Categories
WW2 French Light Tanks

Renault R35/40

France (1936-40) Light tank – around 1690 built

The successor of the famous FT

Until 1935, the little vintage Renault FT was the staple of the French tank force. On the mainland, it had been upgraded as the rearmed FT31 but, throughout the colonies, it was left unchanged since 1918. It was clear by 1932 that the new tested Renault tanks, like the NC27, were not sufficient for the task demanded from them. They were too heavy, complex, costly and, therefore, not suited for mass-production. The original requirements dated back from 1926 and asked for a “char d’accompagnement” (support tank) that could replace the FT and still operate in the same manner. However, with the increase in AT gun caliber and velocity, the emphasis was put on protection. In early 1933, Hotchkiss proposed a solution, with an affordable small tank which turned the table. But instead of purchasing some directly, for political reasons and due to the contract size, other contractors were asked in August 1933 to present their own model. Fourteen responded, ranging from automotive companies to small armories.

Development history

Renault, badly wanting this contract, rushed a prototype which was ready when a new specification was emitted on June, 21, 1934. It asked for an increase of armor, from 30 to 40 mm (1.18-1.57 in). Renault could not revise the design on time and was the first to present its ZM prototype to the Commission de Vincennes, on 20 December 1934. The model performed well, but was sent back to the factory for add-on armor and mounting the new APX (Atelier de Rueil) cast turret in April 1935. Tests were then resumed when, due to the growing tensions caused by the swift and massive German rearmament, the commission awarded the new tank a contract for 300 machines as the R35, on 29 April 1935. This was before the model could be perfected by Renault for pre-production. By 4 June 1936, the first delivered were promptly tested and modifications performed during production. The hollow hull price was 190,000 FF, and with engine, mechanical parts and the turret, rose to 1,400,000 FF, including all the modifications done (the equivalent of 32.000$ at the time). Contrary to the Hotchkiss H35, it was also produced for export.

Design

The R35 bears a strong resemblance to its rival, the Hotchkiss H35. They shared the same APX turret, the three-module hull construction and placement for the driver and engine. However, their dimensions differed, as well as the placement of the hull casemate, placed further to the rear for the Renault and, most obviously, the drivetrain.
The hull, as stated above, was made of three main prefabricated cast sections bolted together, while on the H35 these were welded. This helped improve production times. Everything else was welded-on. Maximum thickness on the glacis was 43 mm (1.69 in), and 40 to 30 (1.57-1.18 in) on the hull lower sides, rear and engine deck. The turret itself was made of hard cast iron, 30 mm (1.18 in) thick.
The running gear was based on the one used on the cavalry light tank AMR 35, with five double roadwheels encased in two sets of bogies and another single one at the front. All three were suspended by massive horizontal coil springs, with characteristic rubber ringlets. The drive sprocket was at the front and idler at the rear. The tracks reposed on three rubberized return rollers.
Repartition in the hull was for a crew of two. The driver position was offset to the left and the commander/gunner was in the turret behind. The final drive and differentials were in the hull nose. The driver had a Cletrac differential with five gears and steering brakes at his disposal. He had two hatches and one periscope for vision. The Renault V-4 85 hp engine was at the right rear, with a self-sealing 166 liter gasoline tank on its left. On final production tests, practical top speed was measured as 20 km/h (12.4 mph), which could fall to 14 km/h (8.7 mph) on soft or bumpy terrain. Fuel consumption was 212 liters/100 km off-road, but that was not a problem since it was believed 50 km (31 mi) was more than sufficient for a real breakthrough on a static front.
The turret received a dome-like rotatable cupola with vertical vision slits. It was free running on a ball track ring, either traversed by the weight of the commander or cranked more precisely for aiming. The commander normally stood on the tank floor. As customary in French practice, the turret had a rear hatch that could be hinged down, allowing the commander to sit on it, legs inside, for external observation. The early turret model was the APX-R, equipped with a L713 sight, mounting the short barrel 37 mm (1.46 in) Puteaux L/21 SA-18 and a coaxial 7.5 mm (0.29 in) Châtellerault fortress machine-gun. This main gun was effective only against concrete fortifications at relatively short range, as muzzle velocity was only 300 m/s (984 ft/s). At best only 12 mm (0.47 in) of armor could be defeated at less than 500 m (1640 ft). Once again, it was due to tactical limitations. It was never intended to deal with other tanks. Normal provision of ammo was 72 AP and 58 HE rounds plus 2400 cartridges.

Production

The total ordered, due to the degrading international situation, rose to 2300 units in 1939. But due to the frequent delays experienced by APX for the turrets, by 1936 Renault had succeed to deliver 380 hulls, while only 37 turrets were available, so the annual delivery rate fell to just 200. On 1 September 1939, only 975 vehicles had been delivered to the army out of 1070 produced total. They just then replaced most units still equipped with the Renault FT, but crews needed a few weeks to retrain. In consequence, in May 1940, there were still eight battalions of FTs operational due to the lack of trained conscripts. In June 1940, at last, 1601 R35 had been built by Renault, most for the Army. 245 had been exported to Poland (50), Turkey (100), Romania (41) and Yugoslavia (54). Another number presented is 1685 vehicles, indicated by the hull numbering. Production ceased after the capitulation.

The Renault R40

Due to insufficient tests before production, it appeared quite quickly to the units that the R35 suspension was notably unreliable and experienced many failures. So work started in 1939 at AMX (the new name of the Renault tank department after 2 December 1936) to devise a better system, which could be fitted on the production run. This new system counted twelve wheels in six pairs suspended by large vertical coil springs. These were protected by armored side skirts. The engine was upgraded and more powerful, while the hull was lengthened at the rear, and the turret was of the new APX-R1 cast model with a L767 sight, mounting a long barrel 37 mm (1.46 in) L/35 SA38. Last but not least, a radio was systematically fitted. The new gun was capable of defeating 40 mm (1.57 in) of armor at 500 m (1640 ft). For the ordnance it was the Char léger modèle 1935 R modifié 1939 and began to replace the R35 after the 1540th unit. Unfortunately, only few were delivered in time. The reconstituted Polish 10th Armored Cavalry Brigade in France was the first unit to be equipped with the new tank. At the same time, since 1939, some R35s were re-equipped with the new APX-R turret and long-barrel 1939. These were known as the R35 modifié 39, but only a few were converted, given to unit commanders. AMX also produced quantities of steering tails prior to the war to improve their trench crossing capabilities. These were not always fitted.

The R35 in action

France

At the time of the German attack on France, the French army had 900 R35s in service, then the most numerous model available. According to the French military doctrine, it was to be used only for direct infantry support. However, its gun proved to be able to defeat Panzer I and IIs, while the frontal armor could withstand even a direct hit from the standard 37 mm (1.46 in). The R35 equipped the Ist, IInd, IIIrd, IVth, Vth, VIIth, VIIIth, IXth “Armées”, plus the “Armée des Alpes” facing the Italian border, into Groupements de Bataillons de Chars. These were strictly tank units without other organic component, and only committed to infantry support in close coordination with infantry units. However, on 15 May, when it was clear that the doctrine was failing, 135 R35s from the 2, 24 and 44 BCC were allocated to a newly formed 4th DCR (Division Cuirassée de Réserve) while two others (40 & 48 BCC) reinforced the 2nd DCR. Later, 300 tanks from the materiel reserve were also reserved these new units. Many R35s were also found on the Colonies. The 63 and 68 BCC were in Syria (95 tanks) and the 62 BCC in Morocco with 30 tanks. The irony was the first faced Australian troops during Allied invasion of that mandate territory in 1941, while the others faced American troops in November 1942 (operation Torch). Later on, the Free French 1st CCC constituted a unit with available R35s for operations in this sector.

Poland

In 1938, the Polish Army bought two R35s for tests with the Office of Armored Forces Technical Research. The tank did not meet the requirements, neither did the Hotchkiss H35. The Polish Army wanted to buy the SOMUA S35, but the French government did not give its consent. In April 1939, due to the impending conflict with Germany and the lack of opportunities to increase production of the 7TP, 100 R-35s were ordered. The first batch of 50 (including three H35s) was delivered in July 1939, and were given to the 12th Armored Battalion in Lutsk. In September, this unit partly formed the 21st Light Tank Battalion, entrusted with the defense of the border with Romania. Others were incorporated into the composition of the group “Dubno”, which took part in the battles against the Germans at Strumiłową and the Soviets at Krasne. 34 tanks of the 21st Light Tank Battalion crossed the border of Romania on September 18, and were interned. After the Polish capitulation, however, a cavalry unit was raised in France, which fought in May 1940.

Yugoslavia

The Kingdom of Yugoslavia ordered and obtained 45 R35s in April 1940.

With the Axis

Nazi Germany

The German army snapped no less that 843 R35s, according to the Waffenamt, in the aftermath of the French surrender. 131 of these used directly as Panzerkampfwagen 35R 731 (f) for security, mainly in France, close to their spare part base, but also in the Balkans and possibly in the conquered territories of Russia for anti-partisan operations. Others served as driver training vehicle, turretless, while their turrets found an application on various armored trains, yet again, against the French resistance or partisans throughout Europe. Other turrets were used as pillboxes in various strategic positions in France and the Netherlands. Fourteen of these driver training vehicle, still with their turrets, saw action at Sainte Mère l’Eglise with the 1057th Grenadier Regiment on 6, June, 1944.
There was also a considerable number (174 according to most sources) converted into an early tank-hunter, the 4,7 cm PaK(t) auf Panzerkampfwagen 35R(f) ohne Turm, a variant similar to the Panzerjäger I equipped with the Czech Skoda A6 PUV vz.37 47 mm (1.85 in) gun. These conversions were not successful, however as they were too high and slow. Although some saw service in the summer of 1941 (Operation Barbarossa), most were posted in the Channel islands, Netherlands, with Pz.Jg.Abt.657, which fought at Arnhem, and the remainder saw action in Normandy, France in 1944 (Schnelle Brigade 30 and Schnelle Abt.517).

Italy

One hundred and twenty four R35s were given by the Germans to their Italian ally, mostly to compensate for their losses in Africa. These saw action in 1943 at Gela, Sicily, notably against the US Rangers in the early hours of the Allied invasion (Operation Husky).

Romania

Romania’s rearmament plan was in full sweep in the early 1930’s when the last Renault tank was tested. The Romanian government sought about acquiring a licence to produce 200 R35s locally. However, since French rearmament was given priority, as a stopgap measure, forty-five R35s were sold and shipped in Romania in August and September 1939, making up the bulk of the newly formed 2nd Armored Regiment. At the end of September, an unexpected thirty-four Polish R35s from the 21st Light Tank Battalion, which fled the Germans, crossed the northern border. These were interned and bolstered the strength of the 2nd Armored Regiment, then made of two brigades. Although these were used as is by the Romanian army -now part of the Axis- thirty-six were converted by Atelierele Loenida in 1943-44 with a high-velocity Soviet 45 mm (1.77 in) gun and saw action as the Vânătorul de Care R35.

Other countries

Hungary used some R35s, as they interned ex-Polish tanks which were posted on the southern border during the invasion, and crossed it to avoid capture. Bulgaria received some R35s from the Germans and used them in 1943-1944 against partisans. Switzerland too interned a dozen R35s that crossed the French border in June 1940. After the war, ex-French R35s left in Syria were reconditioned and used by the Syrian forces against the Israelis in the 1948 conflict. Five saw action against the kibbutz Degania Alef, but were knocked off by Molotov cocktails and a single 20 mm (0.79 in) AT gun. One is now part today of the Yad-La-Shiron museum collection.
Trackstory n°4, the Renault R35/40
GBM, Histoire & Collection, about WW2 French tanks
Wikipedia about the R35
The R35 on Chars-Français.net

Renault R35 specifications

Dimensions 4.02 x 1.87 x 2.13 m (13.2 x 6.2 x 7 ft)
Total weight, battle ready 10.6 metric tons
Crew 2 (commander/gunner, driver)
Propulsion Renault V-4 gasoline 48 hp, p/w ratio 8.0 hp/t
Speed 20 km/h (12 mph)
Suspension Horizontal rubber cylinder springs
Maximum range 130 km (80 mi)
Armament Main: 37 mm (1.46 in) L/21 SA18
Secondary: Châtellerault or Reibel MAC31 7.5 mm (0.29 in) machine-gun
Maximum armor 43 mm (1.69 in)
Total production (R35) 1540

Allied forces

R-35
Early R35 with a complicated six-tone camouflage. This particular livery was unveiled by P.Danjou for Minitracks.
R-35 Jaguar
R35 “Jaguar” from an unknown unit, May 1940.
R-35
R35 from the 20th BCC, France, May 1940.
R-35
R35 from the 23rd BCC in June 1940.
R-35
“Le Buffle” from the 12th BCC, France, June 1940.
R-35
R35, 1st Compagnie Autonome de Chars de Combat, Vichy France, 1941.
R-35
R35 modifié 39, 10th BCC Tank Brigade, France, May 1940.
R-40
Renault R40, Loire sector, France, June 1940.
Polish R-35
Polish R35, September 1939.

Axis Forces

Panzerkampfwagen 731 R(f)
Panzerkampfwagen 731 R(f), France, fall 1940.
Italian R-35
Italian R35, Ariete Division, Sicily, March 1943.
Bulgarian R35
Bulgarian R35.

Romanian R-35

Axis Variants

PanzerJager 35R
The 4.7cm(t) Panzerjäger auf 35R(f), or Panzerjäger 35R, was a conversion of the French Renault 35 chassis with a Czech 47 mm AT gun. Already obsolescent Panzer I chassis were similarly converted into the Panzerjäger I in late 1940 and early 1941. It had a straightforward arrangement, with a three-sided open casemate built around the gun, above the base superstructure. Behind it a large ammo storage bin was built over the engine deck. Although slow and high, 174 of these 1941 little tank hunters had been converted for Operation Barbarossa in the summer of 1941. They were later withdrawn and served with units guarding occupied territories, in France and Holland. Many saw action again in Normandy, but by that time their killing power was not highly valued.
Panzer R35 command vehicle
Panzer 35R(f) open topped command vehicle armed only with a 7.92 mm Machine gun followed by a Panzerjäger 35R(f)

Postwar

To come : Syrian R35, 1956.

Gallery

Latrun Museum - Wikimedia commons
Latrun museum – Credits: Wikimedia Commons.
French Renault R35 WW2 Light Infantry Tank
This French Renault R35 WW2 Light Infantry Tank has been upgunned by the Lebanon Army with a British 40 mm Ordnance QF 2-pounder gun after 1945. It is currently being restored by France 40 Vehicules Association, it will keep its Lebanese modification. (photo – Pierre-Oliver Buan)
Latrun Museum - Wikimedia commonsbulgarian R-35 - Wikimedia commonsAn R-35 at Saumur museum - Wikimedia commonsR35 at Saumur Museum - Wikimedia commonsR35 at Aberdeen Museum - Wikimedia commonsPanzerjäger I based on the R-35 - Wikimedia commonsR-35 in yugoslavia, 1942 - Wikimedia commons/Bundesarchiv

Categories
WW2 French Light Tanks

Hotchkiss H35/39

France (1935-40) Light tank – around 1200 built

A new breed of light infantry tanks

Renault and Schneider had been long time providers in the French tank industry. Hotchkiss (Société Anonyme des Anciens Etablissements Hotchkiss et Cie), founded in 1875 near St Denis (Paris) by Benjamin B. Hotchkiss, an American engineer, was a newcomer in this field, although already well known by the army for its world-famous machine-guns, cars and transmissions (like the Hotchkiss drive).
At first, the Hotchkiss H35 was a private design answering a 1926 specification for a light, cheap infantry tank, or Char d’accompagnement. A proposal was ready by June 1933 showing some innovations, like entirely cast steel hull sections. It was also theoretically cheaper and lighter than the former Renault D2 and was initially retained by the army’s Conseil Consultatif de l’Armement. The final specification issued on the 2nd of August 1933 asked for a 6-ton tank, uniformly protected by 30 mm (1.18 in) of armor.
French Army Hotchkiss H35 light Tank 4e RC No.29 chassis number 40005
French Army Hotchkiss H35 light Tank 4e RC No.29 chassis number 40005
Hotchkiss was not the only bidder in this field. Renault quickly entered the fray, being the first to deliver its prototype, which would be accepted as the R35. However, the first prototype Hotchkiss showed to col. Keller of the Commission of Vincennes, was a machine-gun armed tankette, tested until March 1935, and followed by another identical vehicle, in May.
Both were rejected because the initial specification was changed in the meantime, now asking for 40 mm (1.57 in) armor. In August 1935, a third and last prototype was delivered, with a brand new cast hull and APX-R (Puteaux) cast turret armed with a 37 mm (1.46 in) short barrel gun. The proposition was accepted in November as the Hotchkiss H35 and followed by an order of 200 machines.
Production started mid-1936 and by September the first series H35s were delivered and heavily tested. However, it appeared that their cross-country capabilities had been overestimated. They had bad balance and quite bumpy ride, which was potentially dangerous in formation, particularly when firing on the move. The power-to-weight ratio performance was also insufficient. Therefore, the Army turned them down. But as the initial order could not be cancelled from fear of a political upheaval, the Cavalry, already interested because of the slow deliveries of the costly SOMUA S35, accepted to take them instead.
Hotchkiss H35 Light Tank No.10 chassis number 40302
Hotchkiss H35 Light Tank No.10 chassis number 40302

Design of the Hotchkiss H35

The initial H35 was a small and narrow machine, in order to fulfill the bid and keep the weight in check, while having one of the thickest armor of any light tank of 1935. The H35 was very similar to the Renault R35, its main competitor.
They shared the same APX-R (Puteaux foundry) single-piece cast turret characterized by sloped sides, rounded bottom and a spherical vision cupola. The cupola comprised a PPL RX 180 P optical visor and targeting sight. Just behind the mantlet there were three Chrétien binocular slide projectors (later horizontal PPL vision slits). The turret, which weighed 1350 kg with full equipment, housed a low-velocity SA 18 gun M37 (87 kg), with a coaxial 7.5 mm (0.295 in) Reibel machine-gun M31, protected by a small additional mantlet.
The main gun received 102 rounds, and the machine-gun 2400 rounds. The SA 18 had a +20 -13° elevation. The hull was rather small, completely built of cast parts welded together, only 4.22 m (13.78 ft) long and narrow, at just 1.95 m (6.4). The total weight, in battle order, was a mere 9.6 tons. The tracks were small too, each link was only 27 cm (10.63 in) wide. The smaller links procured a smoother ride. The commander had a small seat and strap, but was standing for observation and operating his weapons.
The suspension was made of six pincer bogies, each holding two rubberized roadwheels, sprung by helicoidal horizontal springs. There was a front drive sprocket, a rear idler wheel and two return rollers on each side. The driver/mechanic sat on the right side, seeing through a periscope mounted on a hinged flap, supplemented by two oblique vision slits on the sides. A door section of the hood opened forward to allow the driver access.
Rear view of a French Army Hotchkiss H35 tank in a field of wheat
Rear view of a French Army Hotchkiss H35 tank in a field of wheat
The commander/gunner accessed the turret through a rear door, and there was an extra emergency manhole at the hull bottom, just behind the driver. Equipment and tools were situated around the hull, comprising a camouflaged tarp fastened by straps to the back, a shovel, hatchet and cutter, on the left fender, a pickaxe bracket at the left of the hull, a mass, jack and crank on the right fender, a track cleaner on the rear cover, a 10-ton cable at the rear and two towing steel chains attached to the hull rear panel.
The engine hood was plunging forward, protecting a gasoline, air-cooled, Hotchkiss 3.4 liters, 6 cylinder, developing 75 hp@2400 rpm, for a 8.8 hp/ton ratio. The gearbox was synchromesh, 5 speed forward and one reverse. Normal consumption was 130 liters/100 km. The normal speed on road and flat terrain was 28 km/h, ground pressure was 0.9 kg/cm2. The H35 was found capable of climbing a 35° slope, a 70 cm high obstacle and ford a 0.85 m deep river. However, trench crossing was limited to 1.80 m.

The H35 in service

The initial order was followed by the first delivery in September 1936. Production was interrupted after 400 had been built, in late 1937. Hotchkiss was summoned to revise the design, which will become the H39. The Hotchkiss H35 initially equipped several cavalry units, the 1st DLM (Division Légère Mécanique), 18th Dragons, 4th Cuirassiers, the 2nd DLM and 3rd DLM; the first light cavalry division (1er Régiment d’Auto-Mitrailleuses & Escadron de Reconnaissance Divisionnaire), 2nd and 3rd D.C.L. Later on, as the R35 deliveries were not sufficient, part of the production of the H35 was diverted to the infantry.
It was given to the 13th and 38th BCC (Bataillons de Chars de Combat) of CMC 515, the 33th B.C.C., 22nd and 24th B.C.C. from C.M.C. 510 based at Nancy and Lunéville, as well as the 342nd and 351st CAC (Compagnie Autonome de Chars – Autonomous Tank Companies) from the 1st “Division Cuirassée” (D.C.R.) of general Bruneau. All took part in the operations of May-June 1940, but performed poorly because of their limited speed, endurance and low-velocity main gun. However, the German infantry, largely equipped with the PaK 36 37 mm (1.46 in) gun, was baffled to see how their rounds simply bounced off the thick armor of these light tanks.
Original WW2 color photograph of a Hotchkiss H9 tank
Original WW2 color photograph of a Hotchkiss H39 tank

The Hotchkiss H39

The H39 was an overhaul of the previous model, with a new Hotchkiss 6-cyl. 5.97 liters engine giving 120 hp at 2800 rpm. With a power-to-weight ratio of 10 hp/ton (the weight rose to 12.1 tons), top speed was now 36.5 km/h (22.6 mph) on road and range increased to 150 km (93 km) thanks to a new gasoline 207 liter tank. The new engine imposed a redesigned hood, the rear being raised and now nearly horizontal.
Apart from these details, the H39 was very similar to the previous H35, with the same SA 18 short barrel gun. But it was also subjected to some criticism and, by the end of 1938, proposals were made to adopt the new SA 38, long barreled 37 mm (1.46 in) gun, which had far superior penetration power and muzzle velocity. The turret was now equipped only with the new PPL horizontal vision slits.
Le Mistral No.11 of 1er RC Hotchkiss H39 tank chassis Number 40754
Le Mistral No.11 of 1er RC Hotchkiss H39 tank chassis Number 40754
The SA 38 was supplied with longer rounds, and thus only 90 could be carried (instead of 100 with the SA 18). The gun was in relatively short supply, and despite the priority given to production of this new weapon, many H39s were put in service with the older gun model. 700 H39s were built in total, starting in October 1938, the last being delivered in feverish conditions, thrown in combat right at the factory door in May 1940 without exhaust or mudguards.
In early 1939, Hotchkiss’ delivery rate was around 60 units each month. Final records are confusing, and based on the chassis numbers and factory monthly deliveries by 1940, the usual figure is 1200 machines in total, for both subtypes.

The Hotchkiss H35/39 in action

The Hotchkiss H39 was also given to cavalry units. The 3rd D.L.M. (Division Légère Motorisée), 4th and 5th DCL, and Army units like the 25th and 26th DCC of Maubeuge, the 2nd DCR and the 3rd DCR. Another unit, the 342nd CACC, had a rich history starting with the expeditionary force in Norway.
Fifteen H39s were shipped to Narvik on the 7th of May. Only 12 were withdrawn in June and finally disembarked in Great Britain, where they would form an embryo of the armored forces of the FFL (Forces Françaises Libres), the Free French led by De Gaulle, as the 1e Compagnie de Chars de Combat de la France Libre. They will see action during the battle of Gabon and in Syria, some being opposed to other loyalist Vichy-manned Hotchkiss H35/39.
Operational formations were unfortunately mismatched. The slow H35s operated with the fast SOMUA S35, and the H39 with the B1 bis. During the May-June campaign, the H35 and H39 found themselves committed in spread out formations and rarely had a clear superiority over the enemy.
Their 37 mm (1.46 in) “long” model 38 gun was, added to their thick armor, a clear advantage in tank-to-tank engagements against German light tanks. They were matched only by the Czech-built Pz.Kpfw.38(t). However, tactically, the lack of radio and communication with HQ, as well as the overburdened tank commander led to disastrous results.
Hotchkiss H39 tanks livery was normally drab compared with the pre WW2 H35 tanks.
Hotchkiss H39 tanks livery was normally drab compared with the pre WW2 H35 tanks.
Many were abandoned due to the lack of gasoline, entire units being later captured in this way. Some participated in a few improvised counter-offensives directed against the German “Ghost Division”, without air support, which had dire consequences. After the capitulation, the Vichy regime was allowed to send some reserve units in its colonial areas, North Africa (27 of the 1st Régiment de Chasseurs d’Afrique, which fought against Allied M3 Stuarts during operation Torch, destroying three of these), and also in Syria.
Many H35/39s saw action under foreign colors. Three H35s were sent in July 1939 (as well as three R35s) to the Polish Bureau of Technical Studies of Armored Weapons for trials. In September, integrated in an ad hoc unit commanded by Lieutenant J. Jakubowicz, they fought hopelessly with the Dubrno task force. Two were also sold to Turkey by February 1940. Many more saw service with the Axis.
Hotchkiss H39 Tank being used for Policing duties in occupied Yugoslavia
Hotchkiss H39 Tank being used for Policing duties in occupied Yugoslavia.

The H35 and H39 in German service

After the capitulation, the Germans seized an impressive lot of French R35/40s and H35/39s in generally good condition. Around 550 H35 and modifié 39 models were taken over by the Waffenamt, and many modified, their original cupola being replaced by a two-hatch model. They were distributed among several independent companies, as the Panzerkampfwagen 35H 734(f) and Pz.Kpfw. 38H 735(f).
Most were kept unchanged, painted in the regular Dunkelgrau livery for police and occupation duties in France. Many others saw service abroad, like the 211e Panzerabteilung in Finland for the upcoming Operation Barbarossa. By 1942, they were joined by three mixed units, Panzerkampfwagenzüge 217, 218 and 219, makeshift tank platoons comprising one SOMUA S35 and four H39 each. They were disbanded later. Three units, also comprising many H35/39s, were sent in Yugoslavia, like the 7.SS-Freiwilligen-Gebirgs-Division “Prinz Eugen”. They became a familiar sight for the Partisans, and the most current tank used by Chetnik crews.
Notice the French roundel on the rear of the turret of this Captured Hotchkiss H39 tank
Notice the French roundel on the rear of the turret of this Captured Hotchkiss H39 tank
Many of these were also sent to the Axis satellite allies, 19 to the Bulgarians, 15 to Hungary and a handful to Croatia. Those which were found in Normandy in June 1944 faced largely superior US tanks. Such units were the Panzer Abteilung 206, Panzer–Ersatz und Ausb. Abt. 100 and Beute-Sturmgeschütz-Abteilung. By December 1944, only 60 Hotchkiss H39s were still active. Surviving H35/39 also served as a basis for many conversions:
Artillerieschlepper 38H(f): Ammunition carriers, supply tanks and artillery tractors, without turrets.
Panzerkampfwagen 35H(f) mit 28/32 cm Wurfrahmen: Ad hoc conversions as rocket launcher mobile platforms, featuring two large frameworks with two heavy rockets each.
7,5 cm PaK40(Sf) auf Geschützwagen 39H(f): 24 units were converted as Marder I tank destroyers in 1942.
10,5 cm leFH18(Sf) auf Geschützwagen 39H(f): 48 units converted to a self-propelled artillery version. Very similar to the tank destroyer version, sharing the same high armored casemate.
Panzerbeobachtungswagen 38H (f): A 1943 special conversion as an artillery observation vehicle.

Legacy

The last appearance of a Hotchkiss tank on a battlefield occurred when ten H39s were sold to the Israeli clandestinely and shipped from Marseille to Haifa in 1948. They took part in the 1948 War of Independence with more modern guns, and perhaps the Sinaï campaign in 1956 (as it is claimed by some sources). One is still standing at the Yad la-Shiryon Museum (Latrun).
Two are still in existence in Norway, one in Serbia, another in Bulgaria, three in France (notably at Mourmelon-le-Grand ), including one in full running condition at Saumur, one in Britain at the Kevin Wheatcroft Collection and one in Russia, at the Kubinka Museum, captured from the 211th Panzerabteilung in the summer of 1944.

Hotchkiss H39 specifications

Dimensions (l-w-h) 4.22 x 1.95 x 2.15 m (13.1 x 10.6 x 5.7 ft)
Total weight, battle ready 12.1 short tons
Crew 2 (driver commander/gunner)
Propulsion Hotchkiss 8-cyl inline 6l, 120 bhp
Speed (road/off road) 36.5 km/h (22.6 mph)
Range – fuel 130 km (80 mi) – 180l
Armament 37 mm (1.46 in) Puteaux SA 38
Reibel 7.5 mm (0.295 in) machine-gun
Armor 25-40 mm (0.98-1.57 in)
Suspension Horizontal helical springs
Total production 1200

Sources

Editions du barbotin, trackstory N°6 – Hotchkiss H35, a complete monography (fr/en)
GBM, Histoire & Collection, about WW2 French tanks
Hotchkiss H35 on Wikipedia
Hotchkiss H39 on Tank-Hunter.com
On Chars-Francais.net (many photos)


Hotchkiss H35, 4th Cuirassiers of the 1st DLM, “Joan of Arc” regiment, Belgium, May 1940.
H35 18th dragoons, 1st DLM
Hotchkiss H35, 18th Dragoons, 1st DLM (Division Légère Motorisée), Montcornet, May 1940.
Hotchkiss H35 mod 38
Hotchkiss H35 modifié 38, upgunned with the SA 38 long 37 mm (1.46 in).
Mod 38 command
Hotchkiss H35 mod 38 command tank version, with a steering tail, 29th Dragoons, 2nd DLM, France, May 1940.
H39 early type
Hotchkiss H39, early type (SA-18 gun version), 4th DLC, 4th RAM, third squadron, third platoon.
H39 infantry type SA38
Hotchkiss H39, mid-production, (SA-38 gun version), 1st DCR, 26th BCC, Northern France, May 1940. Infantry versions were generally camouflaged in a simpler two-tone pattern of brown patches on factory olive green. This example was fitted with a turret radio.
H39 late production, 25th BCC
Hotchkiss H39, 1st DCR (Division Cuirassée), 25th BCC. This unit was attached to the 26th BCC and photos show mixed types with both SA 18 and 38 guns. Some, from the late production batches (April-May 1940) were not camouflaged, like this one.

Axis


Panzerkampfwagen 35H 734(f) in France, 1942.

Panzerkampfwagen 38H 734(f), France, 1944. These tanks were mostly used for anti-partisan warfare.
Bulgarian H38
Bulgarian Panzerkampfwagen-38H 734(f), 1943.
Panzerkampfwagen 35H(f) mit28/32cm Wurfrahmen
Panzerkampfwagen 35H(f) mitb28/32cm Wurfrahmen, Normandy, summer 1944.
Panzerbeobachtungswagen 38H(f)
Panzerbeobachtungswagen 38H(f).

Panzerjager auf GW39H(f) Marder I tank hunter, Normandy, summer 1944.
10,5cm le FH18(Sf) auf Geschuetzwagen 39H(f)
10,5cm leFH18(Sf) auf Geschützwagen 39H(f), 155th Panzerartillerie-Regiment, 21st Panzerdivision, Normandy, summer 1944.
Sources and influences : Trackstory n°6 www.minitracks.fr, GBM.

Gallery

A troop of French Army Hotchkiss H35 tanks on patrol.
A troop of French Army Hotchkiss H35 tanks on patrol.
Hotchkiss H39 Light Tank chassis number 40813
Hotchkiss H39 Light Tank chassis number 40813
No.2, 1er RC French Army Hotchkiss H39 Tank Chassis number 40649
No.2, 1er RC French Army Hotchkiss H39 Tank Chassis number 40649
Gironde No.32, 1er RC French Army Hotchkiss H39 Tank Chassis number 40632
Gironde No.32, 1er RC French Army Hotchkiss H39 Tank Chassis number 40632
Hotchkiss H39 tank of the TAHURE No.29, 1er RC, chassis number 40557
Hotchkiss H39 tank of the TAHURE No.29, 1er RC, chassis number 40557

Surviving Tanks

Former Israeli H39 at the Latrun museum
Former Israeli Hotchkiss H39 tank at the Latrun Museum, Israel
The Hotchkiss H39 Tank This French Hotchkiss H39 tank can be found at the French Tank Museum in Saumur in the Loire Valley. The Museum is called Musée des Blindés
This French Hotchkiss H39 tank can be found at the French Tank Museum, Musée des Blindés in Saumur, France

Video

British Pathé Archive 1939 footage about the H35