+++ DISCLAIMER +++
Nothing you see here is real, even though the conversion or the presented background story might be based on historical facts. BEWARE!
After the Second World War, France’s armored force consisted, almost entirely, of US-built vehicles, such as the M4 Sherman, M26 Pershing, and M24 Chaffee (among others). France received these vehicles as aid as part of the Marshall Plan and the Mutual Defense Assistance Act (MDAA). These aid pacts also financed the reconstruction of France’s economy and armed forces from 1948 until the late 1950s. In April 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed, and NATO was born, resulting in the United States extending the MDAA. This resulted in France receiving newer vehicles, such as the M47 Patton II tank.
In total, France would operate around 1,250 M24s which were identical to their US counterparts. It was a small tank at 5.45 meters (16 ft 4 in) long, 2.84 meters (9ft 4in) wide, and 2.61 meters (9ft 3in) tall. It weighed 16.6 tonnes (18.37 tons), utilized a torsion bar suspension, and was armed with a 75 mm gun. The tank had a 5-men crew: Commander, Gunner, Loader, Driver, Bow Gunner. The ‘Chaffee’ was named after WWI US Army General, Adna R. Chaffee Jr.
In 1956, the French Army and the Direction des Etudes et Fabrications d’Armements (Directorate of Studies and Manufacture of Armaments, DEFA, an institution within the French Military) were looking into affordable methods of modernizing their fleet of aging M24 Chaffee light tanks, which had been operated since WWII. One method was to somehow combine France’s new domestic light tank, the AMX-13, with the M24.
Initially, this led to the mating of the AMX-13’s FL-10 oscillating turret to the hull of the Chaffee, as the most logical step to improve the M24s. While cheap and feasible, this configuration never went further than trials. This was largely due to a perceived safety issue with the High-Explosive (HE) rounds fired by the CN 75-50 cannon. Inside the FL-10 turret, the CN 75-50 gun was fed via an automatic loading system, which was reloaded externally. If an alternate shell-type needed to be fired, HE, for example, it had to be loaded into the breach manually by the Commander. This was a tricky task in the tight confines of the turret on the standard AMX, made worse by the notoriously sensitive fuze of the HE rounds. This process would be even more dangerous on the smaller hull of the Chaffee. As a result, the inverse of this mounting was decided upon, mounting the Chaffee’s turret on the AMX-13’s hull.
The officially designated AMX-US was a result of this, even though there were many other unofficial names, including ‘AMX-13 Chaffee’ – as it was known by troops – or ‘AMX-13 Avec Tourelle Chaffee (with Chaffee Turret)’. By 1957, work on the inverse of mounting the Chaffee turret to the AMX hull had begun, what was regarded as a safer and easier alternative, and it was also a convenient way of recycling useful Chaffee turrets by separating them from their worn hulls. It also created a vehicle lighter than the regular Chaffee, meaning it was easier to transport.
The M24 turrets went through very little modification for their installation, retaining all the same main features. The only modification necessary was the introduction of an adapter or ‘collar’ to the AMX hull’s turret ring. This was needed as the Chaffee turret had quite a deep basket. The collar granted the basket clearance from the hull floor for uninterrupted, full 360-degree rotation.
The Chaffee turret was a standard design with a typical 3-man crew of the time: Gunner, Loader, and Commander. The Commander sat at the left rear of the turret under a vision-cupola, the gunner sat in front of him. The loader was located at the right-rear of the turret under his own hatch. Armor on the turret was 25 mm (.98 in) thick on all sides, with the gun mantlet being 38 mm (1.49 in) thick.
The AMX-US was operated by a four-man crew, as opposed to the three-man crew of the standard Mle 51, due to the three-man turret of the Chaffee. Armament consisted of the 75 mm Lightweight Tank Gun M6 which had a concentric recoil system (this was a hollow tube around the barrel, a space-saving alternative to traditional recoil cylinders). Variants of this gun were also used on the B-25H Mitchell Bomber, and the T33 Flame Thrower Tank prototype. The shell velocity was 619 m/s (2,031 ft/s) and had a maximum penetration of 109 mm. The elevation range of the gun was around -10 to +13 degrees. Secondary weapons were also retained. This included the coaxial .30 Cal (7.62 mm) Browning M1919 Machine Gun, and the .50 Caliber (12.7 mm) M2 Browning Heavy Machine gun which was mounted on the rear of the turret roof.
Apart from the adaptor or ‘collar’, the AMX hull went through no alterations. It retained the same dimensions, and forward-mounted engine and transmission. The tank was powered by a SOFAM Model 8Gxb 8-cylinder, water-cooled petrol engine developing 250 hp, propelling the tank to a top speed of around 60 km/h (37 mph). The vehicle ran on a torsion bar suspension with five road-wheels, two return rollers, a rear-mounted idler, and a forward-mounted drive-sprocket. The driver was positioned at the front left of the hull, behind the transmission and next to the engine.
Trials with what would be designated the ‘AMX-US’ were undertaken between December 1959 and January 1960. The vehicle was well received, with an order for 150 conversions being placed by the French military in March 1960. Conversion work was carried out at a plant in Gien, North-Central France.
The AMX-US saw brief service in the War in Algeria – otherwise known as the Algerian War of Independence or Algerian Revolution. One known operator was the 9e Régiment de Hussards (9th Hussar Regiment) based in Oran. They served well, but a few were lost in combat, but there is no evidence to suggest they served in any other location with the French military, such as in France or West Germany based regiments.
After the conflict in Algeria, the vehicles were returned to France, but they did not last long in active service after this. Many vehicles were being repurposed into driver trainers. For this, the vehicles were disarmed, with the 75 mm gun and mantlet removed from the turret face and a large plexiglass windscreen was installed in its place.
About fifty surplus AMX-US were sold as scout tanks to Israel, because the AMX-13, which had been procured and operated by the IDF since 1956 in great numbers, was used as a battle tank, so that no IDF reconnaissance unit used the AMX 13. The AMX-US was a perfect and cheap alternative to fill this operational gap, and the vehicles, delivered in 1963, took actively part in the 1967 Six-Day-War.
During these battles, the IDF soon realized that the AMX-13 tank in general was too lightly armored and lacked firepower, and this was even more true for the AMX-US with its vintage WWII gun. Losses were heavy at places like Rafah Junction and Jiradi Pass with many tanks destroyed by heavier Arab-fielded Soviet armor, such as T-55 MBTs and IS-3 heavy tanks. After that, both the AMX-13 and the AMX-US were gradually phased out by the IDF, either sold to other nations (e. g. Thailand), broken up for spares or preserved and stored in depots.
In 1975, a handful of these mothballed AMX-US were, together with other outdated Six-Day-War M50 Sherman veterans, re-activated and handed over to the South Lebanese Army (SLA). The SLA was a Christian militia during the Lebanese Civil War, opposing Muslim militias supported by Syria. The SLA received a total of 15 AMX-US, plus 35 M50s, and all these tanks were painted in a characteristic light blue-grey color. The SLA kept these tanks operational and active for a surprisingly long period, the last confirmed appearance of an SLA AMX-US in battle was in 1988. Even after the retirement of the last operational specimen, the SLA still used the AMX-US for training and security duties.
In 2000, nearly ten years after the end of the civil war, the SLA disbanded, and the surviving former IDF tanks were returned to Israel to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands – spelling the end to the AMX-US long career, of which four were returned and subsequently scrapped.
Crew: Four (Commander, Loader, Gunner, Driver)
Weight: 15 tons
Length: 4.88 m (16 ft) overall
Width: 2.51 m (8 ft 2 in)
Height: 2.30 m (7 ft 5 in)
Suspension: Torsion arms; Tracked chassis, 5 roadwheels, drive sprocket front, idler rear,
3.00 m length, 0.35 width, 2.16 m track
Ground clearance: 0.37 m (1 ft 2½ in)
Fording depth: 2 ft (0.6 m) unprepared, 6.9 ft (2.1 m) with snorkel
Side slope: 60%
Trench crossing: 1.6 m (5 ft 3 in)
Vertical wall climb: 0.65 m (2 ft 1½ ft)
Fuel capacity: 480 l (127 gal)
1× water-cooled Renault SOFAM Model 8Gxb 8-cylinder gasoline with 250 hp
Hydramatic automatic transmission; 8 speeds forward, 4 reverse
Hull: 10 — 40 mm (1.57 in)
Turret: max. 38 mm (1.49 in)
Speed: 60 km/h (40 mph) maximum, road
Operational range: 350 km (217 mi) on streets with internal fuel only
Power/weight: 17 hp/t
1× 75 mm Lightweight Tank Gun M6 in Mount M64 with 48 rounds
1× co-axial 0.30 Cal. (7.62 mm) Browning M1919 machine gun, 2.200 rounds
1× 0.50 Caliber (12.7 mm) M2 Browning anti-aircraft heavy machine gun, 440 rounds
The kit and its assembly:
This fictional tank model is the result of recycling: After a T-34 conversion, which used an AMX-13 turret, I was left with the chassis of a 1:72 Heller kit. The latter is a rather simple and primitive affair, with many wrong details and a very weak running gear. From another, even older conversion project I also had an almost complete turret from a Hasegawa M24 Chaffee left over. When I stumbled in literature over the French AMX-US hybrid I decided to use these leftover bits to create one!
The AMX-13 chassis was taken OOB, because I did want to invest too much energy into this build, despite its many flaws. Its running gear is rubbish, the vinyl tracks featureless, and overall the detail level is rather soft. From a distance it looks like an AMX-13, but any closer inspection reveals the model’s simplicity and toy-likeness. The Chaffee turret was also built with the original parts – but I had to replace the gun barrel and find a replacement for the gunner’s hatch.
Nevertheless, some scratch work had to be done. The biggest challenge was the AMX-US’ characteristic turret adapter ring, which markedly raises the M24 turret above the AMX-13 hull. My solution became a manually bent a piece of soft styrene profile — it’s not perfectly circular, but that’s not obvious when the turret is in place, and it looks the part. Furthermore, some small bits were added to hide flaws and distract. These include vertical bars in the exhaust opening, shallow storage boxes on the fenders (hiding the wacky distance ring) and tarpaulin/cammo net packs (created from paper tissue and nylon stockings drenched with white glue). The commander cupola’s hatch was left open and a figure (an ESCI German WWII tank commander) added, to make the model appear livelier. Since the M24’s AA machine gun had been gone, I had to replace it with one from an ESCI Merkava, its mount was moved in front of the cupola.
Painting and markings:
Initially, I just had the French army as potential operator for the AMX-US but found that rather boring due to the very limited livery options: any French tank from the era would have carried a dark olive-green livery, even those operated in North Africa! Some French M24s had been operated in South-East Asia in a sand/green/brown/green jungle scheme, but the time frame would not match well. So, I checked other AMX-13 operators and took liking in an IDF vehicle. However, while looking for potential liveries I came upon the SLA. The AMX-US, had it been handed over to the IDF, could have been among these donor tanks, and their unique (if not spectacular) light blue livery made them outstanding. I am not certain whether the blue tone was intended as serious camouflage or just as an IFF measure? However, among typical light rocks and mountains of the Lebenon and in dusty/hazy air, the bluish tone actually works quite fine, better than expected.
While a uniform livery is not complex, finding a suitable tone for the model took a while. Real life color pictures (of dubious quality) show a wide range of light blue and/or grey tones, ranging from a bright sky blue over pale grey (like FS 36375) to a medium bluish grey (FS 35237), frequently with severe signs of weathering/sun-bleaching which makes some tanks appear almost white. Some M50s also had olive drab or dark grey patches or patterns added on top as additional camouflage.
After testing several options I chose RLM78 (Modelmaster 2088) as basic tone. Odd choice, but it turned out to be light enough, is a rather blue tone (with a slight hint of green), but still dull enough to look like a military tone. An overall washing with a mix of grey, black and red brown followed, and then the model received a thorough, overall dry brushing treatment with various shades of light blue grey, including Modelmaster RLM76, FS 36320 and Revell 75, for a worn and bleached appearance.
The markings had to be completely improvised, though, and were created with Corel Draw on an ink jet printer and with white and clear decal paper. They include the SLA’s cedar tree emblem and the Arabic tactical codes. The white “X” markings were created with generic decal stripes.
After the model had been sealed with matt acrylic varnish, sand and dust residues were created with watercolors, and some beige mineral pigments were dusted into the running gear and over the upper surfaces.
A quick build and a good use of leftover parts from other projects, melded into a plausible result. The SLA livery adds a weird twist to this model, even though it is – in the end – just a mix of real-world elements: the AMX-US existed, and the SLA operated light blue tanks! Life is sometimes stranger than fiction.
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