Renault R35 – Infantry Support Tank

Renault R35 – Infantry Support Tank

Renault R35 – Infantry Support Tank
with Adam Brooker
One tank you would not necessarily expect in an Italian force, is the Renault R35 infantry support tank. After the fall of France the Germans gave approximately 124 of these tanks to the Italians, to bolster their armoured forces as the Italians were lacking in modern tanks and armour in general after their losses in the desert. Although it was now obsolete compared to current German and British designs, but it could still be useful against lightly armed infantry and light vehicles.

The Italians learned about modern warfare the hard way in 1940. Now they are back, showing the world what the Italian soldier can do. Fighting under the famous ‘Desert Fox’, General Rommel, they form a crucial part of the Italian-German Panzer Army. Tough, determined, skilled, and aggressive veterans, the Italians broke through the British Gazala Line to save the trapped German Afrika Korps, held the line at El Alamein, and opened the way at Kasserine Pass, before holding up the American offensive at El Guettar. Fight or die for the new Roman Empire!

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Avanti: Italian Forces In North Africa 1942-43 

Brief History
This tank was originally designed as an infantry support tank, which was how the French doctrine of the time envisaged that tanks were to be used, before the German Blitzkrieg showed them a much better alternative for how tanks could be utilised. As such it was slow, reasonably well armoured for the time, and had a short 37mm gun better suited to infantry support, rather than an anti-tank weapon. It was one of the most common French tanks in the period, and by 1940 around 1685 vehicles were produced, with some tanks exported to Poland, Romania, Turkey and Yugoslavia before the fall of France.

Renault R35 – Infantry Support Tank

The tank only had a crew of 2, a driver, and a commander/gunner, this one-man turret design, was a significant flaw which was recognised and fixed in later tank designs. As the commander had so many duties to do in battle, it was almost impossible to aim, load and competently lead the tank. What’s more the turret either had to be hand cranked or shifted with the commanders weight, additionally he had to stand, as in the production version there was no seat for the commander. Many crews installed a make shift seat for the commander to sit on during driving, while not in combat.

For armament the tank had a 37mm L/21 SA18 gun and a 7.5mm MAC31 coaxial mounted Reibel machine gun. While these guns were suitable for infantry support, and in knocking out gun nests and light armoured cars, they were utterly insufficient to take on more modern designs and it would even struggle to penetrate its own armour. The 37mm gun penetration was very poor, and had a maximum penetration of only 12mm at 500m. It could fire about 10 rounds per minute, and one of its few positive points was that it was easy to operate and rarely jammed.

Renault R35 – Infantry Support Tank

The tank was well armoured for the period it was designed in, with a maximum of 43mm of armour at the turret and hull armour of 32mm, the tank was made out of 3 cast pieces, all bolted together. The sloped surfaces of the tank design also added to the practical armour thickness and helped it to deflect incoming enemy fire. It had a top speed of 20km/h which was fine for its intended role of infantry support, as it would not out run the attending infantry, but would be considered slow when compared to more modern designs.

But by July 1943 with the Allies invading Sicily in Operation Husky, this tank was woefully obsolete, but could still be useful if used against light infantry lacking in anti-tank weapons.

One of the major uses of this tank in Italian hands was the Battle of Gela. An under-strength company of R-35 tanks from the Mobile Group E attached to the Italian “Livorno” 4th Infantry Division, supported by infantry attempted to push back the allied landings at Gela, Sicily. At dawn on the 10th of July they attempted to eject the US Rangers (Force X), from the city they had just captured. As they advanced some vehicles were knocked out due to shore bombardment from the cruisers USS Boise and several destroyers, and the supporting infantry did not advance with the tanks, into the town of Gela. The R-35 tanks then bravely tried to advance into the city unsupported, but were pushed back with strong resistance from the US 1st Division, 16th Infantry.

A short time later, they regrouped and R-35 tanks again tried to eject the Rangers from Gela, the destroyer USS Savannah shelling them as they advanced, with only about 4 making it into the city. Fierce close quarters fighting erupted, with the lightly armed Rangers struggling to knock out the Italian tanks. It was not until brave Rangers got close enough to plant satchel charges and thermite grenades that a few tanks were knocked out. Finally, a 37mm anti-tank gun was brought up from the beach with the help of a jeep, and started knocking out tanks more effectively. This was enough for the Italians and they retreated.

Making a Unit Card
So now we see how these little R35 tanks fit into V4. Their 43mm of rounded armour at the turret, but 32mm hull armour provide them a Front Armour of 3, but also their sturdy cast construction give them a side/rear armour of 3 and a top armour of 1. They are slow tanks though, so they only have a tactical speed of 6” and a maximum Dash Speed of 12” (cross country/road) and an average cross value of 4+.

With its small 37mm main gun, it only has a range of 20” and an AT 4 with 4+ firepower, and with the limitation of the one man turret, it also has the overworked rule. But it does have an MG for use against infantry, which is useful.

Renault R35 – Infantry Support Tank Renault R35 – Infantry Support Tank

In terms of crew, these are not the crack M14/41 tankers from the Desert, but they are not total conscripts and do have decent skills. Your To Hit On is 3+, Skill 4+ and Motivation is 4+, but you still suffer from the focused rule, so any tactics rolls are 5+. Conversely you do have the benefit of Avanti and Determined, so your Follow Me roll is 3+, as is your Remount.  If you are lucky and roll an elite crew, their Skill will increase to 3+ and you have a 2+ Follow Me.  

Renault R35 – Infantry Support Tank

Renault R35 – Infantry Support Tank

They would be taken in Platoons of 3 to 5 vehicles, and at a very nice cost of 1 point each. These would be a very cost effective force for harassing infantry or stopping armoured cars, but very slow, actually moving slower at tactical speed than infantry. Luckily dashing in V4 does not attract extra enemy fire, that moving “at the double” did in the older versions.

You also have the option of taking a full formation of these tanks, with a single tank as a HQ for 1 point, and 2-3 platoons of R35 tanks. At minimum you could have 7 tanks for 7 points, or at maximum, 16 tanks for 16 points.

By taking the Semovente 90/53 and Semovente 47/32, and the Rifle platoons with the Blackshirts or Legions of Rome cards, with R35 tanks, you can make a reasonably historic force of the Italian defenders of Sicily. There was also some of the more elite Bersaglieri Battalions available, but they were not present in great numbers, and more likely in the normal rifle platoon organisation, not the desert AS42 organisation of the weapons platoons.

To represent the German Hermann Goering Division troops that supported them, you could also take German allies, like a Panzer III/VI platoon, or Pak 5cm anti-tank guns.

Overall while they are not the best tanks, they are cheap and tough for the cost, and add some great historical flavour to your games! And who knows, maybe you can succeed where the tankers of the Livorno Division failed!!

Download the pdf files for the cards here:

R-35 Tank Company (PDF)...

R-35 Tank Platoon (PDF)...

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