capacities. The P28 also had two notable, large front headlights; those were sometimes placed very far forward, very close to the drum, or further back, just in front of the turret.

The vehicle’s Kégresse suspension had a large front sprocket and a single bogie holding two road wheels as well as a large rear trailing wheel. The two front wheels were used for steering. In comparison to the P28 prototypes, the production model featured a more powerful engine that had been pushed from the right side to the back. It was a Citroën K 6-cylinders 3,020 cm3 petrol engine producing 67 hp The vehicle could, with its modest weight of 4,540 kg, reach a maximum speed of 53 km/h on a good road. It retained very modest dimensions, with a length of 4 meters, a width of 1.63 m, a height of 1.96 m, and a ground clearance of 23 centimeters. The transmission featured four forward and one reverse speed.

A side view of a P28, most likely an industrial photo, with the side turret hatch opened. Source: char-français
A front view of the vehicle from the same photoshoot, showing the new two-part driver’s hatch which was used to enter the vehicle; a smaller but still large vision port, also opened on this photo, was featured just under the turret. Source: char-français
A rear view of the P28 from Citroën’s collections, showing the vehicle’s vastly redesigned rear as a result of the engine being pushed there to make place for a centrally-mounted turret. Source: char-français

The vehicle’s armor had been raised to a maximum of 9 mm, however, quite shockingly for a production run of an armored vehicle, it was not manufactured using military quality steel, but instead mild steel; with a thickness of 9mm, this meant the P28 had basically no protection at all, being vulnerable to even rifle-caliber bullets. Indeed, it appears the cavalry’s P28 order was meant to be, from the start, for training purposes only while specifications for a more advanced reconnaissance armored car were being worked on (the AMR specifications being published in January of 1932).

The production P28 armored cars were delivered to French cavalry units from 1932 onward. As they served a training role, it appears they were not delivered in large batches, but instead to a variety of units in small numbers; the 1st BDP (Bataillon de Dragons Portés – Motorized Dragoon Battalion) is known to have made use of some towards 1934, for example. The vehicles appear to have been designated as AMR (Automitrailleuse de Reconnaissance – Reconnaissance Armored Car) despite their training function, with the actual role of operational AMRs being taken by the tracked AMR 33/Renault VM and AMR 35/Renault ZT.

Moderate but notable export

Despite being generally considered a mediocre vehicle, the P28 was the subject of one foreign order. In either 1933 or 1934, the Guardia Metropolitana Uruguayana, a military unit of the police of Montevideo, received three P28s which appear to have been part of the batch of fifty ordered by the French cavalry, and not built specifically for this order. Why or how the Guardia Metropolitana picked the P28 is unknown; it has been theorized the vehicles may actually have been intended to be delivered to Paraguay to reinforce its troops fighting in the Chaco war against Bolivia but may have ended up in the hands of the Uruguayan force instead of reaching their intended destination.

Photo of the three Uruguayan P28s. Source: http://www.aacvm.com.ar/foro/viewtopic.php?f=35&t=1500&start=0

In any case, the P28 vehicles were put to use by the Guardia Metropolitana, and appear to have been the first armored vehicles used by the South American nation. It appears they were painted in a very light gray color. Little is known about their service life and few photos of the vehicle in Uruguayan service remain.

A lackluster French Service

In the French Army, the P28 remained confined to its training role. Despite the breakout of hostilities with Germany in September of 1939, they were typically kept as far from the frontline as possible. While it is sometimes claimed the vehicles had been retired by 1940, photographic evidence tends to show this was not actually the case; while not frontline vehicles in any way, the P28s were kept as training armored cars for the French Cavalry. A surprisingly high number of good quality photographs of these vehicles remain, which tends to be a rarity with pre-WWII French armored vehicles. Considering their less than strategically important use, it is likely the P28 armored cars were far more easily accessible to photographs and journalists than more useful vehicles.

A P28 beside a motorcycle in a French cavalry unit; this photo is notable as it shows a vehicle fitted with the machine-gun, which is far from common. Source: char-français
A Citroën P28 in front of cavalry horses, with the commander sticking out of the turret. This photo also shows the headlights in the other place in which they were sometimes placed, further back Source: char-français
A photo of a P28 with all hatches but the main driver’s entry hatch opened and the commander sticking out of the turret, binoculars in hand. Source: char-français
French cavalrymen posing in front of a P28. Source: char-français
A French serviceman posing in front of four obviously unarmed P28. Source: char-français
Two crew members sitting in front of their P28. They are outfitted with the mle. 1935 tanker helmets, which otherwise rarely present in pictures of the P28 where the standard Adrian helmet is often worn by the crew. Source: char-français
A vehicle with the driver’s hatch opened, showing the steering wheel used to drive. Source: char-français

While not meant to see combat at all, it appears that, following the disastrous German encirclement of a large part of the French army along with the British Expeditionary Force and the Belgian army in northern France, the P28 armored cars were pulled out of their training role to be used in a last-ditch effort to defend France. Desperate times need desperate measures and these wholly inadequate vehicles, just like a variety of other armored vehicles pressed into service, such as the D1 tanks urgently shipped back from North Africa, or B1 Bis heavy tanks sent into combat without their turrets. Little to no detail is known of the P28’s actions in the closing days of the 1940 campaign, but considering the vehicle’s abysmal combat capacities, it is unlikely to have performed well. Some photos do show German servicemen posing around P28s, including some which appear to have taken some damage. It is known that some were captured intact, however, unlike the vast majority of French armored vehicles, they were not pressed into German service or even given captured denominations, being entirely disregarded by the Wehrmacht; the surviving French vehicles were most likely scrapped during the war.

An abandoned P28 beside a destroyed truck that appears to have been fitted with a quadruple Vickers AA mount, 1940. Source: char-français
A P28 in front of much more effective AMR 35 tracked reconnaissance light tanks, most likely in some sort of French cavalry depot. Source: char-français
A German soldier posing in the turret of an abandoned P28, 1940. Source: char-français
Several German servicemen pose on an abandoned P28, 1940. Source: char-français
Two German servicemen smiling at the camera from an abandoned P28, 1940. Source: char-français
A German soldier poses in front of an abandoned P28 in a field, 1940. Source: char-français
A German soldier poses inside a seemingly damaged or partially dismantled P28, with several others around it, 1940. Source: char-français

The Uruguayan survivor

While all French vehicles appear to have met an undignified end during the Second World War, this was not the case for the Uruguayan vehicles, which were untouched by the war. Between 1958 and 1963, the last surviving Uruguayan P28, now vastly unnecessary as the country had acquired far more potent vehicles, such as 40 M3A1 Stuarts, was put on static display at the Plaza de Armas del Instituto Militar CIGOR, a military school in Montevideo. At this point, it lost its light gray camouflage for a more military-looking green one. At an unknown date, the vehicle was then moved to serve once again as a static display in the quarters of the 4th Cavalry Regiment. The vehicle is now located at the Plaza de Armas de la Guardia de Granaderos en Montevideo. It was at some point painted entirely in an orange color with the exception of the suspension painted in light blue, but now appears to bear a more modest dark gray paint job with “GM”, for Guardia Metropolitana, painted in yellow on the turret’s front.

A photo of the Uruguayan P28 in the very flashy orange and blue colours it was once in. Source: Blindados Argentinos de Uruguay y de Paraguay, Ricardo Sigal Fogliani, Ayer y hoy editions.
A more recent frontal photo of the surviving Uruguayan P28, in a more historical camouflage. Source: char-français
A photo taken at the same time of the Uruguayan P28 from the side. Source: char-français

Conclusion

The Citroën P28 is one of the most often ignored armored vehicles fielded by the French military in 1940. It was an obscure half-track armored car that only offered mediocre performances and was theoretically limited to a training and perhaps propaganda role at first. However, the vehicle did end up seeing very limited combat because of the general collapse of the French military, though most vehicles appear to have fallen into German hands unharmed. They were ignored by their new owners, who appear to have promptly sent them to be scrapped.

Nonetheless, the vehicle has some interesting elements. It serves as the first armored vehicle of Uruguay, which would then go on to become a regular customer of American light tanks, acquiring M3A1s and then M24 Chaffees. The P28 is also one of the last combat vehicles using the Kégresse track system, an innovation originating from a French engineer in Imperial Russia, and which was experimented on heavily by the French in the 1920s, but somewhat fell aside, at least for armored vehicles, in the following decades, mostly because of the typical fragility of Kégresse tracks.

Illustration of an armed Citroën P28 by David Bocquelet.

Sources

Tout les blindés de l’armée Française 1914-1940, François Vauvillier, Histoire & Collections éditions,
Blindados Argentinos de Uruguay y de Paraguay, Ricardo Sigal Fogliani, Ayer y hoy editions
char-français.net (https://www.chars-francais.net/2015/index.php/7-archives/de-1930-1940/1491-1931-citron-chenillette ) (https://www.chars-francais.net/2015/index.php/engins-blindes/automitrailleuses?task=view&id=793 )
Les matériels de l’armée Française: Les automitrailleuses de reconnaissance, Tome 1, l’AMR 33 Renault, François Vauvillier, Histoire & Collections, 2005

Specifications

Dimensions 4.00 x 1.63 x 1.96 m
Weight 4,540 kg
Crew Two (Driver, Commander/gunner)
Propulsion Citroën K 6-cylinder petrol, 80 x 100 mm, 3,020 cm3, 67 hp at 3,250 rpm
Maximum speed 53 km/h
Transmission 4 forward, 1 reverse
Armament One 7.5mm MAC 31 machine-gun (often removed)
Categories
WW2 French Armored Cars

Saurer CAT and White Saurer

ww2 French Tanks France (1929-1936)
Armored Cars – At least 9 Saurer-CAT and 5 White-Saurer Built

French Morocco and the CAT

On 15th March 1912, following a Franco-German diplomatic standoff and the Treaty of Fez between the French Republic and the Kingdom of Morocco, part of Morocco became a French protectorate, effectively becoming a part of France’s large colonial empire. In the following years, French troops under Gouverneur-général Lyautey occupied Morocco but had to face rather significant local opposition.
Around 1914 or 1915, as Moroccan resistance, emboldened by the Great War, peaked, a French businessman, Jean Mazères, was hired by the French colonial administration to start doing delivery and supply work in Morocco. Mazères had established himself in Rabat shortly before the war to supply his family’s industry with wool. He owned two trucks which were originally meant to be used for his business, but were very much needed by a French army in need of means to supply its troops across the North African protectorate. Throughout the following years, Mazères received more transport missions from the French Army, which convinced him to progressively acquire more vehicles and expand his services to the French Army. By March of 1919, he had become crucial for the French Army in Morocco, to the point where he was given a monopoly on automobile transport in the Protectorate of Morocco.
Mazères finally turned his supplying service for the French Army into a company in 1922, forming the CAT (Compagnie Africaine de Transport – African Transport Company), associating himself with the truck manufacturer Saurer, which would provide the entirety of the CAT’s truck fleet in the following years. Mazères passed away in 1925, but his company remained in business, and as crucial for the French military. In June 1919, two operators of one of Mazères’ trucks were killed by Moroccan nationalists while on a supply mission for the French Army. Throughout the 1920s, attacks on the CAT’s supply convoys intensified, as Morocco underwent a particularly violent era of the Rif War, which, while mostly concentrated in Spanish Morocco, spilled over into the French protectorate too. With nine drivers killed and four others wounded during the decade, the job was particularly dangerous, and the CAT’s convoys were in dire need of military escort.

Saurer 5AD truck (registered as 1124 MA3/N°341 in the company’s fleet) of the CAT in Morocco, circa 1933

The birth of the “Saurer-CAT”

The CAT’s vehicles were, at first, escorted by the Cavalry Armored Car Squadron of Morocco and the 5th squadron of the 1st REC (Régiment Etranger de Cavalry – Foreign Cavalry Regiment). As the company’s lines continued to expand further into the Sahara and further away from the centers of French activity in Morocco, the needs for escorts rose to the point where the French Army actually gave the CAT responsibility over the escort of its truck convoys. As a consequence of this new mission, the “Saurer-CAT”, an armored car based on the CAT’s Saurer trucks, was born.

Saurer-CAT N°11 and a Renault KZ car of the French Army, ~1930. Pascal Danjou collection.
The earliest photography we have of the Saurer-CAT dates from 1929, which is the commonly assumed date of its entry in service. The vehicle itself uses a Saurer chassis, which actually appears not to have been taken from the company’s 3 AD or 5 AD truck, but to have been purposely-built. Indeed, the GBM magazine (N°119, January of 2017) reports that the vehicle had a 3.70 m wheelbase, which does not match with any known Saurer truck of the era – these had a wheelbase of at least 4 meters. That chassis was fitted with an armored body of unknown thickness, with mostly un-angled, riveted armored plates. On top of that hull, the vehicle was fitted with an octagonal turret that was armed with an 8 mm Hotchkiss mle 1914 machine-gun. It was seemingly powered by a Saurer four-cylinders 6842 cm3 55 hp engine, as found on Saurer 3 AD and 5 AD trucks.

Postcard showing the Saurer-CAT n°3. Pascal Danjou collection
The Saurer-CAT armored car had a rather odd legal status as well as crew composition. While the vehicles themselves were the property of the CAT, the machine-gun was the property of the state. The vehicle’s driver was an employee of the company, but the rest of the crew was composed of French Army soldiers: a commanding non-commissioned officer, a machine-gunner and a spotter. Each vehicle was given a number that was painted on either the turret, the hull, or both. As of today, photos of numbers 3 to 12 have been found, suggesting the existence of at least nine vehicles. There are no known photos of number 1 and 2, and whether or not they were operational vehicles remains unanswered.

Saurer-CATs 3 and 12, with two White-Saurers in the background, Southern French Morocco, 1933. Pascal Danjou collection

Design

While not based on a pre-existing Saurer chassis, the Saurer-CAT very much looked like a truck having been given an armored body, of which the exact thickness was unknown, though it could not withstand more than an 8 mm bullet. The 55 hp Saurer engine and its radiator, typical of 1920s trucks, was visible at the front. Two headlights were present on the vehicle’s front, attached to its lower body.

Saurer-CAT N°9 at a halt with the armor protecting the read wheel not mounted. Pascal Danjou collection
Further back, in the driver’s post, there were two large vision hatches which the driver could open or close depending on whether or not the vehicle was in combat. While most photos show them opened, at least one exists in which these are closed, the vision of the driver being limited to small vision slots on the vehicle’s sides in such a situation.

Saurer-CAT n°12, notable for having a circular base for its turret which the other vehicles do not feature, at a halt with the front hatches open, ~1930, Pascal Danjou collection
The small octagonal turret was located in the center of the hull and, despite its seemingly makeshift construction, some of the vehicles did feature a mantlet that surrounded the Hotchkiss 8 mm mle 1914 machine gun, while a number of others simply had the machine gun go through a hole in the turret. The vehicle’s hull featured two side doors around the driver’s position, towards the front of the Saurer-CAT. These did not cover the entirety of the vehicle’s height, only the lower half of the hull. The gunner took position in the turret, and the commander may have sat next to the driver. The spotter took place in the rear, where another hatch could be opened, allowing him to check to the vehicle’s rear. The two rear wheels featured quite large arches, on which a toolbox was mounted. The tires and wheels used appear to have been the same as in the standard truck of the CAT, the Saurer 5AD. At least one photo shows a vehicle with a spare wheel attached to the side of the hull.

Renault KZs of the French military escorted by two Saurer-Cat in the Middle Atlas. The vehicle leading the convoy, N°5, features a spare wheel on the rear side of the hull. Alain Alvarez collection

CAT armored car
The Saurer-CAT armored car with number 7, in service in North Africa. Illustration by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon campaign.

The White-Saurer: recycling the French Army’s armored car bodies

From 1932 onward, a new model of armored car appeared in the CAT’s inventory, the “White-Saurer”. These vehicles were made using the armored body of White armored cars, which, by the early 1930s were beginning to be very worn out, and, if not upgraded to the White-Laffly 50AM or 80AM standard, were often retired. These armored car bodies were fitted on the chassis of the 5AD Saurer truck, as demonstrated by the similar wheelbase of 4.50 m. The original White armored cars were fitted with a turret that mounted a 37 mm SA 18 gun at the front, and a Hotchkiss mle 1914 8 mm machine gun at the rear. On the CAT vehicles, the 37 mm gun was traded for a second Hotchkiss. Five of these “White-Saurer” conversions were made for the CAT in 1932. They operated similarly to the “Saurer-CAT”, with a civilian driver and a three-man military crew. They were also numbered using the same systems, taking numbers 13 to 17.

Two White-Saurer, N°13 and 16, and Saurer-CAT N°3, Southern Morocco, 1934. Pascal Danjou collection

Saurer-CAT and White-Saurer n°13. This vehicle does not feature the armor that usually protects the rear wheel. Jean-Pierre Decourtil collection

The CAT’s armored car in operation, and their final fate


Saurer-CAT n°7 and two Saurer 5AD trucks during a halt. CBED collection, via Pascal Danjou
The CAT’s armored cars ended up being successful in their intended mission of protecting the CAT’s transport and supply vehicles and crews from attacks. There were no casualties reported in the company’s personnel after the first vehicle entered service in 1929. The two models of armored cars were the property of the CAT and protected its routes until 1934. In February of that year, France officially announced the successful end of its pacification operations in Morocco. Some vehicles at least appear to have then been given to the French army, with at least a “Saurer group” being reported in the 5th squadron of the 1st REC in 1934-1935, and the last known photos of the vehicles in 1935 only showing them with military personnel.

White-Saurer N°16 surrounded by military personnel, 1935. As no civilian personnel or vehicles can be seen, this photo is presumed to be one from the vehicle’s services in the French Army after the end of the pacification of Morocco. Pierre-F Aujas collection.

A Saurer-CAT (in the background), and two unknown vehicles that were supposedly used by the CAT alongside the White-Saurer and Saurer-CATs: In the middle, a vehicle of unknown chassis using the armored body of a WW1-era AMAC Renault-GPAR mle 1914 armored car; in the foreground, a vehicle that uses the armored body of a White armored car, but with a much bigger engine and rear than on the known White-Saurer. The photo being from 1930, it may be a prototype or early model of the White-Saurer. Pascal Danjou collection

Sources

-GBM n°119 (January of 2017): “Les voitures blindées de la CAT” pp. 33-38
-Tout les blindés de l’Armée Française 1914-1940 (François Vauvillier, Histoire & Collections editions) p. 97
-https://mfd.agadir.free.fr/agadirfrontdemer/CAT/CAT.html (Only regarding the CAT itself, not the armored vehicles)