The Saint Chamond M.16 assault tank was produced as a result of internal French army politics, and followed the Schneider CA.1 into action.
The first French tank, the Schneider, was produced as a result of the efforts of Colonel J. E. Estienne. An order for 400 vehicles was placed on 25 February 1916, the first one was delivered in September 1916 and it made its combat debut in April 1917.
In the meantime the Direction du Service Automobile (DSA), which had not been involved in the process that produced the Schneider, ordered the FAMH company (better known as Saint Chamond) to produce its own design. This was produced by a team led by Colonel Rimailho.
The Saint Chamond was a very ungainly looking vehicle. It was 28.96ft long, ten feet longer than the Schneider, but its Holt tractor tracks weren't much longer than on the earlier vehicle, so it looked very nose heavy. The original version was a rectangular box, with a slightly pointed nose. A single 75mm Saint Chamond TR gun was installed in the nose. There were two cupolas at the front, one on each side of the gun. There were controls at both ends of the tank.
The Saint Chamond was a fairly simple vehicle - effectively an armoured box with the main gun in the nose, and a hull made of riveted 17mm plates. The top of the tracks took up space inside the fighting compartment, but the space above them was used for storage.
The Saint Chamond was ten tones heavier than the Schneider, slightly faster, and better armed, with four machine guns instead of two. It was powered by a 90hp Panhard 4-cylinder gasoline engine. It also had Crochat-Collardeau electric transmission - the Panhard engine provided power to the generators, which then provide power for electric motors that powered the tracks. In practice the Saint Chamond suffered from poor suspension, which made it less effective in service. The electric transmission did mean that the Saint Chamond was easier to steer than most contemporary tanks, with the speed and direction of each track capable of individual control.
The DSA placed an order for 400 Saint Chamond tanks on 8 April 1916. All 400 tanks from this first order were completed, but no more were ordered. The last one was delivered in March 1918 and the production facilities freed up were then used for the Renault FT.
From the 166th production vehicle the Saint Chamond gun was replaced with a standard 75mm Model 1897 field gun. Later in the production run a sloped roof replaced the flat roof (in order to stop grenades sticking on the roof) and the cupolas were removed (they were often shot off in combat leaving holes in the roof). The hull was made taller at the front to give more room. Armour protection was also increased to 17mm to cope with new German armour piercing bullets.
A flat sided cupola replaced the two rounded cupolas later in the war.
Both types of vehicles were operated by the Assault Artillery, commanded by the newly promoted Brigadier Estienne. By March 1917 there were thirteen groups equipped with the Schneider tank but only two using the Saint Chamond. They were organised into four-vehicle batteries
The type made its combat debut on 5 May 1917, operating along Schneider tanks in an attack on Laffaux Hill. Two Schneider companies were able to support the infantry during this successful attack, but only one of the sixteen Saint Chamond tanks managed to cross the German lines.
The next tank attack came on 23 October, at the battle of Malmaison (an attack west of the Chemin des Dames). Five tank companies were committed to the battle, and once again the Schneider company performed well but the Saint Chamond companies were unable to deal with the difficult ground. The Saint Chamond tanks were used again in another attack on 25 October.
In March 1918 both types were concentrated in the Third Army, where they took part in a series of local counter attacks in April and May. They then found themselves in the path of the fourth Ludendorff Offensives, the Noyon-Montdidier Offensive (9-13 June 1918). Four heavy tank battalions had been posted behind the French lines on this front, ready for further counter-attacks, but they quickly thrown into the defensive battle. This time the German attack ran out of steam very quickly, and on 11 June General Mangin committed 111 tanks of the two types to a major counterattack. By 13 June this had ended the German offensive.
This was the high point for both the Saint Chamond and Schneider tanks. Over the next few months their units began to receive Renault FT light tanks. By October 1918 only two mixed battalions still had the older types, and in that month they were replaced by British Mark V* tanks. The Saint Chamond did continue to take part in attacks, and the 13th Heavy Tank Battalion used the type during the great French counterattack of 18 July (Aisne-Marne Offensive or Battle of Soissons). This forced the Germans out of the areas they had captured during their own last offensive, the Champagne-Marne Offensive. Twenty eight tanks took part in the fighting north of Soissons on 20-22 August, part of a wider 10th Army offensives between the Oise and the Aisne. The Saint Chamond also took part in the 2nd French Army and American attack between the Argonne and the Meuse.
The Saint Chamond was the least effective of the three French tanks of the First World War. During 1918 the French Army recorded 375 individual engagments involving Saint Chamond tanks, 473 involved the Schneider type and a massive 3,988 involving the Renault FT.
Some Saint Chamond tanks were sent to Russia, where they were later used by the Red Army.
After the end of the First World War the surviving Saint-Chamond tanks were mothballed and later scrapped, leaving the Renault FT-17 to form the basis of the post-war French tank force.
Hull Length: 28.96ft
Hull Width: 8.75ft
Weight: 23 tons
Engine: 90hp Panhard liquid cooled 4-cylinder gasoline engine
Max Speed: 5.3mph
Armament: One 75mm gun, four 8mm machine guns
Armour: 17mm in late production