The Mighty Char 2C: Specifications, variants, and the dramatic end to its military operations

French innovation in tanks can be seen in the Char 2C, a super-heavy tank designed during World War I. It was the largest tank in history, weighing 69 tonnes, and with rare armament such as a 75mm cannon. The end of these powerful but unworkable combat engines came in 1940 when all ten were purposefully destroyed to avoid capture, notwithstanding their symbolic value.

The FCM 2C (Char 2C) is a prime example of the creative French tank design that followed World War I. This heavy tank—later designated a super-heavy tank—was first conceived of during the war, but it wasn’t used until the fighting was over. With its unmatched dimensions in terms of overall capacity and physical size, the Char 2C was the biggest operational tank ever built. 

Although 10 of these commanding tanks were developed, their military worth became more symbolic than practical as World War II approached, and their strategic significance decreased. To protect them, the Char 2Cs were strategically pulled back from the front lines as German forces broke through France’s fortifications in June 1940. The ten Char 2Cs were purposefully destroyed to prevent capture by advancing enemy forces, bringing a dramatic end to these incredible but ultimately unusable fighting machines.

 

Specifications:

With a powerful mass of 69 tonnes (68 long tonnes or 76 short tonnes), the Char 2C measures 10.27 metres (33 feet 8 inches) in length, 3 metres (9.5 feet 10 inches) in width, and 4.09 metres (13 feet 5 inches) in height. Its twelve-person crew functions with a maximum armour protection of 45 mm (1.8 inches). This formidable machine is equipped with a 75 mm Canon de 75 modèle 1897 as its primary armament, as well as four 8 mm Hotchkiss Mle 1914 machine guns, three of which are cleverly positioned in gimbal ball mounts at the front and both sides forward, and one of which is installed in a rear turret. 

The vehicle is propelled by two engines that have a combined power of two hundred and fifty CV, or 180 kW. Its suspension system is made up of leaf springs. When it comes to performance, it can travel 150 kilometres (93 miles) at a maximum speed of 15 km/h (9.3 mph). This military machine is evidence of its strong design, combining significant firepower with exceptional mobility to meet combat needs.

 

Variants:

The Char 2C tank, known as the Champagne, was modified at La Seyne between 1923 and 1926 to become the Char 2C bis. With a muzzle velocity of 200 metres per second, the 155 mm howitzer in this experimental model was housed in a circular cast steel turret. With three separate machine gun locations removed and new Soutter-Harlé engines installed, the total weight came to about 74 tonnes. The improved turret was put to use in the Tunisian Mareth Line, but these modifications were only temporary since the tank was returned to its former design by 1934. 

During November 15 and December 15, 1939, the Lorraine, which was used as a company command tank, experienced an interesting development: at the Société des Aciéries d’Homecourt, it was experimentally up-armoured. Making it resistant to normal German anti-tank weaponry was the aim. The flanks gained an additional 65 mm of reinforcement, while the frontal armour was strengthened to 90 mm. According to some sources, the Lorraine was the heaviest operational tank ever when it was built in its strongly fortified design, weighing about 75 tonnes. It also had the thickest operational tank armour at the time.

 

Operations:

Massive French tanks, like the Char 2C, were used in military activities in the late 1930s and early 1940s, however, their use was limited. After serving in successive regiments at first, the military utility of this vehicle declined as tank technology advanced, and by the late 1930s, it was essentially out of use. All ten of the Char 2C tanks, nevertheless, were active during the French mobilisation of 1939 and formed the 51st Bataillon de Chars de Combat. These tanks, designated for propaganda purposes after historical French districts, such as Normandie (later renamed Lorraine), were protected from direct action by anti-tank guns. Instead, they were used for morale-boosting films, demolishing old French forts, during the September 1939 offensive on the Siegfried Line. 

The decision was taken to stop the tanks from being captured as German Panzer divisions broke through the French lines in June 1940. Six tanks were moved southward by rail, and two damaged tanks were demolished. On June 15, 1940, the tanks were finally destroyed to prevent enemy capture after being hindered by a blazing fuel train and other obstacles close to Meuse-sur-Meuse—the 8. Panzerdivision found the ruins, despite German propaganda stating that dive bombers had destroyed them. One tank, the Champagne, was seized almost undamaged and displayed as a war prize in Berlin until its unexplained disappearance in 1948.