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French Arms Industry - World War II

In the 1920s, the French had a clear lead in motorization and tank development. The French motor industry was one of the larger motor industries, and was highly innovative. But the French Army and Air Force were poorly organized to develop and oversee the production of modern equipment. From the end of World War I until the early 1930s the French Army possessed no centralized office specifically charged with the responsibility for developing and evaluating new technology. In the post war era, each of the major branches of the army (infantry, cavalry, engineers, artillery etc.) had its own technical office and was responsible for developing the equipment that pertained to that branch.

In the 1920s, Citroen produced the world's first practical half-track vehicles. The military, following the success of French motor production and employment in the World War, had numerous commissions devoted to studying and implementing motorization. In tank development, the French capitalized upon their advantage gained in World War I, and several commissions were given a mandate to develop tanks. French tank design in the 1920s was clearly at the cutting edge, with the design for the Char B heavy tank. The Char B would eventually be deployed in the 1930s, carrying a 75mm and a 47mm gun.

In 1933, the energetic and capable war minister Eduard Daladier created a new department for the manufacture of armaments which would execute the armaments plans formulated by the branches, but supervision over the departments themselves was still lacking.81 Finally, in 1935, the Technical Cabinet was replaced by a new section for armaments as a permanent office of the General Staff. However, this new section carried relatively little formal authority to coordinate the development and procurement process. But Daladier complained in May 1937 of the extreme delays in equipment development and production caused by the Army branch inspectorates.

Both in ground forces motorization and in aviation technology, the French lost their edge in the late 1920s and early 1930s. With the exception of communications the French Army was not badly equipped in 1940. In fact, they possessed good guns, good tanks for the era, and several armored and motorized divisions. The French Army of 1940 can be said to have had a modern level of motorization. In their approach to motorization, the German and French armies were actually very similar.

In the 1920s, the French had a clear lead in motorization and tank development. The French motor industry was one of the larger motor industries, and was highly innovative. For example, in the 1920s, Citroen produced the world's first practical half-track vehicles. The French half-track technology of the 1920s was so admired by the Germans that the German Maffei Company licensed the French half-track system in 1927, and produced a German model by 1930. Having once led the world in half-track production, the French virtually ended development of the half-track in 1933. Half-tracks were most suitable for rapid operational maneuver and motorized units, however, which at the time were not emphasized in French doctrine. Thus, deployment of half-tracks was dropped for lack of interest.

The military, following the success of French motor production and employment in the World War, had numerous commissions devoted to studying and implementing motorization. In tank development, the French capitalized upon their advantage gained in World War I, and several commissions were given a mandate to develop tanks. French tank design in the 1920s was clearly at the cutting edge, with the design for the Char B heavy tank. The Char B would eventually be deployed in the 1930s, carrying a 75mm and a 47mm gun. The French were able to keep a high standard in developing tank technology. For example, the French tanks of the mid-1930s were fitted with the world's first cast turrets, and the French tanks of the 1930s had the most sophisticated steering systems of the era.

In artillery, both countries demonstrated a rough parity in gun quality by 1940. In the post-World War I era, both the French and the German armies had developed medium and heavy guns which were efficient and effective upon the battlefield in 1940.21 In other aspects of motorization, the French fell behind. Having once led the world in half-track production, the French virtually ended development of the half-track in 1933.

In accordance with its electoral program, the Popular Front government passed a law nationalizing the armament industry, in the Chamber of Deputies on July 17, 1936. The aviation industry was directly concerned. The nationalization of a major part of the airframe sector led to the setting up of six state-owned aircraft manufacturing companies. Once authorized to expropriate firms, each of the three defense ministries marched in a different direction. The Naval Ministry chose to nationalize only two minor firms and left the shipbuilding industry intact. The War Ministry expropriated nine munitions firms, added them to the ranks of the existing state arsenals, and operated them as state-run firms.

With the exception of communications, the French Army was not badly equipped in 1940. In fact, they possessed good guns, good tanks for the era, and several armored and motorized divisions. The French Army of 1940 can be said to have had a modern level of motorization. In their approach to motorization, the German and French armies were actually very similar. Both armies were supportive of motorization, and studied it intensively. Both were influenced by national strategic considerations, for both countries were net importers of oil, and were concerned about assuring a supply of oil in case of war.




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