WW2 French Light Tank Prototypes

Batignolles-Châtillon DP3

France (1939-1940)
Amphibious Light Tank / Tracked Armored Car – 1 Prototype Built

Amphibious tanks were one of various concepts which saw considerable attention and evolution during the interwar era. Much of this attention was initiated by the British Vickers and Carden-Loyd companies, but experimentations on this type of vehicle quickly spread around the world – eventually reaching France.

A first prototype was worked on by the Batignolles-Châtillon company starting in 1935. Designated as DP2, this design did not prove successful, mostly due to issues with exiting the water, weight, and water-proofing. Nonetheless, Batignolles-Châtillon did not give up on designing an amphibious vehicle, resulting in the very mysterious DP3 prototype by 1940.

The Successor of the DP2

The DP2, produced in 1935 and refined on two different occasions in 1936 after disappointing trials (notably a sinking incident during the first floatation trials in March 1936, when the vehicle attempted to leave water), was not a successful vehicle which could be adopted by the French Army. The vehicle’s trace disappeared after poor results in the March-April 1937 trials it was subject to and the vehicle being given to APX’s facilities in Rueil (likely ARL).

However, this would not mark the end of all work on an amphibious tank by Batignolles-Châtillon. It appears that, at some point, likely in 1939, work began on a new amphibious design. It appears to have retained little to nothing from the DP2, having an almost entirely different architecture and suspension design, while also being a larger and heavier vehicle. Designated as the DP3, it appears to have begun its trials at the unfortunately late date of May 1940.

A Highly Mysterious Vehicle

Very little information is known on the DP3. Pretty much the only hard statistics known on the vehicle are that it weighed approximately 15 tonnes. Nonetheless, observation of the vehicle reveals an amphibious tank very different from the DP2 in design.

Though the DP2 was already fairly large for a light amphibious tank with light reconnaissance and cavalry duties in mind, the DP3 appears to have been even larger, with photos of the prototype next to German soldiers showing a fairly sizeable vehicle, higher than a man despite being turretless, as well as being fairly wide and long.

The hull was very different from the one of the DP2. Though the DP3 was also designed with buoyancy in mind, it did away with the bow extending far from the front of the hull, instead stopping not too far in front of the tracks. The vehicle also appears to have had a higher ground clearance which would have given far better performances when crossing obstacles other than water.

One of the two known photos of the DP3. The vehicle’s higher tracks, encompassing much more of the hull than on the DP2, can clearly be seen, as well as the circular combat chamber present on the side of the vehicle. Source: char-français

These improved crossing capacities are further suggested by the vehicle adopting a new, likely far better suspension design. Instead of the very low suspension of the DP2, the DP3 went with a fairly high track run that encompassed much of the hull. The design of the road wheels suggests Batignolles-Châtillon went with a suspension design fairly similar to the AMX suspension featured on the R40, or the suspension found on the B1 and B1 Bis, featuring a large number (15) of small road wheels per side. Three (one at the rear and two at the front) were independent; these were likely tender wheels. The others were linked together in bogies of two. The rest of the suspension was protected by an armor plate, though it appears the design used a rear-drive sprocket and a front idler wheel. The tracks also appear to have been vastly different and used large track links similar to those found on the B1 and B1 Bis.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of the vehicle would be the location of its armament though. The DP3 appears to have ditched a centrally-mounted turret entirely. Instead, the vehicle features what appear to be round combat chambers to both sides of the hull. What type of armament would be featured in these ‘barbettes’ is unknown, though it likely would have been machine guns. The crew configuration of the DP3 is unknown as well. One may assume it would have a crew of at least four, with a driver, a gunner for each of the combat chambers, and a commander, but this remains pure speculation. The nature of the engine remains unknown as well.

To the Bottom, but not by Accident this Time

The DP3 prototype began undertaking trials in May 1940 – at the same time as the German invasion of France and the Low Countries began. Very little has emerged from these trials – which were likely hastened and interrupted by the invasion – but the vehicle appears to have been more successful than the DP2.

As German forces closed in towards the Nantes region where the DP3 was being tested in early June 1940, the vehicle was purposefully sunk in the Erdre River to prevent the Germans from seizing and potentially using it. A few months later, the vehicle was recovered by the Germans. All known photos of the DP3 date from this time, as can be clearly identified by the presence of water corrosion on it. The further fate of the vehicle is unknown, but it is not known to have survived to this day, and was very likely scrapped.

German soldiers standing in front and on top of the recovered DP3, showing the large dimensions of the amphibious tank prototype, particularly for its fairly lightweight of approximately 15 tonnes. Source: char-français

Conclusion – the Last Pre-War French Amphibious Tank

The DP3 remains one of the most mysterious prototypes present in 1940 France. Very little information has filtered on the vehicle as a whole. Its armament, powerplant, crew configuration, pretty much everything about the vehicle remains unknown, and one may only theorize based on whatever little information and photos of the vehicle remain.

It appears the testers were at least to an extent more satisfied with the vehicle than with the DP2 – and the suspension design indeed appears more mature and allowed for far better crossing capacities. Whether the DP3 had any potential to become a potent combat vehicle remains impossible to judge though.

The Batignolles-Châtillon DP3. Illustration by Andrei ‘Octo10’ Kirushkin

Batignôlles-Châtillon DP3 Specifications

Weight ~15 tonnes
Suspension AMX/B1 type
Road wheels 15 per side (three independent, likely tension wheels, 12 in boggies of two)


Les véhicules blindés Français 1900-1944, Pierre Touzin, EPA editions, 1979
Tous les blindés de l’Armée Française 1914-1940, François Vauvillier, Histoire & Collection editions

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