I hope everyone had a great New Year’s celebration and are well recovered from your hangovers (gueule de bois). This post began when I noticed several recent pictures on Gallica depicting a certain Captain Genty tooling around Morocco in what is likely the very first “technical” to appear on an African battlefield.
The very early automobiles, as they progressed from slow moving, cumbersome shaking piles of junk to light, quick moving reliable challengers to horses, were immediately put to use by the French military. As early as the late 1890’s they could be seen in military maneuvers and exercises as a courier vehicle and to a limited degree a command vehicle shuttling staff between various vantage points and command posts. It was only a matter of time before some real man of genius thought of arming the vehicles with a machine gun. By 1902, the Charron Girardot Voigt (later Charron) Company began to study self-propelled machine guns. The model first presented at an early Salon de l’Automobile (auto show) is the first known French armored vehicle and involved the innovation of placing an armored tub in place of the rear seats of an ordinary car and mounting a Hotchkiss 8mm machine gun. A field test was completed in 1903.
In 1904, the French army decided to use a 1,200 kilogram, 24hp, Panhard & Levassor civilian car for military reconnaissance missions. This vehicle’s high chassis enabled it to travel over rugged terrain and it’s impact-resistant, reinforced-wood frame gave it flexibility and sturdiness and it could travel at a speed of up to 70 kph. This car was delivered to a detachment of military motorists of the artillery company of Vincennes commanded by Captain Genty. Genty then improvised two truncated cone-shaped aluminum columns to be placed behind the front seat and behind the rear seat, so that the vehicle could be used in the attack or securing a withdrawal. The bucket seat next to the driver had a swivel stool so that the gun could be fired from any position. The weapon is an early air-cooled Hotchkiss model 1900/1901 machine-gun weighing 24 kilos. Thus the first Panhard self-propelled machine gun was born and inaugurates a long line of Panhard military vehicles.
The Panhard-Genty model self-propelled machine gun was sent on a mission to Morocco in July 1907 following an attack on Europeans in Casablanca to participate in law enforcement operations. It was on December 7, 1907 that Captain Genty received the order to go urgently to Oran with a reconnaissance car, accompanied by a platoon of two vehicles mounted with machine guns. He arrived in Morocco on December 18, when the political situation worsened, and the following photographs depict Genty and his vehicles in various locations in Morocco during the beginning stages of the Moroccan Campaign (pacification du Maroc).
By 1908 these fast moving vehicles were used in several locations during French operations in Morocco and the mastermind of the encroachment into Morocco, General Lyautey, is seen in these vehicles as early as 1907. Other manufacturers, such as Clément-Bayard, were asked to replace one of the Panhards which had been damaged (possibly the second one that Captain Genty rolled off a road in as many weeks and in which he was very seriously injured) but their models could not deal with the rough terrain. Lyautey was impressed enough to request the purchase of 3 new Panhards in 1911 and in an amazing record setting time of three weeks the first car was delivered. French General Alix was also seen in 1912 in a well tricked out machine gun car.
In Morocco, the self-propelled machine gun cars transports and escorts the authorities throughout the country as described in the Petit Journal: It was in a self-propelled machine that he made the whole trip under the astonished eyes of the desert riders. Impressive, she is locally nicknamed “the Mahboula” which means “madwoman” or “go-getter. NOTE: The link below is a .pdf of the pictures in this gallery.