The Char Léger Hotchkiss H35 was a light tank designed in the early 1930s, but that was underpowered and was replaced by the Hotchkiss H39. Initially ordered for the French Cavalry, it was later used in almost equal numbers by the French Infantry.
The H35 was a two-man light tank, with the driver at the front, the commander/ gunner in the turret and the engine at the rear below a sloped engine deck. It was powered by a 75hp Hotchkiss engine and armed with a short barrelled 37mm SA 18 gun. The H35 used the same cast APX-R turret as the R35, R40 and H39. There were six road wheels on each side, carried in pairs on bell cranks in a 'scissors' shape, with double coil springs between the upper arms of the bell cranks. The number of road wheels was one of the easier ways to tell the H39 and R35 apart, as the Renault tank only had five wheels on each side. A second way was the driver's position - on the Renault the driver sat on the left, while in the H35 the driver was on the right, with the engine and transmission on the left.
In 1933 the French Army issued specifications for three types of infantry tanks, amongst them a 6 ton light tank (the weight limit was soon raised). Hotchkiss responded with what would become the H35. Three prototypes were ordered in December 1933 and the first was delivered to Vincennes in January 1935. After trials at the Infantry establishment at Mourmelon the Renault competitor was picked as the winner, and in July 1935 it was ordered into production in July 1935. This was followed by the longer ranged FCM-36, which was ordered in smaller numbers. However the Hotchkiss design attracted the attention of Jean Fabry, then the Minster of War. He saw the prototype outperform an early version of the Somua S35, and on 6 November 1935 an order was placed for 200 H35s, to be used by the cavalry. These tanks were delivered between July 1936 and July 1937, but without their turrets. A second order for 100 tanks followed on 7 September 1936 and a third and final order for 100 tanks, this time for the infantry, on 23 January 1938. These were delivered in July-September 1938.
Around 400 were produced between 1936 and 1939, when it was replaced by the Char Léger Hotchkiss H39, which had a 120hp engine and longer barrelled gun.
On 7 September 1936 General Gamelin’s four-year rearmament plan was accepted. This included the creation of three light tank divisions (divisions legers mécaniques), to be armed with the SOMUA S35 and Hotchkiss H35.
Production of the H35 was slow. 400 were ordered in 1935-36, but they weren't completed until October 1938.
On 1 September 1939 the French army had 1,670 light tanks of the R35 and H35 types. The H35 was used by the Cavalry, and also by the Infantry.
By May 1940 the French army had 2,691 light tanks, a mix of the R35, AMX R40, H35 and H39.
Ninety H35s equipped battalions 13e and 38e in the Infantry in May 1940, supporting the 1st Army. As a result they ended up being caught up in the disaster in the Low Countries that ended at Dunkirk.
In the cavalry the H35 was issued to the 1st DLM early in 1938 and the 2nd DLM in the summer of 1938, giving those units the chance to train while they were waiting for their Somua S35s. By May 1940 each of these units had 94 H35s. The 3rd DLM had a mix of 23 H35 and 140 H39s and another 48 H35s were serving with the recently formed Divisions Légères de Cavalerie (DLC). Those serving with the 1st DLM advanced into Belgium and got caught up in the battle that ended with the evacuation from Dunkirk. Those with the 2nd and 3rd DLM fought with the Cavalry Corps and clashed with the 16th Panzer Division in Belgium.
The H35 produced poorly in combat in 1940. Its gun wasn't powerful enough to take on the better German tanks, and its two-man layout gave the commander too much to do, as he also had to act as the gunner and loader.
After the fall of France some H35s were taken into German service as the PzKpfw 35-H 734(f) and were used by second line units and occupation forces.
In September 1939 there were sixteen H-36s in North Africa, reduced to ten under Vichy.
Char Léger Hotchkiss H35
Hull Length: 13.83ft
Hull Width: 6.08ft
Crew: 2 (commander/ gunner, driver)
Weight: 11.4 tons
Engine: 75bhp at 2,700rpm, Hotchkiss 6 cylinder petrol engine
Max Speed: 28kph/ 17.4mph
Max Range: 129km/ 80.2 miles radius of action
Armament: 37mm SA 18 main gun, co-axial 7.5mm machine gun