French Armour 1940

Discussion in '1940' started by Owen, Sep 22, 2006.

  1. drgslyr

    drgslyr Senior Member

    Reading up on this today and one major factor against French armour was how thirsty the French tanks were compared to the Germans. Refuelling from wheeled-tankers took a lot longer for the French than for the Germans who often used "Jerry" cans.
    The wheeled tankers also had zero cross-country ability which restricted their freedom of movement.

    French commanders had no intiative so were always referring to the next level of Command before making a descision. Whereas the Germans Commanders were encouraged to solve their own problems.
    One French counter-attack at Sedan took 12 hours from the intial order until the troops started the attack. The German response took 10 minutes to organise!.
    To combat the Char 1 Bis the Germans soon learnt to aim for the armoured louvres on the side-rear which protected the oil radiator and passed on this knowledge to other formations.
    Some French Armoured attacks intially had success against the Germans, even against Panzer IIIs. But German re-enforcemnets soon tipped the scales.
    Another problem the French Armoured units encountered was the roads up to the Front were choked with refugees and worse still other French units in full retreat.

    Faulty communication and coordination between the various forces was probably France's biggest downfall. Even with their under-performing :D tanks they might have been able to mount a decent defense if one unit knew what the other was doing in a timely manner.

    But the French never really wanted a fight. They were on the victorious side in WWI and yet there they were, only a short number of years later, having to go through the whole thing again. The Germans were motivated by retribution. After the initial breakthrough by Germany I believe the French had no real chance to win the war. The French leaders had a defeatist attitude, but their outlook and their decision to surrender early in the fight was not completely unwarranted. They had seen the landscape of their country despoiled by the first World War and they had no desire to see it ravaged a second time. In the end it was probably a good decision, because they would have been defeated anyway. Their military was not designed to fight a mobile war.

    Which leads to another point; French military doctrine is highly critisized nowadays, but it was actually reasonable and would probably have been highly effective if they had not overlooked one 'minor' detail (namely, the rift in the Ardennes Forest). The French continental border is quite large and the Maginot Line was imposing. Germany didn't attack it for a reason. The deployment of French tanks into "penny-packets" was also not unreasonable. When you have so much ground to defend and you don't know where the enemy will make his attack, where do you place the bulk of your forces? You are almost forced to disperse your equipment to counter an attack from any direction. Massing tanks into large forces is really only sensible when you know where the battle is going to occur.
  2. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Thanks drgslyr.
    I agree the French had a very negitive and defeatest attitude in 1940.
    That is a whole new thread in itself.
  3. Herroberst

    Herroberst Senior Member

    Does anyone believe that the French did not mass their armor due to the lack of French Air superiority or Air cover?

    What was the mechanical reliabilty of French tanks compared to their German foes?

    Do you fell that tank communications(radios) played a significant role in German advantage over French?
  4. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Really does seem they placed far too much reliance on the Maginot line, static defence was their doctrine, forgetting the important lessons about mobility learnt towards the end of WW1, imposing fortresses like Eben Emael must have been great for the misplaced confidence (shattered of course when attacked by the interesting Witzig and his men, fascinating example of modernity clashing with and absolutely destroying the older military ideas).
    On mechanical reliability the Germans equipped with Char bs on Jersey had no real problems, they do report that the steering was very complex with its brass multi-piston system but if maintained correctly was one of the smoothest they'd encountered in use.
    Radio communication obviously has to be one of the massive contributory factors as regards battlefield success in the period. I suspect only Gerry Chester on this forum could possibly comment on what it would really be like inside a tank without a radio in combat but I would imagine even more grim than with. It seems hard enough to maneuvre such closed down vehicles in completely calm conditions let alone with a severely limited sense of direction.
  5. Gerard

    Gerard Seelow/Prora

    I remember a comment on the World at War that the only method of communication Gamelin had from his headquarters was either by motorcycle courier or by civilian telephone. Because of this by the time the French High Command issued orders they were out of date. The French and the Germans were working to two timetables, the French to 1914 and the Germans to 1940! :eek:
    britman likes this.
  6. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    The French and the Germans were working to two timetables, the French to 1914 and the Germans to 1940
    Excellent quote.

    Good article here with some illustration of the French Doctrine under 'methodical battle'.
    V26N1 - France's Defeat in the 1940 Campaign

    As for 'Penny packets' the term refers to the small scale allocation and therefore isolation of armour within units rather than the image of handfuls of lone tanks, (the French were very wrong in the doctrine they followed, not stupid) there were concentrations of armour on a strategic level but their tactical deployment was woeful, not even the WW1 minded French staff would see anything other than an attempt to concentrate forces as an advantage.
  7. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Reading in The Fight for the Channel Ports by Michael Glover
    the Char B was the best tank in the campaign but had one serious fault in design. Its petrol tank held 450 litres but, thanks to the shape of the tank, the last 180 litres could not be used, limiting its range to 60 miles.
    What idiot designed that?

    One reason the French didn't deploy Armour en-masse is due to the refueling problems (see earlier post) and also
    28 trains were needed to move each Division. 1er DCR duly reached Charleroi but the second division had to wait for the rolling stock to return from there by way of Paris, so that it could not move to the Meuse for 2 to 3 days. The only tanks available to support the immediate counter-attacks at Dinant and Sedan were those surviving from the light cavalry divisions and they were not enough.
  8. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    What idiot designed that?
    I Can only find reference to General Estienne laying down the required form. Nothing on specific designers.

    Can this really be right about the unusable fuel?
    Just did a quick trawl through several books followed by some websites and I can't find any other reference to this problem, lots on the low range and necessary logistical trail of fuel carriers including the soon discarded fuel trailers but nothing relating to such poor fuel-tank design. I see that an extra 170L of fuel-tank was added in final production variants and wonder if this might be the source of some misconception? It just seems odd that the French and their excellent and advanced automotive industry would make such a basic error.

    Need to know now...

    :mad: Cheers Owen, that'll be another slew of evilbay purchases filling up the gaps in the 'French vehicles' section of the bookcase... and I'd been doing so well at slowing down the book-buying. :rolleyes:
  9. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Did seem strange to me too.
    As you say maybe the Author's misconception of the data.
  10. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Another example of the Char B's lack of range shows up on 4th June 1940 when Char Bs are supporting 51st Highland Div.
    A long approach march for the Char Bs meant they were running low on fuel.The battalion commander wanted to retire to refuel. General Perre refused permission for this and sent the fuel trucks forward to resupply the tanks under fire so as not to delay the attack any longer. The attack went in but failed anyway.
  11. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    From Churchill's Sacrifice of the Highland Division by Saul David, page 133.
    1st Lothian and Border Yeomanry holding a huge area, June 5th 1940.
    Near Mareuil they had the help of a disabled French tank (type unknown) from an earlier battle that formed the cornerstone of "A" Squadron's defences. It's crew had stayed to man the main armament and MG. (These French tankmen hadn't run away.)
    The advanceing Germans got a shock as they came across the French tank,
    "As the Germans rounded the corner they caught sight of the French tank.
    There were two men in front. The leading man put up his hands, the second man shot him in the back. We shot the second man."

    By midday the firing died down and the defences were reorganised. The French tank had
    "run out of ammunnition after excellent work."
    so that position was abandoned.
    Nice little story to show again how brave the French Tank crews could be.
    It would have been easy for them to leave their tank there after it was disabled in the earlier battle but they stayed on and fought until they could fight no more.
  12. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

  13. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Senior Member

    French armor of 1940 had a whole range of serious problems. These included poor design and doctrinal deficencies over a wide range of issues.
    For example, one of the most ineptly designed vehicles had to be the Char B1 bis. Here we have a large heavily armored "tank" that is virtually incapable of engaging in a tank on tank action with any hope of success. The hull mounted 75mm is completely worthless against moving targets being fixed in traverse making it impossible to lay and then lead a target. As the vehicle driver is also the gunner for this weapon, the lack of traverse and the design of the fire control system indicated that this gun was intended as a mobile artillery piece for direct support of advancing infantry.
    The one-man turret on this (and every other French tank of the period) vehicle meant that the gunner, it is hardly apt to call him the vehicle commander, appears meant more to be used as a defensive measure against possible threats from stationary firing positions than as would a normal turretted tank would be used as a primary weapons system.
    The whole design of the Char B1 bis almost gives it the feel of being a mobile Ouvrage; sort of an extension of the Maginot Line.
    The cavalry vehicles like the S35 are likewise not set up primarily to engage enemy tanks but rather operate at a leasurely pace in the role of close reconnissance on the battlefield.
    French doctrine of the period had much to do with the incompetent and almost criminal deficencies of their army. The whole concept of Methodical Battle was contrary to everything centuries of thought on warfare recommended. It was a system of plodding, top-down, orchestrated action; almost scripted like a play. Such a doctrine was a sure failure when pitted against the fluid and highly responsive and energetic German "blitz."
    The French doctrine was so ingrained in their army that Gamelin had several years before the war issued an edict that officers were forbidden from writing, publishing, lecturing, or doing any other such activity without the permission of the General Staff. This was to ensure that only orthodox views were forwarded. DeGaulle suffered because of this edict being passed over for promotion to General due to his publishing works on mobile warfare contrary to this doctrine.
  14. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

  15. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Oh how I wish my French was better than just ordering beer, booking a hotel room or getting the train!
  16. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

  17. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

  18. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Good stuff there, cheers.
  19. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Senior Member

    Interesting to see the vehicles being driven about. But, French armor in 1940 is still really badly designed.
  20. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Just posted this elsewhere but thought it should go here too, apologies for the repetition to those that also attend a.n.other forum:

    A rather tragic quote from Lt. Louis Bounaix, section commander in the 2eme Compagnie of the 37eme BCC describing his unit's advance through a Belgian town in 1940:
    "The enthusiasm of the people grew higher and higher, their faces radiating more and more as we advanced. I heard them shouting "Vive la france et la Belgique. Vive les Francais!"
    ...All these shouts, these smiles and weeping eyes moved us to our deepest soul. The Belgians were counting on us, they would not be disappointed. An immense proudness was growing inside us, a huge confidence, strengthened by the admiration shown on those thousands of faces. Our Renault B1bis were beautiful and the Germans would learn to know them." (From Pallud's 'Blitzkrieg in the West 'then & now')

    A quick look on the web reveals Bounaix's actual combat outcome on the always excellent Chars Francais website:
    Engaged in Flavion on May 15, 1940. The GUYNEMER (Bounaix's tank) fights all the morning and destroys three Pz IV and one Pz III. In the afternoon, damaged (more than fifty impacts) and with fuel [gone], it must be scuttled by its crew.
    The rest of the article on this tank's fate is in French but can be read with dodgy internet translation Here:


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