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Renault Char D1 Armored Fighting Vehicle (1931)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 3/27/2015

In the post-war years, the Char D1 was the most modern tank in France but could do very little during the time of the German invasion.

The Renault Char D1 served the French Army for a time leading up to World War 2. Her origins and use lay in a World War 1 mentality and, by the time of the German invasion of France, the Char D1 was wholly outclassed by the speedy nature and technologically superior German machines. Of the systems that fought for the French mainland, more than half were lost to combat and over a dozen were captured. In the end, the Char D1 proved too heavy for use as a light tank and too expensive to produce in greater numbers than the war required. It was not long before the Char D1 was fully replaced in French Army service.

The Inter-War Years

During and after World War 1, many ground commanders still saw the value of a tank as nothing more than infantry support with the British leading the way in terms of development and tactics. The French fielded a few notable designs during the war and eventually produced the hugely successful Renault FT-17 series light tank. The diminutive system went on to be copied, license-produced and purchased by nearly every major world power of the time - including the Soviet Union and the United States. As such, the FT-17 was in large supply during the following post-war years and this success allowed France to boast the most modern and powerful armored force in the world.

The Renault NC1

The successes of the FT-17 ultimately showcased a period of complacency within the French government, allowing parties to sit on their laurels. Budgetary constraints soon worked well to hamper anything in the way of future tank development in France. When it came time to modernize its aging force, the French mind-set remained the same and called for a cheap-to-produce, light-class infantry support vehicle to work in conjunction with infantry divisions. Renault responded by evolving their NC1 prototype (from the 1923 "Renault NC" tank project) into the "Char D". The prototype was revised to include a 74 horsepower engine (up from a 65 horsepower system), reallocated exhaust pipes and a larger internal fuel tank for improved range. Ten pilot vehicles were delivered for testing which ultimately revealed some inherent design shortcomings but none of these proved detrimental to a French production commitment.

The Char D1

The end-product of the program became the most modern tank available across France at the time. She was heavier and more expensive than initially anticipated. As her ST1 turrets had yet to be cast, she was fitted with surplus FT-17 turrets instead. Once her ST1 turrets became available, these were rejected by the French military for their overly cramped interior. The Schneider firm submitted a pair of replacement turrets and the roomier ST2 series w selected - this serving to increase the vehicle's operating weight further.

Even while the D1 was still getting her legs under her, the French government contracted Renault to develop a pair of similar tank designs known under the designations of "Char D2" and "Char D3". In response, the base Char D was now assigned the official designation of "Char D1". Initial orders were placed on December 23rd, 1930, for seventy lead vehicles. Production began in 1931 and a follow-on order for thirty more vehicles was places on July 12th, 1932. On October 16th, 1933, an additional fifty were ordered. Production ran until 1935 to which some 160 total examples were ultimately delivered - a far cry from the thousands of FT-17 models delivered during wartime.

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Specifications for the
Renault Char D1
Armored Fighting Vehicle

Country of Origin: France
Manufacturer: Renault - France
Initial Year of Service: 1931
Production Total: 160

Focus Model: Renault Char D1
Crew: 3

Overall Length: 15.78 ft (4.81 m)
Width: 7.09 ft (2.16 m)
Height: 7.87 ft (2.40 m)
Weight: 15.4 US Short Tons (14,000 kg; 30,865 lb)

Powerplant: 1 x Renault 4-cylincer gasoline engine delivering 74 horsepower.

Maximum Speed: 12 mph (18.6 km/h)
Maximum Range: 56 miles (90 km)

NBC Protection: None
Nightvision: None

1 x 47mm SA34 main gun
2 x 7.5mm mle 1931 machine guns

Not Available

Char D1 - Base Series Designation; mounting a 47mm main gun; 40mm armor maximum; 1 x Renault V4 gasoline engine of 74 horsepower; 160 examples produced from 1932 to 1935.

Char D2 - Heavier armor protection; entering service in 1937; limited production; 100 examples produced.

Panzerkampfwagen 732(f) - German Army designation for captured Char D1 systems; at least 18 examples known captured but records do not indicate any subsequent usage.

France; Nazi Germany