Michael Wittman’s destruction of the spearhead of the British 7th Armoured Division (the “Desert Rats”) during his rampage through Villers-Bocage is well known by students of World War Two armor battles in France. What is not well known is a similar solo tank rampage four years earlier by a French tanker through the town of Stonne. Captain Pierre Billotte of 1/41e BCC commanded his crew in Char B1 bis “Eure” to attack down the main street, where they encountered a counterattack by Pz. Rgt.8 tanks. In a few violent, point-blank minutes, “Eure” destroyed the panzer column, absorbed 140 hits from German anti-tank fire, rolled out the enemy end of town where Billotte destroyed two anti-tank guns, then turned about and drove back through town!
The Battle of France in 1940 involved the first large-scale tank-against-tank battles in history. The massive clashes at Stonne, Hannant, and Gembloux involved hundreds of tanks on both sides, yet have faded from memory due to the enourmity of the French defeat. This book examines two of the premier opposing tanks of the Wehrmacht and the French Army, the German PzKpfw IV and the French Char B1 bis. With a complete history of the design, development, and deployment of these armoured fighting vehicles, the story of these great battles is once again brought to life.
Capt. Billotte’s action and much more is related in text and graphics in this 33rd book of Osprey’s Duel series, Panzer IV vs Char B1 bis, France 1940. Written by the esteemed military author, historian and modeler Steven J. Zaloga, and illustrated by artist Richard Chasemore, Panzer IV vs Char B1 bis is a fascinating work on a long neglected subject.
The performance of tanks in the Battle of France is steeped in legend, myth, and misunderstanding. Hordes of heavy Wehrmacht panzers did not sweep aside dainty French tinkertoys. When Nazi Germany attacked in May 1940, French tanks alone outnumbered the Panzerwaffe by almost 2-to-1. French Renault, Hotchkiss, Somua, and Char B1 bis tanks had thicker armor than any panzer, and the panzers were gravely outgunned by the Somua and Char B1 bis. While German anti-tank guns had trouble penetrating French armor, France’s anti-tank guns could shoot through any panzer at typical combat range.
Panzer IV vs Char B1 bis:
Those two tanks were the heavyweights of each side. The Char B1 bis was a throwback to The Great War, mounting a 75mm cannon in the hull and a 47mm gun in a turret. The Panzer IV was a new design refined by trial and error, built to support the PzKpfw III with its 7.5cm cannon. The French tank was handicapped by an awkward crew arrangement and a sophisticated, yet balky Naeder steering/aiming transmission, while the Panzer IVs were more efficient and dependable. Yet the French crew was well-protected against German fire, and could shoot holes through the German tank. But the Char crews were dependent upon special refueling vehicles, while the Germans kept going with ‘jerry cans’ and barrels of fuel.
Mr. Zaloga explains in general how the Panzerwaffe triumphed over the French Division Cuirasee (DCr, or Armored Division) by detailing the theories, concepts, doctrines, training, design, organization, and employment of tanks by the French and Germans in general, and of the Char B1 bis and Panzerkampfwagen IV in particular. The different military organizations are discussed: Panzer Divisions and their organic regiments are compared to the DLM (Division Legere Mechanique, or Light Mechanized Division) and RCC (Regiment de Chars de Combat, or Tank Regiment). All facets of these tanks are explored: design and configuration, refueling, crew conscription, training, and staffing, employment, unit integrity, deployment, supply, technology, and equipment.
An erudite crescendo of information leads you to the ultimate subject of this work: the fight between the PzKpfw IV and the Char B1 bis during the Battle of Stonne. Called “The Verdun of 1940" by German and Frenchman alike, a German officer later recalled: “There are three battles I can never forget: Stonne, Stalingrad, and Monte Cassino.” The small town changed hands 17 times during May 15-16. Tanks and infantry attacked and counterattacked, Stukas and artillery pounded the village, and the Char B1 bis’ and PzKpfw IVs shot it out.
Finally, Mr. Zaloga analyzes the material and offers engaging lessons learned.
Panzer IV vs Char B1 bis, France 1940 features 80 pages in 10 sections and chapters:
3. Design and Development
4. Technical Specifications
5. The Combatants
6. The Strategic Situation
7. Combat: Duel at Stonne
8. Statistics and Analysis
9. Further Reading
Included is a small glossary of abbreviations and terms, and several tables listing numbers and types of tanks.
Graphics and Photographs:
This really cinches the book for me. It is full of extraordinary photographs from the author’s private collection. Many are after-the-battle photographs of destroyed tanks. Pocked with scars of deflected and penetrating hits, these images bear mute witness to the ferocity of armored warfare.
Two maps will help you visualize the campaign and battle. And then there are the stunning digital illustrations by Mr. Chasemore! Not just the profiles of the machines, you will also find turret cutaways and fascinating images showing the views through the three gunsights used by the two tanks. And the ultimate of the book, the centerfold depicting the rampage of “Eure” through Stonne!
I have awaited this book for over 20 years! Back then I first learned of the battle for Stonne and the formidable French armor while, of all things, playing Avalon Hill’s Squad Leader expansion Crescendo of Doom. It inspired me to learn about the first two years of the war, including the revelation about French armor in a book by Len Deighton. I am delighted that an authority like Mr. Zaloga has created this comparison of the Char B1 bis and the PzKpfw IV. While the book is extremely detailed, it remains gripping and easy to read. Panzer IV vs Char B1 bis, France 1940 is the latest addition on my ‘favorites’ shelf! Whole heartily recommended!
References: Blitzkrieg: From The Rise Of Hitler To The Fall Of Dunkirk, by Len Deighton
Remember, when contacting manufacturers and retailers, to tell them you saw this product here—on Armorama!
Highs: Awesome graphics and photographs. The book is extremely detailed, gripping, and easy to read.Lows: None really.Verdict: Simply a fascinating work by an esteemed military author, historian and modeler.
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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR) FROM: TENNESSEE, UNITED STATES
I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art.
My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling!
My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...