Am having an entertaining discussion with a gent in Holland about the above. It has been put to me that the first 20 or so Saint-Chamonds were delivered to the army without armament and were finished as supply tanks - in other words, they were never armed. I think Michel said that some Saint-Chamonds gave supporting fire to the Schneiders at Berry-au-Bac, but I am now told that they acted only as supply/recovery vehicles. François V says that the conversion to supply vehicles was later in the War and included all types of Saint-Chamond (I think Witold Lawrynowicz says something similar), but I'm wondering if those were in addition to the first batch, which were all of the first (flat-roofed) type.
Anyone know anything?
It was once thought that if an infinite number of monkeys were given an infinite number of typewriters they would eventually come up with the complete works of Shakespeare. Thanks to the invention of Wikipedia, we now know that this is not the case.
Heigl's Taschenbuch der Tanks, Teil III, which I have found rather reliable, mentions that on 16th April 1917 the French used in attack:
16 St. Chamonds
4 St. Chamond-Hilfswagen
4 Baby-Holt Traktoren
The tanks were divided to three army corps. VIII AC had 32 Schneider and 16 St. Chamond. XXXII AC had 80 Schneiders and V AC 48 Schneiders. The latter two tank groups both had supply tank detachments, each detachment including 2 Schneider, 2 St. Chamond and 2 Baby-Holt. The first tank group, which had St. Chamonds had no supply tanks.
So, according to this, there were 20 St. Chamonds available in Berry-Aux-Bac, but only 4 were supply tanks. St. Chamond detachment of 16 tanks was attached to 34. infantry division, belonging to this VIII Army Corps.
The St Chamond chars-caissons were not the first St Chamonds delivered. St Chamonds first went into action as recovery/resupply tanks because
1) the groupements going into action on 16 April were Schneider groupements (Bossut & Chaubes) and
2) the St Chamonds were pulling trailers, which the Schneiders had difficulty doing.
The St Chamonds first went into combat on 4 May 1917, with Groupement Lefebvre.
At Juvincourt, Groupement Bossut was supported by SRR1 (Section de Réparations et de Ravitaillement repair & resupply section. SRR3, with Groupement Chaubes did not have any St Chamonds), which had two St Chamonds pulling trailers, one Schneider, two Baby-Holt tractors, and a breakdown crew on foot, (very full reports by Estienne on 16 April in SHD 16N2120 and entire carton devoted to this engagement 16N2161). I would be very surprised if the St Chamonds ever fired their guns on 16 April. I have looked at their after-action reports again and can find no mention of this. As far as I am aware, all the chars-caissons had the flat roof.
There was endless contention between Estienne and the Armaments Ministry over the issue of the SRR units and the St Chamond char-caissons. For example, on 24 March 1917, Estienne asked GQG for six chars-caissons for each SRR unit (resupply and recovery) and an increase in the number of SRR units, these requirements being indispensable. (GQG, 1 Bureau, Le Général commandant lAS à Monsieur le général commandant en chef les armées du Nord et du Nord-est, 24 March 1917, SHD 16N2120.) There was considerable pressure on the factory to speed up deliveries and it appears that the factory took the easy option and prioritised them over the armed version. AS Captain Dutil claims, with some considerable justification, that the work on the chars-caissons was used as an excuse for the failure to deliver the combat tanks (Dutil, Les Chars dassaut, p. 57 and see Albert Thomas letter to General Nivelle of 15 April 1917, where he claims that the chars-caissons ordered by Estienne are one of the primary reasons to reconsider delivery dates for the combat tanks; Ministère de lArmement, Service Automobile, Le ministre de larmement et des fabrications de guerre au général commandant les armées du Nord et du Nord-est, AFGG 5 2, annexes 1, 45.) In view of the much delayed delivery schedule of the St Chamonds, the arrival of eight chars-caissons at Champlieu on 27 April 1918 caused much astonishment to everybody there (Dutil) .This quickly turned to disappointment as the chars-caissons were unusable and had to be rapidly returned to the factory (Le Général commandant lAS à Monsieur le ministre de larmement et des fabrications de guerre (Service Automobile), 16 May 1918, SHD 16N2132. See also Le ministre de larmement et des fabrications de guerre à M. le général commandant en chef, 15 May 1917, SHD 16N2121.
Thanks, Mika. There seem to be too many Schneiders in Heigl's version. I thought there were only 132.
Tim - you'll have to help me here. I don't understand your first line. Do you mind going through the chronology again? Agreed that the S-C's first official engagement was Laffaux. Where did the chars caissons fit into the picture? This is Michel's (Tanker's) account: http://pages14-18.mesdiscussions.net/pages1418/Pages-d-Histoire-Artillerie/Artillerie-Speciale-chars-d-assaut/artillerie-speciale-loupes-sujet_209_1.htm
Apologies for not being clear. The point I was trying to make was that the St Chamonds used on 16 April had been delivered armed and were de-armed for their use as chars-caissons in the Nivelle Offensive, ie the first St Chamonds delivered were not built as chars-caissons as per the discussion with your friend.
Im reasonably certain that the first St Chamonds built as chars-caissons were delivered on 27 April 1917 (typo above says 23 April 1918), see Estienne to Armaments Minister, no 1454, 3 May 1917. SHD 16N2132. I cannot remember seeing any reference to their delivery before this.You may accuse me of being pernickety over the distinction here but its one made in the documentation of the time.
Another factor to remember is that a lot of the armed St Chamonds were de-armed to act as chars-caissons towards the end of the war, which also makes me doubt that I am right about all of them having the flat roof.
In relation to the number of Schneiders engaged on 16 April, the correct number is 132, that being the number in Estiennes report on 16 April, dated 28 April, and the post-war tabulation of GQG de AFE, Chars Blindées, no 24.387, Tableau rectifie des pertes en Chars et personnel, par engagement, au cours de la campagne, 9 September 1919, SHD 16N2120.
Apologies for another typo - of course, the battle of Laffaux was on 5-6 not 4 May 1917.
The mistake from "Heigl's Taschenbuch der Tanks, Teil III, " is to give also tanks from Groupement Lefebvre (AS 31, AS 1, AS 10) not engaged in Juvincourt on 16 April 1917, but prepared to attack on Mont Cornillet the 17 April 1917.
SRR 2 (AS102) from Groupement Lefebvre used 2 St chamond caisson 2 Schneider and 1 Baby Holt.
A plus, Michel