The Char D1 Infantry Tank was the first French tank to carry a 47mm gun, but it was an unpopular design had had been relegated to service in North Africa by 1940.
The D1 was designed by Renault in response to the 1926 defence programme, which laid down three categories of tanks - light tanks under 13 tons, battle tanks of 19-22 tons and heavy tanks of up to 70 tons.
Renault's first attempt to produce a light tank for the 1926 programme was the Renault NC.1, an improved version of the Renault FT-17. This was rejected by the French Army, and Renault then moved onto the larger D1. This had several features in common with the NC, including the same turret layout, suspension and vertical-sided superstructure.
The D1 was one of the first tanks to have a cast turret (the ST 2), and was armed with a 47mm gun and 7.5mm coaxial machine gun in the turret and a second 7.5mm machine gun in the hull front (early machines lacked the coaxial turret machine gun).
The D1 had fourteen small road wheels per side. The front and rear road wheels were independently mounted. The middle twelve were carried on three four-wheel bogies, each of which was carried by a long vertical coil spring and had hydro-pneumatic shock absorbers.
The D1 was one of the earliest tanks to be equipped with radio as standard. This required a large triangular aerial, which was mounted above the rear deck.
It was powered by a 65hp Renault engine and used a Cleveland controlled differential for steering.
The prototype of the D1 was ready by 1929, and Renault received an order for ten in December 1929. At this stage the tank was named the Char Léger D1. Ten underwent trials at Bourges in 1931. By 1933 enough had been ordered to equip three tank battalions. Seventy were ordered in December 1930 and delivered by November 1932. Thirty were ordered in July 1932 and delivered by August 1933 and a final batch of fifty were ordered in October 1933 and delivered by December 1935.
In 1933 the French Army revised its tank requirements, renaming the Battle Tank of 1926 as the Medium Tank. Both the D1 and D2 were reclassified as Medium Tanks in 1935, reflecting the increase in weight since their introduction into service.
By June 1936 there were 160 D1s in service. It was generally unreliable, partly because it was underpowered. Renault was aware of the limits of the D1, and in responce developed the more advanced Char D2.
On 1 September 1939 the French Army had 213 D1s and D2s in service. By May 1940 most of the D1s were based in North Africa, having been sent there in 1937. After the outbreak of war these battalions moved towards the Mareth Line to guard against any possible attack from Italian held Libya. One battalion (67e BCC) returned to France in 1940, and took part in the June campaign, the Battle of France.
Vichy France was allowed to keep 107 D-1s in North Africa, mainly split between two tank battalions. Some of these tanks fought against the Americans during Operation Torch, although in one clash on 9 November between the D1 and M3 light tanks from the 1st Armored Division the French lost 14 D1 tanks, the Americans only one M3. Some of the surviving D1s then fought on the Allied side during the campaign in Tunisia.
Hull Length: 4.81m/ 15.8ft (18.94ft in Cassel)
Hull Width: 2.16m/ 7.1ft
Height: 2.4m/ 7.9ft
Crew: 3 (commander/ gunner/ loader, driver, radio operator)
Weight: 14 tonnes/ 15.4 tons
Engine: 74hp/ 65hp Renault 4 cylinder gasoline engine (Cassel)
Max Speed: 20kph/ 13mph
Max Range: 96km/ 60 miles
Armament: 47mm SA 34 gun and two 7.5mm MGs
Armour: 30mm maximum originally, 35mm maximum late production