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Because France had fallen with such shocking speed, only in retrospect to the early years of WWII does the origin of the Charlemagne raise eyebrows among the Allies. Had the basic technology behind the machine been more proven before the outbreak of war, perhaps then they would have detected a major conspiracy which directly fueled the Nazi war machine, essentially jump-starting Germany’s own Pzf program. Hitler’s boisterous proclamations that the basic technology behind walking armor was Germanic in origin, is mostly truthful, (though the true birthplace of the top secret ancient automata blueprints fall more under the larger sphere of Germanic influence). The fact that the 3rd Reich’s sudden manifestation of armored colossus in 1939 would never have happened without the aid of France’s (then) superior industrial infrastructure is as much an item of secrecy for the French government as it is for Germany’s.
This is not to imply that French Industry was complicit with Nazi Germany’s aims of conquering Europe, rather it was victim to a plot whose ramifications could not possibly have been envisaged from the perspective of France during the inter-war period. From their vantage point, the French had miraculously, if conveniently, intercepted plans for incredible new technology that could potentially ensure lasting peace for the war ravaged country. If they chose to invest in the project, they would have a crucial head start over all other major world powers in the coming era. The fact that the plans came from a German source was irrelevant, being that Germany was in severe economic depression at the time, and had no industrial infrastructure capable of implementing such an ambitious design, and in the unlikely event that they did, had nowhere near sufficient resources for mass production. So, oblivious to the extent of the ambition and insanity of those responsible for the deliberate leak, France took the bait and counted itself not simply fortunate, but deserving of the boon in lieu of all the suffering only recently ended, thinking only with pride of a completed prototype waving a massive tricolore beneath the Triumphal Arch on 14th July.
So while France exhausted crucial time and massive resources developing a very powerful new weapon system whose tactical ability would be rendered obsolete just a few years later by Blitzkrieg tactics, Germany went back to basics and adapted the French tech breakthroughs to much smaller simpler mechs that could travel farther over land, and even be transported by larger vehicles w/ relative ease. What later came to be regarded as the Pygmy Pzfs, in lieu of their much larger offspring. From the start, Germany’s greatest asset in this still secret arms race was its intellectual foresight for the new machine’s tactical usage and ultimate potential. In the beginning of its Pzf development, Germany was less concerned w/ creating the perfect weapon from the outset, and more focused on the proper large-scale uses of such a weapon. Tactical application was the thing. Perfecting individual models would come later, after German Industry had time to rebuild. Motivation and training of Pzf units could be honed while their machines could yet not. Hence German Pzfs started small, while their creators dreamed big, and crews trained hard.
Of course, once any weapon sees more widespread use, it's only a matter of time before the enemy builds their own better designs. So, as with tanks, mechs began to grow larger again, capable of carrying more powerful weapons. This time, however, with greater consideration to speed and tactical usage. The tech became more standardized, and parts more interchangeable. Gradually, improvements were made in ease of pilot control, agility, and adaptability, even as they grew larger. American and Russian designers in particular learned how to strike a fair balance between enabling complex functionality and expedient manufacture. In contrast to mech production at the height of WWII, the Charlemagne’s longer meandering development cycle rendered a machine which was far more luxurious in many ways. Better crew survivability being a virtue less characteristic among the more ubiquitous mechs of the war.
The initial Mark I model of the Charlemagne, like most of the Allies first attempts at a medium mech, was constructed in the “jouster” configuration of a mostly anthropomorphic layout excepting one unarticulated weapon arm. In other words, having one humanoid arm, with a rotating shoulder, elbow, and a hand capable of clasping assorted weapons and tools, and an opposite arm dedicated to a single fixed weapon with the bare minimum of joints to allow weapon operation and aiming.
For it’s right arm, the Charlemagne Mk.I carried the same short barreled 75 mm ABS SA 35 howitzer found mounted in the hull of a Char B-1 tank. Jouster mechs, while both cheaper and faster to produce, sacrificed a large degree of tactical versatility, which is considered the primary strength of anthro mechs. Beyond a Jouster layout, the Mk.I Charlemagne was distinguished most easily by an asymmetrical hull layout, with the driver’s compartment and vision block clearly jutting on the upper left, and a machine gun mount on the right front armor plate. Additionally, a heavy armor apron was often worn on the front plate of the pelvic section, which was later omitted on the Mark II in favor of additional side protection in the form of 2 skirt plates protecting the hip joints.
Both versions featured riveted body construction with hulls very reminiscent of it’s armored cousin, the Char B-1. There were, however, some cast armor components present on both designs of the Charlemagne; mainly the head, and midriff. Both having been improved towards the end of the of the Charlemagne’s development, and thus borrowing cast armor techniques used on the more modern SOMUA tank, which shares its turret design with the Char B-1.
The Mark II, shown here, was the world’s first true functional medium anthro mech, enjoying the full use of two arms and hands rather than one. The hull mounted machine gun is gone, and peculiarly relocated to the head, above the sighting equipment. The odd head MG, first implemented on the Mk.II, was only imitated much later in the war among customized ‘premium’ head models. The key advantage of this first head mounted MG was a decent angle of depression and exceptional degree of elevation, altogether amounting in over 100 degrees of up/down movement, useful for dislodging entrenched infantry and indispensible against low flying aircraft. The Mk.II’s matching shoulder sections had a mostly cubic shape, in contrast to the sloped shoulder armor of the Mk.I. The boxy shoulders offered less protection than sloped armor, but were much easier to mass produce. This questionable design decision was made in order to counter balance the much higher cost of manufacturing two fully articulated arms, rather than just one.
Although most of the Charlemagne's early tech solutions were abandoned in favor of more efficient and economical innovations by all mechs built after 1940, it's basic design DNA can still be detected in all succeeding mechs of WWII. Though never produced in sufficient numbers (or properly deployed ‘en masse’) to make a significant impact on France's military performance in the early war years, the Charlemagne is nevertheless the an unsung Grandfather to all WWII mechs.