Despite its poor showing in 1939-1940, the French Army actually fielded one of the more impressive armored fighting forces in the world when it came to tanks of the Second World War (1939-1945) - joining powers such as Britain, Germany, and the Soviet Union during the period. Around 5,800 tracked combat vehicles were available for French war-planners and field commanders when the war began but their strategic and tactical misuse and lack of trained tanker crews eventually led to the nation's undoing and poor showing in the defense of France itself. One of the product's of the pre-war period was the "AMR-33" series which was designed, developed, and produced by Renault.
Design work on the type was held after January 1932 when the French War Department drew up plans for a new 3-ton Armored Fighting Vehicle (AFV) intended for the fast-reconnaissance role ("Automitrailleise de Cavalerie Type Reconnaissance" or "AMR"). This light-class "cavalry tank" was to be used in concert with infantry formations on the advance so speed was at the center of such a design though these vehicles could also be brought to bear against other enemy light tanks and enemy infantry while also retaining qualities for the armed/armored reconnaissance role - very much a multi-faceted design to cover multiple battlefield roles.
The resulting vehicle weighed 5.5 tons (short) and held a running length of 11.5 feet, a beam of 5.4 feet, and a height of 5.7 feet. Inside was a crew of two - driver and commander/gunner - and protection reached up to 13mm at the most critical of facings. The driver took a position at the front-left of the hull superstructure with the commander/gunner in a 360-degree traversing turret emplacement over the hull superstructure. This left the engine compartment to take a place along the right of the vehicle. Power stemmed from an in-house Renault 8-cylinder gasoline-fueled engine of 84 horsepower and this was used to drive a track-and-wheel arrangement involving four road wheels to a hull side. Ground clearance reached about 13 inches while road speeds maxed out at 35 miles-per-hour with ranges out to 120 miles. Suspension was by way of oil-damped horizontal springs for cross-country travel capabilities.
The tank was armed rather modestly through just a single 7.5mm Mitrailleuse mle 1931 machine gun in the traversing turret - giving it just enough firepower against infantry but little more.
The AMR-33 design won out over competitors of the period and the French Army contracted for serial production of the type - though financial limitations in turn limited total number output to the point that the first service-quality vehicle was not delivered to French armored forces until June of 1934. Total production of 123 units was completed by the middle of 1935 allowing the force to be on-hand when World War came to Europe once more.
World War 2 took hold of the continent in September of 1939 with the German invasion of neighboring Poland on September 1st. French forces sprang into action with the AMR-33 assigned to both the 1st and 2nd Light Mechanized Division covering six total squadrons of AMR-33 tanks. During the Battle of France in May-June 1940, the series gave a poor account of itself as many were lost to both enemy fire (owing to poor armor protection and limited armament) and general mechanical unreliability. What AMR-33 tanks were left following the French surrender ended up in German service as the "Panzerspahwagen VM 701(f)."
At least three tanks were converted to command vehicles in 1934 featuring wireless sets. Design studies and tests were carried out involving Armored Personnel Carrier (APC), tank destroyer, prime mover, trench-crossing, smoke-laying conversions of the same tracked design. Few of these progressed if at all.