La bête de fer
|Class||Advanced Heavy Tank|
|Upgrade of||B1 bis|
The ARL 44 (ARL standing for Atelier de Construction de Rueil producer of the tank) was a French heavy tank produced just after World War II. Only sixty of these tanks were ever manufactured and the type was quickly phased out. The ARL 44 is used to counter the stronger, more elite German tanks such as the Tiger and King Tiger as well as being equally impressive as a Pershing.
A huge caliber main gun, however, comes at a price, a price of a whopping $45 and major speed flaws. This tank may be used for immobilizing and destroying most other tanks, but it is recommended for defense only, rather than the offensive. Because, it is very slow, and it can be ambushed and by the way, destroyed easily if not handled properly. It must be used with recon, as many other factions will not try to destroy it face to face but using ambushing infantry.
During the German occupation, some clandestine tank development took place in France, mostly limited to component design or the building of tracked chassis with either a pretended civilian use or with a German Navy destination. These efforts were coordinated by CDM (Camouflage du Matériel), a secret Vichy army organization trying to produce matériel forbidden by the armistice conditions, with the ultimate goal of combining these components into the design of a possible future thirty ton battle tank, armed with a 75 mm gun. The projects were very disparate, including those for a trolleybus, the Caterpillar du Transsaharien (a regular cross-Sahara track and rail connection) and a tracked snow blower for the Kriegsmarine to be used in Norway. Firms involved were Laffly and Lorraine; also a military design team in occupied France, headed by Maurice Lavirotte, was active.
When in August 1944 Paris was liberated, the new provisional government of France did its utmost to regain the country's position as a great power, trying to establish its status as a full partner among the Allies by contributing as much as possible to the war effort. One of the means to accomplish this was to quickly restart tank production. Before the war France had been the world's second largest tank producer, behind the Soviet Union.
However French pre-war light and medium designs had become completely outdated and there was no way to quickly make up for the time lost and immediately improve their component quality. It might be possible though to compensate for this by sheer size. A large and well-armed vehicle might still be useful, however obsolescent its individual parts were, especially as the British and Americans seemed to be behind Germany in heavy tank development, having no operational vehicles that could slug it out with a Tiger II. An important secondary goal of the project was simply to ensure that France would in the future have a sufficient number of weapons engineers; if these couldn't be employed now, they would be forced to seek other occupations and much expertise would be lost.
Consequently it was decided to produce 600 heavy tanks, to be designed by the Direction des Études et Fabrications d'Armement (DEFA) in which engineers from the former APX (the army Atelier de Puteaux) and AMX (the Atelier de Construction d'Issy-les-Moulineaux state factory) design teams were concentrated, and built by the Atelier de Construction de Rueil (ARL), the army workshop. The type was named ARL 44. The specifications were not at first overly ambitious and called for a thirty ton vehicle with 60 mm of armour and armed with a new 75 mm Long 44 gun, rendering a penetration of 80 mm steel at 1000 metres and developed by engineer Lafargue from the 75 mm CA 32 gun, conforming to the earlier CDM intentions.
As France had been rather isolated from engineering developments in the rest of the world, the designers based themselves on types they already knew well, mainly the Char B1, the Char G1 and the FCM F1 — contrary to what some sources state the ARL 44 was not directly derived from the earlier ARL 40 project. It was tried to use the components developed between 1940 and 1944, though most soon proved to be incompatible. As a result of the reliance on older types, the ARL 44 was to be fitted with a very old-fashioned suspension system with small road wheels, using the same track as the Char B1, limiting maximum speed to about thirty km/h. The suggestion to use a more modern foreign suspension system was rejected as it would have compromised the tank's status as a purely French design. A Talbot 450 hp or Panhard 400 hp engine was envisaged. Progress was very slow as there was a lack of resources and much infrastructure in the Paris region had been destroyed. Even finding paper and drawing materials was difficult.
In February 1945 a meeting took place between the engineers and the Army. The tank officers quickly pointed out that building a tank according to the original specifications was pointless as such a vehicle would be inferior to even an M4 Sherman, a type that could be obtained for free from the Allies in any numbers so desired. It was therefore decided that the ARL 44 would be fitted with 120 mm of sloped armour, bringing the weight, which even in the conceptual stage had already grown to 43 metric tons, to 48 tons. The armament should consist of the most powerful gun available; sadly this would probably be the American 76 mm or with some luck the British 17-pounder; 90 mm guns had not been made available by the Allies.
The ARL 44s equipped the 503e Régiment de Chars de Combat stationed in Mourmelon-le-Grand and before the end of 1950 replaced seventeen Panther tanks used earlier by that unit. In service the ARL 44 was at first an unreliable vehicle: the brakes, the gear box and the suspension were too frail. A special improvement programme remedied most of these shortcomings. The ARL 44 made only one public appearance, ten vehicles participated in the Bastille Day parade on 14 July 1951. When the American M47 Patton became available, which type also had a 90 mm gun, they were phased out in 1953 and used as targets. The rumour that most ARL 44s were exported to Argentina is unfounded.