The Renault Char B1 Bis (French Char de Bataille, Battle Tank) was a French heavy tank developed before WWII, primarily designated to attack enemy fortifications and breakthrough operations.
After the WWI, the experiences of trench warfare still loomed on the French Army’s research, and in its development of future tanks, too; the result of designing that began as early as 1919, the Char B1 Bis was a further development of an earlier tank designed to punch gaps in a heavily fortified line, in accordance to the ‘methodical battle’ doctrine. With a 75 mm howitzer in the hull to attack enemy bunkers, the Char B1 was also fitted with a 47 mm gun in a turret to fight other tanks, and had thick frontal armor to withstand enemy guns; its slow top speed was deemed enough for its purposes. Some 370 were built between 1937 and 1940.
Between May 15 and 17 of 1940, a town in France called Stonne was the focus of hard fighting between the French and Germans. The town changed hands 17 times in the three days of battling. Involved in the fighting were Renault B1 Bis tanks from the third division of a Bataillon de Chars de Combat. One B1 Bis was numbered 350, named Fleurie. Another tank from the same division, number 337, named Eure, destroyed a column of two Panzer IV and eleven Panzer III tanks lined up on the street on May 16. Some people say the French tanks could have defended France if they had been deployed differently, and had enough gas and ammunition handy, and had radios, and anti-aircraft protection, and better luck, etc.
While the B1 Bis had good firepower and thick armor (which made it difficult to defeat even from modern German tanks like the Panzer III and Panzer IV), its technical flaws (such as the small one-and-a-half man turret, large silhouette and unusual crew stations) were compounded by the mismanagement at the strategic level; moreover, the slow and methodical concept that had spawned it was literally swept away by the fast and slashing Blitzkrieg. Some were reused by the Wehrmacht after the fall of France.
The B1 Bis, while held in high esteem for its virtues in the 1940 campaign, was nonetheless the product of an archaic concept that would not survive the trials of World War II. But would have be very useful if the French Army used them wisely enough.
- Weight : 32 tons
- Length : 6.37 m
- Width : 2.46 m
- Height : 2.79 m
- Speed : 28 km/h
- Main Armament : 75mm ABS SA 35 Howitzer
- Secondary Armament :
- 1 x 47 mm SA35 L/32 Gun
- 2 x 7.5 mm Reibel Machine Guns
- Hull Armor / Turret Armor :
- Front : 60 mm / 55 mm
- Sides : 55 mm / 45 mm
- Rear : 55 mm / 45 mm
- Engine : Renault 6-Cylinder (272 hp)The design of the Char B dates back to 1926 when three prototypes were built by a consortium of companies under the control of Atelier de Construction de Rueil. Subsequent developments saw the appearance of the Char B1 in 1935 and the Char B1 bis, an up-armored version, about a year later.Although classed as a medium tank the Char B was clearly designed for infantry support. Its main armament, a 75mm howitzer, is located in the hull, alongside the driver who aims and fires it. The tank commander, in the turret, has to load and fire the 47mm gun and the 7.5mm machine-gun.In its day the Char B was regarded as one of the most powerful tanks in the world, yet still had many features which harked back to the First World War; the tall hull, all-around tracks, and side entry doors, for example. On the mechanical side, however, it was extremely sophisticated.
The Renault six-cylinder engine had been modified from an aircraft unit while the transmission was operated by a hydrostatic system which gave the driver superb control when swinging the tank to aim the gun. The Char B was also equipped with an advanced gyroscopic direction indicator.
The Char B was issued to tank battalions in armored divisions and saw extensive combat in the summer of 1940. There is some evidence to suggest that visibility from the tank was poor and, undoubtedly, the crew of four was over-stretched.
Of the 365 tanks built, large numbers were captured intact by the Germans in France in 1940. Those tanks that survived were later incorporated into the German Army and modified in various ways. They were used to equip German armored units, serving as the PzKpfw Renault B-1 bis 740(f) and fighting in 1941 in Russia and the Balkans.
Our exhibit was issued to 1st Platoon, 1st Company, Panzer Abteilung 213, Panzer Division Schwetzingen for service in the Channel Islands and was captured on Jersey at the end of the war. The Panzer Abteilung 213 was formed in the autumn of 1941 to operate French tanks, and arrived in Jersey and Guernsey in March and April 1942 on the SS Derindje and SS Livadia. This tank was number 114. The regiment never fired a shot in anger, although many of its recruits fought in other panzer regiments. The tanks were returned to France in May 1946, although this one was sent to the School of Tank Technology in Britain before being moved to the Tank Museum.
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