The Char 2C was the result of a specification issued in 1916 by the General Headquarters of the French Army for a heavy breakthrough tank. The tank was to be heavily armored and able to cross trenches 12 meters (13 feet) wide. In 1918 the French ordered the manufacture of 300 units to be ready in time for the 1919 Spring offensive, but with the Armistice in November 1918 all urgency was removed. Only ten Char 2C were eventually completed, the last being delivered to the French Army in 1923.
To this day, the Char 2C is arguably the largest production tank ever to enter military service. With a weight of 76 tons (69 metric tonnes) and a length of almost 34 feet (10.3 meters) it is a monster. The front and turret were protected with 35 mm armor, with 21 mm plate on the sides. Maximum speed was 15 kph.
Being represented as “land battleships”, the tanks were numbered and named after regions of France. These were 90 Poitou, 91 Provence, 92 Picardie, 93 Alsace, 94 Bretagne, 95 Touraine, 96 Anjou, 97 Normandie, 98 Berry, and 99 Champagne. In the fall of 1939 Normandie was up-armored in an effort to render her immune to German guns and re-named Lorraine. She emerged with frontal armor 90 mm thick and a weight of 84 tons (76 metric tonnes).
The Char 2C design had immense propaganda value for the French in the years between the wars, but by 1939 it was obsolete. Despite their limitations, the ten Char 2C were mobilized to form the 51st Bataillon de Chars de Combat to defend against the German invasion. Six of the tanks were immobilized by a fire while being transported by rail. With no way to move the tanks, they were destroyed by their own crews to prevent them from falling into German hands. One tank, the Champagne, was captured intact by the Germans and returned to Berlin as a war prize. The Char 2C never actually saw combat.