|Main Gun Optics|
|Field of View||?|
Following exercises in 1932 and 1933, the French infantry called for the design of a replacement for the Renault FT17 light tank. The vehicle was to have a crew of two manning either one or two 7.5mm machine guns or a 37mm gun. The armor could measure up to 40 mm (1.57 in) thick and the tank would be capable of a top speed between 15-20 km/h (9-12 mph). Four manufacturers planned designs to meet the specification: Renault; Forges et Chantiers de la Méditerranée; Compagnie Général de Construction des Locomotives; and Delaunay Belleville.
The first prototype came from Renault at the end of 1934. It was based upon the Auto-mitrailleuse de reconnaissance (Reconnaisance Armored Car) 1935 Type ZT, which had already been accepted into service. In January 1935, the new vehicle, christened the Renault ZM, was sent to the trials commission at Vincennes for extensive testing. Trials continued into the spring at both Vincennes and Mourmelon, but events in Germany hastened the development process and by April, the French Army accepted the Renault ZM for immediate production before trials could even be completed.
The initial order came in May 1935 for 300 examples of what was to be called the Char léger modèle 1935-R (Light Tank Model 1935-R; abbreviated to R35). Over 1,600 R35s would be produced, making it the most numerous French light infantry tank in service in 1940.
The vehicle had a crew of two, driver and commander/gunner, and weighed nearly 10 tonnes (11.0 tons). The main gun, a 37mm SA 18 L/21, was mounted in the same cast APX-R turret used in the Renault R40 and the Hotchkiss H35 and H39 series of vehicles.
The R35’s tank commander entered the tank through a hatch (which could be used as a seat) at the rear of the turret. He stood on the floor of the vehicle and had access to a rotating cupola and three periscopic binoculars (called “episcopes”) in the turret walls for observation purposes. The commander was responsible for firing both the main gun and a coaxial machine gun.
The driver sat to the left, next to the engine and transmission on the right-hand side of the vehicle. He entered through two superstructure doors that opened forward and upward, the upper of which incorporated an episcope with armored visor. Vision to either side was provided through vision slits backed by armored shutters.
A fireproof partition separated the fighting compartment from the rear part of the tank that held a Renault four-cylinder engine, radiator, and two fuel tanks. The self-sealing fuel tanks were mounted immediately behind the partition on the left-hand side. A reserve tank on top directly gravity-fed the carburetor while the lower main tank supplied fuel by pump. A radiator and engine oil cooler sat behind the fuel tanks and behind them, a belt-driven fan drew air in through grills in the engine deck and from the fighting compartment.
The engine, on the right, transmitted power forward through the clutch and gearbox in the fighting compartment to the differential unit at the front of the tank, and drove the sprockets through a final drive reduction system.
R35s, despite their extremely large numbers, were no match for modern Panzer formations. The R35's primary fault was the weak main gun. It was too small in caliber and too low in velocity for adequate anti-tank capacity. The tank was, however, heavily armored for a light tank and its all-cast construction was novel for the time.
Pitifully slow and outclassed from the beginning of the conflict, the R35 could still come out ahead in combat if manned by a skilled crew or facing overconfident opponents. Even in the early stages of the war, it was not capable enough in any sphere of performance to do very well against other tanks. Its one saving grace is its thick armor, making it a tough opponent for the relatively small-calibre anti-tank guns of the time. Its 37mm gun could kill light enemy armor but only at brutally close range.
The R35 tends to be the last tank picked from the available list, and for good reason: it’s slow and poorly armed. But it is not entirely impotent, and its small profile can make it quite effective in certain defensive situations. With an R35 you need to forget you can move at all - you're not going to outrun any German vehicle - unless in extreme situations, and treat yourself like an armored defensive pillbox. While supporting an infantry attack, you can stick it in low gear and fire on the move; you will not outdistance your supporting infantry and thus can provide quite good support with your heavy armor plate. You should still pay particular attention to enemy anti-tank guns, because they can penetrate you if you get close enough or if they happen to be of 50mm caliber and larger.
Make sure you don’t accidentally open the gunner’s port. On other tanks, this would leave a tiny vulnerability in the mantlet or front turret plate; on French tanks, it opens the large rear turret hatch, leaving your turret crewmen exposed to attacking fire, including normally harmless pistol fire.
While many French players ignore the R35 because they don’t want to drive the worst anti-tank AFV in the list, and many German players do not fear it, an R35 can use these conditions to advantage in certain situations. You will probably, if in a combined tank attack, be the last vehicle the enemy bothers to target as you represent the least threat. When targeted, you aren’t an easy kill unless the enemy has larger caliber guns at its disposal.
In strategic terms, the R35 has an advantage as last choice. After extended battles, French bases usually have a few R35s left because few players bother to take them out in armored combat. If the enemy is out of tanks, having even a few R35s in reserve can suddenly be a critical advantage against an enemy force reduced to infantry, trucks, and pushed or towed anti-tank guns.
The R35 is available from tier 0.