French St. Chamond M-16 Breakthrough Tank of World War One, 1917–1918

French St. Chamond M-16 Breakthrough Tank of World War One, 1917–1918.

The Char de Rupture – Breakthrough Tank – was the second French tank idea of the Great War. The planners sought a vehicle capable of attacking and penetrating the 2nd and 3rd line of an enemy defence in depth, while Char d’Assaut engaged and pinned the 1st line. The enemy rear areas included artillery positions, strongpoints, supply dumps, and other important objectives well beyond the range of friendly artillery. If a surprise attack was to be successful, these rearward positions would have to be eliminated quickly, allowing infantry and cavalry to break through and reach the relatively open terrain beyond. Only the tank could fulfill this role, because artillery proved too difficult to deploy forward and supply across the devastated no-man’s land.

The new vehicle would be larger and heavier than the Char d’Assaut Schneider, but it used many of the same mechanical components taken from the Holt tractor. The French firm Compagnie des Forges et Aciéries de la Marine et d’Homécourt (F.A.M.H.) at Saint Chamond, near Lyon, designed the tank in 1916. The "St. Chamond" proved to be a faulty design, it had large front and rear hull overhangs which reduced cross-country manœuvrability, and made the vehicle difficult to handle. Other flaws became apparent when the St. Chamond saw its first action on 5th May 1917: The gun’s recoil cylinder proved too vulnerable to enemy fire, and crew members found it difficult to exit a strikken vehicle in combat.

Available Scale Model Kits

Technical Specifications

  • Char de Rupture Saint Chamond M-16
  • Engine: Panhard, 4-cylinder petrol, 67 KW
  • Maximum Speed: 8 km/h on roads
  • Fuel Capacity:
  • Average Range: 59.5 km
  • Length: 8687 mm
  • Width: 2667 mm
  • Height: 2362 mm
  • Weight: 22 t
  • Armament (early model): 75 mm Saint Chamond T.R. gun, four 8 mm Hotchkiss MGs
  • Armament (late model): 75 mm M.1897 field gun, four 8 mm Hotchkiss MGs
  • Armour: 11 to 17 mm all around
  • Crew: Commander, Driver and six Gunners

Historical Employment

  • French Army, May 1917–1918

Of the 400 St. Chamond tanks built during the war, some were of the original design with two circular cupolas on the roof. This type was soon modified in the course of the production process, and the vehicle received a higher roof with only one square cupola. The tracks were changed to a chevron pattern which provided better traction, and some vehicles received additional armour plates to protect them against German «K» bullets fired from the 13 mm Mauser T-Gewehr. None of these revisions made the St. Chamond an acceptable tank, and it was scheduled to be replaced by British heavy tanks in 1919. The Great War ended before the vehicle could be withdrawn.

Patrick Storto

World War One Miniatures