Schneider CA1: Wikis


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Schneider CA
Schneider CA1 (M16) tank.jpg
Place of origin  France
Weight 13.6 tonnes
Length 6.32 m
Width 2.05 m
Height 2.30 m
Crew 6

Armor 11+5.5 mm spaced
75mm Blockhaus Schneider
2×8mm Hotchkiss M1914 machine guns
Engine Schneider 4-cyl.
60 hp (45 kW)
Power/weight 4 hp/tonne
Suspension Coil spring
30/80 km
Speed 8.1 km/h

The Schneider CA1 (originally named the Schneider CA) was the first French tank. It was inspired by the need to overcome the stalemate of the trench warfare of the Great War.




Caterpillar development

Schneider & Co. was a large arms manufacturer in France. Having been given the order to develop heavy artillery tractors, in January 1915 the company sent out its chief designer, Eugène Brillié, to investigate tracked tractors from the American Holt Company, at that time participating in a test programme in England. On his return Brillié, who had earlier been involved in designing armoured cars for Spain, convinced the company management to initiate studies on the development of a Tracteur blindé et armé (armoured and armed tractor), based on the Baby Holt chassis, two of which were ordered.

Experiments on the Holt caterpillar tracks started in May 1915 at the Schneider plant with a 75hp wheel-directed model and the 45hp integral caterpillar Baby Holt, showing the superiority of the latter.[1] On 16 June, new experiments followed in front of the President of the Republic Raymond Poincaré, leading to the order of 10 armoured tracked vehicules for further testing. In July 1915 the Schneider programme was combined with an official one for the development of an armoured barbed wire cutter by engineer and Member of Parliament Jules-Louis Breton, the Breton-Prétot machine. Ten of the fifteen available Baby Holt vehicles were to be armoured and fitted with the wire cutter. On 10 September, new experiments were made for Commander Ferrus, an officer who had been involved in the study (and ultimate rejection) of the Levavasseur tank project in 1908.[2]

Souain experiment

The Souain prototype crossing a trench, on 9 December 1915.

On 9 December 1915 in the Souain experiment, a prototype armoured tank, a Baby Holt chassis with boiler-plate armour, was demonstrated to the French Army.[3][4] Among the onlookers were General Philippe Pétain, and Colonel Jean-Baptiste Eugène Estienne (1860-1936), an artillery man and engineer held in very high regard throughout the army for his unmatched technological and tactical expertise. The results of the prototype tank were excellent, displaying remarkable mobility in the diffucult terrain of the former battlefield of Souain. The length of the Baby Holt however appeared to be too short to bridge German trenches, justifying the development of longer caterpillar tracks for the French tank project.[5] For Estienne the vehicle shown embodied concepts about AFVs which he had been advocating since August 1914.

Estienne's proposal

Tank drawings of Colonel Estienne right after the Souain experiment, drawn on 11 December 1915. The plans are based on the 75 hp Holt caterpillar.
Final caterpillar test, on 21 February 1916, before the mass order of the Schneider CA1 tank on the 25th.

On 12 December he presented to the High Command a plan to form an armoured force, equipped with tracked vehicles. This plan met with approbation and in a letter dated 31 January 1916 Commander-in-chief Joffre ordered the production of 400 tanks of the type designed by Estienne,[6] although the actual production order of 400 Schneider CA1 was made a bit later on 25 February 1916,[7] at a price of 56,000 French francs per vehicle. In January it had been decided not to use the Baby Holt chassis, but the longer 75 hp Holt tractor; for this the armoured superstructure had to be completely changed, which was done in an army workshop in February. The first vehicle of the production series was delivered on 5 September. Meanwhile, production had shifted to the SOMUA company, a dependency of Schneider.


The name of the tank was Schneider CA. The meaning of "CA" is uncertain. Later it was usually understood to mean Char d'Assaut (literally "chariot" and today the full word for "tank"). For several reasons this interpretation is dubious. Firstly, the designation predates by some months the first known usage of char as "tank". Secondly, word order would be unusual: in French the normal order is Char d'Assaut Schneider. Thirdly, at the time the letter codes at the end were normally used to indicate consequent prototypes. We know the first army prototype based on a lengthened 75 hp Holt was called the Tracteur A, a second shortened Schneider prototype with tail the Tracteur B and that the type as produced was again different from that second prototype. It is plausible that the code means "third type" (C) in its first (A) production version; a further indication for this lies in the fact that it was not uncommon to use a reversed order: AC.


The last surviving Schneider CA in the Musée des Blindés at Saumur

To the modern eye, the tank is hardly recognizable as such. It has no turret, and its not very prominent main armament, a fortification petard mortar, the 75 mm Blockhaus Schneider, was placed in a sponson in the right front corner. Two 8 mm Hotchkiss machine guns, projecting from the flanks in ballmounts, complement the small gun. Another awkward feature is the overhang of the frontal part of the chassis which had been designed to crush down barbed wire. However this feature caused the tank to ditch itself readily. The fighting compartment is extremely cramped: the crew of six was mostly flat on their bellies in a 90 cm space between the roof and the 60 hp (45 kW) engine. Luckily, top speed was only 8 km/h. All this was protected by 11 mm steel plate, later improved by a spaced armour of 5.5 mm, raising the weight to 13.5 tons.

Operational history

As their production numbers were more ambitious the French lagged behind the British somewhat — it took them more time to build larger factories — deploying their tanks for the first time on 16 April 1917 at Berry-au-Bac during the infamous Nivelle Offensive. Their first use was a complete disaster as many of the roughly 130 tanks were cut to pieces by German artillery. Twenty units with Schneider tanks were formed, named Artillerie Spéciale 1-20, under the overall command of the now brigadier Estienne. In 1918 these "old" tanks were gradually phased out in favour of the new Renault FT-17, but production only ended in August 1918, when exactly 400 had been built including the prototype. At least one Schneider was delivered to Italy, which after testing abandoned the plan to build 1500 of them.

After World War I

A demonstration of the Schneider CA1 at Saumur, the world's oldest tank in running condition.

After the war, the tanks were rebuilt as recovery vehicles and tank transporters. Six were sold to Spain in 1922, from 1923 to 1926 fighting in Morocco, the surviving four vehicles later taking part in the Spanish Civil War near Toledo on the side of the Republicans. The only surviving vehicle, at the Musée des Blindés in Saumur, is also the world's oldest tank in running condition. It was preserved in the Aberdeen Proving Ground Ordnance Museum in Maryland, USA and later donated to France for restoration.

75mm howitzer of the CA1 at the Museum of Armored Vehicles at El Goloso, Spain.

Later designs

There were several projects for the production of more Schneiders with turrets and/or better guns: the CA2, 3 and 4. Only prototypes were made of the CA2 and CA3. The CA4 remained largely a paper project. Because of the project designations, later books would name the original tank CA1. The heavy St. Chamond tank was developed from the Tracteur A prototype of the Schneider, leading to much confusion among later historians.

See also


  • Pierre Touzin, Les véhicules blindés français, 1900-1944. EPA, 1979.
  • Jean-Gabriel Jeudy, Chars de France, E.T.A.I., 1997.
  • Alain Gougaud L'Aube de la Gloire, Les Autos-Mitrailleuses et les Chars Français pendant la Grande Guerre, 1987, Musée des Blindés, ISBN 2904255028


  1. ^ Gougaud, p.102-111
  2. ^ Gougaud, p.100 and p.111
  3. ^ Gougaud, p.111
  4. ^ Armoured fighting vehicles of the world‎ Duncan Crow 1970 p.68 "On December 9, 1915, the Baby Holt, modified with a mock-up armoured driving position ... was demonstrated on a crosscountry course at Souain"
  5. ^ Lanships
  6. ^ Gougaud, p.119
  7. ^ Gougaud, p.124


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