Tanks casualties in 1940 - new data about French losses

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David Lehmann
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Tanks casualties in 1940 - new data about French losses

Post by David Lehmann » 18 Nov 2005 16:42

Hello,

Probably not 150% accurate for all the numbers but it gives a good overall idea. Thanks to William Schneck I have a better idea of the number of French tank losses and of the causes of these losses.

--- NUMBER OF TANKS ---

On 10th May 1940, there are 2636 German tanks, 99 Panzerjäger I, 24 Sturmgeschütze, 38 15cm s.I.G.33 auf Pz.Kpfw.I, 6 8.8cm FlaK (Sfl) auf Sd.Kfz. 8 and at least 917 armored cars for a total of 3720 AFVs. 965 tanks are armed with a 3.7cm or 7.5cm gun, 99 Panzerjäger I with a 4.7cm gun and 24 StuG III with a 7.5cm gun. That leads to 1088 German AFVs armed with a good AT capacity (not counting the 6 8.8cm self-propelled AT guns).

On 10th May are 2352 modern French tanks (2822 tanks with the obsolete FT17 and FCM-2C tanks) and about 609 armored cars or light reconnaissance tanks (330 armored cars and 279 light tanks). That makes 3101 French tanks (if the 279 AMR33/35s are counted as tanks) :
· only about 480 French tanks armed with a 47mm SA35 (including the B1bis tanks with their 75mm hull gun)
· about 350 which have a 37mm SA38 gun.
· from the about 279 AMR33/35s, 259 are only armed with a single 7.5mm or 13.2mm MG and 20 AMR35 have a 25mm SA35 gun (AMR35 ZT2 and ZT3).
That makes 850 French tanks (27%) with an excellent to good anti-tank capacity.

The huge majority of the French tanks (2251 tanks) are light tanks armed with the 37mm SA18 gun or only MGs. The 37mm SA18 gun can be used at 300-400m against the Panzer I and Panzer II but to knock out a Panzer III Ausf.E/F (the previous models are less armored and easier to destroy) or a Panzer IV Ausf.C/D, they have to get as close as < 25-100m, whereas the enemy can destroy them at about 300m (3.7cm KwK) to 500m (7.5cm KwK) and even from longer range if you consider the obsolete Renault FT17.

On 10th May 1940, the British armored units add only 23 tanks having an AT capacity (Matilda II) and the Belgian armored units add 50 light tanks and 228 tank destroyers for a total of 1109 allied AFVs with a good to very good AT capacity.

But note that the German AFVs have an armor of 13-30mm (except the StuG III) whereas the French tanks (except the obsolete ones) have generally 40-60mm armor (35mm for the hull of the Hotchkiss H35).

There are comparable numbers of allied and German tanks with about 3000 tanks. If all the AFVs are counted there are 4112 allied vs 3720 German AFVs, with the obsolete French FT17 and FCM-2C tanks being counted (3642 allied vs 3720 German AFVs without them). This apparent "equality" in the number of tanks is purely mathematical and just taken as such by many people. In the facts it is completely false.

All the about 3000 German tanks are concentrated in the 10 Panzerdivisionen unlike only about 960 French tanks in the DCR/DLM. Each DCR/DLM has less tanks than a Panzerdivision : there are roughly 10x300 German tanks against 6x160 French tanks and many dispersed battalions. That was the reality on the battlefield. The British 1st AD, which arrives during May 1940, concentrated the cruiser tanks but did not really change the balance and was quickly neutralized. All the Belgian tanks were dispersed in small numbers in their infantry divisions, the highest number of Belgian tanks could be found in the 1e division de chasseurs ardennais with about 50 AFVs. During the battle the Belgian AFVs were generally dispersed in groups of 2-4 AFVs.

In the DLM/DCR 80-90 tanks are only light tanks unlike what was initially planned (only medium/heavy tanks). 80% of these light tanks are armed with the 37mm SA18 L/21 gun and only 20% with the 37mm SA38 L/33 gun. The 37mm SA18 is only adapted to infantry support. A tank armed with the 37mm SA18 gun can actually destroy armored cars, Panzer I and Panzer II tanks at 300-400m but has to go closer than 25-100m to have a chance to destroy a Panzer III or Panzer IV, whereas it can itself be destroyed at 300-400m by them.

The DLMs were led by the cavalry corps HQ and the different DCRs were commanded by an armored group HQ. Nevertheless, these HQs had insufficient means unlike the Panzerkorps which had fully operational HQs.

Thanks to more radio sets the German tanks were able to better coordinate and concentrate their attack, changing more easily the attack axis. The French tanks favored better armor (and armament if we exclude the 37mm SA18 gun) rather than communications and speed. This better tactical regulation resulted in much more concentrated German armor against allied tanks, usually 4 vs 1, sometimes even 8-10 vs 1 odds.

The so-called German "superiority" was mainly due to :
· better high command and strategy, all the structural evolutions between Fall Weiss and Fall Gelb
· the organization of the Panzerwaffe concentrating all the tanks in the 10 Panzerdivisionen
· better inter-arms cooperation
· better tactical regulation, much more concentrated armor (usually 4 vs 1, sometimes 8-10 vs 1 odds)
· generally higher speed and mobility of the German tanks
· tracer and smoke shells available in the German tanks (not in the French ones)
· more radio sets allowing to better organize and control the maneuvers
· mostly always presence of observation planes (Hs126 and Fi156) to provide information about the allied position and direct artillery and aerial support
· mostly omnipresent close air support
· German tanks were spreading into the allied rears … leading to issues to preserve a HQ or a fuel supply dump … leading to tanks being abandoned and scuttled due to lack of fuel
· better and faster logistics in the armored units (and far less hindered by aerial attacks)
· 1-man turret in most of the French tanks and several very recently constituted units lacking training
· usually German tanks avoided combat with the heavy allied tanks like the Renault B1bis which constituted a big threat, they were rather engaged by 8.8cm FlaK, 10.5cm LeFH or aircrafts … again inter-arms cooperation


--- LOSSES ---

If we list all the AFVs (tanks, tank-destroyers, self-propelled guns and armored cars) we can say that on 10th May 1940 about 4,112 Allied AFVs are facing about 3,720 German AFVs.

1) We can say that on 10th May 1940 the French army had a total 3,101 tanks in combat units. If we take into account the replacement of May-June 1940 (about 688 tanks) and the territorial/regional units (not counted among 'combat units' in my previous listing) actually engaging obsolete Renault FT17 tanks against the enemy we reach a figure of about 4,000 French tanks used during the whole 1940 campaign.

Concerning the French tanks lost during May-June 1940 :
According to "Survey of Allied tank casualties in World War II" (Alvin D. Coox and L. Van Loan Naisawald) - Operations Research Office, Johns Hopkins University, Fort Lesley J. McNair (1951) based on data provided by the SHAT (Service Historique de l'Armée) : "Notice relative aux destructions d'engins blindés au cours de la guerre 1939-1945" and "Fiche : Annexe à l'étude sur les pertes en chars au cours de la campagne 1939-1940 (SECRET), received by Office of the Army Attache, American Ambassy in Pairs, in reply to an Operations Research Office request of 4th August 1950.

The following data represent the losses of the tank battalions, the DCRs, the DLCs, the DLMs, the reconnaissance groups and the territorial units. Tanks hit but salvaged and repaired by the field echelons in a very short time were screened out. Tank losses for the indicated period of time by number and percentage were as follows :

FRENCH TANK CASUALTY DATA BY CAUSE, 1939-1940
· Artillery (field guns, PaK, FlaK and tanks) : 1,669 (95.4%)
· Mines : 45 (2.6%)
· Aircrafts : 35 (2.0%)
--> TOTAL : 1749 tanks (including 151 obsolete tanks - Renault FT17 tanks)


There were also tanks which were abandoned, scuttled or set afire by their crews to avoid captured. [Personal note : the total number including breakdowns/damages and then abandoned tanks is probably closer to 2,000 French tanks].
No data exists as to those tanks repaired in factories and parks between 10th May and 25th June 1940, or those salvaged on the battlefield, repaired and sent back into battle.

The same document states that from 10th May to 25th June 4,071 tanks of all types were actually engaged and 3,413 of them were modern tanks.

Acknowledgment to William Schneck who provided a copy of the original unclassified US document

It is striking that even with huge air superiority and omnipresent close air support only 35 French tanks were taken out by German aicrafts. Several French tanks were destroyed by AT mines, implying a French attack like in Montcornet or Abbeville. It would have been interesting (but impossible) to know how many of the 1,669 tanks taken out by artillery have been actually destroyed by German tanks and not by AA / AT / field guns (or a combination of several means) [e.g. roughly all the Renault B1bis heavy tanks lost in combat were never taken out by German tanks but by 8.8cm FlaK, 10.5cm leFH and several by AT mines].


2) The British have 308 tanks in France on 10th May 1940 and 284 additional ones were sent during the Battle of France = 592 tanks. In Abbeville and Arras alone the British lost 167 of their tanks. Several other British tanks were lost around Boulogne and Rouen but most of the remaining tanks were simply abandoned or lost due to mechanical breakdowns and could not be recovered and repaired in front of the advancing German troops.

3) Belgium had 50 light tanks and 228 tank destroyers but I have no data about the actual losses. However they were only used in very small groups and were probably all lost or abandoned.

4) Germany had 2,636 German tanks on 10th May 1940. 288 additional tanks were received during the 1940 campaign for a total of 2,924 tanks. Accrording to Thomas Jentz, 839 German tanks are completely destroyed during May-June 1940. Beside these tanks we must list the 99 Panzerjäger I and 24 StuG IIIs but I have no information about their losses and would appreciate if someone could complete the data about those AFVs.


-----------------

Hello,

From the same document about the French tank casualties :

1) Tunisian campaign : 2 tables are missing at the moment, I cannot give the numbers

2) Italian campaign : definite information is lacking on this campaign

3) Western Europe, 1944-1945 :
- 549 light and medium tanks
- 95 tank destroyers
- 134 combat cars


No tank was put out of action by enemy air action.

The tanks immobilized by mines could be repaired in hours.

The "real" losses were due to artillery and hollow charge weapons, but in very small proportions from the latter weapon.

Regards,

David

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David Lehmann
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Post by David Lehmann » 05 Dec 2005 23:49

Here are the data for the campaign in Tunisia :

39 French tanks lost
- 9 to mines (23.1%)
- 30 to gunfire (76.9%)

Thanks to William Schneck.

Regards,

David

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Sam H.
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Post by Sam H. » 09 Dec 2005 19:41

Do you have statistics for the number of allied tanks captured by the Germans? I've often wondered how great a windfall of materials (tanks, artillery, etc.) Germany received as the victors in 1940.

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David Lehmann
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Post by David Lehmann » 09 Dec 2005 23:20

Hello Sam,

I can just give you a general idea about French tanks on that issue.

I know that in their book, Regenberg & Sheibert mention the capture of 500 Renault FT17, 800 Renault R35/39/40, 600 Hotchkiss H35/39, 50 FCM36, 60 Renault B1bis and 300 Somua S35 wrecks after the campaign (such all round numbers are probably not the 100% exact ones).

On 7th July 1940, general Hadler wrote that it is unlikely to re-use rapidly these booties and end August 1940 indeed only 33 French tanks are repaired/operational.

On 5th November 1941 the number available after repair had increased rapidly and includes 500 Renault FT17, 125 Renault R35, 200 Hotchkiss, 20 Somua etc. There is an appendix discussing from that in "1940 - L'effondrement" by Henri de Wailly. There were also Panhard 178 recovered and significant numbers of Lorraine 37L tractors, including new ones apparently.

For the Renault Renault FT17, what should be noted is that the Germans seized large numbers of FT17 tanks which were stored and disarmed in tank parks. For example in Gien, there was a big park with about 1,000 "wrecks" of FT17 tanks : generally out of use, generally without turret and without armament. No doubt that many hulls or other pieces from these abandoned tanks stored in a park were also used by the Germans. But these 1,000 tanks are not in service anymore at all in the French army.

Regards,

David

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Sam H.
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Post by Sam H. » 16 Dec 2005 14:55

Interesting, I've often wondered why the Germans did not make better use of captured French armored vehicles. You'd think there would be a large quantity available after the French army collapsed.

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