Panhard 178

The Panhard 178 (officially designated as Automitrailleuse de Découverte Panhard modèle 1935, 178 being the internal project number at Panhard) or "Pan-Pan" was an advanced French reconnaissance 4x4 armoured car that was designed for the French Cavalry before World War II. It had a crew of four and was equipped with an effective 25 mm main armament and a 7.5 mm coaxial machine gun.

A number of these vehicles were in 1940 taken over by the Germans after the Fall of France and employed as the Panzerspähwagen P204 (f); for some months after the armistice of June production continued for the benefit of Germany. After the war a derived version, the Panhard 178B, was again taken into production by France.

Panhard 178
Class Vehicle
Type Armoured Fighting Vehicle
Manufacturer Panhard
Production Period 1937 - 1940
Origin France
Country Name Origin Year
France 1937
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
France 1937 1964 View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Panhard 1937 1940 729 View

In December 1931, the French Cavalry conceived a plan for the future production of armoured fighting vehicles. One of the classes foreseen was that of an Automitrailleuse de Découverte[1] or AMD, a specialised long range reconnaissance vehicle. The specifications were formulated on 22 December 1931, changed on 18 November 1932 and approved on 9 December 1932. They called for a weight of 4 metric tons (4.0 t), a range of 400 kilometres (250 mi), a speed of 70 km/h, a cruising speed of 40 km/h, a turning circle of 12 metres (39 ft), 5–8 mm armour, a 20 mm gun and a 7.5 mm machine gun.

In 1933,[1] one of the competing companies — the others being Renault, Berliet and Latil — that had put forward proposals, Panhard, was allowed to build a prototype. The other companies also were ordered to build prototypes: Renault constructed two vehicles of a Renault VZ, including an armoured personnel carrier variant, Berliet constructed a single Berliet VUB and Latil belatedly presented a design in April 1934.[2] The Panhard vehicle was ready in October 1933[3] and presented to the Commission de Vincennes in January 1934 under the name Panhard voiture spéciale type 178. It carried a Vincennes workshop (Avis) 13.2 mm machine gun turret, as the intended one was not ready yet. After testing between 9 January and 2 February 1934 the type, despite having larger dimensions than prescribed and thus being a lot heavier than four tons, was accepted by the commission on 15 February under the condition some small modifications were carried out. Of all the competing projects it was considered the best: the Berliet VUB e.g. was reliable but too heavy and traditional; the Latil version had no all-terrain capacity. In the autumn the improved prototype, now lacking the bottom tracks of the original type, was tested by the Cavalry. In late 1934 the type was accepted under the name AMD Panhard Modèle 1935.[1] The type was now fitted with the APX3B turret.

After complaints about reliability, such as cracking gun sights, and overheating, between 29 June and 2 December 1937 a new test programme took place, resulting in many modifications, including the fitting of a silencer and a ventilator on the turret. The ultimate design was very advanced for its day and still appeared modern in the 1970s.[1] It was the first 4 x 4 armoured car mass-produced for a major country.[1]

The first nineteen vehicles were in April 1937 taken into service by 6e Cuirassiers.

At the outbreak of the Second World War 218 vehicles were fielded with eleven squadrons.

In the spring of 1940, 21e Escadron d'AMD 35 was first destined for Finland and the Winter War but then sent to Narvik to assist Norway during Weserübung. It was in fact the renamed 4e GRDI (that would be replaced by a new unit of the same name in its former parent 15th Mechanised Infantry Division on 5 May) and was equipped with thirteen Panhard 178s.

During the Battle of France from 10 May 1940, on which date about 370 completed vehicles were available, the Panhard 178s were allocated to reconnaissance units of the mechanised and motorised forces. At the time the Panhard 178 represented one of the best armoured cars in its class in the world.

The three armoured divisions of the Cavalry, the Divisions Légères Mécaniques, had a nominal organic strength of forty armoured cars, plus four radio vehicles and an organic matériel reserve of four vehicles. This would make for a total of 144 in these mechanised light divisions. The Light (i.e. motorised) Divisions of the Cavalry, the Divisions Légères de Cavalerie, had a squadron of twelve Panhards plus a radio car and a matériel reserve of four in their Régiment de Automitrailleuses (RAM). The total in the Cavalry Light Divisions would thus be 85.

Not only the Cavalry but the Infantry also employed the type, in the GRDIs or Groupes de Reconnaissance de Division d'Infanterie, the reconnaissance units of the Divisions d'Infanterie Mécaniques, that despite their name were largely motorised infantry divisions. These were 1er GRDI for 5e DIM, 2e GRDI for 9e DIM, 3e GRDI for 12e DIM, 4e GRDI for 15e DIM, 5e GRDI for 25e DIM, 6e GRDI for 3e DIM and 7e GRDI for 1e DIM. Their organisation was basically identical to the units of the DLCs, but the strength was sixteen, making for a total of 112 vehicles.

The actual strength of above units might differ, but if all were on strength 24 vehicles were present in the matériel reserve or used for driver training, as apart from colonial vehicles, exactly 378 exemplars had been delivered on 10 May 1940.

After the start of the invasion several emergency ad hoc units were formed; these included the 32e GRDI for the regular 43e DI, having five Panhards. The 4e DCR, the armoured division of the Infantry hastily assembled in May, got 43 Panhard 178s.

The DLMs used their Panhard units for strategic reconnaissance. In the case of 1DLM this entailed a movement well in advance of the main body of the division as it was supposed to maintain a connection with the Dutch Army during the Battle of the Netherlands. Within 32 hours the armoured cars of the group Lestoquoi covered a distance of over 200 kilometres reaching the environment of 's-Hertogenbosch in the afternoon of 11 May. After some successful skirmishes with German armoured cars belonging to the reconnaissance platoons of the German Infanterie Divisionen, they withdrew, as the Dutch were already in full retreat. They were asked by the Dutch to assist an infantry attack on the southern bridgehead of the strategic Moerdijk bridges, held by German paratroopers. As the cars were not suitable for such a task the commander hesitated after incorrectly concluding the bridgehead was strongly defended. While thus being immobile, this group of Panhards was surprised in open polder landscape by a Stuka-attack with one vehicle disabled and quickly withdrew to the south.

The other two DLMs hurried forward to stop the advance of 3 and 4PD after the surprisingly swift fall of Fort Eben-Emael, their Panhards fighting a successful delaying battle against their German counterparts until the Battle of Hannut, the largest tank battle of the campaign. In general they had little trouble in dispatching with the lightly armoured German armoured cars, whose 20 mm main armament was not very effective against the Panhard frontal armour.

As the type was well-suited to German tactics, at least 190 Panhards, most of them brand-new, were issued to German reconnaissance units for use in Operation Barbarossa in 1941 under the designation of Panzerspähwagen P204 (f); 107 would be lost that year. Among these were some radio vehicles, designated Panzerspähwagen (Funk) P204 (f). Thirty Panhards were listed as in use on the Eastern Front on 31 May 1943. Some of these were fitted with spaced armour.

After the liberation of France, the 1e Groupement Mobile de Reconnaissance would, among a bewildering variety of types, also use some Panhard 178s, some of these modified.

Type Armoured car
Place of origin  France
Service history
In service April 1937 - 1964
Used by France
Nazi Germany
Wars World War II
First Indochina War
Vietnam War
Production history
Designer Panhard
Designed 1933-1937
Manufacturer Panhard
Unit cost ? 275,000 hull
Produced February 1937 - ~October 1940
Number built 729 "A" versions, 414 B version
Variants Panhard 178B
Weight 8.2 metric tonnes
Length 4.79 m with gun
Width 2.01 m
Height 2.31 m
Crew 4
Armor 20 mm
25 mm SA 35 cannon
7.5 mm Reibel machine gun
Engine Panhard SK
105 hp
Suspension leaf spring
Ground clearance 0.35 m
300 km
Speed 72 km/h

End notes