UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!



Around 230 AMX-13 light tanks produced by the firm of Creusot-Loire since 1953 remained in the French Army inventory as of 1990. Over 3,000 such tanks were produced, the bulk of which were delivered to a number of countries of Latin America, the Near East and Southeast Asia. A feature of the AMX-13 light tank is the presence of an oscillating turret, which has a 90-mm gun installed in its upper part. Initially a 75-mm rifled gun was used. Some of them are armed with a 105-mm gun, and SS-11ATGM launchers are mounted on some of the vehicles.

Any gun that vents propellant gases out the back must be integrated such that the propellant gas exhaust may proceed unimpeded rearward. The most direct means to accommodate this requirement is to use a pedestal mount, external gun. The 105-mm M68 cannon integration with the eight-wheeled light armored vehicle is an excellent example of a pedestal mount. An alternative approach is to provide for a turret that rotates in both azimuth and elevation. Such a turret is termed an oscillating turret, such as the French AMX 13 tank with an oscillating turret.

The oscillating turret is a two-piece turret where the bottom half allows a 360 degree rotation on a conventional turret ring, but the upper half is mounted on trunnions at either side. The gun is fixed in the upper part of the turret and gun elevation and depression is obtained by tilting the whole of the upper part of the turret. The main advantage accrues from the gun being fixed in relation to the upper turret. The sighting and fire control system are greatly simplified as there was no need for complex mechanical linkage between gun and sight since both are mounted in the upper part of the turret and move together. As the gun is fixed to the upper turret, the swept volume requirement inside the turret due to the elevation and depression is also greatly reduced. The gun can be mounted close to the turret roof and so reduces the frontal area presented to the enemy when engaging a target with the main armament. Because the gun is fixed in relation to the upper turret, a human loader would have a very difficult task and therefore an autoloader is essential.

The French AMX-13 was the first successful use of a three-man tank with heavy armament. Introduced in 1950, it had a semi-automatic loading system for its 75- and then 105-mm gun. The AMX-13 was originally produced as a tank destroyer, but it was used as a tank by the Israeli army in the Suez operations of 1956 and the Six-day War of 1967.

Operation MUSKETEER in November 1956 was a mighty British and French invasion force of 130 warships, with 80,000 men and 500 combat aircraft. The purpose of the invasion was to seize and safeguard the Suez Canal. Egyptian military resistance was light and amphibious landings began the following morning. However, this short-lived spurt of military successcame to a sudden halt on 6 November, as the two invading governments acceded to a United Nations resolution for a ceasefire. The French 7th Armored Division had been dispersed for fighting Algerian guerillas. Tank crews had been converted to infantry and had to be retrained in mobile operations. Key pieces of equipment, such as gun sights for the AMX-13 tanks, were missing due to supply mishaps and were hastily requisitioned.

Before the 1956 campaign, the IDF had received a number of French AMX-13 light tanks, which were designed for reconnaissance. However, in 1956, the Israelis used them as main battle tanks, partially equipping a tank battalion in the 7th Armored Brigade with the light tanks and supporting paratroopers. Reconnaissance units remained exclusively equipped with jeeps. Occasionally, commanders teamed the AMX-13s with jeep units.

After leading the brigade’s two-pronged advance into the Sinai, the 7th Brigade’s reconnaissance company played a decisive role on 30 October 1956 in the key action at Abu Ageila in the central Sinai sector. The company managed to maneuver through deep sand and discover that the key Daika Pass was held only by a small force of Egyptian engineers who fled when the Israelis arrived. The company secured the pass, allowing combat elements of the brigade to pass through and surround the Egyptian defensive position.

Of the four division task forces used by the IDF in 1967, only Brigadier General Ariel Sharon’s division in the central Sinai sector had reconnaissance assets attached to it. This battalion-sized command contained a mixture of AMX-13 tanks, jeep-mounted scouts, and half-track mounted mortars. Sharon used his force to cover the left (southern) flank of his advance on Abu Ageila.

An analysis of the operations of reconnaissance forces in the 1967 war led to a reassessment of the composition of reconnaissance forces. One of the IDF’s major lessons from the 1967 battles was that reconnaissance forces were too light to survive on the battlefield. Units equipped with jeeps, half-tracks, and light tanks took heavy losses in action at places like Rafah Junction and Jiradi. The AMX-13 tank was too lightly armored and gunned for both a main battle and a reconnaissance role and was completely phased out of the IDF inventory.

One of the unique aspects of French Army structure during the 1960s and 1970s was the organic combination of different arms within one battalion. The French began experiments with combined arms battalions in the early 1960s, culminating in the mixed or "tank-infantry" battalion of 1967. Within this battalion, two light tank companies each consisted of four tank platoons plus an antitank guided missile platoon, while two mechanized infantry companies had three mechanized platoons each. The two types of companies cross-attached platoons for tactical operations. The battalion headquarters controlled other arms, including communications, reconnaissance, and mortar platoons. Use of the same basic vehicle chassis simplified the maintenance problems of each battalion and ensured that all elements had units of mobility.

First the AMX-13 and later the AMX-10 family of armored vehicles included compatible vehicles for light armor, ATGM launchers, and infantry. The French had to extend greatly the amount of training given to junior leaders to enable them to control three types of platoons. This problem helped force the French Army to reduce the size of both tank and mechanized infantry platoons to three vehicles each, a unit easier to supervise and control. Finally, because these tank-infantry battalions could no longer provide infantry support for pure tank units, the medium or main battle tank battalion in each mechanized brigade acquired an organic mechanized infantry company. In practice, this tank battalion often had to support the tank-infantry battalions because of their limited armor protection against massed enemy attack.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list