The Batignolles-Chatillon Char 25T was a French autoloading tank developed in the 1950s alongside the AMX-50. This rather obscure vehicle has become a fan favourite in the online multiplayer game World of Tanks for its knife-fight play style.
Known to many as the BatChat, there is very little information available about the Char 25T. This is no surprise considering its short development life occurred under the shadow of the much more significant AMX-50 project.
It had many features typical of French designs from the 1950s, like an autoloader, oscillating turret and an emphasis on mobility.
Inherent issues with the tank would eventually lead to its cancellation, but elements from the Char 25T were used in the successful AMX-30.
Small Tank, Powerful Gun
Developments in high explosive anti-tank (HEAT) ammunition during WWII had a profound impact on tank designs. Their ability to punch through insanely thick armor tipped the balance between armor and ammunition comfortably into the latter.
In the post-WWII period designers came to the conclusion that a tank’s armor had to be impractically thick to reliably defend against HEAT munitions. To survive, tanks now had to rely on speed.
Armor was dropped in favour of fast, powerfully armed “jack of all trades” vehicles.
For France – who were at the forefront of tank technology before the war – the post-war tank-building situation was very different to the one they had left in 1939.
Eager to rebuild its armaments industry and re-establish its reputation, France was quick to embrace the latest innovations.
Just after WWII they introduced the AMX-13; a small, lightweight, autoloading tank that saw incredible export success.
While it was certainly an excellent design, the AMX-13’s 75 mm gun was not adequate for anti-tank duties. For this, a 90 mm gun was needed.
The AMX-13 would actually receive a 90 mm gun much later on, but in the late 1940s and early 1950s the French were unable to make this happen.
In the early 1950s the French company Batignolles-Châtillon received requirements for a new vehicle that was fast and carried a 90 mm gun.
As the AMX-13 had already seen great success, Batignolles-Châtillon decided to use a similar – but larger – design for this new tank.
Batignolles-Châtillon Char 25T
The tank was called the Batignolles-Châtillon Char 25T.
Following the previously mentioned realisation that armor was no longer helpful, the Char 25T was thinly armored to keep its weight down and mobility high. The maximum armor thickness on the tank was just 50 mm.
To further reduce its weight the tank was unusually small at 5.67m in length and 3.15 m in width.
All of this resulted in a vehicle that weighed just 25 tons.
The Char 25T was powered by a 500 hp 3M 27. 101 engine, which, interestingly, was located in the front with the gearbox.
The tank’s power and light weight meant it had a top speed of 40 mph (65 km/h) on road and 24 mph (40 km/h) off road.
There was plans to fit a 750 hp engine too, increasing the vehicle’s already impressive mobility even further.
In total the Char 25T carried a crew of four: a loader, gunner, commander and driver.
The driver sat in the front to the left of the engine, while the other three were located in the turret.
The Char 25T had six road wheels, all attached to hydraulic suspension. This suspension gave the tank a very stable ride but proved to be very unreliable and maintenance intensive.
Like other French tanks at the time, the Char 25T had an oscillating turret. Oscillating turrets are a fascinating piece of design that essentially allow a smaller tank to carry a larger gun than usual.
Split into two pieces, the upper part contains the gun and controls elevation. The bottom half is known as the “collar” and controls the turret’s rotation.
To learn more about oscillating turrets, check out this article.
These types of turrets are well suited for an autoloading mechanism, which the Char 25T had.
The autoloader was located in the bustle of the tank, and automatically fed rounds into the Char 25T’s 90 mm gun. There is some debate about the exact model of this gun, but it is likely a SA 45 90 mm.
This gun was designed to provide similar performance to the German 88 mm KwK 43 fitted in the Tiger II and Jagdpanther.
Chart 25T Versus AMX-30
Two prototypes of the Char 25T were built between 1954 and 1955, with trials taking place around the same time.
The vehicle was found to have great mobility and a gun capable of dealing with other tanks, but it suffered from reliability issues relating to its hydraulic suspension.
In 1955 the Char 25T was officially cancelled as France decided to instead pursue the AMX-30; a lightweight, highly mobile main battle tank that carried a 105 mm gun.
The Char 25T’s suspension was unreliable and by this point interest in oscillating turrets was waning.
The two moving pieces that make up oscillating turrets were inherently difficult to seal. This was a serious issue at the time, as militaries were facing a real possibility of nuclear war and operating on radiated battlefields.
Tanks that couldn’t be sealed couldn’t be fitted with nuclear, chemical and biological (NBC) systems.
Furthermore, NATO standardisation eliminated many pieces of French equipment – the Char 25T included.
Only one Char 25T was kept, which was in the hands of the Musée des Blindés in Saumur, France.
For many years the tank was kept in an outside area strictly off limits to the public. This was understandable as it held little historical significance compared to other tanks in the museum’s collection.
However in 2012 the online multiplayer game World of Tanks (WoT) introduced the Char 25T for its players to control. The tank quickly became a fan favourite, earning the nickname “BatChat”.
Around 2014, a WoT player gained access to the real Char 25T’s location at the Musée des Blindés and found it to be in very poor condition. The player grabbed plenty of photos, which soon found themselves on the net and on other players’ screens.
Upon seeing the tank’s sad state of deterioration players from all over the world expressed their desires to see the Char 25T saved.
With the museum’s relatively small budget this seemed unlikely, but in 2016, the museum unexpectedly revealed that their Char 25T had been restored. Although it was only an external restoration, the vehicle was finally on display to the public and no longer left out in the open.
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The restoration of this unique footnote in tank design is a great victory for all tank enthusiasts, who are all too familiar with pieces of history simply being left to rot.