The Char B1.bis was an upgraded version of the earlier 27 t Char B1 main battle tank, with a 47 mm high velocity gun and 46-60 mm of armour protection. In the late 1930’s the Char B1.bis was one of the most advanced tanks in the world, but when war came in 1940 it showed some important deficiencies.
The one-man turret turned out to be a disadvantage in combat, requiring too much work and attention from the vehicle commander who would have been better employed directing the vehicle, observing the enemy and communicating with fellow commanders. Instead, the man had to operate the radio, fire the co-axial machine gun, load the 47 mm gun and spot targets for his weapon as well as the 75 mm howitzer operated by the hull gunner. Not surprisingly, when their tanks came under fire, French commanders would focus on their gunnery skills instead of giving tactical advice. Communications breakdowns were a common occurance, compounded by the fact that tanks penetrating the enemy lines often had their radio antenna severed by shrapnel and intensive anti-tank fire. By contrast, the extra crew member in Pz.Kpfw. III and later models allowed the vehicle’s commander to concentrate on target acquisition and tactical communications with the other Panzers in his platoon. Company commanders monitoring the chatter would be better able to evaluate the situation, deploy reserves and launch flanking attacks when an opportunity presented itself.
According to the 1938 model of the Division Cuirassée developed by French général Martin, Char B1 heavy tanks and Renault D2 medium tanks should have been deployed in mixed demi-brigades of two tank battalions and one motorized infantry battalion. A training division of this type was established at Nancy in 1938 and it was used as a cadre upon which the 1st and 2nd DCR were built in January of 1940. Unfortunately, the mixed demi-brigade concept was not maintained, the newly created divisions and the 3rd DCR which was raised in March of 1940 had a reduced establishment with one heavy and one light tank brigade of two battalions each, operating 34 char B and 45 char H respectively. Only one battalion of motorized infantry was attached at divisional level, not enough to exploit a breakthrough, dislodge enemy infantry and anti-tank guns or to hold ground against a determined counter-attack.
French Char B1 tanks were well protected, their frontal armour could not be penetrated by enemy 3.7 cm PaK 35/36 anti-tank guns. Quite a shock for the Germans, even their Pz.Kpfw. IIIF main battle tanks needed a lucky turret hit at under 500 m range to defeat a Char B1.bis. As a result, Char B1 attacked agressively and they routinely broke through the enemy lines, only to be left stranded there without adequate infantry support to exploit the penetration.
Unless they are accompanied by infantry, tanks are virtually blind and they can be picked off by anti-tank guns firing against the weaker side armour. As a result, unsupported tanks are usually compelled to break off the attack and return to their own lines. Such action proved very costly for the French army. In an attack, tanks are often immobilized due to mechanical problems, difficult terrain or minor battle damage. Unless the ground is held by infantry, it will be impossible to recover the immobilized vehicles during the night. As can be seen, without infantry support the initial battlefield success of the Char B1.bis actually accelerated its downfall. Many of the damaged vehicles were recovered and repaired by the Wehrmacht, some served in specialist armoured units fighting against the Allied Invasion Forces in Normandy.
Three soldiers and one tank commander
Renault FT-17 light tank
Char de Bataille Renault B1.bis
- Type: Main Battle Tank, 1939–1944
- Hull Armament: 75 mm L.18 Puteaux
- Turret Arm.: 47 mm L.35, MG 7.5 mm
- Weight: 32 t
- Road Speed: 28 km/h
- Crew: Commander, Hull Gunner and Driver
Scale model with much raised detail.
Excellent choice of subject, a very important and versatile vehicle.
Intermediate level of difficulty. Track assembly is easier than on most other tank models.
Choice of closed or open turret hatch, with the vehicle commander practically sitting outside of the vehicle!
High quality kit. Parts fit very well and there is minimal flash.
Renault FT-17 light tank included in the set. Not a necessary or very practical combination. The FT-17 is an important vehicle, but it did not serve in the same formation with Char B1.bis tanks. An H35 or H39 Hotchkiss light tank would have been much better, allowing the wargamer to raise the two armoured brigades of a Division Cuirassée.
Approximately 5 % smaller than the 1:72 scale figure standard. Not a problem in this case, the vehicle is the only one of this type on the market.
- Heavy demi-brigade of the 1re – 3e Division Cuirassée, 1940
- 46e & 47e BCC of the 4e Division Cuirassée, Abbeville 1940
- Captured vehicles were re-designated Pz.Kpfw. Char B2 740(f);
used by the Romanian Army and some Wehrmacht units
- Invasion of Russia, 1941
- Invasion of the Balkans, 1941
- Panzer Ersatz und Ausbildungs Abteilung 100, Carentan 1944
(1 Pz.Kpfw. III, 1 Char B2 740(f), 1 Somua, 17 Renault R35 and 8 Hotchkiss).
- Panzer Abteilung 206, Cotentin Peninsula 1944
(4 Char B2 740(f), 2 Somua, 2 Renault R35 and 16 Hotchkiss).
- Panzer Abteilung 213, Guernsey and Jersey Channel Islands 1942–1945
Two companies with 14 Pz.Kpfw. Char B2 740(f) and five Flammwagen auf Pz.Kpfw. Char B2 740(f) each:
- Company commander’s vehicle and reserve tank
- Three platoons of four vehicles each
- 4th (Heavy Weapons) Platoon of five Flammwagen
- Flammwagen auf Pz.Kpfw. Char B2 740(f), 1941–1945
Char B1.bis main battle tanks caused the enemy some concern, the vehicles were so thickly armoured that they could not be penetrated by Panzerbüchse anti-tank rifles and 3.7 cm PaK 35/36 guns at ranges beyond 100 meters. With better infantry support the French Division Cuirassée might have been a tough opponent not unlike the Panzer Division, capable of taking ground behind enemy lines and holding on to it. As it was, the punch delivered by the Char B1.bis was not followed up, stalling the attack and giving the enemy time to implement counter-measures. Luftwaffe units used their 8.8 cm FlaK 18 anti-aircraft guns to defeat the heavily armoured Char B1 tanks which managed to break through the line. As a last resort, even artillery pieces were pressed into service as anti-tank weapons.
Matchbox deserves praise for this excellent model of an important vehicle. French tanks and artillery tractors sported a variety of attractive camouflage patterns which can be recreated in miniature. Even after they were captured, the French camouflage patterns were maintained. It is to be hoped that Panhard armoured cars, Somua and Hotchkiss tanks will become available in this scale as well.