The ARL 44 was a French heavy tank, the development of which started just before the end of the Second World War. Only sixty of these tanks were ever completed, from 1949 onwards. The type proved to be unsatisfactory and only entered limited service. The tank was phased out in 1953.

The ARL 44 clearly shows that it is based on earlier French heavy tank design. The hull is long, 722 centimetres, but relatively narrow, just as a vehicle meant to cross wide trenches would be. The covered suspension, with its many small road wheels, that had already been outdated in the 1930s, is the most obvious sign of its basic Char B1 ancestry; it is in essence identical to that of the Char B1 ter.

It had been considered to use a more modern pneumatic suspension, but when the armour was increased a choice was made for a traditional configuration with steel coil springs and hydraulic shock-breakers, as the rubber seals of the pneumatic elements could not withstand the higher pressures. The type has often been compared to the many “Super Char B” projects from before the war.

Its speed is likewise limited, the lowest of any fifty ton tank built after the war. This was also partly due to the lack of a sufficiently powerful engine; it had originally been intended to compensate for this by using a more efficient petro-electrical transmission. This kind of transmission has as a major drawback that it very easily overheats and the ARL 44 as a result was fitted with an impressive and complex array of ventilators and cooling ducts; the engine deck was made to extend behind the track to accommodate them all. Fuel reservoirs holding 1370 litres gave a range of 350 to 400 kilometres.

The hull glacis plate is 120 mm thick and reclined at about 45°, giving a line-of-sight thickness in the horizontal plane of about 170 mm. This made the ARL 44 the most heavily armoured French tank until the Leclerc. Within the glacis, low on the right side, a 7.5 mm modèle 1931 machine-gun is fitted in a fixed position.

The turret was the most modern looking part; it was also an obvious makeshift solution, somewhat crudely welded together from plates taken from the wreck of the battlecruiser Dunkerque scuttled in 1942, made necessary by the simple fact that Schneider as yet could not produce complete cast turrets large enough to hold a 90 mm gun. The turret front, however, was a cast section.

As the turret was positioned near the middle of the tank, even when pointing to the back the gun would have a large overhang; to facilitate transport it was therefore made retractable into the turret, its breech even exiting through a rectangular opening in the rear of the bustle, covered by a bolted-on plate. This could also be used to load ammunition.

The turret was rotated by a Simca 5 engine. Three men out of a crew of five were seated in the turret. It also held a SCR 508 radio set. This differed from the configuration in the Char B1 bis where the radio had been placed at the inner left hull side. With the ARL 44, the space gained was used for a door which was the normal way for the crew to enter the tank. Additionally there were a rectangular hatch at the left turret top, and a circular hatch at the right with between them a very low cupola for the commander.

In all, the ARL 44 was an unsatisfactory interim design as the “Transitional Tank”, the main function of which was to provide experience in building heavier vehicles. The main lesson learned for many engineers was that it was unwise to construct too-heavy types, and this opinion was reinforced by the failure of the tank project to which the ARL 44 formed the transition: the much more ambitious heavy AMX 50. Only after a gap of sixteen years would France, in 1966, again build a main battle tank, the AMX 30.

Engine: Maybach HL 230 V-12 gasoline engine 575 hp

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