Thursday, June 19, 2014

French Char 2C, Biggest Tank Ever

French Char 2C
The Char 2C

The Germans are often criticized for the size and weight of their tanks and ordnance. The Tiger Tank comes in for a generous helping of the "they were stupid to build such a big tank" types of remarks. However, there were plenty of other examples by the other Great Powers of weaponry that was as colossally misguided as it was colossally huge.

French Char 2C
For comparison, and to show a more reasonable and practical French tank, here is French “Char B1” heavy tank “EURE”. Destroyed 13 German tanks during the Battle of Stonne . Sustained 140 hits from anti-tank fire. Commanded by Pierre Billotte

A French monster tank that actually existed and entered service is largely forgotten, but it served in World War II. The French, not known for their tank development, actually had some fairly good tank models that they had developed during the 1930s. Unfortunately, those tanks were in short supply upon the outbreak of World War II and barely made a dent in the Blitzkrieg. One thing the French did accomplish with their tank effort, though, was to secure the dubious honor of making one of the biggest tanks of all time.

French Char 2C
The Char 2C with its crew (including one extra)

The Char 2C, also known as FCM 2C, was a French super-heavy tank developed, although never deployed, during World War I. It was produced when little was known about the practicalities of tank development. For what it was, it actually was quite far ahead of its time. However, by World War II it was hopelessly obsolete.

The French Subsecretary of Artillery during the Great War, General  Léon Augustin Jean Marie Mourret, asked shipyard Forges et Chantiers de la Méditerranée (FCM) near Toulon to come up with a heavy tank. The British had developed a few of their own, which Mourret must have heard about. The British tanks were first used at Cambrai, and this officer evidently feared being left behind. There was what can only be described as a tank euphoria amongst the Allies, as the British subsequently swept aside all opposition at Cambrai with their first tanks and appeared about to completely break the trench-warfare stalemate. Mourret then applied pressure to FCM to finish the job quickly. He probably figured a big French tank would sweep the dirty Boches aside and he would become a national hero.

French Char 2C

Renault helped design the project, which just kept getting bigger. The French authorities other than Mourret, who was soon replaced, were a lot less enthused about plans for the big tank, but they went ahead anyway. Partly this was due to the other Allies requiring the French to at least try to make their own tank before they would hand over any of theirs. The public also had become excited by the idea of tanks, which unfortunately were now proving somewhat less than war-winning on the battlefield. The project was delayed past the end of the war in November 1918, but the French plowed on ahead anyway during peacetime. Ten Car 2C tanks were built and delivered in 1921.

French Char 2C
Painting of one of the ten Char 2Cs actually built, the "Alsace"

The monster was 69 tonnes, with 45 mm frontal armor and 22 mm armor at the sides. There were two turrets: the one at the front accomodating three soldiers within it to man a 75 mm main gun, while a turret at the rear had a machine gun. The Char 2C held a crew of 12 in two separate compartments. It was slow and extremely vulnerable to advanced antitank weapons (the frontal armor was later upgraded to a more reasonable 90 mm), but they were fully functional and maintained in readiness throughout the 1920s and 1930s.

Upon the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the ten Char 2Cs were mobilized in their own unit, the 51st Bataillon de Chars de Combat. They were used for French propaganda purposes - look at the mighty French tanks! - but were not committed to battle. The French destroyed them as the Germans closed in during June 1940, though one may have survived in the Russian tank museum at Kubinka by way of Berlin.

The Char 2C wasn't even the biggest tank dreamed up by the French - at one point, they even contemplated a 600 ton tank (somewhat akin to the later German Maus). As the Germans closed in, the French even ordered yet another humongous twin-turret monster. It was never built, however, as the Germans quickly overcame France.


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