Solido Military – Development

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Throughout most of the production lifetime of the Solido military range, the main French tank was the AMX-30. Naturally, as soon as it appeared Solido made a model. Over the decades the AMX-30 served with the French army, it spawned many variants, and underwent several evolutions. Toy makers like their offerings – especially flagship models for the home audience – to remain current. So how well did Solido fare?

The AMX-30

When countries began to design their post-WW2 armoured vehicles, the French approach was to focus on mobility and firepower: their initial creations, the Panhard EBR armoured car (see my story about the Dinky model) and the AMX-13 tank, were both light and mobile vehicles with big guns. When it came to developing a heavier tank, the French initially relied on the American M47 Patton medium tank, while it tried to develop a heavier homegrown vehicle.

By the mid-1950s this attempt had failed, and it was also apparent that the M47 lacked sufficient firepower to take on the new generation of Soviet tanks. At this stage, French thinking turned away from heavy tanks because armour was thought unlikely to be capable of defeating the anti-tank weapons then in development – guided missiles, high-energy kinetic rounds and shaped-charge shells. Rather than design a heavy, and consequently bulky and slow tank that would be easy to hit, they decided to build a smaller, faster and more agile vehicle, armed with the latest big gun, and with crews trained to fire from long range, and rapidly change position so as to make it difficult for an enemy to acquire them as targets.

The resulting design was named the AMX-30, after the Atelier de Construction d’Issy-les-Moulineaux, and the target weight of 30 tonnes. The first prototypes were ready by 1960, and production vehicles (the AMX-30B) entered service 6 years later.

An AMX-30 at the Saumur museum (Rama, licence: CC BY-SA 2.0 FR).

The tank was compact, low and relatively light at roughly 40 tons. It had a powerful engine which could propel the tank at 40mph, and good mobility including the ability to ford deep water, submerged if necessary, using a snorkel. It carried light armour, designed to be proof against light weapons and indirect artillery, but at a maximum 80mm effective thickness, unlikely to resist most contemporary tank rounds if they hit.

For attack, the AMX-30 carried a 105mm gun which the French intended would be superior opponents guns and enable the AMX-30 to prevail at longer ranges. How this was to be achieved requires some explanation, so bear with me… The gun was, like most guns of the period, rifled – the barrel had grooves that impart spin to a projectile fired from it. This would spin solid armour-piercing rounds fired from it, which improved accuracy at longer ranges. However, the penetrating power of such rounds depends on its kinetic energy (the speed it is moving at) which reduces as the range increases: so, at longer ranges, the rounds are less effective when they hit.

The AMX-30 however, was supplied with shaped-charge rounds (High-Explosive Anti-Tank: HEAT) which work on a different principle. A HEAT shell contains explosive material and explodes on contact. It focuses the energy of this explosion on the target to cause damage; this is not affected by the kinetic energy of the HEAT round, or the range.

Now, HEAT rounds could not normally be used in rifled guns, because spinning prevented the shaped charge from working properly, but here the French engineers came up with an ingenious solution. They enclosed the HEAT projectile within an outer casing, separated by ball-bearings that would allow the casing to spin and keep the shell accurate, while keeping the HEAT round inside stable and thus enabling it to be effective.

As a result of all this, it was thought the AMX-30 would be able to outfight opponents at longer ranges.

The crew of the AMX-30 was four: driver, loader, gunner and commander. As befitted a tank that was expected to use movement to its advantage, and to fight at long ranges the commander of an AMX-30 was provided with an advanced suite of optical equipment. The prominent TOP 7 cupola could rotate independently of the turret, and was fitted with 10 periscopes for fast 360-degree vision, plus a telescopic sight and an infra-red sight.

The Solido AMX30

Solido 209 AMX30 Tank

Year first produced:1965

L188xW62xH49, Metal 315g, Scale 1:50, Features: 4

Let’s begin our survey of the AMX-30 model with the box that it was first released in. In addition to a rather good black and white illustration of the tank, each side of the box lists the features of the model that Solido thought would attract prospective buyers

  • Chenillage brevete (patented tracks)
  • Tourelle pivotante sur 360o (rotating turret)
  • Canon mobile (elevating gun)
  • Mitrailleuse de tourelle (turret machine gun)
  • Trappe ouvrable (opening hatch)
  • Antenne (antenna)
  • Pot d’echappement et jerricans rapporte (exhaust and jerrycans)
The side of the box with its black, white & yellow colour scheme

The main attraction in this list is probably the fancy articulated tracks (see my story about components for a full description), which in combination with the freely moving plastic wheels, allow the model to be moved quite convincingly. The rotating turret and elevating gun, and the opening commander’s hatch are the other major features. The other items on the list are all plastic accessories: the turret machine gun once plugged in can swivel and elevate, but the antennae, exhaust and jerrycans are simply appendages.

The main components of the model are the Mazak castings – the turret, the gun and mantlet, the hull and the baseplate. As usual, these give the tank a satisfying heft when handled. The plastic running gear includes 5 road wheels, drive wheel and idler, and two track tensioners (a nominal representation, as the real tank had 5) per side, fixed onto steel axles. Plastic accessories comprise the aforementioned exhausts, jerrycans, turret machine gun, three aerials, and a searchlight to be fitted above the gun. The model also has a (unhistorical) towing hook…

The underside of the model contains the following marks:

“solido”, “MADE IN FRANCE”, “CHAR BLINDE AMX-30T FRANCE” and “REF 209 1/1965”.

The identification marks on the underside of the model.

Note the date in these marks – January 1965. This is useful, because it explains why the Solido model doesn’t look quite right. If you compare the Solido turret to that on the actual AMX-30, it has two visually-significant differences. The TOP 7 cupola, which is a prominent and distinctive structure, is missing; and whereas the rear of the turret tapered and was surrounded by a distinctive storage cage, the rear of the model turret is a smooth rounded shape. In addition, the searchlight is too small and fitted on the mantlet immediately above the gun, whereas the real thing was held on a bracket off to the side.

The Solido turret – bald and rounded.

How did these differences occur? In their eagerness to release the model, Solido based it on the early AMX-30 prototype vehicles, and not the final specification when the tank entered production in 1966.

One of the early prototypes with the dished turret (resembling contemporary Russian designs).

As a result, we begin our story of the Solido AMX-30 with a mis-step: the Solido model was out of date as soon as it was produced (we have seen other manufacturers make the same mistake)! It also doesn’t help that the production turret was just a whole lot better-looking than the inverted saucer of the prototype!

The tapered turret rear and TOP 7 cupola on the production AMX-30 (Jon Catalan, licence: CC BY 3.0).

AMX-30 Variants

Before proceeding with the history of the AMX-30 tank, we should consider the many variants that were built using the same hull for different purposes. Several were produced during the 1970s. The main variants were as follows, with approximate production numbers in brackets:

  • Anti-aircraft gun-armed tank (50)
  • Anti-aircraft Roland missile-armed tank (160)
  • Tactical nuclear missile launcher (40)
  • Recovery vehicle (235)
  • Self-propelled 155mm gun (400)

Sadly, Solido did not create models of two of the most populous variants, the Roland AA tank, or the 155mm SPG. The latter deployed an outrageously long gun in an oversized turret, so it’s a shame it wasn’t made. However, let’s take a look at the three models they did release.

The four AMX-30 vehicles created by Solido as portrayed on Top Trumps cards. NB: The eagle-eyed will spot that the statistics on the AA tank are wrong – they represent the much lighter AMX-13, not the AMX-30! But at least the picture is correct.

The earliest variant of the AMX-30 was the AMX-30R, an anti-aircraft vehicle with an enclosed turret housing twin (‘bitube’) 30mm cannons. Targets were detected at up to 10 miles range by a radar that could also assist in fire control when the target came within range. When not in use, the radar folded into an armoured box carried on the turret rear.

The AMX-30R was intended to provide short-range defence against helicopters and low-flying aircraft, and being tracked could operate wherever it was required. The concept had already been implemented using the lighter AMX-13 tank, but the AMX-30 was a more stable platform and had more room for ammunition. In the event, 53 were purchased in the 1960s by Saudi Arabia, but none by France (who adopted the Roland version instead).

Solido had already released the AA version of the AMX-13, and so were able to pair this turret with the hull of their AMX-30B model. It was released in 1976, appropriately in desert sand, but in the catalogues I have seen was confusingly described as Egyptian or just ‘arabian’. As a model it is quite a sexy prospect! Not only do the wheels and tracks work, the turret rotates and the guns elevate, as you might expect, but the radar dish rotates and can be folded away when not in action. Oooh!

The impressive Solido AMX-30R, with radar deployed for action. Sadly, I don’t know what the writing on the turret says.

The second variant released by Solido was the AMX-30 Pluton. The Pluton was a tactical nuclear missile, with a range up to 75 miles. Such missiles were area attack weapons – they were designed to spread lethal radiation over a large area containing enemy troop and armour concentrations, rather than to be aimed at specific targets. The West saw them as a way of offsetting the numerical superiority of the Soviets, by disrupting and destroying mass attacks before these could overrun their defences. Thankfully of course, they were never used.

The AMX-30 Pluton launcher used the hull of the AMX-30B, but remodelled it for the purpose of firing the Pluton. The missile itself was held in a launcher that could be elevated, while on the right side of the hull there was a crane used to assemble and load the missile into the launcher.

A Pluton launcher ready for firing.

Unlike the Pluton launcher, the Solido model was a completely new tooling, number 238, dated on the baseplate to September 1977. Even the wheels and lower hull are new (plastic) mouldings. The loading crane rotates, elevates and is hinged in the middle; the launcher also elevates; and the missile (also plastic) is loaded onto a spring-loaded launching mechanism. It can be released by depressing a trigger situated at the top rear of the launcher. It’s a particularly large and impressive model, with great play features.

The model Pluton launcher with raised launcher and crane, and plastic missile alongside.

Arguably the most essential variant of the AMX-30 was the AMX-30D recovery vehicle; a vehicle expected to closely accompany the tanks to clear obstructions, and tow damaged or immobile vehicles out of combat. The AMX-30D could also provide the means to carry out major maintenance, by lifting engines or even the entire turret, when required. To do this, the AMX-30D deployed a crane capable of lifting 15 tons, and a winch on the front of the hull capable of pulling 35 tons. A bulldozer blade on the front could clear obstacles, and also be used as a stabiliser when using the crane and winch.

The AMX-30D. Note the crane, dozer blade and TOP 7 cupola.

Solido created their model of the AMX-30D at the same time as the Pluton launcher. It shares the same hull and crane, even retaining the hinge at the back where the Pluton launcher would have sat. To this are added a bulldozer blade at the front, a TOP 7 cupola on the fore part of the hull, and various storage boxes on the hull rear, all modelled in plastic.  

The Solido AMX-30D. Note that it uses the same hull as the Pluton launcher.

In fact, the real AMX-30D although generally similar had differences to the Pluton launcher. The hull was much lower, and the crane a different shape without a central hinge. A winch should be present on the hull front, but is missing from the model (because the Pluton launcher did not have one). As such, the Solido AMX-30D is not entirely accurate…but nonetheless once again has great play features.

The AMX-30B2

As we have seen, when the AMX-30 entered service with the French army it was a modern design with several novel features. By the late 1970s, it was starting to look dated. The fire control system was limited, and developments in composite armour were reducing the effectiveness of HEAT ammunition. Perhaps the most pressing problem, however, was the unreliable transmission of the tank, which was compromising its availability and reliability.

As a result, an upgraded version was designed – the AMX-30B2 – and implemented in 1982. New tanks were produced to the B2 standard, and older tanks were gradually upgraded. The new vehicle had a more powerful engine and a new transmission, an improved fire control system including a laser rangefinder, and new kinetic energy ammunition. The package did not solve all of the limitations with the AMX-30: of course, it still had thin armour.

In the form of the AMX-30B2, the tank continued in service right through to the late 1990s, when it was replaced by the new Leclerc tank. In all, some 3,500 were built, and in addition to forming the backbone of the French armoured force for some 30 years, it also served with several other countries such as Greece and Italy. In 1991, at a period when the AMX-30 would have been outclassed in any European conflict, French and Qatari AMX-30B2’s saw action in the First Gulf War against older Iraqi tanks and were able to hold their own.

AMX-30Bs in the desert during Operation Desert Storm.

It was in 1992, that Solido finally released a new upgraded model, described by them as a B2. The hull is the old AMX-30B casting, unaltered. The turret is, however, entirely new and thankfully it is a much better depiction of the real thing. The shape of the turret is more accurate, it has the TOP 7 cupola and a larger searchlight correctly positioned. These improvements have very little to do with the changes that constituted the B2 (which did not result in any hugely significant visual differences), but at long last we have a broadly accurate model of the AMX-30!

The much-improved AMX-30 released in 1992. Our model also has a nice matt camouflage paint scheme.

The Brennus

The last gasp of the AMX-30 tank was the ‘Brennus’, a B2 with added ERA (explosive reactive armour) blocks. ERA is a form of armour that consists of enclosed ‘bricks’ containing explosive. When struck, they explode outwards away from the vehicle they are protecting, disrupting the incoming round and lessening it’s effectiveness.

One of the last Brennus pictured in 2016 (G.Garitan, licence: CC BY-SA 4.0).

90 AMX-30B2 tanks were so modified, as a measure to give added protection against infantry anti-tank weapons that might be encountered in the event of a deployment to Bosnia in 1993. A total of 112 bricks were added to the glacis and the front and sides of the turret, giving protection to the forward arc of the vehicle.

Solido modelled the Brennus as part of the collection of their military models sold with a fortnightly subscription magazine in the first years of the current century, by the firm Hachette. The Brennus model appeared in October 2004.

The Hachette model of the Brennus, the most powerful version of the AMX-30 tank produced.

The diecast castings on this model are those of the B2 (the hull therefore being identical to that released originally in 1966), but with additional plastic parts to represent the Brennus. On the glacis is an arrangement of ERA bricks, and another encircles the front of the turret. Interestingly, the opportunity was taken with this piece to belatedly include the barrel of a 20mm co-axial cannon that had been installed in AMX-30s since c1980 as an anti-helicopter weapon! Sadly though, it is in the wrong place, since the cannon was actually mounted in the mantlet alongside the main gun as you would expect, and not to the side of it, as here.

The model turret with its various plastic enhancements.

The third addition to the model is an elaborate stowage basket surrounding the rear of the turret. Once again, this is a belated addition, as the AMX-30 turret had stowage fitted around the sides from the very beginning but Solido had not attempted to model it. By 2004 the technology for modelling such delicate items was more readily available.

The Brennus is a nice model, and an interesting combination of relatively simple 1960s metal castings with state-of-the-art 21st Century plastic detailing. Like the real tank, it was a last gasp – a reasonable and cost-effective attempt at prolonging the life of venerable equipment. And with this, it’s time to bring our story of the AMX-30 to a close.

Retrospective

As we have seen, the AMX-30 tank had a long history in French service. As might be expected, it was a model with strong appeal for the French market. Not surprisingly therefore, Solido invested considerable effort in the model, upgrading the basic model twice, and releasing three variant vehicles, two of which shared entirely new moulds, and all of them with impressive play features.

And yet, one can’t fail to observe that Solido was usually behind the curve. Customers had to wait 27 years for an upgraded model that captured the true look of the tank, and never were provided with a Roland-equipped AA tank or the 155mm self-propelled gun, both vehicles that served in significant numbers. What a missed opportunity, Solido!


SEE ALSO…

As might be expected given their coverage of the AMX-30 and its variants, Solido produced several models of vehicles based on the AMX-13 light tank. These include the standard gun tank (no. 230) in various guises, including a variant armed additionally with anti-tank missiles; the anti-aircraft tank mounted with the same turret and weapon system used on the AMX-30 (no. 223); and the troop-carrier (no. 227) including an ambulance version.

Author: hexeres

Amateur photographer, military toy enthusiast, footslogger, dog lover, history buff and ebay trader to mention just a few...

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