Saturday, December 21, 2019

"En avant!" Les Chars de Cavalerie (Cont.)

Moving right along, here are my Chars de Cavalerie of the French Army of May-June 1940. These are the SOMUA S35 and the chars legere Hotchkiss H35 and H38/39. The later two light tanks are easily differentiated one from the other by the engine deck. The older H35 had a smaller, less powerful engine which resulted in the noticeably sloped rear engine compartment deck. The more powerful and larger powerplant fitted to the H38/39 resulted in a more boxy engine compartment with a level engine deck. 

A further upgrade to the little Hotchkiss tanks was the fitting of the longer barreled and slightly more powerful 37mm weapon, replacing the WW1-vintage 37mm 18SA weapon found on the majority of the French Army's light tanks in 1940. The long 37mm guns were initially fitted to the tanks of platoon and company commanders, and began to filter down through the ranks as production rolled along with the H38/39. Older H35s were retrofitted with the longer barreled weapon as well near the end of the French Campaign in June 1940, however by then the older, slower H35 was being replaced entirely by the faster, better engined H38/39 model. Further, by June of 1940 the majority of H35s had been lost in the fighting against the invading German Army, due to a combination of combat attrition, or abandonment due to a lack of fuel or mechanical failure.

These models are a mix of RAFM Miniatures white metal kits of 1990s vintage (and still quite decent little models at a fair price), and the latest S-Model fast build plastic kits from China. The later are really beautifully detailed, but due to the use of photo-etched brass detailing parts, can be a bit fiddly to build. Even so, the S-Model tanks come two to a box and at a very decent price indeed from various China-based EBay sellers, so they're worth a go, and because they make both early and late production run H35s, they're the best source for this relatively rare and unique subject that was a major part of the French Army's tank strength in the 1e DLM that fought so bravely and well against the panzers of Germany's Army Group B during the Gembloux Gap battles in May 1940: 

S-Model H35s. The rearmost of the pair has the longer barreled 37mm gun. The anti-armor performance of the shorter 18SA weapon was extremely poor, and unfortunately the longer barreled weapon was not much of an improvement in terms of armor penetration. However fighting other tanks was not the idea behind the design of these little two-man light tanks. Like the infantry's Renault R35, the Hotchkiss design was based off of the WW1-vintage Renault FT-17. Therefore the point and purpose of the machine was infantry support, and their armament was designed with this in mind, the main enemy being opposing dug-in infantry machine gun positions where a high explosive round rather than an armor piercing projectile was in order.

Rear view of the two S-Model Chars Legere de Cavalerie. 

Rank and file H35 with the short 37mm 18SA "trench gun" of WW1 design. These old weapons were taken from decommissioned Renault FT17s and fitted into the APX-1 turrets used on both the H35 and the Renault R35 as their main armament. A 7.5mm Reibel MAC31 light machine gun fitted coaxially to the cannon completed the armament of these two-man light tanks. 

The elaborate camouflage paint scheme I used on these models are taken from the latest reconstructions published in Francois Vauvillier's excellent book The Encyclopedia of French Tanks and Armoured Vehicles 1914-1940.

S-Model H38/39. Yes, they make one too, and with the unditching tail included in the kit no less!

S-Model H38 showing off the two-part engine exhaust muffler. The outer sheathing is actually one of the photo-etched brass parts that comes with the kit. It's a flat rectangle, so you have to bend the fussy little thing around a nail or other suitable solid round object to get the curve just right before gluing it to the plastic muffler part. I also had to replace the two outer support struts on the unditching tail when they broke with lengths of nylon brush bristles. 

Close up of the H38's engine decking. Compare the larger cooling intake grill area with that of the H35 above. This is another distinctive feature that differentiates the two variants of the Hotchkiss light tank.

Front on view of the H38. The simpler camouflage scheme began to appear on the newer Hotchkiss machines. This dark Army Green (Vert Armee) and dark brown patterning was common to later Hotchkiss light tanks particularly those found in 2e and 3e DLM, and on the Laffly S20TL troop carriers in the same formations. The camouflage schemes were applied at the factory, while all markings were applied at the unit level, and as a result there was a considerable variety of styles and locations of the various tactical numbers, national cockades (roundels), and unit insignias. Many French tanks of the period sported names, adding to the sheer variety of appearance. Adding to this variety was the fact that when a factory ran out of a particular paint color, they would simply switch to some other that was on hand, including a "mouse" grey color, with even a few being sent to the front clad only in a dark red primer coat at the very end of the campaign. 

A study in contrasts, here is a 1990s-vintage white metal Hothckiss H39 from RAFM Miniatures. Despite it's age the model is still quite nice, has good detail, and comes with a choice of the long or short barreled 37mm gun. 

Good top view of the rear engine deck on the older RAFM Miniatures H39. The tarp roll is cast on the hull. The whole kit consists of seven parts including the two different gun barrel options.

RAFM H39. A good way to get these light tanks on the tabletop quickly thanks to their simplified construction.

Closeup of the RAFM Miniatures H39 turret. 

 RAFM MINIATURES H39 sporting a more elaborate camouflage scheme. While not as colorful as their H35 forbears, there were still some H38/39s that received a more artistic treatment than the usual Army Green and drab brown fare.

3/4 rear view. The insignia are a mix of Aleran and other decals from my spares box, some of them dating back to the 1990s. 

 SOMUA S35 cavalry tanks. These three-man fast tanks were well armored and armed by the standards of the day, with up to 55mm of frontal armor protection on the turret front. Their armor was not easily defeated by the 3.7 cm armor piercing rounds fired by most German tanks of the period, and the 47mm gun carried by the SOMUAs could break through the armor of anything the Germans had in service in 1940. This along with its good mobility and relatively high speed made the S35 a real threat at least on paper. The downside to the machine was its poor crew ergonomics and a lack of reliable radios. Like most French tanks of the period the SOMUA S35 was hampered by a one-man turret. This meant that the tank commander who occupied the turret was also the loader and gunner of both the main gun and the 7.5mm Reibel MAC31 machine gun mounted alongside the 47mm cannon.  This gave the tank commander far too much to do, and if the commander was also a platoon or company commander, the problem simply went from bad to worse. 

SOMUA S35s in two of the eight or more different factory applied camouflage schemes peculiar to the S35s. The markings are for vehicles belonging to the 1e DLM. 

These particular models are all repainted diecast SOMUA S35s from China. I was able to procure these through several China based EBay sellers about six or so years ago. Now they're like hen's teeth to find, and being sold at a premium price, so clearly I got very lucky indeed!

Due to a lack of sufficient unit insignia and tactical number decals, I finished out my SOMUAs as best I could with what was on hand. Eventually I will retrofit the missing numbers and insignia once I manage to locate suitable decals, and will add extra detailing in the form of enhancing the outlines of the various hatches and vision port visors. 

An alternate camouflage scheme. This particular one was from an earlier batch of SOMUA S35s delivered to 1DLM. I plan to go back and redo the cockades (roundels) with a newer, better quality replacements as soon as I can procure them. 

On the march into Belgium!

Into a small town somewhere in Belgium... meet the German invaders before they can reach the sacred soil of La Belle France...

 ...all part of the Dyle Plan...

... and now mes amis we wait. We wait for the boche panzers to come into our trap!

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Moving right along with things France and 1940, here is a desperately simple and cheerfully cheap French Army staff car conversion consisting of a Matchbox diecast 1933 Plymouth Sedan repainted as a requisitioned civilian vehicle in the service of a DLM (The FAA French sentry is for scale):

The camouflage pattern is cribbed from a recent reconstruction of the paint scheme used on the Lorraine 28 4x6 troop carriers used by 1e DLM in May-June 1940.  

The grid squares are 1 inch x 1 inch...

 The various insignia are a variety of decals mainly 1998-vintage Aleran Decals that I have had since *1998*...
 Happily most of the old decals were still in more or less working order...

 Interestingly enough, due to equipment shortages the French Army of 1939-40 requisitioned hundreds of civilian cars to make up the difference. Most were used in various secondary and higher echelon command roles, but a number of them were also used by motorized reconnaissance units to transport the M1914 Hotchkiss heavy machine guns due to shortages of the standardized motorcycle sidecar combinations. 

The cars proved superior to the motorcycle combos as they offered a more comfortable, less fatiguing ride for the gun crews, with the added advantage that more ammunition could be carried than on a motorcycle sidecar combo.

 "Oui, mon colonel! Your car is ready!"