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Tuesday, August 20th 2019, 1:09am

French Army Secret Projects, 1940-1950

This is a general data dump from the French archives - some never-weres, some testbeds, some things that saw very marginal production, etc. In short, if it's here, it never made it into widespread service.

I've been sitting on some of these writeups for quite a long time (years, in some cases) and I figured I ought to post them sooner or later.

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Tuesday, August 20th 2019, 1:11am

Proposed Superheavy Tank
This vehicle was informally proposed by the Infantry Branch's Materiel Assessment Inspectorate. The Materiel Assessment Inspectorate was a largely toothless organization staffed by Great War officers being "encouraged" along toward retirement with make-work. Most of these older officers had found themselves on the losing side of the 1930s debate on armoured doctrine, favoring slow-moving infantry tanks such as the Char-1bis and Hotchkiss H35; and they had successfully forced the reintroduction of the Char-2C in the 1930s. These officers believed the Armoured Cavalry Branch had become overly fixated on tactical and strategic mobility, to the detriment of firepower and a lack of support to the infantry. The tank's ostensible purpose was both to engage other tanks and demolish fortifications. In order to accomplish these missions, the design featured a powerful 120mm naval gun, mounted low in a fixed hull position and intended to engage fortifications, while a secondary 75mm gun in an oscillating turret, adopted from the Char-6 Bruyere, could engage tanks to the sides and rear. The layout was reminiscent of the 1930s Char-1bis tank, but significantly larger in size. Double tracks helped distribute the tank's great weight across more terrain.

Unsurprisingly, the Armoured Cavalry Branch was appalled at the proposal, and even most of the officers in the Infantry Branch agreed with the sentiment, citing everything from transport difficulties to its inability to cross bridges. Minister of National Defense Lemarechel mocked it as 'a tank solely designed to conquer the Low Countries - principally by squashing them when it drives through.' The proposal never even advanced into the project stage, as DEFA's tank design bureau was officially instructed not to waste any R&D resources on heavy tanks.

Despite this, the detailed proposal drawings and a set of misleading notes were filed away and recovered by a British researcher in the 1960s. The tank was mistakenly believed to be a serious design put together by the Armoured Cavalry Branch's tank design committee, and the British researcher gave it the designation 'Char-14 Napoleon', a title it never had in France, claiming that the tank's size was 'an attempt to compensate for something'. In fact, this vehicle never received an official designation because the Armoured Cavalry Branch refused to legitimize the design with one.

Specifications
Crew: 8 (commander, driver, assistant driver, main gunner, main gun loader, main gun loader, secondary gunner, secondary loader)
Dimensions:
-- Length: 13m (hull); 18m (includes gun)
-- Width: 4.9m
-- Height: 3.9m (to turret top)
Weight: 170 metric tons
Armament:
-- 120mm/L50 main gun in hull casemate (right side)
-- 75mm/L60 secondary gun in oscillating turret (hull left side)
-- 13.2mm Hotchkiss MG (coaxial with secondary gun)
-- 6.5mm MG (hull, operated by assistant driver)
Engine: 2 x Alsthom/SACM MD.12/40 V-12 diesel, 780hp each
Transmission: Manual, six forward and three reverse
Suspension: Torsion bar with sixteen road wheels per side
Protection:
-- Front: 250mm (casemate face), 180mm (lower mantlet)
-- Turret: 55mm (face), 20-15mm (sides), 15mm (top)
-- Mantlet: 25mm
-- Hull: 160mm (forward sides), 110mm (aft sides), 60mm (hull top), 40mm (hull bottom), 90mm (rear)
Power Weight Ratio: 9.2 hp / tonne
Speed: 15kph (road), 15kph (offroad), 1kph (uphill)
Range: 60km

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Tuesday, August 20th 2019, 1:13am

FCM Heavy Tank / FCM-60

Development
The FCM-60 heavy tank had an uncertain design history. DEFA's tank design committee, which had previously produced the excellent Char-8 Montbrun, drew up the initial design for a sixty-ton heavy tank in late 1941, but the French Army's Armoured Cavalry Branch had little interest in heavy tanks at the time. DEFA turned over all further development to the FCM (Forges et Chantiers de Mediterranean company, which had a great deal of previous experience manufacturing heavy tanks for the French Army. FCM completed the detail design, and in 1944 produced an initial rough steel prototype armed with a 100mm main gun. The prototype did not correspond to any open requisitions by the French Army, but was instead constructed solely as a development vehicle by FCM.

FCM had once been a mainstay in the production of French tanks, but the company had lost favor in the late 1930s, with AMX and ARL achieving a sort of supremacy due to their closer ties with DEFA. FCM's prototype was marketed as the company's main attempt to re-aquire lost military vehicle business. The Armoured Cavalry Branch, however, did not believe heavy tanks responded particularly well to the standing French armoured doctrine, which focused on fielding massive numbers of a single standardized type of tank - principally a heavily-armed, mobile, and economical medium like the Montbrun, or its AMX-40 Tigre successor. FCM's initial overtures to the Armoured Cavalry Branch were therefore rebuffed, and the company instead marketed subtly to senior French politicians, who were duly impressed. The political pressure resulted in the first prototype being evaluated by the Army's tank testing commission at Saumer in 1944, where it was quickly rejected due to serious flaws with the drivetrain. Nevertheless, the commission was impressed with the level of firepower and protection that was available, and to the chagrin of several senior armoured commanders, FCM was invited to make changes and prepare a second prototype for purchase by the Army.

The second prototype appeared in March 1945, featuring an all-new drive-train and a more powerful W-16 diesel engine (composed of two Alsthom V-8 diesels mounted in a double-vee layout). The tracks and running gear were also redesigned to provide better offroad speed and lower ground pressure, eliminating the interleaved road wheels that had proven problematic on the first prototype.

The Char-11 had several unique design elements that set it apart from other French tanks. The vehicle's cast hull featured excellent sloping on the forward facing, where the driver sat in an individual compartment. The engine was located in the middle of the vehicle, and the turret and crew compartment was situated at the back of the vehicle. While this setup limited the gun depression to eight degrees, it permitted a lower overall length when the barrel faced forward, which was a prime shipping consideration. Due to the turret's placement so far aft, the designers were able to make the turret longer in order to incorporate an extreme degree of armour sloping, raising the effective thickness of the turret face to make it virtually impenetrable.

Evaluation
The Armoured Cavalry Branch was ill-disposed toward the Char-11 from the start, having an extremely pessimistic view of heavy tanks in general. Most senior commanders came from the French Army's cavalry arm, and preferred the ideals of mobility (including economic operation and ease of maintenance) over raw firepower and protection. However, in trials the second Char-11 prototype performed adequately in cross-country maneuvers despite its size of seventy metric tons - twice the weight of the Montbrun Char-8A4 then in current production. While it was by no means a fast tank, the Char-11 had good cross-country speed on rough ground, comparable in many ways to the Montbrun. Protection was exceptional, with seventeen centimeters of highly-sloped cast armour on the front of the turret face. The Char-11 demonstrated its protection quite graphically in June of 1945 when a platoon of Char-8A2 Montbruns, engaged in live-fire training, inadvertantly mistook the parked and unmanned prototype for a target tank and fired a hundred and seventeen 75mm rounds into the turret and frontal armour from a distance of a thousand meters. None of the hits penetrated the vehicle's armour, and the Char-11 required only minor repairs to the optics.

The Armoured Cavalry Branch spent nearly a year testing the second prototype before ordering a follow-on vehicle in February of 1946. Testing uncovered other problems, however, particularly with the electrical system, and the 100mm main gun received poor marks due to inaccuracy at distance. The Armoured Cavalry Branch requested a number of changes for the third prototype, which was delivered in September 1946. This third prototype featured an experimental Turbomeca gas turbine engine of 1,250 horsepower. When in perfect condition, this engine could power the Char-11 prototype to amazing speeds and acceleration; but the engine was a maintenance nightmare, causing extreme wear on the transmission and other components, over and above its own strict maintenance requirements. In December 1946, a crewman was severely burned when he walked behind the tank, where the gas turbine exhausted hot air at temperatures of over 200 C. Fuel economy was also particularly poor, and the Armoured Cavalry Branch viewed with some disfavor the amount of strategic metals required for the engine's construction. Despite these issues, the Char-11 had impressed enough senior officials in the Army that six more prototypes were ordered in June of 1947. The gas turbine experiment was not attempted again until several years later, and a new V-10 diesel engine and the CN-105 F1 main gun was used instead.

Limited Adoption
By February 1948, development of the Char-11 had proceded far enough along that the French Army decided to purchase a select quantity of production examples. Sixteen tanks were built during the course of 1948, and several of the prototypes were modified into command vehicles. In total, twenty-five vehicles were produced, with all production vehicles going to an independent heavy tank company attached to the 2e DB.

Due to the low production quantity, FCM emerged from development in the red. In one important respect, however, the tank was still a success for the company, as the French Army compensated FCM for the termination of the program with a contract to manufacture AMX-40 medium tank hulls.

Specifications (Second Prototype)
Crew: 6 (commander, driver, assistant driver, gunner, loader, assistant loader)
Dimensions:
-- Length: 7.5m (hull); 9.5m (includes gun)
-- Width: 3.8m
-- Height: 3.2m (to turret top)
Weight: 70 metric tons
Armament:
-- 100mm/L51 main gun
-- 13.2mm Hotchkiss MG (coaxial)
-- 6.5mm MG (MG turret atop main turret, manned by second loader)
Engine: Bugatti W-16 diesel, 906hp
Transmission: Manual, six forward and three reverse gears
Suspension: Torsion bar with nine road wheels per side (interleaved)
Protection:
-- Turret: 170mm (face), 90-120mm (sides), 35mm (top)
-- Mantlet: 135mm
-- Glacis: 50 to 100mm (sloped)
-- Hull: 90mm (forward sides), 80mm (aft sides), 40mm (hull top), 40mm (hull bottom)
Power Weight Ratio: 12.9 hp / tonne
Equipment: Nice-450 rangefinder, gunner tank periscope, tactical radio
Constructors: FCM
Speed: 35kph (road), 30kph (offroad)
Range: 160km

Specifications (Production Series)
Crew: 6 (commander, driver, gunner, loader, loader, assistant driver)
Dimensions:
-- Length: 7.5m (hull); 9.5m (includes gun)
-- Width: 3.8m
-- Height: 3.2m (to turret top)
Weight: 70 metric tons
Armament:
-- CN-105 F1 105mm/L53 main gun
-- 13.2mm Hotchkiss MG (coaxial)
-- 6.5mm MG (MG turret atop main turret, manned by second loader)
Engine: Alsthom/SACM Series Four MD.10/46 V-10 diesel, 782hp
Transmission: Manual, six forward and three reverse gears
Suspension: Torsion bar with nine road wheels per side (interleaved)
Protection:
-- Turret: 170mm (face), 90-120mm (sides), 35mm (top)
-- Mantlet: 135mm
-- Glacis: 50 to 100mm (sloped)
-- Hull: 90mm (forward sides), 80mm (aft sides), 40mm (hull top), 40mm (hull bottom)
Power Weight Ratio: 11.2 hp / tonne
Equipment: Nice-455 rangefinder, gunner tank periscope, tactical radio
Constructors: FCM
Speed: 35kph (road), 30kph (offroad)
Range: 160km

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Tuesday, August 20th 2019, 1:40am

Collignon Tracked Reconnaissance Vehicle
The Collignon tracked reconnaissance vehicle was proposed by French inventor and engineer Andre Collignon in 1946 during the design process that eventually resulted in the Hotchkiss VLD (Véhicule léger de Découverte). Collignon's design was for a very small, low-profile lightly-armoured tracked reconnaissance vehicle intended for two crewmen, who operated the vehicle from a prone position. Collignon was reportedly inspired by a number of extremely light armoured carriers created elsewhere in Europe, and envisioned his vehicle attacking "like a swarm of fighter craft, dashing through the ranks of the enemy, sowing confusion, and withdrawing after the completion of their mission". The 23mm HS.406 cannon was mounted in a unique arrangement, on a remote-control arm that raised the gun over the vehicle in order to fire, "like a scorpion striking at its prey". The French Army maintained severe doubts about the design (ultimately selecting the wheeled VLD by Hotchkiss for production). In spite of this, Collignon built a working rough steel prototype of his design, complete with it's crane-like machine gun mount, which he persistently but fruitlessly attempted to sell for the next several years. In 1952, Collignon was hired by DEFA to work on rockets; he ceased all development work on armoured vehicles, although he built several 'unique' tracked racing cars.

Dimensions:
-- Length: 3.8 m
-- Width: 2.0 m
-- Height: 1.4 m
Weight: 4,500 kg
Armament:
-- 23 mm HS.406 rotary cannon with 200 rounds
Armour:
-- Hull forward: 20 mm at 62°;
-- Sides and rear: 10 mm
-- Turret: 15 mm
Crew: 2 (driver, gunner/commander)
Speed: 85 kph (forward), 25 kph (reverse)
Engine: Peugeot 3.8L flat six diesel engine, 100 hp, located at front
Suspension: Torsion bar, with three road wheels
Range: 450 kilometres (road, estimated)
Fuel Capacity: 290 litres
B]Transmission:[/B] Manual

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Wednesday, August 21st 2019, 9:53am

These are some very interesting projects indeed. Glad you shared them.