WW2 French Prototypes


France (1937)
Heavy Tank – None Built

Back in the 1930s, the tank was still a relatively new weapon. The masterminds of the world’s most powerful tank forces were still debating about its role on the battlefield. Fits of paper fantasy showed engineers and designers putting on as much armor and as big of a gun onto a tank as their imagination could manage. The inventions’ power and potential seemed limitless to the minds of many, leading to the emergence of a type of heavy tank more akin to a land battleship. Most countries capable of building tanks were experimenting with their own models, from the British A1E1, Soviet T-35, to the German Neubaufahrzeug, to name the more “practical” designs.

During the same time period, the Germans were building the infamous Siegfried Line or ‘Westwall’, a fortified defensive line consisting of bunkers, tank traps, and much more arrayed along the western German frontier. Nothing in the French tank arsenal was able to challenge these potent defenses. Combining the multi-turret tank designs – in fashion at the time – and this new threat from the east, the French quickly realized they needed a new powerful breakthrough heavy tank able to withstand anti-tank fire and destroy static defenses.

Breakthrough Heavy Tank

With the doctrine of breaching the Siegfried Line in mind, a heavy tank program was requested by the Conseil Consultatif de l’Armement (Armaments Advisory Council) on 4th May 1936. The specifications for this new program, named “Char de Rupture 1937” (literally breakthrough tank), were released on 12th November 1936. The Conseil Consultatif de l’Armement requested:

“Char lourd, très protégé et très armé, propre en particulier à être utilisé défensivement et offensivement dans la guerre en région fortifiée”.

“A heavy tank, well armored and well armed, suitable for both defensive and offensive purposes in fortified battlefields.”

The tank was to have a maximum weight of 45 tonnes (49.6 short tons) and dual armament, with a main gun in the hull and a secondary gun in a rotating turret. The vehicle would need thick armor, capable of resisting incoming fire from anti-tank field guns at a distance of at least 200 m (220 yards). Requirements for the mobility and speed of the design were tight, with a top speed of 30 km/h (18 mph) and a range of 200 km (125 miles) or 10 hours.

A few months later, in 1937, three French companies presented designs, AMX, ARL, and FCM.

Forges et Chantiers de la Méditerranée

The Forges et Chantiers de la Méditerranée (Eng: Foundries and Shipyards of the Mediteranean), better known as just ‘FCM’, was a naval shipyard that specialized in heavy vehicles founded by the British engineer Philip Taylor in 1853. Besides building large warships, like the Paris battleship, they had produced tanks and armored vehicles before, such as the FCM 36 and Char 2C.

One of the FCM shipyards at Seyne-sur-Mer. Source:

In May 1937 , FCM presented their first design for this competition (FCM was last of the three to present a design), the FCM F4 Variant A. The company already had plenty of experience in building large heavy tanks, as 10 years earlier it had designed the FCM 2C, one of the largest tanks ever made. The company also proposed designs for the program that would eventually become the Char B1, in the form of the FCM 21.


Variant A of the FCM proposal was based on their previous heavy tanks. It had a large, frusto-conical turret located on the front of a long hull, with large idlers and drive sprockets beneath. Its suspension was typical of French heavy tanks of the time. On each side, there were eight bogies with one leaf spring each. To each spring, two road wheels were mounted. In addition, on each end of the track, there were two road wheels connected to bump stops for driving over rough terrain, such as trenches. They did not touch the ground, however, they helped minimize the impact when the tank first came in contact with an obstacle.

The turret housed a 75 mm gun, while a 47 mm gun was mounted in the hull. This allowed for more effective usage of the 75 mm, as it could cover an area of 360° around the tank rather than being restricted by the limited traverse of a hull-mounted weapon. This, however, meant that a larger turret had to be made, pushing the height of the tank to over 3 meters. This turret was frusto-conical, typical of FCM turret designs of the era and had a rotating cupola with a rangefinder on top. The 75 mm gun had a designated gunner and loader in the turret, while the driver was in charge of aiming, shooting and loading the 47 mm. The commander was located in the center of the hull, so it might have been possible for him to assist the driver with loading the 47 mm gun, but this is uncertain as no plans of the crew layout exist. The overall weight would have been around 55 tonnes – far above the requirements.


While ARL and AMX went with a ‘traditional’ Char B1 layout of a 75 mm howitzer in the hull and a 47 mm gun in the turret, FCM went on its own path. Just like on the Char 2C, they mounted the required 75 mm gun in the turret. It is unclear what 75 mm gun this was supposed to be. Some sources claim it was the same as on the Char 2C, the Model 1897 75 mm howitzer, while others state the 75 mm Model 1929 would have been used. The APX 75 mm model 1929 howitzer was a modified version of the Model 1897 75 gun, with many components, such as the barrel, being the same. It was originally built for the Maginot Line as a static defense, but later modifications allowed it to be mounted on combat vehicles. The later tank destroyer projects ARL-V39 and Somua SAu 40 were also equipped with this gun. Likewise, the designs of FCM’s competitors, ARL and AMX, also mounted the newer howitzer in the hull.

The ammunition used is unknown, however, the same guns in the Maginot Line used HE model 1917 rounds with a muzzle velocity of 577 m/s. Ammunition stowage for all the weapons is unfortunately also unknown.

Tank gun mount of the 75mm mle 1929 howitzer, the same was used on the later Somua SAu 40 and ARL V39 tank destroyer projects. Source: Wargaming

As secondary armament, FCM used the 47 mm model 1934 gun, firing APX mle 1936 Obus de Rupture (Armour-Piercing High-Explosive, APHE) shells. Originally, just like the APX mle 1929, this gun was intended for the Maginot Line. These shells had a muzzle velocity of 880 m/s (2890 fps) and could penetrate 77 mm (3 inch) of armor angled at 30° at 500 m (547 yards) and 56 mm (2.2 inch) of armor at 1000 m (1094 yards). The shell weighed 1.670 kg (mock warhead, translation from the French “fausse ogive”) and the charge weighed 610 g. This gun would have been aimed and loaded by the driver. This was common in French tanks and was done to reduce the number of crewmen needed per vehicle. However, naturally, this put the crew under a lot of strain and required more training. In addition, maintaining the tank with a smaller crew was more strenuous.

Version A was equipped with 2 machine guns (later versions would have up to 6) and these were the 7.5 mm MAC (Manufacture d’Armes de Châtellerault) model 1931. Originally built for use in static defences on the Maginot Line, it could also be mounted on tanks and other Armored Fighting Vehicles (AFVs). It was gas operated and fired the 7.5 mm MAS cartridge from a 150-round drum magazine. These rounds had a muzzle velocity of 830 m/s (2,700 ft/s). Its weight of nearly 12 kg (26,45 lb) meant that it had to be mounted on a heavy steel mount.

The 7.5 mm MAC 31 with a tank mount. The large 150-round side-mounted drum magazine meant that storage inside of vehicles (in this case tank) was simple and allowed for continuous fire, without the crew having to reload very often. This was crucial in French tanks as the crew already had a lot of tasks to fulfill. Source: Wikipedia


There is very little information on the mechanical parts of the FCM design. It is known that it was to be equipped with two V12 diesel engines. It is unclear what engine this would have been, but may be assumed this engine was being purpose-designed for this tank project and got canceled simultaneously. Each engine drove an electric generator that was connected to the final drive, similar to the later British TOG 1 and 2, and the German Elephant tank destroyer and Maus super-heavy tank. These engines were supposed to have allowed the 55 tonne tank to reach 30 km/h.


Like many other statistics about this vehicle, the armor thickness is mostly unknown. However, considering that the AMX design had 100 mm (3.94 in) at the front around the turret, it is relatively safe to assume that the FCM F4 would have had similar armor thickness. French tanks also tended to have the same armor thickness all around the turret. The frontal hull plate was well angled, and so was the turret, which increased its effectiveness.

Other Variants

After presenting the first version, FCM showed a second one, the FCM F4 Variant B. It was identical but had the transmission and exhaust moved centrally and an FCM 36 turret equipped with 2 machine guns was added, facing the rear. This increased the weight to 57 tonnes and the crew to 5. There are no images of this design.

In August 1937, FCM proposed 2 new designs. Version C had a new turret, also armed with a 75 mm gun. Version D had the 47 mm gun in the hull moved into the little turret in the back. In October, Version E was designed with 5 additional machine guns. Finally, in December, Version F was shown mounting a flamethrower and the total weight was pushed to 59 tonnes.

From Heavy to Super Heavy

All 3 companies – ARL, AMX and FCM – had their designs rejected because the tanks would have been too expensive and could only be produced in small numbers, therefore they would not have any large effect on the battlefield. To solve this, the Conseil Supérieur de la Guerre (Eng: Superior War Council) decided on 26th March 1937 to build a smaller and cheaper yet heavily armored tank. However, after testing, the Section de l’Armement et des Études Techniques (Eng: Section for technical and armaments studies) claimed that this would be redundant, as there was already such a tank under development – the Char G1.

Due to this evolution, the requirements were changed in February 1938. There was to be no weight limit and a 75 mm gun had to be mounted in the turret. The same companies presented designs once again, however, these new specifications were very close to those of the original FCM design, so the Supreme Command gave FCM a contract to build the tank. This would eventually lead to the FCM F1, a 140 tonne monster with 2 massive turrets and a 90 mm gun. However, by the time a mockup was ready in 1940, France had been occupied by Germany and, consequently, all super-heavy tank designs were halted, meaning no French Char Lourd (heavy tank) would ever get the chance to batter the Siegfried Line.

FCM F4 Version A. The large turret and the rangefinder can be seen. Note the 4 holes in the sideskirts acting as mud shoots, to release mud from under the sideskirt.
Source: Pinterest

Illustration of the FCM F4 produced by the Author, Pavel Alexe, and funded by our Patreon campaign.


Dimensions 7.5 x 2.94 meters
(24.6 x 9.65 ft)
Weight 55+ tonnes
(60.63 tons)
Crew 4 (commander, driver, loader, radio operator)
Propulsion 2 x V12 diesel engines connected to electrical generators
Maximum speed 30 km/h* (18 mph)
Suspension Leaf springs
Range 200 km* (125 miles)
Armament 75 mm model 1929
47 mm SA35
7.5 mm MAC

*These numbers are what was requested by the Conseil Consultatif de l’Armement . Actual numbers are unknown.

DGA Châtellerault
TNT number 11
Chars De France, Jean-Gabriel Jeudy

WW2 French Prototypes

AMX 37 ‘Char de Rupture’

France (1937)
Heavy Tank – None Built

During the mid-1930s, Germany started construction of the Westwall, otherwise known as the Siegfried Line. This fortification spanned across the German border with France up until their border with Denmark and was equipped with numerous bunkers and cannons. The French authorities were alarmed by this and figured that they would have to overcome this defensive line. However, no tank in the French arsenal at the time was able to combat such an obstacle. Therefore, they quickly started a heavy breakthrough tank program, named ‘Char de Rupture 1937’.


On the 4th of May, 1936, the Conseil Consultatif de l’Armement (Armaments Advisory Council) requested plans for a new heavy breakthrough tank that would be able to charge the Siegfried Line while being able to knock out static defenses and enemy tanks. A quote from the Council:

“Char lourd, très protégé et très armé, propre en particulier à être utilisé défensivement et offensivement dans la guerre en région fortifiée”.

“A heavy tank, well armored and well armed, suitable for both defensive and offensive purposes in fortified battlefields.”

The exact specifications were released on the 12th of November 1936. The tank was to have a maximum weight of 45 tonnes (49.6 short tons) and be equipped with two main armaments, a 75 mm gun and a 47 mm one. As it was supposed to lead the charge against bunkers and fortifications, it was to have thick armor, namely to withstand anti-tank fire from 200 m (220 yards). The mobility aspect was optimistic for a tank of the time, as it was supposed to reach 30 km/h (18 mph) while having a range of 200 km (125 miles) or 10 hours of operation.

By May 1937, 3 companies presented their designs, ARL, FCM, and AMX.

Construction d’Issy-les-Moulineaux

Construction d’Issy-les-Moulineaux (AMX) was created when the French government took over the Renault factories in 1936, ultimately meaning that the Char de Rupture AMX was one of their very first tank projects. AMX went on to design and build some of the most famous post-war French tanks, like the AMX-13, AMX-50 and AMX-30.

Production line of AMC-34 on the left and Renault D1 on the right, in the Ateliers de construction d’Issy-les-Moulineaux (Renault) before nationalization, 1935. Source: Wikipedia Commons


In March of 1937, AMX presented its preliminary concept for the program. This was essentially an enlarged Char B1 Bis. Their design was elongated, with a 75 mm gun mounted in the hull to the right of the driver. On the roof, a small turret with a 47 mm gun and a machine gun were placed. There were two turret designs, the first one having the gun mounted on the right side and an unusual polygonal shape. The second turret was much more similar to that of the Char B1 bis and Somua S35, the APX-1, however, the armor on it had been increased considerably. As a matter of fact, the entire tank was covered in thick armor and, in typical French fashion, long side skirts were hiding the suspension, leaving only the massive tracks exposed. It had a crew of 4, driver, tank commander (located in the turret, manning the 47 mm gun) a loader and a radio operator. To reach the desired top speed, two V12 engines were to be used, each engine being coupled to an electrical transmission which, in turn, drove four electric engines, two per sprocket.

Artist’s impression of the AMX 37, most likely made to promote the design. Like many images of the kind, the proportions and details are off. The turret is of the late-type. Source:

Original blueprints of the AMX 37. The resemblance to the Char B1 can be seen, with the large sprocket, side skirts and weapon placement. Note that the turret seen is the early type. Source:
Front view of the tank. The mounting of the 75 mm model 1929 howitzer and the turret’s location can be seen. Source:

Top view. Note the large, exposed tracks and odd polygonal turret shape. Source:


Just like in the Char B1, AMX mounted a 75 mm howitzer in the hull and a 47 mm gun in the turret. The 75 mm gun was the APX 75 mm model 1929 howitzer, a modified version of the famous Model 1897 75 mm gun, with many components, such as the barrel, being the same. It was originally built for the Maginot line as a static defense gun, but later modifications allowed it to be mounted on combat vehicles. The later tank destroyer projects ARL-V39 and Somua SAu 40 were also equipped with this gun. It was mounted to the right-hand side of the driver who was also the gunner. The main drawback was the poor gun traverse, only 6° to the left and right.

The APX 75 mm Mle 1929 on the mount designed for tanks and other AFVs. Source:

The gun mounted in the turret was most likely the 47 mm SA35, the same gun used in the turret of the Char B1 Bis. It would have shot the same type of ammunition, the Obus de Rupture Mle 1935 (AP model 1935) weighing 1.620/1.625 kg (3.6 pounds). The entire shell was 325 mm long (13 inches) while the projectile was 145 mm long (5.7 inches) and the case was 193 mm long (7.6 inches). On the Char B1 Bis, the muzzle velocity of the SA35 was 660 to 680 m/s (22 feet per second) with a penetration of 40 mm angled at 30° at 400 m.

Side views of the SA35 from a B1 Bis. The mantlet mounted at the base of the barrel would be different on the AMX 37. Source: Warspot

The machine guns used on the tank were the 7.5 mm MAC (Manufacture d’Armes de Châtellerault) model 1931. Like many other French weapons of the time, it was developed to be mounted on the Maginot line, but was later adapted to be mounted on armored fighting vehicles and tanks. It was gas-operated and fired the 7.5 mm MAS cartridge from a 150-round drum magazine mounted on the left side of the gun. This large magazine meant that the crew did not have to reload as often compared to other machine guns (the German MG-34, when mounted on tanks and AFVs, had a 50 to 75 round magazine). Such a large magazine was crucial in the already overworked French tank crews, of which the AMX 37 certainly was not an exception. These machine guns were attached independently, next to the 75 mm and the 47 mm. Two more MAC machine guns were placed in ball mounts, next to the entrance doors on the sides of the tank, to better protect from infantry sneaking up on the tank. Due to the large suspension of the tank, the side machine guns had restricted traverse.

The 7.5 mm MAC Mle 1931 with a tank mount. The large 150-round magazine can be seen. Source: Wikipedia


Despite a large number of weapons, the tank only had a crew of four; driver, commander, loader and radio operator. In a similar fashion to the Char B1, the driver was also the gunner for the 75 mm howitzer. Since the gun only had 6° of traverse, the driver had to turn the entire tank to better aim the gun. The loader was loading the 75 mm and was located in the hull. He was also responsible for loading and firing the MAC machine guns to the right of the tank and the one coaxial to the 75 mm. Behind the driver was the turret and that was where the commander sat. He was responsible for searching for targets, firing and loading the 47 mm and, to top it all off, fire and load the co-axial MAC machine gun. The radio operator, located behind the commander, was in charge of the radio of unknown type, and the machine gun to the left of the tank. He could have also assisted the commander, giving him ammunition from the hull up and into the turret.

It was typical for French tanks to have one-man turrets, or to have overworked crews. The sheer amount of work that the commander had to do in the AMX 37, and many other French tanks of the time, was huge. He did not only have to command the tank and spot targets for the 75 mm gunner through his cupola, but he also had to aim, load and fire his 47 mm and, when necessary, the machine gun as well. This lead to an overworked soldier, having to complete so many tasks at once and doing neither very well. The reasoning behind this design was to decrease the amount of manpower needed to operate tanks. The fewer men you need per tank, the more tanks you can have. The shortage of men was deemed an issue in France during the 30s, as the population still had not recovered from the First World War. In practice, the French had overworked crews, and too few tanks, getting the worst out of both.

Top view of the crew compartment. The four crewmen’s position can be clearly seen with the driver, commander and radio operator sitting in a row with the loader on the far right. Note the two hull MGs overlooking the sides. Another interesting detail is the floor escape door most likely used by the driver or when another door was damaged, as the other three crewmen have their own doors. Separating the crew compartment and the engines is a pneumatic, waterproof, firewall door, which could be used to access the engine from within the tank. Source:


The tank had two different turrets during its development process. The early version had an octagonal faced, frustoconical shape, with the SA35 47 mm gun mounted on the right side and the 7.5 mm MAC on the left. Its armor values are unknown, however, they are probably similar to those of the second design turret. This second design was much more similar to that of the Char B1 Bis, a nonagon with the 47 mm mounted more centrally and the machine gun mounted slightly to the left. The armor was 100 mm all around and 43 mm on the roof. While it can be hard to distinguish the two turrets from one another, the second design has large bulb-like protrusions on the sides for periscopes, which are not shown in many contemporary line-drawings and illustrations. The periscopes were surrounded by thick armor, doubled around the holes, as seen in the blueprints. This turret was designed in August, after AMX had submitted the first design. The reasoning behind why a new turret was made is unknown, and why it was re-done after the tank had been presented.

Several angles of the second version turret. Note the rear hatch for the tank commander. Source:


The armor on the AMX design was very impressive. To be able to withstand AT fire, the frontal plate was angled at 50° and was 100 mm thick. It is a well-known fact that French tanks had thick armor, but this was another level for 1937. The turret was just as impressive, 100 mm thick angled at 85° all around. The top of the turret and hull were 43 mm thick. To put this in perspective, the Somua S35 had 47 mm of armor at the thickest, while the Char B1 Bis had 60 mm and the Tiger tank – yet to even be conceptualized – was ‘just’ 80 mm all around the turret and not sloped! However, all of this armor came with additional weight and made the 7.25-meter long tank weigh above 45 tonnes, the maximum weight allowed.

Original blueprints of the late turret. Besides the gun, traverse mechanism and more, the extremely thick armored walls of the turret can be seen. Source:


When the tank was designed, there were no engines in production in France powerful enough to move such a heavy vehicle at the required 30 km/h. This meant that completely new engines had to be designed. The tank was to be equipped with two V12 engines with a horsepower of 550 hp (600 hp according to other sources). As per the blueprints, two companies were taken into consideration in the production of these engines; Aster and CLM (Compagnie Lilloise des Moteurs). These engines were to be mounted horizontally along the length of the tank, right behind the ammunition storage. Each engine was coupled to an unknown type of electrical generator connected to two electric engines (total 4, 2 per side) that drove the sprockets. For traverse, each sprocket had a diagonally mounted traverse motor. Neither CLM nor Aster produced such large engines at any point.

Cutout view of AMX 37 showing the V12 Aster motors, however, only one can be seen as they are mounted parallel one to the other. In this image, the crew compartment and other details can be seen. Note the traverse motor mounted diagonally by the final drive. The armor thickness can also be seen.
Front view of the V12 Aster motors. Note the gigantic coil springs from the suspension.
The in-line CLM engines. It was a much shorter alternative compared to the Aster engine however, it was much taller. It is unclear if these engines had fewer pistons, usually in-line engines need to be significantly longer than V shape engines to have the same number of pistons.
Front view of in-line CLM engines. Due to the narrow, tall shape, it is safe to assume these were in-line piston engines. The large plate-like shape over the engines is the radiator, of which this tank had 3. Source for these 4 images:


The suspension was very similar to that of the Char B1, with 16 small steel road wheels per track. Two wheels in the front (in between the idler and road wheels) and one in the back (in between the sprocket and road wheels) were not touching the ground and, when tensioned, moved diagonally. This was done to decrease the shock when the tank crossed over large obstacles. On each side, there were 4 large springs connected to a bogie. Each bogie then had two smaller bogies in turn connected to two wheels. In addition, every single wheel had its own spring. This was a very complex system, however, it allowed for a lot of motion from the wheel to the hull itself, meaning that the ride quality would have been rather smooth. At the top of the tracks, 10 return rollers were mounted. This was rather unusual for French tanks, as the Char B1, for example, still used skids.

Cutout showing the suspension layout. This system was very similar to the British Matilda Mk.II tank. The track tensioning system can also be seen.


Despite all the efforts, the Conseil Consultatif de l’Armement rejected all the designs presented by FCM, ARL, and AMX. All three companies presented very complex and expensive tanks, thus limiting their production output to a very small number; making them insignificant on the battlefield. To add insult to injury, every company exceeded the 45-tonne mark, even on paper. The AMX 37 weighed around 50 tonnes on paper, however, a battle-ready tank would have even exceeded this already high number. In response to this issue, the Conseil Supérieur de la Guerre (Eng: Superior War Council) decided on the 26th March 1937 that a much smaller, cheaper yet heavily armored tank be designed. This in turn went south as well, when the Section de l’Armement et des Études Techniques (Eng: Section for technical and armaments studies) made a study which showed that a tank fulfilling those criteria was already under development, and there would not be a need of a new program. This tank was the Char G1.

This was not the end of the road for AMX designed heavy tanks. In February of 1938, the requirements changed. Amongst others, the weight limits were removed. This would eventually lead to the AMX Tracteur C super heavy tanks, but like its predecessor, it remained on paper only.

Illustration of the AMX 37 ‘Char de Rupture’ (Breakthrough Tank), produced by the author, Pavel Alexe, and funded by our Patreon campaign.


Dimensions 7.25 x 2.70 x 2.94 meters
(24.6 x 8.9 x 9.65 ft)
Weight 50+ tonnes
(55 tons)
Crew 4 (commander, driver, loader, radio operator)
Propulsion 2 x V12 or in-line diesel engines connected to electrical generators connected to electrical motors
Maximum speed 30 km/h* (18 mph)
Suspension Coil springs
Range 200 km* (125 miles)
Armament 75 mm model 1929
47 mm SA35
4 x 7.5 mm MAC
Armor 100 mm in front hull (3.9 inches)
100 mm side skirts
100 mm all around the turret
43 mm top of the hull and turret (1.7 inches)

*These numbers are what was requested by the Conseil Consultatif de l’Armement . Actual numbers are unknown.

DGA Châtellerault
TNT number 11
Chars De France, Jean-Gabriel Jeudy

WW2 French Prototypes

Panhard 178 with Renault 47 mm Gun-Armed Turret

France – 1940
Armored Car – 1 Prototype Built

In 1931, the French Cavalry formulated a request for an AMD (Automitrailleuse de Découverte / ‘Discovery’ armored car), an armored vehicle meant to perform reconnaissance while having enough combat capacities to be able to engage enemy units. This was in opposition to the AMR (Automitrailleuse de Reconnaissance / Reconnaissance Armored Car), smaller vehicles with more limited combat capacities. Panhard, the leading French armored car producer at the time, designed the Voiture Spéciale 178, more often simply known as Panhard 178, to answer this request. The vehicle was adopted by the French cavalry as the AMD 35 in 1934. Formal orders were placed in January of 1935, production beginning in 1936, and the first operational vehicles delivered in February of 1937.

A Panhard 178 in service with the 6th GRDI, a reconnaissance group, during a parade, late 1930s; this may have been either in Compiègne (where the unit was formed), or in either Vitry-le-François or Bar-le-Duc, in the Ardennes, where the unit was deployed in 1939. Source: char-français

The Panhard 178 was an 8-tonne armored car powered by a 4-cylinder 105 hp engine and able to reach a maximum speed of 72 km/h. One of its most interesting features, which separated it from the vast majority of other French armored vehicles, was its two-crew APX 3 turret, which allowed the commander to concentrate on his tactical and spotting missions, leaving the operation of the gun to the gunner/loader. This was a major improvement in comparison to the one-crew turrets which featured on the vast majority of French tanks, where the commander also had to reload and operate the vehicle’s armament.

This APX 3 turret featured a 25 mm SA 35 anti-tank gun as well as a coaxial MAC 31 7.5 mm machine gun, with 150 25 mm and 3,750 7.5 mm rounds. This armament was fairly capable for an armored car, being, for example, generally sufficient to deal with early Panzer III and IV models fielded in the campaign for France, as well as the earlier Panzer I and II, with a penetration of 40 mm of vertical armor at 500 m, and 30 mm at 30° at the same distance. This gun was significantly better than the 37 mm SA 18 found on many tanks and armored cars, but the 47 mm SA 35 gun found on Somua S35 and B1 Bis tanks offered better armor-piercing capacities, as well as explosive shells which the 25 mm lacked.

The Panhard and the SA 35

Outfitting the Panhard 178 with the 47 mm SA 35 gun was considered before the campaign for France actually began. In a letter from January 1939, the French Army General Staff and the Direction of the Cavalry stated that mounting the 47 mm SA 35 gun on the Panhard armored car was a possibility, at the very least for the vehicles destined for service in North Africa. However, the same letter reported that Panhard 178 armored cars would only be outfitted with the 47 mm SA 35 gun if the production of the latter was sufficient to equip tanks being produced with the gun (the S35 and B1 Bis) and to refit the older B1 and D2 that were temporarily armed with the short-barrel 47 mm SA 34. The letter ends with the General Staff requesting the acceleration of the production of 47 mm SA 35 guns “as much as possible” from the Direction of Armament Manufacturing.

Despite the General Staff urging for more 47 mm guns to be produced in order to outfit the Panhard 178 with them as early as January of 1939, there had been little to no advance in this field by May of 1940. It is known that arming the already used APX 3 turret with the 47 mm gun was considered instead of designing a new turret. However, it was still uncertain whether the APX 3 turret could practically be modified to mount a 47 mm SA 35.

The invasion of the Low Countries and France, beginning on the 10th of May 1940, led to the Panhard 178 being fielded in large numbers against German armored vehicles, where some issues with the 25 mm SA 35 arose. While sufficient against most German-made tanks, the gun notably struggled at range, particularly against what accounts from French tankers refer to as “Škoda tanks”, most likely describing both the Škoda Panzer 35(t) and CKD Panzer 38(t). Furthermore, the gun lacked any high-explosive shell and was not automatic, making it of very little use against infantry.

At the same time, a significant problem arose in the production of the Panhard 178, hulls were being manufactured at a significantly faster rate than APX 3 turrets. While not particularly a problem during the Phoney War, as hulls could be stored while waiting for a turret, in a context where the survival of the French state was now in question, finding military use for these unarmed hulls became a priority. It is in this context that a French officer, Squadron Chief d’Astorg, who commanded the 1st RAM (Régiment d’automitrailleuses / Armored Car Regiment) of the 1st DLC (Division Légère de Cavalerie – Light Cavalry Division), unable to receive APX 3 turrets for the Panhard 178 hulls he received, requested the Renault tank design office to come up with a way to arm Panhard 178 hulls with a 47 mm SA 35 gun behind a mere gun shield instead of a fully rotating turret. This request was most likely made on 31st May 1940.

Design of the Renault Turret

Renault’s design bureau, led by engineer Joseph Restany, managed to design an entire turret within three days. The production of a prototype of this turret began immediately, with a turret being mounted on a hull on the 5th of June 1940, and went on firing trials that proved successful the next day.

Unsurprisingly enough for a turret that had been designed and then manufactured in less than a week, the design Restany and his team came up with was fairly rudimentary, particularly in comparison with the original APX 3 turret. The Renault turret was entirely welded, with a simple shape. The frontal plate, one of the distinctive elements of the design, was sloped quite considerably. It was made from two different plates, the first was 13 mm thick followed by a 25 mm one, giving a thickness of 38 mm not accounting for the slope, something which was quite respectable even for medium tanks by 1940 standards. The sides and rear of the turret were 25 mm thick. The main armament was an SA 35 47 mm gun. This gun fired 47×193 mm rimmed shells. Its standard anti-tank shell was an armor-piercing capped (APC) shell, the Obus de rupture modèle 1935, fired at a velocity of 660 m/s. According to German tests, it could penetrate 40 mm of armor at an angle of 30° and a range of 400 m. Additionally, the gun could also fire a high-explosive (HE) shell with a muzzle velocity of 590 m/s and 142 grams of explosives.

Like the APX 3 turret, the Renault one could accommodate two crew members. However, as expected because of its short design circle, it was fairly primitive. The top hatch through which the crew accessed the vehicle was reported to be “more of a lid”, and despite the rear of the turret being quite spacious, there was no rear door. Vision on the sides was provided by simple, fairly large round holes which could be closed by a rotating cover. The turret did not feature electrical traverse and therefore had to be rotated by hand.

The first prototype was not kept for experimental purposes, as is usually the case, but instead delivered to the d’Astorg’s 1st RAM as early as 6th June 1940. Accomodations for production of more examples with a slightly revised turret to offer better conditions for the crew as well as mounting a FM 24/29 machine gun in the hull began. Renault stated it could produce four turrets a day on 11th June 1940. However, the next day, the French industrial giant’s main factories of Billancourt, west of Paris, were evacuated to secondary facilities further south. This put any potential production into disarray. By the time an official order for forty turrets came on 13th June 1940, Renault was not able to fulfill it, and the single produced turret remained unique.

A photo of the 47 mm-armed Panhard 178 where it was scuttled. The top hatch of the turret is opened, and the round view port is closed. Source: Collection Pascal Danjou
Another view of the 47 mm-armed Panhard, with the turret pointed at a different angle and the side view port opened. This photo was most likely taken at a later point than the first, as suggested by the tires being removed. Source: Collection J. Beauval

Service in the 1st RAM

The hull outfitted with the Renault turret was delivered to the 1st RAM. This regiment was part of the 1st DLC, which had been engaged in the battle of the Meuse. Its men were evacuated from the vast encirclement performed by the Wehrmacht in Northern France and the Low Countries, while their heavy equipment had to be abandoned. The unit was reformed into a DLM (Division Légère Mécanique – Light Mechanized Division, in practice quite similar to a German Light Division). It was as a part of this new 4th DLM that the 1st RAM continued to fight in the campaign of France. Thanks to d’Astorg, we know about one particular skirmish in which the 47 mm-armed Panhard played a pivotal role, on 15th June 1940. Near a bridge on the river Yonne at Etigny, about 100 km south-east of Paris, a patrol led by this vehicle engaged a German motorized column including 15 vehicles escorted by two “heavy tanks” (a term which, in French testimonies from the campaign of France, generally designates a Panzer IV and occasionally a Panzer 38(t)). The Panhard 178 was able to knock out the two tanks with three 47 mm shells, allowing the patrol led by Sous-Lieutenant (sub-lieutenant) Bouhier to then knock out the rest of the German column. D’Astorg also reported that the armored car’s turret resisted multiple hits, though he does not specify whether those were hits from anti-tank weapons or merely firearms.

The 47 mm-armed Panhard met an unfortunate end shortly after this skirmish. On the morning of 17th June, the 1st RAM was attempting to cross the largest French river, the Loire, in order to defend its southern banks, where the French High Command hoped a defensive line could be formed. By the point the regiment arrived in the town of Châtillon-sur-Loire, where it was supposed to cross, the bridge had already been blown up to prevent German crossings, with all bridges south from there being unusable. Left with no other option, the unit scuttled the vast majority of its equipment in order to prevent its capture, including the 47 mm-armed Panhard. All photos we have of the vehicle show it scuttled near the railway bridge of Châtillon-sur-Loire, including some in which German soldiers pose in front of the vehicle. The fate of the vehicle beyond this point is unknown, though it is very likely it ended up scrapped.

German soldiers examining the 47 mm-armed Panhard. This photo is particularly interesting, as it shows the Panhard with its tires, in a different location, and with its inside seemingly ripped out from the door. Source: char-français

Another photo of the vehicle’s inspection by German troops. A seat is visible in the foreground, as well as the ammunition storage inside the vehicle. Source: char-français.

The Future of 47 mm Gun-Armed Panhard Armored Cars

While only a single example of this particular 47 mm-armed Panhard turret was produced, the Panhard and the 47 mm SA 35 would be mated two different times in the future. During the German occupation of France, Joseph Restany, the engineer who had designed this first 47 mm turret, was recruited by a secret organisation within the army of the Vichy regime, the CDM (Camouflage du Matériel – Material Camouflage). His job was to lead the design and production of turrets accepting both 47 mm and 25 mm guns in order to outfit them on turretless hulls which had been evacuated to Southern France and remained stored away from the eyes of the Armistice Commission. The design of those turrets would be directly based on the first model designed by Restany in 1940, though being both more advanced thanks to a longer development time, and in some others more rudimentary due to the lack of materials and the high secrecy of the project. 45 of those CDM turrets were manufactured in 1942 and installed on a variety of Panhard 178 hulls, some which would be captured by German troops during the occupation of Southern France in November of 1942 and then issued to security units operating within France.

Panhard 178 CDM in service with the German Sicherungs-Aufklärung-Abteilung 1000, a reconnaissance group of the 189. Reserve Infanterie-Division, France, 1944. All vehicles in the photo are armed with 47 mm SA 35, but it should be noted that around half of the Panhard 178 CDM received 25 mm SA 34 guns instead. Source: Christophe Grégoire collection

After the end of the occupation of France, production of yet another 47 mm SA 35 Panhard began in 1945. This new model was designated Panhard 178B, and featured the gun in a quite large, cylindrical turret, the FL1. Unlike the Renault and CDM models, which were just mounted on pre-existing hulls, new, upgraded hulls were produced alongside those new turrets. 414 of these armored cars would be produced and would be in service during the late 1940s and the 1950s. They were used for securing the French colonial empire in its last decade. In this way, despite being a single prototype rushed in June of 1940, the 47 mm-armed Panhard would have a quite significant legacy.

A Panhard 178B, the vastly modernized, 47 mm-armed model of the Panhard 178 manufactured in the late 40s for colonial service. Source: char-français


The 47 mm-armed Panhard 178 designed by Renault’s design office and operated by the 1st RAM is a quite peculiar vehicle when it comes to France’s armored production. One of the various improvised vehicles which appeared during the collapse of France in the spring of 1940, it is notable because, despite being a prototype, it was used operationally, and in the only instance where it is known to have fought, performed brilliantly.

The combination of the 47 mm SA 35 gun and the Panhard 178 hull is indeed one which appears full of potential. The 47 mm weapon was quite effective against tanks by 1940 and the two-crew turret featured on the Panhard 178 meant it could be operated more effectively than in one-crew turret tanks such as the S35 and B1 Bis. While the armor of the vehicle, outside perhaps of the turret’s front, left much to be desired, as on most armored cars, it retained a great mobility. While the turret manufactured by Renault in 1940 was very much experimental, the concept of a 47 mm SA 35-armed Panhard was indeed full of potential, and had even been theorized earlier. But the fall of France would prevent it from reaching its full potential and being mass-produced in a mature form, though the CDM turrets manufactured in secrecy and based on the Renault turret were one of the most extensive armament projects undertaken in Vichy France.

Illustration for the Panhard 178 outfitted with the 47 mm gun-armed Renault turret produced by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.


Une entreprise clandestine sous l’occupation Allemande, Joseph Restany, Charles-Lavauzelle & Cie editions, 1948
GBM (Histoire de Guerre, Blindés et Matériel) N°86, January-February-March 2009, pp 22-31
char-franç (1) (2)

WW2 French Prototypes

Collomp 1 to 2-Man Tank

France (1940-41) Light Tank – None Built

France has a long history of scientific, technical, military, and cultural achievements. They also have a particularly important place in the evolution of the modern armored vehicle, and in 1940, was the predominant armored power in Europe. A series of well designed and well-protected tanks, such as the Char B1, made up the mainstay of the French armor, forming a potent foe to a potential adversary. In 1940, this was obviously Germany, as France, along with Great Britain, had declared war on Germany in September 1939 following the invasion of Poland. The armored might of France was a serious threat to German plans for the invasion of France, but whilst the Char B had an abundance of armor, there were also designs which, perhaps thankfully, never made it to battle. One of these was from the pen of Joseph Francois Raymon Collomp of Marseilles, and his design for a tiny individual one-man tank was seriously and fundamentally flawed in both concept and design. It never saw action and, whilst even the mighty Char B1 succumbed to the Germans in 1940, the Collomp individual tank succumbed to common sense and was thankfully forgotten in the chaos following the fall of France.


Collomp started his design ideas with a single piece of logic: the large and modern French tanks were ideal for the large battles, striking deep within enemy territory, but were unsuitable for small actions. These ‘small’ actions would include reconnaissance work, minefield clearance, and providing supporting fire for advancing infantry. In order to reduce losses amongst the infantry forces, Collomp followed the same mental route of many others and conceived of a small armored vehicle capable of protecting the men from small arms fire. Just like those other ideas from ‘push shields’ in WW1, the Italian MIAS, or some hilariously poor ideas from General Martel in Britain, Collomp’s ideas were seriously flawed. He completely ignored the existence of a large number of small tanks already in service in France, including the Hotchkiss H35, Renault R35, and even the rather ancient and obsolete Renault FT from WW1. Instead of considering the use of a vehicle in service, his proposal was unlike anything in use at the time and smaller than any vehicle in service, not much larger than a bathtub, and of about the same combat value.

Internal view of Collomp’s one-man tank design of 1940. The area marked ‘16’ was the hatch to lay mines or charges and the area ‘B’ at the back was the electric motor. The items marked ‘14’ are control switches. Source: French Patent FR867026(A)

The Design

Submitted on 8th January 1940, the design was filed after the declaration of war against Germany but prior to the Battle of France. Overall, the design was a single large ‘cigar’ shape with two tracks running completely around the circumference of the vehicle from front to back. The front and back of the vehicle were curved and the profile was extremely low, as the occupant/s would have to lie prone inside the vehicle on a mattress facing forwards. Operating a forward facing automatic gun (presumably a machine gun), the soldier inside would be in a cripplingly uncomfortable position, especially over rough terrain as the vehicle moved and would be unable to reposition themselves without leaving the limited protection the armor offered.
Just to add an unnecessary layer of complexity to the design, Collomp suggested the addition of both mine-laying and mine-clearing equipment, although the diagram provided with Collomp’s design shows only a single roller held by two arms coming from the vehicle. Presumably, this roller was intended to roll-over and detonate mines, but this would mean it would require a certain amount of mass to simulate a tank and this then adds a weight burden to this tiny machine. All of this weight, the man/men (crew), weapons, steel armor, and now mine roller was to be propelled silently and Collomp planned for an electric motor, adding yet more complexity to the vehicle.
No armor thickness was specified, although, to provide any useful protection from small arms fire, it would need at least 6 mm of protection. Likewise, no performance in terms of speed or range was specified either.
A small hatch was fitted in the front through which the occupant could directly access the soil to lay a mine, although this clearly meant he would have to carry landmines in the vehicle with him. With no space inside in which to turn, this would involve having to drive around laying with his face next to one or more landmines, which is unlikely to have been a popular concept, particularly when facing enemy fire.

External view of Collomp’s one-man tank design of 1940. The area marked ‘6’ was the large hatch on the left-hand side (another was on the right) for access/egress. Of note are the arms and roller for the clearance of landmines. Source: French Patent FR867026(A)


This diminutive vehicle was planned by Collomp to be just 2.20 m long which, with an estimated length of perhaps 1.70 m allowed for the crew, would mean just 50 cm or so in which to accommodate the electric motor and drives for the tracks. The entire affair was supposed to be not more than 50 cm from the ground to the top of the vehicle which, accounting for the space for the man/men inside, would leave very little ground clearance, meaning the vehicle would get stuck on almost any rock or tree-stump. Further, this very low height would also mean that the crew would barely be able to see over any obstacle, bank, or even long grass.
The tracks, running circumferentially, were fitted with drive wheels at the back and a series of small support rollers around the outside on which the track could run. No information was provided as to how the machine was meant to be steered other than steering switches, which likely meant the ability to vary the driving force delivered to each track causing it to turn. One notable feature though of value for the design was the thought of adding a large hatch in each side of the tank. This meant that, in order to get in or out the soldier would not have to be exposed to enemy fire at all and that, should it overturn, it was so light the soldier could simply right it himself having clambered out the other side.

Top view of Collomp’s one-man tank design of 1940 showing the roller for the clearance of landmines. Source: French Patent FR867026(A)

Illustration of the Collomp 1 to 2-man tank by Mr. C. Ryan, funded by our Patreon Campaign.


The patent drawings show just a single occupant lying prone on a mattress inside, but Collomp specifically mentions that the design could be made wider in order to accommodate a second crewman. This wider version would be even more limited than the single vehicle, as it would still have the same ground clearance but an even greater space between the tracks, making it even less able to traverse even very slight undulations in the ground. The purpose to which this second crew member might be put is not elaborated.
Obviously, a one-man version would leave the hapless soldier the burden of driving (with no indication of how to steer) and firing the weapon, but how this would be divided as tasks for two-men is unknown.

Front view of Collomp’s one-man tank design of 1940 showing the narrow field of fire or vision which would be available to the crew and also the incredibly low ground clearance. Source: French Patent FR867026(A)


The design is awful. For 1940, when there was already a substantial body of tank design work in the public domain, such issues as those created by Collomp’s design should have been both obvious and avoidable. His logic was clear and so was what he was intending in terms of saving the lives of soldiers, but what he created was little more than a premade coffin in which a soldier could became trapped in the mud or on an obstacle or drown in a shallow puddle. With little or no combat value due to no visibility, the vehicle could add nothing to an attack and it is therefore perhaps ironic that the mine clearing suggestion (albeit ignoring the roller) might have been the only realistic use to which the design could have been put. Operating in a straight line through a minefield, the occupant would have easy control and a comfortable lying position without having to tire himself out by crawling and be able to access the dirt in front of him through that hatch to probe for mines and defuse them. Add a mine-tape marker dispenser to the back to show a clear lane through a minefield and this vehicle might have had some utility but, as it was laid out, it is no surprise it saw no production or orders. Whether or not Collomb submitted his design to the military authorities is not known but, with such obvious problems, there was no likelihood that this would ever be added to the Army’s inventory.
If it is any consolation to Collomp, his idea was not even the last of such ‘one-man-prone-tanks’ or even the worst one, but it remains a terrible idea and one which, had it have been in place for 1940, would have added absolutely nothing to the defence of France except perhaps for providing a lot more scrap metal for the Germans. Considering it was submitted in January 1940 though, there would have been no time to have it in time for the Battle of France in May 1940, but it does lay within this ‘Phoney War’ period between the declaration of war and the invasion of France. Almost exactly one year after the fall of France, in June 1941, the patent application from Collomb was accepted by the French patent office under the Vichy Government. It was formally published two and a half months later on 3rd September 1941. A month later, a second patent from Collomp was published for a rotating-cylinder type rifle. He had submitted that one in June 1940, during the Battle for France and whilst that design had more technical merit than his individual tank, it too found no production. What became of Monsieur Collomp is not known.

Collomp’s rotating-cylinder magazine rifle design on 1940. Source: French Patent FR867337(A)


Dimensions (L-W-H) 2.2 x .50 x ~.50 meters (1 man), ~1m wide (two man)
Crew 1 man (second crew optional in a wider vehicle)
Propulsion electric motor – 12 accumulators
Armament Light Automatic Weapon
Armor steel, thickness N/A, est. > 6mm
Total Production None


French Patent FR867026(A) ‘Chenilette Individuelle’ submitted 8th January 1940. Patent issued 3rd September 1941.
French Patent FR867337(A) Fusil et autres armes de guerre alimentes en munitions par distributeur rotatif submitted 14th June 1940. Patent issued 13th October 1941.

China Pre-1950 WW2 French Prototypes

Renault ZB

France (1935)
republican flag Republic of China (1938-1942?)
Light Tank – 19? built

Upgrading the AMR 33

The Renault ZB was essentially a lengthened test (and later, export) version of the AMR 33 fitted with a more versatile suspension type. The suspension type influenced later designs, such as the Renault R35, but the Renault ZB was rejected for French service. However, in 1936, the Kuomintang and Yunnan Provincial Government ordered sixteen vehicles which appear to have served in Burma in the early 1940s, where they were presumably lost.


As early as 1934, Louis Renault realized that the AMR 33 was in need of modernization. The engine was one concern, which was replaced with the more powerful Nerva Stella 28 CV engine, and it was also moved to the rear of the vehicle instead of the front. Testing showed that the vehicle could hit speeds of up to 72km/h, with 48.5 km/h as an average road cruising speed. Whilst impressive, officers pointed out that the engine, originally used for a sports car, was too delicate, and was replaced with the Renault 432 22 CV 4-cylinder engine, which was originally used for commercial buses. With a weight of just over five tonnes, the vehicle could hit a maximum speed of just under 64km/h, and an average cruising speed of just over 35km/h. An order of 92 was placed on 3rd July 1934, and was named AMR 35.

However, there was another upgrade to be done concerning the suspension. The AMR 33’s suspension was intended to be used for the AMR 35, but was considered rather delicate and unreliable for cross-country driving. Moreover, the oil shock dampeners were rather maintenance heavy, and therefore quite unsuitable for military service. As a result, Renault began to work on a total redesign of the suspension, which led to three different types being developed, tested on AMR 35 chassis number 79758.
One type had the idler wheel on the ground, which was rejected. The second type had two bogies and five roadwheels, and the vehicle was known as the Renault ZB. This suspension type later developed further and used on the Renault R35. The third suspension type, mounted on the Renault ZT, was similar to the ZB, except it only had four roadwheels, and one bogie, and it was accepted for service.

Chinese Service

According to “World War II and Fighting Vehicles: The Complete Guide” by Leland Ness, in March 1936, the KMT ordered 12 Renault ZB (which he refers to as AMR-ZB). Half of these were armed with 37mm SA-18 guns, and the other half had 13.2mm Hotchkiss M1929s. Included in this order were 1500 HE shells, 1500 HE tracer shells, 3000 AP shells, and 300 practice rounds. Four more were ordered by the Yunnan Provincial Government a few months later, which were apparently all armed with 13.2mm Hotchkiss M1929 machine guns.
These were likely ordered because the Germans, who were closely allied to China (read more here), were unable to meet the demands of the Chinese armed forces, and thus the KMT began searching for other military hardware suppliers. France had previously sold vehicles to China – as early as 1919, they had sold Renault FTs to Warlord Zhang Zuolin (Chang Tso-lin) and later sold some to Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang in 1928.
Yunnan received their vehicles in October 1938. The KMT’s tanks were shipped to Haiphong, French Indochina (now Vietnam), but the Japanese applied pressure to the French government, and they were not delivered immediately. Two vehicles finally arrived in China in February 1940, and another eight in June 1940. The other two are unaccounted for. The French also sold the KMT an estimated ten modified Renault UEs with 7.7mm machine guns in August 1936, which reached China in 1940 for the same reasons.
The Renault ZBs were apparently used by the Chinese Expeditionary Forces in Burma, but further information is unclear. One photo shows a Renault ZB with 13.2mm Hotchkiss machine gun in Burma, 1942. These vehicles are likely to have been lost or abandoned in Burma, as they are not known to have taken part in the Chinese Civil War (1945-1949).

Renault ZB of the Chinese Expeditionary Force, Burma, 1942.
Renault ZB of the Chinese Expeditionary Force, Burma, 1942. Illustration by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet

Renault ZB “30” with Hotchkiss M1929 (a 13.2mm machine gun) of the Chinese Expeditionary Force, Burma, 1942. The vehicle appears to be camouflaged by shrubbery.

Renault ZB, reported wrongly by some sources to be in China. This is actually the trial vehicle in France in 1934.

Renault ZB of the Yunnan Provincial Government, armed with a 13.2mm Hotchkiss M1929 machine gun.


“World War II and Fighting Vehicles: The Complete Guide” by Leland Ness
“Все китайские танки. «Бронированные драконы» Поднебесной” by Andrei Chaplygin