Renault, Somua, Hotchkiss- one of those pitiful 1930's jobs

Discussions on all aspects of France during the Inter-War era and Second World War.

Renault, Somua, Hotchkiss- one of those pitiful 1930's jobs

Post by Ezboard » 30 Sep 2002 17:46

Veteran Member
Posts: 548
(11/14/01 2:12:56 pm)
Renault, Somua, Hotchkiss- one of those pitiful 1930's jobs
In his post about the Warsaw Urprising-related films, Mr. Michael Miller suggests the French tanks of the 1930s were some kind of crap. This made me do some research on the problem.

When WWII broke out, France was possibly the world's first "Panzer Power", having about 5000 tanks on the inventory. On May 10, 1940, there were almost 3500 battle tanks available to combat units located along the front facing Germany. Here is a breakdown in actual numbers. The remainder of France's tank force were located in arsenals or in
training schools.

Renault FT17 534
Renault R35/40 1035
Hotchkiss H35 398
Hotchkiss H39 790
FCM 36 90
Renault D2 75
Renault B1 & B1 bis 313
FCM 2C 6
Somua S35 243

According to French doctrine, the purpose of the tank was to provide support for the infantry. French tanks were organized into many small units and dispersed. According to this doctrine, the tanks' speed was not important, as they had to keep pace with infantry advancing on foot. On the other side, the French tanks were not designed to blow up
heavily fortified defenses or heavily armoured adversaries, so they had usually short-barrel guns which fired slow-flying shells. These misconceptions plagued greatly some of the French tank forces, but there were also exceptions.

So let's see the French tanks type by type:

Renault R-35 and R-40

The main type of French tank, also used by Poland, Turkey, Romania, and Yugoslavia.
Built at an order from the Army, specifying a tank able to replace the FT-17 Mosquito.

Weight: 10 tonnes
Armour: 32 mm front, 40 mm sides, 45 mm turret
Engine: Renault, 82 bhp
Speed: 20 km/h on road, 12 km/h offroad
Gun: 37mm Sa18

Few had radios.
Plagued by weak armour and gun, it had become useless by 1942, when the Romanian Army rearmed it with 45mm gun. However, its biggest fault was the very slow speed.

Hotchkiss H-35, H-38 and H-39

Used for infantry and cavalry support, somehow equivalent of the German PzKpfw I and II.

Weight: 10.6 - 12 tonnes
Armour: 22-34 mm front, 34 mm sides, 45 mm turret
Engine: Hotchkiss, 75 or 120 bhp
Speed: 27-36 km/h on road, 16 km/h offroad
Gun: 37mm Sa18

A bit faster than the R-35, but still armed wit small-calibre gun. Only the commander's tanks had radios.

Renault D1 and D2

Renault D2 medium tanks formed the backbone of the French Division de Ligne envisioned by de Gaulle in 1934-35. A medium tank according to weight.

Weight: about 20 tonnes
Armour: 30-40 mm front
Engine: Renault, 100-150 bhp
Speed: about 23 km/h on road, 10-16 km/h offroad
Gun: 37mm Sa18 or 47 mm Sa34

A quite good tank, armed with an efficient gun for the 1930s, but too slow, somehow like a moving pillbox and plagued by the lack of a radio.

Somua S-35

Probably the best tank design from the French, surpassing even the giant Renault B1. It had all necessary to be a winner in the mediumclass: speed, armour, firepower... but again one-man turret and no radio.

Weight: 20 tonnes
Armour: 36 mm front, 10+25 mm sides, 56 mm turret
Engine: Somua, 190 bhp
Speed: 37 km/h on road
Gun: 47mm SA35 L/34

More to come about the other types, which were not so important.

As we can see, the French tanks had good characteristiscs for 1940:an acceptable armour, rather good guns for their opponents(PzKpfw I and II), but they were all plagued by the faults due to their conception as infantry support vehicles: only a few had radios, the turrets were operated by only one crew member, their speed was too low. But they can be hardly considered crap. The S-35 was in 1935 the best
tank in the world, a forerunner of the Soviet T-34, built on the same ideas: good armour(made by casting), a gun
conceived to break the 20-30mm armour of the 1930s tanks and still to be easily reloadable for high rate of fire, rather high speed. The main fault was the fact the commander had to operate the gun, which made the French tank commander
in battle to concentrate at firing the opponents instead of giving tactical advice. Communications breakdowns were a common occurance, compounded by the fact that tanks penetrating the enemy lines often had their radio antenna severed by shrapnel and intensive anti-tank fire. By contrast, the extra crew member in Pz.Kpfw. III and later models allowed the vehicle's commander to concentrate on target
acquisition and tactical communications with the other Panzers in his platoon. Company commanders monitoring the chatter would be better able to evaluate the situation, deploy reserves and launch flanking attacks when an opportunity presented itself.

More to come later.

~Best regards,


Michael Miller
Veteran Member
Posts: 130
(11/14/01 4:12:52 pm)
Reply ...
That's some nice research you've done.

I'm no armor expert- my interest in weaponry dwindled when I was 14 and began to study the people of World War II. In my post, I meant that in comparison with German armor, such as the Tiger I, French tanks were rather pitiful.

On an unrelated note- the "Lina Heydrich" thread- my comparison of Prague 1942 to Bucharest 1989... any thoughts?

~ Mike Miller

(11/14/01 4:22:10 pm)
Reply Rebel
We got to meet Lazlo Tokes (sp?), the guy who some say was the catalyst to what happened in 1989. Quite a guy. And quite a story. He was a Bishop in the Calvinistic Hungarian Reformed Church, which is why we invited him out.

I'd also like to hear a Romanian view of things, but I guess this is the wrong forum.


Veteran Member
Posts: 549
(11/14/01 5:03:03 pm)
Re: Rebel
<<guy who some say was the catalyst to what happened in 1989>>

Well said: "some say". Actually his removal from the job of Bishop was the propagandistic pretext for a demonstration in which the occult leaders of the rebellion hoped to trigger the popular unrest into a large-scale revolution. At first they seemed to have failed, the Communist government being able to contain the affair. But a few days later, the same conspirators arranged, helped by some groups of Soviet agents, the overthrow of Ceausescu, who had been betrayed by most of military and police leaders.

Tokes was just a pawn in this affair.

In the last 5-6 years, Tokes has become one of the most vocal and extremist supporters of a secession of Transylvania, where there are some areas inhabited by ethnic Hungarians. However, he was not supported by the official leaders of the Hungarian minority. He may be again a pawn, this time working for a different boss, or he may be trying to boost his image in the eyes of the media. Anyway, he is everything but a hero.

~Best regards,


(11/14/01 8:44:49 pm)
Reply Tokes
Occult? :-(

Ray the K
(11/14/01 8:56:10 pm)
Reply French armor-perhaps not pitiful, but no legs
Ovidius neglects to examine the comparative ranges [radius of action or km/liter] of French armor circa 1940 vs. their German counterparts. If you can't get to where you need to be, the amount of armor plate you have or the effectiveness of your weapons is just so much useless information.

And, official French armor doctrine *was* pitiful.



Veteran Member
Posts: 552
(11/14/01 9:10:38 pm)
Re: Tokes
Yes, "occult", as another word for "hidden". You can't possibly believe that the 1989 "Revolution" was actually a popular rebellion and nothing else. A hidden conspiracy had done the whole job, with some foreign help. Ten years after, the Romanian media had discovered some of the hidden facts and published them. One must be too naive to consider this "just a popular revolution".

~Best regards,


Veteran Member
Posts: 160
(11/14/01 9:12:59 pm)
Reply Re: Renault, Somua, Hotchkiss- one of those pitiful 1930's j

I have to admit I don't know much about French armor. Was one of the above tanks the 'Char B'?

Regards, Oberstarzt

Veteran Member
Posts: 554
(11/14/01 10:06:42 pm)
Char B
No, I didn't put the Char B on my list, because it was employed in too small numbers on areas too spread out to influence the final result of the battles.



(11/15/01 12:14:24 am)
Reply Current times
I have read recently in some french newspaper that the Tanks currently in use in the French army, the "Chars Leclerc" are not that good at all.
Their cost is 60 millions of FF (9 000 000 € or smtg). They have been in use in the United Emirates, but French army forgot to install Clim in them, so soldiers were cooking. Also, driving in sand requires powerful engines, and they had to install extra Mercedes Engines on them. The opposite problem happened in Scandinavia, with snow. Also they dont have any backup vehicles to cover those tanks, so you can blow up one of them with any bazooka at 200 m range. Funny for such an expensive vehicle.

Per Andersson
Posts: 96
(11/15/01 6:55:29 pm)
Reply Re: Current times
"I have read recently in some french newspaper that the Tanks currently in use in the French army, the "Chars Leclerc" are not that good at all. "

Going from published figures, the LeClerc seems comparable with the German Leopard 2, the British Challenger 2 or the American M1A1. It is slightly lighter than these vehicle, partially because it is half a generation newer. Its power-to-weight ratio is slightly superior than these other tanks. The Leclerc did have fairly serious reliability problems when trialed by the Swedish army in 1991, but this has supposedly been dealt with.

"Also they dont have any backup vehicles to cover those tanks, so you can blow up one of them with any bazooka at 200 m range."

The French produce a mind-boggling array of light fighting vehicles, both for foreign sales and domestic use.

You also over-state the potency of man-portable antitank weapons conciderably. Very few are capable to penetrate the frontal armor of modern MBTs.

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