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Chasseur de 2e classe, 507e régiment de chars de combat, 'tenue de sortie', circa 1929-35


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Studio portrait of a Private, 2nd Class (chasseur de 2e classe) of the 507th Tank Regiment (507e régiment de chars de combat, or 507e R.C.C.) of the French Metropolitan Army, wearing ‘Walking-Out Dress’ (tenue de sortie), circa 1929-35. The photograph was taken at the studio of A. Thévenon, 6 Rue de la Petite-Boucherie, Metz.

 

The 507e R.C.C. had originally been formed in 1918 as the 507th Special Artillery Regiment (507e régiment d’artillerie special, or 507e R.A.S.), the title of ‘Special Artillery’ having being adopted in 1916 for the new tank units, reflecting their status as a special branch of the Artillery. In 1920, organizational control of the Tank Force passed from the ‘Assault Artillery’ (artillerie d’assaut) branch of the Artillery, to a new technical section within the Infantry, tasked with the development of what were now termed ‘Assault Tanks’ (chars d’assaut): as a result of this transfer, regimental titles were also altered, the 507e R.A.S. becoming the 507th Armoured (Tank) Regiment (507e régiment de chars blindés, or 507e R.C.B.). In 1923, the designation of tank regiments changed yet again, the 507e R.C.B. becoming the 507th Combat Tank Regiment (507e régiment de chars de combat, or 507e R.C.C.). Also in 1923, the debate ended over what to call the common soldier of the ‘Combat Tank’ regiments, a question raised by the transfer from artillery to infantry control: henceforth, he was to be designated a ‘chasseur’.

 

Between 1919 and 1940, the Regiment was stationed in the locality of Montigny-lès-Metz, département of Moselle, at Reymond, Guignal-Baudet, and Lizé barracks. Having originally been comprised of three battalions, the Regiment was reduced to two in 1923, due to budget cuts: the poor economic situation, plus the vast numbers of Renault FT already manufactured, meant that there was little appetite for tank development during the interwar period, and thus the Renault FT was the sole type employed by the 507e R.C.C. between 1918 and 1934. However, in 1934, the 1st Battalion adopted the Renault D1; in 1937, the D1s were replaced by the D2, and the 2nd Battalion finally replaced their FTs with the Renault R35. The most famous Commanding Officer of 507e R.C.C. was Colonel de Gaulle, who led the Regiment between 1937 and 1939: given the nickname ‘Colonel Motor’, de Gaulle drilled his regiment mercilessly in the new, and for the French Army, unorthodox, theories of mechanised warfare.

 

The first feature of this soldier’s uniform which identifies him as an infantry tank crewman is the small, dark-blue ‘Basque’-style beret. This had been officially adopted as the field-service headdress of the ‘Special Artillery’ in August, 1919, although it had, unofficially, been worn since 1917. Nicknamed the ‘poulie’ (‘pulley’), the beret was worn at all angles, although it was, as shown here, most often seen crammed straight down across the forhead, with the distinctive beret insignia of the Infantry Tank Force – a knight’s barred helm on crossed cannons – worn centrally. However, Officers, who usually purchased black berets from the civilian market, had a tendency to wear the crown pulled to the right, with the insignia over the left eye. The beret insignia itself was a voided white metal badge (with antiqued silver finish) for ‘troupes’ (‘Troops’, i.e. Privates and Corporals) and ‘sous-officiers’ (N.C.O.s), while for ‘adjutants’ (Warrant Officers), and ‘officiers’ (Officers), the badge was embroidered in silver wire. Non-regulation, hand embroidered regimental numbers and/or rank insignia were sometimes seen on the berets of Officers, Warrant Officers, and N.C.Os.

 

The use of the beret by the Infantry Tank Force became such a distinctive emblem of the branch that Officers, Warrant Officers, and career N.C.O.s, who had always had the option of the képi for Walking Out, and conscript N.C.O.s, who were given that option in 1926, often insisted on wearing the beret on almost all occasions (for Troops, the beret had always been the sole headdress issued, and thus worn in all orders of dress not requiring the motorised troops’ helmet).

 

Turning to the jacket, although it deviates from the regulation in a number of features, this soldier is wearing, essentially, the Model 1920 ‘All Arms’ jacket (vareuse toutes armes modèle 1920), which was the universal pattern worn by Troops and N.C.O.s across all arms-of-service of the French Metropolitan Army. The jacket was in horizon-blue cloth (officially ‘light-blue cloth’, or ‘drap bleu clair’) for all units except light infantry (chasseurs à pied) and alpine light infantry (chasseurs alpins), who were in dark ‘blued iron-grey’. The Model 1920 jacket was distinct from the models it replaced (the Models 1919, and 1914/15) in having seven buttons (metal, half-ball, painted horizon-blue) down its leading edge instead of five, plus for the first time, shoulder straps and turnback cuffs. Like the Model 1919, the regulation Model 1920 had a low ‘fall’ collar (collet chevalière), which was distinct from the Model 1914/15, which had a ‘stand’ collar (collet droit). Also, the Model 1920, in the regulation pattern for Troops and N.C.O.s, followed both its predecessors in having no breast pockets, but only internal slash side pockets, with straight flaps without buttons. Worn with the jacket were the horizon-blue Model 1922 pantaloons for dismounted troops (pantalon-culotte pour troupes à pied, modèle 1922), and horizon-blue puttees.

 

As we see from the photograph, this soldier’s jacket departs from the regulation in three areas: (i) by having a stand-and-fall collar instead of the fall collar; (ii) by the addition of breast pockets; and (iii) being fitted with buttons bearing a knight’s barred helm on crossed cannons device, down the front of the jacket, and on pocket flaps. What we can say as a result of this is: (a) that although non-regulation, the jacket does in fact follow the style often adopted for field-service by N.C.O.s i.e. tailored, with the addition of breast pockets; and (b) given this soldier’s rank, his use of an N.C.Os style tailored jacket with, moreover, the use of embossed buttons as only worn on Service Dress by Officers and Warrant Officers, indicates a privately purchased jacket purely intended for ‘Walking-Out Dress’ (tenue de sortie).

 

To expand on the above, career N.C.O.s (known collectively by the designation ‘sous-officier reengages’ before 1928, and ‘sous-officiers de carrier’ therafter) had, since 1921, been entitled to wear the Officers and Warrant Officers version of the Model 1920 jacket, i.e. with two box-pleated patch breast pockets (with buttoned three-point flaps), two ‘bellows’ patch side pockets on the skirts (with buttoned three-point flaps), and a high stand-and-fall collar (collet demi-Saxe). However, whereas Officers, Warrant Officers and career N.C.O.s all wore this jacket for parade/walking-out (though Officers wore coloured ‘Full-Dress’, or ‘grande tenue’, for ceremonial occasions after 1931), and as an everyday barrack dress (tenue de travail), only Officers and Warrant Officers wore the four patch-pocket jacket for field-service (tenue de campagne). Instead, career N.C.O.s, when in ‘Field-Service Dress’, wore the same Model 1920 jacket as issued to Troops. However, as a non-regulation mark of distinction, career N.C.O.s often had their issue jackets tailored to add internal slash breast pockets with flaps, as well as sometimes having the low ‘fall’ collar replaced with the ‘demi-Saxe’: exact alterations seem to have varied, according to individual taste.

 

This addition of breast pockets to the regulation Troops and N.C.O.s jacket was also often adopted by conscript Sergeants (the lowest rank of ‘sous-officiers’) who, like the Troops, were issued only one jacket, to serve for all orders of dress. Given the impossibility of maintaining the issue jacket in a smart condition suitable to wear as ‘Walking-Out Dress’, a second jacket was often ‘acquired’ or purchased by conscript Sergeants, Corporals and Privates, and tailored according to whim; and a conscript Sergeant, if he hadn’t asked a tailor to add breast pockets to his issue jacket (which most likely he had), would certainly have them added to his ‘Walking-Out’ jacket, as well as other custom features. As we have identified the man in this photograph as a common soldier, a 'chasseur de 2e classe', due to the absence of any rank chevrons on the cuff, we can say with some certainty that this soldier is wearing, for ‘Walking-Out’ purposes, a privately tailored jacket in the style worn by N.C.O.s: this man is, possibly, a re-engaged soldier (just as a conscript Sergeant could elect to stay in the Army after military service, and become a career N.C.O., a Corporal or Private could remain as a professional soldier). However, whatever this man’s exact status, the use of embossed buttons in silvered metal (silver being the ‘button colour’ of the Infantry Tank Force), which were only regulation for Officers and Warrant Officers, means that this jacket would certainly have never be seen on the parade square! Troops could be even more extravagant for ‘Walking-Out’, and are sometimes seen in studio photographs wearing the four patch-pocket jacket, though whether this was because they had a deep purse, or were simply wearing a ‘fantasy’ jacket supplied by the photographer, one never can be sure!

 

Another attribute of ‘Walking-Out Dress’ adopted by Troops was the replacement of their regulation, two-prong, half-frame, brown leather Model 1903/13 ‘All Arms’ waistbelt (ceinturon toutes armes modèle 1903/14), with the two-prong, open-frame, Model 1918 waistbelt (ceinturon modèle 1918): the Model 1918, again in brown leather, was inspired by the British ‘Sam Browne’, and properly worn only by Officers, Warrant Officers, and, when in ‘Walking-Out Dress’, by career N.C.O.s.

 

Coming to the insignia worn on the jacket, we see the second obvious uniform feature identifying this man as belonging to the Infantry Tank Force, namely the sleeve insignia of knight’s barred helm on crossed cannons. This insignia had first been adopted as a distinctive emblem for the personnel of all units of Special Artillery in September, 1917, the location of the badge i.e. middle of the upper left sleeve, being the French Army’s usual location of trade and specialisation insignia (attributs de fonction). Like other insignia of its kind worn on the sleeve, the helm and crossed cannon badge was embroidered. This embroidery was in the arm-of-service ‘button colour’ for Officers, Warrant Officers, and N.C.O.s (gold for the ‘Special Artillery’, after 1921 silver for the Infantry Tank Force), and in the colour of the rank insignia lace (worn on the cuff) for Corporals and Privates (which after 1921, and the adoption by the French Army of new, coloured, rank chevrons, was dark-green wool for the Troops of the Infantry Tank Force). Despite a ‘chasseur de 2e classe’ wearing no rank insignia, given that a Model 1920 jacket is being worn in this photograph, and for further reasons discussed below, we can definitely say that this image dates to after 1921: and, thus, that this soldier wears his sleeve insignia embroidered in dark-green cotton, and not in the ‘All Arms’ dark-blue worn previously.

 

The fact that the dark-green colour of this soldier’s sleeve insignia matches the colour of the braid and numerals on his collar patches (pattes de collet) is also indicative of a date for this photograph being after 1921. In that year, the Infantry Tank Force adopted new collar patches (which on the Model 1920 jacket, like that of the Model 1919, were of lozenge, or flattened cone, shape), thereby finally replacing the old scarlet patches of the Assault Artillery. The changes were as follows: (i) instead of ‘Artillery’ scarlet, the colour of the background cloth (drap de fond) was now ‘Infantry’ light-blue; (ii) the unit devices (chiffres et attributs), which for tank units was the regimental number in Arabic numerals, became green for Troops instead of ash-grey, and silver instead of gold for Officers, Warrant Officers, and N.C.O.s; (iii) the chevrons, or arcs (soutaches), of woollen or rayon braid, which edged the top of collar patches and distinguished combatant units, were now green instead of ash-grey (though the number of ‘soutaches’ on each collar patch remained at two).

 

Although the Private, 2nd Class in the photograph wears the regulation light-blue Model 1921 collar patches here, it often happened that these were replaced by non-regulation dark-blue/black patches on the private purchase/tailored ‘Walking-Out’ jackets worn by Troops, mimicking the use of this non-regulation colour of patch by Officers, Warrant Officers, and career N.C.O.s on the four patch-pocket jacket. These dark collar patches gave a jacket a degree of contrast, and more elegant look (thus a popular choice for those garrison-town photographers who provided smart jackets for their conscript customers), and echoed the dark-blue/black patches worn on the black cloth collar of the double-breasted Model 1920 black leather jacket (veston de cuir noir modèle 1920), which was worn by tank crew when on duty with their vehicles. Another ‘fantasy’ item often worn when ‘Walking-Out’ by tank crewmen during this period was a small, white metal badge in the shape of a three-quarter view of a Renault FT tank, usually pinned to the left breast. These were entirely non-regulation, and a multitude of versions are seen. Regulations would only allow for distinctive insignia for each of the tank regiments in the late 1930s, worn in metal on the right breast pocket. Also in the late 1930s, a special badge for all motorised units was introduced for wear above the right breast pocket.

 

Having determined from the model of jacket, and details of the insignia worn, that this photograph cannot date to before 1921, we can actually go even further and offer a likely date range for this studio portrait, which is circa 1929-35. In 1929, the stand-and-fall collars of the four patch-pocket jacket worn by Officers, Warrant Officers and career N.C.O.s were ordered to be tailored with long, pronounced points (collet a l'aiglon), and jackets thus made or altered were designated the Model 1920/29. Although the points of this soldier’s collar are relatively subdued, they are nonetheless pointed, and have, almost certainly, been tailored under the influence of this new style for Officers. This new style of collar also extended to the khaki version of the Model 1920 and Model 1920/29 four patch-pocket jackets, which Officers and Warrant Officers (and career N.C.O.s for ‘Walking-Out only) had been able to privately purchase and wear since 1925. And it is the wearing of uniforms in khaki cloth (drap kaki) by the French Metropolitan Army which gives us the likely end date for the period in which this photograph could have been taken. With the troops of the Colonial Army which garrisoned the French Colonial Empire having long worn khaki, as well as those units of the Metropolitan Army which recruited from French North Africa (or were permanently stationed there, such as the Foreign Legion), the decision was made in 1921 to adopt khaki in place of horizon-blue for the rest of the Metropolitan Army. However, for reasons of economy (there being vast stocks of perfectly serviceable horizon-blue uniforms still available), the actual introduction of khaki uniforms for the rank-and-file did not begin to occur till 1935.

 

The khaki jacket for Troops, designated the Model 1920/35, varied slightly from the Model 1920 in cut (lower neckline, to reveal the top of the shirt and tie) and number of buttons (six instead of seven), but otherwise was essentially the same: what was novel was that Troops were now issued two versions of the same jacket, one specifically for Parade/Walking-Out (having cuffs and shoulder straps piped in arm-of-service colour, and coloured insignia), and one for Field-Service (un-piped, and with subdued insignia). New collar patches were adopted by the Infantry Tank Force, in khaki with light-grey numerals and ‘soutaches’ (though Officers, Warrant Officers, and N.C.O.s continued to have silver numerals).

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Edited by cmf
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Thanks Andrew!! Information in English specifically concerning the uniforms and insignia is quite sparse, so I really had to employ my schoolboy French to make sense of the French publications I have!! :t67085:

 

The following two related photos are from the ‘MilitariaCollec’ forum, and are quite interesting, not only for the uniform features (which for both we have to interpret without the luxury of seeing their rank insignia, on the cuffs), but also because we can specifically date them to the short lifespan of the 521st Combat Tank Regiment (521e régiment de chars de combat, or 521e R.C.C.), which was raised in 1923, stationed in Tunisia, and disbanded in 1929.

 

The first photograph http://salg71.free.fr/mc/521ter.jpg shows a N.C.O. in horizon-blue ‘Walking-Out Dress’, although whether it is a modified Model 1920 jacket for Troops with added breast pockets and ‘stand-and-fall-collar’ (as would probably only be worn by a conscript Sergeant), or a Model 1920 four patch-pocket jacket (as would most likely be worn by a career N.C.O.), it is impossible to say. However, whichever type of jacket he wears, given that his beret displays (i) the knight’s barred helm and crossed cannons beret badge in metal, as worn by N.C.O.s and Troops, and (ii) embroidered non-regulation regimental numbers, which were usually only worn on the beret by Officers, Warrant Officers, and N.C.O.s, it is probable that this man is an N.C.O. Also reinforcing his likely Non-Commissioned Officer status are his jacket buttons, which are are silvered but plain, as was regulation for N.C.O.s and Troops (Officers and Warrant Officers having theirs embossed with the helm over crossed cannons device). He wears ‘fantasy’ collar patches, in dark-blue or black: the regimental numbers seem to be embroidered, in silver, as was regulation for N.C.O.s of the Infantry Tank Force, although the ‘soutaches’ here could be light-grey, ash-grey, or silver-grey, instead of the regulation green.

 

This N.C.O. wears a single lanyard (fourragère), silk-braided in the colours (red and pale-blue) of the ribbon of the War Cross for Foreign Operational Theatres (Croix de Guerre des Théâtres d’Opérations Extérieurs): these colours indicated that the unit or sub-unit awarded this ‘fourragère’ had received two or three citations for distinguished service, which had been announced in the Orders of the Army. In the context of the 521e R.C.C., this must mean that this N.C.O. is a member, or was a member, of the Regiment’s 5th Company (the members of a unit/sub-unit, who were serving at the time an award was made, were permitted to continue wearing the ‘fourragère’ when posted to another unit/sub-unit). During 1925/26 the 5th Company was on detached service in the French Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon, combatting the Druze rebellion. The ministerial decision awarding the 5th Company this grade of the ‘Special Lanyard for Foreign Operational Theatres’ (‘fourragère spéciale aux Théâtres d’Opérations Extérieurs’) was made on 23rd October, 1926.

 

The second photograph http://salg71.free.fr/mc/521bis.jpgshows an N.C.O., most definitely in the horizon-blue Model 1920 jacket for Officers and Warrant Officers, and which was permitted (from 1921) to be worn by career N.C.O.s for ‘Walking-Out’ (although we must always be wary, as we have mentioned before, of ostentatious conscript Sergeants, Corporals and Privates wearing these four patch-pocket jackets for ‘Walking-Out’ purposes). Note again, on the beret, the insignia of the Infantry Tank Force in metal, plus a regimental number, their presence together generally indicating an N.C.O. Plain silvered buttons on the four patch-pocket jacket again confirm his N.C.O. status. Of interest is the small badge on his left breast, one example of the many types of unofficial white metal or silvered badges, depicting the Renault FT tank, which were popular within the Infantry Tank Force for wear when in ‘Walking-Out Dress’.

 

Of especial interest, however, are this N.C.O.s collar patches. Although his jacket has the usual, high stand-and-fall ‘demi-Saxe’ collar, the rectangular collar patches are those for the ‘stand’ collar of the horizon-blue Model 1914/14 jacket. The infantry first received these collar patches, in light-blue cloth, in 1915: the regulation version had the rear edge scalloped into a three-pointed shape (en accolade), although a simplified version without the points was also worn, and that is the example seen in this photograph. Although the Model 1919, and then the Model 1920 jackets, both with ‘fall’ collars, officially replaced the Model 1914/15, in reality the vast stocks of Model 1914/15 jackets held in store meant that they were still issued to conscripts of the French Metropolitan Army well into the 1930s: therefore, the old rectangular patches continued in service, which for the Infantry Tank Force would be ‘Infantry’ light-blue (replacing ‘Artillery’ scarlet) after 1921. As we can see, the simplified light-blue collar patches of this N.C.O. are without the regulation green ‘soutaches’, only having the regimental number in what appear to be silvered metal numerals. It would seem odd for a career N.C.O. to have these old pattern patches on his ‘best’ jacket, so this man could, perhaps, be a conscript Sergeant.

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