Saumur Tank Museum Guide (Loire Valley)

The origin of armored vehicles and World War One

At the beginning of the 20th century, France was the world leader in the automotive industry. From the very beginning, cars and especially trucks began to be used for the needs of the army. Initially as a delivery of ammunition and food. In 1902, it was proposed to equip the car with armor protection and install a machine gun. This project was never realized. But in 1903, a motorized division of Panard cars appeared with an engine of 24 h / p and a speed of 70 km / h, armed with a machine gun. In 1906, another armored car project was proposed. It had many disadvantages, including expensive cost and confined spaces. By tradition, the crew of the armored “iron horse” were cavalrymen.

By the beginning of the First World War, the French army was armed with 200 combat vehicles, of which 12 of them had a machine gun, but were not armored. The experience of the first battles of the First World War and heavy losses accelerated the production and improvement of armored vehicles. During the defense of Paris in September 1914, when the Germans were already 100 km from the capital of France, General Galieni put 37-mm rapid-fire naval guns on civilian vehicles. The Ministry of Defense also ordered 136 vehicles to be armed with machine guns or cannons. Ordinary civilian vehicles and even a Parisian taxi were used to transport military supplies and personnel. The enemy was stopped and the war of maneuver ended. At this time, armored vehicles were not provided for positional warfare. The infantry failed to break through the enemy defense line. After occupying the first line of enemy trenches, the infantry ran into machine guns in the second line. Cannon fire from closed positions could not help. There was a need for mobile artillery, protected from enemy machine-gun fire and capable of moving along with the infantry. She also had to destroy wire fences and overcome trenches. Cars on wheels were not suitable for this purpose. Experiments on the design of such vehicles were carried out in all countries, including Russia (see the Lebedenko wheeled tank in the photo).
French Colonel Estienne found such a solution by combining armor, weapons and tractor chassis. The result was the first French tank. In December 1915, Estienne proposed not only the design of the tank, but also the concept of its use. During the test, the Holt tractor successfully overcame pits and trenches, and the colonel received the go-ahead for work. Firm “Schneider” immediately accepted the order for new machines. The French Ministry of Defense did not want to agree with such “amateur activity”; it ordered an alternative car from Saint-Chamond.
England also worked on the design of such a new type of weapon and the Rhombus tank was created. According to some reports, the British adopted the idea of this first Rhombus from the Russian engineer Lysyakov during a demonstration to the Scientific and Technical Committee in Russia. The first English cars were very difficult to drive, had many flaws, but nevertheless they were immediately put into operation.
On September 15, 1916, about 50 tanks supported the attack of the English infantry at Cambrai. The first unsuccessful attack was a big operational-tactical mistake. The enemy now knew about the new weapons of the allies, which were preparing the French command. The Germans quickly began to take countermeasures. The trenches began to be made wider, artillery was placed closer to the front, armor-piercing bullets appeared. The baptism of fire of the French tanks was difficult.
On April 16, 1917, 132 Schneider tanks attacked at Berry-au-Bac. Only 39 of them returned without much success. Etienne (now a general) drew conclusions from the first bad experience. A tank advancing in front of the infantry and supporting it with its fire is very vulnerable due to its size. Estienne thought it best to give the infantryman an individual armored vehicle.
One person cannot control both the machine and the weapon at the same time, the minimum crew must be 2 people. Small and manoeuvrable, this machine will require less time and cost to produce. General Etienne told this idea of his to Louis Renault, who agreed to build a prototype. Critics from the technical commissions were soon silenced – the tankers who remained alive after Berry-au-Bac and other similar attacks knew the shortcomings of the old tanks and demanded that the new vehicle be put into service immediately. Soon this tank, Renault FT-17, became the main tank in the French army, making a worthy contribution to the Allied victory.
The revolution in Russia, the shameful Treaty of Brest-Litovsk between the Soviet government and Kaiser’s Germany divided Russia into two camps. A White Army was formed, the former Russian Army with its entire Headquarters of General Kornilov, and a new, Red Army, created by Comrade Trotsky, which became a new ally of Germany. Thus, in the summer of 1918, the Eastern Front began to take place already in Samara and the Volga region. Here were the troops of the Czechoslovak Corps. France, being an ally of the White Army, began to supply French Renault FT-17 tanks to the Armed Forces of the South of Russia. On the personal order of Comrade Trotsky, one of these French Renault FT-17 tanks was captured near Odessa and served as a model for the creation of the first Soviet tank “Russian Renault” or “Freedom Fighter Comrade Lenin”.

  • Saumur tank museum collection World War One hall

World War Two and German tanks

The Germans, who built only 80 bulky A7V “casemates” during the 1st World War, learned this lesson well. They soon circumvent the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles that forbid them from having tanks and planes. Of course, not without the help of the USSR, where, during the ban, German tankers were trained under the leadership of Guderian. On the basis of the Soviet-German agreement they are developing their new equipment in Soviet Russia.
They will test their first Pz-I tanks during the Spanish Civil War.
On 12 March 1938 General Guderian’s tanks would invade Austria and 1 October Czechoslovakia. Eleven months later, 57 German divisions, including 10 armored divisions, decide the fate of Poland in a matter of weeks. We also saw what happened to France in May 1940…

The first German tank, the Pz I, would turn out to be obsolete, poorly armed – no cannon, only two machine guns in the turret, and poorly armored (13 mm). The advantage of this tank was its simplicity and the ability to easily produce. It was the weapon of the invasion of Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Belgium. At this time, the basis of the armed forces, including the French army, was the cavalry, and these models of tanks were designed to destroy it. The German tanks Pz II (20 mm guns) and Panzer III (37 mm guns) began to be used against the French army, which already penetrated the 30 mm armor of the SOMUA S35 tanks. The French command had no illusions, knowing that the first Pz IV tanks (good guns and 50 mm of armor) were saved for a breakthrough in the Ardennes. And there, the French tanks can no longer resist them ….

  • Saumur tank museum collection World War Two halls