French Tanks of World War II (2) Cavalry Tanks and AFVs
by tank expert Steven J. Zaloga is the 213th title in Osprey Publishing’s series NEW VANGUARD. It examines French light tanks and armored cars, and explodes some enduring myths about the 1940 campaign. Illustrated by Ian Palmer, the book is 48 pages in length, available in softcover , PDF and ePub, with ISBN: 9781782003922.
The sequel to French Tanks of World War II (1), this title focuses primarily on France’s cavalry armored vehicles, including the light reconnaissance tanks such as the AMR and AMC families, the famous Somua S.35 cavalry tanks and the extensive array of armored half-track and armored cars used by the French cavalry. Specific attention is also paid to tanks considered important from a numerical standpoint such as the Hotchkiss H-35/H-39 series. Featuring specially commissioned profile artwork, photographs and illustrations, French Tanks of World War II (2) provides detailed insight into the background and design of these tank types and presents a brief, yet thorough assessment of their performance during the Battle of France. - Osprey
French armor in May of 1940 consisted of some of the heaviest armored and well-armed tanks in the world. While most contemporaries were still joining armor plate together with rivets, France made widespread use of homogenous castings. With the fall of France, that process was procured by the United States, which subsequently developed tanks with cast armor hulls and turrets.
In 1902 France experimented with mechanized cavalry. Although French cavalry fought mainly on foot during the First World War, France continued to promote cavalry afterwards, and pioneered half-tracks. Yet turf battles within the French military led to strange designations and assignments for their cavalry armored vehicles. France was slow to ramp up their production after Hitler came to power. Yet after France capitulated to Germany, there were plans to resume production of some French armor.
contentFrench Tanks of World War II (2) Cavalry Tanks and AFVs
is presented through 48 pages in six chapters and sections :
Early Efforts At Cavalry Mechanization
The Weygand Reforms
• Renault AMR 33
• Renault AMR 35
• Cavalry Tank: The Renault AMC
• Cavalry Tank: The Somua S35
• The Accidental Cavalry Tank: The Hotchkiss H35
• Expedient Tank: The Hotchkiss H39
• Eyes of the Cavalry: The Panhard AMD 35
• Cavalry Mechanization
French Tanks in the 1940 Campaign
• Technical Assessment: The Turret Problem
• Technical Assessment: The Radio Gap
• Legends of the Campaign
• Tank Strength, May 1940
• The 1930s Arm Race: Cumulative Tank Production 1931-40
• French Tank Deployment, May 1940
French Tanks After the 1940 Armistice
• Cavalry AMD in Colonies, September 1939
• Operation Exporter
• Operation Torch
• Tank Development in Vichy France
The text is easy to follow and well presented. Mr. Zaloga packs a great deal of information into this concise format. He presents French titles and explains French nomenclature, something that makes it easier when discussing this history with others. Peculiarities of French public and private military industrial production are mentioned. The author also offers glimpses into “Third Republic” (as France was then known) military politics of organization and system development. Those subjects expose insights for subsequent topics.
Four pages paint the portrait of mechanized cavalry in the Third Republic and introduce the Weygand Reforms of 1931. In 23 pages the concept, design, development, procurement, and employment of France’s cavalry AFVs is explored for the armor which fought against the Blitzkrieg: Renault AMR 33, AMR 35 and AMC; Somua S35; Hotchkiss H35 and H39, and developments; Panhard's AMD 35 armored car. How and why those vehicles were selected and then issued to different units is presented. It is interesting how advanced some aspects of French armor was while other characteristics remained rooted in WWI.
Nine pages explore the war record of these AFVs in French Tanks in the 1940 Campaign
. Problems with turret crew designs and radio equipment difficulties are discussed. Those aspects and how the tanks fit into the French “Methodical battle” doctrine, plus how that concept shaped the design of the tanks is imparted. Unlike American armor doctrine, France expected their tanks to fight enemy tanks when encountered. The author also addresses whether long-held beliefs of French armor failures are valid. This he does by comparing and contrasting France’s tank forces with those of Germany, America, and Russia.
The section French Tanks After the 1940 Armistice
delves into that subject in eight pages. Germany planned to allow France to produce tanks for Italy and Japan. French tanks fought British and American tanks in the Mediterranean, and then were used again against the Germans. However, only token mention of German use of French armor is made, with no mention of French tanks fighting the Allies in Italian service. Perhaps this is a drawback of the book format.
Photographs, arts, graphics
An excellent selection of photographs support the text. All but two I consider clearly focused and well illuminated; the exceptions are also of good quality. Two color photographs of preserved AFVs in museums lend a splash of color to the selection. Modelers and artists will find many very useful. Several show to good effect the effects of antitank fire against armor.
Several illustrations display the tanks and unit insignia :
1. Renault AMR 33, 3e Groupe D’Automitrailleuses, Paris 1938
2. Renault AMR 35, 6e Escadron, 1ere RDP, 2e DLM, Dunkirk, June 1940
3. Somua S35, 1e Escadron, 2e Cuirassiers, 3e DLM, Belgium 1940
4. Somua S35, 3e Escadron, 18e Dragons, 1ere DLM, Belgium 1940
5. Somua S35, 1e Escadron, 4e Cuirassiers, 1940 cutaway, keyed with 18 components
6. Hotchkiss H35, 3e Escadron AMC, 2e GAM, 2e Division Cavalerie, 1939
7. Hotchkiss H35, 3e Escadron, 18e Dragons, 1er DLM, Belgium 1940
8. Hotchkiss H39, 1er Cuirassiers, 3e DLM, Belgium, May 1940
9. Hotchkiss H39, 8e Dragons, 7e DLM, June 1940
10. Panhard AMD 35, 4e Peleton, 3e Escadron AMD, 8e Regiment DES Cuirassiers, 2e DLM, Belgium 1940
11. Panhard AMD 35, 3e Peleton, 2e GRDI, 9e Division D-Infanterie Motorisée, Belgium, May 1940
12. Renault R35, 6e Régiment Des Chasseurs Africaines, Levant, June 1941
13. AMC White TBC, 7e Régiment Des Chasseurs Africaines, Levant, June 1941
14. S40, intended improvement of the Somua S35, 1942
Those illustrations feature narratives which introduces camouflage colors and patterns of the vehicles to the reader. Not unusual, the colors of the artwork do not match the colors of the vehicles in the color photographs.
Graphics include line art of tanks, and several tables of information :
a. Glossary of French military terms and abbreviations
b. Hotchkiss H39 interior by Hotchkiss
c. Hotchkiss operator manual comparison of the H35 and H39
d. Panhard interior illustration
e. Table: Comparative Technical Data: AMC: H35, H39, AMC 35, S35
f. Table: Comparative Technical Data: AMR and AMD: AMR 33, AMR 35, P16, AMD 35
g. Table: Comparative Technical Data: French Tank Guns: 25mm, 37mm SA18, 37mm SA38, 47mm
h. Tank Strength, May 1940
i. The 1930s Arms Race: Cumulative Tank Production 1931-40: German vs France
j. The 1930s Arms Race: Tank and Mechanized Divisions: German vs France
k. French Tank Deployment, May 1940: tank types per units assigned
l. Cavalry AMD in Colonies, September 1939
My interest in French armor started over 25 years ago when I was playing Avalon Hill’s Squad Leader
and read Len Deighton’s book Blitzkrieg
(and later Blood, Tears, and Folly
). Before those books I mistakenly believed that French tanks were relics with paper-thin armor and guns impotent against panzers, rare as unicorns on the battlefield. Yet since then I found only a dearth of books explaining French tanks in detail. Thus French Tanks of World War II (2) Cavalry Tanks and AFVs
is a long and eagerly awaited title for me.
I hold in high regard the erudite Mr. Zaloga and value his knowledge and writing style. He did not disappoint me with this title. I also appreciate his use of French terms and designations with translations. He does a good job explaining why France's tanks were designed, build, and employed as they were, while questioning whether post-war criticism is deserved. With only 48 pages to work with, the subject is understandably truncated. Yet this book is a good primer on cavalry armored vehicles of the Third Republic. The artwork is useful and the photography selection is excellent. Tables of information help relate the text into simple clear data.
I do not have anything serious to complain about with this book, although information about French AFV employment by the Axis is almost nonexistent. Perhaps there will be books about French armored forces in combat soon?
Not a single combat narrative is in the entire text; this is not a “battle book”, nor is it intended to be. It should be useful for modelers, historians, and students of the 1940 Blitzkrieg, French armor, and the Third Republic military. Overall I am very pleased with this book and happily recommend it.
This book was provided to me by Osprey Publishing Ltd. Please be sure to mention that you saw the book reviewed here when you make your purchase.
All images used with permission.