CHAR B1/B1 bis
Heavy Tank - France. - 781 built 1935-40.
Char B1 model 1937 "poitou" (a French région
or county -many B1 were also named after french colonial territories and personalities), 5th DCR, IIIrd army, Sarre offensive, september 1939. Launched with 41 divisions and 2400 tanks, this short-lived offensive saw a 8km penetration only in german territory, it was abandoned for political reasons. What followed was the infamous "phoney war".
Char B1, 1940 model, retrofitted with the long barrel, higher velocity SA 35 turret gun. This improved quite well its antitank capabilities, despite the lack of armor-piercing shells. However, APHE shells from the Howitzer proved very effective at short range. 4th DCR "division cuirassée", Battle of Moncornet 17 may 1940.
B1 bis number 257 “Bourrasque”, 2nd Section, 1st Company, 15th Combat Tank Battalion, 2nd Armored Division, may 1940
Tank number 481 “Vercingetorix”, 3rd Company, 46th Combat Tank Battalion, 4th Armored Division, France, may 1940.
Char B1 bis number 467 “Nivernais II”, 2nd Section, 3rd Company, 37th Combat Tank Battalion, 1st Armored Division, june 1940.
B1 bis number 205 “Indochine”, 3rd Section, 3rd Company, 15th Combat Tank Battalion, 2nd Armored Division, june 1940..
Tank number 337 “Eure”, put in service within the 41th BCC, second company at Gien, 8 december 1939, then 1st company, 10 may 1940. This is the most individual famous French tank, making capt. Billote the first (and only) French tank ace of the war, after a frontal attack of the column beloging to the 1th Pzd into the town of Stonne, destroying 11 Panzer III, 2 Panzer IV, and 2 antitank guns PAK-37, while retiring safely out of the town, 140 non-penetrating hits were found.
A major improvements over the previous models, the B1 ter was studied in 1937 to cope with previous limitations, including a 75 mm with a 75 mm longer barrel, sloped armor, full protection of the upper tracks (total weight 36.6 tons). According to some sources, two to five were built, but no evidence that they were even put in service. The last preserie prototype was ready by early 1940, but production was cancelled for less expensive and simpler models.
105mm leFH 18/3 auf Gw B-1/B-2 740(f). Thirteen converted over standard B1 bis tanks. Fought on the eastern front, operation barbarossa. Fate unknown.
Flammwagen auf Panzerkampfwagen B-2 (f), one of the sixty captured units converted as flame-thrower tanks. In this configuration, the 75mm howitzer was replaced by a flamethrower. Most served on the eastern front, in assault units. Their sturdiness was well suited against fortified positions with antitank defences.
Char B1 bis number 505, one of the three turretless delivered in may 1940, equipped with a new additional gasoline tank.
Captured Char B1 bis FFI (Free French resistants) battle of Paris, august 1944.
Specs sheet CHAR B1 bis:
||6,37 x 2,46 x 2,79 m
|Total weight, battle ready :
|| Renault 6-cyl inline 16.5L 272 bhp
|Speed (road/off road):
||28/21 kph(17/13 mph)
|Range (road/off road)-fuel :
||200km (120 mi)-400L
||75mm ABS SA35 Howitzer (hull)
47mm SA 34 AT gun (turret)
Reibel 7,5mm Mg
The B1 bis "flandres" ("flanders"), one of the few salvaged in the world, on the only one in running conditions. The only B1 belongs to the "Association pour la Sauvegarde du Patrimoine Historique et Militaire", at Fort de Seclin near Strasbourg, France, waiting for restoration, as two other wrecks. One captured at Guernsey (under Werhmacht colors) is now part of the Bovington Museum collection, repainted in French colors. Three are homed at Saumur museum, "Flandres", "Rhône" (static), and a mine storage hull. One famous is now part of a memorial at Stonne. Two are on display at Mourmelon-le-Grand (home of the 501st-503rd Tank Regiment).
Links about the Char B1 bis
Char B1 bis - Main article on Wikipedia
The Char B1 bis on Military Factory
A long lasting project.
The Char de bataille was Col. Estienne concept. The french "father of tanks" wrote a memorandum (Mémoire sur les missions des chars blindés en campagne) in 1919 full of war experience tactical reports and theoretical concepts of mechanized warfare, notably the proper use of different types in the offensive. The "char de bataille" ("battle tank") was a heavy tank, near to the "char de rupture" or "breakthrough tank", but the former was more a dual-purpose (infantry support and antitank) machine rather than the "char de rupture". The latter concept gave birth to huge the FMC-1, with the sole purpose to terminate fortifications.
This duality was at the very core of the idea, shaping the many prototypes which followed in response. In 1921, the project was studied by a commission led by General Edmond Buat. First specification was for a low-cost self-propelled artillery, 25mm of armor and some machine-guns in turrets. Maximum metric weight was 30 tons. The project evolved and the machine-gun turret was equipped with an antitank 47mm gun. The main gun was the 75mm Howitzer, in a low hull sponson with allowed firing at some range. Industrial rivalry in the past has delayed several projects, including the FCM C1, so Estienne was poised to create a formal agreement, submitted to the industrialists involved, free to share their plans, with the promise of no less 1000 orders. The Army was then to choose between the projects and various patents to compose their model, built by all. The four companies were involved in the project were Renault (SRA) and Schneider (SRB), FAMH (Saint Chamond) and FCM (Forges et Chantiers de la Méditerranée) with the FCM 21.
The four projects, one for each company, were submitted to the commission on 13, may 1924 at Atelier de Rueil. The twenty kilometers test course proved too much for them, showing the haste of their conception. The commission, over the supervision of Estienne, choosed the SRB as a base. The SRB (Schneider project), was 18,5 ton, 6 meters long, with modified FT17 tracks, an antitank 47mm, Renault six-cylinder 180 hp engine, with hydraulic Naëder transmission from the Chaize company combined with a Fieux clutch and Schneider gear box, a speed of 18.5 Kph, 370 litres tank giving a 370 km autonomy. This prototype then received may modifications, combining the 75mm Howitzer, new Holt-type tracks, the FAMH suspension, track tension wheel and a small gangway to access to the engine, with a 40mm armor.
Design of the B1.
The design process of this modified SRB led to the 1926 "tracteur 30". The plans by Schneider chief engineer, revised by STCC (Section Technique des Chars de Combat), and a mockup by Renault, three prototypes to be built by the companies involved, with some modifications by the new 1926 "direction de l'infanterie" as a primarily infantry support tank. Modifications of the design included no AT weapon, lower speed, 22 tons max, and radio for coordination.
The three prototypes of the "B" serie (n°101, 102 and 103) were ready by 1929-30. They differed in their engine, clutch, transmission, and served both for technological and tactical experimentations, at the champ de Châlons, forming the "Détachement d'Experimentation" unit in 1931. They were extensively used in manoeuvers until 1934, each time with some modifications by the Atelier de Reuil, near Paris to meet new requirements and army specifications. At the end, the B1 received its final turret, with the low velocity 47mm, and coaxial Reibel machine-gun.
Like the 1924 prototypes, it has a very large track, inspired by earlier famous British models. Armour protected also the suspension and the hull was riveted.
Renault inline 6 cylinder 16.5 litre petrol was chosen, which provided 9.7bhp/ton, the powered transmitted by a double differential steering system, 5 forward, 1 reverse gear. Suspension was in the form of bogies with a mixture of vertical coil and leaf springs. Both early and final turret design (APX1) were one-man only.
Production : The B1
The production took place in 1935 by Renault (182), AMX -Now a Schneider subsidiary- (47), FCM (72) and FAMH (32). At 1.5 million francs apiece it was by far the costiest tank ever built in mass, and consequentley the original order of 1000 was reduced to 400. This further increased the tension between the two doctrinal schools which had influence then, one professing the use of a few, heavily armored battletanks, and the other, advocating the use of swarms of light tanks. Almost ten light Renault tanks could be built for a single B1.
As the few, even more expensive, and now largely obsolete FCM-1 was kept out or real operations, the B1 became the main French "char de rupture", a specialized breakthrough tank in specialized units. Operational capabilities were limited by their high consumption, hich in turn limited their range, and condemned them to be used in strategic reserves. In fact they formed the "Divisions Cuirassées de Réserve" (DCR) with limited strategic flexibility, intended for the second phase of the assault.
The B1 has some shortcomings which had to be issued : An bvious lack of antitank firepower, with its low velocity L27/6 SA34 47mm, which was only given APHE rounds (high explosive), capable to defeat 25mm armored tanks. The 75mm SA35 ABS L17.1 howitzer could fire HE and APHE rounds, only suitable for fortifications, with a poor traverse of only one degree. The aiming was given to the driver's habilities with the Naëder hydraulic precision transmission. It was served by the radio and the commander, which was given also the task of aiming and firing the turret 47mm gun. Communication was assumed by a ER53 radio telegraphy set, which worked with morse code only. There was a small corridor, right on the rear, giving access to the ammunition reserve, next to the engine. Main access door was on the right side. Suspensions system was rather complicated, made of three main bogies, sprung by vertical coil springs, each supporting two others, with a pair of road wheels. Production of the B1 was very slow : Only 34 machines were delivered until july 1937. By then, they were serious concerns about an upgrade, which led to the B1 bis.
The upgraded B1 bis and B1 ter.
The B1 bis was basically a modernisation of the type, with first, an emphasis on anti-tank capabilities and protection. The armor was uprated to 60mm, and the hull was given a new APX4 turret with a longer barrel (L/32) SA 35 47mm gun. To cope with added weight (now 31 tons) a new engine was fitted, a V12 Renault capable of 307bhp (229kw). 35 of the first serie were retrofitted with the new engine.
Autonomy was limited to only 180km (110 miles). They had been some attempts of towing an extra 800L fuel tank, but in practice, it never realized. At cruise speed, reserves were exhausted in just 6 hours. A larger left air intake was fitted, which formed a weak armour point. German gunners soon learned to point this relatively large spot with great effect, knocking down several B1 bis in action with the feeble PAK 37. Ammunition storage was improved between the beginning and the end of the production, from 62 to 72 47mm rounds, but still, no AP shells.
Production started in april 1937 and stopped in june 1940. By then, 377 has been delivered out of an order of 1144, but only 129 in september 1939. In exercises, the complex and advanced hydrostatic steering system Naëder proved difficult to use and costly, betrayed by other technical elements like a a porous bronze housing and feeble seals causing significant losses of castor oil. The TSF was not practical as the tanks need to rest to communicate. No tactical coordination was possible in the move. The coslty turret was slower to produce than the hulls, and three B1 bis were ultimately put in service without turret, as gun carriages.
The B1 ter was a late attempt to improve radically the design. A new 75mm armour, welded with slopes to the hull, and a new engine to deal with this added weight (36,6 tons), of 350 bhp, and some simplification in the design for mass-production in 1940 (like the omittance of the Naëder transmission). Rearranged interior allowed a fifth crew member to be carried, as a mechanic. The main howitzer received a better traverse, 5 degree higher. Only two prototypes were ready by june 1940. Production never started.
The B1 has some additional flows as well, which never helped its performances. High consumption issue, which was aggravated by any aiming of the main howitzer, was never solved. The absence of an efficient compass orientation and no internal communication system were also resented in operations. The one-man APX-1 turret was also cramped and ergonomy was poor, but also the feebly armored cupola had inadequate means of vision. Plus, the barrel pointing device was quickly deregulated. May others issues were never solved because of the delays. The most serious was of course disastrous tactical management: The B1s were "wasted" as individual defensive spots, many were simply outmanouvered. But despite all this, the B1 were still, tank to tank, formidable machines, which proved very effective in single actions.
The B1 bis in action:
Despite its obsolete features and low autonomy and speed, the B1 was unstoppable. Its most formidable assets were its huge armor, and firepower, then unmatched in the west. The 60mm frontal armor was sloped, which means in reality it was near 80mm. They were no real weak spot, ad this invulnerability helped the B1 to close on every target, then more easily destroyed by the turret 47m or the brute force of the howitzer HE shells. For this reasons, the B1 was the Werhmacht most feared tank, a mechanized nightmare which will cause in effect heavy casualties by itself during the few fights everytime its was engaged. The German never experience such losses in tank to tank combat before the fall of 1941, when encountering the Soviet KV1 and T34.
The Panzer I and II were absolutely harmless for the B1, and the Panzer III with its far thinner armor and 37mm gun, presented no serious threat the the French B1. However, the Panzer IV with only 20mm protection (Ausf A) to 30mm (Ausf B and C), and 50mm (Ausf D). Standard gun was the KwK 37 low velocity, short barrel 75mm, which was only effective at short range. For this reasons, the Panzer IV barely presented a real threat but in close, real time coordination with others. The same could be said about most german antitank guns of the time. The famous standard-issue "door-knocker" PAK 37 and even the PAK 40 were also harmless. Contrary to common opinion of the time, the large ventilation exhaust panel was indirecty 55mm strong and never presented a weak point.
When the war broke out in september 1939, they were perhaps 180 operational B1 and B1 bis in all. They were used for the Sarre offensive, a short-lived burst without serious opposition, with a massive force of 41 divisions and 2400 tanks. The aim was to distract and divert German forces from Poland, France ally. After slowly penetrating 8km in enemy territory, the entire force withdrew by order of general Gamelin into the security of the Maginot line. Several officers, including Henri Giraud and Charles de Gaulle, wildly protested. In effect, the Germans would have been in great danger and the Rhine was in reach. But Gamelin then was so confident about the famous fortified line that he saw any large-scale offensive like a useless waste of material and men.
During the "phoney war", all B1 were gathered in massive infantry support division, the "division cuirassés de réserve" or DCR, which were tactically committed in the second phase of any assault, the first beeing led by cavalry tanks like the SOMUA S35. No tanks was sent in Norway, but the real deal began in may 1940. Three DCR, comprising each 69 tanks, were mobilised. Part of the first 37th Bataillon de Chars de Combat comprised only B1s, were all rearmed with long-barrel SA 35 guns in may 1940 (turret designation APX1A). After the German invasion began, four new DCR of 52 B1s were constituted, as well as five Compagnie Autonome de Chars (autonomous tanks companies), with 56 B1s in all, plus 34 more in the 28 BCC (Bataillon de chars de combat). All B1s were reequipped with phonic versions of the ER-53 radios, and command tanks received ER55 long-range radios.
B1 tanks were used (and lost) during the first phase of the operations, especially the first week. Most-counter-offensives against Guderian "run to the sea" counted at least several B1s, but without air support, these moves were doomed to failure against the quick and lethal Stuka attacks. Bad tactics of course bring these precious tanks to inept, hasty defensive "plugs" in the defensive lines, most of the time, ending in pure waste. In some case, the B1s extraordinary sturdiness allowed some success, notably the counter-attacks at laon and Moncornet led by col. De Gaulle, and stiff resitance like at Hannut and particularly Stonne. During these events, some individual B1s blocked by themselves the German advance, inflicting horrendous casualties. In a particular case, a single B1, Eure, commanded by Captain Pierre Billotte, attacked frontally and destroyed single-handedly thirteen Panzer III and IV, and then retire, while beeing hit 140 times. During two days, B1 tanks form the 3rd Division Cuirassée de Réserve litteraly ruled the battlefield at Stonne, destruction came only by german overwhelming numbers over single tanks and excellent communication, air strikes and indirect fire (by german howitzers). Some B1 also broke down or run out of amunition and petrol. The last surviving B1 were mixed with other tanks in support of the so-called "hedgehogs", which falled one after the other in june 1940. By the 26 of June, the campaign was over.
B1/B1 bis fate : German and French service.
The germans captured hundreds of tanks, including no less than 161 B1 bis tanks, later pressed into service as Panzerkampfwagen B-2 740(f). Sixty were converted into flamethrower versions (Flammwagen auf Panzerkampfwagen B-2 (f)), and sixteen to carry the 105mm Howitzer. A single unit was equipped only with B1s, the Panzer-Abteilung 213, stationed in the British Channel Islands, one of these ended at Bovington museum, repainted into French colors. In all, 17 units in all received modified B1s, as they saw service in the Balkans (march-april 1941), and the eastern front, where their armor and armament proved well-adapted against Russian heavy tanks. By 1944, they were all gone. Those stationed in france took part in the defence of Normandy, and others were stationed in support to the german units defending Paris. In august 1944, some were captured by insurgents and used for punctual actions by local FFI units. In 1945, german pockets of resistance in France, especially those of the western coast, were left to the FFI and the regular french 1st army. Edmond Voillaume's 2nd Company was equipped with 19 B1s, which decisively took part of the reduction of Royan pocket, and La Rochelle. B1 were also part of the 13th Dragoon Regiment, which took part in operation in Alsace and Southern Germany. They were stationed after V-day in the French occuped zone, until the unit was disbanded in 1946.