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Schneider CA1, the first French tank

Tanks employed by the military of France were first used during World War I, and later developed during the interwar period in response to development in the field by other military powers. French tanks saw combat during World War II, and were further developed during the Cold War.


French development into tanks began during World War I as an effort to overcome the stalemate of trench warfare. The Schneider CA1 was the first tank produced by France, and 400 units were built. The French also experimented with various tank designs, such as the Frot-Laffly landship, Boirault machine and Souain experiment. Another 400 Saint-Chamond tanks were manufactured from April 1917 to July 1918, however these tanks were largely underpowered and of limited utility due to the design of the caterpillar tracks, which were too short in comparison with the tank's length and weight.[1]


World War II

A disabled Char B1 Bis in Northern France, 1940

At the start of the war, France had one of the largest tank forces in the world along with the Soviet, British and German forces. The French had planned for a defensive war and built tanks accordingly; infantry tanks were designed to be heavily armoured. Within France and its colonies, roughly 5,800 tanks were available during the time of the German offensive.

The design of French tanks were not inadequate to their German counterparts; in fact, many French tank designs outpowered various early German tanks used during the first stages of the war. One single Char B1 was able to destroy thirteen German tanks within a few minutes in Stonne on 16 May 1940, all of them Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks. The 37mm and 20mm guns the Germans used were ineffective at penetrating the thick armour of the B1, which was able to return safely despite being hit a large number of times.[2] Setbacks the French military suffered were more related to strategy, tactics and organisation than technology and design. Almost 80 percent of French tanks did not have radios, since the battle doctrine employed by the French military was more a slow-paced, deliberate conformance to planned maneuvers.[3] French tank warfare was severely restricted as tanks were assigned to infantry divisions, and were intended to provide support for infantry. Unlike Germany, which had dedicated tank divisions, France did not separate tanks from the infantry, and were unable to respond quickly to the Blitzkrieg tactics employed by the Germans, which involved rapid movement, mission-type orders and combined-arms tactics.[4]

Cold War

Various tank designs were built by France after World War II. Tank models such as the AMX-13 and AMX-30 were also exported to various other nations. Newer French tank designs sacrificed armour protection for increased mobility, due to the idea that the large amount of armour required to protect against modern anti-tank threats would significantly affect maneuverability, and that a higher speed and more compact vehicle dimensions would be more effective in protecting the tank from potential threats.

A rift formed between France and West Germany following Charles de Gaulle's decision that France would no longer participate in NATO, with West Germany opposing a standardised common tank project. In 1963, both West Germany and France declared that they would produce purely national tanks. Development towards main battle tank projects such as the AMX-30 occurred soon afterwards.[5]

List of tanks

Interwar period and World War II
Cold War

AMX-13 light tank, produced from 1953 to 1985

Modern era


  1. Steven Zaloga, (2011). French Tanks of World War I. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 9781780962139
  2. Frieser, Karl-Heinz (2005). Greenwood, John T., ed. The Blitzkrieg Legend. The 1940 Campaign in the West. Naval Institute Press. pp. 211–212. ISBN 978-1-59114-294-2
  3. Larew, Karl G., (2005). "From Pigeons to Crystals: the development of radio communication in U.S. Army tanks in World War II". Historian, 67: 664–677. Blackwell Publishing. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6563.2005.00126.x
  4. Chris Bishop, (2002). The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc. ISBN 9781586637620
  5. Caiti, Pierangelo (1978). Modern Armour — The world's battle tanks today. London: Arms and Armour Press. ISBN 0-85368-412-X.

See also

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