Number 173 in Osprey’s NEW VANGUARD series provides a concise history of FRENCH TANKS OF WORLD WAR I. In this soft cover book, author Steven J. Zaloga focuses on the three main tanks developed by France during World War I. In ten chapters, Author Zaloga describes how an innovative military concept was brought to reality, perfected and effectively employed in its intended role, and how the most successful of them soldiered on after the war and on to the brink of WW II.
Both France and Britain conceived and began developing the military tank at about the same time as an effective way of dealing with the virtual battlefield stalemate brought about by trench warfare. The book describes how France was the first to introduce the new weapon into combat and eventually fielded more of them than any other country. In the process, France arrived at a design that would become a standard for future tanks, with armament in a central turret and the engine in the rear.
Author Zaloga covers the interesting story in a mere 48 pages and does a commendable job of it.
The book’s first chapter, The Tactical Challenge, describes the nearly two-year struggle to bring the new technology to operational reality. The second chapter, Into Combat, introduces the reader to France’s first, and somewhat disappointing attempt; the Schneider CA. The awkward vehicle’s troublesome shortcomings were never really overcome, and in the following eight chapters, Zaloga describes ongoing efforts to improve the performance of the Schneider, the development of the next and more robust St-Chamond and what then evolved when it proved disappointing. He explains how the St-Chamond, with its fixed guns, and suffering the same poor mobility problems that plagued the various versions of the Schneider, helped to convince the Consultaative Committee of the Assault Artillery to approve the light weight tank concept, and how that lead auto manufacturer Louis Renault to develop ‘a small, cheap armored machine-gun vehicle’…that we know today as the FT-17.
Throughout the book, the story is illustrated with 39 B&W period photos and one color photo of a refurbished FT-17 participating in a 1990 French military reenactment. The photos are complimented by 11 full color illustrations by Tony Bryan, a 4-view line drawing of the St-Chamond with the 75mm M1897 gun and a 5-view line drawing of the Schneider CA. A full-color cutaway illustration of a Renault FT-17 Char Canon, with detailed callouts, serves as the book’s center spread.
There is a substantial amount of detail for the model builder included in this historical study. Many of the photos are remarkably crisp, the illustrations provide an idea of the multi-color camouflage applied to the Schneider, the St-Chamond and the FT-17, and the line drawings would seem to be adequate for a scratch builder to have a go at it. And, the Author’s text will provide the modeler with a good understanding of how the new mechanized weapon was used with success on the battlefield and why the French tanks of WW I just might deserve to be replicated in miniature.
At the end of the book, Zaloga acknowledges that there has been very little coverage of the subject available in English. He does, however, provide an extensive list of articles, books and unpublished documents for further reading. Most appear to be in French, but five of the forty he lists appear to be in English.
I would recommend this book to anyone with a general interest in the history of tank warfare and highly recommend it to anyone with a particular interest in WW I allied tanks. My thanks to IPMS/USA and Osprey Publishing for the opportunity to review this book.
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