THE FRENCH ARMORED WHEELED VEHICLES
Already in 1902, the company C. G. V. (Charron, Girardot & Voigt) presented the first known French armored vehicle, the CGV 1902 at the Motor Show of that year. Actually, it is the adaptation of an armored cylinder in the rear seats of an ordinary automobile. The armament consisted of a Hotchkiss 8mm ma- chine gun. The vehicle was evaluated in Chalons the following year, but that eventually ended.
With the participation of Commandant Guye, the company CGV submitted to the Ministere de la Guerre the CGV modele 1906, its first entiérement Blindée Automobile de Guerre. This vehicle was evaluated in the fall of that year. The main drawback of this vehicle was its unsatisfactory power to weight ratio but did employ some successful innovations such as the engine being located inside the vehicle as well as tires that could be used for up to 10 minutes after being pierced by a bullet or something similar. It seems that the French army used four Charron armored vehicles. Russia ordered twelve vehicles and then two more to replace two that were requisitioned by the German Government in the transit to Russia via Germany.
The French Army also acquired some Mitrailleuse Hotchkiss 18 HP automobiles (1903), Panhard-Genty 24 HP (1906), Clément-Bayard (1908), Panhard 24 HP (1911) all in small quantities.
In the first weeks of the war, several Automitrailleuses Improvisées and Voiturettes Automitailleuses were created on the ground using commercial vehicles of various brands such as Delahaye, Delaunay-Belleville, Mercedes, Panhard, Peugeot, Renault, Legrand, etc.
AUTOMITRAILLEUSES BLINDÉES AND AUTOCANONS PEUGEOT
The first armored cars were hastily produced by Peugeot and modified in August 1914. They were based on a commercial vehicle, the Peugeot 4×2 153, built in series between 1913 and 1916. These early conversions used a machine gun, usually a Saint-Étienne Modéle 1907 centrally mounted on a pivot or on a tripod in the rear of the vehicle and was provided with a small shield. The first side plates were 5.5 mm and eventually applied to the entire vehicle.
In late August 1914, the Lieutenant-Lesieure Desbriere proposed to Général Gallieni, that in order to fight the Germans and their wheeled armored vehicles, they would have to convert some of the Peugeot 146 18 HP into 37mm Marine Auto Canons, giving them a small 37mm gun Modéle 1885. Things quickly got under way and the first modified vehicles fire tests were conducted on September 13 in Vincennes. Gallieni gave the order to start production of numerous vehicles armed this way. A few days later, Lesieure-Desbriere went to the Parisian factory in Saint Chamond to address the issue of the shields.
These vehicles were assigned to the Marines, organized in Groupes d’Autocanons de 37 mm de la Marine, with two sections of four vehicles, three armed with cannons and a fourth as a supply vehicle which was unarmed. Later, two Automitalleuses and a shuttle car were added to each section. Général Gallieni had decided to form 24 Groupes d’Autocanons de 37 mm, with a total of 192 Peugeot chassis although only 144 were armed. Général Joffre estimated on October 22nd that twelve groups would be enough, one for each Cavalry Division and two kept in reserve, so finally, production was reduced to 90 Auto canons de 37 mm and 31 supply cars.
As we have previously indicated, each section of the Groupes d’Autocanons of 37 mm de la Marine was assigned with two Automitailleuses. The first twelve sections were improvised vehicles equipped by five different factories. Those five factories were Renault, Peugeot, Delaunay-bel, Delhaye, and Panhard. From the seventh group on, they were standardized vehicles with Renault Automitrailleuse ED type of 18-20 HP. A hundred units were built in Lyon, whose deliveries began in late October 1914.
In December 1914, a specifically designed variant appeared. Conceived by Capitaine Renaud, this vehicle barely resembled earlier versions. It was now covered by armored plates. The radiator was protected by steel doors despite the extra weight of the shield. This was in part compensated by the use of double rear wheels. Although it was armed with a machine gun, Modéle Saint-Étienne 1907, the most common weapon was the 37mm gun, now mounted on a barbette mantlet. The replacement began in Vincennes at a rapid pace. They had numerous Peugeot type 146 chassis so that the preparation of the shield and mounting was performed in December 1914, without harming the setting up of the groups equipped with the initial model, whose late unit, the number 12 was completed on December 24. The last three groups organized were the 13éme, 14eme and 15eme Groupes d’Autocanons de 37 mm de la Marine crews completed their vehicles on January 13 1915. But, at that time, with a static front of trenches and fields of barbed wire, the task of `free hunting of German cars’ was finished so a few vehicles were used in patrols near the front, but their actions had little influence on the development of events.
On March 5, 1916 these units stopped relying on the Marina to be assigned to the 81éme Regiment d’Artillerie. Thus, the presence of armored vehicles in the Marine closes and opens another episode, although short and unfortunate, in that Auto canons and Automitailleuses were committed to the Artillery, who poorly used them. Finally, headquarters issued an instruction in which the Auto canons and Automitailleuses were to be assigned to the Cavalry with a new organization. Each group would have a Voiture de Laison blindée from an unspecified model for the group leader, and three sections each with two more Auto canons and an Automitailleuse plus a motorcycle and a car shuttle. Further armament was modified with the old 37mm modele 1885 cannon which was replaced by another of the same caliber, the Puteaux SA Semi-automatic which fired twice as fast. Ninety vehicles were requested on February 3, 1917 although it is possible some were intended for the new Ségur-Lorfeuvre. Sixty of these guns were installed with Auto canons Modele Peugeot 146, but also in some modified Renault ED Automitailleuses. Finally, Saint-Etienne 8mm Modele 1907 machine guns were replaced on vehicles that still kept them for other Hotchkiss Modele 1914 of the same caliber.
At the same time, the number of groups was adjusted due to the reduction of cavalry divisions. There were not more than seven in mid-1917 and six at end the year. In fact, 13 groups were held, two divisions and one reserve.
In 1918, they took part in the combat against the German offenses along the whole front. Afterwards, some of the armored cars from Peugeot and Renault were used in the warfare that followed this stage, although most of the fighting involved the Renault F. 17, which were more effective in difficult terrain than Peugeot with its narrow wheels. At the end of the conflict, at the time that the new White came to the units, the service unit count was 39 Renault and 28 Peugeot.
AUTOMITRAILLEUSE LEGERE D’ INFANTERIE ARCHER
When the implementation of the new Peugeot Modele 146 chassis shields were about to start, an unexpected interruption came about which com- promised the development of the planned program. This interruption was the Automitailleuses Archer, a vehicle designed by a civil mining engineer, mobilized with the rank of Sergeant J. Archer, who was also a businessman who imported American Hupmobile cars, which he considered adequate to resist the incorporation of light armor. Archer obtained from the Ministere de la Guerre, in December 1914, the Constitution of the Groupes d’Autocanons de 37 mm de la Marine with the intended material and his own ideas were submitted for evaluation. When the evaluation was completed on December 19th, a report in which it was emphasized that the Archer was but an invention that was not likely to render any service was issued. However, a second model was presented in February 1915, having very satisfactory shooting results, so four vehicles were commissioned to provide the division of General Albert Gerard Leo d’ Amade, de l’Armée d’Orient, for the Dardanelles expedition. Two other copies requested on May 27, 1915, were assigned to Détachenet d’Armée de Lorraine.
AUTOMITRAILLEUSE WHITE TBC
In November 1914, Sergeant Pierre Gasnier of Aéroanautique Militaire, pro- posed to his superiors the project of an Automitrailleuse. The project was approved on November 26, 1914 and evaluated in February 1915. The vehicle was built on the chassis of a passenger car known as the Gobron 40 HP. It was shielded with steel plates from the factory of Saint-Chamond, 5 to 7 mm thicker. The model was proposed to equip Groupes d’Autocanons 37mm de la Marine, but on June 21 they responded to this proposal that there were already a sufficient number of such vehicles in service and there were no reason for substituting the Renault ED.
But the idea of a complete shield returned on September 10, 1915, the date in which the Brigadier Marc Fabry presented to the Sous-Secretary d `État de l’Artillerie et des Munitions his project: an automobile with an armored observation tower intended to equip a long vehicle with four wheels and two driving positions. The basic objectives proposed by Fabry were to pro- vide infantry officers in the field a large observatory, protected and with a high degree of mobility. Unknowingly, Fabry had invented the artillery observation vehicle. Finally, it was thought that to support infantry in the tower, a 37 or 45mm cannon or a machine gun or even both could be mounted. So, with the approval of Général Joffre, seduced by the capacity of the tower to shoot in every direction, on February 17, 1916, Delaunay- Belleville signed a contract for the mounting of twenty double direction frames and absolute Jeffery adhesion, with steel plates provided by Saint- Chamond and the Fabry tower.
In late September 1916, the prototype was sent to the Centre d’Instruction des Automitauilleuses at Versailles. There it was found that its excessive weight of 6150 kg to the lean frame made it inappropriate for any war service. The constructed units were dedicated exclusively to training.
While the factory of Delaunay-Belleville proceeded to make the prototype, Jeffery-Fabry, one of the giants of the French automotive industry, De Dion- Bouton and Puteaux, on November 15, 1915, announced to the Minister of War their project of a Blockhaus Automobile, designed by Commandant Guye. The vehicle was completed before the end of the year and presented on February 14 1916. This vehicle was armed with a 37mm cannon firing back and a Hotchkiss machine gun firing forward. In August, the cannon was replaced by another 75mm gun. But this vehicle had certain problems, most importantly, it was not equipped with two driving positions, which at the time was considered essential, which combined with their excessive weight, nearly seven tons, disqualified it for production.
Another attempt to achieve a complete armored Automitrailleuse took place with a contract on September 28, 1915 for an Automitrailleuse Segur & Lorfeuvre on a lighter chassis frame of a Panhard K14 truck, which was delivered to the Centre d’Instruction des Automitauilleuses on May 17, 1916.
It could be armed with a machine gun or 37mm gun and could reach 50 km/h with a 16HP engine. In July 1916, an order for 50 copies, later raised to 300 in January 1917 were manufactured, but the priority was for tanks and artillery tractors so the request to Segur & Lorfeuvre was reduced to ten units on February 5, and finally being canceled.
But the urgency to find a replacement among the vehicles in service for the Groupes Automitailleuses Autocanons Cavalry, led Capitaine Castelbajac, director of the Centre d’Instruction des Automitauilleuses, to find a suit- able frame for a new Automitrailleuse and after ruling out many of the existing, he decided to use the light truck, 2 ton White TBC of American origin, of which the Army had a large number. Headquarters made available one of these vehicles to Lorfeuvre at the Centre d’Instruction des Automitauilleuses to conduct preliminary tests. On March 30, 1917 the transformation began. This transformation, along with an armored body, involved a rear driving position with a steering wheel and the installation of a tower, designed by Castelbajac, armed with a Puteaux SA 37mm cannon and an 8mm Hotchkiss machine gun. Despite the advantages of the vehicle, mass production started only in the spring of 1918, to begin manufacturing 130 units, given the impossibility of the Ministere de l’Armement to fix the number of vehicles required on 6 April, the Cavalry required 170 units. On June 29, new requests made a total of 230 required vehicles.
The First White TBC were delivered to 10eme Groupes Automitailleuses Auto canons de Cavalerie, on October 3, 1918. In practice, the vehicle Segur & Lorfeuvre had to wait almost two years to enter service, arriving just in time to participate in the occupation of the Rhineland.