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AFVs of the French Indochina War


Danny O'Hara

This page is an attempt to detail the various types of AFV in service during the French Indochina War of 1945-54. I do not intend to spend much time here on tactics or organisations, but to give an overview of the variety of equipment in service with the CEFEO. The history of the various armoured units in Indochina deserves a page to itself !

As with most areas of equipment for the CEFEO, the AFVs were an heterogenous mix - in the early days Japanese tanks were used by the returning French Army, and later a mixture of US, British and French vehicles were brought in. Many were modified locally, and as in most thing the French proved to be nothing if not adaptable.

Tanks and Tankettes

Japanese Tanks

The CEFEO made use of several ex-Japanese tanks early in the War.

The main user of these was an ad-hoc formation (apparently the reforming Détachment Motorisée du Cambodge?) in Cambodia, which used Renault UE tractors with machine-guns mounted, plus a mixture of Japanese Type 89B mediums, Type 95 lights and Type 94 tankettes. There were at least 9 Japanese tanks in service on 15th February 1946.

Type 89-B Medium Tank (Otsu)

Weight: 13 tons
Crew: 4
Length: 19ft 3ins (5.87m)
Width: 7ft 1in (2.16m)
Height: 8ft 6ins (2.59m)
Armour: 10-17mm
Armament: 57mm gun, 2x 7.7mm MGs (one in turret rear, one in hull)
Engine: 115hp diesel
Top Speed: 15mph

Type 95 Light Tank (Ha-Go)

Weight: 7.5 tons
Crew: 3
Length: 14ft 4ins (4.37m)
Width: 6ft 9ins (2.06m)
Height: 7ft (2.13m)
Armour: 6-12mm
Armament: 37mm gun, 2x 7.7mm MGs (one in turret rear, one in cupola)
Engine: 110hp diesel
Top Speed: 25mph
Range: 100 miles

Type 94 TK Tankette

Weight: 3.5 tons
Crew: 2
Length: 10ft (3.05m)
Width: 5ft 3ins (1.60m)
Height: 5ft 4ins (1.63m)
Armour: 4-12mm
Armament: 7.7mm MG in small turret (offset to right)
Engine: 32hp petrol
Top Speed: 26mph
Range: 100 miles

French Tanks

There were a few Renault MG-armed chenillettes in Cambodia at the beginning of the conflict, and numbers of H-39 light tanks were sent out from France in 1947 and 1948.

Chenillette Renault UE "Colonie"

Weight: 2 tons
Crew: 2
Length: 9ft 2ins (2.80m)
Width: 5ft 8.5ins (1.74m)
Height: 4ft 1in (1.25m)
Armour: 7mm maximum
Armament: 1 7.5mm MG (FM 24/29)
Engine: 35hp petrol
Top Speed: 18mph
Range: 60 miles

The casemate was an AMX development, built initially for export orders to China pre-WW2. There were apparently 6 in service in Cambodia, 15th February 1946.

Hotchkiss H-39 Light Tank

These tanks of the Blitzkrieg Era of WW2 had probably seen service with the French Army in 1940, then the Wehrmacht, and were then returned to French use again. The first arrived in May 1947 to equip the REC (Foreign Legion Cavalry Regiment), with 20 more in April 1948.

Weight: 12 tons
Crew: 2
Length: 13ft 10ins (4.22m)
Width: 6ft 5ins (1.95m)
Height: 7ft 1ins (2.15m)
Armour: 34mm maximum
Armament: 37mm gun and 7.5mm MG
Engine: 120hp petrol
Top Speed: 22mph (36kph)
Range: 75 miles (120km)

US Tanks

M5 Stuart Light Tank

This tank provided the main part of the CEFEO's tank force until replacement by the more modern M24 Chaffee started in 1950, but it was in service from 1946 until the final withdrawal.

Weight: 15 tons
Crew: 4
Length: 15ft 10.5ins (4.84m)
Width: 7ft 4.25ins ((2.24m)
Height: 7ft 6.5ins (2.30m)
Armour: 12-67mm
Armament: 37mm gun, 3 MGs (co-axial, hull and AA)
Engine: 110hp petrol
Top Speed: 36mph (cross-country 24mph approx)
Range: 100 miles


Based on the M-5 hull, this vehicle provided much needed fire-support to armoured units in Indochina.

Weight: 15 tons
Crew: 4
Length: 16ft 3ins (4.95m)
Width: 7ft 7ins (2.31m)
Height: 7ft 6.5ins (2.30m)
Armour: 10-54mm
Armament: 75mm howitzer (in open turret), 0.5in MG (AA)
Engine: 220hp petrol
Top Speed: 36mph (cross-country 24mph approx)
Range: 100 miles

M4 Sherman Medium Tank

The famous Sherman was used in limited numbers both in the M4A1 version, and the M-32 ARV (with 81mm mortar, but no gun, 1x hull 0.3in MG, 1x 0.5in AA MG, winch and A-frame jib).

Weight: 30 tons
Crew: 5
Length: 19ft 4in (excluding gun) (5.89m)
Width: 8ft 7in (2.62m)
Height: 9ft (2.74m)
Armour: 12-75mm
Armament: 75mm gun, 0.5in MG (AA), 2x 0.3in MG (hull and coaxial)
Engine: various, typically 500hp petrol or 375hp diesel
Top Speed: 24-29mph (cross-country 15-20mph approx)
Range: 100-150 miles (depending on engine)

M24 Chaffee Light Tank

This excellent light tank came into service in Indochina from 1950, and was most famously used at Dien Bien Phu where the Chaffees were nicknamed "bisons".

Weight: 18 tons
Crew: 5
Length: 16ft 6ins (excluding gun) (5.03m)
Width: 9ft 8ins (2.95m)
Height: 8ft 1.5ins (2.48m)
Armour: 10-38mm
Armament: 75mm gun, 0.5in MG(AA), 2x 0.3in MG (hull and coaxial)
Engine: 220hp petrol
Top Speed: 35mph (cross-country 25mph approx) 
Range: 110 miles

M36B2 Jackson Tank-destroyer

This tank destroyer was initially deployed to Indochina to guard the Chinese border, but was generally used for fire-support. It was based on the M-10 Tank Destroyer, itself a development from the M4A2 Sherman.

Weight: 28 tons
Crew: 5
Length: 19ft 7ins (5.97m)
Width: 10ft (3.05m)
Height: 10ft 5.5ins (3.19m)
Armour: 12-50mm
Armament: 90mm gun, 0.5in MG (AA)
Engine: 450hp petrol
Top Speed: 30mph (cross-country 18mph approx)
Range: 112 miles

Half-tracks and Carriers

US Half-track

Another vehicle which served right through the war, this was a very useful APC. Both M2 and M3 Half-tracks were used.

Weight: 9 tons
Crew: 3 (plus 10 passengers)
Length: 20ft 6.5ins (6.26m)
Width: 7ft 3.5ins (2.22m)
Height: 8ft 2.5ins (2.50m)
Armour: 7-13mm
Armament: 0.5in MG ("pulpit" mount) and 0.3in MG (rear pintle mount)
Engine: 147hp petrol
Top Speed: 45 mph
Range: 180-215 miles

British Universal Carrier

This classic British vehicle of WW2 was used by several units for reconnaissance.

Weight: 4 tons
Crew: 3
Length: 12ft (3.66m)
Width: 6ft 11ins (2.11m)
Height: 4ft 6ins (1.37m)
Armour: 12mm maximum
Armament: Vickers MMG or various LMGs (one MG per vehicle)
Engine: 85hp petrol
Top Speed: 30 mph
Range: 160 miles

Armoured Cars

French Armoured Cars

Panhard 178B

The Panhard 178 AMD (armoured recon vehicle) had been probably the best armoured car in service in 1940, but the 25mm gun had limited effectiveness. Prototypes of a version with a 47mm AT gun were built in 1940, but France fell before these could be put into production. However, production of the B model was resumed post-war with the new armament.

Weight: 8 tons
Crew: 4
Length: 15ft 9ins (4.79m)
Width: 6ft 7ins (2.01m)
Height: 7ft 7ins (2.31m)
Armour: 7-20mm
Armament: 47mm gun and 7.5mm Reibel MG in FL-1 (Fives-Lille) turret
Engine: 105hp petrol
Top Speed: 45mph (26mph in reverse!)
Range: 187 miles

British Armoured Cars

Coventry Mk.I Armoured Car

Intended as a replacement for the British Daimler and Humber armoured cars, the war ended before production really began, and the British orders were cancelled. However, France bought the initial production run for service in Indochina, and was in fact the only user of this vehicle. It was found to be too heavy for service in Indochina, and was gradually withdrawn from use. Only around 100 were ever in service.

Weight: 11.5 tons
Crew: 4
Length: 15ft 6.5ins (excluding gun) (4.74m)
Width: 8ft 9ins (2.67m)
Height: 7ft 9ins (2.36m)
Armour: 14mm maximum
Armament: 40mm gun (British 2-pdr) and co-axial Besa 7.92mm MG
Engine: 175hp petrol
Top Speed: 40mph

Humber Scout Car

A light recon vehicle of the British Army in WW2, this was used by the returning French troops - 78 were apparently in service on 15th February 1946. Some vehicles sported locally-made turrets.

Weight: 3.5 tons
Crew: 3
Length: 12ft 7ins (3.84m)
Width: 6ft 2ins (1.88m)
Height: 6ft 11.5ins (2.12m)
Armour: 14-30mm
Armament: LMG (possibly in locally produced turret)
Top Speed: 60mph
Range: 200 miles

US Armoured Cars and Reconnaissance Vehicles

M8 Greyhound

This quiet and agile armoured car was in service throughout the war.

Weight: 7.75 tons
Crew: 4
Length: 16ft 5ins (5.00m)
Width: 8ft 4ins (2.54m)
Height: 7ft 4.5ins (2.25m)
Armour: 3-20mm
Armament: 37mm gun, 0.3in MG coaxial, 0.5in MG (AA)
Engine: 110hp petrol
Top Speed: 56mph
Range: 350 miles

M3 Scout Car

This vehicle was more of a small APC than a true scout car, but had been much used by the French troops in Europe 1944-45, and was sent out with the initial elements of the CFEO.

Weight: 5 tons
Crew: 8
Length: 18ft 3ins (5.56m)
Width: 6ft 5.5ins (1.97m)
Height: 6ft 1in (1.85m)
Armour: 12mm maximum
Armament: 1 0.5in HMG, 1-2 0.3in MMG
Engine: 110hp petrol
Top Speed: 55mph
Range: 250 miles

Armoured Jeeps

True to their SAS ancestry, the paras of the Demi-Brigade Parachutiste SAS fitted some jeeps with armour. However, the Viet Minh had no airfields to raid and the jeeps proved unsuited to local needs. After taking serious losses in a well-planned ambush, the armoured jeeps were replaced by armoured cars in 1948.

Armoured GMC trucks

The deployment of the 2e DB's to Indochina included its 22nd Colonial Artillery group (AA) equipped with self-propelled 40mm Bofors mounted on GMC 2.5 ton trucks, a conversion that had been carried out by the unit during WW2. Given the lack of enemy aircraft, these were quickly given armoured bodies and used for gunfire support of infantry operations. Improvised mounts were also built locally by simply bolting a Bofors gun to a GMC's cargo bed and adding armour plating but these suffered from excessive weight and resulting chassis fatigue. Some armoured trucks were also used as personnel carrier for convoy escorts.

Armoured Dodge WC62

Besides the GMC trucks, some Dodge WC62 1.5 ton trucks were also given some armour protection and proved relatively successful for road opening and escort duties. Armouring the lighter 3/4 ton Dodge Weapon Carriers on the other hand was abandoned after experiments had shown that the drastically overloaded vehicle was of little use.


All of the amphibious AFVs used in Indochina were of US origin. One, the M29 Crab was not originally an AFV at all, but was extemporised into such during the delta campaigns.

M29C "Crabe" (Weasel)

Weight: 2.5 tons
Crew: 2 (plus 2 passengers, or up to 100lb of cargo)
Length: 16ft (4.88m)
Width: 5ft 7.5ins (1.71m)
Height: 4ft 5ins (1.35m)
Armour: none
Armament: None originally, but various were mounted including 0.3in MG, 7.5mm FM 24/29 and 0.5in MG (sometimes 2 MGs were carried). There were also vehicles carrying 60mm mortars, or recoiless rifles (57mm or 75mm). 
Engine: 65hp petrol
Top Speed: 33mph on land, 3.5 knots afloat

LVT-4 "Alligator" (Water Buffalo)

Weight: 16 tons
Crew: 3 (could transport 30 fully-equipped men or 6500lb of material)
Length: 26ft 1in (7.95m)
Width: 10ft 8ins (3.25m)
Height: 8ft 2.5ins (2.50m)
Armour: 7-12mm
Armament: 1x 0.5in MG, 3x 0.3in MG 
Engine: 250hp petrol
Top Speed: 25mph, 5.4 knots afloat
Range: 150 miles on land, 75 miles afloat


Weight: 17 tons 
Crew: 5
Length: 26ft 1in (7.95m)
Width: 10ft 8ins (3.25m)
Height: 10ft 11ins (3.33m)
Armour: 7-25mm
Armament: M-8 75mm howitzer in open-turret, 0.5in MG (AA)
Engine: 200hp petrol
Top Speed: 25mph on land, 5.2 knots afloat
Range: 150 miles on land, 75 miles afloat

Armoured Train

There had been two armoured trains used during WW2 in Indochina (one in Tonkin, the other in Cambodia), but their details and eventual fate are not known. The famous Rafale ("wind blast") armoured train was built in southern Annam during the winter of 1948-49, and operated between Ninh Hoa-Phat Thiet-Nha Trang in the service of 2e REI (the 2nd Foreign Legion Infantry Regiment). It included 2 locomotives, 2 wagons loaded with rails and sleepers (at the front to explode mines laid on the track), command/radio wagon, ambulance wagon, cookhouse wagon, and 9 other wagons. Armament included a 40mm Bofors gun, a 20mm cannon (with IR sights), 8 twin Reibel 7.5mm MGs, a 81mm mortar mounted on an old Japanese gun carriage, and a 60mm mortar. The crew included 100 légionnaires plus local auxilliaries.

The train survived through to the end of the war, at which point it was abandoned. 

Main Sources

  • Carnet de la Sabretache; "Arme Blindée Cavalerie"; Paris; 1996
  • Simon Dunstan; "Armour of the Vietnam Wars"; Osprey Vanguard 42; London; 1985; ISBN 0-85045-585-5
  • Simon Forty; "American Armour"; Ian Allen Ltd., Surrey, UK; 1981; ISBN 0-7110-1052-8
  • J.D. Ladd; "Assault From The Sea 1939-45"; David and Charles, Newton Abbot, UK; 1976; ISBN 0-7153-6937-7
  • François Vauvillier and Jean-Michel Touraine; "L'Automobile sous l'uniforme"; Editions Ch. Massin, Paris; 1992; ISBN 2-7072-0197-9
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