Based in dispersed forts in the southern wilderness of Morocco and Algeria during the 1930s, the French Foreign Legion’s motorised companies ‘maintained an efficient net of surveillance over the tribal inhabitants of hundreds of thousands of square miles of some of the most arid and dangerous country on earth.
‘Patrols were very long and hazardous, being isolated with a few vehicles many hundreds of miles from help for months at a time.’
I recently bought some Mad Bob Miniatures resin models depicting the Panhard armoured cars and trucks that would’ve been used on these long-distance patrols.
I’ve painted them in the distinctive camouflage pattern used in the desert. However, I must admit that my yellow lines are a bit too hard-edged compared to the spray-painted lines on the real vehicles.
I’ve depicted the armoured car’s crew wearing their working dress of blue mécanicien denim, which made them look like any French factory worker.
The ungainly tall Panhard 165 TOE (Théâtres d’Opérations Extérieurs, or Foreign Theaters of Operation) offered reasonable speed, light-weight armored protection and good off-road performance. It was armed with a short-barreled 37mm gun and a machine gun.
They were designed for use in North Africa, where the first of them saw action against Moroccan insurgents.
That experience led to a modified version, the 175 AMD, with a strengthened suspension and an added station for a rearward-facing driver. These also went to North Africa. During the Second World War, they were in action against the Allies in Morocco and Syria and then the Axis powers in Tunisia.
The 165/175’s most striking visual characteristics were its uneven road-wheels, the rear pair being massive, supported by leaf springs.
During the Rif War in Morocco, France experimented with combined armoured columns and aviation. A troop carrier was required to quickly transport infantry units to the front of the column whenever the highly mobile and evasive rebel troops were spotted. To simplify maintenance and lower costs, Panhard proposed an adaptation of their 175 chassis.
The resulting Panhard 179 shared its mechanical elements with the Panhard 175. The rear was completely rebuilt as a compartment with doors at the rear and sides. Above the main armored box was a sloped roof with hatches for ventilation. A MAC 31 or FM 24/29 7.5 mm machine gun was placed at the right of the top structure.
It carried ‘in considerable discomfort’ an NCO commander, driver, machine gunner and seven riflemen, with two light machine guns. The soldiers were seated on back-to-back benches facing each wall. ‘Ergonomics was then an unknown science, and men’s physical wellbeing was not given a high priority in this early experiment with mechanised infantry in a desert environment.’
And imagine the sheer heat of driving in an enclosed metal box across the baking desert!
While I was painting these models, I had in mind a small self-contained armoured column on an extended long-distance desert patrol. However, I don’t have (yet!) a tribal enemy for them to fight. So they will probably end up fighting in WW2 battles instead.
I’m a bit hazy about French vehicle markings. After selecting a door-badge for the two 179s, I later found out that the charging horseman insignia was actually used by a reconnaissance unit back in France – but it looks good, and that suits me!
PS: Quoted text in this posting comes from books and magazine articles by renowned Foreign Legion expert, Martin Windrow.