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Levavasseur project
Levavasseur project.jpg
The Levavasseur project.[1]
Type Tank
Place of origin France
Service history
In service 1903-1908 (project only)
Production history
Designer Captain Levavasseur
Designed 1903
Crew 1 commander, 3 crew

1 Canon de 75
Engine gasoline internal combustion engine
80 hp

The Levavasseur project was an early project for a tank designed in 1903 by the French Captain Levavasseur of the 6th Artillery Battalion,[2] described as a "automobile cannon project" (French: Projet de canon autopropulseur). It is considered as the first description, made by a soldier, of what was going to become the tank.[3] Levavasseur was a graduate of Ecole Polytechnique, of the promotion of 1881 or 1882.[4] According to Armoured Fighting Vehicles of the World:

"A project for a vehicle which had all the characteristics later thought desirable in a tank was put forward to the French War Ministry as early as 1903. Devised by a Captain Levavasseur of the 6th Artillery Battalion, who called it a "canon autopropulseur", the vehicle was envisaged as carrying a 75mm gun mounted in a box-like steel caisson which ran on crawler tracks, or "roues articulées" as Levavasseur called them. Powered by a 80 h.p. petrol engine, the Levavasseur machine would have had a crew of three, stowage for ammunition, and a cross-country ability."

Armoured Fighting Vehicles of the World, by Chris Ellis and Peter Chamberlain.[5]


The project was submitted to the French Technical Artillery Committee (Comité Général d'Artillerie), and after two years of study was presented to the Army Minister by the General President of the Committee. The general described the project in letter No135, dated 1 February 1905:

"The objective of the machine is to create an automobile artillery piece, capable of going over the rough terrain only accessible to horse carriages, and offering to the personnel and the engine parts a complete protection from indirect or small arms fire".

—General President of the Technical Artillery Committee to the Army Minister, 1 February 1905.[6]


The locomotive mechanism is then described as a type of continuous track, supporting an armoured box with a weapon:[7]

"The all-terrain mobility necessary to this machine is achieved by a contraption equivalent to a wheel of very large diameter. This contraption, called an "articulated wheel", consist in a sort of rim composed of links ("voussoirs") connected together by bolts around which they can rotate, and with an elastic connection tending to close up the space between the voussoirs. The faces of the links adjacent to the ground serve as the "sole" of the wheel, and the links opposite form a race ("Chemin de roulement"). These two faces are cylindrical and concentric. Those forming the sole have a radius of four meters. These faces form two continuous surfaces when the links are connected.

A box is positioned with rollers on the races of the two identical articulated wheels. The rollers are positioned so as to maintain the natural shape of the articulated wheels.

Besides these rollers, the box supports two sprockets on each side, the teeths of which mesh with the bolts of the links. They are rotated by an 80hp engine.

The box, made of bulletproof steel, hold an artillery piece of 75mm on a special gun carriage. It transports one commander, three servants and ammunitions."

—General President of the Technical Artillery Committee to the Army Minister, 1 February 1905.[8]


The Artillery Technical Committee raised three major objections:[9]
1) All-terrain machines had not to that day given satisfaction.
2) Hard bodies could infiltrate in the mechanism and damage it.
3) Direction could not be properly controlled.

Overall, the need for such a machine was not felt, and horsedrawn artillery was considered as adequate.[10]


The 1916 Saint Chamond tank was strikingly similar to the Levavasseur project in disposition, armament (Canon de 75), motorization (80hp engine) and general silhouette.[11]

Captain Levavasseur reworked his mechanism, improved its resistance to hard bodies and brought forward a new improved project in 1908 involving an expense of 14,000 francs for the realization of a mock-up.[12]

Finally the project was completely rejected by a 13 August 1908 letter explaining that a continuous tracks tractor was now available in England, the Hornsby of engineer Roberts.[13]

It is unclear whether General Estienne, the French "Father of the tank" ever knew about this project. One officer however, Commandant Ferrus, who wrote the rejection report, participated in the Schneider tank experiments on 10 September 1915,[14] and became involved with the development of the Saint Chamond tank in 1916, which displays striking similarities with the Levavasseur project,[15] such as several characteristics of disposition, armament (Canon de 75), motorization (80 hp engine) and general silhouette.[16]

Levavasseur became a Lieutenant Colonel of Artillery, and retired simply expressing his regret that his views had not been taken into consideration earlier before the advent of the World War I conflict.[17]

See also


  1. Gougaud, p.101
  2. Armoured fighting vehicles of the world Duncan Crow 1970, p.65
  3. Gougaud, p.99
  4. Gougaud, p.100
  5. Armoured Fighting Vehicles of the World, by Chris Ellis and Peter Chamberlain p.65
  6. Original French: "On se propose d'établir une pièce de campagne automobile susceptible de parcourir tous les terrains accessibles aux voitures attelées et qui assure au personnel et aux organes de mouvement une protection complète contre le tir fusant et la balle d'Infanterie", in Gougaud, p.99
  7. Gougaud, p.99
  8. Original French: "La mobilité nécessaire à ce projet est obtenue, dans le projet dont il s'agit, par l'emploi d'un dispositif équivalent à des roues de très grand diamètre.
    Ce dispositif, appelé "roues articulées", consiste en une sorte de jante composée de voussoirs réunis entre eux par des boulons autour desquels ils peuvent tourner et munis d'une liaison élastique tendant à appliquer l'une contre l'autre les faces voisines de deux voussoirs. Les faces des voussoirs qui reposent sur le sol forment la semelle de la roue, et les faces opposées un chemin de roulement. Ces deux faces sont cylindriques et concentriques. Celles qui forment la semelle ont un rayon de quatre mètres. Elles constituent deux surfaces continues quand les voussoirs sont jointifs.
    Une caisse repose par l'intermédiaire de galets sur les chemins de roulement de deux roues articulées identiques. Les galets sont disposés pour laisser aux roues leur forme naturelle.
    En dehors de ces galets de roulement, la caisse porte de chaque coté deux galets d'entrainement dont les dents engrènent avec les boulons des voussoirs. Ils sont activés par un moteur à pétrole de 80cv.
    La caisse en tôle d'acier à l'épreuve des balles, porte une pièce de 75 sur affût spécial. Elle transporte un chef de piece, trois servants et des munitions" quoted in Gougaud, p.99
  9. Gougaud, p.99-100
  10. Gougaud, p.100
  11. Gougaud, p.128
  12. Gougaud, p.100
  13. Gougaud, p.100
  14. Gougaud, p.111
  15. Gougaud, p.215
  16. Gougaud, p.128
  17. Gougaud, p.100


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