No, it’s not the Maus, the massive German Tank which was a lot heavier and slightly bigger but that never went beyond the prototype state and certainly never saw combat. It is the French Char 2c, a 69 tonnes behemoth that was in use between 1921 and 1940.
The Only Operational Super Heavy Tank Of WWII, And You Never Heard Of It!
The Char 2C is the only super-heavy tank ever to attain operational status — a super-heavy tank is not simply a tank that is very heavy but one that is much heavier than regular tanks of its period. The next operational tank to approach its weight would be the German Tiger II heavy tank of World War II.
The Char 2C had a loaded weight of 69 tonnes, partly because of its armour – 45 mm at the front, 22 mm at the sides – but much of it just because of its huge size. The armour was among the thickest of World War I-era tanks, though by modern standards this would be considered thin. It is still easily the largest tank ever taken into production.
With the tail fitted, the hull was over twelve metres long. Within its ample frame there was room for two fighting compartments. The forward compartment was crowned by a three-man turret (the first such in history) mounting a long 75 mm gun, and the second, at the rear of the tank, was topped by a machine gun turret. Both turrets had stroboscopic cupolas. The three independent 8 mm machine gun positions at the front gave protection against infantry assault.
The fighting compartments were connected by the engine room. Each track was powered by its own 200 or 250 hp engine, via an electrical transmission. Top speed was 15 km/h and it came with seven fuel tanks, containing 1,260 litres, which gave it a range of 150 kilometres. The suspension contained 39 interleaving road wheels on each side, making for a total of 90 wheels on the tank.
To man the tank required a crew of twelve: driver, commander, gunner, loader, four machine gunners, mechanic, electrician, assistant-electrician/mechanic and a radio operator. Some sources report thirteen, probably due to pictures of the crews that included the company commander.
How they were (not) used
Over time the ten tanks were part of several different units. Their military value slowly decreased as more advanced tanks were developed throughout the 1920s and 1930s. By the end of the 1930s they were largely obsolete, because their slow speed and high profile made them vulnerable to advances in anti-tank guns.
Nevertheless, during the French mobilisation of 1939, all ten were activated and put into their own unit, the 51st Bataillon de Chars de Combat. For propaganda, each tank had been named after one of the ancient regions of France.
As their main value was in propaganda, the giants were kept carefully out of harm’s way and did not participate in the September 1939 attack on the Siegfried Line. They were used instead for numerous morale-boosting movies, in which they were often shown climbing and crushing old French forts. To the public, they obtained the reputation of invincible super tanks, the imagined dimensions of which far surpassed the actual particulars.
Of course, the French commanders knew perfectly well that this reputation was undeserved. When the German Panzerdivisionen, in the execution of Operation Fall Rot the second stage in the invasion of France, ripped apart the French lines after 10 June 1940, the decision was made to prevent the capture of the famous equipment.
All were to be sent to the south by rail transport. On 15 June the railway was blocked by a burning fuel train, so it became incumbent to destroy the tanks by detonating charges. Later Goebbels and Göring claimed the tanks were hit by German dive bombers. This propaganda lie was to be repeated by many sources.
One tank was nevertheless captured more or less intact and brought to Berlin to be exhibited as a war trophy until disappearing in 1948.