AMR 35

The Automitrailleuse de Reconnaissance Renault Modèle 35 Type ZT (AMR 35 or Renault ZT) was a French light tank developed during the Interbellum and used in the Second World War. It was not intended to reconnoitre and report as its name suggests but was a light armoured combat vehicle, mostly without a radio and used as a support tank for the mechanised infantry.

The AMR 35 originated from a project in 1933 to improve the earlier AMR 33 by moving the engine from the front to the back. In 1934 also a stronger suspension was fitted and the type was chosen to replace the AMR 33 on the production lines that year. Three orders were made by the French Cavalry of in total two hundred vehicles in five versions, including two machine-gun tanks, two tank destroyer types and a command tank. Later ten were ordered of a radio communication variant, the Renault YS, and over forty were built of a tropical version, the ZT 4.

The production would be much delayed by financial and technical problems, deliveries only starting in 1936. The AMR 35 proved to be an unreliable vehicle. It was one of the fastest tanks of its day, but its very speed overstressed its mechanical parts. In 1937 it was decided not to make any further orders but organisational difficulties slowed final deliveries of some versions until well into 1940; by the time of the Fall of France in June 1940 the ZT 4 order had even not been finished yet.

During the Battle of France the AMR 35s were part of armoured and motorised divisions, the vast majority being lost during the first weeks of the fighting. During the remainder of the Second World War Germany made use of some captured vehicles.

AMR 35
Class Vehicle
Type Armoured Fighting Vehicle
Manufacturer Renault
Production Period 1936 - 1939
Origin France
Country Name Origin Year
France 1936
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
China View
France View
Germany View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Renault 1936 1939 167 View

With his AMR 33 not yet being delivered to the French army — this would happen in June 1934 — Louis Renault used two of the five AMR 33 prototypes to improve the type. In the middle of February 1934 he sent the first, N° 79759, to the testing commission, after it had from September 1933 been lengthened and refitted with a much more powerful Nerva Stella 28 CV engine, which now was placed in the back, instead of the front, of the vehicle, both to reduce the effect of engine noise as to attain a better weight distribution, two problems that had become apparent in 1933 when the prototypes had been used for manoeuvres. The exhaust pipe was placed at the back and the ventilator moved from the right to the left side. Renault was hesitant to introduce such expensive improvements in the production run; but in February 1934 the head of the French Cavalry, General Flavigny, insisted on these changes being made.

During testing the maximum speed was shown to be an impressive 72 km/h. Weight was just 4.68 metric tonnes (to which a 0.25 tonne simulation weight was added), the average road speed 40.5 km/h. However, some cavalry officers pointed out that the Renault Nerva Stella was a sports car and its engine rather delicate and thus unsuited to the rigours of military service. They proposed to use a more robust Renault city bus engine instead. In March the second prototype, N° 79760, was also lengthened twenty centimetres and fitted with a Renault 432 22 CV four-cylinder bus engine. This vehicle, with a weight of 5.03 tonnes and a simulation weight of 0.75 tonnes, was tested between 3 and 11 April at Vincennes and attained a maximum speed of 63.794 km/h and an average speed of 35.35 km/h.[2] A subsequent order of 92 for the second vehicle with its more reliable engine was made on 3 July 1934. This type, replacing the AMR 33 in the production run, was to have the name AMR 35. Of these, twelve should be of a platoon command type, fitted with the AVIS-1 turret with a 7,5 mm machine gun and equipped with an ER1 radio set. The remaining eighty vehicles would have a larger AVIS-2 turret with a 13.2 mm machine gun; 31 of the latter were also intended to be equipped with ER1 radio sets, though in 1937 it was decided to abandon this plan. Also eight radio command tanks were to be produced, which eventually would be called AMR 35 ADF 1, bringing the order to a total of hundred vehicles.

At this time however it became clear that the AMR 33 suspension system, that originally had been intended to be used on the AMR 35 also, was very unreliable: the suspension units were simply too weak to withstand the forces caused by driving cross-country. A complete redesign of the suspension was ordered, also to be used for the new Renault R35. Three types were considered and tested on AMR 33 prototype N° 79758; the first had the idler resting on the ground; the second two bogies and five road wheels, like the R 35. This Renault ZB was rejected, but in March 1936 twelve were ordered by China and four a few months later by the Yunnan province administration. The latter were delivered in October 1938, the former only in 1940. The third suspension type had only one bogie per side and was accepted. The Renault factory designation of the vehicle with the relocated engine and new suspension was Renault ZT; it merely indicates the chronological order of Renault's military prototypes and has no further meaning.

The new suspension was first tested on a third prototype, in September 1934 newly built from boiler plate; its idler wheel was still of the AMR 33 suspension type and its turret was that of the second prototype.

Tactical function

Due to its name, the AMR 35 has typically been described as a reconnaissance or scout tank but this is inexact and possibly misleading. Specialised reconnaissance was carried out, not by an AMR but by an AMD (Automitrailleuse de Découverte). The only ZT vehicles that really functioned in the reconnaissance rôle are the ZT 2 and ZT 3 that were part of reconnaissance units, that would distance themselves from the main force in search of the enemy or of routes that were free of enemy presence. The other AMR 35s however, were to the contrary originally intended to be part of the main force and functioned as its, "first contact", direct security screen: this was at the time the meaning of reconnaissance in the French Cavalry doctrine. Even this task however, would later become secondary to what was to be the AMR's main function: to provide direct fire support to dismounted cavalry or mechanised infantry units; the armoured trucks used by the latter had not even a machine-gun armament.

Prewar assignment

When the AMR 35 was first introduced no sharp distinction was made between the AMR 33 and 35, but this was to change in 1937. In 1936 and 1937 two Cavalry armoured divisions were created, the Divisions Légères Mécaniques ("Mechanised Light Divisions", with "light" meaning "mobile"). Initially it was intended that each of these would be equipped with seven AMR squadrons: four of these in their organic armoured brigade, the Brigade de Combat (two in each of two RRCs, Régiments de Reconnaissance et Combat) and three in their mechanised infantry regiment or RDP (Régiment de Dragons Portés). As each squadron had a strength of twenty tanks: four platoons of five each, there was a need for 280 vehicles. There thus seemed a clear prospect of further AMR 35 orders and a necessity for a temporary use of certain number of AMR 33s — indeed some were taken into service by the DLMs. Within the RRCs the AMR 35s would have to form a first shock front ahead of the SOMUA S35s, engaging likely enemy light tanks, such as the Panzerkampfwagen I. The use of so many light tanks in a combat rôle had been forced upon the Cavalry by a shortage of S 35s: the original procurement plans for the medium tank had been cut in half by budget limitations.

However, already in 1936 it was decided to redirect the production of the Hotchkiss H35, an infantry light tank that had been rejected by the Infantry in favour of the Renault R35, towards the Cavalry that decided to use it instead of the AMR 35 in the RRCs, even though the H 35 was not very fast: its poor armour weighed very heavily against the AMR 35 as the French military in this period became increasingly convinced lightly armoured vehicles could not survive on the modern battlefield. The function of the AMR 35 was thus limited to that of direct infantry support; this was reflected by the later procurement of 7.5 mm machine-gun vehicles only.

The total DML requirement was diminished to six squadrons, four of them active, or 120 tanks. Therefore it was decided to relegate all AMR 33s to the older DCs (Divisions de Cavalerie) and even equip one of these, 1re DC, with two squadrons of the AMR 35, in its 1e GAM (Groupe d'Automitrailleuses). Apart from these however, all AMR 35s should be concentrated into the DLMs. Some had already found their way into other units: during the general revision of 1937 they would be reallocated. This involved twee exemplars taken from 6e GAM, four from 7e Chasseurs, two from 3e GAM, two from 9e Dragons and three from the 1re BLM (Brigade Légère Mécanique). From photographic evidence it is known that earlier other units had made a temporary use of some vehicles.

Reorganisation

Initially it was intended to reform the 1re DC into the 3e DLM; its AMR 35s would then automatically reach their proper destination — within a DLM instead of a DC. However, plans were changed at the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939: at mobilisation the reserve AMR squadron of the 1st DC was equipped with the Hotchkiss H35 and its stocked AMR 35s relegated to the other seven squadrons — two reserve tanks for each — and, in a number of six, to the general matériel reserve. At the end of 1939 1e DC was changed into the 1re Division Légère de Cavalerie.

Battle of France

In the Battle of France 120 AMR 33's and 187 ZT's were available. The AMR 35s were used to equip three squadrons in the 1st and 2nd DLM, 66 tanks in each division; and one squadron of 22 in the 1st Cavalry Light Division, for a total organic strength of 152; each platoon of five typically had two 13.2 mm machine-gun vehicles and three 7.5 mm machine-gun vehicles. The GRDI (Groupes de Reconnaissance de Division d'Infanterie) of the five DIM (Divisions d'Infanterie Mécaniques), each had an antitank-platoon with two ZT2's and two ZT3s.

Five AMR 35 were present in the driver school at Saumur; eight were in the general matériel reserve.

Of the ten Renault YSs, four were used by the Cavalry, four by the Infantry and two by the Artillery. The Renault YS 2 prototype, despite not being made of hardened steel, was deployed by the 71e RA, the artillery regiment of 2e DLM.

During the battle the 13.2 mm machine-gun proved to be incapable of defeating even the German armoured cars at normal combat ranges, its bullets being deflected by their sloped armour. However most AMR's were lost due to mechanical trouble. All vehicles assigned on 10 May had been lost by the end of the month.

In June, an ad hoc-unit was created, the 7e DLM and part if this was the 4e RAM (Régiment de Automitrailleuses) that used some AMR 35s taken from the matériel reserve.

German use

The Germans used some AMR 35s as the Panzerspaehwagen ZT 702 (f); the Renault YSs were also taken into service. The ZT4s, being brand new, were partly fitted with the schwerer Granatwerfer 84 in an open superstructure to produce a self-propelled 81 mm mortar; some received the AVIS-1 turret.

Most of these vehicles were used by the occupation forces in France. In May 1945 three ZT4s were discovered by the Soviet forces entering Prague; they had been captured by the Czech resistance and turned against their former owners.

Type Light tank
Place of origin  France
Service history
Used by  France,
 Nazi Germany,
 China
Wars World War II
Production history
Manufacturer Renault
Produced 1936 to 1939
Number built 167 plus variants
Variants ZT 2, ZT 3, ZT 4, ADF 1, YS, YS 2, ZB
Specifications
Weight 6.5 t
Length 3.84 m
Width 1.76 m
Height 1.88 m
Crew 2
Armour 13 mm
Main
armament
7.5 mm Reibel machine gun or13.2 mm Hotchkiss machine gun
Engine 4-cylinder petrol
82 hp
Suspension rubber reinforced horizontal springs
Fuel capacity 130 litres
Operational
range
about 200 km
Speed 55 km/h

End notes