It is generally said that you cannot judge a tank until it is fully upgraded. I have never met a tank in which this was a more apt description than in the Somua SAu-40. Until I researched the final gun I loathed this tank and everything about it. Once I had researched it, everything changed and suddenly this tank actually started to become quite enjoyable to play.
To start with, however, this tank was abominable. It is physically a very large tank. The gun is mounted low down in the hull, on the centreline. On top of the hull is a little machine-gun turret – a great big carbuncle. I would say it is a weakspot, except that would imply a reasonable level of armour at least somewhere. In reality almost everything this tank comes across will be able to penetrate it with ease – and due to its large size will not have a difficult time of hitting it either. It is also, just to round off its basic incapabilities, extremely slow.
The stock gun will find it difficult to penetrate anything above Tier IV, and even some Tier IV vehicles will give it trouble. I recall a very frustrating experience trying to shot through the side of a Churchill LL – square on so no angling whatsoever. I barely did any damage over ten shots (though I broke his tracks a couple of times). This gun is also fairly inaccurate.
The next gun is somewhat better, but it is still a very frustrating experience. Although this new gun can effectively damage most Tier IV and V vehicles, Tier VI will continue to prove troublesome. It does no more damage than the stock gun, but does have higher penetration. Its accuracy is slightly better, but not much. Now, however, other glaring weaknesses in the weaponry of this tank destroyer become apparent. Firstly the gun has a very narrow traverse. This makes it difficult to hit moving targets – and means one has to frequently shuffle on ones tracks to bring the gun to bear on stationary targets. Positioning, therefore, is absolutely vital – though all too often the battlefield will not go according to plan.
A good comparison at this point is to the M3 Lee, the Tier IV American medium. This has one of the same weaknesses of the Somua SAu-40 – the low-mounted gun and very high silhouette. However, the M3 Lee has rather more tactical utility. Firstly, the gun is just more powerful, even in stock, and able to dish out a fair bit of damage. Secondly, the gun is mounted to one side. If one picks one’s spot carefully this means you can use cover (like a rock or building) to hide one side of the tank whilst still being able to fire, presenting a smaller target. Finally the frontal armour of the M3 Lee is just that much thicker and is nicely sloped, meaning one can actually bounce some shots (albeit, not from Tier VIs). In contrast the centre mounting means the Somua SAu-40 has to be more or less fully exposed when firing. Its frontal armour is weak with virtually no sloping, making it very easy to penetrate. Finally, its gun just isn’t up to scratch.
At this point though I was just about ready to throw in the towel and use free experience to unlock the next tank destroyer in line. However, I had managed to unlock the final gun. Unlike the first two weapons this is a HE gun, and with it everything changed.
The HE gun is slow-firing and has poor accuracy of course, like any HE gun. It can also pump out 410 damage, which for Tier IV is a stonking amount. This is enough to one-shot most things Tier III and IV, and even some Tier Vs. Damaged Tier Vs and VIs can be smartly finished off – especially if you are fortunate enough to be flanking them.
Unless one is very sure of one’s position, relocating after a shot is fairly essential. If someone takes a shot back, it hurts and can very easily be fatal – those 280 hit points do not last long even in a Tier V battle, let alone a higher Tier. That said, I have experience that people just tend to ignore the Somua SAu-40, generally not regarding it as a threat. I have the feeling that many players do just use free experience to move on past it. This means most folks only come up against it in its earlier, weaker forms, where it can be left (somewhat safely) whilst they deal with a more dangerous threat.
Certainly I had no idea it would be so effective, but since I have equipped the HE gun everything has changed. The kills have piled on, even to the extent of earning a Top Gun medal in one game. I so hated this tank I used to rarely play it, but suddenly I found it being to of consideration once my main sequence of tanks was completed. To be sure certain weakness of the tank remain – its slow speed, large profile, poor armour, and poor traverse. However, the HE gun finally acts as compensation. Suddenly instead of comparing myself unfavourably with the M3 Lee it feels much more like being in a KV-2 with the howitzer (well, sort of anyway 😉 ), especially in Tier IV matches.
So my advice is to either just treat everything up to the HE gun as another sort of tank or to use free experience to research all one needs to equip that top gun. Add a little prudence and careful aiming, and enjoy.
My current record in this tank stands at 27 games, with 17 victories. It has one of my highest win-rates, and always has done. Nevertheless, it has been so frustrating to play that has in no way compensated. Win rates are still no fun if the tank is rubbish. Right now I have 32 kills – of which probably half have come in the last 6 or 7 games (since I upgraded that gun). That should give some sense of the difference in effectiveness. I might yet play a few more games before I sell it and move onto the next tank in the French Tank Destroyer line.