Photos WW2 French Forces

In a frontline village, a French soldier stands guard with an Enfield M1917 (American variant of the P14) in Scapoli, Italy, 14 December, 1943. This rifle was known in French service as "Fusil à répétition 7 mm 62 (C. 30) M. 17".
Looking slightly the worse for wear, the Free French corvette Aconit, steams into port at Greenock, Scotland, after having sunk no less than two by gunfire and the other by ramming!
FFS Aconit was on Atlantic convoy escort duty when the convoy was attacked by a wolf-pack, March 10th, 1943.
The U-Boats sank the destroyer HMS Harvester and a merchantman.
FFS Aconit rescued crewmen from both HMS Harvester and the some crewmen from the U-Boats which she has sunk.
Skipper of FFS Aconit was 32 year old Lieutenant De Vaisseaux Jean Levasseur.

French personnel in Tunisia - early 1943
These are Free French or Armée d'Afrique soldiers fighting with the Allies
Some Axis Prisoners also appear in some of the pictures
LIFE Magazine Archives - Eliot Elisofon Photographer

A pair of Panhard 178 / AMD 35 armoured cars lie abandoned at the roadside in a French avenue of saplings during the 1940 campaign.
The "Pin-Pan" (as it was called) was a very successful design which equipped cavalry reconnaissance units.
It was both fast and nimble and was armed with a 25mm cannon and a co-axial 7.5 mm machine gun.
Numbers fell into German hands and were widely used for internal security duties. Some were even converted to run on rails.
The vehicle nearest the camera has prominent aerial arrays which suggests it was a command vehicle.
(LIFE / Hugo Jaeger)

The French Renault R35 was actually a rather small two-man tank, but photographed from this low angle it looks slightly largely than it actually was.
Note how the serial number on the bow appears to have been deliberately obscured with a rag!

An M4A2 of the General Philippe LeClerc's Free French 2e Division Blindée, (2e DB) rolls ashore off its LST on Utah Beach, on August 1st, 1944.
Not an unusual scene in itself, but what IS unusual is the placement of the SOMUA brass maker's plate welded to the front of the driver's hood, which is just visible in this image.
Presumably this was a nostalgic souvenir from the tankistes' previous service with the French Army?

A tank-park of French Hotchkiss H39 light tanks, all neatly numbered and arranged in numerical order. The tanks are from the 4e Escadron, 1er Regiment de Cuirassiers.
1e peloton
26 #40732 "Sevron"
27 #40628 "Les Islettes"
2e peloton
31 #40630 "Bournazel"
32 #40632 "Gironde"
33 #40775 "la tour d'auvergne"
34 #40774
3e peloton
37 #40634 "Vauquois"
38 #40751 "Villers-Cotterets"
39 #40635
40 #40752

This French Char B1 bis heavy tank lies in ditch at the roadside where it was abandoned by its crew during the 1940 campaign.
The Char B1 bis was big, heavily armed and armoured but slow, with its main armament, a fixed 75mm howitzer, mounted low in the hull which meant that the whole tank needed to be "aimed" in order to bring it to bear, therefore a tactical disadvantage.
Also, it too had a similar one-man turret to the other French tanks of the period which was an ergonomic liability for the over-worked commander..
Despite some local successes, most Char B1 bis were either lost to enemy action or suffered mechanical breakdowns and were subsequently captured.
A number were later pressed into German service, Some were converted into SPGs mounting 105mm howitzers and a number were converted into Flammwagens with a flame-projector in place of the original howitzer.
"The Tank Museum's" Char B1 bis was actually issued to 1st Platoon, 1st Company, Panzer Abteilung 213, Panzer Division Schweizingen for service in the Channel Islands.
Panzer Abteilung 213 was formed in the autumn of 1941 to operate captured French tanks, and arrived in Jersey and Guernsey in March and April 1942.
It was captured following the re-occupation of the islands in 1945.
(LIFE / Hugo Jaeger)

A derelict Hotchkiss H35 light tank...a relic of the 1940 campaign.
The weeds growing beneath the tracks suggests it might have been there a while?
It has largely been stripped of its external fittings, but the cylindrical object on its fender is in fact a 150 round drum magazine for its Reibel M.A.C. 31 machine gun (see below)
(LIFE / Hugo Jaeger)

War clouds were gathering so French tanks were on the this instance Renault R35 light tanks.
Ergonomically this, together with the similar two-man Hotchkis H35, were rather poor designs.
In action, the tank commander stood on the floor of the tank with effectively just his head and shoulders in the turret...there was no fixed commander's seat...just a removeable canvas or leather sling.
He then had to load, aim and fire the gun....and direct his tank!
Thus, whenever possible in transit the commander always sat outside the turret on the open hatch, as seen here, which was preferrable to being buffeted about within the turret!


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