AMX-30 Char de Bataille 1966–2006


The possibility of rearming the West German army with French-built armoured fighting vehicles was a second impetus for getting the AMX-50 into production. This was an impossibly tall order due to the other conflicting funding priorities France then was faced with, which included the war in Indo-China. It was obvious that production of the AMX-50 would require the economic support of the United States. There was already a fatal flaw in the AMX-50 design in 1950, more as a result of the state of France’s heavy vehicle industry than as a result of poor tank design.
The basic weakness of the AMX-50 design was that it was powered by Maybach engines derived from those used in the wartime Panther and Tiger. These engines had been hard pressed to deliver enough power reliably in 1944, and still lacked sufficient power to deal with any increases in vehicle weight. The spin-on effect of the Maybach engine left the AMX-50 less well armoured than contemporary tanks of its size. It also meant that the powertrain was overtaxed and the level of reliability required could not be reached, despite repeated attempts to redesign the engine and transmission components. The hoped-for interest from other European Union armies did not materialise because of the long delays getting the design to a stage where production was a realistic option, and also due to the growing cost per unit of the vehicle. Ultimately American M47s were provided as military aid to France, West Germany, Belgium and Italy as a short term solution to rearmament needs. The offer of the M47 was too good for France to refuse in 1952, and the AMX-50 specification was changed from a medium to a heavy tank.
After the adoption of the Patton, the AMX-50 Surblindé project was re-specified as a heavy tank vehicle of some 60 tons, armed with a French built version of the 120mm American T53 gun made by the Atelier du Havre. Heavy tanks were not built in large production runs and the likelihood of exporting such a vehicle was slim. The changes in specification caused other delays and indicated that the basic concept behind the specification had to be re-evaluated at the general staff level. The AMX-50 program began to founder when the vehicle’s end use was redefined into a class of vehicle that many considered a luxury (and especiallyfor an army still fighting in the colonies). As the cost of French military commitments in the colonies escalated, the utility of limited production, specialist weapons programs like heavy tanks began to cause doubts in the general staff. The last three AMX-50 prototypes got progressively heavier, which drove up unit costs and reduced the vehicle’s horsepower per ton ratio and engine reliability. As a matter of national pride, the AMX-50 program continued into 1956 regardless of these difficulties, with Maybach engineers brought in from Germany to solve the powertrain issues. By 1955-56 the lightened AMX-50 Surbaissé design was sufficiently well developed for production, but a tentative order for 100 vehicles for 1956 was delayed because the power output problems with the Maybach engine were as yet unresolved. Second thoughts arose during the delay, and the French Army was left to ponder the tactical implications of the heavy and costly AMX-50 in light of guided antitank missile development, and competing priorities such as the nuclear weapons program.
The funding arrangements that the French hoped the United States Military Aid Program would provide were never secured. The successful development of French light armoured tactics based on the AMX-13, guided missiles like the SS-11 then under development, and the availability of M47 Medium tanks weighed heavily against the AMX-50 program. The French Army re-examined the need for a heavy tank, and the AMX-50 program was suspended at the end of 1956, although the vehicles continued to be tested and modified until 1958. By 1955 the first of over eight hundred M47 Patton tanks had been delivered to the French Army as military aid from the United States. The arrival of the Patton proved to be the fatal blow to the AMX-50, whose future as a design would surely have been brighter had it not been so often delayed and had funding been available.

 Dunkerque was a 2e Régiment de Cuirassiers AMX-30B received in 1971-1972, and carried these markings in 1973. The blue escadron markings seen on the side were also carried on the front left mudguard and the bottom right corner of the turret bustle stowage box. Turret number was 112.


French tactical priorities shifted towards the ideal of an armoured force operating within all-arms divisions. The army wanted a formation capable of strategic maneuver warfare in Europe or counter-insurgency in the colonies. The Indochina and Algerian campaigns had changed how the army prioritised its funding for weapons production. The dual role the army had to fill in the colonies and NATO meant that the equipment required for the armoured regiments emphasized firepower and mobility. The organizations used for infantry and armoured formations deployed in colonial warfare and in West Germany had to be interchangeable. The colonial battlefields demanded relatively simple and light armoured vehicles, while the European battlefield demanded all the latest technology to deal with potential enemy threats. The value of hollow charge warheads, rocket and guided missile technology, airborne forces and the battlefield helicopter all changed how France’s strategists expected to configure their future armoured forces. With the failure of the AMX-50, the requirement for France’s medium, or battle tank was re-evaluated with new eyes. [...]

 

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