WORLD WAR TWO. ARMOURED FIGHTING VEHICLES & SELF-PROPELLED ARTILLERY
The White-Laffly AMD (also called Laffly 50 AM) was originally built and used in World War One and a number of these elderly four-wheeled armoured cars were modernised in the 1920s and 1930s, by having their hulls raised and pneumatic tyres fitted. The resulting armoured car weighed 6.5 tons, had a crew of four and measured 18ft long, by 7ft 3ins wide and 9ft 4ins high. There were still nearly 100 in service in 1940. A command version was fitted with a large and cumbersome grid aerial, mounted on top and supported on masts at the front of the car and posts on the turret. The three turret posts went up to a slip ring, which allowed the aerial to be traversed, once the vehicle was stationary, so as to pick up the strongest signal. Some were thought to have been used in the fighting against the Germans in 1940.
In 1924, Panhard produced the 165/175, a conventional-looking four wheeled armoured car, with disc wheels, a round turret with a bevelled-in top, mounting machine guns front and rear. This was modernised two years later (AM Panhard de 20CV), some of which had a 37mm gun in place of one of the machine guns. The same turret was used on the Renault AM 20CV of the same period. In 1933, Panhard produced the AMD 165/175 which had a remodelled turret and larger wheels fitted with balloon tyres. It weighed 6.7 tons, had 9mm of armour, a top speed of 47mph and a range of 470 miles, whilst its dimensions were 18ft 2ins long, by 6ft 8½ins wide and 9ft 2ins high. It mounted a 37mm gun and co-ax MG in a faceted turret.
The next Panhard was the AMD 178, which appeared as a prototype in 1933. Known also as the AMD 35, it was the main successor to the White-Laffly and mounted a 25mm cannon and co-ax MG in a faceted turret. The 8.5 ton, four-wheeler had armour up to 20mm thick and was powered by an eight-cylinder Panhard engine which gave it a top speed of 45mph and a range of 187 miles. It had four-wheel drive and dual steering (for reverse driving). Dimensions were 15ft 11½ins long, by 6ft 8ins wide, by 7ft 8½ins high. The command version had the gun removed (but not the gun mounting) and the space occupied with larger radio sets. In total 529 were built by 1 June 1940, After World War Two it was fitted with a round, all-welded turret, mounting a 47mm gun and continued to be widely used by the French Army in Indo-China, Syria and elsewhere. As already mentioned, 350 were in service in France in May 1940 and it was undoubtedly the best armoured car in the French Army. The Germans made use of the ones they captured (nearly 200), designating it Panzerspähwagen Panhard 178-P204(f) and keeping the same armament.
An AMD Panhard 178 here in German service in Russia when it was known as the Panzerspähwagen Panhard 178-P204(f). It was a good armoured car, weighing some 8.2 tons and mounting a 25 mm cannon. (TM)
An improvised armoured car used by French Resistance fighters against the retreating Germans. The solid rubber tyres show that it was built on an early lorry chassis. (TM)
Free French Forces locally modified commercial trucks into armoured vehicles. The one shown was used in Syria. (TM)
In 1928, Laffly produced the 50 AMD, which had a centre-mounted Renault VM tank turret housing heavy and light machine guns. This was followed in 1931 by a number of prototypes for a series of armoured cars called the Laffly-Vincennes or AMD 80. The car finally went into production in 1934 and twenty-eight were constructed. It was still in use against the Germans and Italians in North Africa, 1942. Weighing 7.5 tons it had a top speed of 50mph and a range of 250miles. It bad a crew of four and was armed with a 13.2mm heavy machine gun. Dimensions were: 19ft long, by 7ft wide, by 8ft 3½ins high. After the war, between 1945 and 1946. They were used in Algeria.
The Laffly S15 TOE AMD was a six-wheeled armoured car easily recognisable because of its small hemispherical turret on top of the body (not fitted on the prototype). Built in 1934, it weighed 5tons had a crew of three, mounted a single machine gun in the turret and was 15ft 2ins long, 6ft 2ins wide and 8ft 2ins high It had a top speed of around 37mph and a range of 625 miles. It was also used as an armoured personnel carrier and to mount an artillery gun. Twenty-five were built and adapted for use in the heat and dust of North Africa.
An AMD Panhard 165/175 TOE. built in 1933, was a later model of the Panhard AM 20 CV, with armour 9 mm thick and weighing 6.7 tons. (TM)
Side view of the AMD Panhard 165/175 TOE. Its chassis was 17ft 6ins long had a faceted turret and disc wheels. (TM)
The Laffly-Vincennes, also known as the Laffly 80AM, was accepted into production in 1934. They were deployed during the war in North Africa and postwar in Algeria. (TM)
This White-Laffly Automitrailleuse was rebuilt from First World War stock in 1925 with a raised hull and pneumatic tyres. This one was captured in North Africa. November 1942. (TM)
Another company to produce armoured cars in the 1930s was Berliet, who built both 4×4 and 6×6 versions of their long-bodied armoured car which could also double as a small armoured personnel carrier, with room for a driver and seven men. Their 4×4 version, the VUDB (Voiture de Prise de Contact) was the most successful, fifty were built and saw service in Metropolitan France. Morocco and a further twelve were purchased by Belgium. Another two 4×4s were the VUB of 1931-32 built for long range reconnaissance and the VUB B4 of 1932, built for close reconnaissance work (AMR) but after trials they were considered to be too large, too heavy and insufficiently armed.
Laffly S 15 TOE, the two nearest the camera being the command version with large aerial mountings fitted on the left front mudguard (only one has its antenna fitted), plus another on top of the small turret. (TM)
The Laffly S 15 TOE, with the distinctive small hemispherical turret, weighed 5 tons and had a top speed of 37.5 mph. Note the small wheels at the front to help it negotiate obstacles. (TM)
Fifty of these Berliet 4×4 VUDB were built for the French Army, then a further twelve for Belgium. They saw service with the French in North Africa. (TM)
The AMR 39, was the last of the Gendron-Somua prototypes, which mounted a 25mm gun and 7.5 mm co-ax in a well designed turret. It entered production in 1939. (TM)
The Laffly S14 TOE was a prototype produced in 1934, which looked more like an APC than an armoured car - it could carry eight men. (TM)
This version of the Laffly S15 had a 47mm gun mounted at the rear with gun shield and an armoured body. (TM)
They also built two prototypes of a larger 6×6 vehicle, known as the VPRM, which was tested in France and Algeria but was not a success. Nevertheless, they persisted with the vehicle and in 1934 built a prototype of the ten-wheeled VPDM (the rear eight wheels being driven) specially constructed for the French Army in Morocco. This again was unsuccessful and was never put into production. Another Berliet model was the VUM (also called the Automitrailleuse Syrie) designed for service in Syria, but never progressed further than the prototype stage.
Gendnm-Somua (also called Gendrom-Poniatowski) was yet another series builder, beginning in 1934 and producing further models in 1935 and 1938. Finally in 1939 the production version of the Gendron-Somua AMR 39 appeared. It was an excellent-looking armoured car, weighing 3.8 tons, with a 25mm gun and co-ax MG in a well-shaped turret. The vehicle measured 17ft 4ins long. 7ft 2½ins wide and 8ft 3ins high and it had a top speed of 43mph with a range of 250 miles. There is no record of it having entered service.
In addition to the above there were other four-wheeled armoured cars produced in the 1930s by Renault, Saurer (used in Morocco) and others. Also produced were six and eight- wheelers. even halftracks such as the Schneider AMC P16 and some Laffly APC's, but there is no hard evidence to say that all of them were used in action during World War Two. Presumably most of those stationed in mainland France during 1940 would have been deployed.
A number of improvised armoured cars were built by the French Resistance, These included the La Rochelle Mini and the La Rochelle, both made in 1945 using a motor car or lorry chassis fitted with locally manufactured armour plating and armoured machine guns.
The Somua SAU 40 mounted a 75mm gun in the front of a cast hull, with a Char B turret offset to the left. (TM)
Both the AMR 33 and AMR 35 were used to mount small calibre guns, this is the AMR 35 with a 25mm cannon. Note the small command cupola. (TM)
As already mentioned the French made practically no use of self-propelled artillery although there were sortie cases of mounting both antitank and artillery guns on six-wheeled Laffly trucks, some just being carried portée in the rear of the truck. There were only two examples of what could be termed wheeled Si's, the first and most important being the L'autocanon de 75mm Modele 1913/1934. This comprised a 75mm AA gun mounted on the rear of a wheeled chassis, (the gun had been developed before World War One. making it one of the very first AA guns, being designed for use against airships). It had been modernised in the early 1930s, but still had a very World War One appearance. A total of 236 were in service with fifty-seven AA batteries in May 1940. Several were captured by the Germans and some were still being used by them as late as 1944.
An Automitrailleuse Amphibie DP2 (ARL Batignolles) pilot model amphibious tank. It never progressed further than the experimental stage after the pilot model sank in 1935. (TM)
The ARL 75mm APX was similar to the SAU 40, but was lower and had a hull resembling that of the Char B. The turret was mounted in the centre. (TM)
The second of wheeled SP, built in 1937, certainly looked a little more up to date. The Laffly Chasseur du Char, using the same chassis as the Laffly S15 TOE, mounted a 47mm SA/35 anti-tank gun on a rotating rear mount (270 degrees of traverse). It was fitted with an armoured windscreen, but unarmoured bonnet and cab. A later model of the Chasseur du Char used the same chassis but had an open-topped armoured box like hull, with the gun only able to fire to the rear.
Work was in hand mounting anti-tank and artillery guns on various different tank chassis.
LIGHT TANKS - Both AMR 33 and AMR 35 were used to mount small calibre guns, the 33 a 37mm and the 35 a 25mm in the front of box-like fixed hulls, the AMR 35 having a small, raised cupola.
The Renault Chenillette first entered service in 1931 and was built in considerable numbers, over 6,000 being in service in 1940. Many were captured and used by the Germans. (TM)
MEDIUM TANKS - SAU 40. This was the Somua S35 medium tank chassis with a 75mm gun mounted in the front of a streamlined boxlike hull on top of which, offset to the left, was the S35 turret. After successful trials in 1939, an order was placed for thirty-six SAU 40, they were however, never built.
ARL - Produced at the same time as the SAU 40 and also mounting a 75mm gun this SP had a hull resembling that of the Char B, with the S35 turret in the centre. Only two were constructed and they were allegedly sent to North Africa during the debacle of May 1940, but appear to have been lost without trace.
The Schneider AMC P16 (M 29) built in 1929 was a 6.8 ton halftrack, with a crew of three, a 37mm gun and one machine gun. It was 16ft 1in long, 5ft 9½ins wide and 8ft 8is high. Armour was up 11.4mm thick and it had a top speed of 31mph and a range of 156 miles. Of the 100 built most were used mainly by cavalry regiments in France, but some were dispatched to Algeria. They were still in use in May 1940, equipping cavalry divisions along with Hotchkiss light tanks.
Renault's Type UE (Chenillette d'infanterie - infantry carrier) was undoubtedly inspired by the Carden-Loyd Mk V. The diminutive carrier entered service in 1931 and it was used for transporting all manner of items and normally towed a small trailer. As with the Carden-Loyd, the engine and gearbox were located between the two-man crew, who had moveable rounded armoured covers over their heads. Stores were normally transported in the open rear compartment. while the tracked trailer could carry a 1,1021b load. A total of 6,700 were built by Renault, Fouga. AMX and Berliet. It was also used as a gun tractor, to tow a 25mm anti-tank gun, whilst a few were armed with machine guns and used by infantry combat units to provide mobile lire support. After the French surrendered. large numbers were taken over by the Wehrmacht and given the designation Infanterie Schlepper UE 630(f), They were used for internal and airfield security work also as munition carriers (Gepanzerter Munitionschlepper UE (f)). A few were armed with a 3,7cm PaK 35/36 anti-tank gun. while others in larger quantity, were issued to Panzerpioneer companies in 1943-44 and fitted with four Wurfrahmen 40 rockets for bombardment purposes. Finally, some were used as the basis for a wooden dummy tank. Specifications were: battle weight 2.64 tons, armour 4-7mm thick, engine: four- cylinder Renault 38hp petrol, top speed 30mph, range 112 miles. Dimensions: 9ft 3½ins long, 5ft 9½ins wide and 4ft 2ins high.
There was also a reasonable number of larger carriers built for the re-supply of tanks, for example, the Lorraine Tracteur de ravitaillementpour chars Modele 1931 L. The total order was for 432 and they were all built between January 1939 and May 1940. The Germans acquired over 350 of these after the defeat of France. Uriel specifications of this 6.2 ton, two-man carrier were: length 14ft 1in, width 5ft 3½ins, and height 4ft 3½ins. Renault also produced a similar but smaller carrier a year earlier, the Tracteur de ravitaillement pour chars Modele 1936 R. This weighed only 2.5 tons and was 10ft 6ins long, 5ft 8½ins wide and 5ft 8½ins high. A total of 300 were built.
The diminutive 2-ton Renault Chenillette was used for a wide variety of tasks. Much of its design was derived from the British Carden-Loyd. (TM)
A total of 432, Lorraine Tracteur de ravitaillement pour chars Modele 1937 L (tank supply carriers) were built between 1939 and 1940 After the defeat of France. 350 were commandeered by the Germans. (GF)