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Weapons of World War Two

The German Invasion of France (May-Jun 1940)

Char B1-bis heavy tank

Char B1-bis heavy tank

The Char B was surely the armored element in service in the French Army, between 1939 and 1940, produced in largest quantity. The prototype of this tank, born from a study which dated back from 1920, saw the light in 1930, but six more years of tests and modifications had to pass for the Char B to acquire the characteristics of a series tank. This tank, whose hull was composed of cast steel plates riveted one to another over a framework of stringers, was an element of rather satisfying effectiveness, but it had some basic inconveniences which prevented it from showing exceptional performance in the encounters with other contemporary tanks serving in other armies. To begin with, its main weapon (a short 75-millimeter cannon) was emplaced in a fixed position instead of a rotatory turret, so it was necessary to rotate the whole tank to aim it. At the same time, the weapon installed in the turret was a 47-millimeter cannon, which in that time was a good anti-tank piece. But it had the defect of being operated by the commander alone, who was placed inside a turret of small dimensions. To command the maneuver of the tank, to evaluate the situation around and to operate the weapon were without any doubt too many things to do for a single person. On the other hand, the Char B was fitted with some rather modern details: for example, the device to rotate the turret was an electric one, the instruments were rational and efficient, and the suspension, of a somewhat complex type, granted a good stability to the tank. Besides, the tank was equipped with a smoke evacuator, built like those used in the naval artillery turrets to prevent that the opening of the breech, between a shot and another, filled the combat room with the smoke and gases from the deflagration. The tracks, of hull-enveloping type, conferred to the tank the appearance of a tank from the First World War, but they granted an excellent going, especially on rough terrain, and given their particular conformation they facilitated access operations and, in the event of emergency, the quick evacuation of a part of the crew. But they also rendered the maintenance of the tank somewhat more complex and increased the vulnerability to side impacts. The engine was a Renault of aeronautical construction, of 300 horsepower and start up by magneto. The armament, which as aforementioned consisted of a short 47-millimeter cannon (apart from the 75-millimeter cannon and two machine guns), was enhanced in 1938, by replacing the 47-millimeter cannon by a longer one in the Char B1-bis, of improved characteristics. In any case, the Char B modestly resisted the encounter with the German tanks during the campaign of France.

Year: 1936

Weight: 32 tonnes

Length: 6.50 meters

Width: 2.49 meters

Height: 2.82 meters

Ground clearance: 45 centimeters

Maximum armor: 60 millimeters

Engine: Renault of 300 horsepower

Maximum speed: 29 kilometers/hour

Operational range: 200 kilometers

Crew: 4

Armament: One 75-millimeter cannon; one 47-millimeter cannon; two 7.5-millimeter machine guns

Ammunitions: 77 of 75 millimeters; 50 of 47 millimeters; 5100 of 7.5 millimeters

Maximum surmountable trench: 2.75 meters

Maximum surmountable step: 1.10 meters

Maximum surmountable slope: 40 degrees

Fording: 72 centimeters

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