The SOMUA S35 was a French cavalry tank of the Second World War. Built from 1936 until 1940 to equip the armoured divisions of the Cavalry, it was for its time a relatively agile medium-weight tank, superior in armour and armament to its French and foreign competitors, such as the contemporary versions of the German Panzer III medium tank. It was constructed from well-sloped, mainly cast, armour sections, that however made it expensive to produce and time-consuming to maintain.
During the German invasion of May 1940, the SOMUA S35 proved itself to be a tactically effective type, but this was negated by the French command’s strategic mistakes in deploying their Cavalry armoured divisions. After the defeat of France in June 1940, limiting production to a total of about 440, captured SOMUA S35s were used by the Axis powers, some of them on the Eastern Front. A derived type, the SOMUA S40, with an improved suspension, lowered hull cast and welded turret armour, had been planned to replace the original version on the production lines in July 1940. Agreements to produce this improved type for the benefit of Vichy France, Germany and Japan, ultimately did not lead to any manufacture.
The design of the SOMUA S35 comes from the changed specifications of 26 June 1934 for an Automitrailleuse de Combat (AMC) issued for cavalry use. These called for a much heavier design than had been originally specified in 1931. The new type had to be immune to contemporary anti-tank guns. By 17 May the Army had already contacted a subsidiary of Schneider et Cie — the Société d’Outillage Mécanique et d’Usinage d’Artillerie (SOMUA) based at Saint-Ouen — to build a prototype. The company accepted this proposal on 16 July and construction began on 12 October 1934.
Somua, an acronym for Société d’outillage mécanique et d’usinage d’artillerie, was a French company that manufactured machinery and vehicles. A subsidiary of Schneider-Creusot, Somua was based in Saint-Ouen, a suburb of Paris.
In 1930 Somua introduced several models of trucks equipped with advanced diesel engines, half cabins and three axles and with payloads from 10 to 13 tonnes. Somua also produced a lighter range with five to eight tonnes payload, equipped with gasoline engines. In 1936 Somua produced a railcar for PLM, the XS 1 to 11.
Arguably the most famous product in Somua’s history was its 20-ton World War II tank, the Somua S35 and the Somua S40. Furthermore, France’s first tank in 1916, the Schneider CA1, as well as later in 1918 some Renault FT tanks, were manufactured by Somua in their Saint-Ouen facility during World War I.
Somua’s production of trucks practically ceased between 1943 and 1946. However, in 1944 the company developed a truck under license from the Swedish Hesselman company. Named the JL 12 and equipped with a flex-fuel four cylinder engine, the vehicle did not impress the “Commission des plans de modernisation de l’automobile”, which decided in 1946 to merge Somua with Willème and Panhard to form a new company, the Générale française de l’automobile (GFA).