The Char Léger FCM-36 was the first diesel powered tank produced in France, but only 100 were built due to the high cost of production.
The FCM-36 was originally designed in response to a series of infantry tank specifications used by the French Army in 1933. One of these called for a 6 ton light tank capable of resisting light anti tank weapons. The weight limit was soon raised to 8 tons without crew and ammo, but even the higher limit only really allowed for two man tanks.
FCM was a ship building firm that had earlier been responsible for the massive Char 2C.
The FCM-36 had welded armour on its hull and turret. The hull had sloped sides, which carried on into the turret, giving it an angular appearance. The superstructure extended across the top of the tracks. This gave the hull a very advanced appearance for the 1930s, although the turret looks rather more dated, with the slopes sides continuing up to the top of the cupola, creating a 'step' above the gun mantlet.
The FCM had nine road wheels on each side - four were linked in pairs and attached to pivoting arms and one was an independent adjusting roller. The wheels were supported on vertical spiral springs, with guide rods and rubber shock absorbers. The suspension was covered by skirting plates with mud chutes.
The angular turret was mounted almost at the front of the tank. It carried a 37mm gun and coaxial 7.5mm machine gun, but as with so many French tanks of the period it was a one man turret, so the commander also had to serve as gunner and loader.
Power was provided by a licence built Ricardo 8.4 litre 4-stroke water-cooled engine, built by Berliet as the Type MDP.
On 7 September 1936 General Gamelin’s four-year rearmament plan was accepted. This included the creation of fifty battalions equipped with the R35 and FCM-36 light tanks, intended to support the infantry. Although the Renault R35 had won the 1933 contest, it suffered from fairly short range (130-140km/ 81-87 miles). The FCM-36 had a longer range of 225km/ 140 miles, and this made it attractive to the French Army.
One hundred FCM-36s were ordered in June 1936, but a second order for another 100 was cancelled due to the high cost of the tank (twice the cost of a Renault R35), and also to free up capacity at FCM for the more important Char B1 bis. The two orders would have produced enough tanks to equip to four battalions. The 100 tanks were delivered between May 1938 and March 1939 and were enough for two tank battalions.
On 1 September 1939 the French Army had 100 FCM-36 light tanks in service. In May 1940 ninety FCM-36s were allocated to the 2nd Army (part of the force that fought in the north-east of France and Belgium in May 1940), where they equipped two of the infantry support battalions attached to infantry units. In the circumstances of 1940 this deployment of tanks proved to be a mistake, leaving the French tanks outnumbered at the key points.
In combat the welded sloped armour proved to be vulnerable to damage, and the suspension was also prone to damage, but the small number of FCM-36 tanks in action meant it had little impact.
Cher léger modèle 1936 F.C.M.
Weight: 12.8 tonnes
Engine: Berliet Type MDP 4-stroke water-cooled engine
Max Speed: 24kph
Max Range: 225km
Armament: 37mm gun and one machine gun