St Chamond
with video by Philtydirtyanimal and photos by Eric Gallaud: Edited by Charlie Clelland

The Char Schneider C.A.1 was intended to be the standard French heavy tank and an order was placed for 400 of them on 25 February 1916. However, Monsieur J. L. Breton, of the French Government department responsible for war inventions, gave authority for the firm Forges et Aciéries de la Marine et d’Homé-court, at Saint Chamond near Lyon, to design another tank, larger and better armed than the Schneider. Both departmental and industrial jealousies were involved because this step was taken without full knowledge of the Army and neither Joffre, the Commander–in–Chief, nor Estienne, the leading military expert on the subject were consulted and there was no cooperation with the Schneider firm.

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The design of the Char Saint Chamond, as it was known, was undertaken by Colonel Rimailho of F.A.M.H who took as starting point a lengthened Holt Caterpillar chassis, which had been specially built up from parts of three Holt tractors for comparison with the Schneider built chassis in trials at Vincennes on 21 February 1916. The prototype vehicle of Saint Chamond design was completed by September 1916, and it was in its essentials a larger version of the Schneider. The suspension was based on the Holt suspension and was unlike the swinging frame system of the Schneider. Although the tracks were longer the much larger hull led to a considerable overhang at front and rear which, it was soon found, resulted in poor cross–country performance and handling characteristics. Wooden rollers were added under the front and rear of the hull to help prevent the hull "bellying" in soft ground. These worked quite well in good conditions but failed in the slush of the Western Front battlefields. It was also proposed to add a non-driven track under the front of the hull but although this was trialed it never was fitted to production vehicles. The Saint Chamond had an electric transmission - a Panhard four-cylinder petrol engine of 80/90 h.p. operated a 52-kw dynamo which in turn supplied two electric motors, one to each track. This system eliminated the gear changing difficulties inherent in other early tanks and allowed the St Chamond to "turn in place" and reverse at about the max. forward speeds. However, the transmission was complicated and delicate and, unfortunately, unreliable and added to all the other troubles with this tank.

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In addition to the handling faults, the St Chamond was found to have further defects when in action for the first time on 5 May 1917. Facilities for crew exit in emergency were poor, vision arrangements were inadequate and the recoil cylinder of the 75mm gun was found to be vulnerable to enemy fire.

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In addition to the handling faults, the St Chamond was found to have further defects when in action for the first time on 5 May 1917. Facilities for crew exit in emergency were poor, vision arrangements were inadequate and the recoil cylinder of the 75mm. gun was found to be vulnerable to enemy fire. In an effort to correct at least some of these faults, modifications were introduced both in the course of production and retrospectively. After the first 165 tanks (of the 400 ordered) were built, the 75mm. St Chamond T.R. gun was replaced by the standard 75mm Model 1897 field gun. Colonel Rimailho had been the designer of the 75mm T.R gun and had been receiving payments for each one used. The flat roof with two circular cupolas of the early tanks was modified to a new pattern with sloped sides to prevent grenades sitting and exploding on the roof. There was one square cupola at the left on most tanks. The tracks, which were too narrow, were replaced with wider ones with a chevron tread pattern to give more traction and to accommodate these the hull side plates over the tracks had to be modified.

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It was recommended that additional 8.5 mm plates should be added to the side plates (which were a basic 8.5 mm.) to give full protection against the German "K" bullet, although this modification was not carried out in full. Other features of the Char Saint Chamond were the four Hotchkiss machine-guns (one each side, one at the front, one at the back with 8488 rounds carried) in addition to the main weapon (for which 106 rounds were supplied) mounted in the front plate; its crew of nine men, and its weight (due mainly to its heavy transmission system) of 24 tons.

The St Chamond was first used in action on May 5 1917, in support of an infantry attack at Moule de Lafflaux. The major flaw in the construction – the front overhang – at once revealed itself: of the 16 St Chamond tanks that participated in the assault, 15 got firmly stuck when they attempted to cross the German trenches. In the next big tank attack, both Schneider CA.1s and St Chamonds participated, but the result was again a flop: only the CA.1s managed to pass the German trenches.

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None of the modifications introduced could make the St Chamond into a good tank and, after the French had given consideration to other designs to replace it and the Schneider CA, it was decided to accept the offer of British heavy tanks for employment in the offensive planned for 1919. The production of the tank was not pursued after the intial order of 400 were completed. Under 1918 these vehicles participated in some 375 different actions, and at the end of the war only 72 were still left in service.

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A small video of the St Chamond, courtesy of "philthydirtyanimal".

St Chamond Walkaround

Eric Gallaud have taken these images of the worlds only surviving St Chamond, now in the Musée des blindés in Saumur in France. It was previously in the USA, at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, where it was kept outdoors for years, and didn’t fare too well. But now it has been beautifully restored. My only small gripe is the camouflage scheme, which seems to perhaps be a small bit too garish. (The Schneider CA.1 - still running! - at the same museum is painted in the same way.) It was applied with spray gun, but all authentic WW1 multiple colour schemes that I have seen, were evidently painted by hand. This is the late variant of the St Chamond, with, among other things, sloping roof, and just one, small square drivers cupola.

General View

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The photos below were taken by Eric Gallaud on a previous visit to Saumur (captions appear with expanded images).

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Notice the shape of the MG port to the left of the gun. There should be a Hotchkiss HMG here.
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Points to notice here are the two small rollers under the hull front, put there in a - pretty vain - attempt to prevent ditching.
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A study of the suspension. Notice also the inside of the hatch, with the simple latch mechanism.
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The rear entry/exit door. Notice the one big roller underneath the hull, also to prevent ditching. Notice also the star on the left, a trademark of St Chamond. Note that the rear hull is asymmetrical.
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The motor, a 90hp Panhard Patrol motor, that was driving the a generator powering an electric motor driving the drive sprockets. Notice the exhaust pipes running up to the roof.
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The gun. All the late St Chamonds were equipped with the famous 75mm mle1897. Notice also the underside of the cupola.

Another walkaround of the Saumur St Chamond can be seen at the AMMS Brisbane site. The images were taken by Dave Scorer. Click on the image below.

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Additional Information

How to Model this Tank