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WW1 French Armored Cars

Autocanon de 47 Renault mle 1915

WW1 French Tanks France (1914-1918)
Armored Car – 4 Built

Introduction

Since its foundation in 1899 by Louis Renault and two of his brothers, the Renault company was pioneering in the rapidly growing automotive industry.

Despite rejecting the armored car concept before the Great War, French military interest in this type of weapon reappeared at the start of the war in 1914. Already in September, armored cars were planned to be used for a plethora of roles, mainly as protection against aircraft and for targeting enemy observation balloons.

Thus, the “Renault Autoblindée mle. 1914” was accepted into service and production began in the city of Lyon. It was followed the next year by the production of a Renault 2.5-tonne lorry as the basis for a 47 mm rapid firing gun, creating a vehicle that was going to be used for motorized naval infantry.

Studied after the hard experience of the fighting on open ground in the autumn of 1914 in Artois and Flanders, these powerful mobile guns were designed above all to take advantage of the useful range of the gun, of 4,500 m.

Side view of the Autocanon de 47 mm Renault. Source: The encyclopedia of French tanks and armored vehicles 1914-1940

Context

When it comes to building armored cars, the French had developed two theoretical concepts before 1914. The first one was creating armored cars that were completely enclosed in armor, making them impervious to enemy small arms fire and having them equipped with turret-mounted armament. The second concept, and an opposite to this ‘fully-enclosed’ armored car’ idea was initially proposed by Captain Genty. He suggested making use of light unarmored cars putting more emphasis on speed and rapid movement while also carrying the armament on a pillar mounting. It was this second concept which initially prevailed, partially thanks to the military efforts of Captain Genty and the influence that he had.

In 1904, the army assigned Captain Genty a Panhard & Levassor 24 hp car which could be used as a reconnaissance vehicle because its high chassis enabled it to travel over rugged terrain. Its impact-resistant reinforced-wood frame gave it flexibility and solidity and it could travel at a speed of up to 70 kph. He had the idea of adding a machine gun and fitting out the vehicle accordingly. A swivel stool next to the driver allowed the gun to be fired from any position. The Panhard-Genty armored car was the first in a long line of Panhard army vehicles. Thus, in 1906, some Panhard reconnaissance vehicles were armed and were adopted by the French armed forces. By the beginning of the First World War, a handful of these vehicles were put to use.

Starting from the first weeks of the war, roughly 200 touring cars were retrofitted with armored plates and were designated according to their armament either as ‘autos-canons’ (English: cannon-armed armored car) or ‘autos-mitrailleuses’ (English: machine gun-armed armored car). None of these had a dedicated military chassis, thus the need for something more sophisticated appeared.
The concept of a lorry-mounted gun was probably first used by British Commander C. R. Samson, who mounted a 3-pounder on an L.G.O.C. ‘B’ type chassis. That vehicle was constructed for the Royal Naval Air Service (R.N.A.S.) by the French shipyard Forges et Chantiers de France at Dunkirk in October 1914. In November 1914, while the war was still raging on the Western Front, the French Army commanders began to seriously consider further mechanization. The initial success of armored vehicles (Panhard, Peugeot, and Hotchkiss models) was undoubtedly great due to their speed and their ability to be used for multiple purposes, but the ground troops lacked more powerful fire support. This led to the demand for fighting vehicles equipped with rapid-fire guns.
Thanks to General Gallieni who showed bold initiatives during 1914, many armaments could be designed and developed. This was in stark contrast to the usual passivity and fatuity of the generalissimo, barely capable of ‘conceiving armored vehicles’. In a few weeks, Gallieni, granting his confidence to enterprising soldiers and engineers, thus developing a variety of offensive armament from bombs and machine-guns, armoured trains, long-range naval components, chemical projectiles, and most importantly in this context, armored cars. The primary purpose of all these means was to harass the enemy far ahead of the entrenched camp of Paris’ (Camp retranché de Paris/CRP) fortification lines. Here they were to thwart, harass, or otherwise hinder enemy operations and to prevent the deployment of their fearsome heavy artillery in great numbers.

Map showing the Entrenched camp of Paris alongside its fortifications

Development

The development for this vehicle started during 1914-1915, with several prototypes shown. The most common were those on the chassis of the Peugeot commercial trucks. However, a very successful ‘car cannon’ on a Renault chassis was produced in limited numbers. The initiator of this design was Lieutenant Villeneu-Bargemont, who in a short time, prepared a project based on a 2.5-tonne Renault truck chassis. The first prototype of the Autocanon de 47 mm Renault was presented on 15th August 1915. Its performance during tests was quite encouraging, but, by this time, both warring sides were firmly entrenched, and the use of road-bound vehicles like these was proving difficult under the new circumstances. Adapting to the changed situation, no large order was placed for cannon-armed vehicles of this type. Apart from the prototype, three other serial machines were built. They were sent to the front and used repeatedly until November 1918.
The first assembly of a 47 mm gun model 1885 on a so-called ‘automatic recoil mount’ is made on the chassis of a 3-ton Renault EP truck, probably on direct order of the CRP dating from September 1914.

Three-quarter rear ¾ side to rear view of the 47 mm Autocanon. Source: https://www.thefewgoodmen.com/thefgmforum/threads/renault-47mm-Autocanon-armored-car.29950/#post-278164

The equipment was studied by Renault with Lieutenant Hergault. The pedestal was bolted on the platform of the truck which rests directly on the vehicle tyres. The first tests took place at Satory, near Versailles on 12th October 1914 in the presence of General Clergerie, Gallieni’s Chief of Staff. Here, some 30 shots were fired at a range of 1,200 m within the limits of the firing range. It turned out that these shots were very accurate and that the automobile chassis withstood the recoil forces from the gun whilst firing in all directions. However, the assembly was found to lack stability and the gun mounted on its pedestal to be too high compared to the platform. A note from 16th October 1914, proposed the deployment of 47 mm naval guns in the flat regions of Northern France. This would allow for better long-range engagements against enemy troops (up to 4,500 m). The approval for such projects was given on the 18th November by General Gallieni.
This equipment nevertheless appears all the more interesting to General Louis de Maud’Huy, commander of the 10th Army, who pointed out that the Autocanon recently put into service could be used for firing against aircraft since they were very capable as support weapons. Their capabilities could be improved in terms of firepower by ‘substituting 47 mm guns for 37 mm guns’. At that time, the Minister of War announced the existence of 90 quick-firing 47 mm guns, taken from coastal defenses and supplied with 500 rounds.

At the end of October 1914, General Gallieni had twelve of these 47 mm guns at the Grand-Palais; he suggested using this equipment for anti-aircraft fire on the automobile platform studied by Renault. All these suggestions initially remained unanswered, since the Vincennes park (French: Parc de Vincennes) reported on 21st December that the “ninety-two 47 mm guns in storage had not been used either by the ground forces, the air force or the armored cars”. The park only had 17 mountings for this equipment, ten of which have two recoil buffers, and seven have only one recoil buffer. It is certain that the automatic recoil mount was more suitable for mounting on a car chassis, to absorb the recoil of the 47 mm gun as much as possible.

However, after reflection, the Minister of War decided in November 1914, to entrust the military government of Paris to experiment with the construction and organization of four armed cars and a supply car, the vehicles would be crewed by naval personnel thus naval instructors for the usage of the armaments were also needed. The studies were coordinated by Lieutenant-Colonel Cordier, Commander of the Grand Parc Automobile de Réserve reserve fleet (GPAR) in Vincennes, in liaison with the manufacturer Renault and Captain Renaud. It was agreed to reduce the height of the piece in relation to the platform by placing the gun on a centrally rotating carriage, with a low support, requiring the gunner to fire in a kneeling position. The front of the chassis, the engine, and the radiator, were fully armored.

Frontal View of the Autocanon. Source: Histoire de guerre, blindés & matériel No.113

The construction, initially planned within 25 days after receiving the order, was delayed, especially as contradictory discussions began about the use of these 47s. General Gallieni wanted two 47s to be assigned to each of the 15 groups of the existing 37 Autocanon, thus implying the construction of 30 machines.
The Governor of Paris was also considering assigning two 47s to the 14th and 15th Groups and them as soon as the four pieces of equipment ordered ‘as an experiment’ were completed. As was to be expected, the Minister’s response, after consulting General Joffre for his opinion, was negative. The Minister did not authorize any new construction of the 47 Autocanon because the General in charge considered that there would be a disadvantage in bringing together 37 and 47 guns within the same group, for logistical and practical reasons.

In these conditions, the future of the four 47 mm Autocanon built became uncertain, especially as the users’ reports underlined the defects of the equipment. Ensign Pouyer, Commander of the 47 Autocanon section since 1st February 1915, was very critical of the equipment. The main defect he noted was the prohibitive weight of the Autocanon, which reached 6,500 kg, and the underpowering of the truck. This led the manufacturer to make its engines run 200 revolutions faster than their normal speed, i.e. 1,300 revolutions/minute instead of 1,100, by tampering with the regulator. Moreover, the wheelbase of 3.85 m made maneuvers difficult, especially with the large rear overhang which brought the length of the vehicle to 5.80 m.

Ensign Pouyer, taking into account the experience of the battle of the Autocanon in Belgium, feared that the 47’s equipment could not maneuver on the narrow roads of Flanders and that traversing in order to hide from enemy fire was particularly difficult. On 8th March 1915, he reported on the very difficult march of the two 47s to Fontainebleau five days earlier from Billancourt with two 37s and two Saurer trucks, one of which carried a 75 mm gun, to carry out firing tests.

During the first 27 kilometers, the 47s were outpaced by the other vehicles and were dragging themselves along at an average speed of 12 km/h. The Renault drivers had to remove their regulators, even though they were set at 1,400 rpm, which allowed them to drive the last 36 kilometers at an average speed of 22.5 km/h, at the cost of engine fatigue and high radiator water temperature. On the other hand, the shots fired at Fontainebleau – 46 shots per piece at distances varying from 2,100 to 2,300 m showed the equipment’s ability to fire accurately in all directions, with the exception towards the front. During the return march to Billancourt, the drivers pushed the Autocanons to more than 50 km/h (instantaneous speed) at 3,700 rpm. During tests undertaken at Renault on 5th March, it appeared that the speed with the regulator set at 1600 rpm could not in practice exceed 20 km/h. In these conditions, the dispatch to the armies was postponed, which left time to define exactly the composition of the unit.

The Autocanon de 47 mm alongside its crew. Source: https://www.thefewgoodmen.com/thefgmforum/threads/renault-47mm-Autocanon-armored-car.29950/#post-278164

It is also worth mentioning that four armored Autocanons were made into one ‘Groupe’ which will later be referred to the 1st Group while there was a second Group of Autocanons which was composed of the same vehicles but these were completely unarmored. This second group also had 4 armed vehicles but alongside it was also operating two 47 mm guns on mounts that were deployed on the ground and not on vehicles. They were also deployed alongside the 1st Group for anti-air purposes at the entrenched camp of Paris (CRP). After some studies, it was decided by the ministry that both the 1st and 2nd Group would be moved to the positions betweenDammartin and Le Plessis-Belleville in northern France.

Vehicles and guns of the 2nd group of 47 mm Autocanons probably during winter of 1915- 1916, probably near Amiens, perhaps in Dury, in protection of general Foch’s HQ. Souce: Histoire de guerre, blindés & matériel No.113

Design

Overall Design

The vehicle was intended to be used for direct fire support for the infantry on the battlefield, thus crew protection was going to be needed. The driver’s cab and bonnet were fully armored, with the top armor plates installed at a steep angle. The armor was made from 7 mm thick plates that were supplied from Saint-Chamond, probably by the manufacturer “Compagnie des forges et aciéries de la marine et d’Homécourt” (FCM) (English: Company of marine forges and steelworks and of Homécourt). The armored Autocanon of the 1st Group were equipped with the 47 mm gun model 1885 mounted on a so-called automatic recoil mount, with two side recuperators, on a special type of support, most probably using components of the regulation mount model 1887, modified to reduce the height of the trunnion axis.

The mounts were then fitted with a fork-shaped mount known as the Fauconneau (a ‘Fauconneau’ was a small type of medieval cannon), allowing shooting against aircraft up to 70 degree angle. At least for a while (spring 1917 according to photographs), the Autocanon “1” kept the primitive mount, intended mainly for firing at full tilt up to 13 degree while the other three “2”, “3” and “4” were equipped with the Fauconneau mount. While the 2nd Group was equipped with the 47 mm model 1885 with a great diversity of mountings. For the first section created (on standard Renault EP standard), one Autocanon was equipped with the automatic recoil mount model 1887 with support and the other with the recoilless mount with support like the one used with coastal artillery and on certain small old ships of the navy. The latter, whose recoil is more violent on an automobile platform, received later, a Fauconneau mount to improve the conditions of the shooting against aircraft. At an unknown date, the two of the vehicles received a shortened support base (shaped like a chandelier-like structure) intended to decrease the shocks of the shooting by decreasing the height of the piece compared to the automobile platform.

Sketch showing the Fauconneau Mount. Source: Histoire de guerre, blindés & matériel No.113

To improve the protection of the gun crew on the armored vehicles of the 1st Group, the gun mount was protected by a U-shaped armor plate with a roof. The traverse was about 270 degrees, and the ammunition was stowed in a compartment behind the driver’s cab. The gun was mounted low between the rear wheel arches in the body of the vehicle. The only disadvantage of this lower mounting was that the gun did not have a forward field of fire, because the driver’s cab was in the way. The first prototypes were completed by the end of January 1915. Tests showed that the heavily armored vehicle was too heavy, and the speed too slow, and no more than four were manufactured.

Close up shot of the Autocanon with its crew. The markings signifies that this was the 4th vehicle of the 1st Group. Source: https://www.armedconflicts.com/Auto-Canon-de-47-mm-Renault-EP-t87840

Armament

The armament that was chosen for the vehicle was the Hotchkiss 47 mm model 1885. The specific model was chosen because it had more than double the range of the alternative, the 37 mm that was produced by Hotchkiss. It was designed and manufactured by Hotchkiss et Cie (French: Société Anonyme des Anciens Établissements Hotchkiss et Compagnie). The weapon was used in three different types with the main difference between them being the height of the trunnion axis and the weight of the mount. The most common type of ammunition that was fired from this gun were steel (model 1892 and 1911) and lyddite. The steel shells (not to be confused with cast iron shells) were very similar to the British common pointed shells, since they were also filled with gunpowder and a base percussion fuze. The only difference between the two was that the tip of the shell resembled a British AP (armor-piercing) shell. The latter meant that the body of the projectile held less powder and the solid section (penetrator) was longer. Similarly to the gun itself, the ammunition was also designed for naval use. The Lyddite (equivalent in French ‘melinite’) shells were the first form of high explosive shells, using the shrapnel they created after they exploded to cause damage to the surrounding area in order to maximize the destructive capability of the shell. A delayed fuze was needed until the shell had penetrated its target. Other shell types included cast iron shells (model 1892 and 1902) and canister shot (model 1886) containing 76 steel balls weighing 17 gr each.

Image showing the 47mm cannon alongside a 47mm shell. Source: Histoire de guerre, blindés & matériel No.113

The armament with the initial mount was able to achieve a depression of just +13 degrees while the ones equipped with the much better Fauconneau were able to achieve +70 degrees. It is also worth mentioning that there were some minor variations between the gun with the difference being between the weight and the length of the trunnions.

Diagrams of the cannon barrel(Top) and some of the shells that the gun was able to fire.
From left to right

    1. Steel shells mode l1888

 

    1. Cast iron shells model 1888

 

    1. Canister for grapeshot model 1886

 

    1. Complete cartridges of 47 mm

 

    1. Cartridges with cast iron shells model 1885

 

Source:Histoire de guerre, blindés & matériel No.113

Gun table of data
Designation Hotchkiss 47 mm M1885
Caliber 47 mm
Weight of the barrel 237 kg
Weight of mount 380-538 kg
Barrel length 2.35 m
Muzzle velocity 600-610 m/s
Elevation +13°, -10°/ +70° , -10°

Mobility

The drivetrain was a 4×2, with spoke wheels with rubber tires. The vehicle featured a leaf-spring suspension which, due to the nature of this type of suspension, allowed for better vertical weight handling and distribution. Leaf-springs had much better response time after a vertical flex in the suspension, thus making for a much more controllable car. A 16 hp 4-cycle Renault petrol engine was placed under the bonnet, which was clearly insufficient for a heavy vehicle, giving the armored car a top speed of roughly 20 km/h and a 5 hp/tonne power to weight ratio.

Operation/Service

These Autocanon were manned by naval personnel ‘Fusiliers Marins’ and were ready for action, organized in sections of two, in June 1915. Each vehicle was manned by a crew of 4 (commander, driver, gunner, and loader). They seem to have been mainly used as anti-aircraft operations, but were also used as mobile light artillery, moving along the lines, attacking any targets when an opportunity arose. The First Autocanon Group was equipped with the only four vehicles that were produced and they were also given four machine gun cars from the same manufacturer. The Group was placed near Dunkirk.

The 1st Group of 47s of the Navy in Flanders

At the end of its laborious tests and after a request from General Foch, the group of ’47 Autocanons set off on 15th June 1915 from Paris to Dunkirk, in four stages at Beauvais, Amiens, and Thérouanne. It is likely that its commander was able to pass on a message to General Foch’s staff, about the lack of a telemeter or a telemetric binocular, since General Weygand, Chief of Staff of the Northern Army Group, GAN), asked the Navy to supply a Barr and Stroud rangefinder, on the grounds that the Autocanons were to be used especially for firing against aircraft.

  • Τhe group was given three types of missions:
    Defense against aircraft, even though the low vertical depression of the 47 mm guns did not initially allow for optimum performance.
  • Defense of the North Sea coasts; indeed,despite the superiority of the Allied fleets, incursions on the coastline were still to be feared, especially behind the lines of the Nieuport front. As a result, many station points guarding the seafront were defended on the coastline.
  • Finally harassment and destruction of the enemy front line defensive works by taking advantage of the accuracy and range of the 47’s cannon.The way that the Autocanon would achieve that was by quickly occupying suitable firing positions ,fire against enemy fortifications and then withdraw to avoid enemy reactions.

In the latter role, the 47s were to be of great service when they were placed at the disposal of the Nieuport group in the autumn of 1915. This sector was then occupied by the 38th Division, whose Commander, General Rouquerol, was keen to keep the enemy on his toes. By making excessive use of artillery and Autocanons to increase the number of local attacks by his troops.

The 1st Autocanon Group took part in the following operations:

  1. On the 5th of November 1915, a section of two 47 mm Autocanon fired 160 shells on the southern flank of the Grande Dune of Nieuport.
  2. On 22nd November, traveling on the Nieuport-Ville – Nieuport-Bains road, the Autocanon destroyed two forts on the coast with 150 projectiles.
  3. On 27th December, 10th and 26th January, and 8th February 1916, shots were fired at the Grande Dune.
  4. On 17th January, shots were fired at the Groote-Bamburg work.
  5. On 6th April, shots were fired at the roads and crossroads north of Lombartzyde
  6. On 23rd March, and 3rd and 22nd May 1916, the defensive works of the Villa Crombez were heavily shelled, particularly on the last day when 598 rounds of 47 mm ammunition were fired.

In the service of the Navy

There is no doubt that in the conditions of trench warfare, the Autocanon provided more service than the regular stationary guns. General Rouquerol regretted the departure of the 1st Group of 47 Autocanon of the navy, ordered by the GQG (Grand Quartier Général) on 22nd May 1916. In fact, in order to meet the demands of submarine warfare, at the beginning of 1916 the naval staff requested the recall of all its personnel employed at the front, with the exception of the marine gunners and some specialist units. Lieutenant de Villeneuve-Bargemon, supported by Commander Goybet, inspector of the navy’s Autocanon groups, pleaded for the maintenance of his unit since they could not trust cavalry or infantry men to operate properly the weaponry of the AC. The conduct of indirect fire with the naval cannons required knowledge and practice that his crews possessed and he needed to keep this knowledge. On 26th May 1916, General Rouquerol greeted with emotion the departure of the 47 navy Autocanon group and more particularly that of the navy officers and pointers, thus underlining the value of these personnel. The navy group was officially disbanded on 31st May 1916.

The Autocanon during exercise. Source: RCforum.ru

Defense against the tanks

After the failure of the spring 1917 offensives, the 1st Group was used essentially for flak on the 6th Army’s rear and a new mission was added to the previous one. Indeed, since the end of 1916, the GQG feared that the enemy would build and use tanks in turn, as concordant intelligence tends to indicate.

In these circumstances, the 1st Gun Group could play an important role defending against tanks. General Franchet d’Espérey, commanding the North Army Group, considered in July 1917 that the 1st Group of 47s should be used for flak against low-flying aircraft during the stabilization period and, during active operations, as ‘road tanks’ from a stationary point involving relatively little movement. By the end of August 1917, the group was defending the town and station of Villers-Cotteréts, but its situation was soon to change once again.

On 4th January 1918, both the 1st and the 2nd Group of AC were ordered to move to the Trilport – Isle-les-Meldeuses line, a major railway junction. The first big night raid of the German air force on Paris took place during the night of 30th to 31st January. The 47s fired no less than 986 shells that night. A supply of 2,000 rounds was then provided for the Autocanon alone and orders were given to deliver 360 explosive shells to them so that they would be in a position to give possible assistance to the ground defense of the CRP. On 8th March 1918, another major German air raid passed over their positions; they fired 1,800 shells during the night. In these conditions, the Ministry of Armament was asked to manufacture 14,000 47 mm shells in order to maintain the group’s initial supply of 500 rounds per piece and to build up a reserve of at least 10,000 rounds. The great German offensives of spring were accompanied by the continuation of the campaign of night bombardment of Paris and its region by the Gotha bombers, Friedrichshafen, and the giant Riesenflugzeuge planes.

Photograph showing the Unarmored vehicles of the 2nd group. Source:Histoire de guerre, blindés & matériel No.113

From the end of May 1918, the enemy planes encountered a powerful flak in the north and east of the Parisian agglomeration. From then on, the black cross bombers tried to bypass Paris by the south and to reach the heart of the capital by the region of Corbeil – Villeneuve-Saint-Georges. In the summer, the evolution of the military situation forced the German air force to give up attacking the capital where the last raid was recorded on the night of the 15th/16th September 1918. The 47s were then out of breath and had no further opportunity to engage the enemy. The signing of the armistice led to the rapid demobilization of many anti-air units, essentially composed of old and wounded personnel who were unfit for service at the front. In February 1919, The 21st Gun Group to which the 47 AC were attached was transferred to Arnouville for disbandment. The final fate of the equipment is not precisely known.

Photo showing two armored cars with their crews, probably during a training exercise. The ammo storage is also visible. Source: https://armoredcars-ww-one.blogspot.com/2012/09/renault-auto-canon-blinde-de-47-mm.html

Conclusion

Even though the Autocanon de 47 mm Renault was used in a role that was not very well covered by other military means during the First World War (mobile infantry support / anti-air) its overall design was lackluster and it was technically unsound. The drastic change in the way the war was fought led to a more static battlefield, which was completely ill-suited for mobile armored cars. This meant that the Autocanon had to rove up and down the battlefield looking for targets, peek up, fire and quickly get out to avoid retribution. This only exacerbated the fact that the vehicle was already considered slow, thus resulting in its overall replacement by other armored cars that were better designed for their respective roles.

Sketch of the armored car. Source: https://weaponsandwarfare.files.wordpress.com/2018/06/asdsdca.jpg
Autocanon de 47 Renault mle 1915. Illustration by Freezer.
Autocanon de 47 Renault mle 1915 in camouflage paint. Illustration by Freezer.
Autocanon de 47 Renault mle 1915 Specifications
Dimensions Length: 4.7 m
Width: 1.7 m
Height: 1.7 m
Crew 4
Propulsion 16 hp 4-cycle Renault petrol engine
Suspension Leaf-Spring
Armament Hotchkiss 47 mm L/50 M1902
Armor 7 mm thick armor plates
Production 4

Sources

http://www.landships.info/landships/car_articles.html?load=car_articles/Renault_Mle1914.html#

https://weaponsandwarfare.files.wordpress.com/2018/06/asdsdca.jpg

The encyclopedia of French tanks and armored vehicles 1914-1940 from François Vauvillier (Histoire et collections) ISBN 10:2352503221

Early Armoured Cars (Shire Albums) by E. Bartholomew ISBN 10: 0852639082

Histoire de guerre, blindés & matériel No.113

https://www.arquus-defense.com/captain-gentys-panhard-armored-car-arrives-morocco
https://wikimaginot.eu/V70_glossaire_detail.php?id=1000280

Categories
WW1 French Armored Cars

Hotchkiss 1908 Automitrailleuse

WW1 French Tanks France / Ottoman Empire (1908-1913)
Armored Car – 5 Built

It is 28th April 1909. Abdülhamid II is residing at the Yildriz Palace in Constantinople. Just yesterday, he was deposed as the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Suddenly, he hears the noise of crackling engines near the palace. He fears that his life will be taken away, just like his power, his trappings of power, and his title. It is then that he sees an armored car and four other cars, packed with soldiers, approaching him. These vehicles, as it happened, were his escort to safely bring him into exile. Five of these new armored cars had been bought by his government in 1908 from the French firm of Hotchkiss, although the term ‘armored car’ is a bit of an overstatement since only the rear of the vehicle was actually armored.

The prototype from 1908. A crew of three is shown, with a driver, a gunner, and a passenger who possibly acted as commanding officer. Source: warwheels.net
Sultan Abdülhamid II, photographed in 1908, getting out of a car. Source: Wikimedia

The Fighting Vehicles of Hotchkiss

The Hotchkiss arms manufacturer was established by American-born entrepreneur Benjamin B. Hotchkiss (1826-1885). In 1867, he moved to France, and, in 1875, he set up a factory in Saint-Denis, near Paris. The manufacture of weaponry was quite successful, with large amounts of export, and a great deal was sold to the French Army. In 1884, another branch was established in Britain. The branch in France gradually expanded its interest in general mechanics and, in 1901, started manufacturing components for other French car manufacturers.

In 1902, the interest in cars was further expanded, but in a military setting. Together with the newly founded company Charron, Girardot et Voigt, an armored automobile was made and presented to the French military in 1903. Although the tests went fairly well, the army rejected the vehicle for use.

Also in 1903, Hotchkiss went on to make vehicles of their own design. The first vehicle, the Type C with a 4-cylinder petrol engine, was sold in 1904. Without anything to lose, a vehicle was experimentally outfitted with a machine gun on a central pivot in front of the rear seats. The company was not able to receive any success with this model either.

The partially armored Charron Girardot Voigt Model 1902 and an unarmored Hotchkiss Model 1903 20 hp car fitted with a machine gun. Both vehicles would form a developmental base for the subsequential model of 1908. Source: L’Aube de la gloire

1908 Model

Being both a vehicle and an arms manufacturer, interest in combining both did not disappear. In 1908, a new vehicle was offered. It looked very much the same as the CGV 1902 model, but this time with Hotchkiss’ own chassis.

In several pictures, the vehicle is crewed by men wearing French military uniforms. It is therefore likely that the vehicle was at least observed, if not tested by the French military, but to what extent and with what results is unknown. Naturally, no copies were bought, indicating that the French Army Command had not changed their tactical needs, which were based on the trial of the previous vehicle in 1903. They had concluded after the earlier tests that armor was more of a burden to a vehicle than a useful addition and believed armed cars could do the same job as armored cars, but more efficiently and more cheaply. This idea was further worked out by Captain Genty in the subsequent years. Genty was a Captain with the French artillery and known for his knowledge about motorized vehicles. He went on to design the Panhard-Genty, which was deployed to Morocco in 1907.

Design

The design of the armored car was quite simple. It was basically a regular passenger car on which the rear bodywork was replaced by a circular armored construction of bath-tub-like shape. In the middle of this thinly armored encirclement, a pedestal was placed, on which the machine gun was mounted. A gun shield provided a small degree of frontal protection for the gunner. The driver and passenger sat unprotected in front of the armored tub and were thus very vulnerable to hostile fire from the sides and front. An armored plate was placed horizontally above the front seats. Ironically, this mainly provided protection from their own machine gun and not from enemy fire, apart from shell splinters to a very small extent. Furthermore, it likely was installed to prevent the crew standing into the firing arc of the gun by mistake, which would have resulted in an unfortunate event of friendly fire.

The prototype in France, shown from the side. Source: Pinterest

It is sometimes questioned whether the ‘bathtub’ on the back was made of thin armor plating or regular bodywork. A source suggests the latter, although several contemporary newspaper reports specifically describe the vehicle as an armored car, which would be an overstatement if the only piece of armor on the vehicle was the gun shield.

The vehicle used the Type V chassis with a 3,350 mm wheelbase as a base. The Type V, introduced in 1908, was powered by an inline six-cylinder petrol engine that displaced 9,500 cc and produced roughly 40 to 50 hp at 1,100 rpm. It was a water-cooled and naturally-aspirated longitudinally placed engine that used two valves per cylinder for aspiration. Power was transferred to the rear wheels by a Hotchkiss Drive that was coupled to a four-speed gearbox. The engine consumed 0,29 l of petrol per kilometer. The tank of 65 l allowed an operational range of roughly 250 kilometers.

Armament

In 1897, Hotchkiss started the production of a machine gun based on an 1893 design from an Austrian officer in Vienna. The weapon was further improved and a new version was introduced in 1900, which became known as the modèle 1900. The vehicle was outfitted with this particular gun, which was capable of firing 600 rounds per minute. It was also chambered to accept regular 7.65 mm Turkish rounds. 4750 rounds were carried on the vehicle, spread over nineteen boxes with 250 rounds each. A tripod for the machine gun was carried on the left side of the vehicle, allowing dismounted use as well.

One of the cars on the streets of Constantinople. Source: US Library of Congress

To the Ottomans

As noted, the French took no interest in the design. However, Abdülhamid II, the Ottoman Sultan, did have an interest. On 15th April 1908 (or 26th April depending on the source), the Ottoman government placed an order for five vehicles, one of them being unarmed. A Turkish officer was dispatched to France, to observe the production and trials of the new vehicles. The first two were ready and shipped to Constantinople by early September 1908. Two French engineers were sent to Constantinople as well, to properly introduce the workings of the vehicles to the future operators.

By October 1908, the other three vehicles had arrived as well. On 10th October, a Saturday, one car was driven to the Ministry of War and made its first public appearance. Some maneuvers were observed by the Minister of War and the commander of the 1. Ottoman Army (Hassa Ordusu). After this, the vehicles were tested by a special committee and accepted into service.

The City Commander of Constantinople made regular inspections of the city, sometimes by patrolling with one of the four cars. This picture was taken in early 1909. Source: Österreichische Illustrierte zeitung of 9 May 1909

In Turkey, the vehicles were used in the vicinity of Edirne, in the northwest of Turkey, close to the Bulgarian border. The vehicles were positively received and a variety of uses were considered, like use for delivery of mail, to put down riots, as protection for roads and railways, or in anti-smuggling operations. Indeed, after hearing the news that the government had bought some armored cars, military units in the Arab part of the Empire requested some cars to use for defense of the Hejaz Railway, but they were never sent.

In the meantime, Sultan Abdülhamid II had lost his absolute power during the Young Turk Revolution of July 1908. The Young Turks were a political movement that heavily opposed the absolute rule of the Sultan and established a multi-party democracy after the Sultan’s defeat. On 31st March 1909, Abdülhamid II staged a countercoup to regain his absolute power, but his attempt was unfruitful. As a consequence, he was forced to Greece into exile.

The Hotchkiss in the streets of Constantinople, reportedly near the Taksim Military Barracks. Source: Wikimedia

Further Deployment

After one Hotchkiss was used to escort the former Sultan to the railway station on 28th April, the cars made regular appearances on the streets of Constantinople during May. For example, during the inauguration of Mehmed V, the new Sultan and brother of Abdülhamid, two of the armored cars headed the procession through the streets of Constantinople. During later years, at least some of the cars appear to have remained in service with the policing forces in Constantinople.

In 1909, another opportunity arose to use the armored cars against a rebellion. On the Arabic peninsula, Sayyid Muhammad ibn Ali al-Idrisi (1876–1920) rebelled against the Empire and established the Idrisid Emirate of Asir. On 31st August 1909, the Ottoman government noted that it would send armored cars to the region. For this purpose, they were transported from Kardzhali, where they were stationed at the time, to Constantinople on 3rd September. However, they remained there and were never sent to Asir.

It is unknown when the armored cars were retired. Since it is quite certain that the vehicles saw no action during the First World War, the general consensus is that the vehicles were taken out of service before early 1914. The relatively successful deployment meant that several military units wanted to acquire additional armored cars, but none of these plans seem to have materialized.

A colored-in postcard, showing one of the four cars. On the card, a certain Chetket Pacha is mentioned, better known as Mahmud Shevket Pasha, an important Ottoman General. Source: ottoman-uniforms.com
The unarmed Hotchkiss was used to drive around military officials. Source: Pinterest

Spain: Another Customer?

In 1909, with a view to acquiring a suitable armored vehicle for the ongoing war in Melilla, a report was commissioned by the Comisión de Experiencias de Artillería (Eng. Artillery Experiences Commission). The report studied seven vehicle proposals from different European companies, including Armstrong Whitworth, Hotchkiss, Maudslay Motor Company, Rheinische Metallwaren und Maschinenfabrik (RMM), Schneider-Brillié, Süddeutsche Automobilfabrik Gaggenau (SAG), and Thornycroft.

The design offered by the French firm Schneider-Brillié was selected after evaluation of the proposed designs and two vehicles would eventually be acquired. The Hotchkiss 1908 was among the six rejected designs.

One of the Ottoman cars, transporting the Minister of War through Constantinople. Note how this vehicle has no armament fitted. Source: American Press Association via the Guido Deseijn Collection

Conclusion

Due to the limited armored construction, the Hotchkiss was not intended, nor useful, for real combat. For its uses intended by the Ottomans, it would have performed decently, but the driver was still very vulnerable to gunfire or thrown objects from a crowd. Indeed, he was not provided with even a rudimentary windscreen of any kind. Due to the Ottoman interest, the Hotchkiss is actually one of the few pre-war armored cars that surpassed the prototype stage and was one of the few commercial successes in the field of early armored car innovation.

Illustration of the Hotchkiss 1908 as it went into service in the Ottoman Empire. Illustration by Yuvnashva Sharma funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Specifications

Approximate Dimensions (L-W-H) 4.6 x 1.9 x 2.3 m (181 x 75 x 91 in)
Wheelbase 3.35 m (11ft)
Crew 3 (driver, gunner, passenger/commander)
Propulsion Hotchkiss 6-cylinder petrol engine, 40-50 hp
Maximum Speed 55 km/h (34.2 mph)
Range 250 km (155 miles)
Armament 1 Hotchkiss Mle.1900 7.65 mm machine gun
Armor 0-6 mm
Production 5

Sources

1909 till 1913 Ottoman Police Auto Machine Gun Carrier: The 1909 Hotchkiss ‘Automitrailleuse’ in Turkish Service, Chris Flaherty, ottoman-uniforms.com.
L’Aube de la gloire : les autos mitrailleuses et les chars français pendant la grande guerre, Alain Gougaud, 1987. p.34.
Fall of the Sultanate. The Great War and the End of the Ottoman Empire. 1908-1922, Ryan Gingeras, 2016.
Het Nieuws van de Dag, ‘De Zwaardomgording’, 12 May 1909, p.15. Accessed on Delpher.
Hotchkiss Story, Automania, 6 March 2013, automania.be.
Hotchkiss Type V, The Transport Journal, 20 June 2015, thetransportjournal.com.
Les véhicules blindés français 1900-1944, Pierre Touzin, 1979, p.251-252.
Osmanli İmparatorluğu’nda Motorlu Kara Taşitlari (1890-1922), Mustafa Yeni, Marmara University thesis, 2011. p.78-81.
Prager Tagblatt, ‘Abdul Hamid’, 29 April 1909, p.5. Accessed on Anno.
Samochody pancerne I wojny Światowej, Witold J. Ławrynowicz and Albert Rokosz, Tetragon, 2020, p.258-261.
The Sunday Star, ‘Motoring’, 30 May 1909, p.2. Accessed on loc.gov.
Turkish Hotchkiss Partly-Armored Car M1908, 21 April 2013, José Luis Castillo, armoredcars-ww-one.blogspot.com.

Categories
WW1 French Armored Cars

Filtz Armored Tractor

WW1 French Tanks France (1915)
Armored Tractor – 10 Built

It was not long into World War One before the dynamic movement of armies ground to a halt as both sides dug in for a war which was to become synonymous with slaughter. The greatest factors in producing this stalemate, a situation which remained virtually unchanged on the Western Front between 1914 and 1918, was the modernization of weaponry which took place at the end of the 19th Century. The modern machine gun and artillery, combined with thick belts of barbed wire, meant that neither side’s infantry could cross no man’s land without incurring horrendous casualties or hold onto territory they gained across the wire.
A new type of weapon was being born out of the simple necessity to beat the effects of the wire on the troops and, whilst this would eventually result in the tank, there were numerous steps and missteps in the evolution towards that weapon.

Beginnings

The French were pioneers in armored warfare and had armored cars before the start of what would be World War I. These cars were basically commercial motor vehicles onto which a little armor (mostly bulletproof) was added. These were well suited for patrolling what roads there were but wholly unsuited to even moderately wet or boggy ground, let alone ground covered with wire entanglements. Tractors, on the other hand, were still wheeled but were well known as being able to cross muddy fields by virtue of the large wheels spreading the weight of the vehicle. It is no surprise therefore that the French, in the early era of developing armored vehicles, sought to use tractors for a variety of purposes.
The tractor building firm of Georges Filtz produced agricultural equipment before the war and, in January 1915, Filtz’s ideas about using his tractors were taken by General Curmer to General Joffre. These ideas basically revolved around using an existing, tried and proven vehicle, cheaply fitted with armor to crush its way through the wire. The idea had significant appeal to Joffre and was approved for tests.

Believed to be the original Filtz armored tractor, this vehicle retains the open web tractor wheels, a different position of view slits, and no vision flaps other than at the front. The roof hatch also lacks the triangular section to hold it open at an angle. Source: Chars Francis via the Vauvillier and Danjou collections

Design

Construction of the machine was undertaken by the Technical Engineering Section (STG) and involved reversing the tractor. The large diameter rear wheels would become the front wheels and, accordingly, the small pair of front wheels would become the rear wheels. This kept the engine at the front, where it was protected by a square-shaped steel bonnet followed by a fighting compartment made from a much larger box shape of steel sat at the back, where there was enough room to stand. Initially, the vehicle retained its open web type steel wheels at the front and back. Later, these would be covered over with steel covers hiding the spokes.

Believed to be the first Filtz armored tractor, this retouched image still shows the open web wheels. Note: a ‘mirrored version of this IMAGE has also appeared in print later but this is believed to be the original facing left to right. Source: Granier
The main cab, made from 10 flat panels of bulletproof steel up to 12mm thick, was riveted to a steel frame and surmounted by a slightly angled roof at the front, which then descended steeply as the bodyline tapered towards the rear. At the rear, over the pair of solid wheels which had been fitted with a circumferential solid rubber tire, was a rectangular door. This door served as the only access to and from the vehicle. A single flap inside the door served for ventilation and also seeing backward. Two vision slits were provided in each side of the cab, at the back and two more, fitted with armored flaps, were fitted on the corners of the front. The flat front of the cab had a single light machine gun, mounted centrally, flanked by two horizontal rectangular visions ports, each with its own protective flap.

No proper roof hatch or periscopes were fitted, meaning all visibility had to be done ‘buttoned up’ via these slots. The only roof access was by means of an unusual square flap in the back, over the door. Folded back, it would remain at an angle of about 45 degrees to the horizontal, unable to go flat due to a small triangular section between the hinges. This triangular section held up the hatch meaning that one man, and it can be speculated that this was for the commander, to sit out of the roof to get a better view ahead. Although this would be suicidal in combat, it would be useful behind the lines and also provide a lot of ventilation into the stuffy compartment.


The unusual roof hatch at the back open (left) and closed (right). Note the chain steering system connected to the rear wheels as well. Source: Chars Francais

The engine remained unchanged from the standard 45hp and was protected under an armored box with a simple overlapping set of horizontal panels at the front to protect the radiator. There are no apparent ventilation grilles on the vehicle, suggesting that air for the engine was simply drawn in from underneath the bonnet. The position of the exhaust is unclear but presumably was underneath. Steering was done by means of chains running from the front of the cab, underneath the cab and to the small wheels at the back.
At the back end of the sides of the engine armor, there were two doors, each of which allowed for access to the mechanicals of the vehicle. A flat rectangular plate hung down from the front, under the radiator armor and allowed for the fitting of an angled steel picket to be fitted which was intended to force barbed wire down underneath the vehicle or snap.


Filtz tractor named ‘La Foudroyante’, showing the later type of solid wheels. No armament or wire cutter bar is fitted. Source: Chars Francais via Touzin collection (left)


Illustration of the Filtz Armored Tractor, produced by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Spring 1915

The finished Filtz armored tractor was ready for presentation in February 1915 and an order for 10 vehicles was placed the following month, to be ready by summer. By the summer of 1915, other better ideas had emerged for breaching enemy wire, using tracked machines rather than wheeled machines or repurposed agricultural equipment. The 10 vehicles ordered were duly delivered by July 1915, but tests of them showed the importance of the work on tracked vehicles.

Filtz tractor with a machine gun fitted undergoing tests through a barbed-wire entanglement. Source: Chars Francais
Despite showing some potential, these Filtz tractors proved hopeless. The large wheels were still unable to provide enough traction in soft mud, especially with the added weight of the armor and obviously could not cross trenches or shell craters without getting stuck. They could crush down wire well though, as long as it was tight enough to cause it to snap, a loose wire would simply foul on the machine.

A group of three Filtz tractors, one facing away from the camera. No weapons can be seen and one displays the registration number 37456. The vehicle further from the camera shows the name ‘JOFTRINE’. Note that the middle vehicle is also lacking the wire-crushing bar under the radiator. Source: Chars Francis via Casaubon collection

Utility

Despite having proven somewhat hopeless for the role for which they were designed, nonetheless, the machines found use. In August that year, despite their failing, in the absence of alternative vehicles, they were issued to the French 4th and 10th Armies for use in combat in the region of Verdun. Attempts to use them in combat, however, were fruitless. They were unable to cross the terrain without getting stuck and were withdrawn to work behind the lines without having fired a shot in anger.

Conclusion

Behind the lines, these vehicles found use hauling supplies and unditching other vehicles which had got stuck, but they never saw combat and were eventually scrapped. On a hard surface, they proved adequate, able to maintain speeds of up to 7 to 9 mph (11.3 to 14.5 km/h) in either direction but were, therefore, worse than a normal armored car. Off-road, they were worse than a tracked vehicle, and thus, the Filtz tractors, a promising idea to begin with, proved inadequate, just another small misstep on the road to effective armored fighting vehicles for the French Army.

A Filtz tractor in use behind the lines providing a good view of the front of the cab and radiator. The wire-crushing bar is still fitted. Source: unknown

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 3.8 x 1.4 x 1.6 meters
Propulsion 45hp, unknown type
Speed 7 to 9 mph (11.3 to 14.5 km/h)
Armament 1x machine gun
Armor 8 – 12 mm
Total Production 10

Sources

Chars Francais, Tracteur Cuirasse Filtz
Granier, V. (1919). Les etapes successives de l’arme victorieuse: Le tank. La Science et la Vie No.44
Scientific American (1919). Inventions that Won the War.
Vauvallier, F. (2014). The Encyclopedia of French Tanks and Armoured Fighting Vehicles: 1914-1940. Histoire and Collections.
Zaloga, S. (2010). French Tanks of World War 1. Osprey Publications

Categories
WW1 French Armored Cars WW1 Spanish Armor

Blindado Schneider-Brillié

WW1 French TanksNavy and coastal fortifications' flag (1785–1931). National flag (1843–1873/1874–1931) France/Kingdom of Spain (1910-1915)
Armored Car – 2 Built

Not long after the invention of the automobile, the concept was adapted and put to use for military objectives, first for the transport of troops and supplies, and later, when equipped with armor and weapons, for fighting purposes. One of the first examples, dating from before the Great War, was the French Schneider-Brillié, developed from a Parisian bus, and used by the Spanish army in Morocco.

A postcard of the Schneider P2-4000 bus on which the armored car was based – Source: Photography on the net

Context – A Vehicle for Morocco

Following defeat by the United States in the Spanish-American War of 1898 and the loss of its Caribbean and Pacific colonies, Spain’s colonial attentions shifted to North Africa. Colonial tensions between Britain, France, and Germany had led to Spain being given part of North Morocco, commonly known as the Rif, which added to the small enclaves it already had in the region as part of the Treaty of Algeciras of 1906. Soon after, rich minerals were discovered in the area, and French and Spanish companies rushed to exploit these riches and began to build railways to connect the mines and quarries to the coastal ports.

This aroused local opposition and, on July 9th 1909, a series of assassinations of Spanish workers and citizens in the area began. In response, Spain declared war, and thus began the Melilla War (July-December 1909). Initially, Spain responded by sending reservists, which created problems at home, such as the social unrest during la Semana Trágica de Barcelona, in which 78 people died and over 500 were injured or wounded. By the end of November 1909, Spain would win the war, but would do so unconvincingly. After a few more concessions and the creation of the Spanish protectorate in Morocco, war would break out again in June 1911.

The first quarter of the Twentieth century saw world-wide attempts to adapt vehicles for military use and Spain was not going to be left behind.

In March 1909, two unarmored Schneider-Brillié trucks were bought by the Spanish Army from the French Schneider company following a Royal Decree in November 1908. This purchase was part of a plan to buy vehicles for the artillery section of the army, in which two S.A.G. trucks and a Berliet car were also bought for the total sum of 160,000 pesetas. The two vehicles were given to the Comisión de Experiencias de Artillería [Eng. Artillery Testing Commission] and were given ‘Artillería nº4’ and ‘Artillería nº5’ as their number-plates. The two vehicles may have been transferred to either Ceuta or Melilla during the Melilla War, and there may have been a third unarmored Brillié bought in 1909.

A Suitable Candidate

In 1909, with views to acquire a suitable vehicle for the ongoing war in Melilla, a report was commissioned through the Real Orden Circular (R.O.C.) de 16 de Febrero [Eng. Order with Royal grant] by the Comisión de Experiencias de Artillería [Eng. Artillery Experiences Commission]. The report studied seven vehicle proposals from different European companies including: Armstrong Whitworth, Hotchkiss, Maudslay Motor Company, Rheinische Metallwaren und Maschinenfabrik (RMM), Schneider-Brillié, Süddeutsche Automobilfabrik Gaggenau (SAG), and Thornycroft. In the end, the Schneider proposal was recommended.

By the end of the year, the purchase was authorized by the king, Alfonso XIII, and a budget was approved on December 11th 1909 despite the fact that the Melilla War, the conflict for which the vehicle was being purchased, was about to end. An initial example cost 33,000 French Francs (27,000 pesetas) and was delivered by train to the border city of Irún on June 20th, 1909, subsequently being moved to the Escuela Central de Tiro [Eng. shooting range school] of Madrid on 30th. The reason for the delay in the delivery of the single example was that it was the first order for this vehicle Schneider had received and so they did not have the experience building it.

The vehicle was given ‘Aut. M. nº15’ as its number-plate and between July and December 1910 it was trialed as part of the Brigada Automovilista [Eng. Automobile Brigade]. These trials included several on-road and off-road trips to Segovia, over 70km (~45 miles) away, trasversing the 1,858 m (6,096 ft) high Puerto de Navacerrada. The results during the trials were so satisfactory that halfway through, in October, the purchase of a second example was authorized. However, for no apparent reason, the contract worth 32,500 French Francs would not be signed until March 3rd 1911 and the vehicle, given ‘Aut. M. nº19’ as its number-plate, would not arrive in Madrid until September 23rd 1911.

‘Nº15’ being transported atop a rail truck. This photo was most likely taken in Morocco – Source: Panzer Net Forum

 

Design

The two examples had slight differences in the exterior, but the interiors were much the same. Both were built over the chassis of a Schneider P2-4000 bus, which was a common sight on the Parisian streets at the time.

Inside, there were three different sections within two compartments. A frontal section divided into two parts. The frontmost was reserved for the driver and the officer in command and the engine, with a fighting and troop transport section directly behind it. At the rear, there was a compartment for ammunition and other loads with a total weight capacity of up to 1,500kg, though some other sources state that as much as 2,500kg-3,000kg.

The fighting section had four wide ‘letterbox’ hatches on each side at two different levels from which the soldiers inside could fire with rifles or machine guns. There was an additional hatch on each side of the driver’s section plus two frontal ones. These were mainly for the driver and commander to know in which direction they were going, though, they could have also been used to fire from if necessary. Above all these sections was a hinged-three-panel roof on each side, allowing the vehicle to be opened in the North African heat and providing another firing option. In the middle section there were benches on either side for the troops to sit on whilst on the move, but these could also be folded during combat operations.

Armor-wise, 5-6 mm steel shield plates covered the original chassis and were supposed to offer protection against 8 mm Lebel Model 1886 rifle bullets (the basic French infantry weapon at the onset of the Great War) from a distance of 148 m or further.

The vehicle had a 4-cylinder 40 hp Brillié engine with 800-1,000 rpm with a bore of 125 mm and a stroke of 140 mm and being able to deliver 40 brake hp. The gearbox had three forward gears and a reverse one. At 1000 rpm top speed in first gear, the Schneider-Brillié could move at a maximum of 5.65km/h, 11.3km/h in second gear, and 20.2km/h in third gear. The fuel tanks held up to 100 liters and were fed with petrol or benzene (a coal-tar product blended with petrol to be used as fuel). Without a payload, the car used 35-40 liters of fuel to travel 100 km, whilst with a payload, 73-77 liters were needed to travel the same distance.

Both vehicles were initially unarmed, but, prior to being sent to Morocco, they were equipped each with two 7 mm Vickers machine guns adapted to Spanish cartridges. Photographic evidence would suggest that the machine guns did not sit on any fixed mounting point, but were kept inside and moved around depending on the situation.

The four wheels were made out of wood with solid rubber tires.

The vehicle weighed 5.9 tonnes, which, along with a maximum payload of 3.45 tonnes, resulted in a combined weight of 9.35 tonnes. The pressure on the front wheels was 3.15 tonnes whilst the back wheels bore 6.2 tonnes. The wheels had a diameter of 94 mm and were equipped with covers, with the two on the front being removable.

Another photo of ‘nº15’. This photo shows the Vickers machine gun being fired from a rear facing ‘letter-box’. This would probably be one of the least effective firing positions given that gun depression would be severely limited given the length of the vehicle – Source: Panzer Net Forum

The principal differences were on the outside. Although both were covered all around by a 5-6 mm thick steel plate, enough to provide defense from Riffian rifle fire, the way these plates were laid varied slightly.

‘Nº 15’s’ front consisted of two parts, a straight plate where the radiator grille could be found and a second plate reaching the full height of the vehicle at a ~45º angle, making it slightly taller than ‘nº19’. The second example, ‘nº19’, had a front consisting of three parts: a grille plate very similar to that of ‘nº15’, a second plate at quite a pronounced (~15º) inwards inclination, and finally, a 90º plate all the way to the top with hinged holes for the pilot and commander to view from.

In addition, it seems that from the very beginning, ‘nº19’ had three headlamps at its front, whilst ‘nº15’ had had them removed by the time it arrived in Morocco or had them removed whilst being transported. The two on either side were most likely acetylene type headlamps, whilst the middstop lampas a movable stoplamp which would have been very useful in counter-insurgency operations.

Given the differences, in some sources, ‘nº15’ is described as Schneider-Brillié 1st Type and ‘nº19’as Schneider-Brillié 2nd Type. Furthermore, the vehicles are sometimes named Schneider-Brillié M1912, which would make sense given Spanish armored vehicles nomenclature between 1910 and 1930 (as for example ‘Camiones Protegidos Modelo 1921 or M1921/M-21).

The most famous picture of ‘nº15’. In this picture, it is equipped with the front headlamps and a horn. The ‘letter-boxes’ are open allowing for rifle and machine gun fire. This picture was apparently taken in the Madrid military camp of Campamento in the winter of 1910 or 1911 – Source: Villatoro
Similarly, the most famous picture of ‘nº19’ with the different style front. Note that this version lacks a horn – Source: Marin Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso, p. 13

 

Operations in Morocco

In January 1912, with the new war in Morocco having been going on since the previous June, both vehicles were sent to Morocco, arriving in Melilla on the 17th. ‘Nº15’ was assigned to the Primera Brigada Automovilística [Eng. First Automobile Brigade] and ‘nº19’ to the Segunda Brigada Automovilística [Eng. Second Automobile Brigade].

‘Nº15’ after it arrived in the port of Melilla surrounded by many curious onlookers. Note the headlamps and horn are missing, as they may have been removed for transport – Source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso, p. 13

Both were used for protecting camps, surveillance, convoy escort, transport of wounded troops, and for offensive combat operations, as the circumstances dictated. On January 20th, ‘nº15’ went on an expedition towards Nador, 16 km outside Melilla, and three days later, on the 23rd, it would go to Zeluán. Unfortunately, more details about their use are unknown.

In October 1912, ‘nº15’ was assigned to a health column to evacuate injured soldiers.

Their operational use in Morocco would be of historical significance, as it was one of the first uses of an automobile-like armored car in warfare.

At the end of the Kert Campaign, just before the start of the Great War, both were taken to Ceuta. In 1915, ‘nº15’ was stripped of its armor and used as a normal cargo lorry. However, later on, it would be given new armor. The other vehicle, ‘nº19’, was taken to Tetuán, in northernmost Morocco, to be used as a mobile fort, before being taken back to the Escuela Central de Tiro in Madrid where it was presumably scrapped.

Local North African males pose next to ‘nº15’. The photo was probably taken in or around Melilla in winter 1912 – Source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso, p. 15

A Third Vehicle?

There have long been rumours of the existence of additional Schneider-Brilliés with the Spanish forces. Some of these can be dismissed as the source has mistaken the armored version with the unarmored one. In 1914, a local newspaper in the Rif, reported that 24 more vehicles had been purchased. There is no evidence that this was the case. However, it is likely that there had been negotiations with Schneider, but advent of the Great War made the purchase unavailable.

According to part-time historians Marín Gutiérrez and Mata Duaso, after the military defeat against Rifian forces at Annual in the summer of 1921, the Spanish High Commissioner in Morocco, General Berenguer, requested 10 more armored vehicles for convoy escort duties. The Spanish Ministry of War contacted Schneider, who offered an upgraded version of the Schneider-Brillié. This new version mainly differed from the older models in that it incorporated a toothed chain on the posterior wheels to imrpove traction.

One prototype was purchased for 55,750 Pesetas and arrived in the Escuela Central de Tiro on March 27 1922. The evaluation found that despite the increased price, the vehicle offered no notable improvements over the previous models and no more vehicles were purchased. The fate of this singular prototype is unknown.

 

Conclusion

The Schneider-Brillié proved to be highly effective in the North African conflict and would motivate the adoption of more armored cars in the following decade. Although the armored car was a relatively new invention, it was here to stay, not only with the Spanish armed forces, but around the world. However, it was not without flaws. It was a crude design and not built for a conflict in North Africa. The vehicle’s plans stipulated that 14 crewmember and passengers could be carried, but the desert heat made this impossible. In addition, the vehicle’s height gave it a very high center of gravity, making it very prone to toppling over, though it seems this never happened. Nevertheless, the Schneider-Brillié was crucial to the history of armored fighting vehicles in Spain and warrants recognition as such.

Illustration of the Schneider-Brillié ‘nº15’, Spain’s first armored vehicle. 

Illustration of the Schneider-Brillié ‘nº19’. Both illustrations by Mr. C. Ryan, funded by our Patron Golum through our Patreon Campaign.

Specifications

Dimensions 6 x 4 x 2.25 m (19.68 x 13.12 x 7.38 ft)
Total weight 9.35 tons
Crew 2 (commander; driver) + up to 12 passengers
Propulsion 40 hp Brillié
Speed on-road 20.2 km/h (12.55 mph)
Range 100 km (62.14 miles)
Armament 2 x 7mm Vickers machine gun adapted to Spanish cartridges
Armor 5-6 mm (0.19 – 0.23 in)
Total Production 2

Sources

Anon., ‘Die firma Schneider & Co.’ Allgemeine Automobil Zeitung No. 15 (13 April 1913), pp. 70-71 [special thanks to Leander Jobse for finding this source]

Artemio Mortera Pérez, Los Medios Blindados de la Guerra Civil Española Teatro de Operaciones de Andalucía y Centro 36/39 (Valladolid: Alcañiz Fresno’s editores, 2017)

B.T. White, Mechanized Warfare in Color. Tanks and other Armored Fighting Vehicles 1900-1918 (London: Bradford Press, 1970)

Francisco Marín Gutiérrez & José Mª Mata Duaso, Los Medios Blindados de Ruedas en España: Un Siglo de Historia (Vol. I) (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 2002)

Javier de Mazarrasa, La Máquina y la Historia Nº13 Los Carros de Combate en la Guerra de España 1936-1939 (Vol. 1º) (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 1998)

Juan Carlos Caballero Fernández de Marcos, “La Automoción en el Ejército Español Hasta la Guerra Civil Española” Revista de Historia Militar No. 120 (2016), pp. 13-50

Manuel P. Villatoro, ‘«Schneider-Brillié», el primer «autobús» blindado del Ejército Español que luchó en Marruecos’, ABC, 12 May 2014, Historia Militar.