Head: 7.5 mm Reibel machine gun
Right Hand: 75 mm howitzer
Left hand: 47 mm cannon + 7.5 mm MG combo weapon.
When the French designed Charlemagne first appeared in the mid 1930s, it could easily be considered the most powerful specimen of walking armor in the world. Like the Char B-1 Bis, with which it shared both a myriad of mechanical components and factory space, the Charlemagne was very advanced for its era. During the Invasion of France, even the Pzf IV Seigmund, Germany’s best walking panzer of the time, had little hope against the much heavier armed and armored Charlemagne. France’s precious few defending Charlemagnes instead fell prey to other forces, such as artillery, and dive bombers, as much as native issues like poor tactical usage and insufficiently trained crews. Regrettably, the average French Military Commander’s understanding of rapid armored warfare was lacking enough with regard to conventional tanks, let alone something so cutting edge and tactically nuanced as a walking one.
Only in retrospect to the early years of WWII does the origin of the Charlemagne raise eyebrows among the Allies. Had the new technology been more in the international spotlight before the outbreak of war, perhaps then the Allies would have detected a major conspiracy which directly fueled the Nazi war machine, essentially jump-starting Germany’s own Pzf (panzer zu fuss) program. Hitler’s boisterous proclamations that the technology of walking armor was Germanic in origin, is mostly truthful. But the 3rd Reich’s sudden manifestation of armored colossus in 1939 would never have happened without the pioneering of France’s (then) superior arms industry that culminated in the Charlemagne weapon platform.
Though it would have been better to ask in 1939, the question remains, “If walking tanks are a German born concept, how could the French produce something like the Charlemagne before Germany unveiled its first pygmy Pzfs, of half the size and complexity?” The simple answer is that the tech was intentionally leaked by German sources to France. The next question then, is why should they? Why would Germany share plans for a war-changing weapon with a potential enemy?
Knowing that they had very limited resources post WWI, German war industry leaders agreed it would be best to see what happened when a country w/ much stronger assets had exposure to their secret blueprints. Let someone else bear the burden of developing a brand new technology from scratch! Difficult issues like power transmission to the legs, control interfaces, and articulate joint functionality were all resolved by French ingenuity and capital. As evidenced by the well-intentioned but ill-conceived Maginot line, France had a penchant for sinking huge sums into wild military ideas –desperate to ensure peace and security in the wake of the horrific First World War.
While France exhausted crucial time and massive resources developing a machine whose tactical statistics would be rendered obsolete just a few years later by Blitzkrieg tactics, Germany went back to basics and adapted the French breakthroughs to much smaller simpler mechs that could travel farther over land, and even be transported by larger vehicles with relative ease. What later came to be regarded as the Pygmy Pzfs, in the shadow of their much larger offspring. From the start, Germany’s greatest asset in this furtive arms race was its intellectual foresight for the new machine’s proper tactical usage and ultimate potential. In the beginning of Pzf development, Germany was less concerned with creating the perfect weapon from the outset, and more focused on the proper large-scale uses of such a weapon. Strategic application was the thing. Perfecting individual models would come later, after German industry had some time to rebuild. Training and advanced logistics of unit movement could be honed while their machines could yet not. Hence German Pzfs started small, while their creators dreamed big, and crews trained hard… under theoretical military doctrine hardly newer to the world than their curious bipedal mounts.
Though it was a revelation of new technology back in the 1930s, even then, the Charlemagne wasn’t without sizeable flaws -the worst of these being not just low tactical mobility, but also inferior strategic mobility. Not only was the vehicle ponderously slow, but it also suffered from very limited range. Short range means the frequent need to refuel, hobbling operational ability. Like its ally Britain, France’s early approach to armor design was mired in World War I style thinking, what more progressive tacticians would refer to as “trench mind”. Charlemagne was never designed for deep penetrating maneuvers, it was instead conceived more for defense rather than offense.
Although most of the Charlemagne's early tech solutions were abandoned in favor of more efficient and economical innovations, it's basic design DNA can still be detected in all successive 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 unsung Grandfather to all other WWII mecha.
Out of retirement:
When Hamilton’s squad of "AWOL Allies" [link]
find themselves in France at the spearhead of the Allied invasion, elements of the French resistance assist them in liberating a hidden stash of Charlemagnes stored in a secret bunker beneath the Maginot line, unused and still waiting for a frontal attack that never happened. They're old and outdated, but as an unofficial rogue unit, the gang will take whatever they can get. If unassigned to a combat unit, one could always sell such vintage war materiel on the thriving black market, or exchange them for more modern options.
Optimally, with some effort on the part of experienced engineers, the Charlemagne could be upgraded with modern equipment and components (both being engineering for universal fittings) to create a machine that remains respectably capable on the battlefields of 1945, against all but the heaviest monsters. In which case, the rare specimens are certainly no worse if not outright superior to the massively produced Big Joe and Kirov, being still slower than both, but remaining the best armored in its class.
For additional info and schematics: [link]