Tank Char B-1

The road to the standard French heavy tank was a complicated one. From the commissioning of the development to the entry into service took more than a decade. Several companies undertook the development during the 1920s, with Renault emerging as the winner, whose prototype was accepted into service in 1929 after modifications.

In 1929, a series of 32 tanks, designated the Char B-1, was built. The machine rested on a Holt-type chassis, formed on each side by a set of 16 small running wheels, the whole side protected by sheet metal. The chassis was complemented by a drive and tension wheel and a skid track on which the top of the belt moved.

The armament consisted of two guns – 75mm in the hull and 47mm in the turret. Older machines with APX-1 turret had SA-34 type, in the more advanced APX-4 there was SA-35 of the same calibre, but with better parameters. The armament was supplemented by a 7.5mm Hotchkiss machine gun mounted in the turret next to the gun. The vehicles in this configuration were designated Char B-1 bis. Production continued slowly and by the time of the surrender in June 1940 only 414 machines of all versions had been built.

TTD Char B-1
Crew 4 men
Weight 28 t
Width 2.5 m
Height 2.79 m
Speed 28 km/h
Main armament 75mm cannon
Secondary armament 47mm cannon, two 7.5mm machine guns

The Char B-1 entered service with separate tank battalions, which later became part of the DCR (Division cuirassée) tank divisions. These were built by the French army in total of four, each possessing, among other things, heavy Char B-1s.The 1st DCR clashed on 15 May 1940 with parts of the German 5th Panzer Division. Shortly after noon, a heavy engagement took place in which both sides suffered appreciable losses, the French losing nine Char B-1s and the enemy even 25 armoured vehicles.

By the evening, however, the loss ratio had reversed, the French Panzer Division having written off a total of 65 armoured vehicles, 40 of them Char B-1s, the German losses not exceeding forty machines in all. The following day, at Solre- le-Château, the remnants of the 1st DCR were surrounded.

Most of the Char B-1s were destroyed in combat and the last pieces abandoned as they ran out of fuel. The DCR fought at the same time on the defensive line along the Oise River, where it lost 55 Char B-1s in five days and had to withdraw to replenish its numbers, and on 4 June engaged in further fighting in the Mont de Caubert area, where it again suffered heavy losses. 3. DCR operated in the Sedan area and tried to halt the enemy advance despite mounting losses. As late as 12 June the division had 15 Char B-1s capable of combat.

The heavy tanks retreated south from Châlons-sur-Marne, where they were knocked out one by one by German fire. 4. The DCR under General de Gaulle led the attack towards Montcornet on 16 May, but did not have the engineer resources to cross the Serre River. On 18 May, de Gaulle’s armor attacked German troops in front of Laon and slowed their advance. Like the other panzer divisions, the 4th Panzer Division suffered. DCR took heavy losses and lost most of its armament in the following weeks.


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