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Shadowless Tanks Pt.1

Disclaimer: Although featuring some real world tank designs, this was initially meant as a reference for my alternate reality comic "Shadowless" thus some of the details have been changed accordingly.

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The British tanks can be seen…

EDIT, 22.09.14: altered the timeline in both the picture and the description slightly to accomodate a change in the story canon.


Tanks used by the Second French Empire during the Great War against the British Imperial Federation, 1899 to 1907.

After the frantic arms race at the turn of the century, produced several armoured car designs which proved woefully inadequate for the conditions of the modern battlefield, the decision was taken to introduce tracked vehicles.
Hastily developed to this end, both the "Schneider CA1" and the "St. Chamond" evolved from a common prototype, "Tracteur A" which took advantage of the the American Lombard Steam Log Hauler's patented "Caterpillar tracks".
The French government then placed an order of 400 "Armoured tracktors" [sic] with each of the rival firms "Schneider and Cie" and it's main competitor, "Forges et Aciéries de la Marine et d'Homécourt à Saint Chamond" and was shocked to discover that instead of working together each of the firms had instead developed a different design.

The two resulting machines would constitute France's main armoured force during the first part of the war, despite their inherent flaws.

At 12 and a half tons, the Schneider CA1 was a relatively light design, powered by a purpose built 60HP engine which allowed it a maximum speed of 4km/h. It mounted a special short 75mm Casemate Howitzer produced by it's parent firm for the French Forts built before the war which allowed devastating fire against fortifications up to 200 meters away and 4 machine-guns for close support, the whole machine being operated by 6 people.
Unfortunately, preliminary tests indicated that the 40mm armour was vulnerable to British .303 steel core rounds, so the main production variant was fitted with supplementary 5.5mm armoured "skirts" on the outside. Mobility and trench crossing capabilities were also low, due to the tank's short wheelbase, which tended to leave the machine stuck.


The "Char St. Chamond", although based on the same chassis, was based a round a revolutionary petro-electric powerplant - a 4-cylinder Panhard-Levassor petrol engine was used to provide electrical power (via a generator) to two electric motors installed in each track. This gave the 23 ton machine a rather fast speed of 12km/h, but the system proved susceptible to overheating, leading to many tanks breaking down before even reaching the front. Another handicap was the vehicle's long body which provided significant overhangs both in front and behind, which tended to plant themselves into the ground when navigating uneven terrain.
Nevertheless, the tank was heavily armed, with the main weaponry being represented by the specially built 75mm Canon à Tir Rapide L12, an in-house variant of the M1897 field gun. This however was more of a marketing ploy, as one of the tank's main designers was colonel Émile Rimailho, an artillery officer that had become disgruntled with the French Army for the meagre benefices received after designing the earlier 75mm field gun and introduced an "improved" version for the St. Chamond tank on which he received a percentage for every gun being sold... Later versions mounted instead the standard Canon de 75 modele 1897.


After the first months of the conflict showed the operational limitations of armoured cars for close infantry support, the French High Command ordered the development of a light two man tank capable of filling the role.

Unfortunately, corporate rivalry had it's say again, with the two main firms contracted for the job, "Renault SA" and "Société Anonyme des Automobiles Peugeot" each coming with it's own twist on the army approved prototype. The Renault machine, known as the "Renault FT" after the factory's internal prototype combination code, was initially armed with a 8 mm Hotchkiss Mle 1900 machine-gun in a cast turret with 360 degrees of rotation, while Peugeot went with a the same 75mm howitzer as the Schneider CA1 in a fixed casemate and a slightly improved suspension.

Weighing in at 6 tons each, equipped with the same 4 cylinder 39HP engine providing a speed of 12km/h, both tanks proved highly successful in combat, but it was the Renault vehicle, with its innovative layout, that would become the classic.

After the initial success, it was decided to equip the tank with 37mm Puteaux SA (semi-automatic) for close in infantry support, since, although the Peugeot machine, with it's 75mm howitzer, was very effective against pillboxes, the lack of turret meant it was ill suited for the latter role.

Although originally fitted in the small cast turret of the machinegun armed version, it was soon discovered that space was insufficient to accomodate the the 37mm SA, which had to be trained upwards to allow the breech to be opened, negating the gun's rapid fire advantage, so by mid-1902 a larger cast turret called "tourelle omnibus" was ordered into production which was able to accommodate the larger weapon.

The new turret was produced by a number of different firms, most notably "Aciéries Paul Girod d'Ugine" but also "Delaunay-Belleville" and "Berliet et Cie", but delays in production due to the labour intensive casting led to the development by Renault, later in the year, of a second, even easier to construct, octagonal turret made in-house from bolted armour plates in order to expedite deliveries. For the same purpose production of the tank was also started at "Delaunay-Belleville", "Berliet et Cie" and "Schneider" but the bulk of production still rested with Renault, with a staggering 2000 tanks manufactured until the end of the conflict (as opposed to 281, 801 and 600 made by the aforementioned factories and a further 200 produced by Peugeot later in the war.)

About the same time, a revolutionary weapon was produced the "Société Anonyme des Anciens Etablissements Hotchkiss et Cie"which was a 25mm  high velocity cannon for use in armoured cars which relied on the speed of the projectile to defeat armour. Since the latter were proving less reliable and able to traverse rough terrain than the new Renault tanks, the decision was taken to add this weapon to the arsenal of the FT, so 25mm armed versions rolled off the production lines alongside the machinegun and 37mm armed models.

In mid-1905, a variant equipped with the 75mm short barrelled howitzer in a fixed casemate was made, to supplant the Peugeot machine which had gone out of production a few months prior owing to some adroit political manoeuvres performed by Renault at the Ministry of Defence. Peugeot was relegated to building armoured cars until they relented and bought the "FT" licence from Renault.


By the middle of 1904, severely undergunned when facing the highly mobile British "Gun Carriers" the French Army High Command instructed St. Chamond to build a self-propelled heavy artillery piece that could follow the troops and provide accurate close artillery support and counter-battery fire. The firm based it's design on the same drive train as the St. Chamond Tank of 1900 and produced a petro-electric vehicle armed with either a 220/280mm mortar or a long barrelled 150mm field gun. Called "Obusier sur affut chenillé Saint-Chamond" , this vehicle operated in conjunction with an ammunition carrier of the same design (with a platform instead of the gun) and proved to be a highly successful and mobile piece of artillery.


Although still mounting a few examples of the Schneider CA1 and the St. Chamond as well as numbers of captured British AFVs, by early 1905 the French Army had been without a heavy tank for more than a year, a fact which reflected in the heavy defeats of 1904.

Reluctant to repeat the 1900 Procurement Scandal which eventually resulted in inferior products (the Schneider CA1 and St. Chamond tanks), they instead turned to "Forges et Chantiers de la Mediterranée", originally a shipyard in the town of Toulon to build a replacement heavy tank.

The company had previously built two prototypes which had been rejected at the army-held trials the previous year due to heavy weight and low mobility, but now, under heavy political pressure, the Army HQ was forced to relent and asked Louis Renault to assist F.C.M in the design.

By a fortunate coincidence, despite the fact that the Renault plant was fully involved in the production of the FT model at the time, the firm's main designer, Rodolphe Ernst-Metzmaier, had, by his own initiative, finished a feasibility study for a heavy tank which allowed the"Char 2C" as it became known, to be accepted and put into production almost immediately.

At 69 tons it was the heaviest tank in the world, but it had a rather high speed of almost 15km/h due to the application of petro-electrical transmission and trapezoidal wraparound tracks, in turn inspired by the British "Rhomboidal" tanks which had so easily ploughed through the French lines the previous year.

The main armament was initially to consist of a short barrelled 105mm gun, but in the main production run this was changed into a 75mm Mle.1897 field gun with an updated recoil mechanism built by the state-owned arsenal "Atelier de Puteaux" in a three man turret, the first of it's kind.
For close protection four Hotchkiss machineguns were provided, three in ball mounts situated to the front and sides as well as one in a Berliet made "omnibus" turret (identical to that on the Renault FT, but fitted with a newly developed stroboscopic cupola) on the rear deck.


About the same time the Ministry of War, faced with the fact that tank-on tank engagements were becoming routine, decided to upgrade both the armament and the cross country capabilities of the Renault FT, the latter also in anticipation to the resumption of mobile warfare after the introduction of the Char 2C.

To this end, the "Atelier de Puteaux" produced an improved version of their 37mm gun with a redesigned breech and significantly longer barrel called "Puteaux 37mm TRP (tir rapide)". It boasted faster firing, vastly improved muzzle velocities and armour piercing ability, and, in conjunction with a new, specialist APEX steel-core explosive round, it essentially supplanted the 25mm SAL in the antitank role, since the latter weapon, despite being able to penetrate most British tanks lacked "punch" do to the modest weight of the projectile.

To improve crew protection Berliet provided some slight changes to the tanks it was producing by introducing an extra 5mm thick mask located in front of the mantlet, reconfiguring the driver's side plates and vision slits as well as other minor tweaks, but these modifications were not adopted by the other manufacturers and indeed remained a particularity of the tanks produced by this manufacturer.

At he same time Renault changed the suspension of its FT model to improve cross country performance, giving birth to the Renault NC, a fast infantry support tank with a maximum speed of 18.5km/h provided by it's 62HP engine located in a redesigned and lengthened rear compartment.

The Renault NC was initially equipped with the standard FT "omnibus" turret, both round and octagonal versions, and used all the weapons available to it's predecessor, but an improved turret was a also designed by Schneider in order to mount both a cannon and machinegun, a revolutionary idea at the time. This turret, named ST1 (Schneider Tourelle-1) was equipped with vision blocks instead of simple viewing slits and could also accommodate a bigger 47mm gun (a shortened version of the marine M1892) instead of the 37mm SA and TRP and coupled it with a Hotchkiss 8mm MG, yet for all it's advanced features it was very unpopular with crews owing to the cramped interior and strange contortions one was required to undertake to service both the cannon and the machinegun.

Nonetheless, it was put into series production and used alongside the earlier versions for the rest of the war, on both the Renault NC and FT.

In fact, one could say that the late war procurement and equipment of tanks was haphazard and hectic, with the Renault FT being supplanted by the NC at the Renault factory, while Berliet, Delaunay-Belleville and Schneider maintained the former in production right up to the end of the conflict. At the same time all tanks coming off the production lines were equipped with turrets and weaponry in accordance to whatever was available at any given moment, which meant that a brand new NC could be fitted with an "omnibus" turret armed with a short barrelled 37mm gun while an older FT undergoing repair and refurbishment work could find itself rearmed with a ST1 turret and a 47mm cannon. Since the turrets and many parts were interchangeable even between the FT and the NC one can find a bedazzling array of variations and, in some cases, even field modifications.


Despite these advancements, the French light tanks still proved easy prey for the new British "Medium C" tanks and their powerful 6 pounder guns due to their thin armour. The more resilient and hard hitting Char 2Cs fared better, but them too were found to be too cumbersome to regularly engage in tank-on-tank fighting (not to mention the high cost and slow production meant there were very few available in any case), so a mere month after the introduction f the NC to the battlefield a larger "battle tank" was ordered to redress the situation.

The "Char D1" as it was known, was an offshoot of the earlier Renault FT and NC but had a wider hull, stronger armour and more powerful engine. The suspension was based upon that of the Renault NC and the turret was an improved, larger version of the ST1, also produced by Schneider and designated ST2 (Schneider Tourelle 2).

However, despite being an advanced design for it's time the tank was not a huge success -steering was difficult, the suspension too weak and the exhaust pipes overheated the engine compartment. Nevertheless the type was accepted for mass production with only minimal changes to alleviate some of the most pressing problems - the commission had little choice in this as the main series had already been ordered at ministry level.

Despite being somewhat larger then the ST1, the strangely squeezed ST2 turret still had a very complex geometry with many shot traps, the same as it's predecessor, and had also the unfortunate side-effect of forcing the commander to operate in three height levels: he had to stretch himself to observe his surroundings via the cupola, had a forward observation hatch that he could look through while standing in a normal position and had to crouch to operate the 47 mm gun to the right of him and the coaxial machine gun to the left.


In terms of painting, the first French tanks of 1900-1902 were painted in the same light blue-gray  as the artillery equipment, but very soon the advantages of camouflage became apparent and most tank commanders opted to paint their machines in in an assortment of colours in an attempt to minimise visibility, although the smaller tanks retained their factory liveries or were painted in a dark olive green called "vert armée" which was standard to some infantry equipment such as field kitchens.

By the early 1903, spurred by a number of friendly fire incidents (the army was operating a number of captured British Mark I and II to supplement it's own stock of largely ineffective machines) the French Army High Command ordered a unified scheme of camouflage and tactical markings to be adopted.

Although the actual design was still the whim of the tank commander, the machines were to be painted in only three colours, tan, light brown and medium green (to ease logistics, the vehicles came off the production line painted in the latter) with dividing lines of darker brown while in the winter a special mix of tan with two tones of blue-grey was to be applied. In reality though, a lot of tank crews preferred to whitewash their vehicles rather than repaint them. Later, owing again to stock availability, other colours were added to the mix, such as a brick-dust red, ochre, light olive-green and coal grey for the dividing lines, all of which were also standard camouflage for artillery equipment.

Also at the same time, a new set of tactical markings was introduced to maximise cooperation between individual tanks before the advent of vehicle portable radio sets.
The new system used aces to identify the platoons or troops in the bridge playing order (Spade, Heart, Diamond and Club) while differing colours were used to identify different units. The company or squadron commander's vehicle was identified by displaying all four aces in the company or squadron colour.
The same system was later applied to flying ships.

Throughout the whole conflict, the national insignia was prominently displayed on the sides of the vehicles and a white serial of five alphanumeric characters which was often supplemented with the individual vehicle number in the platoon/company represented by large numbers in either white, red or black, in a style and size determined company level.

Personal insignia were also very much in evidence, with certain vehicles bearing names of historical French Provinces or towns as well as fictional and historical characters, uplifting slogans etc.

PS: Please note that the chart at the bottom merely represents dates of production, not dates of actual use by the Army.

PSS: wow, that was a lot of text. I initially wanted to add just a few information about each tank, but I guess it adds up...
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cullyferg2010's avatar
The St. Chamond was called 'an elephant on gazelle's legs'.  The problem with the gas/electric setup was that, whenever one became bogged down in the mud, the driver would work the rheostats controlling the motors hard to break the tank free and burn them out.  The Schneider's gun was offset to the right, making it impossible to fire on its target without first turning the tank in that direction.  The first time it went into battle, it carried spare gas cans strapped on top.  The German machine gunners would riddle those cans until the gasoline spilled into the engine compartment and set the vehicle on fire.  The Germans grew sick from hearing the French crews screaming to death from being burned alive.  Only the Renault FT17 proved to be worth anything as far as an armored workhorse was concerned.  With a cannon or machine gun in its turret it was a darling to the infantry.
StalinGrad6's avatar
the Saint Chamond was an engineering disaster. it proved useless against the trenches because of its forward and rear overhand for its hull, the tiny tracks gave it almost zero clearance and it failed miserably in crossing areas. When the next generation of tanks arrived the Saint Chamond was marked as an absolute failure and cast aside.. Despite its trench climbing issues it was excellent in terms of open combat and breaching, so earned its place on the frontline as a reliable weapon. However in terms of its design - a trench climbing machine - it was a failure, but served ass the basis design from which SPGs and destroyers were built. Very few Saint Chamond tanks remain today, all of which are in museums and private collections. Once the Armstice of WW1 was signed, new tanks were quickly developed and the Saint Chamond never saw action, and was quickly retired and either scrapped or put into government storage 'for emergencies' - which thanks to the blitzkrieg, never saw action.

sorry... had to put my 5 cents in. i like tanks.
Mickeymouseisgay's avatar
wingsofwrath's avatar
You really have no need for translation - all the relevant information is given in English in the image description, including the French captions which are simply the name of the tank and main armament.

I for one will also never translate it, because I like my readers to be
resourceful and work things out for themselves, rather than just handing it
to them on a silver platter. Besides, if you really, really want to know EXACTLY what's written, you can always google it, but I assure you, there is not much there that isn't already in the afore mentioned image description.
cullyferg2010's avatar
Is your alternate reality comic online as a web comic, or in print?  Would like to read it.
Emillie-Wolf's avatar
Très belle référence ! Merci pour ton bon travail.
wingsofwrath's avatar
Avec plaisir! J'ai toujours aime les chars français de la première guerre mondiale pour leur inventivité, même si la plupart n’était pas très efficaces au combat. Sauf le Renault FT, bien sur, qui était une véritable chef-d'œuvre et qui a influence tous les chars de combat qui sont venus après. 
Armored-Cross187's avatar
You still Draw, right Wings?
wingsofwrath's avatar
I do in fact, even though I am quite busy. There are actually a few new drawings in my gallery.
amtrakman's avatar this written in French?!?!?
wingsofwrath's avatar
Of course it is, they're French tanks.
Hunter12396's avatar
do you play world of tanks and if you dont thats a load of renault bs :D
wingsofwrath's avatar
Yes I do. If you care to look through my gallery, I also did a WOT inspired comic which you might enjoy...
Enrico1946's avatar
The famous and infamous tanks of French Army! Great work :#1:
wingsofwrath's avatar
heh. Rightly said "infamous".
The "Schneider CA1" and "Char St. Chamond" were... "less than ideal", shall we say? :D
superpierre59's avatar
huum one thing i see you put 2 famous car french industry in your story renault and peugot
but instead of peugot u should have set citroen who have make a bigger help in ww1 than peugot , citroen have make tons of wheels and ammo for the allies army ...
but its okay its your story after all :)
wingsofwrath's avatar
Nope, I'm afraid you're dead wrong here, since Citroën wasn't even founded until AFTER our world's WW1, in 1919!
To insert it into a graphic novel that takes place from 1898 to 1907 would be a bit ludicrous, alternative history or not...

Besides, I may have played fast and loose with the chronology, but I kept the basic facts pretty much as they were in our world- during WW1, it was Renault and Peugeot who were involved with tank production besides the "industrial giants" such as " Schneider et Cie", "Forges et Aciéries de la Marine et d'Homécourt" (the makers of the St.Chamond tank) or "Forges et Chantiers de la Mediterranée".
André Citroën certainly did help the war effort, but he had a munitions factory, not an automotive manufacturing plant. And anyway, the only armoured vehicles they ever built were the 1932 Citroën-Kégresse P28 armoured halftrack and an unsuccessful prototype light tank in 1935 - the rest were all strictly soft-skin vehicles.
Luigi-Mario's avatar
The Char 2C would be practical if it's development and production wasn't surrounded in so much controversy and France had a 200% stronger base of resources and industry to handle such an expensive design.
wingsofwrath's avatar
I'm not sure just how practical they would have proved even if the prerequisites you mention would have been met - they were massively underpowered lumbering beasts, so they would have been sitting ducks in the face of concentrated artillery fire or aeroplanes. As the waning days of WW2 proved, a lot of medium sized but fast and especially well armed tanks are worth a lot more than their weight equivalent in lumbering fortresses. Not to mention they'd be much, much cheaper, as well as provide superior tactical flexibility in the field.
all the crescaunt tanks of WWI
wingsofwrath's avatar
Almost - the Char 2C arrived too late to see action in WW1 and the Renault NC and Char D1 were developed a few years after the end of hostilities, but I think I can safely bend real world history just far enough to have them participate in my comic without shattering the suspension of disbelief.
ForgottenDemigod's avatar
Why would they develop the same tanks as in RL WWI when it's a different timeline?
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