|Char léger Modèle 1935 R ("R 35")|
R 35 in Yad la-Shiryon museum, Israel
|Place of origin||France|
|Used by|| France|
|Wars||Second World War|
1948 Arab-Israeli War
|Number built||1,540 R 35, ~145 "R 40"|
|Weight||10.6 metric ton|
|37 mm L/21 SA18|
|7.5 mm MAC31 Reibel machine gun|
|Suspension||horizontal rubber cylinder springs|
Designed from 1933 and produced from 1936, the type was intended as a light infantry support tank, equipping autonomous tank battalions, that would be allocated to individual infantry divisions to assist them in executing offensive operations. To this end it was relatively well-armoured but slow and lacking a good antitank-capacity, fitted with a short 37 mm gun. At the outbreak of the war, the antitank-rôle was more emphasized leading to the development and eventual production from April 1940 of a subtype with a more powerful longer gun, the Renault R40. It was planned to shift new production capacity to the manufacture of other, faster, types, but due to the defeat of France the R35/40 remained the most numerous French tank of the war, about 1685 vehicles having been produced in June 1940. At that moment it had also been exported to Poland, Romania, Turkey and Yugoslavia. For the remainder of the war Germany and its allies would use captured vehicles, some of them rebuilt into tank destroyers.
Development[edit | edit source]
The development plan of 1926 foresaw the introduction of a char d'accompagnement, a cheap mass-produced light tank to replace the Renault FT 17 of World War I vintage, to make it possible for the standard infantry divisions to execute combined arms infiltration tactics, seen as the only viable method of modern offensive warfare left for non-motorised units. The French army did not have the means to motorise more than a few select divisions. In 1930 this plan was replaced by a new one, giving more precise specifications. The first tank to be developed to fulfil its requirements, the Char D1, proved to be neither cheap nor particularly light. In 1933, Hotchkiss offered an alternative solution, the later Hotchkiss H35. For political reasons this proposal was turned into the Plan 1933 and the whole of French industry was in August 1933 invited to propose possible designs. Fourteen companies responded (among which Delaunay-Belleville) and five submitted a prototype: Hotchkiss itself, the Compagnie Général de Construction des Locomotives, APX, FCM and of course France's prime tank producer: Renault. Fearing that his rival Hotchkiss might well replace him as such, Louis Renault hurried to finish a vehicle; construction was soon in such an advanced stage that the changes in specification issued on 21 June 1934, to increase armour thickness from 30 to 40 mm, could not be implemented. On 20 December 1934 Renault was the first to deliver a prototype, with the project name of Renault ZM, to the Commission de Vincennes.
In the spring of 1935 this vehicle was refitted with heavier armour and a standard APX turret, attached by the Atelier de Rueil between 18 and 25 April. The prototype was still being tested when international tensions increased due to German rearmament. This prompted an urgent demand for swifter modernisation of the French tank fleet. The ZM was to be put into production immediately. On 29 April 1935 an order of 300 was made, even before the final model could be finished, at a price of 190,000 French franc per hull (unarmed, without the engine and turret, the overall export price was ca. 1,400,000 francs in 1939, that is ca. 32,000 dollars by 1939 standards). The first series production vehicle was delivered on 4 June 1936 and had to be extensively tested again as it was different from the prototype.
Description[edit | edit source]
To save time, Renault based the suspension and running gear on that of the AMR 35 (Automitrailleuse de Reconnaissance Modèle 1935 Renault ZT) that was designed for the cavalry. It had five wheels at each side, fitted with horizontal leaf springs, like the AMC 35.
The hull, with a length of 4.02 m, consisted of three cast modules, with a maximum thickness of 43 millimetres, that were bolted together. Total weight was 10.6 metric tonnes (9.8 tonnes without oil and ammunition). The bottom module carried on each side an independently sprung front wheel, two bogies and the driving sprocket at the extreme front. The final drive and differentials were housed at the right in the nose module. It was steered through a Cletrac differential with five gears and by engaging the brakes. The driver was seated somewhat to the left and had two hatches. The Renault V-4 85 hp engine was to the right in the short rear with the self-sealing 166 litre fuel tank at its left. It rendered a road speed of 20 km/h and a range of 130 km. Cross-country speed did not exceed 14 km/h and the fuel consumption totalled 212 L/100 km. From 1940 onward they were fitted with AMX tails to help in trench crossing.
The cast APX hexagonal turret had a 30 mm thick domed rotatable cupola with vertical vision slits (the highest point of 2.13 m) and had to be either hand cranked or moved about by the weight of the commander, the only other crew member. There was sometimes unofficially a seat installed for him but he most often stood. The rear of the turret had a hatch that hinged down and would be used as a seat to improve observation. The earliest vehicles were fitted with the APX-R turret (with the L713 sight) mounting the short Puteaux 37 mm L/21 SA18 gun (the first batches removed from the FT 17 guntanks which were then rebuilt as utility vehicles) and the 7.5 mm Châtellerault fortress machine gun. The cannon had a very poor armour penetration: only 12 mm at 500 metres. Afterwards the APX turret with the same cannon but the improved L739 sight and the standard Châtellerault 7.5 mm MAC31 "Reibel" machine gun was used because of delivery delays for the original weapon. There were so many delays in the production of the turrets also that after the first 380 hulls had been produced in 1936 and only 37 could be fitted with a turret, production was slowed down to 200 annually. The 7.5 mm machine gun's spent cartridges (from a total of 2400) went down a chute through a hole in the floor. The tank carried 42 AP and 58 HE-rounds.
The R 35 at first had no radio, except for the second battalion of the 507e Régiment de Chars de Combat (of Charles de Gaulle), but the R 40 had the ER 54 installed. However, this added to the already heavy task load of the commander, who also acted as gunner and loader.
Renault R40 and Projects[edit | edit source]
In 1937 it had become obvious the original suspension system was unreliable and ineffective. After many trials it was replaced in the 1940 production run, after the 1540 vehicles had been built with the original design, by an AMX system using twelve wheels fitted with six vertical springs (AMX was the new name of the military division of Renault nationalised on 2 December 1936). About the same time the radio and a much more powerful gun were introduced. The long-barrelled L/35 37 mm SA38 in the adapted cast APX-R1 turret (with L767 sight) gave it an effective anti-tank capacity: 40 mm at 500 metres. The new combination was named the Char léger modèle 1935 R modifié 1939 but is more commonly known as the Renault R40. It was delivered in time to equip one battalion of the Polish 10th Armoured Cavalry Brigade of the Polish Army in France and the last two French tank battalions to be formed. It was intended to fit the R 40 with the welded FCM turret in the second half of 1940, while refitting all existing R 35s with the longer SA 38 gun and bringing R 40 production levels up to 120 per month for the duration of the war. From January 1940, the vehicles of light tank unit commanders were gradually uparmed with the longer gun; but as absolute priority was given to tanks serving in armoured divisions, which were of the Hotchkiss type, of the 273 platoon, company and battalion commanders eligible in Renault units, only a few if any received this "R 39". The only official possible exception to the rule that Hotchkiss tanks had to be modified first was made on 12 February 1940 when it was ordered to replace the turrets of 24 Infantry tanks, without specifying the type, present in depot or driver schools in order to obtain older turrets to be fitted on R 35 export vehicles. In the same period a crash programme was executed to produce 200,000 AP rounds per month for the shorter gun, as there had been only minimal stocks of this ammunition type.
Several projects were based on the R 35 such as a number of fascine carriers: these had frames or other contraptions mounted over the hull or turret with a fascine in them that could be dropped to fill trenches.
Operational history[edit | edit source]
The R 35 was intended to replace the FT 17 as standard light infantry tank from the summer of 1936, but even by May 1940 not enough conscripts had been retrained and therefore eight battalions of the older tank had to be kept operational. On 1 September 1939, at the outbreak of war, 975 vehicles had been delivered out of 1070 produced; 765 were fielded by tank battalions in France, 49 used for drive training, 33 were in depot and 45 present in the colonies. Of a total order for 2,300 at least 1,601 had been produced until 1 June 1940—the numbers for that month are lacking—but 245 had been exported: to Poland (50), Turkey (100; two batches of fifty each in February and March 1940), Romania (41 from an order for 200), and Yugoslavia (54). It is likely that the tanks exported to Yugoslavia (in April 1940) are not included under the 1,601 total and that overall production was 1,685; serial numbers known to be actually used indicate a production of at least 1670 vehicles.
Poland[edit | edit source]
In 1938 the Polish Army bought two R 35 tanks for testing. After a series of tests it was found that the design was completely unreliable and the Poles decided to buy the French SOMUA S35 tanks instead, a proposal that was later refused by the French government. However, as the threat of war became apparent and the production rate of the new Polish 7TP tank was insufficient, in April 1939 it was decided to buy a hundred R 35 tanks as an emergency measure. The first fifty (other sources lower the number to 49) arrived in Poland in July 1939, along with three Hotchkiss H35 tanks bought for testing. Most were put into service with the Łuck-based 12th Armoured Battalion. During the Invasion of Poland 45 tanks formed the core of the newly created 21st Light Tank Battalion that was part of the general reserve of the Commander in Chief. The unit was to defend the Romanian Bridgehead, but was divided after the Soviet invasion of Poland of 17 September. 34 tanks were withdrawn to Romania, while the remaining tanks were pressed into service with the improvised Dubno Operational Group and took part in the battles of Krasne and Kamionka Strumiłowa. Six tanks were also attached to the 10th Motorized Cavalry Brigade. The second shipment of R 35 did not reach Poland prior to the outbreak of WWII and was redirected to Syria in October.
Romania[edit | edit source]
As part of a rearmament program of the late 1930s, Romania sought to obtain a license for the local manufacture of two hundred French Renault R35 infantry tanks. By early 1938, negotiations for establishing a factory for the production of R 35 tanks had reached an advanced state. By this time France's own demands for rearmament prohibited further development. In August and September 1939, as a stopgap measure, forty-one R 35s were supplied to the Royal Romanian Army. These tanks served as the principal tank of the newly formed 2nd Armoured Regiment. At the end of September 1939, an additional thirty-four brandnew R 35s passed into Romanian hands when the Polish 21st Light Tank Battalion (Batalion Czołgów Lekkich, or BCL) chose internment over capture following the German conquest of Poland. With seventy-five tanks on strength, the 2nd Armoured Regiment expanded into two battalions.
France[edit | edit source]
On 10 May 1940 in mainland France the R 35 equipped 21 battalions, each of 45 vehicles. This gave 945 R 35/R 40 tanks in the French front line units. Of these 900 were originally allocated at Army level in Groupements de Bataillons de Chars consisting of several battalions:
- VIIe Armée
- GBC 510
- 9eBCC (R 35)
- 22BCC (R 35)
- GBC 510
- Ie Armée
- GBC 515
- 13BCC (H 35)
- 35BCC (R 35)
- GBC 519
- 38BCC (H 35)
- 39BCC (R 35)
- GBC 515
- IXe Armée
- GBC 518
- 6eBCC (R 35)
- 32BCC (R 35)
- 33BCC (FT 17)
- GBC 518
- IIe Armée
- GBC 503
- 3eBCC (R 35)
- 4eBCC (FCM 36)
- 7eBCC (FCM 36)
- GBC 503
- IIIe Armée
- GBC 511
- 5eBCC (R 35)
- 12BCC (R 35)
- GBC 513
- 29BCC (FT 17)
- 51BCC (Char 2C)
- GBC 520
- 23BCC (R 35)
- 30BCC (FT 17)
- GBC 532
- 43BCC (R 35)
- GBC 511
- IVe Armée
- GBC 502
- 20BCC (R 35)
- 24BCC (R 35)
- GBC 504
- 10BCC (R 35)
- 343 CAC (FT 17)
- 344 CAC (FT 17)
- GBC 502
- Ve Armée
- GBC 501
- 1rBCC (R 35)
- 2eBCC (R 35)
- 31BCC (FT 17)
- GBC 508
- 21BCC (R 35)
- 34BCC (R 35)
- GBC 517
- 19BCC (Char D2)
- GBC 501
- VIIIe Armée
- GBC 506
- 16BCC (R 35)
- 36BCC (FT 17)
- 17BCC (R 35)
- 18BCC (FT 17)
- GBC 506
- Armée des Alpes
- GBC 514
- Bataillon de Chars des Troupes Coloniales (FT 17)
- GBC 514
These pure tank units had no organic infantry or artillery component and thus had to cooperate with infantry divisions. However, 135 (2, 24 and the new 44 BCC) were allocated on 15 May to the provisional 4th DCR (Division Cuirassée de Réserve). Two more new battalions, the 40th and 48th Bataillion de Chars de Combat, though still not having completed training, were used to reinforce 2DCR, the first equipped with fifteen R 35s and thirty R 40s, the second with 16 R 35s and 29 R40s bringing the total organic strength to 1035. In addition the 1st and 2nd Tank Battalion of the Polish 10th Armoured Cavalry Brigade, at first training with FT 17's, were equipped with 17 R 35s and about 24 R 40s in late May; in June the R 40s had been given back but replaced by 28 new ones. At the same time 1, 6, 25, 34 and 39 BCC were used to reconstitute 1DCR, 10 BCC reinforced 3DCR and 25 BCC was reconstituted with 21 R 35s and 24 (ex-Polish) R 40s. As about 300 tanks from the materiel reserve were issued to these units as well, around 800 of the 1440 available R 35s ended up in armoured divisions after all.
French colonies[edit | edit source]
Two R 35 battalions (63 and 68 BCC) with 45 and 50 tanks respectively were in Syria, a French mandate territory, and 30 were in Morocco, 26 serving with 62 BCC and four in depot. The tanks in Syria would fight during the allied invasion of that mandate territory in 1941 and then partly be taken over by the Free French 1e CCC, those in North Africa during Operation Torch in November 1942.
Axis forces[edit | edit source]
The majority (843) fell into German hands; 131 were used as such as Panzerkampfwagen 35R 731 (f); some were given, respectively sold, to Germany's allies Italy (124) and Bulgaria (about 40); most were later rebuilt as artillery tractors and ammunition carriers after removing the turret. A considerable number was converted into a 47 mm tank destroyer to replace the Panzerjäger I: the 4,7 cm PaK(t) auf Panzerkampfwagen 35R(f) ohne Turm (174). Romania took over 34 R 35s from the Polish 21st Light Tank Battalion, when that unit fled over the border in 1939; 33 of the Romanian R 35s were in 1943 and 1944 rebuilt with a Soviet 45 mm gun. Three Polish vehicles late 1939 found their way to Hungary. Switzerland took over 12 R 35s fled from France. After the German victory over Yugoslavia in 1941, the Independent State of Croatia took over some R 35s that had not been destroyed when fighting 11. Panzerdivision on 13 and 14 April.
Fourteen R 35 tanks, used to train tank drivers, equipped the 100th Panzer Replacement Battalion in the German Seventh Army in 1944. On June 6, 1944, they were among the first ArmeeReserve units sent into combat near Sainte-Mère-Église to oppose the American airborne landings in Normandy. Supporting a counterattack by the 1057th Grenadier Regiment, R 35s penetrated the command post of the U.S. 1st Battalion 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment before being destroyed by bazooka fire.
Syria[edit | edit source]
The R 35 saw combat in Syrian hands when five R 35s took part in an unsuccessful Syrian Army attack on the Jewish kibbutz Degania in the Galilee on 20 May 1948. The kibbutz defenders, armed with a 20 mm anti-tank gun and Molotov cocktails, managed to knock out three R 35s, causing the remaining forces to retreat. One of the disabled R 35s remains near the kibbutz today as a memorial of the 1948 Israeli War of Independence. Some of the Syrian vehicles had been rebuilt with a British 40 mm gun.
Postwar France[edit | edit source]
Some R 35s served after the war in the Gendarmerie, as "R 39s" refitted with SA 38 guns. They were phased out from 1951 in favour of the Sherman tank.
References[edit | edit source]
- White, B.T (1983). Tanks and other Armoured Fighting Vehicles of World War II. Peerage books. p. 91. ISBN 0-907408-35-4.
- "The prices of Polish armament before 1939". PIBWL Private Land Army Research Institute. http://derela.republika.pl/prices.htm. Retrieved 23 February 2006.
- The 190,000 FF price (for the complete hull only: the turret added another 100,000), despite being very low when compared in dollars to other tanks of the epoch, is comparable to many similar prices in other French tank contracts. In 1935 there had been for many years a strong deflation of the dollar, making it very strong against the franc. In addition, this was from 1936 worsened by a deliberate French policy of devaluation ( ) until the FF was fixed against the dollar on 9 September 1939 at a 43.8 to 1 rate. These exchange rates did not reflect internal value though: they were an artificial instrument to stimulate French exports. This explains how the French were able to produce the entire R 35 at about 500,000 FF in 1939: the real value of the materials and labour used, was about $30,000, not $12,000, as the franc was undervalued about 2.5 times. The export price was realistic though and did not reflect the lower prices for raw materials France was able to obtain from its colonies.
- François Vauvillier, 2006, "Toute la Lumière sur le Canon de 37 SA 38", Histoire de Guerre, Blindés et Matériel, N°74, p. 79
- François Vauvillier, 2006, "Toute la Lumière sur le Canon de 37 SA 38", Histoire de Guerre, Blindés et Matériel, N°74, p. 78
- "Chronology of the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli War". Steven Thomas. http://www.balagan.org.uk/war/ai/1948/chronology.htm. Retrieved 28 November 2007.
Literature[edit | edit source]
Pascal Danjou, 2005, Renault R35/R40, Editions du Barbotin, Ballainvilliers
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