The Somua S35 was a French tank which served during World War II. Although the tank was produced in limited numbers from 1935 to 1940, its solid firepower, armor, and agility made the S35 tanks one of the best of its time.
It was a relatively agile medium tank, with more armor and armament than its rivals. It was built with a well-sloped, mainly cast armor section.
The outer covering was cast in four parts—a world first, and the turret was cast iron as well. The drawbacks of these features were the high cost of production and time-consuming maintenance.
The initial tracks were 3 inches thick, with 144 links. Later productions had 103 links with enlarged pieces. It had a capacity for a crew of three: the commander, who also functioned as the gunner; the radio operator, who also functioned as the loader; and the driver.
The tank was propelled by a Somua V-8 petrol engine which provided 190 horsepower, and with a power-to-weight ratio of 9.62hp/ton, it could run at a speed of 25 mph.
Its main defense was its hull armor, 1.85 inches thick at the front and 1.65 inches at the sides. Its turret armor was 1.65 inches thick at the front and 1.57 inches at the sides.
The main armament of the S35 was a 47 mm SA 35 gun. Its secondary armament was a 7.5 mm MAC mle 1931 machine gun. It could penetrate any 1940’s German tanks from a range of 1000 yards.
Between 1935 and June 1940, 427 of these vehicles were manufactured. Only limited numbers of this excellent medium tank were produced, owing, of course, to its cost per unit and the occupation of France by Germany.
Although both losses and successes were recorded during the tank’s participation in World War II, the units performed well with most of the recorded successes being attributed to the S35’s armor and firepower.
During the Battle of Hannut on 15th May 1940, the S35s earned respect on the battlefield as they proved superior to the German tanks in direct combat. But due to breakdowns during a disorganized and hasty move towards the south of Namur on the 17th of May, the 1st Light Mechanized Division, which was known as the strongest of all the units within the Allied division, became impotent and was consequently defeated by the German 5th Panzerdivision.
Three flaws were reported on the tactical, operational and strategic levels. The main tactical flaw was the absence of a hatch on the cupola. The operational flaw was its poor mechanical reliability.
The suspension units were too weak and too complicated, demanding enormous maintenance efforts, especially since the cast armor modules did not allow easy access to the suspension and engine.
Finally, a major drawback during operations was the tank’s small turret, the commander was forced to handle multiple tasks at the same time.
He would search for enemy targets, aim and fire the gun, as well as coordinate the actions of the crew. This workload reduced his awareness and also the vehicle’s effectiveness on the battlefield.
However, although it was not easily handled in action, the S35s served actively in the battlefield and earned a reputation for being a stubborn opponent.