Schneider CA-1

The Schneider CA-1 was the first French tank combat vehicle that had to be developed at the beginning of the war of positions and was first used on the western front from April 1917.

When the western front was entrenched in 1915 and the war of positions began, the Technique du Génie engineering department began to set up the technical department for armoured vehicles. The first step was to buy 10 agricultural tractors and armor them so that the vehicles could break through the obstacles between the front lines and clear the way for the infantry to follow. In the autumn of 1915, these vehicles were used for the first time at Verdun, but it became apparent that they did not meet the requirements and that the French army needed a fully armoured armoured vehicle.

Among the greatest supporters on the French side were Colonel Estienne, President Raymond Poincaré and Marshall Joffre. They recognized that the high losses during offensives could be reduced only by the support of armoured vehicles and only these were able to break through the strongly fortified German positions and obstacles.

At the insistence of the well-known proponents, General Janin, chairman of the French Army Equipment Commission, approved the development of a French armoured combat vehicle.

The contract for 400 armoured combat vehicles was awarded to Schneider, which was responsible for project management for Colonel Estienne. He already knew from the summer of 1915 that the designer Eugène Brillié was also working on an armoured vehicle on a chassis of the Holt tractor. Estienne also adopted the idea and began developing a prototype in February 1916. Already after 2 weeks the chassis was finished.



The Holt tractor on which the chassis was later placed



The concept of the Schneider CA-1 was based on the basic principle of mounting a 75 mm cannon on a mobile base in order to be able to destroy the strongly fortified positions and to support the infantry with the machine guns. So the heavy gun was mounted on the Holt tractor chassis first and then the chassis around it. The designers oriented themselves to the body of the American Baby Holt chassis, which is why the body was very box-shaped. Initially, an 80 hp petrol engine was planned as the drive, and a 60 hp Schneider engine was finally used in the first prototypes.

The first tests in December 1915 in Souain showed, however, that the vehicle was not suitable to drive even over narrow trenches and that the engine was too weak for the weight.

In order to remedy the defects, a rail was attached to the front of the car to allow barbed wire to be cut. In addition, the front was chamfered, giving the driver a better view as the 75mm was not placed in the middle of the vehicle but on the right side. A 75 hp Holt engine was chosen to drive the car, which would provide the necessary power for the weight.



Schneider CA-1


Schneider CA-1


Schneider CA-1


Schneider CA-1



After the modification of the Panzerkampfwagen the production was started, which was delayed however due to lack of material, particularly with the Panzerplatten clearly. For the planned Nivelle offensive in Berry-au-Bac on 16 April 1917, only 132 Schneider CA-1 armoured combat vehicles were ready for use.

However, the offensive ended in a catastrophe. Of the Schneider CA-1 vehicles used, 44 could not be started, 57 were destroyed during the advance and only 31 vehicles reached their destination.

When the offensive had to be stopped, many crew members reported that the vehicles were completely unsuitable for the difficult terrain. Due to the short chains and the protruding front and rear, the Schneider tanks would get stuck all the time. Moreover, the armour was only sufficient against bullets but not against artillery fire of the German guns. Here also the bad placement of the fuel tanks showed up directly beside the machine guns. When the German soldiers recognized this weak point, they concentrated their fire on these places and caused the tanks to explode.



Schneider CA-1 on its way to the front


Attack of Schneider tanks


A Schneider tank overruns a narrow trench


A destroyed Schneider tank



After the failure of the offensive, General Nivelle was dismissed and General Pétain received supreme command of the French army. He used a much more defensive tactic and rarely used the Schneider tanks at the front.

Although production continued until August 1918, the wear and tear and the losses meant that only 100 of the Schneider tanks were still operational by the end of the war. These were mainly replaced by the Renault FT tanks and served only as transport tanks for soldiers and material.

After the First World War the French Schneider tanks were discarded and scrapped. In 1921 Spain bought 6 of the tanks and used them until 1926 in Morocco against the insurgents and later under the republican army in the Spanish civil war.

One tank was delivered to the USA, which carried out tests for its own development of tanks. It was returned to France in 1985 and is now in the Saumur Museum.



A Schneider tank bought by Spain in Madrid


A Schneider tank bought by Spain during the Spanish Civil War




Technical data:

Designation: Schneider CA-1
Country: France
Length: 6,32 meters
Width: 2,05 meters
Height: 2,30 meters
Weight: 14,6 tons
Maximum speed: 7,5 km/h
Armour: 11,5 mm
Main armament: 75 mm cannon
Other weapons: 2 x 8 mm Hotchkiss machine guns
Drive: 4 cylinder petrol engine with 75 hp
Range: 48 kilometers
Crew: 6 men






You can find the right literature here:


The Encyclopedia of French Tanks and Armoured Fighting Vehicles: 1914-1940

The Encyclopedia of French Tanks and Armoured Fighting Vehicles: 1914-1940 Hardcover – September 19, 2014

France, alongside Britain, represents the birthplace of a new weapon that will revolutionize the art of war: the armored tank. And even before the appearance of this new piece of armament, it was in France around the turn of the twentieth century that we see the appearance of the first armored and combat vehicles.

In encyclopedic form, without forgetting any of the principal one hundred autos (tanks and armored cars) and their 200 variants and derivatives (troop transport, bridge layers, anti-mine tanks, etc..), This book offers a panorama absolutely full of all the vehicles that have succeeded or surrounded the Great War until the beginning of World War II.

A detailed though concise text concise, this work offers precise tables presenting all the specifications of the primary vehicles. With abundant illustrations (rare period photographs, sumptuous color profiles) this book an essential reference for both specialists and amateurs.

Click here!



Armoured Fighting Vehicles of World Wars I & II: Features 90 Landmark Vehicles from 1900-1945 with over 370 Archive Photographs

Armoured Fighting Vehicles of World Wars I & II: Features 90 Landmark Vehicles from 1900-1945 with over 370 Archive Photographs Paperback – September 21, 2007

Features 90 landmark vehicles from 1900-1945 shown in over 370 colour and black-and-white archive photographs

Click here!



French Tanks of World War I (New Vanguard)

French Tanks of World War I (New Vanguard) Paperback – December 21, 2010

This title examines the emergence of the first modern tank, the Renault FT. It is a little known fact that France fielded more tanks in World War I than any other army. However, France's early tanks suffered from poor mobility and armor compared to their contemporaries. Indeed, their initial use on the Chemin des Dames in 1917 was a bloody fiasco. In spite of initial set-backs, the French army redeemed its reputation with the Renault FT.

The Renault FT pioneered the modern tank design, with armament in a revolutionary central turret and the engine in the rear. More importantly, the Renault was designed to be cheap and easy to manufacture. Discover the history of the early French armor developments and their triumphant new design, the Renault FT, that helped to turn the tide of war in the favor of the Allies.

Click here!



Armoured Warfare in the First World War (Images Of War)

Armoured Warfare in the First World War (Images Of War) Paperback – March 17, 2017

A hundred years ago, on 15 September 1916, on the Western Front during the Battle of the Somme, the tank made its debut on the battlefield. The first tanks were crude, unreliable, vulnerable weapons, but they changed the character of land warfare forever, and Anthony Tucker-Jones's photographic history of these pioneering armored vehicles is the ideal introduction to them.

In a selection of over 150 archive photographs he offers a fascinating insight into the difficult early days of this innovative new weapon, describing its technical history and its performance in combat. While the Battle of Cambrai in 1917 is often held up as the first large-scale tank battle, tanks had already served at Flers-Courcelette on the Somme, during the Nivelle offensive and the battles of Messines and Passchendaele.

His book shows that the development of the tank was fraught with technical obstacles and battlefield setbacks. It was invented by the British and the French at almost the same time to help break the deadlock of trench warfare, and the British deployed it first in 1916. Belatedly the Germans followed the British and French example. The initial designs were continuously refined during two years of intense warfare. Finding the right balance between power and weight, getting the armament right, and working out the best tactics for tanks on the battlefield was a tricky, often deadly business.

Click here!






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