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And If France Had Not Fallen? Weapons of the French Army and Air Force After 1940

Updated on January 14, 2018
While I must express doubts about Haiti and Turkey still being allied colonies in 1940, for the British and French, victory over Germany looked probable - precisely because they were stronger.
While I must express doubts about Haiti and Turkey still being allied colonies in 1940, for the British and French, victory over Germany looked probable - precisely because they were stronger.

The Battle of France is often presented as the ending period of a teleological evolution of France, although in the context of the Second World War it is passed over as almost a side note in popular conception. But at the time it was a shocking defeat, one greatly unexpected. This raises the question : how would things have been different if the French hadn't fallen? A general strategic answer points out that the French and British would have probably eventually won and defeated the Germans. But along the way the French would have greatly changed and upgraded their military. This article refers to the military equipment that France was in the process of procuring and developing in 1940, and which would have been either dramatically expanded in utilization and production, or entered into service of the war with Germany had continued.

Although the MAS-49 was a post-war semi-automatic rifle, it was essentially just the French MAS-40 semiautomatic rifle.
Although the MAS-49 was a post-war semi-automatic rifle, it was essentially just the French MAS-40 semiautomatic rifle.

Semi-automatic rifles: France had had a long record with semi-automatic rifles, being the only power to deploy them in large quantities in the Great War with the RSC 1917, and the Meunier rifle which had been intended to be a standard issue semi-automatic rifle before the Great War broke out. This continued after the war, and the French had long intended to have a semi-automatic rifle for their troops. This appeared with the MAS-40, supposedly equivalent to the M1 garand. It had high parts commonality with the MAS-36, which was supposed to be a bolt-action rifle for rear-area troops. It was being tested and some initial distribution to troops happening in 1940, but the defeat of France prevented this.

50 mm mortars were supposed to replace rifle greandes at the platoon level. They had much greater range, at 695 meters compared to 80-170 meters (rifles) and 145-215 meters (carbines).

HEAT anti-tank rifle grenades were in the process of being developed and deployed. These had ranges of around 100 meters and armor penetration of 40 mm. It was later used by the Vichy army and had some role in the development of the US M9 AT rifle grenade.

The Soviet M1938 mortar was essentially the same as the French Mortier Brandt de 120mm Modele 1935.
The Soviet M1938 mortar was essentially the same as the French Mortier Brandt de 120mm Modele 1935.

120mm mortars (essentially the M1938 mortar used by the Soviets, the Soviets based it on the French one), and to provided regimental fire support. It weighed 240 kilograms in firing position, 350 kilograms in march, had a range of more than 7 kilometers, fired 13 and 15 kilogram shells, with a rate of fire of 6-12 rounds per minute. The French lacked heavily in mortars and other fire support for their infantry compared to the Germans, having significantly fewer mortars and no infantry guns. The introduction of a 120mm mortar would have gone some way to fixing this.

The new 39L in the foreground
The new 39L in the foreground

For transporting the infantry, the French were introducing the VBCP 39L, improving on the Lorraine 38L to provide a mechanized personnel carrier. The Lorraine 38L was a tracked personnel carrier, but relied upon towing a trailer with troops in it.

The French had an excellent mle. 1937 anti-tank gun, capable of piercing any tank on the battlefield in 1940 at long range, while still being mobile and with a low profile. These 47mm anti-tank guns were to to receive a new carriage with the 47mm SA39 TAZ, with 360 traverse and a higher towing speed.

75 mm L/53 Mle. 1939 gun with TAZ mount with 360 degree traverse. It shared a barrel a barrel with the French L/53 75mm anti-aircraft gun. It would probably have been assigned to the divisional anti-tank batteries with the artillery regiments, while the divisional anti-tank companies were expanded and filled out with 47mm guns, although this is purely speculation.

The French had advanced sub-caliber munitions for their 37, 75, 155 and 203mm (the last two being for the navy), which gave good performance, but would require valuable tungsten. Also they had a 29mm squeeze bore AT gun for mountain units and airborne companies, which was light and had reasonable penetration of 56mm /30 degrees @ 400 meters. but required tungsten as well. Thankfully, the French had access to the world's markets, and so would probably have been able to acquire as much tungsten as needed.

Anti-aircraft guns

The French were sorely lacking in anti-aircraft guns. A previous post of mine covers this.

There were a large number of 75mm cannons, but light anti-aircraft guns were marginal in numbers at best. Medium anti-aircraft guns were lacking heavily. There were only a few automatic 37mm guns, only used in small numbers by the navy and in the defense of Paris. However, 40mm bofors production was being set up in France, while the French 37mm L/48 mle. 1935 had finally been deployed by the French navy, and the Canon de 37mm Mle1930 was being deployed as well, in the defense of Paris as mentioned. Thus, medium-weight anti-aircraft guns would have risen greatly.

The French 90mm anti-aircraft gun.
The French 90mm anti-aircraft gun.

There were also heavy anti-aircraft guns. The French had already had a 90mm anti-aircraft gun, the Canon CA 90mm mle. 1939, which was used in defending Paris and was capable of being utilized in anti-tank fire. 130mm anti-aircraft guns were used on ships, but supposed to be deployed on land eventually.

The D.520 was the best fighter that the French had in 1940, but was to be improved further.
The D.520 was the best fighter that the French had in 1940, but was to be improved further. | Source

The D.551 was a racing adaption of the French D.520, equipped with a more powerful 1,100 horsepower engine, which might have reached around 650 kilometers per hour with x1 20mm cannon in the nose and x6 7.5 mm guns, or x3 20m cannons and x4 7.5 mm guns. This would have made it a fast and well armed aircraft.

Similarly, the French light fighter program had given fruit to the VG 33 series. Built largely of wood and equipped with x1 20mm cannon and x4 7.5mm machine guns, a large variety of different engines were projected for the aircraft, ranging from 860 horsepower to 1,600 horsepower and even the British Merlin engine.

Another French aircraft was the Bloch 150. This was a sturdy aircraft and a good gun platform, but it had a variety of problems, not the least of which was being underpowered. Such a difficulty would certainly not have been a problem for the later Bloch 157 equipped with a 1,700 horsepower engine. Unfortunately speed is difficult to actually tell for this aircraft, as its supposed 710 kilometer per hour top speed is probably an error made in conversion of its numbers. However, even in the corrected form at around 620 kilometers as an estimate, it would have made for a fast, sturdy, and powerful fighter : the D.520 might be compared to the Mustang, but the MB.157 to an Fw-190 or Thunderbolt!

The SNCASE SE.100 was a new French heavy fighter, with 2 1,080 horsepower engines that provided a fast 580 kilometer per hour speed, equivalent to the BF-109 E and Spitfire, and enabled it to carry up to x6 20mm forward firing guns, x2 20mm in dorsal and x2 20mm ventral turrets

The French had various radar developments as well, which would have greatly improved their capability to detect and intercept German flights. Historically, only a fraction of French air force flights encountered German aircraft when they were sent out on patrol, further reducing the capability of the French to respond to the German air attacks.

Bombers

It must be mentioned that by 1940 the French had a good selection of medium bomber designs already, in the form of the Amiot 354 and the LeO 51, as well as the Breguet 693 which appeared a capable close air support aircraft, and the fast MB.175 reconnaissance-bomber. Their problems were not designs, but rather lack of the aircraft designs that they already had. Thus, the French were in little need of additional medium bomber designs, with the main projects being different engine set ups for their medium bombers, such as using imported American or British engines, or more powerful engines of their own. In addition, the French had large import programs, for Martin 167-F level light bombers, DB-7 (the later A-20 Havoc, principally intended as a bomber), and possibly even the B-24 Liberator,. Some of the French aircraft that were significant enough to possibly have a major change in the future of the war are listed below.

LN.42 : A development of the French LN.401 naval dive bomber. It dispenses with the inverted gull wing design of the LN.401, and provided a 1,000 horsepower engine instead of the original 690 horsepower engine, thus yielding better speed and payload, probably a good dive bomber, if the concept was continued with.

SNCAC NC.150 was a high altitude twin-engined bomber with supercharged engines, high speed. If adopted it might have made for a plane able to overly the Germans with little possibility of being intercepted, although from such altitude its accuracy against ground targets would be abysmal.

The MB.162 was strategic bomber, which had some defensive cannons (x2 20mms, in addition to x2 7.5mm machine guns) a long range, and a payload of up to 3,600 kilograms, but most importantly it importantly was very fast, 550 kilometers per hour. Bomber losses correlate sharply with speed, the faster, the lower casualties.

There were some twin-engined carrier craft as well, for the new French carriers of the Joffre-class.

Panhard 178 with a 47mm cannon: The normal Panhard 178 armored car but with a new turret which could mount a 47mm gun instead of a 25mm gun. The need for greater firepower became clear as the 1940 campaign continued.

The Panhard 201 was a truly bizarre French armored car, only a 2 man crew, an oscillating turret , 37mm high velocity gun, 60 mm arrmor, and supposedly 80 kilometers per hour speed despite only having an 85 horsepower engine on 9 tons. It possessed a low profile as well, with a height of but 1.8 meters. It had 8 wheels. The French ordered 600, for delivery by 1942... the order being filed on May 1. Naturally, they did not see combat. Given the their 1 man turret, they probably would have run into severe difficulties, but the concept was a promising one which was the precursor of the post-war Panhard EBR.

Another armored car entering into service would be the AM Gendron Somua 39, a light armored car equipped with a 25mm gun and a 7.5mm machine gun.

The pride of the French tank fleet was the Char B1, which was a heavy tank (technically a battle tank and not the real heavy tank, which would be a superheavy tank design). Already having been improved from the B1 standard to the B1 bis, alongside constant small modifications, the B1 bis was to be improved to the B1 ter heavy tank. It would be a B1 with a cheaper transmission, replacing the extremely precise but costly Nader transmission, a more powerful engine at 350 horsepower engine, 75mm armor with sloped panels on the side, a 2 man turret, 5 man crew (with a mechanic), and a traverse on the main 75mm gun of 10 degrees. Three of the examples of the tank were sunk in 1940 when being evacuated on a ship.

Somua S40, an improved version of the Somua S35 with better suspension, a more powerful engine, a new turret, lowered hull, welded turret (combined with the hull to decrease cost and improve armor homogenity), later programs to have more turret armor. During the war the French had a 3-man turret proposal for it, and one with a 75mm gun (SARL 42).

SAu 40 self-propelled gun, utilizing a 75mm gun mounted in a casemate as an assault gun, but principally designed for indirect fire. There was as well the ARL 40/ARL V39 based on BDR G1B (a proposed medium tank design which was rejected for the Renault G1R) hull for another SPG, serving the same function, with the SAu 40 being used by the cavalry and the ARL V39 being used by the infantry.

One of the G1R models : there were a large number of different variations even within the G1R program, as part of a huge number in the G tank series.
One of the G1R models : there were a large number of different variations even within the G1R program, as part of a huge number in the G tank series.

Most impressive of the French designs was the Renault G1R, which was a Renault competitor in the French program for a medium tank. Various proposals exist for its development as there is some confusion, but in optimistic ones it would have seen a 32-35 ton tank, with a 400 horsepower engine, 75mm l/29 gun, good armor and some neat technological features like a rangefinder and two-axis gun stabilization.

There was as a heavy tank project the Char B40 with a 40-45 ton tank with a 47mm SA 37 (higher velocity than the SA 35 at 855 meters per second) in a turret and a 105mm howitzer in the hull, later replaced with a 75mm gun in a three man turret.

Famous, perhaps for its impracticality, was the FCM F1, with two turrets, one mounting a 47mm gun and the other a 90mm gun, 6 machine guns, a weight of 140 tons, 100-120mm armor, a length of over 10 meters, crew of 9, and an 1,100 horsepower engine. Supposedly the French eventually planned for 2 of these vehicles to be produced per month, but it seems likely that they would have realized how impractical such a design is.

The French created the radio-controlled breeching vehicles that later became the German Goliath. These were the Engin Ks, vehicle Ps, and a proposed Renault FT 17 guided demolition tank.

© 2017 Ryan Thomas

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