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25mm ATG during the battle of Gembloux (14th-15th May 1940)

Discussions on WW2 in Western Europe & the Atlantic.

25mm ATG during the battle of Gembloux (14th-15th May 1940)

Postby David Lehmann on 10 Oct 2005 01:09

This text has been written mainly thanks to the testimony of Louis Brindejonc published in "Revue Historique des Armées" (n°1 – 1987). He is commander of a 25mm SA34 AT gun during the battle of Gembloux. Louis Brindejonc is then part of the support company (lieutenant Gaidot) of the I/2e RTM (1st battalion of the 2e Régiment de Tirailleurs Marocains). The 2e RTM (colonel Cordier) is one regiment of the 1e DM (Division Marocaine) beside the 1e RTM and the 7e RTM. The author will be captured on 21st May 1940 and kept in the Stalag VIII C in Silesia. After 2 evasions he manages to join again his regiment in Marrakech (Morocco) on 10th June 1941.

Louis Brindejonc is squad leader in a MG platoon before being transferred in the AT gun squad (including two 25mm SA34 AT guns) of the support company of the I/2e RTM.

The crew of his 25mm SA34 AT gun is following
- Caporal-chef Louis Brindejonc : commander
- Nepveu : gunner
- Moktar : assistant gunner (loader)
- Ahmed : ammunition bearer
- Lahoucine : ammunition bearer
The crew seems to be lack 1 man. They have 1 AT gun, 1 car, 1 horse and ammunitions.

On 13th May at 23h00, the I/2e RTM is deployed between Ernage and Gembloux. Brindejonc's AT gun is attached to the 1st rifle company (capitaine Couston-Lemaître). 2 rifle platoons are deployed on the main resistance line constituted by the railroad, 200 m in front of the emplacement of the AT gun. The men are preparing their foxholes.
The 25mm AT gun is 2 km north-west of Gembloux, just next to the town of Ernage. Behind the gun emplacement there is the town of Cortil-Noirmont. The majority of support company is deployed at about 200m, at the edge of a wood, with the 81mm mortars and a 20mm Mle1939 (Oerlikon) AA gun. The battalion HQ and the medical post are located in the Sart farm, on the path between Cortil-Noirmont and Ernage.
Brindejonc's AT fun is well dug in, hidden behind a small folding of the terrain and concealed by camouflage nests.

After 3 days of marching and 1 night of preparing their emplacements, the men are extremely tired. Moktar spots the first German tanks on 14th May morning. He wakes Brindejonc up but the latter doesn't see the tanks. The mountain dweller from the Atlas has sharp eyes and Brindejonc spots the enemy tanks only with its goggles: 2, 3 and then 4 German tanks appear … finally 2 other tanks are spotted more on the left for a total of 6 tanks.
The gunners arrived at night and had not the opportunity to study and reconnoitre the ground for landmarks at known range. The French AT gun opens fire …the first shot is too short, the impact can be seen in the ground in front of the targeted tank. Brindejonc orders "range 800m !" and the enemy tanks are still closing in … this shot is probably too long as nothing can be noticed … the tanks are still advancing. Brindejonc indicates then "range 600m !" and the first German tank is immediately knocked out.
A second tank, which is firing at the French infantry, is then targeted. The 25mm SA34 gun fires at high rate of fire without interruption and the second German tank is knocked out.
2 other tanks try yet to evade the issue and move in zig-zag manner, realizing only now that they are engaged by an AT gun. Unable to spot the French AT gun and its emplacement, the German tanks are successively advancing and firing aimlessly, one tank trying to cover the movement of the other one.
The impact of the 25mm shell on the left flank of the 3rd tank is clearly visible, forming a little red flash. Suddenly the turret hatch is opened: 2 men bail out and a 3rd one remains dead on the superstructure of the tank [the crew being at least of 3 men, the tank is probably a Panzer II].
Suddenly Brindejonc realized all the noise and the intensity of the battle taking place around him. The FM 24/29 LMGs and the Hotchkiss Mle1914 MGs are firing, the artillery shells are flying over the French troops and explode among German troops.
The German advance is stopped by the accurate and intense French artillery fire. Only the 3 knocked out tanks remains on the ground in front of Brindejonc's position. Nepveu continue to fire at them to put them on fire. The rest of the day remains quiet in the area of Louis Brindejonc.
On evening, capitaine Couston-Lemaître visits the AT gun crew and congratulates them for the 3 German tanks still smoking on the battlefield. The night is quiet, only disturbed by the arrival of food supply and later by a Renault UE chenillette delivering 20 Mle1935 light AT mines. The mines are deployed 100m in front of the gun.

On 15th May, around 10h30, Brindejonc witnesses Ju87 dive bombers attacking the rear French lines and the artillery positions until 15h00. Later they bomb the whole French positions. The French air force seems absent to Brindejonc but he sees one Ju87 being shot down by the 20mm Mle1939 AA gun of the battalion.
After the bombing, the Germans renewed their assaults with tanks followed by infantry. During the first 5 minutes of the attack, Brindejonc's 25mm AT gun knocks out a 4th and a 5th tank. Targeting the tank is now easier since he has well visualized the range. Brindejonc notes that these tanks are bigger and heavier than those he had to fight on 14th May. He identifies them quickly as Panzer IIIs, according to the profiles he could study during his instruction. Nonetheless, it is not the type of the tank that amazed him … but their number. About 15 Panzer IIIs are now in front of his position, advancing, stopping to fire, using the ground very well to find hull down positions.
The 25mm AT gun fires continuously but its emplacement remains unspotted by the German tankers and is not directly threatened. The crew of the AT gun is calm, silent and disciplined. The men know their job.
There are only 15 shells left and the fire is stopped until the German tanks leave their concealed positions. Each shell has to hit its target. The AT gun remains silent during about 20 minutes, the German tanks seem not to move anymore.
Brindejonc observes the tanks with his goggles. One previously spotted turret cannot be found anymore, where is this tank now ? The Panzer III moved without being spotted. Suddenly Brindejonc sees one dark shape advancing behind a hedge. Another dark shape is stopped 30m in front of this one. This hedge is perpendicular to the railway and continues until the Sart farm. The railroad must have been crossed at one point at least. These tanks are too far to the left for the traverse of the gun. Lying on the back, the crew rotates the AT gun from several degrees. Nepveu fires on the first tank which burns immediately (probably the fuel tank which has been hit) and within 1 minute the second tank is also knocked out. The 25mm AT gun has scored 7 German tanks [probably 3 Panzer II and 4 Panzer III].

The crew is surprised that none of the tanks managed to spot the AT gun, which was firing at high rate of fire [the flash hider seems indeed very efficient]. The German tanks appeared blind but it is not the case for everyone. A Fi156 Fieseler Storch spotter plane is circling now above the positions of the 1st company at an altitude of about 100m despite the rifles firing at it. After 2 passages over the AT gun he drops a violet smoke dispenser only 20m in front of the AT gun. German mortars open then fire on the AT gun that has finally been discovered. The shells are arriving by groups of 2 or 4. The enemy mortars manage to find the good range to shell the AT gun. One shell hits directly the gun, one body is projected in the air (Lahoucine) and Nepveu is WIA on his back. Ahmed's dismantled body lies on the breech but Brindejonc is safe. The destroyed AT gun is abandoned and the men leave for the medical post under enemy fire. The farmyard is full of splinters. Brindejonc finds Moktar again, lying on a table and having lost a hand. Moktar left the AT gun and managed to reach the Sart farm alone.

French rifle platoons of the first line have retreated to the Sart farm and continue to fight. Adjudant Robert, one of the platoon leaders, is seen lying on a roof and firing on the Germans. Brindejonc is amazed by this image but also by the unusual weapon he was manning: a shotgun. Adjudant Robert is firing with buckshots at German soldiers infiltrating in the gardens next to the farm.
Lieutenant Gaidot, commander of the support company, is also wounded and present in the medical post. He orders Brindejonc to regroup isolated men, about 10 soldiers, and they go all in a stable. Gaidot indicates that the HQ has received a message from capitaine Couston-Lemaître (commander of the 1st rifle company on the first line): "I cannot hold anymore; my platoons are destroyed. If you cannot send reinforcements it will be my last message". The position of capitaine Couston-Lemaître is about 300m in front of the farm. The mission of Louis Brindejonc is now to lead the 10 men to this position to reinforce the 1st company. Suddenly a fireball, a big thunderstrike … and Brindejonc finds himself in the medical post. A German artillery shell or a bomb has hit directly the stable. One part of the farm is burning
French tanks [Renault R35s from the 35e BCC, mistakenly identified by Brindejonc as Hotchkiss H39 tanks] launch a counter-attack in the area, from Cortil-Noirmont to the railroad and the town of Ernage. The French tanks are immediately fired at. Many German shells are hitting them but they simply bounce on the armor and cannot stop them. The Renault R35 tanks go past the Sart farm and bring relief to the French troops there. They pass Brindejonc's previous AT gun emplacement and one of the tank explodes on one of the AT mines laid there by the French gunners ! The Renault R35 tanks are now much closer to the enemy and several are knocked out by German AT or tank guns. The Sart farm is burning and evacuated. The HQ and the medical post move back thanks to the counter-attack led by the French tanks.

Regards,

David
Last edited by David Lehmann on 10 Oct 2005 09:28, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby David Lehmann on 10 Oct 2005 01:10

Canon de 25mm SA Mle1934 (Hotchkiss) L/72
Caliber : 25x194R mm
Crew : 1 NCO + 5 men (commander, gunner, assistant gunner, 3 ammunition bearers) + 1 driver
Weight : 480kg
Length : 3.71m
Width : 1.05m
Height : 1.10m (at the shield)
Protection : the shield is 7mm thick
Barrel length : 1.80m
Rate of fire : 25 rpm against fixed target and 15 rpm against moving target
Traverse : 60°
Elevation : -5° to +15°
Telescopic sight : 4x (L.711 telescopic sight, with a 3450m range drum, field of view 10.13°, V reticle)
V° : 920 m/s
Practical range : 800m (heavy armored vehicles), 1000m (medium armored vehicles) and 1500m (light armoured vehicles and softskins)
Penetration : 40mm/0° at 500m; 32mm/35° at 200m
Accuracy : at 800m HxL = 80cm x 80cm

The French 25mm AT guns were very modern in 1934. About 4500 of these guns were in service in May 1940. They were especially known as being very discreet, the flash hider used on them made them difficult to spot according to both French and German AARs. They proved to be very accurate guns, and able to destroy all the German tanks up to 800m if the impact angle was good enough. Only the PzIV Ausf.D at long range was tricky to be engaged by the 25mm AT gun in May/June 1940 if not at close range. In the first 500m the penetration efficiency was at least equal to the penetration of the 3.7cm L/45 PaK and at longer range the KE felt slightly more rapidly due to the lightweight projectile. The Germans captured such guns in large numbers in 1940 and used them in secondary roles as coastal defence and in some garrisons. Finland used also about 240 of these AT guns.
There were theoretically 12 of these AT guns in each French infantry regiment in 1940 but several regiments had only 4 or no AT gun at all. For example the 55e DI, a reserve division at Sedan, had no AT guns in its infantry regiments, 12 AT guns in divisional AT company, a total of 12 AT guns for the whole division (20-25% of the number of the paper). For the 71e DI the situation was even worse with only 8 AT guns in the same conditions. These units were also deployed on an overstretched front of 20-30 km whereas a division should defend a 5-7 km wide front. The 37mm TR infantry gun was often still in service even in AT role. The 25mm AT gun was lacking HE shells to neutralize human/soft targets and therefore the 37mm TR infantry gun was still liked since it could fire HE shells. About 220 25mm AT guns were also given to the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to increase its firepower, in exchange the British gave the French some Boys AT rifles which were not efficient and had a weaker penetrating power than the Hotchkiss 13.2mm HMG. The two ‘infanterie de l’air’ (airborne infantry) companies and several reconnaissance groups used some of these AT rifles. Each 25mm AT gun crew had 72 AP/APT shells immediately available and a total of 156 AP/APT shells per AT gun in a French 1940 infantry regiment. In typical infantry or cavalry units the 25mm AT guns were generally towed behind a Mle1937 infantry or cavalry trailer with horses. On the front the Renault UE tractor generally towed them. In motorized infantry regiments the towing vehicle was also often the Renault UE tractor and for long-range movements various halftracks and trucks were used. The AT guns could also be directly transported on a truck or towed on additional "wheels" (train rouleur FAR). In the divisional AT company/squadron of motorized units the official towing vehicle could be the Laffly V15T in cavalry units or the Latil M7 T1 in infantry units. The Unic TU1 was also used for that task.
One single 25mm AT gun from 18e GRCA destroyed quickly 7 German tanks of the 1.PzD in Gravelines on 24th May. During the battle of Gembloux, the 25mm SA34 AT gun commanded by Louis Brindejonc (2e RTM) destroyed 7 German tanks. In front of Stonne a Panzer IV from 10.PzD was knocked out by the 25mm AT gun of sergent Durand (67e RI), there are many photos of the same Panzer 35(t) destroyed in Lille by a 25mm AT gun from 46e GRDI (the hole in the front hull armor can clearly be seen) etc. There are many such examples of German tanks being knocked out by the French 25mm AT guns. According to colonel Kühne (3.Panzerbrigade, 3.PzD) : "the accuracy of the French 25mm AT gun is very good. The front hull armor of the Panzer III has been easily penetrated by the excellent French 25mm AT gun. Trials with booty guns proved that the French 25mm AT gun is superior to the German 3.7cm PaK. This 25mm AT gun is very hard to spot because the flash is invisible (flash hider)."

Ammunitions :
Cartouche de 25mm Mle1934 à balle perforante (AP)
Caliber : 25x194R mm
Weight of projectile : 0.320 kg (steel/tungsten core)
Length of projectile : 109 mm
V° = 920 m/s (charge normale = 137g propellant powder)

Cartouche de 25mm Mle1934 à balle traçeuse perforante (charge forte) (APT)
Probably white tracer, tracer effect up to 2000m.

Cartouche de 25mm Mle1934 à balle traçeuse perforante (charge forte) (APT)
Red tracer, tracer effect up to 2000m.


The Panhard 178 armored car had a shortened version of this gun and fired also an other shell :
Cartouche de 25mm Mle1934 à balle perforante (charge forte) (AP)
Caliber : 25x194R mm
Weight of projectile : 0.320 kg (steel/tungsten core)
Length of projectile : 109 mm
V° = 950 m/s (charge forte = 148g propellant powder – more propellant to offset shorter barrel length)
Penetration : 40mm/0° at 500m; 32mm/35° at 200m

German tests : The test was carried out 1/8-1941 with a 2,5cm KwK 121(f) by HWA on a 120 kg/mm2 armor plate (source : "Kennblätter fremden geräts heft 8a, Munition bis 3,6 cm" Released in Berlin 1941).

100 meters = 47mm /0°
500 meters = 40mm /0°
1000 meters = 30mm /0°

100 meters = 35mm /30°
500 meters = 30mm /30°
1000 meters = 20mm /30°

100 meters = 18mm /45°
500 meters = 16mm /45°
1000 meters = 15mm /45°

The French 25mm AT gun was rated by Germans to penetrate any German tanks during battle of France up to 800m, if the impact angle was good enough.

Regards,

David
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Gembloux (14th-15th May 1940)

Postby tigre on 13 Oct 2005 19:06

Thank you for sharing that interesting story David. Take Care. Tigre.
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Postby Musashi on 13 Oct 2005 22:19

David Lehmann wrote:[...]The Panhard 178 armored car had a shortened version of this gun[...]

If I recall correctly H39 tank was also armed with that gun.

Regards,
Krzysiek
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Postby David Lehmann on 13 Oct 2005 23:19

Hello Krzysiek,

The Hotchkiss H39 had either the 37mm SA18 L/21 (80% of them actually) or the 37mm SA38 L/33 but not the 25mm SA35 like on the Panhard 178.

Regards,

David
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