Results of Quiet Work
It just so happened that the main secret developers of French tanks were involved in the creation of the best French wartime tank, the Char B. Forges et Chantiers de la Méditerranée (FCM) ended up outside of the occupation zone, but Ateliers de construction de Rueil (ARL) ended up inside of it. Until 1936, this organization was the tank building branch of the APX arms manufacturer.
Aside from the Char B, both companies worked on modernization of the breakthrough tank. Here the B1 ter prototypes were developed and produced, and work on the improved B40 tank began. In addition, both companies were competing for the contract of making a superheavy tank for the Maginot Line. Prototypes were ordered and full scale models built.
During the occupation, work at FCM and ARL slowed down, but didn't stop. Outside the occupation zone, work to modernize the Somua S35 cavalry tank continued. FCM engineers developed two and three man turrets with a more powerful 47 mm gun. As for ARL, they went even further. In 1942, the design bureau performed a deep modernization of the Somua S35, indexed SARL 42 (Somua-ARL 42).
The design of the hull was changed: the front was sloped more, the radio operator's position was removed, the hull was simplified. Another change was a new turret ring: 1500 mm wide opening, 1580 mm wide base. A new three man turret was designed from scratch, to be equipped with a 75 mm L/53.3 gun. The work was split up: the SARL 42 hull was developed in Rueil-Malmaison, supervised by the chief engineer of ARL Maurice Lavirotte. The turret was designed by engineer Devenne's grop in Caussade, outside of the occupation zone. Also in Caussade, Lafargue's group was working on the gun, based on a 75 mm Schneider AA gun.
After the Germans occupied the rest of France in the fall of 1942, work on SARL 42 stopped. ARL engineers were also working on a 30 ton tank that continued the Char B lineage, but this work was stopped in November of 1942. However, this was not in vain: the engineers received priceless experience that will come in handy two years later.
In August of 1944, Paris was liberated, and by fall, most of France was free of occupants. Almost immediately after liberation, companies resumed work on new tanks. Vast trophies supplemented their own experience. Even though most vehicles in France were hopelessly outdated, the Allies did run into a few hundred Panthers and a few heavy Tiger battalions. In addition, France saw the combat debut of the Tiger B, and the majority of these new tanks from the 503rd Heavy Tank Battalion remained in the fields of Normandy. The aforementioned vehicles, especially the Tiger B, played an important role in restoring French post-war tank production.
Growth of Appetites
On October 9th, 1944, Lieutenant General Leier, the Chief of Staff of the French Army, signed an order for the development and production of new vehicles. The first section listed 150 Panhard 178 armoured cars armed with 47 mm guns, later expanding to Panhard 178B.
The second section is what interests us most. It describes a 35 ton tank armed with a 75 mm gun and a 500 hp Talbot engine with the armour of an American M4 Sherman. On November 29th, an new document was written. The Chief of Staff approved the characteristics of the new tank, and, most interestingly, the tank must be ready ASAP. It would enter production straight from the drawing board, without even a prototype! The production volumes were very ambition for a country just freed from occupation. Leier wanted no less than 500 tanks! The first vehicles were to be ready in May of 1945, with a monthly production run of 50-70 tanks.