Preserved AMD Panhard 35 at the Musée des Blindés
|Place of origin||France|
|In service||April 1937 - 1964|
|Used by||France, Nazi Germany, Italy, Syria|
|Wars||World War II|
|Unit cost||₣ 275,000 hull|
|Produced||February 1937 - ~October 1940|
|Number built||729 "A" versions, 414 B version|
|Weight||8.2 metric tonnes|
|Length||4.79 m with gun|
|25 mm SA 35 cannon|
|7.5 mm Reibel machine gun|
|Ground clearance||0.35 m|
The Panhard 178 (officially designated as Automitrailleuse de Découverte Panhard modèle 1935, 178 being the internal project number at Panhard) or "Pan-Pan" was an advanced French reconnaissance 4x4 armoured car that was designed for the French Cavalry before World War II. It had a crew of four and was equipped with an effective 25 mm main armament and a 7.5 mm coaxial machine gun.
A number of these vehicles were in 1940 taken over by the Germans after the Fall of France and employed as the Panzerspähwagen P204 (f); for some months after the armistice of June production continued for the benefit of Germany. After the war a derived version, the Panhard 178B, was again taken into production by France.
In 1931 the French Cavalry conceived a plan for the future production of armoured fighting vehicles. One of the classes foreseen was that of an Automitrailleuse de Découverte or AMD, a specialised long range reconnaissance vehicle. The specifications were formulated on 22 December 1931, changed on 18 November 1932 and approved on 9 December 1932. They called for a weight of four metric tons, a range of 400 km, a speed of 70 km/h, a cruising speed of 40 km/h, a turning circle of twelve metres, 5–8 mm armour, a 20 mm gun and a 7.5 mm machine gun.
In 1933 one of the competing companies — the others being Renault, Berliet and Latil — that had put forward proposals, Panhard, was allowed to build a prototype. The vehicle was ready in October and presented to the Commission de Vincennes in January 1934 under the name Panhard voiture spéciale type 178. It carried a Vincennes workshop (Avis) 13.2 mm machine gun turret, as the intended one was not ready yet. After testing between 9 January and 2 February 1934 the type, despite having larger dimensions than prescribed and thus being a lot heavier than four tons, was accepted by the commission on 15 February under the condition some small modifications were carried out. Of all the competing projects it was considered the best. In the autumn the improved prototype, now lacking the bottom tracks of the original type, was tested by the Cavalry. In late 1934 the type was accepted under the name AMD Panhard Modèle 1935. The type was now fitted with the APX3B turret.
After complaints about reliability, such as cracking gun sights, and overheating, between 29 June and 2 December 1937 a new test programme took place, resulting in many modifications, including the fitting of a silencer and a ventilator on the turret.
The final assembly and painting of the armoured cars took place in the Panhard & Levassor factory at the Avenue d'Ivry in the 13th arrondissement of Paris. There however, only the automotive parts and lesser fittings were built in: the armoured hull was in its entirety prefabricated by forges serving as subcontractors. At first the main supplying company was Batignolles-Châtillon at Nantes, that could supply a maximum of about twenty per month; in 1940 the forge at Firminy became dominant. Likewise the turret, fitted with its armament by the Atelier de construction de Rueil (ARL) was as such again made by subcontractors, mainly the Société française de constructions mécaniques (or "Cail") at Denain. Production of the turrets tended to trail behind that of the hulls; on 1 September 1939 this order backlog had grown to 35; that there was little hope of solving this problem is shown by the production planned on 28 October 1939 for the Spring of 1940: fifty hulls as against forty turrets per month.
At the time of acceptance in 1934, already fifteen had been decided to be ordered on 25 April 1934 and fifteen more on 20 May at a price of ₣ 275,000 per hull, more expensive than a French light infantry tank of the period. The actual orders were made on 1 January and 29 April 1935 respectively, and the notification sent on 27 May with a planned delivery between January and March 1936. Due to strikes, the first vehicles of these orders were only delivered from 2 February 1937; nineteen had been produced by April, the last delivered in November. The two first orders together can be seen as a separate preseries of thirty, that differed slightly in many details from later produced vehicles.
A third order for eighty vehicles was made on 15 September 1935 but only notified on 11 August 1937. They were scheduled to be delivered between January and July 1938, but due to strikes and delays in the production of the turrets, the actual dates were 24 June 1938 and 10 February 1939.
There were another three orders of which deliveries started before the war: one of forty dated 11 January 1938 and delivered between 13 February and 31 July 1939; a fifth of 35 cars made on the same date but delivered between July and December 1939 (six before the war) after a sixth order for eighty vehicles made on 18 January 1938 and delivered between June and November 1939 (57 before 1 September 1939).
On 1 September 1939, 219 vehicles had been delivered including prototypes, 71 behind schedule. However, production increases soon allowed Panhard to reduce the backlog — at least for the hulls. From December vehicles were produced from two later orders: a seventh of forty, made on 18 January 1938 and completed between December 1939 and April 1940; and an eighth of eighty vehicles delivered from January until the middle of May 1940. The monthly deliveries were: nine in September 1939, eleven in October, eighteen in November, twenty-two in December, twenty-five in January 1940, eight in February, sixteen in March, thirty-four in April and a final thirty in May 1940. The total production of completed vehicles of the standard version of the AMD 35 for France was thus 339.
However, the total manufactured of all vehicles of the larger Panhard 178 family was much higher as there were several non-standard versions — and not all production was completed for France. Firstly there was a radio command variant, twelve of which had been ordered in 1937 and again in 1938, the notification of which was issued on 9 December 1938, the 24 vehicles being delivered between October and December 1939. The next variant was a colonial version, eight of which were produced. The most important addendum consisted of an order for 128 modified vehicles destined for North-Africa. Furthermore there were two last orders of the standard version, one of twelve notified on 22 July 1939, the second for a hundred made on 27 September 1939, of which both only fourteen hulls would be made for France.
Of all these orders, at the time of the armistice in June, 491 had been completed. On 7 June 52 hulls had been in stock for which no turret was as yet available; probably until 22 June another ten hulls were made for a total production of 553: thirty in 1937, 81 in 1938, 236 in 1939 and 206 in 1940. Total hull production of all versions had been: 24 in September 1939, 26 in October, 27 in November, 33 in December, 36 in January 1940, 40 in February, 32 in March, 42 in April, 32 in May and 24 until the interruption in the middle of June. After the armistice another 176 were completed, from prefabricated parts, for the German occupier, for a total of 729.
These actual production numbers can be compared to the production plans. Before the war it had been intended that war manufacture would be thirty per month. When war really broke out, it was soon realised that the need to raise new units, the replacement of older worn out vehicles and the creation of a matériel reserve to compensate the loss of about 20% of the cars of a combat unit per month during a campaign, would necessitate a much higher production level, even when resorting to the expedient of fitting surplus hulls with older turrets. It had been planned on 10 October 1939 to bring production to forty per month in March, fifty in July, fifty-five in September and sixty from November 1940 for the duration of the war. Later projections were even more pessimistic: accordingly on top of the 657 vehicles notified at that date, on 15 April 1940 another 450 were ordered, a third of them of the radio version, bringing total orders to 1107. The desired peak rate of sixty vehicles was put forward with two months to September 1940; on 1 October 1018 vehicles had to be completed. However, the planned production was now limited to March 1941; as supreme commander Maurice Gamelin had concluded on 27 February 1940 from the events during Fall Weiss that lightly armoured vehicles could not survive on the modern battlefield, from the Spring of 1941 the Panhard 178 had to be replaced on the production lines by the heavy AM 40 P armoured car, that was to be much more heavily armoured and armed.
In order to function as an effective long-range reconnaissance vehicle, the Panhard 178 had been kept as light as possible. The vehicle was thus rather small, only 4.79 m (15 ft 9 in) in length, 2.01 m (6 ft 7 in) wide and 2.31 m (7 ft 7 in) in height (1.65 m for the hull per se). Also the tapering engine compartment, where a Panhard ISK 4FII bis V4, 6332 CC, 105 hp motor had been installed, was built very low, giving the vehicle its distinctive silhouette, with a protruding fighting compartment. The use of a large turret with 26 mm frontal armour and 13 mm side armour, combined with 7 (bottom), 9 (top and glacis), 13 (back, sides and front superstructure) and 20 mm (nose) bolted and riveted armour plate for the hull, had compromised weight considerations however, so the vehicle still weighed 8.2 metric tonnes. However the mobility was rather good for a French AFV of the period: a maximum speed of 72.6 km/h (45.1 mph) and a practical range of about 300 km (190 mi), made possible by two fuel tanks of 120 and 20 litres, the main one located at the extreme back of the hull.
Rough terrain capacity was somewhat limited however: though all four road wheels were actuated, the leaf spring suspension confined the off-road speed to 42 km/h and the possession of just four wheels allowed for a wading and a trench crossing capacity of only sixty centimetres; it could overcome a thirty cm vertical obstacle, assisted by two small bottom wheels in the front hull.
The driver was in the front, using an eight-speed gear box and a normal steering wheel. Steering could be switched into reverse immediately to allow the assistant-driver, seated to the left of the engine (or, from his point of view: the right), to drive the vehicle backwards in case of an emergency, using all four off-road gears, with a maximum speed of 42 km/h. This "dual drive" capacity is common for reconnaissance vehicles. The second driver had a separate entrance door at the left side of the hull. He doubled as a radio operator in the platoon commander or squadron commander vehicles, operating the short range ER29 or medium range ER26 set respectively. To make long range communications possible, one out of twelve armoured cars was a special radio vehicle.
The APX3 turret, having a large double hatch on the back, was rather large and could accommodate two men, like with the AMC 35; this was at the time exceptional for French AFVs. In the electrically traversed APX3, the commander on the right and gunner on the left benefited from a rudimentary turret basket, and sufficient vision devices including one periscope (which were of the Gundlach type on late examples) per man and PPL.RX.168 episcopes. Armament was first intended to be a newly developed 20 mm gun; when this failed to materialise it was considered to use a 37 mm Modèle 16 gun, standard for armoured cars, but this was rejected because of its poor anti-armour capacity. Instead the 25 mm SA 35 was chosen, a shortened L/47.2 derivation of the standard French antitank gun, the 25 mm Hotchkiss modèle 34. It was fitted with the L711 sight. To compensate for the shorter barrel, the rounds use heavier charges, giving even a slightly superior muzzle velocity of 950 m/s. The gun had a maximum penetration of about fifty millimetres when using a tungsten round; the light 380 gram projectile was easily deflected by sloped armour though, even a 45° angle giving about 100% extra protection over the armour thickness measured along the horizontal plane. German tanks had many vertical plates however, and were vulnerable up to about 800 metres; on the other hand the light round, even when penetrating, often failed to set fire to an enemy vehicle; it sometimes took fifteen shots to achieve this; 150 rounds of ammunition were stored.
The secondary armament was an optionally coaxial Reibel 7.5 mm machine gun, with 3,750 rounds, 1,500 of which were armour-piercing. A reserve machine gun was carried to the right of the driver that could be mounted on top of the turret for anti-aircraft defence. Its magazines were carried on the inner walls of the fighting compartment, including the large main entrance door on the right.
Experience showed that the type had several shortcomings: a weak clutch, slow turret rotation, a cramped interior, unreliable radio sets, poor cross-country drive and very noisy brakes. On the other hand it was reliable, easy to drive on roads and the engine as such was rather silent; all desirable qualities for a reconnaissance vehicle.
During the production run several modifications would be made, such as the fitting of lifting hooks. The first thirty vehicles had two more primitive periscopes on the turret roof, a Chrétien diascope on its front and simple vision slits with armoured shutters on its sides; their drivers too had to use vision slits instead of an episcope. They also lacked a silencer and had semi-circular cut-outs at the wheel plate edges. From about the 111th vehicle (or fourth production batch) onward, several changes were introduced, including the fitting of an armoured ventilator covering on top of the turret, a factory plate with the name "Panhard" on the nose and a new softer factory camouflage pattern with the brown and bronze green spots no longer separated by black lines. From the 270th vehicle onwards stowage boxes were constructed on the back fenders, obscuring the pointed form of the engine compartment. The last turrets produced also had a backward pointing episcope for the commander, instead of a vision slit.
The first nineteen vehicles were in April 1937 taken into service by 6e Cuirassiers.
At the outbreak of the Second World War 218 vehicles were fielded with eleven squadrons.
In the Spring of 1940, 21e Escadron d'AMD 35 was first destined for Finland and the Winter War but then sent to Narvik to assist Norway during Weserübung. It was in fact the renamed 4e GRDI (that would be replaced by a new unit of the same name in its former parent 15th Mechanised Infantry Division on 5 May) and was equipped with thirteen Panhard 178s.
During the Battle of France from 10 May 1940 the Panhard 178s were allocated to reconnaissance units of the mechanised and motorised forces.
The three armoured divisions of the Cavalry, the Divisions Légères Mécaniques, had a nominal organic strength of forty armoured cars, plus four radio vehicles and an organic matériel reserve of four vehicles. This would make for a total of 144 in these mechanised light divisions. The Light (i.e. motorised) Divisions of the Cavalry, the Divisions Légères de Cavalerie, had a squadron of twelve Panhards plus a radio car and a matériel reserve of four in their Régiment de Automitrailleuses (RAM). The total in the Cavalry Light Divisions would thus be 85.
Not only the Cavalry but the Infantry also employed the type, in the GRDIs or Groupes de Reconnaissance de Division d'Infanterie, the reconnaissance units of the Divisions d'Infanterie Mécaniques, that despite their name were largely motorised infantry divisions. These were 1er GRDI for 5e DIM, 2e GRDI for 9e DIM, 3e GRDI for 12e DIM, 4e GRDI for 15e DIM, 5e GRDI for 25e DIM, 6e GRDI for 3e DIM and 7e GRDI for 1e DIM. Their organisation was basically identical to the units of the DLCs, but the strength was sixteen, making for a total of 112 vehicles.
The actual strength of above units might differ, but if all were on strength 24 vehicles were present in the matériel reserve or used for driver training, as apart from colonial vehicles, exactly 378 exemplars had been delivered on 10 May 1940.
After the start of the invasion several emergency ad hoc units were formed; these included the 32e GRDI for the regular 43e DI, having five Panhards. The 4e DCR, the armoured division of the Infantry hastily assembled in May, got 43 Panhard 178s.
The DLMs used their Panhard units for strategic reconnaissance. In the case of 1DLM this entailed a movement well in advance of the main body of the division as it was supposed to maintain a connection with the Dutch Army during the Battle of the Netherlands. Within 32 hours the armoured cars of the group Lestoquoi covered a distance of over 200 kilometres reaching the environment of 's-Hertogenbosch in the afternoon of 11 May. After some successful skirmishes with German armoured cars belonging to the reconnaissance platoons of the German Infantry Divisions, they withdrew, as the Dutch were already in full retreat. They were asked by the Dutch to assist an infantry attack on the southern bridgehead of the strategic Moerdijk bridges, held by German paratroopers. As the cars were not suitable for such a task the commander hesitated after incorrectly concluding the bridgehead was strongly defended. While thus being immobile, this group of Panhards was surprised in open polder landscape by a Stuka-attack with one vehicle disabled and quickly withdrew to the south.
The other two DLMs hurried forward to stop the advance of 3 and 4PD after the surprisingly swift fall of Fort Eben-Emael, their Panhards fighting a successful delaying battle against their German counterparts until the Battle of Hannut, the largest tank battle of the campaign. In general they had little trouble in dispatching with the lightly armoured German armoured cars, whose 20 mm main armament was not very effective against the Panhard frontal armour.
As the type was well-suited to German tactics, at least 190 Panhards, most of them brand-new, were issued to German reconnaissance units for use in Operation Barbarossa in 1941 under the designation of Panzerspähwagen P204 (f), 107 would be lost that year. Among these were some radio vehicles, designated Panzerspähwagen (Funk) P204 (f). Thirty Panhards were listed as in use on the Eastern Front on 31 May 1943. Some of these were fitted with spaced armour.
After the liberation of France, the 1e Groupement Mobile de Reconnaissance would, among a bewildering variety of types, also use some Panhard 178s, some of these modified.
The Panhard units were intended for deep strategic reconnaissance and thus could be expected to operate well in advance of the main forces. To fulfil their task of relaying information, long range radio connections were necessary. Therefore one in twelve vehicles had to be of a special radio command version (Poste Commande) with the turret fixed in place and without armament but equipped with the ER27 set, giving a range of a 80 - 150 kilometres, and two ER26ter sets with a range of sixty kilometres for communications within the squadron.
Already in both 1937 and 1938 a dozen each of the "PC vehicle" had been ordered, the number of 24 being notified on 9 December 1938. The first was planned to be delivered in February, but only materialised in October 1939, followed by seventeen in November and six in December. They were rebuilt with the ER 27 set in the Fort d'Issy. As this number was clearly insufficient to equip all units, on 15 April 1940 an additional 150 PCs were ordered, bringing the total to 174; none of the new order had been built before the armistice.
North African version
From 14 October 1936, the original Panhard 178 prototype was tested in Morocco, resulting in an acceptance of the type for desert use on 15 January 1937, though a suitable modification was advised, including the fitting of a lighter turret.
The North African forces were in need of two reconnaissance armoured car types: a light one, for which rôle the Laffly S15 TOE was envisaged, and a heavy one, the automitrailleuse lourde, for which the Panhard 178 was chosen. Initially it was planned to uparm the vehicle, at first with a 37, then a 47 mm gun, but on 14 January 1939 the quickly deteriorating international situation forced the acceptance of a variant, the AMD 35 type Afrique française du Nord, not very different from the standard version: apart from small internal fittings changes, the main difference was the installation of a heavy duty radiator, better adapted to the hot desert climate of the North African colonies.
Already two orders had been made on 3 June 1938, one of twenty and another of twelve vehicles. A third order of 96 cars was dated 3 February 1939; it was intended to raise eight squadrons in Africa of sixteen vehicles each. The first of these orders was only notified on 26 May 1939. Construction on the vehicles started in December but had to be halted due to a lack of the special radiators, 161 of which had only be ordered on 10 October; eventually they were manufactured from the second week of May 1940, at this time forming the main bulk of Panhard 178 production: 78 were delivered that month. On 7 June of the 128 ordered 71 had been delivered, two were present in a completed form in the factory stock, and 39 hulls were ready lacking a turret. Until the armistice at least another 41 were delivered, for a minimal total of 112 AMD 35 AFNs. None of these vehicles would in fact be shipped to North Africa; they were used by newly raised (especially 10e Cuirassiers, part of Charles de Gaulle's 4e DCR), reconstituted or ad hoc-units in France.
On 14 September 1938 an order was notified of four vehicles for colonial use in Indo-China, equipped by ARL with the smaller one-man APX5 turret, as used on the AMR 35 ZT2, armed with a 25 mm gun and 7.5 mm machine-gun. The crew thus consists of three men. Two of these were delivered in June 1939, the other two the next month. These first four left for Indo-China on 12 October; at least one was captured by Japan. A second order of four for colonial Panhard 178s was notified on 10 June 1939; one was delivered in December 1939; the last three in January 1940, bringing the final total for this version to eight. The last four vehicles were still in France at the time of the armistice and some, probably still without their turrets, were clandestinely incorporated by the Vichy forces.
Tank Destroyer variant
Though sufficient at a short range, the effectiveness of the 25 mm gun was far from optimal. Already in the autumn of 1939 it was considered to build a number of tank destroyers, as too few units had a motorised anti-tank capacity. Panhard in April 1940 proposed its Voiture spéciale 207, basically a Panhard 178 fitted in the back with a rearward-facing powerful 47 mm SA 37 gun.
This type was still in development when the crisis in May and the lack of APX3 turrets — Cail had been overrun and it had been decided to deliver most vehicles as "turretless AMDs" to the troops — led to an emergency programme to fit the surplus hulls with a new turret type. On 29 May 1940 Renault was contacted and quickly initial ideas of improvising an open-topped turret for a 25 mm gun grew into a new closed turret, a design by Engineer Joseph Restany, capable of holding the much more powerful standard 47 mm SA 35 tank gun, a first version of which was finished on 31 May. To provide enough room to operate the larger gun the back of the new octagonal turret was raised, resulting in an extreme wedge-shaped profile. The armour consisted of 25 mm plates all-around, reinforced on the front with an appliqué 13 mm plate. A single vehicle was completed on 6 June, but plans to build forty vehicles of the type from 11 June came to naught as Paris was declared an open city on 10 June and the factory evacuated on 12 June. The single vehicle was allocated to 1er RAM and defended on 15 June a bridge near Etignie, destroying two German "heavy tanks" (of an unspecified type) and a column trying to force a crossing. On 17 June it was destroyed by its own crew at Cosnes-sur-Loire when their unit was unable to cross the Loire river with its heavy equipment.
Modifications by Germany, Vichy France and Italy
After 1941 the Germans modified 43 cars as railway-protection vehicles (Schienenpanzer); they could drive on the tracks themselves by means of special wheels and were fitted with large radio frame aerials.
Under the armistice conditions the Vichy regime was allowed to use 64 Panhards for police service. These vehicles, mainly taken from the May-June production batches, had their guns removed and replaced with an additional machine gun. On orders of the Army, Engineer J. Restany from April 1941 clandestinely produced 45 new turrets, fitted with a 47 mm SA 35 gun; some were eventually combined with the hulls. These hulls and cars were hidden or dumped in lakes when the whole of France was occupied in 1942. In the summer of 1944 some were taken into use by the resistance; of these vehicles some would again be captured and used by the Germans.
In 1944 some of the 34 Panhards captured by the Germans when they overran Vichy-France in November 1942, were rebuilt with the 50 mm L/42 or L/60 gun in an open-topped turret and used for occupation duty. In November 1942, the Italian Army also captured two Panhards, which would be used by them until September 1943.
Late 1944, a new turret was designed by Fives Lille, the FL1. It had a cylindrical form allowing for more space to install the larger 75 mm SA 45 L/32 gun. The type with the new turret, a new four cylinder engine and the EM3/R61 radio set was named Panhard 178B and taken into production at Firminy; a first order of 150 was made on 5 January 1945 and confirmed on 31 July 1945. Before actual manufacture started however, it was decided to fit the smaller 47 mm SA35 gun and a machine gun. In total 414 vehicles were manufactured, making for a grand total of Panhard 178 cars of 1143. In contradistinction to this Panhard 178B, older vehicles are sometimes designated Panhard 178"A", though this designation is not contemporary. The B-version was used in France and the colonies, such as Syria, Tahiti and Vietnam. The last French use was in Djibouti in 1960 by the 15e Escadron Blindé d'Infanterie de Marine; Syria still used the type in February 1964 during the uprising in Damascus.
- Vauvillier 2008, p. 36.
- Vauvillier 2008, p. 39
- Vauvillier 2008, p. 37.
- Vauvillier 2008, p. 38.
- Vauvillier 2008, p. 45.
- Vauvillier 2008, p. 44.
- Vauvillier 2008, p. 41.
- Vauvillier 2008, p. 42.
- Vauvillier 2008, p. 43.
- Vauvillier 2008, p. 40.
- Stéphane Ferrard (2010). "Les SOMUA de l'Ombre (II) — Le SARL 42, char de la clandestinité", Histoire de Guerre, Blindés & Matériel N° 90, p. 57
- Pierre Touzin, Les véhicules blindés français, 1900-1944, EPA, 1979.
- Pierre Touzin, Les Engins Blindés Français 1920-1945, Volume 1, SERA, 1976.
- Leland Ness (2002) Jane's World War II Tanks and Fighting Vehicles: The Complete Guide, Harper Collins, London and New York, ISBN 0-00-711228-9
- Pascal Danjou, 2004, L'Automitrailleuse de Découverte AMD 35 Panhard 178, Editions du Barbotin, Ballainvilliers
- François Vauvillier, 2008, "Produire l'AMD 35 Panhard: une affaire d'équipe", Histoire de Guerre, Blindés & Matériel, N° 82, p. 36-45
- Musée des blindés de Saumur
- WWII vehicles
- Panhard AMD 178/PzSpw. P.204 (f) - WarWheels.Net
- Panhard AMD 178 B - WarWheels.Net
- (French) Chars-francais.net