At the origins of tank building in France was Colonel (later General) J. B. Etienne. Like his contemporary, Englishman Swinton, he initially turned his attention to the high throughput of the American Holt tractors, and in this connection he had the idea to develop a combat tracked vehicle on the basis of this tractor. Already 1 December 1915, Etienne writes a letter addressed to the French commander J. Geoffrey, in which he proves the expediency of building "land battleships". 12 December of the same year, Colonel Etienne was taken to the General Staff of the French army personally by the commander in chief and was able to enlist his support.
Enlisting support in the top leadership of the French army, Etienne turns for technical assistance to the well-known designer and owner of the same-name automobile company Louis Renault. However, Renault refuses to participate in the project to develop a tank, citing the workload of current military orders and his lack of experience in creating such machines. After the failure of Renault, Etienne decides to apply for the construction of a tank to the firm Schneider. This company at that time was one of the largest manufacturers of weapons. Moreover, back in January 1915, under the direction of E. Briet, the engineers of this company were able to re-equip the American Holt tractor into an artillery tractor.
Here, Etienne is understanding, 20 December Etienne and Briet discussed the details on the development of the future tank, and two days later the overall design of the future car was ready. The final draft of the future tank was submitted to the French General Staff a few weeks later and 31 January 1916 was approved, the military decided to place an order for the 400 to build such combat vehicles, at the same time taking up a detailed study of their future combat use.
The Schneider tank received the CA-1 index, which meant Char d'Assault - a support tank or an assault tank of the first model. In order to try out all the innovations, Brije initially built a prototype armored vehicle on the Holt chassis. During the tests, this vehicle seemed to the French military insufficiently reliable, the members of the commission noted its insufficient maneuverability and mobility. In repeated tests, which were carried out on February 21, 1916, an elongated chassis was presented, but Briye himself had already decided to abandon the tractor chassis. It was a smart decision. At the same time, he used elements of a blocked spring suspension in the new chassis. So the CA-1 Schneider tank was not a "conversion of a tractor into a tank", as is sometimes presented in modern literature. But the "tractor" past nevertheless left its heavy imprint on the firstborn of the French tank building.
Its design was somewhat reminiscent of the British tank "№1 Lincoln" or "Little Willie", which was built on the chassis of the usual American Holt tractor. But the French engineers clearly bypassed their British allies. The hull of the SA-1 "Schneider" was assembled on a rectangular frame so that it was located above the chassis. The rigid frame was formed by two longitudinal beams with transverse mounts. Rolled armor plates with a thickness of 11 mm were assembled on the frame using riveting. The layout of the first French tank turned out to be so original that it was not repeated anywhere else.
On the left, in front of the tank hull, a Schneider or Renault 4-cylinder carburetor engine was installed, its nominal power was 40 hp, and the maximum power was 65 hp, the maximum engine speed was 1200 per minute. The engine was equipped with a liquid cooling system, as well as automatic lubrication. In front of the engine was a radiator, and it was also equipped with a fan. Fuel tanks with a total capacity of 160 liters were located under the power plant and were covered with armor. The fuel could be supplied to the engine either by force (using a pulsator which supplied gases from the engine) or by using a hand pump.
In front of the hull on the right side, almost exactly along the longitudinal spine of the tank, there was a driver’s seat with controls, which was also the commander of the combat vehicle. For observation, he could use a viewing window with a flap armored valve, in which there were three viewing slots. Since there was practically no space left for mounting the 75-mm gun, it was decided to install it in a sponson located in the bevelled side plate in order to at least somehow provide the tank with acceptable angle of firing from the gun. At the same time, the horizontal angle of the gun pointing did not exceed 40 degrees. In order to improve the maneuverability of the combat vehicle, a bowsprit was made in the bow. The bow of the tank received sharp outlines with a characteristic beam to overcome the wire obstacles. This feature finally gave the new combat vehicle the similarity with the "land armadillos".
On the sides of the tank in the middle part of the hull in installations covered with hemispherical shields, there were two 8-mm Hotchkiss machine guns of the 1914 model of the year (one per board). The maximum rate of fire data machine guns was 600 shots / min. The fire from the right machine gun had to lead a special machine gunner, and from the left shot a mechanic who also followed the work of a tank engine. The crew got into the tank through a special double door, which was located in the hull rear stern. In this case, the driver could leave the tank and through the top hatch, which was available in the roof of the command cabin. The stern could also have a “tail” standard for tanks of that period, which allowed the vehicle to cross trenches whose width did not exceed the 1,8 meter.
The 75-mm gun mounted on the tank had a special design. It was a gun with a wedge gate and barrel length of all 13 calibers. Shooting from it was carried out by ordinary shots from a field gun of the same caliber, but with a reduced charge. The target range of fire from it was only 600 meters, and the effective and even less - 200 meters. At the same time, the initial speed of the 7,25-kilogram projectile in 200 m / s was quite enough to successfully fight the enemy’s light fortifications, such as wooden blinds, for a short distance. The 75-mm gun was fired by an assistant commander, behind whom was an ammunition consisting of 90 shells.
The undercarriage of the SA-1 tank consisted (on each side) of two carriages: the front carriage carried 3 dual support rollers, the rear carriage 4. An axle of the guide wheel with a screw mechanism for tensioning the tracks of the tank was fixed in the fork of the front carriage. The caterpillar directly consisted of 34 fairly large tracks, which consisted of one pillow and two rails, along which the track rollers with flanges rolled. The drive wheel was at the back, it had a teeth gearing for the track hinge. The total length of the track rim was 3 meters, and the length of the support surface of the entire 1,8 meter. The tank transmission consisted of a three-stage gearbox with reverse, which made it possible to vary the driving speed in the range from 2 km / h to 8 km / h and the differential turning mechanism. At the same time, the speed of the tank on the highway in 8 km / h seems to be too optimistic today and is unlikely to exceed 4 km / h in practice.
According to the developed plan for the production of CA-1 “Schneider” tanks, the entire batch of 400 combat vehicles had to be put into the army by November 25 1915. However, in such a short time it was impossible to execute such a large order for a completely new type of equipment. The first tank was handed over to the military only on September 8 1916 of the year, and the supply of the remaining combat vehicles was fully completed already in the 1917 year. At the same time, the French military began to form their tank units and prepare tank crews even earlier, without waiting for the construction of even the first instance. Already in the middle of August, 1916, the first cadet-tankers began to arrive at the initial training center, which was located in the area of the fort of Marly-le-Roi. As a result, they spent less time on 6 months than the British, from the moment the factory issued an order to the first use of tanks.
For their tank units, the French military decided to take the artillery organization as a basis, dividing the combat vehicles into separate batteries. It was originally planned that each of them would have 8 tanks, but soon their number was reduced to 4's. From three batteries the tank group which was called a battalion was completed. Each group received an AS index (assault artillery) and a corresponding sequence number. At first, the French planned to use the Schneider SA-1 tanks in their divisions in conjunction with their second Saint-Chamon tank, but rather quickly abandoned this idea.
The first division, fully equipped with Schneider tanks, was completed from 1 to 25 in December 1916 of the year, and by April of 1917, the total number of such combat vehicles was brought to 208. This allowed them to fully equip 15 groups (AS1 - AS15). In each French division there were three 4 tank batteries, a mechanized repair and supply unit (SSR), as well as several reserve combat vehicles. In total, the division had 16 tanks, 18 officers and 73 non-commissioned officers and soldiers.
The battle debut of the French tanks came in April 16 1917. In April, the French developed a plan of attack in the area of the En River by the forces of the 5 and 6 armies. This offensive was known as the “Nivelles offensive”. On the whole, the terrain where the French tanks were to make their debut was quite passable even for such imperfect first steel monsters. In addition, looking at the experience of their British allies, the French were going to use the tanks in a concentrated way, leaving a large number of combat vehicles at once into battle. With their help, they literally were going to break through the defenses of the Germans. However, when planning the operation, the French made a number of serious miscalculations that caused the complete failure of the offensive. They concentrated the technology almost in front of the Germans. German scouts very quickly revealed the locations of the French tank units. To top it all off, the artillery shelling that the French waged during the 15 day, finally determined the direction of the main attack for the enemy. This knowledge allowed the Germans to prepare anti-tank defenses in the direction of the strike, digging wider trenches and pulling up additional artillery.
The ensuing offensive resulted for the French in a real slaughter. Tanks were quickly spotted by the enemy and came under heavy artillery fire. In total, the French were able to throw into battle 132 tank CA-1 "Schneider", which were divided into two groups, commanded by majors Boss and Shobe. At the same time, the Bossu tank group managed to break through only the first line of German defense, from 82 its 44 tanks were destroyed by the Germans, and German aircraft shot the tankers jumping out of the tanks from the air. Bossu himself was killed in the explosion of a fire tank. The group of Major Shobe was not able to achieve any success at all, losing 32 tanks on the battlefield.
The greatest claims of the French tankers were associated with tank armament. Since most of the nose was occupied by the engine and the workplace of the driver, the short-barreled gun had a very limited firing sector. Large dead zones had and installed on the tank machine guns. The CA-1 reservation was also weak. The armor of the tank could break through with new German rifle bullets. The fuel tanks, which were located in the tank hull along its sides, turned out to be especially vulnerable in the dense fire of the enemy. The crew could quickly leave the burning tank through the double door in the stern, but the pleasure was doubtful. The tankers considered smoothness almost the only advantage of the car, which was very high, thanks to good damping in the suspension system. High smoothness reduced crew fatigue and increased shooting accuracy.
Despite the disastrous consequences of the first use of tanks, the French General Staff was not disappointed in the new technique, as the combat tracked vehicles would be able to cope with their task if the attack were planned carefully. Having drawn the appropriate conclusions, the next offensive with the use of tanks, which took place on 5 on May 1917, on the Laffo Plateau, the losses of combat vehicles were less. This attack involved 19 tanks Schneider from AS1 and AS10, as well as 12 tanks Saint-Shemon from AS31. With the support of the French infantry, the tanks managed to capture the Laffo mill and advance to the depth of 500 meters at the front of 3200 meters. Such a small progress of the offensive was due to the fact that in the German defense there was a wide ditch and trenches in this sector, which the tanks could not get through without assistance. During the attack on the close approaches to the German positions of the 2 tank was destroyed, another 4 machines were simply stuck in soft ground and then were destroyed by German artillery. After the return of the remaining French vehicles from the battlefield, it was found that as a result of the attack, only one CA-1 tank did not receive any damage.
After the end of the First World War, the Schneider CA-1 tanks were mainly used as repair and recovery vehicles and tank tractors. Six of them were sold to Spain in 1922 year. 1923 to 1926 These tanks were used by the Spaniards in Morocco. The four surviving machines were later able to take part in the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 on the Republican side. The only surviving tank of this type is placed today in the French Museum of armored vehicles in Saumur. Prior to that, it was kept in the Aberdeen Museum of Artillery in the United States, but was donated to the French side for restoration.
Performance characteristics of the Schneider CA-1:
Overall dimensions: body length - 6320 mm, body width - 2050 mm, height - 2300 mm, clearance - 400 mm.
Combat weight - 14,6 t.
Reservations: forehead, sides and stern of the hull - 11,4 mm, bottom and roof of the hull - 5,4 mm.
The speed on the highway - 4 km / h, over rough terrain - 2 km / h.
Cruising on the highway - 45 km, over rough terrain - 30 km.
The power plant is a Schneider / Renault carburetor four-cylinder engine of liquid cooling hp power 65.
Armament - 75-mm short-barreled gun, 2x8-mm machine gun
Ammunition - 90 shells.
Crew - 6 man.
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