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The design of the ARL 44 tank was born during the years of German occupation through clandestine schemes and the work of a Vichy France secret organization, the CDM (Camouflage du Matériel). The goal was to prepare the future production of a 30-ton tank armed with a high-velocity 75 mm cannon, possibly the APX model previously used on the ARL-40.
In November 1943 the German army occupied the free zone and these projects were temporarily halted. Later during the occupation, the Germans asked engineers at the French tank producing firms Hotchkiss and Somua to build a tracked vehicle that could remove snow from Luftwaffe airfields and Kriegsmarine ports. Under the pretense of building this vehicle, the engineers worked on a new tank design for use after the war. This would later become the ARL 44.
By August 1944 with the liberation of Paris, the provisional government led by De Gaulle decided to re-establish France as a great power, combined with the goal of participating more massively to the allied effort. One of these contributions was to provide the French army with a new tank able to deal with the latest German models. However, due to the outdated material and lack of resources, a compromise had to be taken.
Nevertheless, 600 heavy tanks were planned, with the design done by the DEFA (Direction des Études et Fabrications d’Armement) concentrating former APX and AMX engineering teams, to be built by ARL as soon as possible. This was the start of the ARL 44 project.
On October 9th, 1944, Lieutenant General Leier, the Chief of Staff of the French Army, signed an order for the development and production of new vehicles. On November 29th, an new document was written. The Chief of Staff approved the characteristics of the new tank, and, most interestingly, the tank must be ready ASAP. It would enter production straight from the drawing board, without even a prototype! The production volumes were very ambitious for a country just freed from occupation. Leier wanted no less than 500 tanks! The first vehicles were to be ready in May of 1945, with a monthly production run of 50-70 tanks.
There was a reason for such tight deadlines. The new vehicle was nothing more than an evolution of the Char B concept. The second gun was removed and the front plate was sloped at a high angle. The suspension was very similar to that of the Char B. The gun, indexed 75 mm SA Mle.1944 was effectively the same gun that Lafargue's engineers designed in Caussade in 1942. The AA gun whose ballistics it inherited penetrated 80 mm of armour from a kilometer away. This was enough to combat medium tanks, but was not enough for Tigers and Panthers. ARL understood this perfectly.
The ARL 44 was fairly closely based on earlier French heavy tank designs. The hull was long, over 9 metres, but relatively narrow, just as a vehicle meant to cross wide trenches. The covered suspension with its many small road wheels that had already become 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. The ARL 44 has often been compared to the many "Super Char B" projects from before the war.
Its speed is likewise limited, the lowest of any 50 ton tank built after the war. This was also partly due to the lack of a sufficiently strong engine; it had originally been intended to compensate for this by using a more efficient petro-electrical transmission. This kind of transmission has a major drawback in 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.
The hull glacis plate was 120 mm thick and inclined 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, which came much, much later. Within the glacis, low on the right side, a 7.5 mm machine-gun is fitted in a fixed position.
The turret was the most modern looking part, but it too was also an obvious makeshift solution, somewhat crudely welded together, made necessary by the simple fact that Schneider as yet couldn't produce complete cast turrets large enough to hold a 90 mm gun. The turret front was a single cast section though. As the turret was positioned near the middle of the tank, even when pointing to the back the long 90 mm DCA 45 gun would have a large overhang; in order to facilitate transport it was therefore made retractable into the turret. The turret was powered by a Simca 5 engine.
In all, the ARL 44 was an unsatisfactory interim design, afterwards often called the "Transitional Tank", whose main function 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 that the ARL 44 formed the transition to: the much more ambitious heavy AMX 50. Only after a gap of sixteen years, in 1966, would France again build a main battle tank, the AMX 30.
In Girls und Panzer
Girls und Panzer: Das Finale
The ARL 44 is the main tank of the Escalator-class of BC Freedom High School and commanded by Oshida. In the first round match against Ooarai Girls Academy, during the Winter Tournament, BC fielded five ARLs. One was repsonsible for guarding BC's flag tank while the other four split from the main group, leading Ooarai to believe they were of no threat. Leopon Team was tasked with following the four ARL 44s but they were quickly pinned down by the oposing tanks covering fire. Three of the ARLs reunite with other BC tanks to flank Ooarai's main force on a river bridge while one stays behind to prevent Leopon Team from joining back to the main group. After BC surrounds Ooarai on the river, the ARLs bombard Ooarai's forces and the bridge while the back-guard tank is outspeeded by the Tiger(P)'s EPS. After Ooarai escapes from the trap, the four ARLs retreat and form up with the rest of BC's tank group.
- It is the only post-war tanks that participated in sensha-do matches.