|Laffly S-20 TL
|Truck and Heavy Prime Mover
During the 1930s, Etablissements Laffly, the French vehicle manufacturer, produced a range of six-wheel-drive military vehicles, many in conjunction with the motor and armaments manufacturer S.A. des Anciens Etablissements Hotchkiss. The collaboration produced trucks, cars, ambulances, fuel transporters, artillery tractors, troop carriers, prime movers, and even armoured cars and tank destroyers. These Laffly vehicles incorporated Hotchkiss engines and were often manufactured by either company. All featured an additional set of small wheels in front to help the vehicle cross ditches and obstacles. A similar set of wheels were suspended beneath the driver’s cab. The range of basic truck models upon which variants were built up included the Laffly S-15, W-15, S-20, S-25, and S-35, in rough order of size from smallest to biggest.
In 1928, the French military staff decided to motorize the cavalry of its Rhine army. This army, occupying Rhenania (the German term for the Rhineland), was intended to intervene quickly if Germany displayed any aggression or refused to pay its war tribute. Trucks were needed to transport platoons of seven men with their weapons both on and off-road.
By 1929, the Citröen-Kégresse P17 half-track constituted the backbone of the French motorized artillery, and the French military chose an infantry transport variant of that prime mover, the P19, as its troop carrier. Almost 500 P19s served in the Régiment de dragons portés (Mounted Dragoon Regiment; RDP).
(The early 17th-century term “dragoon” was used for footsoldiers who would ride horses to battle but dismount to fight. The English word derives from the French dragon, originally a synonym for the fire-spitting arquebuses some of these soldiers used. In time, the term was applied to the soldiers themselves.
Over time, practical and social pressures forced dragoons to train in mounted combat so that by the end of the 18th century, most dragoons were trained cavalrymen, either light or heavy depending on nationality. The French retained formations of foot dragoons well into the Napoleonic wars, possibly the consequence of a shortage of horses and a large mass conscript army, but this meant that the French associated the term with dismounted cavalry for longer than other nations, and with a period of military glory.
The French refreshed the old dragon to name the soldiers who would accompany tanks. Some British armour enthusiasts favoured the term “tank marines”, but the British Army adopted the more prosaic “motorised infantry” for its equivalent troops. The Germans at first used Schuetzen with its light infantry connotation, but later turned to Panzergrenadier, which resurrected a different historical term. US forces used the term “armoured infantry” from the start.)
Exercises in 1931 proved that the Citröen-Kégresse troop transports were too visible on the battlefield, and the infantry on board too vulnerable. The French staff drew up a new requirement for an armoured transport. This was a fresh departure from French military thinking of the time, as this concept had been previously abandoned for forces in metropolitan France. In North Africa and Indochina, however, armoured transports had been adopted for colonial troops. These troops often found themselves ambushed by brigands and wild tribes in desert and jungle, and armoured transports were vital for their safety. Examples of armoured transports adopted outside of Europe were the Berliet VUDB, Panhard 179, and Citröen-Kégresse P104.
With the French staff deciding to establish the Division légère mécanique (Light Mechanised Division; DLM) in 1932, it needed a way to transport infantry on a large scale. It requested tenders from manufacturers for a Camion tracteur léger à roues (light, wheeled truck) able to transport a ten-man platoon and its weapons. The military did not consider half-tracks for this role as it felt that technology was available to produce suitable wheeled cross-country vehicles.
In autumn 1934, the Lorraine company proposed its Lorraine 28, a 4x6 vehicle with four driving wheels on two axles at the rear and two steering wheels at the front. Laffly put forward its Laffly S-35 C - the “C” stands for chassis court (short chassis) - with six driving wheels (6x6). Both were heavy cross-country trucks. Lorraine won the contract, and produced 328 Lorraine 28 vehicles. It was apparently not well liked by its crews.
A year later, Laffly produced a new vehicle, a cross between its light S-15 and heavy S-35 C, the S-20 TL - the TL stands for tracteur, chassis long (tractor, long chassis). The new Laffly S-20 TL was generally superior to the Lorraine 28, especially in cross-country performance, and had a better power-to-weight ratio. Laffly was awarded an order for 140 S-20 TLs in early 1937, and they were delivered in the summer.
The Laffly offered ample storage boxes, 20 of them, in which passengers could store equipment. The truck was innovative for its time, because only one body type was needed to transport different types of platoons. Each Régiment de dragons portés in a DLM had 65 Laffly S-20 TLs. These trucks were able to transport one of: • ten fusiliers (riflemen) and their two light machine guns • a heavy-machine-gun group of ten men • an 81mm mortar group of seven men • a 60mm mortar group of seven men • a 25mm anti-tank gun and team of eight men
In the early 1930s, the Dragons portés had successfully mounted an anti-tank gun on a P19 half-track and could fire it on the move. The Dragons portés did the same with the Laffly S-20 TL, primarily because the 25mm SA-L 34 L/72 anti-tank gun proved too fragile for prolonged towing. The gun could be mounted facing forward or backward. When the gun faced forward, the Laffly’s windshield had to be lowered. In 1938, 40 special S-20 TLs were ordered and produced with a split windshield that allowed the driver’s side of the windshield to remain up while the truck mounted a forward-facing SA-L 34 L/72 gun. All 40 were delivered during the Phony War/Sitzkrieg.
By March 1940, the 2ème and 3ème DLMs were completely equipped with Laffly S-20 TLs. The trucks and crews destined for the 4ème DLM - due to be created June 1940 - were instead dispatched to replace the May losses, and were finally given to the 4ème Division cuirassée de réserve (Reserve Armoured Division; DCR) of General de Gaulle.
The Laffly is unique in the game in that it has eight forward gears: 1-4 are low-range gears for towing heavy ordnance; 5-8 are high-range gears for normal driving. As well as troop transport and hauling AT and AA guns for the French Army, it is the Mobile Spawn Point vehicle.