Cold War French Prototypes


France (1957-1963)
Airborne Light Tank Destroyer – 1 Proto., 10 Pre-Prod. Units Built

Through the late 1940s and early 1950s, the French military studied several concepts of lightweight tank destroyers. The objective was to produce a cheap, simple and mobile vehicle with sufficient firepower to knock out vehicles such as the Soviet IS-3 and IS-4 heavy tanks. Thus, significant armor, beyond protecting the vehicle from small arms fire, was out of the equation. After several prototypes and concepts, a set of requirements was determined in 1953, which led to several projects being offered. Some of these projects involved the giants of French military industry, Renault and Hotchkiss, but one came from engineer Even of the Etablissements Brunon-Valette – a somewhat small company with no experience in tank development whatsoever.

Most of these early designs, including Even’s, were armed with recoilless guns. These weapons, which had started appearing in large numbers in the later stages of the Second World War, were notable because of the impressive firepower they could offer. At the same time, due to their non-existent recoil, they could be fitted on lighter platforms than their recoil counterparts of similar caliber. They had some flaws though, most notably their lack of accuracy beyond short ranges. In 1955, the French military came to the realization that such weapons would not provide an effective tank destroyer in plains and open fields, where much of armored warfare in a hypothetical conflict with the Eastern Bloc would take place. Therefore, it was requested that vehicles designed to fulfill the 1953 requirements should be re-designed with more classic, non-recoilless weapons. The program also received its name with this updated set of the requirements in July 1955, becoming the Engin Léger de Combat (Light Combat Vehicle), or ELC for short.

A pre-series 90mm-armed vehicle compared with the popular Citroën 2CV car, 1961. Source: ECPA-D (Picture service of the French Army)

The 1957 Second Generation

Even’s first prototype had been designed in 1953, following a set of requirements formulated in March of that year after a request in July 1952 by Marshall Juin for a lightweight, recoilless-guns armed tank destroyer. The design Even came up with was a very low vehicle, so low in fact, that the driver was in a crouching position in the hull. The vehicle was armed with four Brandt 120 mm (4.7 in) recoilless rifle in a turret able of 360° rotation. A first mock-up was completed in January of 1954. However, in 1955, the French Army changed its requirements, turning away from recoilless rifles and requesting to have its light tank destroyer projects armed with a more classic anti-tank gun. The prototype was nonetheless completed and trialed in 1956. These trials demonstrated why recoilless guns were to be abandoned: while their firepower was considerable, their accuracy was very poor, with, at a relatively low range of 451 m (493 yards) resulted in a horizontal dispersion of up to 4.36 m (14.3 ft) and vertical dispersion of up to 3.05 m (10 ft). The vehicle not only suffered from a very mediocre accuracy but had problems moving in uneven terrain as well. On the first day of mobility trials, the vehicle got stuck at the bottom of a ditch, the driving shaft of the right sprocket, not being able to handle the shock of falling, was damaged.

Following both the change in requirements of 1955 and the rather unsuccessful results of the 1956 trials, Even went back to the drawing board in order to apply the necessary corrections. He had to adapt his design to fit the new requirements and avoid repeating the failures of the first prototype.

Two new ELC EVEN versions emerged from this new design phase and both would both be tested in November of 1957. One version maintained the anti-tank function of the original ELC EVEN prototype, replacing the 120 mm (4.7 in) rocket launcher with a single, magazine-fed 90 mm (3.5 in) gun. The other version was designed to fight infantry and lightly armored vehicles with two 30 mm (1.18 in) autocannons. Anti-aircraft and missile-carrying versions were first mentioned in documents dating from 1957 too. Both designs used the original chassis of the ELC EVEN, short of a couple of changes such as new, spoked road wheels, remained unchanged in the exterior. The vehicles, outside of those changes, remained the same, featuring a particularly low hull, in which the driver, off to the right side of the hull, had to lie down in order to operate the vehicle. The turret was off-centered to the left and was an entirely new design. While the two versions of the new turret had a number of differences regarding their armament, they both shared a number of general characteristics, such as the fact they were oscillating, a feature particularly popular in 1950s French designs, and had a very rectangular shape. These two turret models had a maximum depression of -9° and an elevation of 13° could complete a full rotation in 15 seconds thanks to a hydraulic traverse system, and automatically locked in place when firing. Both turrets featured off-center armament. The height of the vehicle was raised to 1.60 m (5.2 ft) in both.

Diving view on a pre-series ELC EVEN 90 (registered as W 000885). Source: Char Français

The two turrets had little to no weight difference, with both of the new ELC variants having a weight of about 6.7 tonnes (7.3 tons). Mobility tests performed in November 1957 showed this new generation of ELC EVEN could reach a maximum speed of 70 km/h (43 mph) on-road, and had a cruise speed of 50 to 55 km/h (31 – 34 mph) on-road and 20 to 40 km/h (12 – 24 mph) on various terrains. They had a ground pressure of 440 grams per cm² (6.2 lbs per in²) and were able to cross a 1.8 m (5.9 ft) wide trench, or an 80 cm (31 in) deepwater surface. They had a turning radius of 5.5 m (18 ft) and a maximum climb angle of 60% to 70%. The range was 350 to 450 km (217 – 279 miles) with internal fuel tanks, and it appears unprotected external fuel tanks could be added, raising the maximum range to 500 km (310 miles).

It is reported that, because of the vehicle’s lightweight and small dimensions, it could be carried by a “Piasecki 4I” helicopter – most likely a designation for the Piasecki H-21C, a transport helicopter of which the French Army and Air Force had bought 98 examples of. A couple of other Piasecki models were used by France, but they had been bought by the Navy and were acquired in lesser numbers. The EVEN could apparently also be transported by another helicopter, the “YH I7 A”, though more details about this vehicle are unknown. The at the time new French transport plane, the Noréclair, was reported to be able to load an ELC EVEN in its cargo bay. The two versions of the turret could be exchanged within four hours, and just a single vehicle was involved in the trials of November 1957, being given a different turret depending on the tests which had to be undertaken. This prototype had been completed throughout June 1957 and was subject yo less extensive, preliminary trials during that month.

The ELC EVEN prototype fitted with dual 30mm turret (left) and the 90mm-armed turret (right). Source: French Military Archives

The 30 mm-armed model, designed to operate against infantry and lightly armored vehicles, featured two HS.825 30 mm guns, firing 30×113 mm shells at a muzzle velocity of about 1000 m/s (3280 fps). They were fed by 85-shots clips, with one already loaded and one other in reserve, meaning that it had a total of 340 rounds at its disposal. The HS.825 was originally developed as an aircraft gun but had rather respectable armor penetration against armored personnel carriers and even light tanks such as the PT-76. With API (Armor-Piercing Incendiary) ammunition, it could penetrate 30 mm (1.18 in) of armor at one kilometer (1093 yards), and up to around 100 mm (3.9 in) at point-blank range. The guns could be fired either in salvo or shot-by-shot. The vehicle was also armed with two 7.5 mm AA52 machine guns, one on each side of the vehicle. These were fed by 300-rounds belts, with five belts in total for each machine gun, meaning the vehicle could fire a total of 3,000 7.5 mm rounds before running out of ammunition.

The 90 mm-armed model, which was designed to take up the original ELC’s role of dealing with enemy tanks, was armed with a DEFA D 919 low-pressure gun on the right side of the turret. This gun could fire two different anti-tank shells: the Brandt ‘Energa’, a shell with an effective range of about 700 m (765 yards) and which could penetrate about 300 mm (11.8 in) of armor or a newer Brandt shell with an effective range of about a kilometer and similar penetration values. The vehicle featured a 5-shot drum autoloader, with a reload time of two seconds between each shot. Twenty-five shells were carried in an ammunition locker in front of the gunner, in addition to the five already loaded in the autoloader. Unlike the first ELC EVEN prototype, the breech was located inside the turret, meaning it could be reloaded by the gunner without having anyone venturing outside of the tank. This feature was quite impressive on such a tiny vehicle, as even on the larger AMX-13 light tanks, the crews had to leave the vehicle to reload the drum magazines once they ran out. The turret also featured a coaxial 7.5 mm AA52 machine gun with 1,200 rounds.

A pre-series vehicle of each version undergoing trial between 1961 and 1963. Source: US Department of Defence Military Review, September of 1963

Continued Development of the 90 mm Armed Vehicle

The 90 mm armed turret that was presented on the 1957 prototype was armed with the DEFA D 919. Plans were already made by November to replace that gun with a newer model. The main feature of that newer gun was the ability to fire the 90 mm DEFA feathered shell at a muzzle velocity of 760 m/s (2493 fps). The ability to fire that shell, which could already be used by the only competitor the ELC EVEN still had, the ELC AMX, was requested by the French Military after the first presentation of the 90 mm armed turret in June 1957. The ability to fire another shell, the “G” non-rotating HEAT shell, at a muzzle velocity of 700 m/s (2296 fps), was also requested.

A temporary solution was devised by Even in order to allow his ELC to fire the DEFA shell without requiring extensive changes to the turret. This consisted of the DEFA projectile and a Brandt socket shortened by 38 mm (1.4 in), resulting in a 625 mm (24.6 in)-long shell. The D 919 gun, modified to fire that shell, was designated D 919 A. However, making the D 919 A able to fire the shell at a velocity of 760 m/s required a high pressure of 1300 kg/cm² (18,490 psi), which was judged acceptable for a prototype, but not for future serial-production.

By March 1959, following the success of the 1957 trials, a pre-series order for 5 ELC EVENs was formulated by the French Army. It was requested that the EVENs should be able to fire the DEFA feathered shell in its original configuration, meaning the shell would have a total length of 758 mm (29.8 in) using the DEFA socket. The original shell could be fired at muzzle velocities of 760-770 m/s (2493 – 2526 fps) with more accuracy and in safer conditions than with a Brandt socket. The revised version of the D 919 A gun modified to fire the original DEFA shell did not take more internal space, but the barrel was 30 cm (11.8 in) longer in order to improve the vehicle’s accuracy, the D 919 B could also fire the DEFA shell with the Brandt socket, or the 656 mm (25.8 in)-long Brandt-ENERGA shell. The “G” HEAT shell could not be fired from the D 919 B though, and required another gun, the D 915 (which was employed in the ELC AMX Bis). It appeared that it was impossible to fit this gun on the EVEN turret, and it appears that plans to fire the G shell were canceled without any D 915-armed EVEN prototype being manufactured.

The prototype refitted with what is presumably a D 919 A 90mm gun. Source: French Military Archives

Pre-Series Stage & the Doctrine of the ELC

Ten pre-series ELC were ordered in March 1959. Five were to use the D 919 B 90 mm gun, and five others to be fitted with the 30 mm turret. Such a large number of vehicles was beyond the capabilities of the company behind Even’s efforts, Brunon-Valette. Production was undertaken by one of the giants of the French arms industry, Hotchkiss. The pre-series was completed in 1961.

A photo from the same photoshoot. Source: Char Français (see bibliography)

The objective for the ELC EVEN pre-series was to perform far more extensive trials in operational units in order to seek American funding if the vehicles were successful. Out of the ten new vehicles, seven were given to various units to be tested in operations, one remained at its factory for further trials and one was kept by the French military to continue studying the design. The last one was sent to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland in order to perform trials with American officials and hopefully unlock American funding.

Frontal view of a pre-series ELC EVEN 30 (registered as 224 0489). Source: Char Français

By this time, the use of the ELC in the French military doctrine had been developed pretty extensively. The plan was to produce massive numbers of these small vehicles. At least in the minds of French military theorists, these could be extremely effective anti-tank machines and would be more useful than main battle tanks or heavier vehicles in urban terrain. While the ELC EVEN did indeed have plenty of qualities, such as respectable firepower for its size and the ability to be airlifted, it would very likely not have been able to perform in such roles, as it was far from flawless. It had a crew of just two men, repeating what was perhaps the worst mistake of French armored development in the interwar period, as the commander/gunner would most likely be considerably overburdened. The vehicle’s protection was obviously abysmal, and while its gun was somewhat capable, the capacity of the ELC platform to evolve over time and continue improving its firepower to face newer threats was limited.

For those reasons, the ELC EVEN, while getting a lot closer to mass-production than a lot of other French prototypes of the 1950s, was eventually canceled. The vehicle was indeed unable to access American funding. France, during the early 60s, under President Charles de Gaulle, was already very stretched out in terms of the military budget. Massive funding was already going into the development of a credible nuclear program that included submarines, planes and ballistic missiles, as well as the development of a common tank project with West Germany that would eventually branch out and become the AMX-30. Funding for the mass-production of a vehicle like the ELC EVEN was simply out of the question. It appears tests on the project stopped in 1963.

A vehicle of each type during operational trials. Source: Char Français

Surviving ELC EVENs

Surprisingly enough, for what was only a pre-series, three ELC EVEN have survived to this day. One, fitted with a 30 mm turret, resides in the Tank Museum at Saumur, the largest in France and one of the largest collections of Europe. It is, interestingly enough, one of the only vehicles of the museum in which people can actually enter. This was originally meant for children. The vehicle is exposed, with its hull and turret hatches open, in the small kid’s area of the museum.

Another ELC EVEN, armed with a 90 mm gun, is also in the possession of the Saumur Tank Museum. It appears that it is not in the permanent exposition space, but instead, it is occasionally displayed in temporary expositions. It is still in running condition and is sometimes shown in movement during the museum’s demonstrations.
A third ELC EVEN, also armed with a 90mm gun, decorates the Carpiagne military base, near Marseilles, in Provence.

The fate of the other vehicles is unknown. While most were most likely scrapped, it is not unimaginable to think Saumur’s vast vehicle reserves (the museum has around 200 vehicles on show, but 500 in reserve) may house one or more remaining ELC EVENs. It should be noted that the ELC EVEN’s competitor, the ELC AMX Bis, also has a prototype remaining at Saumur.

The ELC EVEN 30 prototype kept in the Saumur museum. Source: Alf van Beem via Wikimedia Commons
Saumur’s ELC EVEN 90. Source: C.Balmefezol via Char Français
A frontal view of the ELC EVEN 90 preserved at Carpiagne military base. Source: Olivier Carneau

A 30 mm-armed version of ELC EVEN, as it stands today in the Saumur tank museum in France.

An ELC EVEN version armed with the DEFA D 919 low-pressure gun, as it stands in the Saumur tank museum.

Both of these illustrations were produced by Brian Gaydos, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

ELC EVEN (Pre-Series) Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 5.30 x 2.15 x 1.60 meters (17.3 x 7 x 5.2 ft)
Weight, battle ready 6.7 tonnes (7.3 tons)
Crew 2 (commander/gunner and driver/loader)s
Engine SOFAM 168 hp
Suspension Leaf springs
Speed (road/off road) 70 km/h / ~40 km/h (43 – 24 mph)
Range (road) ~350 km (217 miles)
Armament Main: A 90 mm D 919 B, 5 (pre-loaded) + 25 rounds (90 mm version)/ Two HS.825 30 mm autocannons (30 mm-armed version), 170 (pre-loaded) + 170 rounds
Secondary: One AA 52 coaxial machine gun, 1,200 rounds (90 mm-armed version) / Two AA 52 machine guns, 1,500 rounds each/3000 total (30 mm-armed version)
Armor 8-15 mm (0.3 – 0.59 in)
Total built 1 prototype, 10 (5 90 mm armed and 5 30 mm-armed) pre-production vehicles


French Military Archives of Châtellerault:
Documents from the 1957 trials:
Documents from the May of 1959 trials:

5 replies on “ELC EVEN”

I do love ELC EVEN light tank. I think it was great for its time vehicle which we should had produced, but I’m little bias towards French military equipment either way. If only it wouldn’t be so damn expensive in export markets…

The problem with this vehicle is that it has 2 autocannons. Why? For having twice as high dps? I understand for anti aircraft usage as such vehicles need to fill the sky with lead, but for land warfare, you need accuracy. Having second autocannon is pointless from practical standpoint. It looks cool, it could be used if one gun is damaged, but benefits are simply too small for double cannon vehicles. What they should had done is to replace one 30 mm cannon with 90 mm cannon and enlarge vehicle in order to place more ammunition inside. This way vehicle would have a lot of firepower for its size without significantly increasing its weight (adding about half of extra ton with hull enlargement for extra ammunition).

However, I do not like 2 man crew for such vehicle. 3 man crew is essential for vehicles who are expected to take active roles. For example, moving to attack enemy formations. You need to be aware of your surroundings, communicate with surrounding forces, be on constant watch for new threats, etc. Article is correct in this. This light tank CANT be used offensively with great efficiency as its crew will be overloaded with tasks. It would have to lay in ambush or to provide fire support to infantry. Its crew won’t be able to efficiently control their vehicle. If French military theorists imagined this light tank being used in offensive roles, they need to ditch second autocannon, enlarger hull and turret and add third person, commander. Vehicle is amazing in terms of mobility, firepower, weight, but it comes at the cost of fewer crewman. It is great from technical standpoint, but it won’t be used efficiently. While it is not a problem for vehicles like tank destroyers, it is a big deal for vehicles which are expected to take initiative and perform more complex tasks.

I almost forgot to comment about another important aspect. Article mentions that financing this tank was out of question. While indeed, France in 60’s had spent a lot of money on its military, author was incorrect in stating that there weren’t enough money and financing was out of question.

France in 1960 had spent 6,46% of its GDP on defense. However, in 1970 France had spent 4,12% of its GDP. Just 64% of its initial value a decade ago. 1963 had saw significant drop in defense spending from 6,14% of last year to meager 5,64%. These cuts came at the start of economic growth in Europe. It proves that the money was here. It is just politicians were downgrading priority of defense too much. Who in their right mind would work on ELC prototypes for a decade, would theorize their needs and how they will be used just to cut program short when you have your light tank which you dreamed about?

It is not financial issue, it is just politicians being politicians and just being very wasteful. Making cuts in their typical bureaucratic fashion in areas which need investment and are quite modest expenses wise while greenlighting expensive other military projects.

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