This upcoming May-June will mark the 80th Anniversary of the Battle of France. The world was never the same afterwards. It was a cataclysmic defeat of the French Army – and there were many causes of it. Some key ones were that the leadership of the French Army believed that the lessons of WWI taught them that the key to victory was to fight a “methodical battle” with every aspect of the fighting and deployment of firepower tightly controlled from higher headquarters. By contrast, the German Army leadership preached the need of subordinates to act in accordance with the “commander’s intent”, and to take initiative down to the platoon level. French officers were taught to stay at their command posts and manage the battlefield at the highest level. German officers lead from the front, and made battlefield decisions in real time and exploited opportunities. Importantly, French losses in WWI curtailed the birthing and hence the availability of men of military age in 1940. German demographics managed to overcome their Great War losses and had plenty of available young men. The Germans also taught the world the value and use of the tank, armored forces, and especially combined arms – and were the first to do so. Thankfully, Great Britain is an island and that fact, plus the RAF, preserved the chance to defeat Hitler and save civilization.
Certainly, there are many, many other contributing causes to the crushing French defeat – far too many to review here – and I list several books later in this post that are what I consider must-reads for those wanting to understand this complex history. I also list good resources on the tanks and armored cars as well of course for the gamer and modeler that I have found useful. Understanding the Battle of France is not a simple case of one thinking that the Germans were destined to defeat the inferior French, or that the French were worthy of disdain on multiple levels.
Too often, I have found many of my countrymen (and others) dismissive of the French and the French Army based on the defeat of 1940. To understand the whole picture, one must go much deeper. My thoughts go to those killed in 1940 defending their country. Also, I consider the 1.8 million soldiers of the French Army of 1940 who survived this humiliating defeat, and were sent as POW’s to Germany after the Armistice until 1945 as unwilling laborers. Because of the Armistice agreement with Germany, their POW status would not change until the war was over. They returned to a France that not only was devastated physically, but one who lionized the Resistance (rightly) and blamed France’s initial loss on them. Hence, I doubt there will be much commemoration of this seminal battle by either the French or the Germans.
The true blame for the French defeat should be on the generals and the politicians of the Third Republic. The French Army leadership failed to develop a proper fighting doctrine and failed to train the French Army in the 1930’s to win a war in 1940. The politicians failed to ensure that France equipped and fielded a professional army to win a war in 1940. Did some individual French soldiers perform miserably? Absolutely – but that is true of every army in every conflict. As the French politicians supported a policy of national mobilization (levée en masse) instead of a professional army as espoused by some (like Charles de Gaulle did in his book Vers l’armée de métier). In essence, what occurred was that a well-trained and largely professional German army trounced a poorly-trained French one. Ironically, the French had more tanks than the Germans, and some were better, but they were employed ineffectively.
Speaking of equipment, and of course tanks, this post concerns mostly just that. This wraps up my build of French armor for the 80th Anniversary of the Battle of France. I started building my French armor in November 2018 (SOMUA S35’s and Renault R35’s here), then adding to it last month with some FCM 36’s (here), and some Hotchkiss H35 and H39’s (here). I already had two pre-painted Char B1 bis tanks, so I needed to add some more variety – as I will be doing next for the Germans as well.
My goal is to have a proper variety of historically available vehicles that saw combat in 1940 for my What a Tanker© games that I run at conventions and club meetings. To round out my forces I added 9 vehicles: 3 cavalry tanks (3 AMC 35’s); 3 infantry tanks (1 Renault R40, 1 Renault Char D2, and 1 FT17); and 3 armored cars (3 Panhard 178’s). These models here are all 100% metal. I’ll discuss each type briefly, and share how I built and painted the models.
I’ll also share some eye-candy on the completed models, and the materials that I used to paint them. As a quick aside, I had run low on my Battlefront paints. As a replacement a paint set I found (on eBay) was a Hataka French Early War Armor set. It looks to be out of production, hence my eBay acquisition. Hataka sounds like it might be a Japanese company, but it’s actually a Polish one. I had wanted proper colors, and while I did like the colors I used here, this was a difficult paint set to thin, especially in my airbrush. There was definitely a learning curve.
I ended up using a 0.5 mm needle – and close to 30 psi in my airbrush. Each bottle was 17 ml, and had an internal mixer of some type in them that you could hear when shaking them. The colors were great for French vehicles of 1940, but they took some getting used with both the airbrush and the standard brush.
Now, let’s discuss the vehicles!
The AMC 35 was a medium cavalry tank. It was also known as the Renault ACG-1. It had a good 47 mm gun, and was the first French tank with a two-man turret. It’s maximum speed approached 26 mph, due in part to a 180 hp engine, but also due its having less weight due to less than great armor at 25 mm thick. Only 100 of these were built. Thirteen were sold to the Belgians, and none were in any French units until after the crucial German breakthrough at Sedan on May 15, 1940. After that point, all reserve materiel was sent to fight. Therefore the crews would have had virtually no training on these tanks prior to combat, and training is indispensable. Compounding the issue of training, mechanically, the tanks were not overly reliable (though that is a common issue with French tanks of that era). Captured vehicles were only used by the Germans for driver training. One vehicle survives today that was recovered from a ravine and restored.
The models came from Old Glory, (come in packets of three) and were in pretty good shape. Some minor filing was needed to prep the models.
The Hataka paint was a bit thick, leaving a visible (almost raised) border next to my masking with poster tack. For the first time, I decided to line the paint borders by hand. I was a bit apprehensive, but I think it worked fine for the tabletop.
The Renault R40 was an infantry tank, an improved version of the R35. Officially, it was just a variant of the R35 called Char léger modèle 1935 R modifié 1939. It had a longer 37mm gun with the ability to penetrate up to 40 mm of armor. The suspension was improved over the R35, and it looked very different than the original. Delays caused it to not be fielded except to the last two French Army tank battalions and to the Polish 10th Armoured Cavalry Brigade (which fought in France after the defeat of Poland). One major improvement was the inclusion of radios. Captured R35 and R40 vehicles were extensively used and converted to other uses by the Germans. None survive today.
The model came from QRF and was in reasonably good shape and needed little filing. It was also very reasonably priced. As this was a rare vehicle, having to buy only 1 was a plus. Painting was easy as there were neither any decals nor camouflage painting needed due to their being hurried to the front in 1940.
The Char D2 was a medium infantry tank, also built by Renault. It was an interim design, a heavier and improved version of the Char D1, and it was supposed to bridge the gap until the Char B series could be built in sufficient numbers. However, the production of the Char B1 bis never attained the needed levels. Thus it served on the front lines – notably under Charles de Gaulle – and in some of the best tank battalions in the French Army. It had a 47 mm gun, and 40 mm of armor, and like the AMC 35, radios. After the fall of France, the Germans took off some D2 turrets and mounted them on armored trains in the Balkans. Only 100 were built, and none survived the war.
The model came from QRF as well. It was a bulky one, and needed a good bit of filing as there were a few dings and heavy mold lines. Still, at the price and needing to only buy one, it worked for me.
This WWI survivor was one I added to my force just because there were 504 FT17’s still serving in seven front-line tank battalions in 1939 – not counting over a hundred vehicles in French colonies. The FT17 infantry tank had the same 37 mm gun as many other French contemporaries like the R35, H35, and FCM 36. Armor was enough to stop small arms at best (maximum was 22 mm). Against the Wehrmacht, they were pretty ineffective. Many survive as over 3,000 were made by the French, and almost 1,000 under licence in the US (see below for one of those 35 miles from my house).
The model came from Peter Pig and was sold as a single. That worked for me, as I did not want a lot of these in the game. It was in good shape.
The Panhard 178 (nicknamed the “Pan-Pan) was a superb 4×4 armored car for its day. It equipped French cavalry and infantry division reconnaissance units in 1940. It ended up being used by the Germans extensively after the Fall of France, and indeed was used after the war by the French until the 1960’s. It also equipped other forces, especially former French colonies. It had a good two-man turret, and its 25 mm gun could penetrate up to 50 mm of armor. It also was reasonably fast, and could do 26 mph off-road and almost 45 mph on the road. An assistant driver had controls in the vehicle’s rear allowing for fast reverse if needed. Protection was good for an armored car (20 mm armor in places), but as a recon vehicle its job was not taking on enemy tanks. Over 1,100 were built, and many survive today..
I plan to use them in my games as recon vehicles similar to what I did with my Normandy Breakout! scenario. They will be able to hide better than a tank, and I will be assigning them extra bonus attack cards from a French-specific deck. Likely I will make cards for French artillery, infantry, and anti-tank support, but no air support (the Germans’ recon will appropriately get that!).
Here I got one Panhard 178 model from Peter Pig and two models from QRF. The Peter Pig model had a sleeve for the turret to fit into the chassis. I just added a magnet in the inside top to attract one of my blast markers if needed. The QRF models I magnetized as I usually do. The Peter Pig model is much more detailed. The QRF models were pretty disappointing and I needed to sculpt gun replacements for both (see below). The QRF models needed a lot of filing too. In the end, I think I made all three effectively for tabletop play – you of course can be the judge!
Now, please enjoy some close ups of the completed vehicle models against a backdrop of the French countryside!
Lastly, as these French models are far less known than say a later-war Sherman or a Tiger I – here are some size comparisons with a Char D2 and an AMC 35:
A Side Note on Photography
I try to make my posts visually appealing. My camera is an iPhone 7. I tried to use a technique offered by Per on his excellent blog Roll a One and use my computer monitor screen as a backdrop. While I really appreciated the suggestion, the lighting for me did not work and I got shine on the screen as shown below. Also, my cows were monster-size (though adequately-sized targets for my French tanks!)!
After seeing a post by Ted Salonich showing a photo booth for miniatures on a local hobby store’s (Great Stories) Facebook page, I was inspired to try my spray booth as a photo booth – and it worked quite well. I printed off the backdrop shot onto a piece of card stock, and using PowerPoint made a ground piece to match the connecting ground. I did this by making a new slide and cutting and pasting matching the grass background from the original backdrop slide. I started the fan and the backdrop image was sucked against the filter – and I was able to mount the booth floor with poster tack.
This (above) was my last solution – and I used this for my eye-candy shots you saw above. I like it a lot – your thoughts?
Below is a shot taken in the spray booth.
Storage and Transport
The storage and transport of miniatures to games is an issue. I have zero intention of having my models damaged or destroyed in transit. I use a 4-liter Really Useful Box, and cut a 2″ foam piece from Home Depot to fit snugly in the box. I cut up and lined the bottom with a similarly-sized piece of thin foam from Michael’s. Then I mock up sizes of the tanks with card stock and trace them onto the foam. I also take a photo to remember what tank goes where. Using a new and very sharp Exacto knife, I carefully remove the openings by cutting as vertically as possible. I start by patiently removing pieces from the middle and continue moving outward in a circle. I then affix the card stock pieces to the bottom of the hole openings with tape to mark the locations of the tanks. I thought I’d share this as it may help others.
Throughout this project I have used many of the books that I have as references – here are some I have used and strongly recommend. I do not get paid by anyone to recommend these, but I am sharing the links if you want to get them. I did study with BG Robert Doughty at West Point over 35 years ago – and he did give me my copy of the B.T. White book in 1984 – that I still have and used many times. There are certainly other books, but these I recommend. I will be using these in my next phase with my German tank additions.
For history of the conflict I recommend buying:
Doughty, Robert A. (1985). The Seeds of Disaster: the development of French Army Doctrine 1919-1939. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole books. (available at Amazon here)
Doughty, Robert A. (1990). The Breaking Point: Sedan and the Fall of France, 1940. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole books. (available at Amazon here)
Horne, Alistair. (1969, 1990). To Lose a Battle: France 1940. London: Penguin books. (available at Amazon here)
For modelers and gamers interested in the vehicles’ look and history:
Forty, G. and Livesey, J. (2017). The World Encyclopedia of Tanks & Armoured Fighting Vehicles. London: Lorenz Books. (available at Amazon here)
Jackson, R. (2009). Tanks and Armored Fighting Vehicles Visual Encyclopedia in color. London: Amber Books. (available at Amazon here)
Restayn, Jean. (2007). World War II Tank Encyclopedia in color 1939-1945. Paris: HISTOIRE & COLLECTIONS. (available at Amazon here)
Smithsonian Enterprises. (2017). Tank: the Definitive Visual History of Armored Vehicles. New York, NY: Penguin Random House. (available at Amazon here)
White, B.T. (1972). Tanks and other A.F.V.s of the Blitzkrieg Era 1939 to 1941. Dorset: Blandford Press. (available at Amazon here)
Zaloga, S. (2014). French Tanks of World War II (1): Infantry and Battle Tanks. New York, NY: Osprey. (available at Amazon here)
Zaloga, S. (2014). French Tanks of World War II (2): Cavalry Tanks and AFVs. New York, NY: Osprey. (available at Amazon here)
PAINTS, INKS, GLAZES, SHADES, WASHES, PIGMENTS, FLOCKING, GLUES AND MORE USED ON THESE VEHICLES:
- Microscale Liquid Decal Film (except R40)
- 1/8″ neodymium magnets
- Green stuff (kneadatite)
- Gorilla Glue
- Poster tack and ¼” square wooden dowels on plastic plates
- Reaper MSP “Black Primer”
- Vallejo “Flow Improver”
- Vallejo “Airbrush Thinner”
- Vallejo “Surface Primer – USA Olive Drab”
- Vallejo “Black Grey”
- Hataka “Jaune d’ochre” (only on AMC 35’s, Char D2, and FT17)
- Hataka “Vert foncé”
- Hataka “Terre d’ombre” (only on AMC 35’s and Panhard 178’s)
- Hataka “Gris vert” (only on FT17)
- Battlefront “Oxide Red” (only on R40 and FT17)
- Citadel “Typhus Corrosion” (only on R40 and FT17)
- Army Painter “Military Shader” (shade)
- Battlefront “Dark Gunmetal”
- Vallejo Model Air “Gloss Varnish” (except R40)
- Vallejo Model Air “Satin Varnish” (except R40)
- Microscale Micro-Set (except R40)
- Microscale Micro-Sol (except R40)
- Appropriate decals from Battlefront (except R40)
- Vallejo Weathering Effects “European Thick Mud”
- Vallejo Weathering Effects “European Splash Mud”
- Vallejo Weathering Effects “Crushed Grass”
- Vallejo Mecha Varnish “Matt Varnish”
Thanks for looking – please let me know your thoughts and feedback!