In France, as in other European countries, before the start of World War II, work in the field of tank building intensified. French designers, like their colleagues from the USSR and Germany, worked to create a tank that would satisfy the needs of a future war. Unlike the Germans, who could not part with the box-shaped hull, which had both its obvious advantages and its equally obvious disadvantages, the French designed tanks with a rational arrangement of armor plates. The G1 medium infantry tank with anti-cannon armor and adequate armament could become for the French army a kind of analogue of the Soviet thirty-four.
The beginning of the design of the G1 tank
In the mid-1930s, France was going through the stage of the formation of mechanized formations. The country created five mechanized infantry divisions, which had to be armed with 250 new tanks. At the same time, the available military samples were not enough and not all of them met the changing requirements. The first assignment for the design of a new medium infantry tank was issued in December 1935. Initially, it was about a 20-ton combat vehicle. At the same time, already in May 1936, the requirements for the new tank were revised. According to the new specification, it was planned to create a combat vehicle with anti-cannon armor and main armament, which would allow fighting enemy tanks. But it was planned to keep the mass of the tank at the same level.
In the future, the new tank was supposed to replace all Char D1 and Char D2 medium tanks in the army. The first of these was created in the early 1930s, and the second was a modernized version of 1934. Five French companies were involved in the development of the new project, which received the designation Char G1, for a long time, that is, almost all the main engineering companies of those years were involved in the project, including Lorraine-Dietrich and Renault. And two more large manufacturers FCM and SOMUA withdrew from the project at an early stage.
It is quite obvious that the civil war that began in Spain made an impression on the French military. Already in October 1936, the design of the new tank was adjusted in favor of increasing the armor. The forehead, sides and rear of the tank hull were to receive armor plates up to 60 mm thick. Also, an important condition for the French military was that the new combat vehicle fit into the dimensions of the railway platforms. At the same time, the armament was supposed to provide the ability to combat tanks of a similar type; in addition, it was planned to install two machine guns on the tank.
Abandoned Char D2 tank, which was supposed to be replaced by G1 tanks
Specifically, the implementation of the new project was started in the winter of 1936-1937 by five participating firms: Baudet-Donon-Roussel, SEAM, Fouga, Lorraine de Dietrich, Renault. As we wrote above, two more companies quickly disappeared from the development of a new combat vehicle. The consideration of the project applications of the companies took place in February 1937, at the same time the main leaders were identified, which were the companies SEAM and Renault, which already had ready-made projects of tanks weighing 20 tons by that time. At the same time, SEAM even managed to assemble a prototype of a new combat vehicle.
Project capabilities and the Renault G1R tank
Much in the project of the new tank was aimed at improving the visibility of both the driver and the commander of the combat vehicle. In particular, it was planned to install new side observation devices to the left and right of the driver so that he could see the dimensions of the tank. At the same time, it was assumed that the commander of the vehicle would still have a better view, therefore, it was necessary to organize a voice communication between the mechvod and the commander. The commander initially received at his disposal a commander’s cupola, which, by the way, did not have the Soviet tankers on the T-34.
In the commander’s cupola, which provided a good all-round view, it was planned, in addition to the machine gun, from which the tank commander himself could fire, to install a rangefinder. An optical rangefinder would provide accurate target designation for firing at moving objects located at a distance of up to two kilometers. This innovative solution of the French designers was aimed at making full use of the capabilities of the 75-mm gun with a 32-caliber barrel length. In addition to the optical rangefinder, the G1 tanks were to receive a new telescopic sight with a 4x magnification, which together would make it possible to effectively use the gun over the entire practical firing range.
Layout of the Renault G1R tank
At the same time, the appetites of the Infantry Directorate, which was the customer of the new tank, were not limited to one rangefinder. The developers of the new medium tank were required to provide the combat vehicle with the ability to fire from the move at speeds up to 10 km / h when driving over rough terrain. The French borrowed this idea from the British, and the latter, in turn, were seriously impressed by the demonstrative Kiev maneuvers of 1935. With regard to the G1 project, the new requirements of the military assumed serious work and a change in the chassis of the tank, or work in the most promising direction at that time – the development and installation of an armament stabilizer on the tank.
The French military most of all counted on the success of Renault. Not without reason, considering that this company was one of the leaders in the French tank building. It was this company that gave the world the Renault FT-17, the first classic-style tank in history. The model, which was developed by Renault engineers, received the designation G1R. The tank of this project outwardly looked the most aesthetically pleasing, standing out with the smooth contours of the hull and turret. The armor plates were located at rational angles of inclination and provided very good protection for the crew, components and assemblies of the combat vehicle. The hemispherical tower was located in the middle of the hull. Initially, it was planned to install a 47 mm SA35 cannon inside. An option was also considered with the installation of another of the same gun in the hull, but over time this idea was abandoned.
The undercarriage of the G1R medium infantry tank included 6 double road wheels applied to each side, the front wheels were the guides, the rear wheels were leading. To improve the cross-country ability of the tank on the ground, the designers decided to use a double tracked belt. This “cunning” move of the developers also had a completely prosaic explanation – it made it possible to avoid designing a new wide caterpillar. The suspension of the rollers on the G1R tank was originally developed with a torsion bar. At the same time, all the open suspension elements of the tank, as well as the road wheels, had additional protection in the form of bulwarks.
Layout of the Renault G1R tank
An important feature of the G1R was the initially wide body, which made it easy to fit into ever-changing specifications. So in 1938, a proposal was made to install a new turret with more powerful weapons. The wide body made it possible to place any tower from the options already proposed by different firms. Therefore, by the summer of 1938, Renault had become the clear favorite. It was believed that serial production of the G1R tank could be deployed in 1.5-2 years.
Along with the installation of a new turret with a 75-mm gun, the mass of the combat vehicle also grew. Taking into account the fact that the tank had a crew of four and a minimum transportable ammunition load, its combat weight still could not be less than 28 tons. Over time, the French military brought the specification to 30 tons. And Renault itself believed that the tank’s combat weight would be up to 32 tons. According to this indicator, the tank seriously bypassed both the T-34 and the German PzKpfw IV of the early series. At the same time, the engine became a problem, since back in 1938 the French military expected to get a car with a maximum speed of up to 40 km / h on the highway. And this is given the requirements for a circular booking of 60 mm. Ultimately, the work on the creation of the tank slowed down and almost completely stopped over time. Before the war, financial support from the military almost completely stopped and the project remained forever on paper.
The fate of the G1 medium tank project
By 1939, four companies dropped out of the design race at once. So the company SEAM by that time already had a ready assembled prototype without a turret and, accordingly, weapons. The project was considered one of the closest to completion, but was stopped in 1939 due to lack of funding. The three companies BDR (Baudet-Donon-Roussel), Lorraine de Dietrich and Fouga also left the project in 1939. At the same time, the BDR and Lorraine de Dietrich companies had by that time only wooden and metal models, respectively. All three companies stopped development in favor of other designers’ programs.
Renault G1R tank model from the game World of Tanks
By the end of 1939, the only company that continued work on the medium infantry tank was Renault. The development of the combat vehicle went with the direct participation of Louis Renault and continued until 1940 until the complete military defeat of France after the attack of Nazi Germany. At the same time, by that time, only a wooden model was ready.
It should be noted that, despite the fact that the G1 medium tank project remained unrealized, it is still of historical interest today. At the time of the work, the G1 tank was undoubtedly the most advanced and advanced development of the French tank industry. In terms of armament and its mobility, the new medium tank was comparable to the best medium tanks of the allies – the Soviet T-34 and the American M4 Sherman. Like the Soviet thirty-four, the tank was distinguished by good anti-cannon armor with armor plates placed at rational angles of inclination. In some respects, the unrealized French project even surpassed the best tanks of the Allies. The installation of an optical rangefinder, a weapon stabilization system and the implementation of a semi-automatic loading mechanism for a tank gun were considered innovative solutions.
Unfortunately, the French military never received the new tank. There were several explanations for this. Firstly, the fact that the project was never implemented can be blamed on representatives of the Infantry Directorate, who changed the specification and performance characteristics to a new vehicle almost every year. This was largely due to an understandable desire to get the best tank in the world, but there is a limit to everything. At the same time, the desire of the French military to get a medium tank that optimally combines protection, weapons and weight, drove all the designers into an almost dead end situation. A separate problem was the technical equipment of the new tank. And if the French companies could cope with the transmission and chassis design, then the French industry was able to design a sufficiently powerful diesel engine only after the war. Too many participating firms could be another problem with the project. This was already some kind of excessive competition, perhaps if two or three companies were working on the project, the design would have gone faster.
Tank model BDR G1B from the game World of Tanks
It so happened that none of the projects of the G1 medium tank was built in finished form and did not reach mass production. The tank, which was supposed to seriously compete with Hitler’s machines and tanks of the allies, remained an unrealized project, whose only life was possible only in computer games. French engineers and designers could not have imagined such a development of events in 1940. The game World of Tanks, popular in the former USSR and in the world, has reached two tanks created under this program: the Renault G1 medium tank and the BDR G1B heavy tank.