Staff Writer (Updated: 3/27/2015):
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.