French engineers and pioneers in 1940

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David Lehmann
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French engineers and pioneers in 1940

Post by David Lehmann » 25 Aug 2005 01:11

FRENCH ENGINEERS AND PIONEERS IN 1940


A) THE ENGINEERS

The French engineers can be found in :
- The engineers companies and battalions (sapeurs-mineurs)
- The bridging companies (pontonniers and compagnie d'équipage de ponts)
- The signals units (telegraph, radio, pigeon-carriers) (transmetteurs, télégraphistes, radio-télégraphistes, colombophiles)
- Specific engineer units like the ones for the railways

The tasks of the engineers :
- Destruction (roads, bridges)
- Building / reparation (roads, bridges)
- Crossing of obstacles (destroyed areas, rivers)
- Preparation of fortifications (trenches, field fortification and/or concrete fortifications)
- Camouflage of other units
- Mine laying (AT mines, explosive charges, mine and stake mines using 75mm shells)
- Mine clearing
- Logistics (deployment of signals, water, electricity etc. facilities)

In 1939, the French active army contains 13 engineer regiments (RG = Régiment du Génie), which are generally not endivisioned except :
- The 5e and 15e RG, which form the railway brigade (HQ in Versailles)
- The 8e, 18e, 28e and 38e RG specialized in the signals (telegraph brigade based in Paris)

On 2nd September 1939, the engineer regiments are disbanded and form 17 mobilizing centers. They will create the organic engineer battalions (present in the armies, army corps, divisions and fortified sectors), instruction battalions and reserve units.

On 16th November 1939, the battalions are disbanded and the companies are then officially independent but remain under the command of the engineer HQ at the scale of the division, the army or the army corps.

In 1939-1940 the engineers are present at different levels :

1) ARMY
- 1 army engineer battalion of the "150" series (150 + the number of the army considered) (bataillon de sapeurs-mineurs d'armée)
- 1 railway engineer battalion (bataillon de sapeurs de chemin de fer) (sometimes)
- 1 army bridging battalion (bataillon de sapeurs-pontonniers d'armée)
- 1 army telegraph battalion (bataillon de sapeurs-télégraphistes d'armée)
- 1 army radio company (compagnie radio-télégraphique d'armée)
- 1 army radio direction-finding company (compagnie radiogoniométrique d'armée)
- 1 company of electro-mechanical engineers (compagnie d'électro-mécaniciens)
- 1 army road repair battalion (bataillon de cantonniers d'armée)
-1 army engineer park (parc du génie d'armée)
and several specialized platoons.

2) ARMY CORPS
- 1 army corps engineer battalion of the "100" series (100 + the number of the army corps considered) (bataillon de sapeurs-mineurs de corps d'armée)
- 1 army corps bridging company (compagnie d'équipage de pont de corps d'armée) - 16th company (e.g. 101/16 for the company of the 1st Army Corps).
- 1 army corps telegraph company (compagnie de sapeurs-télégraphistes de corps d'armée) - 81st company
- 1 army corps radio company (compagnie radio-télégraphique de corps d'armée) - 82nd company
- 1 army corps carrier-pigeon detachment (détachement colombophile de corps d'armée) - detachment n°83
- 1 army corps engineer park company (compagnie du parc du génie de corps armée) - 21st company

3) FORTRESS TROOPS
All the fortress engineer units are numbered in the "200" series.

For the fortified regions (RF = region fortifiée)
- 1 fortress engineer battalion (bataillon du génie de forteresse)
- 1-2 companies of electro-mechanical engineers (compagnie d'électro-mécaniciens)
- 1 fortress railway engineer battalion (bataillon de sapeurs de chemin de fer type spécial) (sometimes in 1939)
- 1 telegraph company (compagnie de sapeurs-télégraphistes) - 81st company
- 1 radio company (compagnie radio-télégraphique) - 82nd company
- 1 carrier-pigeon detachment (détachement colombophile) - detachment n°83
- 1 engineer park company (compagnie de parc du génie)

The RF is the equivalent of an army corps and controls 3 (Lauter RF) to 4 (Metz RF) SF (secteurs fortifiés). The Belfort RF controls no SF, only the city of Belfort and the surrounding gap.

The RF are disbanded beginning 1940 and transformed in 6 fortress army corps with :
- 2 fortress engineer companies (compagnie de sapeurs-mineurs de forteresse) (not always)
- 1 fortess telegraph company (compagnie télégraphique de forteresse)
- 1 fortress radio company (compagnie radio-télégraphique de forteresse)
- 1 carrier-pigeon detachment (détachement colombophile de corps d'armée de forteresse)
- 1 fortress army corps park company (compagnie de parc du génie de corps d'armée de forteresse) (not always)

For the fortified / defensive sectors there is generally :
- 1 fortress engineer battalion (bataillon de sapeurs-mineurs de forteresse)
- 1 telegraph company (compagnie de sapeurs-télégraphistes) - 81st company
- 1 radio company (compagnie radio-télégraphique) - 82nd company

For the DIF (division d'infanterie de forteresse) (101e to 105e DIF) there is generally :
- 1 fortress engineer company (compagnie de sapeurs-mineurs de forteresse) (2 companies for the 103e DIF)
- 1 fortress telegraph company (compagnie télégraphique de forteresse) (103e DIF only)
- 1 fortress radio company (compagnie radio-télégraphique de forteresse) (103e DIF only)
- 1 mixed signals company (compagnie mixte de transmission) (104e and 105e DIF only)

During the phoney war, all the engineer battalions are used to reinforce the fortifications on the borders, between the Maginot Line defensive works and on the Maginot Line itself. There are also used to provide advice to other units (infantry, artillery, pioneers). They will build or supervise the building of the MOM and STG fortifications of the Maginot Line (MOM = main d'oeuvre militaire = army craft and STG = service technique du genie = engineer technical service).

Between 1927 and 1935, the CORF (Commision d'Organisation des Régions Fortifiées = commission for the organization of the fortified areas) had built the main defence works of the Maginot Line :
- 46 artillery defence works (23 in the north-east and 23 in the south-east)
- 62 infantry defence works (35 in the north-east and 27 in the south-east)
- 340 big blockhouses/casemates and bunkers
- 17 observation bunkers
- 89 shelter bunkers
- floodable areas, barracks, underground telephone networks, dedicated roads and railroads etc.

After 1935, the CORF had ended its mission. The fortified areas are in charge of the generals in command of theses sectors. Between 1935 and 1940 thousands of smaller and less protected positions were built, mainly small blockhouses in the intervals between the bigger defence works. They were erected by regular troops and reservists with the direct or indirect help of the engineer battalions. These new bunkers are supposed to give more depth in the defensive line of the Maginot Line.

The engineers also dig trench networks, protected by barbed wire and including shelters, observation posts etc.

After what happened in Poland, the engineers have also the special task to prepare anti-tank ditches, anti-tank blockades (iron barriers, rails/stakes networks, minefields etc.) and to prepare the mining of many roads and bridges that should be ready to be blown immediately if needed.

4) DIVISION

"NORTH EAST" INFANTRY DIVISION :
- 1 engineer battalion (bataillon de sapeurs-mineurs) with 2 companies
- 1 telegraph company – 81st company
- 1 radio company – 82nd company
- (1 divisional engineer park) according to the 1936 manual, not found in Lee Sharp's TO&E (perhaps a misunderstanding on my side)

MOTORIZED INFANTRY DIVISION :
- 1 motorized engineer battalion (bataillon de sapeurs-mineurs motorisé) with 2 companies
- 1 telegraph company – 81st company
- 1 radio company – 82nd company
- (1 divisional engineer park) according to the 1936 manual, not found in Lee Sharp's TO&E (perhaps a misunderstanding on my side)


DIVISION LEGERE DE CAVALERIE (DLC) :
- 1 motorized engineer company (compagnie de sapeurs-mineurs portés), completely motorized
- 1 mixed signals company (compagnie mixte de transmission

DIVISION LEGERE MECANIQUE (DLM) :
- 1 reinforced engineer battalion (bataillon de sapeurs-mineurs renforcé) with 3 completely motorized companies (compagnie de sapeurs-mineurs portés) and 1 bridging company (compagnie d'équipage de pont 1935)
- 1 telegraph company – 81st company
- 1 radio company – 82nd company
- 1 carrier-pigeon detachment (détachement colombophile) - detachment n°83

DIVISION CUIRASSEE DE RESERVE (DCR) :
- 1 motorized engineer company (compagnie de sapeurs-mineurs portés), completely motorized
- 1 mixed signals company (compagnie mixte de transmission


a) the engineer battalion (bataillon de sapeurs-mineurs) of the infantry divisions
In a typical "North East" infantry division, the battalion includes 2 companies. According to Lee Sharp these companies have a total of 10 officers, 50 NCOs, 504 corporals and men = 564 soldiers. These 2 companies include 76 horses, 36 wagons, 10 motor vehicles and 12 bicycles.
In a motorized infantry division, the battalion includes 2 motorized companies. Still according to Lee Sharp, these 2 companies have a total of 10 officers, 50 NCOs, 464 corporals and men = 554 soldiers. They include also 28 motor vehicles, 16 motorcycles and 16 bicycles.

According to "manuel du gradé du génie" (1936), the engineer battalion is composed of :
- Battalion Headquarters (battalion staff and command platoon)
- 2 engineer companies each with :
--o 1 command platoon
--o 4 engineer platoons each with 3 squads

Each company includes : 5 officers, 25 NCOs, 26 corporals and 232 men = 288 men.
There are also 44 horses and 16 wagons (8 with technical equipments) :
- Wagons n°1-4 (1 per platoon) : tools, equipments, various parts etc. (200x 135g explosive charges and 144x 100g explosive charges)
- Wagons n°5-8 (1 per platoon) : bridging equipments and other tools (1x 10kg explosive charges, 12x 1kg explosive charges, 275x 135g explosive charges, 48x 100g explosive charges and 50x 60g explosive charges)
- Wagon n°9 : forge / ironworks and signal equipments
- Wagon n°10 : protection equipments against poison gas
- Wagon n°11 : protection equipments against poison gas and luggage
- Wagons n°12-13 : MG carrier wagons, each with one MG on tripod and 2100 cartridge (including flexible belts of 251 cartridges, perhaps 2 per MG like in the infantry units).
- Wagon n° 14 : ammunition (including 3600 cartridges)
- Wagon n°15 : field kitchen
- Wagon n°16 : 200-300 l water tank

For the 2 companies that would be 576 men, 88 horses and 32 wagons. The men and equipments from the HQ and command platoon are not listed here. That gives a slightly different figure from the numbers given by Lee Sharp.

In "aide-mémoire de l'officier de réserve d'infanterie" (1940), the engineer company is simply said to have 280 men and 23 wagons + trailers (15 with technical equipments). That would be 560 men and 46 wagons + trailers for the two companies. Again an other composition.

The armament consists mainly in small arms (revolvers / pistols for the officers and rifles / carbines for the men). There are also 2 Hotchkiss Mle1914 MGs or Saint-Etienne Mle1907 MGs on tripod in each company, probably used for self-protection and AAMGs during transport.
One engineer battalion has at least 868 kg explosive (generally melenite charges, 434 kg in each company and 108 kg in each platoon). There are additional explosive charges (346 kg) in the engineer park company of the division. They can have a number of AT mines and a number of B5 Mle1935 smoke dispensers (15kg) to create smoke screens.


According to "Aide-Mémoire pour les Travaux d'État-Major" (1939) the engineer battalion in a typical "North East" infantry division consists in :
- Headquarters with 2 officers, 8 NCOs / corporals / men, 2 horses, 1 liaison car, 1 truck, 2 motorcycles / side-cars
- engineer companies, each with 5 officers, 275 NCOs / corporals / men, 40 horses, 18 wagons, 1 liaison car and 4 trucks, 2 bicycles [2 medium machine guns].
That makes a total for the battalion of 570 soldiers, 82 horses, 3 liaison cars, 9 trucks, 2 motorcycles / side-cars and 2 bicycles.

In the motorized infantry divisions, the motorized engineer battalion consists in :
- Headquarters with 2 officers, 10 NCOs / corporals / men, 1 liaison car, 1 truck, 3 motorcycles / side-cars
- engineer companies, each with 5 officers, 270 NCOs / corporals / men, 2 liaison cars, 12 trucks, 2 motorcycles, 6 side-cars, 8 bicycles and 1 field kitchen trailer [2 medium machine guns].
Among the 12 trucks, there are :
- 1 truck with gas warfare and signals equipments
- 1 truck with the 2 MGs and ammunition
- 1 truck with food and luggage
- 2 supply trucks
That makes a total for the battlalion of 562 soldiers, 5 liaison cars, 25 trucks, 7 motorcycles, 12 side-cars, 16 bicycles and 2 field kitchens.

According to Leland Ness and a document from the SHAT entitled "Composition de la Division d'Infanterie 1939-40", the strength of an engineer company is 5 officers, 25 NCOs, 27 corporals and 225 men = 282 men. There are also 38 horses, 18 wagons, 1 liaison car, 4 light trucks and 6 bicycles. The armament includes 240 rifles, no LMGs but 2 MGs mounted on tripod. For the 2 companies of the battalion that would lead to 564 men, 76 horses and 36 wagons as indicated by Lee Sharp. There are the additional men and vehicles/horses from the HQ. The company in the motorized division is identical, except for the transport : 2 field cars, 12 light trucks and 8 motorcycles.

b) The divisional engineer park (?)
1 officer, 8 NCOs, 4 corporals and 71 men = 84 soldiers
2 liaison cars, 5 wagons and 2 light trucks.
The park is organized in 3 platoons :
- Permanent machinery and tools (9 kW generating set etc.)
- Re-supply for immediate tasks (includes 1296 100g explosive charges and 1600 135g explosive charges, cables, igniters, tools, etc.)
- Supply reserves (tools, signal equipments and cables, batteries, gas protection equipments etc.)


Note about AT mines and explosive charges in the typical "North East" infantry division :
There are about 1500 AT mines the infantry regiments. The GRDI has about 580 AT mines and the engineer battalion has also a number of AT mines available. There are therefore at least 2080 AT mines in the infantry division.
There are at least 324 explosive charges (135g) in the infantry regiments. The GRDI has 300 kg explosives and the engineer battalion has at least 868 kg explosive charges (434 kg in each company and 108kg in each platoon) :
- 10kg charge : 8 (plus probably a few 20 kg charge at the battalion level)
- 1kg charge : 96
- 135g charge : 3800
- 100g charge : 1536
- 60g charge : 400
"Aide-mémoire" pour les travaux d'état major (1939)" mentions 450 kg explosives for each engineer company (900 kg for the battalion). There are therefore about 1211-1243 kg explosives available in the whole infantry division.
There are also 1296 100g charges and 1600 135g charges in the engineer park company of the division (346 kg explosives).


Note about AT mines and explosive charges in the motorized infantry division :
There are about 4500 AT mines the infantry regiments. The BDAC has 700 AT mines, the GRDI about 580 AT mines and the CDAC about 3500 AT mines. The engineer battalion has also a number of AT mines available. There are therefore at least 9280 AT mines in the motorized infantry division.
There are at least 324 explosive charges (135g) in the infantry regiments. The GRDIm has 150 kg explosives and the motorized engineer battalion has about 900 kg explosive charges (450 kg in each company). There are therefore about 1094 kg explosives available in the whole motorized infantry division. There are also 1296 100g charges and 1600 135g charges in the engineer park company of the division (346 kg explosives).



c) The completely motorized company (compagnie de sapeurs-mineurs portés) that can be found in the DLC, DLM and DCR is composed of 4 officers and 185 NCOs / corporals / men = 189 soldiers. There are 1 all-terrain reconnaissance car, 12 all-terrain trucks/tractors, 15 trucks, 47 motorcycles, 10 side-cars and 27 trailers (including 1 field kitchen trailer and 4 for explosives).

1 platoon is carried by all-terrain trucks/tractors, 1 platoon is carried by trucks and the third platoon is on 33 motorcycles + 3 side-cars. Among the trucks, there are :
- 1 truck with gas warfare and signals equipments
- 1 truck with food and luggage
- 3 truck transporting explosive charges
- 2 trucks for equipments and tools, including 1 field workshop truck
Such a company has 3000 kg explosive charges (6.7 times more than the other engineer companies).

d) The 1935 bridging company (compagnie d'équipage de pont 1935) is composed of 3 officers and 130 NCOs / corporals / men = 133 soldiers. There are 3 cars, 4 all-terrain tractors, 37 trucks or all-terrain tractors and 32 trailers (24 long and 8 short). There are numerous equipments to build different types of bridges, 22 barges and 8 propellers. Among the trucks there are :
- 4 truck with gas warfare, signals equipments, food and luggage
- 1 fuel tank truck
- 1 field workshop truck
The all-terrain tractors could be Unic P107 BU (engineer version) halftracks.

Such a company is able to built a complete bridge for vehicles of :
- 8 tons (180 m long) with 100 men + 1 men / 1 meter at the speed of 3 minutes / meter
- 13 tons (142 m long) with 150 men + 1 men / 2 meters at the speed of 5 minutes / meter
- 18 tons (104 m long) with 150 men + 1 men / 1 meter at the speed of 6 minutes / meter
They can also just use barges, built wider barges or built infantry footbridges.

The heavier "compagnie d'équipage de pont FCM" has different equipments and a different composition. It is able to build heavier bridges :
- 16 tons (132 m long) with 150 men + 1 men / 1 meter at the speed of 6 minutes / meter
- 21 tons (110 m long) with 150 men + 1 men / 1 meter at the speed of 8 minutes / meter
- 44 tons (61 m long) with 150 men + 1 men / 1 meter at the speed of 15 minutes / meter
I was not able to clearly identify the equipments that were used, which are these FCM vehicles for example.

Unlike these companies, the bridging company that can be found (as company or in battalions) at the army and army corps level are not motorized (compagnie d'équipage de pont 1901, compagnie de sapeurs-pontonniers, compagnie de sapeurs de ponts lourds).

Concerning the river crossing issues, one can also note the presence of the Habert bags (sacs Habert). These bags are filled with 80-100 kg hay or branches by 6 men in 20 minutes. They can be used as basis to build footbridges (1 bag every 4 meters) but they can also be used like inflatable boats and enable groups of soldiers to cross a river. They can be found in engineer companies but also in the reconnaissance "battalions". The number of available Habert bags is following :
- An engineer company of an infantry division : 12 Habert bags
- A completely motorized engineer company : 29 Habert bags
- GRDI : 12 Habert bags
- GRDIm : 30 Habert bags

Characteristics of the Habert bag :
- Weight (empty) : 6 kg
- Length : 2.70 m
- Width : 1.15 m
- Thickness : 0.30 m

Carry capacity :
- 1 bag : 400 kg and room for 4 men
- 2 bags : 800 kg for crossing of a MG trailer or a squad
- 3 bags : 1200 kg for crossing of 1 side-car with its crew or a squad with full equipment
- 5 bags : 2000 kg for crossing of a 75mm Mle1897 gun
- 7 bags : 3000 kg for crossing of a Citroën-Kégresse P19 halftrack


B) THE PIONEERS

The French pioneers can be found in companies, battalions and regiments (only building, support of other units and logistics), which are in fact part of the infantry and not of the engineers.
Beside the divisional pioneer companies that can be found in the infantry divisions, there are pioneer regiments (RP = Régiment de Pionniers) attached to the armies. They are in fact part of the infantry and not of the engineers. There are not really combat units, their main aim is building, support of other units and logistics :
- Building of field fortifications, AT ditches etc. or heavier concrete fortifications
- Building of air strips/bases
- Various works in the forests (lumbering)
- Organizing the defense against the poison gas
- Camouflage of other units
- Building / deployment of medical posts and field hospitals
- Building of fuel and ammunition dumps
- Handling / packing works

In 1939-1940 the pioneers are present at different levels :

1) ARMY : 3 Pioneer regiments (régiments de pionniers)
There are 3 RP in each army, numbered in "400" series, ending with the number of the army (e.g. 401e, 411e and 421e RP are from the 1st Army).

2) ARMY CORPS : 1 Pioneer regiment (régiment de pionniers)
There is 1 RP in each army corps, numbered in "600" series with the number of the army corps (e.g. 616e RP is from the 16th Army Corps). The 622e RP is an exception, it is for the colonial army corps.

3) GENERAL RESERVE :
There are also pioneer regiments in the general reserve, numbered in "400" series : 431e to 439e RP, 441e to 446e RP and 481e to 486e colonial RP.

4) FORTRESS TROOPS
- For the fortified regions (RF = region fortifiée) : 1 Pioneer regiment (régiment de pionniers)
- For the fortress army corps : 1 Pioneer battalion (bataillon de pionniers)
- For the fortified / defensive sectors there is generally : 1 Pioneer battalion (bataillon de pionniers)
There is 1 RP for each "region fortifiée", also numbered in "400" series : 400e, 440e and 460e RP. They are deployed in 1 battalion for each "secteur defensif" or "secteur fortifié". The 450e RP is for example issued to the "secteur defensif des Alpes maritimes".

During the phoney war, the pioneers were used like the engineers to reinforce the fortifications on the borders and to complete the Maginot Line.

The pioneer regiments consist in 1 Headquarters Company and 3 battalions with each 4 companies. The 12 companies are numbered from 1 to 12. Each company has about 190 men and a whole RP has about 2,400 men. Note that 3 of the 4 regiments issued to fortified areas have more than 3 battalions : the 400e and 460e RP with 4 battalions and the 440e RP with 5 battalions.

The pioneer regiments are in fact depending from the infantry and not from the engineers. Several of these regiments fought rather well in 1940. Their armament is limited to small arms, mainly Lebel Mle1886/93 or Berthier rifles for the troops and revolvers for the officers. Several regiments have also few FM 1915 Chauchat LMGs, Hotchkiss Mle1914 MGs (or Saint-Etienne Mle1907 MGs) and more rarely FM Mle1924/29 LMGs. For example the 427e RP had on 23rd September 1939 a total of 2,380 men armed with 2,322 rifles, 48 revolvers and 24 LMGs (probably 2 LMG per company). The pioneer regiments have only few motor vehicles : a staff car and several light trucks. Most of the equipment is carried by horse/mules and wagons.

Beside these pioneer regiments there were also 2 independent colonial pioneer battalions.


At the mobilization there are 67 pioneer regiments in the French Army :
- 21 in the Armies
- 21 in the Army Corps
- 21 in the general reserve (including 6 colonial RP)
- 4 for the fortified areas


5) INFANTRY DIVISION ("NORTH EAST" INFANTRY DIVISION or MOTORIZED INFANTRY DIVISION) : 1 divisional pioneer company - 13th company from an infantry regiment or 5th company from a chasseurs battalion.

Unlike the engineer battalion of the division, the pioneer company is just responsible for the construction needs of the division; it isn't really a combat unit. The company is linked to the senior regiment of the division.
In a typical "North East" infantry division, the company includes 3 officers, 16 NCOs, 19 corporals and 181 men = 219 soldiers. Beside the rifles and pistols/revolvers they have only 2 FM 1915 Chauchat LMGs. The company includes also 7 horses, 3 wagons, 2 trucks, 2 motorcycles and 3 bicycles.
In a motorized infantry division, the company includes 3 officers, 16 NCOs, 19 corporals and 180 men = 218 soldiers. Beside the rifles and pistols/revolvers they have only 2 FM 1915 Chauchat LMGs. The company includes also 1 car, 3 trucks, 1 heavy truck, 2 motorcycles and 3 bicycles.


SOURCES :
"Aide-mémoire de l'officier de réserve d'infanterie" (Lieutenant-Colonel Arendt, 1940)
"Manuel du gradé d'infanterie" (Ministère de la Guerre, 1940)
"Manuel du gradé du génie" (Ministère de la Guerre, 1936)
"Aide-mémoire pour les travaux d'état-major" (Ecole Supérieure de Guerre, 1939)
"The French army 1939-1940 – organisation, order of battle, operational history" (Lee Sharp)
Militaria magazine n°236 and n°239
Histoire de guerre magazine n°32


Regards,

David

WSchneck
Member
Posts: 53
Joined: 05 Apr 2005 17:17
Location: Lake Ridge

French Engineer Equipment

Post by WSchneck » 21 Oct 2005 19:11

Can anyone help me with the following:
How many M1935 and M1936 AT mines the French had in May 1940?
How many M1939 AP mines the French had in May 1940?
How many were used, their method and location of employment, and tactical effect?

Thanks.

User avatar
David Lehmann
Member
Posts: 2863
Joined: 01 Apr 2002 10:50
Location: France

Post by David Lehmann » 21 Oct 2005 21:00

Hello,

I am unable to give you the production numbers I never saw a document mentioning them.

1) Anti-tank stakes or "piquet Ollivier" :

This was an improvised AT mine using a 3.5kg explosive charge or an old 120mm artillery shell (4.2kg explosive) dug vertically in the ground, with a 1m stake attached to the explosive charge or fuze. A tank hitting it would detonate the charge or shell. The "piquet Ollivier" was directed against the wheels, tracks and bottom armor of the tanks when they rolled over it. This device was mainly used in the Maginot line, it was often hidden in bushes and hedges but mainly deployed around the fortifications :
• among the rails of anti-tank obstacle
• among the stacks of barbed wire networks

2) Anti-tank mines

Mine anti-char légère Mle1935/1936 (light AT mine) - German : lePzMi 407(f) -
Length : 240mm
Width : 140mm
Height : 114mm
Weight : 6.6kg
Type of filling : picric acid (about 3kg explosive)
Firing pressure : 190-225kg
On 10th May 1940, the French army should have had 500,000 of these AT mines for its motorized units but only 440,000 had been delivered.

Mine anti-char lourde Mle1939 (I think so) (heavy AT mines) - German : sPzMi 420(f) -
Length : 406mm
Width : 254mm
Height : 120mm
Weight : 12kg (about 6kg explosive)
Type of filling : picric acid
Firing pressure : 363kg

French had AT mines, despite the popular misconception, and these were quite commonly issued and used during the campaign and not only by engineer units but for example all cavalry, reconnaissance, mechanized or motorized infantry battalions were equipped with AT-mines. At least two types of AT mines were available.

A typical 'north-east' type motorized infantry division had at least about 9280 AT mines : about 4500 AT mines the infantry regiments, the BDAC has 700 AT mines (2 lorries transporting 350 AT mines each), the GRDI has about 580 AT mines and the CDAC has about 3500 AT mines (if I am not wrong with this estimated number, they were transported in 10 light trucks). The engineer battalion has also probably a number of AT mines available.

A typical 'north-east' type infantry division had at least 2080 AT mines : about 1500 AT mines the infantry regiments, the GRDI has about 580 AT mines and the engineer battalion has also probably a number of AT mines available.

The French doctrine planned the deployment of 1370 mines/km on 1 row or 2740 mines/km on 2 staggered rows. The mines were placed in linear groups of 5 on a length of 2.50m, the groups being separated by 1.40m gaps. Such a minefield was usually prepared in 8 hours.

From a temporary table of regulation issue of AT mines for cavalry units, dated 3rd February 1939 (often even 1 AT mine per side-car)
- a cavalry/Spahis regiment (horse-mounted cavalry) had 448 AT mines
- an armored car regiment (RAM) had 342 AT mines
- a Dragons Portés (motorized infantry) regiment had 404 AT mines
- the divisional 25mm AT gun squadron in a DLC or a DLM had 248 AT mines
- a tank regiment from a DLM had 140 AT mines
etc.

They were used extensively at Gembloux where they formed an integrated part of the overwhelmingly successful AT defense and at this defensive area the German never break through the French lines. Numerous mines were laid before the battle. One account by Louis Brindejonc, commanding a 25mm SA34 AT gun mentions a Renault UE chenillette coming up to resupply them during a pause in the battle. As well as ammunition it brought 20 Mle1935 light AT mines. The mines are deployed 100m in front of their position.

At Sedan thousands of AT mines had been laid months before the campaign. Unfortunately they were reported to have been adversely affected by damp and so were dug up to be fixed. Sadly time did not permit them to be laid again, which was kind of unfortunate. The Germans also later extensively used French captured AT mines, especially during the battles in North Africa.

One can also mention the fortified houses in front of the Maginot line. Located close to the border and on the edge of towns bordering Germany, they have to control all approaches. They were designed to provide early warning of a potential enemy attack. Their main mission is to activate explosive charges to destroy or block accesses, roads, bridges etc. and to warn the rear lines (direct telephone line, liaison motorcycle).

Each of the fortified house consists in :
• a bunker surmounted by a house (or two bunkers side by side with a house) and surrounded by a barbed wire fence
• an armored barrier on the road, manned from inside the bunker
• 100x AT mines
• 20x AT stakes or "piquets Ollivier"

• barbed wire networks

6 soldiers inside the bunker equipped with :
• 1x 37mm AT gun
• 2-4x FM 24/29 LMGs
• 2x VB launchers (rifle grenade)
• crenels for the small arms (rifles, carbines)
• 2x "goulotte lance-grenade" : a very close defense device to eject defensive F1 hand grenades around the bunker without exposing the soldiers.
• 1x liaison motorcycle


3) Anti-personnel mine, bounding, Mle1939

This AP mine is designed to throw a 60mm mortar bomb (the 60 mm mortar bomb was prefragmentated) into the air so that it will explode at a height of between 0.5m and 2.0m. The flash from the cap in the igniter fires the propelling charge. The gases produced from this charge expand into the space in the base of the projector tube and throw up the pressed steel cap together with the mortar bomb screwed to it. At the same time the delay pellet is ignited and after a delay of about 1/5th second the detonator and bomb are exploded.
The mine consists of a steel 60.3 mm bore tube closed at its upper end by a cap, with a rubber sealing washer, which is held in position by clips. At its lower end it is closed by a machined base plate, driven in position and fixed by dowels, into which is screwed a flash tube. An igniter adapter is screwed on to the open end of the flash tube. Located in the flash tube is a propelling charge, consisting of 0.8g of black powder. Inside the projector tube, the pressed steel cap, to which is welded the fuze holder is a push fit over the base plate. The fuze holder is threaded externally to fit into the mortar bomb and internally to take the holder containing a detonator. The bush containing a delay pellet is screwed into the fuse holder. There is a small distance piece to prevent the detonator from being screwed down on to the delay pellet. The projector tube and flash tube are fixed to a rectangular plate. This plate is designed to fit over the hole, in which the lower part of the mine is placed, to ensure that the mine remains vertical and also to prevent it from sinking if it is used with a pressure igniter. A winged plug is provided to screw into the tail of the bomb to assist screwing it on to the fuze assembly. The later US M2A4 anti-personnel mine (standard issue for the US Army during the early 50's) is almost an exact twin of the French one.

This AP mine was used by the French troops at least during the phoney war, along the Maginot line, and later during the 1940 western campaign. I have found 3 mentions of it in various books, including one groupe franc patrol using it in front of the Maginot line in 1939. In one case the description was clearly this AP mine. I have also seen a British document dated from 1944, with photos of these mines which were found in a forest during the liberation.
In "Denkschrift über die französiche Landesbefestigung" (OKH, 1.10.1941, Berlin) there is a very long study of all the components of the Maginot line. Concerning the mines the Germans mention :
- the 2 AT mines
- the "piquet Ollivier" (but they write Oliver)
- the AP bouncing mine
- fragmentation mines = F1 defensive grenades in the barbed wire networks as booby traps
- derivating naval mines in the Rhine
I guess this should be a good evidence of the use of these mines on the front.

Regards,

David

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Re: French engineers and pioneers in 1940

Post by Loïc » 17 Nov 2009 18:22

nice thread
about the little known Pioneers few words more

B) THE PIONEERS

The French pioneers can be found in companies, battalions and regiments (only building, support of other units and logistics), which are in fact part of the infantry and not of the engineers.
Beside the divisional pioneer companies that can be found in the infantry divisions, there are pioneer regiments (RP = Régiment de Pionniers) attached to the armies. They are in fact part of the infantry and not of the engineers. There are not really combat units, their main aim is building, support of other units and logistics :
- Building of field fortifications, AT ditches etc. or heavier concrete fortifications
- Building of air strips/bases
- Various works in the forests (lumbering)
- Organizing the defense against the poison gas
- Camouflage of other units
- Building / deployment of medical posts and field hospitals
- Building of fuel and ammunition dumps
- Handling / packing works

In 1939-1940 the pioneers are present at different levels :

1) ARMY : 3 Pioneer regiments (régiments de pionniers)
There are 3 RP in each army, numbered in "400" series, ending with the number of the army (e.g. 401e, 411e and 421e RP are from the 1st Army).

2) ARMY CORPS : 1 Pioneer regiment (régiment de pionniers)
There is 1 RP in each army corps, numbered in "600" series with the number of the army corps (e.g. 616e RP is from the 16th Army Corps). The 622e RP is an exception, it is for the colonial army corps.

3) GENERAL RESERVE :
There are also pioneer regiments in the general reserve, numbered in "400" series : 431e to 439e RP, 441e to 446e RP and 481e to 486e colonial RP.

4) FORTRESS TROOPS
- For the fortified regions (RF = region fortifiée) : 1 Pioneer regiment (régiment de pionniers)
- For the fortress army corps : 1 Pioneer battalion (bataillon de pionniers)
- For the fortified / defensive sectors there is generally : 1 Pioneer battalion (bataillon de pionniers)
There is 1 RP for each "region fortifiée", also numbered in "400" series : 400e, 440e and 460e RP. They are deployed in 1 battalion for each "secteur defensif" or "secteur fortifié". The 450e RP is for example issued to the "secteur defensif des Alpes maritimes".

During the phoney war, the pioneers were used like the engineers to reinforce the fortifications on the borders and to complete the Maginot Line.

The pioneer regiments consist in 1 Headquarters Company and 3 battalions with each 4 companies. The 12 companies are numbered from 1 to 12. Each company has about 190 men and a whole RP has about 2,400 men. Note that 3 of the 4 regiments issued to fortified areas have more than 3 battalions : the 400e and 460e RP with 4 battalions and the 440e RP with 5 battalions.

The pioneer regiments are in fact depending from the infantry and not from the engineers. Several of these regiments fought rather well in 1940. Their armament is limited to small arms, mainly Lebel Mle1886/93 or Berthier rifles for the troops and revolvers for the officers. Several regiments have also few FM 1915 Chauchat LMGs, Hotchkiss Mle1914 MGs (or Saint-Etienne Mle1907 MGs) and more rarely FM Mle1924/29 LMGs. For example the 427e RP had on 23rd September 1939 a total of 2,380 men armed with 2,322 rifles, 48 revolvers and 24 LMGs (probably 2 LMG per company). The pioneer regiments have only few motor vehicles : a staff car and several light trucks. Most of the equipment is carried by horse/mules and wagons.

Beside these pioneer regiments there were also 2 independent colonial pioneer battalions.


At the mobilization there are 67 pioneer regiments in the French Army :
- 21 in the Armies
- 21 in the Army Corps
- 21 in the general reserve (including 6 colonial RP)
- 4 for the fortified areas
a total of 76 Pioneer Regiments were raised, 410e and 487e Colonial in may-june 1940
there were Pioneer Battalions too :
-29 North African Pioneer Battalions, 41e to 49e 51e 53e 55e Algerian* sent to France (*44e & 48e Tunisian)
-8 Battalions for each Regulating Station
-631e Malagasy and 2 Indochinese Battalions in the Levant
-a 1st Foreign Volunteers Pioneers Battalion raised in may-june 1940

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Re: French engineers and pioneers in 1940

Post by Kelvin » 09 May 2016 19:08

Did French divisonal engineer company had any flamethrower ?

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Re: French engineers and pioneers in 1940

Post by Loïc » 09 May 2016 23:50

hello,
there were specialized engineer companies for this arm during the Great War in both 22nd and 40th Engineer Battalion, but I think strongly that a such weapon was not really in service in the French Army in 1939-1940 or not at a large scale

Lee Sharp found that there were 1381 flamethrowers in stock in december 1939 and it seems that 550 of them were delivered to four Armies (300 for the 2nd Army, 100 for the 3rd, 50 for the 4th, 100 for the 5th)

addenda about my last post
the number of North African Pioneer Battalions should be around 23 raised instead of 29 as some of them were renumbered twice

Regards
Loïc L.

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Re: French engineers and pioneers in 1940

Post by Kelvin » 10 May 2016 06:05

Hi, Lioc, thank so much for your information. But on the other side, German pionier batailon had 6 flamethrower and two 8 cm mortar. French sapper company only had two Hotchkiss mle 1914 MG , was less powerful. French sapper company should have a lot of antitank mines, but forum did not have figures on that, while divisonal antitank company was abundant in stock of antitank mines, over 3,500 each company. :o

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Re: French engineers and pioneers in 1940

Post by Kelvin » 11 May 2016 18:52

The motorized engineer company of DLM had 3,000 kg explosive charges, anyone know how can they distributed : like how many each types of explosive charges distributed like 60g, 100g and 135g something like that ?

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Re: French engineers and pioneers in 1940

Post by Kelvin » 27 Jan 2018 08:19

Hi, Loic, is it motorized engineer company of DIM 's 14 motor vehicles carried the same quantity of explosives as 16 wagons of engineer company of DI ? Thank

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Re: French engineers and pioneers in 1940

Post by Loïc » 28 Jan 2018 03:28

hello

I don't think as shows the initial post giving details about the endowment in explosives found in various French Army documents, such companies had more than the usual limited to ~420 kg per company

from the Vade-vecum de l'officier subalterne du génie (sapeur-mineur) the detail for these 420 kg, actually 433,3 kg with two hundred not included 60 gr. petards, total similar to that announced above (434 kg) by the Aide-mémoire de l'officier de réserve d'infanterie
explo.PNG
Regards
Loïc
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Re: French engineers and pioneers in 1940

Post by Kelvin » 28 Jan 2018 06:41

Loïc wrote:hello

I don't think as shows the initial post giving details about the endowment in explosives found in various French Army documents, such companies had more than the usual limited to ~420 kg per company

from the Vade-vecum de l'officier subalterne du génie (sapeur-mineur) the detail for these 420 kg, actually 433,3 kg with two hundred not included 60 gr. petards, total similar to that announced above (434 kg) by the Aide-mémoire de l'officier de réserve d'infanterie
explo.PNG
Regards
Loïc
Hi, Loic, thank for your chart, very helpful. Is it mean both engineer company of DI and DIM had same quantity of explosves charges carried in their companies ? And I am curious that engineer company did not have stock of antitank mines while antitank mines located in other divisional units like CDAC. Thank

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Re: French engineers and pioneers in 1940

Post by Kelvin » 29 Jan 2018 08:09

Hi, Loic, did French army has equipment chart like you posted in previous post on full motorized engineer company of DCR, DLM and DLC ? Thank

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Re: French engineers and pioneers in 1940

Post by Loïc » 29 Jan 2018 18:12

hello
maybe but I didn't find it yet, e.g. this last source presented only the "normal" basic sapper-miner company

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Re: French engineers and pioneers in 1940

Post by Kelvin » 30 Jan 2018 08:10

Hi, Loic, thank. DLM and DCR engineer company had so much explosives (7.6 times than normal engineer company) I just want to find out how small unit bring so many thing.

Also RI of DIM was authorized to have extra 3 x 81mm mortar, 6 x 60mm mortar, 18 x Hotchkiss 1914 mle 8mm MG and 72 x FM-24/29 LMG in battalion and company level, is it only in theory ? because even they have extra weapon, they need men to handle it, like mortar crews or MG crews, it needs time to train before war.

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