France’s Monstrous Char B1 Tank Ate Hitler’s Best Tanks for Breakfast

Once he had destroyed the entire company—11 Panzer IIIs and two Panzer IVs in all—Billotte continued his advance and added two 37-millimeter anti-tank guns to the tally. By 7:00 A.M., Stonne was back under French control and would remain so for the rest of the day. The same day, the tank Riquewhir would charge into a column of enemy infantry, its blood-stained tracks causing the German 64th Schutzen Regiment to panic and flee an entire sector of Stonne.

At five o’clock in the morning on May 16, 1940 a company of the 8th Panzer Regiment lay in an ambush position along a rubble-strewn street of the French town of Stonne. The day before, the unfortunate village had changed hands several times as French troops attempted to stem the tide of German armor headed toward the English channel, threatening to trap Allied forces in Belgium.

Three squadrons of Stuka dive bombers ravaged Stonne, as well as both French and German artillery. That morning, the Panzer IIIEs and IVDs—then the best tanks in German service—deployed to stave off a French counterattack.

Suddenly, a squat green tank lumbered around a street block directly before of the German unit. This was Eure, a 31.5-ton Char B1 bis tank commanded by Capt. Pierre Billotte. His driver, Sergeant Durupt, triggered the 75-millimeter howitzer fixed in the front hull roared, smashing the Panzer III to the rear of the column. At the same time, Billotte swiveled the smaller 47-millimeter high velocity cannon in the turret and picked off the lead tank—a mere 30 meters away.

The wrecks trapped the Panzer company in a head-to-head confrontation with the Gaelic behemoth. 37-millimeter rounds cracked from the long barrels of Panzer III tanks and ricocheted off Eure’s turret. Low-velocity 75-millimeter shells made basso thuds as they spat out the stubby guns of Panzer IV tanks, only to shatter in clouds of shrapnel against the French tank’s glacis.

More than 140 shells cratered Eure’s armor—but none penetrated. Billotte coolly blasted one Panzer after another.

Once he had destroyed the entire company—11 Panzer IIIs and two Panzer IVs in all—Billotte continued his advance and added two 37-millimeter anti-tank guns to the tally. By 7:00 A.M., Stonne was back under French control and would remain so for the rest of the day. The same day, the tank Riquewhir would charge into a column of enemy infantry, its blood-stained tracks causing the German 64th Schutzen Regiment to panic and flee an entire sector of…

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