Thursday, 7 May 2015

World of Tanks History Section: French Tanks, Pre-War and Post-War

FCM 36

By the 1930s, the Renault FT 17 was completely obsolete. A request for tender was sent out for a new infantry support tank, which was won by the Forges et Chantiers de la Méditerranée company (FCM).

The prototype began trials in April of 1935, and was accepted into production in 1936, after design improvements and increase in armour thickness from 30 to 40 mm. The vehicle was indexed FCM 36.

This tank was truly innovative. It had thick shellproof angled armour, which provided excellent protection from AT guns of the time. The diesel engine provided it with great range on one tank of fuel. The completely welded hull was also a novelty at the time.

The FCM 36 met all military requirements, but it had two drawbacks. It was heavy for tanks of its class (12.35 tons) and was very expensive. In total, only 100 tanks of this type were built.

Renault R35/R40

This tank was developed in 1934 as an infantry support tank. It was not as innovative as the FCM 36, as it used a cast hull with riveted elements, with nearly vertical armour. On the other hand, more traditional assembly methods lowered the vehicle's cost.

The R35 weighed 10.6 tons and used a short 37 mm gun as well as a rifle caliber machinegun. The maximum thickness of the armour was 44 mm. The crew consisted of two men. In 1938, the tank was equipped with a longer 37 mm gun and an improved suspension. The weight of the tank grew to 12.5 tons. This modification was indexed R40. 120 such tanks were made.

The Renault R35 was France's most numerous light tank during WWII. 1500 vehicles of this type were built, over 550 of which were exported. The French army used these tanks in all theaters: Europe, Syria, Tunis, Algiers.

SOMUA S35

This medium tank was meant for cavalry units. It was developed in 1935, and until 1940 was considered a very good tank, used only by domestic forces.

The tank hull was cast, and assembled with rivets. The turret was also cast, and only fit one crewman. The armour was up to 40 mm thick, and its armament consisted of a 47 mm cannon and a 7.5 mm machinegun. The crew consisted of three men. About 500 units were made.

During WWII, these tanks were used in France and Tunis. 300 S35s were captured and used by Germans, including action against the USSR. Some of these tanks were converted into tractors. In 1944, after France returned to Europe as an independent state, the army captured a number of SOMUA tanks back from the Germans.

S40/SARL 42

In the spring of 1942, technical requirements for a modernization of the SOMUA S35 were composed. The hull and suspension were to be redesigned, but the first prototype of this series also received a turret upgrade. The S40 was supposed to begin production in July of 1940, but the war interfered.

In 1942, on occupied territory, in deep secrecy, a group of engineers led by Maurice Lavirotte started working on a project to modernize the S40. The main idea was to improve the tank's characteristics with minimal changes the engine or suspension. A new turret was designed by the ARL company for this tank, so it would be indexed SARL 42.

The new hull had sloped armour, a simplified shape, and a new turret ring. The ARL turret had a very low silhouette and was completely welded, which was odd for French tanks.

Work on the SARL 42 ended in the fall of 1942, when Germany completely occupied France.

Renault G1R

Requirements for a new medium infantry support tank were formulated in the mid 1930s. After revisions to the requirements (60 mm of armour, a gun capable of knocking out enemy armour, etc), the project was undertaken by seven companies, including Renault. Their entry was named G1R.

Initially, the designers planned an unmanned turret with an autoloader mechanism, one of the first ideas of its kind. Unfortunately, it was too difficult to produce at the time.

The G1R consisted of a cast hull with sloped armour. The hemispherical turret was shifted towards the rear of the hull. It had a 47 mm gun, but an upgrade to a 75 mm gun was also in the works.

One prototype was built, but work was not finished before the German invasion in 1940.

AMX 30 1st prototype

After a long hiatus from tank design caused by the war, France restored its school of design relatively quickly. In 1956, a joint Franco-German program was launched to develop a new battle tank.

The French doctrine was, at first glance, contestable. Their designers sacrificed thick armour for mobility and a small size. In reality, HEAT shells became so advanced that thick armour was no longer impressive, but a small and fast tank would be hard to hit for the enemy.

The first prototype of this vehicle, indexed AMX 30, was built in 1961. This was the lightest NATO tank of the first generation. It could accelerate to a speed of 65 kph on a highway and had a 105 mm gun.

After trials and improvements that lasted until 1965, the AMX 30 was approved for use by the French army.

AMX 30B

This modification of the vehicle was developed in 1966 and entered production in 1967. The hull was composed of welded cast and rolled elements, the turret was completely cast.

The new tank had a commander's cupola with a panoramic sight and a multi-fuel diesel engine. The 105 mm gun could be controlled by either the gunner or the commander. The barrel was equipped with a thermal casing to improve precision. The tank had an additional 20 mm autocannon or 12.7 mm machinegun, as well as a 7.62 mm machinegun, controlled remotely.

The French still placed their bet on mobility. The mass of the AMX 30B increased from 30 tons to 36, but the speed did not decrease due to an improved engine. The AMX 30 and its modifications served in the French army until 1997.

Article author: Vladimir Pinayev

Original article available here.

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