Excuse the pun, but this French-built World War I behemoth was once regarded as the heaviest tank ever to see operational service and grace the battlefield. Its fate of becoming an absolute monster on the ground, however, was relatively short-lived, as development and production began near the end of World War I, while newer, more advanced tanks outclassed some of the limited models that made it into service during World War II.

After witnessing the impact of the British-built rhomboid tanks in 1916, the French Army sought to design and create their own. Enter two French Generals: General Jean Baptiste Eugene Estienne and General Léon Augustin Jean Marie Mourret, regarded as the pioneers of the “Char de Rupture” or simply, Char. Both have previously worked on other tank projects, which at one point made them compete for building contracts. Competition aside, Estienne and Mourret eventually came together, brainstormed lessons learned from their previous tanks, and worked on to conceived the FCM 1A prototype. The 1A underwent multiple redesigning and upgrades between 1916 to 1918. Nonetheless, it still didn’t make it to production. Only the largest version was approved for mass production, the 2C, albeit limited.

Char 2C was approved for production in early 1918, but it would take quite a while before it was handed over to the French Army in 1921—three years late for its intended role. Initially, the service ordered 300 tanks, only to be lowered to 100 and eventually to ten units which were the only 2Cs to be commissioned then. These tanks would carry the name of French regions, namely Provence, Picardie, Alsace, Bretagne, Touraine, Anjou, Normandie (weight upgrade to 83 tons), Berry, Champagne, and Poitou. Another later version would emerge based on Champagne, the Char 2C bis, mounting a 155mm main gun, cast turret, and new engines.

Char 2C Painting
A painting in the likeness of French Char 2C “Alsace” (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

Each tank measured overall dimensions of 10.27 x 3 x 4.10 m (33.69 x 9.84 x 13.45 ft) with a whopping weight of 69-ton, the largest and heaviest ever put into production. The thick armor protection of 45mm front, 22mm sides, 35mm frontal turret, 22mm rear turret, 13mm roof armor, and 10mm belly armor contributed most of its weight. This armor would have been impenetrable against small arms and heavy machine gun fires in that period. Had production started a few years earlier, the 2C likely played a pivotal role in “traversing the hellscape that was no man’s land with its thick armor and maneuverability through holes, mud, and impressive trench crossing that could have covered on-foot troops. Although, its drawbacks remained like its predecessors, which was its inability to turn effectively. Another shortcoming common to super-heavy tanks was their transportation, given their massive size and weight. Accordingly, one 2C has to be carried by special-made two-piece railcars that will take up to four hours to load and four 39-ton hydraulic jacks and robust dunnage. Different from the Panzer Maus VIII, however, the French behemoth does not need to be disassembled and assembled, but it doesn’t mean that the whole transportation process could have been more timely and tedious.