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WWI 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
WWI French Armored Cars WWI Spanish Armor

Blindado Schneider-Brillié

ww1 French armor ww1 Spanish armor France/Kingdom of Spain (1910-15)
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 – Photo: SOURCE

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 [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 [Order with Royal grant] by the Comisión de Experiencias de Artillería [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 [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 [Automobile Brigade]. These trials included several on-road and off-road trips to Segovia, over 70km (~45 miles) away. 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 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 – Photo: SOURCE

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 contemporary 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, 6mm steel shield plates covered the original chassis and were supposed to offer protection against 8mm Lebel Model 1886 rifle bullets (the basic French infantry weapon at the onset of the Great War) from a distance of 148m or further.
The vehicle had a 4-cylinder 40hp Brillié engine with 800-1,000 rpm with a bore of 125mm and a stroke of 140mm 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 7mm 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 have a diameter of 94cm 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 – Photo: SOURCE
The principal differences were on the outside. Although both were covered all around by a 5-6mm 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 – Photo: Villatoro

Similarly, the most famous picture of ‘nº19’ with the different style front. Note that this version lacks a horn – Photo: SOURCE

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.

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 [First Automobile Brigade] and ‘nº19’ to the Segunda Brigada Automovilística [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 – Photo: SOURCE
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, 16km outside Melilla, and three days later, on the 23rd, it would go to Zeluán. Unfortunately, more details about their use are unknown.

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. 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 – Photo: SOURCE

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.

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)
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.