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French EBR Squadrons: Infantry in the Cavalry?

Updated: Apr 27, 2023

Military Organization > France > French EBR Armored Car Squadron (Late 50s)

West Germany Panzergrenadier Company in 1966

French cavalry in the late 1950s featured an eclectic mix of equipment and organizations. This article covers the Escadron d'EBR, which were armored reconnaissance formations under Light Armored Cavalry Regiments (CLB) part of Armored Divisions (DB). This pertains to the TED ABC 012, which was a Europe-type organization table. This differed from the Type 021 North Africa-type (AFN) organization tables, although EBR regiments did initially deploy to Algeria with the European organization. But these were converted to the North African variant in 1960 to streamline.


This article will also cover the history of dedicated infantry and security personnel integrated into French armor units, using the EBR squadron as a backdrop.


↓ Organization

Part of: Light Armored Cavalry Regiment, Armored Division

Type: Armored Reconnaissance

Time Frame: ~1956-60

Personnel: 6 Officers, 29 NCOs, 175 Junior Enlisted


Command Platoon / Peloton de commandement (1 OF, 6 NCO, 26 EN)*

Command Group

3× EBR armored reconnaissance vehicles

3× Motorcycles

2× Jeeps

Administrative Group

2× 2 ½-ton Trucks

1× M16 Multiple Gun Motor Carriage self-propelled anti-aircraft weapon

 

Echelon Platoon / Peloton d'échelon (1 OF, 2 NCO, 4 EN)

1× Jeep

1× 2 ½-ton Truck

1× M3 Half-Track

 

3× EBR Platoons / Pelotons d'EBR (1 OF, 6 NCO, 35 EN each)

⁍ 5× Panhard EBRs

⁍ Protection Group

Support Group

Baggage Truck

 

Mounted Platoon/ Peloton porté (1 OF, 3 NCO, 35 EN each)

Jeep (Commander)

1× Officer, armed with a pistol (MAC Mle 1950 9mm or PA 35 7.65mm)

2× Privates, one armed with a pistol and one armed with a Mat 49 submachine gun


⁍ 3x Mounted Groups, each:


1st Demi-Group

2× Jeeps, one equipped with a .50 caliber machine gun

1× Non-Commissioned Officer, armed with a submachine gun

1× Corporal, armed with a submachine gun

4× Privates, between them: one AA52 or Browning .30 cal machine gun, one LRAC Mle50 or M20 Bazooka, 2 submachine guns, and 2 pistols


2nd Demi-Group

2× Jeeps, one equipped with a .50 caliber machine gun


1× Corporal, armed with a submachine gun

1× Private, armed with a submachine gun

4× Privates, between them: two AA52 or Browning .30 cal machine guns, 2 submachine guns, and 2 pistols

 

↓ Discussion

The EBR Squadrons were the principle combat element of French cavalry regiments equipped with the Panhard EBR armored reconnaissance vehicle, with one regiment providing reconnaissance support to Armored Divisions, plus other non-divisional regiments. They consisted of a Command Platoon, Echelon Platoon, 3 EBR Platoons, and a Mounted Platoon. Each EBR Platoon had 5 Panhard EBR armored cars, but also 5 jeeps (Willys MB or Hotchkiss M201) in a Protection Group, 2 jeeps carrying an 81mm mortar crew, and a baggage truck. This made for a total of 18 EBRs in the European-type squadron, whereas the North African-type had 11 (replacing the Jeep Mounted Platoon and 1 of the EBR Platoons with 2 Half-Track Mounted Platoons). When the EBR regiments were converted to the North African Type 021 tables in 1960, the smaller armor allotment per squadron was compensated for by raising a 4th squadron with EBRs (Noulens).


There was a huge amount of variation between French Cavalry Regiments in the 1950s. This was due to the diversity of new equipment (e.g. EBRs, AMX-13s, M47 Pattons), a continued reliance on old American WW2 production (e.g. M24 Chaffee, M8 Greyhound), and competing requirements for an army capable of fighting a high intensity war in Europe, but also lower intensity wars in its colonies. The latter point injected many motorized and footbound formations in cavalry regiments, reduced firepower as a priority, and introduced logistical hurdles related to overseas sustainment and a wide dispersion of units on the ground.


In Algeria, cavalry squadrons were used for convoy protection (maintaining freedom of movement), manning roadblocks, cordoning, patrols, ambushes, raids, providing quick reaction forces and fire support to other units, and population control (Aïcardi; Noulens). Motorized mobility was particularly suited for convoy escort missions, intervention, and controlling nomadic populations. This contrasted with the foot cavalry squadrons (escadrons de combat à pied) who were often used for static guard missions dispersed over large swaths of land (Noulens, 2011, p. 57). Noulens references the 7th Hussar Regiment, which with its 4 foot squadrons was spread out across 75 km with 8 separate posts around Aumale (today Sour El-Ghozlane). Some foot regiments also conducted operations primarily in mountainous terrain.


According to a doctoral thesis by Thierry Noulens, there were 9 cavalry regiments equipped with the Panhard EBR in 1958. These regiments varied considerably in their exact makeup. Some of the regiments which this article would apply to include (Aïcardi):

The 8th Hussar Regiment (6th Armored Division) was also equipped with EBRs, but deployed to Algeria on a North Africa-type organization. The main difference was squadrons had 2 "mounted" platoons (pelotons portés) on American half-tracks and one less EBR platoon. In 1956, it had 4 EBR Squadrons (AFN) and 1 Escadron à pied, which was a footmobile infantry company. Meanwhile, the 1st Foreign Cavalry Regiment replaced its M8 Greyhounds with EBRs in 1957, also on the North Africa-type. It reorganized on 2 EBR squadrons and 1 mounted combat squadron (escadron de combat porté) riding Dodge trucks, but these were task organized into 3 equal squadrons of 2 EBR platoons and 1 mounted platoon.


Given the dismount-centric nature of operations in Algeria (and the shortage of armored vehicles), many squadrons were organized on modified "AFN" organizations. There were three main types detailed by Aïcardi other than the European-type, which some regiments did also use in North Africa. In the following lists, personnel count is formatted as (Officers - NCOs - Junior Enlisted):

  • TED ABC 021 - Combat Squadron, North Africa type (Escadron de combat type AFN)

    • 1 Command Platoon (1-8-30)

      • 1 Command Group (2 Jeeps, 3 Motorcycle, 1 Armored Car, 1 Half-Track)

      • 1 Administrative Group (1 2.5-ton Truck, 1 1.5-ton Truck)

      • 1 Maintenance Group (1 jeep, 1 Half-Track)

    • 2 Armored Platoons (Armored Car or Tank) (1-5-32)

      • 1 Command Group (1 Armored Car or Tank)

      • 2 Armored Groups (2 Armored Cars or Tanks each)

      • 1 Protection Group (4 Jeeps)

      • 1 Support Group

        • In Armored Car Platoons: 2 Jeeps and 1 60mm mortar

        • In Light Tank Platoons: 1 75mm Howitzer Motor Carriage M8 and 1 Half-Track

    • 2 Mounted Platoons (1-4-28)*

      • 1 Command Group (1 Jeep)

      • 3 Mounted Groups (1 Half-Track each) *According to Noulens, the 1 Jeep and 3 Half-Tracks were sometimes substituted with 2 Jeeps, 1 Dodge 1.5-ton, and 1 GMC 2.5-ton. This was due to a shortage of half-tracks.

  • TED ABC 021 - Mounted Combat Squadron, North Africa type (Escadron de combat porté type AFN) — Squadron mounted on Dodge 6x6 1.5-ton trucks and GMC 2.5-ton trucks.

  • TED INF 107 - Foot Squadron, North Africa type (Escadron à pied Type AFN)

    • 1 Command and Support Platoon (15 to 20 men)

      • 1 Command Group (2 SCR 300, 2 SCR 536,1 SCR 694)

      • 1 Administrative Group

      • 1 60mm Mortar Team

    • 4 Combat Platoons (1-8-22)

      • 1 Command Group (1 Rocket Launcher)

      • 3 Grenadier-Voltigeur Demi-Platoons (3 Submachine Guns, 2 Rifles, 1 Rifle with Rifle Grenades)

      • 2 Fusilier Demi-Platoons (3 Rifles, 1 Light Machine Gun)

These squadron organizations varied in practice, often due to a shortage in vehicles.

 
French Discovery Regiment during the Battle of France.

What's with all the jeeps?

The most iconically French thing about this squadron, other than a big gun on wheels, is the abundance of cavalrymen mounted on lighter vehicles. Their job was to provide close protection and support to the armored vehicles, with mortars, machine guns, rocket launchers, and jeep-mounted .50 cals.


This concept wasn't particularly new in the 1950s. One example of this practice was the Discovery Regiment (Régiment de découverte) of 1940, which had 2 Squadrons Groups (battalion-equivalents) each with 1 AMD-35 armored car squadron and 1 Motorcycle Fusilier Squadron. The regiment used these to ceate mixed, task organized Discovery Detachments to provide a divisional reconnaissance group and recon detachments for the division's task organized combat groups (brigade-equivalents). The jeep was the direct successor to the reconnaissance motorcycle in U.S. service, and the French picked it up when they fought as an American-organized Armored Division from 1944-45. They liked it so much they started producing it domestically as the Hotchkiss M201.


Related to bulk in the cavalry, the Americans found during World War II, cavalry organizations were wanting in infantry-strength. While the main job of the mechanized cavalry was to conduct reconnaissance out-of-combat, during the war they were only doing reconnaissance about 3% of the time. Far more time was spent on defensive operations, security operations, and the offense (McGrath, 2008, p. 100). As a result, post-war, the mechanized cavalry shifted to be more security-oriented, and were given more capable tanks and more infantry to better carry out dismounted missions (McGrath, 2008, p. 145). In 1946, this initially manifested in one rifle squad per cavalry platoon (as recommended by First Army) and one dragoon troop per cavalry squadron (as recommended by Third Army, although it wouldn't stick) (Prigge, 2011, p. 43). Although modern-day U.S. Army Scout Platoons don't have an infantry component, the latter formation was similar to the modern Dismounted Cavalry Troop in Infantry BCT Cavalry Squadrons. More infantry would allow cavalry to patrol more effectively, especially in complex terrain (Prigge, 2011, p. 48), and aid in both defensive and offensive operations (e.g. delaying and fighting for information respectively).


Infantry in the cavalry was somewhat of a return to form. Pre-war Covering Squadrons, of which there was 1 per Mechanized Regiment, had a Mechanized Scout Troop (as of 1933 and 1936). This troop had combat platoon with an HQ, Rifle Squad, and 2 Machine Gun Sections for dismounted fighting and reconnaissance, in addition to the troop's 2 Scout Platoons. The overall Cavalry Regiment also had a Machine Gun Troop with 3 of these type of platoons. Its job was to, "[support] the combat car [light tank] squadron by its fire, by executing holding attacks, or by defensive missions. The machine-gun platoon is a suitable unit to occupy temporarily the ground secured by a combat car troop, to cover the reorganization of that troop or, if necessary, its withdrawal. Three machine-gun platoons make it possible to utilize one to follow up and consolidate the gains of each combat-car troop, while the third is available to cover an exposed flank, to reenforce either of the first two, or to assist in the consolidation of the entire position." As the Armored Force was created in 1940, many of the cavalry's pre-war mechanized formations were used to create the new Armored Divisions, and the sexier cavalry missions (like exploitation and the pursuit) were transferred to the tanks, Mechanized Cavalry Troops and Squadrons lost their infantry capability.


But with the return of infantry, cavalry units were meant to be able to fulfill a wider range of missions beyond reconnaissance. Doctrinally, as of 1960, the infantry squad in each armored cavalry platoon would form an infantry-tank team with the platoon's tank section (FM 17-35, 1960, p. 53). In addition to giving more personnel to conduct dismounted scout-type missions, the rifle squad and tank section enabled the platoon to conduct limited attacks, repel counterattacks after capturing an objective, and otherwise defending terrain (tasks more associated with the security mission). Close protection of the tanks was a particular focus of the rifle squad (FM 17-35, 1960, p. 75), which likely freed up the scouts to provide flank or forward security to the formation.


The French undoubtedly learned this wartime lesson as well. Before the end of 1944, 1er Régiment de Marche de Spahis Marocains (acting as the French 2nd Armored Division's Mechanized Cavalry Squadron equivalent) added 3 additional mechanized infantry squadrons (company equivalent) on top of its 4 reconnaissance and 1 light tank squadron (Robinson & Seignon, 2018). During the Liberation of Paris, the French 2nd Armored also recruited locals to create new "Franc Squadrons" of infantry and anti-tank guns to fill out its ranks. One such unit was the Vaugirard Squadron recruited from Paris, which later became an organic company of the II Battalion, Régiment de marche du Tchad (RMT). Infantry was always in need, and in battles like that at Dompaire in September 1944, the Combat Commands' reserves could be stretched to the brink.


Aswell—while I don't have any sources to say whether it's a causal link or just convergent evolution—U.S. Army Tank Destroyer platoons (and by extension French TD platoons post-1943) had a Security Section mounted on 1 jeep and 2 M20 armored cars. Their job, as per FM 18-20 (1944), was to "(1) Protect the platoon from hostile foot troops. (2) Man platoon observation posts. (3) Destroy with rocket launchers tanks approaching by covered routes." The French called these Protection Groups, like with the EBR Squadron. Notably, French self-propelled tank destroyer platoons before Americanization did not have such groups, outside of a 25mm anti-aircraft platoon.

 

The integration of security personnel and scouts into armored vehicle formations persists in France today in a way we don't see with modern U.S. Army armor and cavalry organizations.

Leclerc tank platoons today consist of not just 4 tanks, but also an "Investigation Group" or "Investigation Cell" with 4 VBL scout cars. These scouts provide the platoon with passive reconnaissance capability, distinguished from French ideas of "offensive" reconnaissance which favors Leclercs, AMX-10RCs and VBLs with ATGMs. The VBLs can provide security forward or on the flanks of tanks (much like the U.S. Scout Section of 1960 did for the Rifle Squad and Tank Section) and make sure terrain is passable.

It should be noted that this wasn't the case before 2008-9, though. Before then, French main battle tank platoons were pure (with protection assets at the squadron-level). But they were unified on the same structure as the AMX-10RC squadrons (the doctrinal descendents of the EBR squadron), which lacked such squadron-level protection and always had scouts within the platoon due to their reconnaissance role. This coincided with a downsizing in the tank force. Regiments went from being composed of 2 squadron groups (GE40) with 3 squadrons each to just 4 tank squadrons. It was also likely done to increase flexibility for deployability reasons. Leclerc squadrons would often deploy to Afghanistan and the like on AMX-10RCs or ERC-90s, or even VABs for dismount patrolling, so having a similar structure could have been useful.


They initially organized Leclerc platoons exactly like the wheeled cannons, with 3 tanks and 3 VBLs. The 4+4 structure of today came in 2014; a change that coincided with a tank regiment's deactivation and regiments going from 4 to 3 tank squadrons (but with 4 platoons per squadron rather than 3). Experience in Kosovo also suggested that task organizing Leclercs and VBLs was critical for patrolling complex terrain, and doing so increased the tank platoon's autonomy.

 

However, unrelated to platoon-level scout cars, the more direct successor to the mounted platoon's legacy were the Direct Support Platoons (Pelotons d'appui direct, or PAD) which existed in tank squadrons before the 2008-9. In the 1980s, they were called Protection Platoons. These were platoons of 1 VBL and 3 VAB T.20/13s with 20mm autocannons. They each carried a small dismounted squad (7 personnel per VAB, including crews) that could either be employed as a whole platoon by the squadron or doled out at one VAB per tank platoon to provide close-in protection. The cannon is said to have provided a limited anti-aircraft capability (this type of VAB is also employed in MISTRAL MANPADs batteries).

As per ABC 111.11 "Manuel d'emploi de l'escadron Leclerc" (1999), the purpose of the PAD was to "[Act] in the environment close to the squadron of which it is the eyes and ears, it looks for any sign of enemy presence, in particular on the flanks, in areas of reduced visibility, in gaps and blind spots, possibly the rear." They'd prevent surprise, scout firing positions for the tanks, and in combat could provide security to the company trains, but they had more limited capabilities than the armored infantry. It also seems like they were able to act as replacement crews for the tanks, which would help with resting crews during high intensity operations or when halted at night. This is probably what The Chieftain was referring to in his video on autoloaders, although I'm told the VBL crews can fulfill a similar replacement role today.

An American tanker would probably find this novel, as there isn't really much if any "fat" in an American tank company to act as replacements or internal security separate from attached infantry. Unless you count the XO's tank, which I probably wouldn't. But there is actually a historical precedent.


During the 1950/60s, Tank Companies (separate from the cavalry) had a "Security Section" in the Company Headquarters. This was organic in the Pentomic era objective TOE, but an augmentation by the 1960s. As per FM 17-15 "Tank Units: Platoon, Company and Battalion" (1966), its job was to, "form a security force for the protection of company headquarters and to provide replacement tank crewmen." They had a Section Leader (Sergeant First Class), Carrier Driver, and 10 Privates acting as Security Guards. Because these guards were all trained tank crewmen, given their role as replacement crews, and they were all Privates (in the 1950s at least), this seems to imply that they were the least experienced tankers in the company. It was essentially equivalent to the WW2-era "Basic Duty Private" in Rifle Companies, which provided an internal source of replacements.


It's not strictly related to the Security Section that came later, but when the U.S. got rid of the 5th crewmember in its tanks (bow machine gunner / assistant driver) with the adoption of the M48 Patton and M41 Walker Bulldog, the excess personnel became crew replacements during the transition. The TOEs stated that transportation difficulties weren't anticipated because they'd probably be replacing normal temporary losses. It's basically a given in the real world that a unit will be somewhat understrength, even out-of-combat, so this statement would line up with such events as emergency leave and give some wiggle room if a unit is just shorthanded. Replacement crews are a historical tidbit that could come into play during discussions related to the implementation of an autoloader on American tanks, which traditionally reduced crew sizes from 4 to 3 within the tank (notwithstanding these crew-in-hull concepts with 4 crewmembers, just without the loader). But even if the crews in the tank in combat are reduced, the crews available within the platoon or company for maintenance and security don't have to.

So while I think most American servicemembers familiar with their own tank doctrine would find the French practice a little different, it's very possible that it's at least partially the result of American influence (mixed with France's own post-war colonial experience, shortages in infantry and armored vehicles, and independent doctrinal developments). There was significant overlap between American and French practice post-war, especially in the 1950s, and fighting as American-organized divisions undoubtedly had a huge impact on the French.


↓ Sources (EBR Squadron)

↓ Other Sources



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