AMX-30 Char de Bataille 1966–2006

As could have been expected, the experience of building the ARL-44 showed up very serious deficiencies in the French defence industry’s ability to produce all the necessary components for a complex weapon system like a medium tank. The French government, in order to centralise control over the state arsenals tasked with domestic armoured vehicle production established the Direction des Etudes et Fabrication d’Armament (known by the acronym DEFA). DEFA served as a bureau tasked to direct army weapons procurement, design and production as a logical step forward from the ARL-44 program.

Moving along on one of the Champagne training grounds, a late production AMX-30B wears the 3 colour camouflage adopted by the French Army starting in 1984. The camouflage pattern was standardized and was applied the same on every vehicle. Although the general effect was similar to the NATO camouflage scheme worn by the Bundeswehr and United States Army, the colours employed were French standard colours and were not the same tones. The guard protecting the cupola machine gun is clearly visible, despite the fact that  the machine gun itself is not fitted. [Thomas Seignon]

DEFA’s first large ground-up project was the AMX-50 M4. The new design started off under the direction of Ingenieur-Général Joseph Molinié. Like the ARL-44, the AMX-50 M4 was intended to be a medium tank on the grand scale of the wartime Panzerkampfwagen V Panther. The project’s design work was conducted by the Atelier de Construction d’Issy-les-Moulineaux (the state arsenal known commonly by the abbreviation of AMX). The resulting 45 to 50 ton designs were projected for construction by the Atelier de Roanne, and design work was commenced no sooner than the ARL-44 project went into production. Perhaps as a hedge because of the ARL-44’s serious problems under government direction, the private firm of SOMUA was tasked by the army with designing a heavy tank to the same specification as the AMX-50 (which was designated SOMUA SM).
The oscillating turret designs employed on the 50 ton project resembled scaled-up versions of the FL10 and FL11 designs used on the AMX-13 light tank and EBR armoured car with automatic loading. The SOMUA project was dropped as a duplication of effort once the AMX-50 prototypes were deemed sufficiently satisfactory in 1954. With prototypes eventually ranging from 50 to 62 tons, the AMX-50 quickly exceeded the designed weight limit of 45 tons. The AMX-50’s power train was a separately sourced sub-system, because DEFA did not control any automotive organizations and was devised with the intention to cooperate with France’s existing automotive companies. Since France did not have a large enough engine in domestic production for a modern medium tank, the German wartime Maybach HL295 series of engines from the German Panther and Tiger tanks was selected to power the prototypes and would have served as the basis for the production engine.
The five AMX-50 prototypes all differed in detail and were repeatedly upgraded. On the AMX-50 M4 prototypes the main armament grew from the Schneider 90mm gun, to an Atelier de Tarbes 100mm piece. The prototypes also differed in the turret and hull configurations tried out on each vehicle. The use of overlapping wheels in the suspension and Panther tracks ensured that the AMX-50 hull appeared decidedly Teutonic, while the oscillating turret design gave all the AMX-50 prototypes a futuristic look. In terms of gunnery the design was expected to be able to engage targets rapidly due to its automatic loading system and at long range due to its use of an optical rangefinder.

The AMX-30 Suspension System [Thomas Seignon]

The AMX-50 deliberately drew on German engineering where French component designs were still lacking and the design avoided American content. The first AMX prototype was ready in 1949 armed with a 90mm Schneider cannon in an oscillating turret at 53 tons, a commendable achievement for France’s recovering industrial complex. It was refitted with Atelier de Tarbes’ 100mm gun a few months later and was joined by a second prototype. Bearing in mind that at this point the ARL-44 was only just entering service, the AMX-50 project had already achieved a strong result by producing two prototypes so quickly. The two AMX-50 prototypes actually participated in the 1950 Bastille Day parade, a moment symbolic for a nation that had been in ruins a mere five years before.