ank tactics were central to the Second World War. The German’s iconic Blitzkrieg could only be performed through the use of agile tanks and armored personnel carriers. This new tactic of using armor to pierce the enemy lines overturned everything generals learned in the First World War.
Due to this unprecedented rapid advance, the French were unprepared to defend both their neighbors and themselves. This is despite the fact that the French military had nearly double the number of tanks that the German army had, although the French tanks were not suited for this kind of rapid warfare. Even so, some French tanks managed to be used to their fullest potential by foolhardy commanders such as Captain Pierre Billotte, making up for the lack of a general defense plan through the use of wit and innovative tactics.
The village of Stonne was a highly contested point on the northern front of the Battle of France. The small village exchanged hands between the two sides around 17 times before it was finally taken over by the Germans upon their advance deeper into northern France.
Out of the 17 takeovers, one is of note and must be looked at. On 16 May 1940, a contingent of the German army advanced into the village supported by artillery and Stuka dive bombers. The situation looked bleak as the German vanguard heavily outgunned the French defense.
Statistically speaking, the Germans should not have had a hard time taking over the village. The combination of air and artillery support, along with the fact that the Panzer III and Panzer IV used in the advance had already proved themselves to be effective tanks.
No one could foresee that the French would be able to hold on to the village for another day. This was all thanks to Captain Pierre Billotte and his Char B1 bis tank.
As the German Panzer column entered the village, they did not expect any resistance, this expectation would be shattered when the lead tank of the Panzer column would see Billotte’s Char B1 bis turn onto the street the Panzer column was on.
As the Char B1 bis had two cannons within the first two shots, the Panzer column was paralyzed. By disabling the leading and last Panzer within the column, it meant that the other tanks could not move. After Billotte’s initial shots, the remaining Panzers started showering the Char B1 bis with shells. This would be a problem for any other tank, but as the Char B1 bis were built with very heavy frontal armor, it meant that the nearly 32-ton French beast was impenetrable.
The German 37mm and 75mm low-velocity guns could only scratch the green paint of the Char B1 bis whilst also deafening the crew inside as each shell that hit the tank would make a very loud thud that would echo within the tank. Even so, the crew were unfazed and continued their slaughter of the German tanks, disabling every tank within the column by the end of the battle.
By the end, 13 German Panzers had been disabled by Bilotte and his crew. During the battle, their Char B1 bis was hit over 140 times by enemy shells, each one only denting or scratching the armor with none penetrating. This battle put the village of Stonne firmly into French hands, at least for a while, as it was once again assaulted and finally captured by the Germans on 25 May 1940.