Armée de Terre

Renault FT

The French Renault FT light tank is considered to be one of the most revolutionary and influential tank designs in history and the forerunner of modern tank design. The FT was the first tank to have a turret that rotated 360 degrees and carried its main armament in the turret. Design work began in December 1915 by Louis Renault and production began in early 1917. The FT entered combat on May 31, 1918 east of the Forest of Retz, near Chaudun, between Soissons and Villers-Cotterets during the Second Battle of the Marne. 30 FTs successfully broke up a German advance but in the absence of infantry support, the vehicles had to withdraw. As the front lines began to break up in the summer of 1918, FTs were often transported on trucks and special trailers to keep up with the advance. The FT also featured automatic track tension to prevent derailments, a rounded tail piece to assist in crossing trenches and internal ventilation provided by the engine's radiator fan which drew its air through the front crew compartment of the tank and forced it out through the rear engine's compartment. Around 3,000 Renault FT tanks were made in France and 950 were made in the United States. After WWI the FT was widely exported and used by Afghanistan, Belgium, Brazil, the Republic of China, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Finland, France, Nazi Germany, Iran, Japan, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Philippine Commonwealth, Poland, Romania, the Russian White movement, the Soviet Union, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. It fought in the Russian Civil War, Polish-Soviet War, Chinese Civil War, Rif War, Spanish Civil War, and Estonian War of Independence. They were also used into WWII by Poland, Finland, France, and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Although it was obsolescent, the French still fielded 534 FTs in 1940. Altogether the Germans captured 1,704 FTs during WWII. About 100 for airfield defense and about 650 for patrolling occupied Europe. Vichy France also used Renault FTs against the Allies during Operation Torch in Morocco and Algeria. The Renault FT was armed with either a Puteaux SA 1918 37 mm canon or a 8 mm Hotchkiss machinegun. This model shows a Renault FT of 1 Compagnie 3 Section 29 BCC 2 Armee in North France during 1940.

Renault FT

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Char B.1 Bis

The French Char B1 traces its origins to a 1919 army memo on a new tank specification. Development was protracted with various design studies and prototypes done throughout the 1920s. The first order for seven tanks was not placed until April 6, 1934. The design of the Char B1 reflects its long development time. I has many features of a WWI tank including large tracks going around the entire hull, large armor plates protecting the suspension, slow speed and a shape optimized for trench crossing ability. The main weapon of the Char B1 was a hull mounted 75 mm ABS SA 35 howitzer. The main thrust of the design was to use this gun to attack enemy fortifications and at first this was the only weapon. It became apparent that the tank would also have to fight enemy armor by the 1930s and a cast APX-1 turret was added equipped with a 47 mm SA 34 canon. Unfortunately the turret was too small and the tank commander had to load and fire the gun by himself drastically reducing efficiency. Nonetheless the Char B1 was among the most powerfully armed and armored tanks of the time and was effective against German armor in 1940. On May 16, 1940 a single tank, Eure (commanded by Captain Pierre Billotte) frontally attacked and destroyed thirteen Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks lying in ambush in Stonne in just a few minutes. Despite being hit 140 times the tank survived and returned to its base. According to Heinz Guderian; "While the tank battle was in progress, I attempted, in vain, to destroy a Char B with a captured 47-mm anti-tank gun; all the shells I fired at it simply bounced harmlessly off its thick armor. Our 37-mm and 20-mm guns were equally ineffective against this adversary. As a result, we inevitably suffered sadly heavy casualties". The Char B1 bis was an upgraded version of the Char B1 with thicker armor and an APX4 turret with a long barrel L/32 47 mm SA 35 gun. 369 were delivered before France surrendered. The Char B1 bis had a top speed of 16 mph, a weight of 31.5 metric tons and a range of about 110 miles. Quite a few Char B1's were captured by the Germans during the Fall of France. They were used as second line and training tanks (Panzerkampfwagen B-2 740 (f) and flamethrower tanks (Flammwagen auf Panzerkampfwagen B-2 (f). They were deployed on the Channel Islands, in the Balkans and in Operation Barbarossa. After D-Day some Char B1s were recaptured. The Resistance captured and used several including during the fighting in Paris in August 1944. The 13th Dragoon Regiment of the Free French Forces was equipped with 19 Char B1 tanks and participated in the attack on Royan on April 15, 1945. Eleven Char B1 and Char B1 bis tanks survive today. The Char B1 is was armed with a hull mounted 75 mm ABS SA 35 howitzer, a turret mounted 47 mm SA 35 canon and two 7.5 mm Reibel machineguns. This model shows a Char B1 bis with the 15 BCC 2 DCR at Crecy in Northern France in May 1940.

Char B.1 Bis

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