Today Richard takes a look at the French in Free Nations
When I started wargaming in the early 1980s the first three armies I bought were (in order), Seven Years War Austrian (15mm), Modern French (1/300th) and Italian Wars French (15mm). Whilst I still have the Austrians and the Italian Wars armies, the Modern French were sold long ago as the interest in Cold War Wargaming significantly reduced in the clubs I played in after the collapse of the progressive bloc in the early 1990s.
So it’s fair to say that, despite being a longstanding Warsaw Pact player, I was very much looking forward to the publication of Free Nations and the French Lists. This enthusiasm was however tinged with a small sense of trepidation that Battlefront would simply produce a couple of very vanilla looking lists, perhaps a tank list and a mechanised infantry list.
So I’m really happy to say: “Fear not fellow Francophiles! Battlefront has really done us proud”. Free Nations contains four lists with access to many of the varied and interesting vehicles that made collecting a French Army such a joy.
The four lists are:
- AMX30 Escadron Blindee (tank)
- AMX10P Compagnie De Chasseurs (mechanized infantry)
- Escadron de Cavalarie (armoured cars)
- VAB Compagnie d’ Infanterie (motorised infantry).
We’ll deal with each in turn.
AMX30 Escadron Blindeé
It should come as no surprise that the AMX30B2 is not dissimilar in stats to the Leopard 1, as the both derive from the same Franco-German project of the early 1960s. The AMX30B2 has a similar 105mm gun, slightly better front armour but pays for this with less flank protection, one key difference however is the rather handy co-ax 20mm gun which can be deployed in an anti-helicopter mode.
Core to the formation are two ‘pelotons’ of three or four vehicles with options to add one or two further pelotons of tanks or one peloton and one section of Chasseurs mounted in the AMX10P. Throughout the lists the two tracked vehicles (AMX30 and AMX10P) are closely linked as are the two wheeled vehicles (AMX10RC and VAB). Again throughout the lists French élan and skill are in evidence in addition to, a perhaps slightly unhistorical, lower level of staying power than their British and German allies.
The formation has access to a wide range of support, which I will detail later.
AMX10P Compagnie de Chassuers
A mirror image in many ways of the AMX30B2 formation, the Compagnie de Chausseurs starts with two core sections of infantry, either seven stands or five stands strong mounted in four or three of the AMX10P IFVs.
The AMX10P, a counterpart of the Marder, entered service in 1965, mounts a handy 20mm auto cannon (again usable against helicopter targets and a 7.62mm co-ax machine gun), the sections integral LRAC 89, shoulder-fired anti-tank capability can be augmented with two additional Milan ATGW teams and their own AMX10P (and one of the Milans can be mounted on the vehicle if you so wish), plus swapping one of the LRAC for the new APILAS shoulder launched missiles with its Milan equalling AT21! The sections lack a dedicated LMG / GPMG and so pinned rates of fire for the FAMAS armed infantry is low, coupled with a slightly brittle morale means that whilst excellent going forward these ‘poilus’ are not quite the match of British infantry on the defensive. The French also lack any sort of man packed AA missile system which means that with limited AA options at Divisional level a big Soviet air wing may well be beyond your ability to hold off, and the Soviets won’t need to use missiles to kill you with the armour values on your vehicles
Escadron de Cavalerie
This is the list that I will probably build; I loved my old 1/300th AMX10RCs. Whilst it shares some of the same components as it’s tracked IFV semi-namesake, the AMX10P, the AMX10RC armoured car is a large 6 wheeled vehicle mounting a HEAT firing 105mm gun. Entering service in 1976 they are impressive vehicles, actually being slightly larger than an AMX30!
Unsurprisingly they are the ultimate glass cannon; the big 105mm gun being mounted on a hull that is barely bullet proof to the front, and worryingly meagre on the flanks and top. It will very much need it’s scout and spearhead attributes to survive long enough to make a telling intervention. The formation is headquarted by a VAB wheeled APC and has the usual core of two pelotons of three or four vehicles. In this list however the only additional core choice is an extra peloton of armoured cars, or a section of infantry mounted in the four wheeled VAB APC
VAB Compagnie d’Infanterie
At the same time as the AMX10P entered service the French also brought into service a four wheeled armoured APC to complement the more expensive tracked AMX10P, this was the VAB (Vehicule de L’Avant Blindeé) built by Saviem Renault (a company which had purchased the old Somua manufacturing company of S35 cavalry tank fame).
The VAB Compagnie has a different core formation structure than the other three lists which are not dissimilar. The VAB Compagnie has two compulsory sections of nine or seven infantry stands mounted in four or three VABS, augmented by a single optional Milan launcher and its additional VAB; two additional VAB sections and a final choice of either an AMX30B2 peloton, AMX10RC peloton or a VAB mounted anti-tank section comprising up to eight Milan teams mounted in up to four VABS (which as with most NATO APCS can have the Milans mounted), which gives an nice additional anti-tank punch to the slightly larger VAB infantry sections and means that this is also one of the formations I will be modelling.
Force Support Options
The force has access to the following support options:
Provided by a battery or two of three to five AMX30 AuF1 155mm SPGS, basically an AMX30 chassis with a 155mm GCT turret attached, the vehicle provides the normal hitting power we’d expect of a 155mm howitzer, but also comes with an autoloader skill which improves it’s hitting chance.
AT capability is provided by up to two sections of the VAB Mephisto, each section having two or four of the HOT armed VAB based vehicles. The Mephisto sports an elevating launcher so it can exploit the “Hammerhead” ability to improve survivability.
SAM and AAA
The French have both options available to keep those pesky Hinds and Frogfeet at bay; a battery each of the Franco-German Roland SAM vehicle ( two or four vehicles) and the 30mm autocannon armed DCA SPAA mounted on the venerable (but iconic) AMX13 chassis (three vehicles), are available.
A further peloton of AMX10RCs is also available as a support option, and then air support is provided by up to two flights of Gazelle HOT anti-tank helicopters, one flight of “escort” Gazelle with 20mm cannon. Both types benefiting from the normal NATO hunter/killer rules and the escort version getting to fire before reaction shots, helping to suppress/destroy enemy air defences. Fixed wing support is provided by Mirage Vs with a cannon, and rather handy CBU option.
Lastly any one NATO formation can be fielded as an ally. Given that French troops were deployed in both Northag and Southag then any one is equally valid from a “historic” perspective. I think I might hang on a see what the Belgian list looks like if / when it comes out to see what it might add.
All in all I think the French will play very differently to the NATO options already out there, their skill and élan will make them great going forward, which will be mitigated by a real lack of anything resembling decent armour protection. On the defensive, their ability to put a lot of AT assets down range will be balanced by their somewhat brittle morale.
I’ve already decided my first formations will be an Escadron de Cavalerie and a VAB Comagnie d’Infanterie, with additional supports.
Just one “historic” point to mention. The NATO tri-colour camouflage scheme in which all the French vehicles are depicted did not actually begin to be painted on French vehicles until well after the Team Yankee timeline. The standard colour for 1985 was a darkish olive green….music to my painting ears!