AMX-30 Char de Bataille 1966–2006, vol. II

With the turret trained towards the camera we can see how this vehicle is not fitted with an ERA brick to the right of the CN F2 20mm co-axial cannon. There are slight variations in how the ERA bricks are fitted from tank to tank. [Pierre Delattre]

The AMX-30B’s entrance into service took place in spite of the original transmission’s obvious weakness and complexity, and the first armoured regiments equipping with the new tank addressed this by using experienced drivers. The 1e Régiment de Cuirassiers took a draft of fifty four engagés from Carpiagne as drivers in 1969 when the new AMX-30Bs arrived. Once the new tanks were in service the conscript drivers gradually took over. The AMX-30B was driven with two levers much like the wartime tanks, a step backwards from the relatively luxurious driving arrangements in the M47 Patton. The AMX-30B’s driver had the hard task of mastering manual gear changes, and the various drivers’ drills required to minimise wear on the transmission. The 5-SD-200D transmission incorporated five forward speeds and five reverse speeds and required close attention to the engine RPMs for gear changes. Driving the AMX-30B was still easier than the AMX-13, which had an even more demanding gear changing procedure to master. Once a driver had the feel for the gear changing process, the AMX-30B eventually endeared itself to most of its drivers.
 The training center at Carpiagne maintained a small fleet of driver training tanks without turrets, in order to ensure that conscript tank drivers could be provided with the best possible training for this task. These training tanks allowed the instructors to regularly change drivers throughout a training session. The CIABC also kept a fleet of regular AMX-30B gun tanks to train the drivers in maneuvering the tank with its long gun in confined spaces and to learn to steer the tank without banging the main armament into trees or buildings. Conscript and volunteer drivers alike were trained at Carpiagne.
With the requirement for night time operation and combat the driver was expected to master driving with the use of infra-red periscopes. The driver had to always be mindful of the turret position, and to engage his hydraulic traverse cut out switch when driving head out, because sudden traverse with the gun depressed could cause the driver serious injury. In combat the driver would have stood little chance in the event of a close range hit on the front of the hull resulting in penetration of the glacis plate, with half the tank’s main armament ammunition and some of the diesel fuel stored to his immediate right. The intention of the design was to maximise the use of the AMX-30’s high power to weight ratio to permit quick accelerations from position to position, which in essence became the driver’s main responsibility.

 The crew of this FORAD AMX-30B2 photographed at CENTAC in 2007 would have all been volunteers and included a female driver. The AMX-30 had by 2007 endured for just over four decades, encompassing a period during which much had changed in the Armée de Terre. [Pierre Delattre]

The driver and other crew members could also be expected to be trained for submerged river crossings. These began with specially constructed cisterns and graduated to actual crossings of large ponds and eventually river beds. The experience must have been best described as frightening in a tank with as many reliability problems as the early AMX-30B. The AMX-30B was built from the assembly line as a sealed unit, and preparing the tank for submerged crossings was a simple task included within the tank’s design parameters from the start. The Arme Blindée Cavalerie eventually developed a complete doctrine for submerged crossing by armoured regiments, with a well versed training organization to support every aspect of the submerged crossing process. A crossing was always assisted by engineer divers with a communications officer from the bank. The divers were known as Plongeurs d’Aide de Franchissement, or PAFs, and were tasked with identifying suitable fords and crossing points. PAF divers were elite troops drawn from the corps of engineers, who were often parachute qualified. To them fell the task of assisting stranded submerged vehicles and assuring their safe recovery. The PAF divers were trained to rescue crewmen from stranded vehicles. During a crossing, a PAF team floating above the crossing area in a zodiac provided a running commentary of the submerged tank’s progress, and submerged crossings were always supported by a recovery team to winch any breakdowns out immediately with an AMX-30D. The main risk during submerged crossings was always engine failure, which could happen if water was aspirated by the engine through any leaks in the various hatch seals that assured the impermeability of the engine compartment. The exhaust pipe covers were another point where water could easily find a way in, with consequent risk of drowning the engine.