Captain Billotte’s Wild Ride,
When one typically envisions German tanks of World War II, one typically thinks of giant steel behemoths such as the Tiger tank or perhaps the Panther tank. However, German heavy tanks weren’t really all that common until later in the war, in fact they really weren’t all that common at all. In the beginning of the war, German tanks were heavily outclassed by their Allied counterparts, especially by French and later Soviet heavy tanks. During the Invasion of France, most German tanks were either Panzer I, II, or III models, the heavier Panzer IV and Panzer 38(t) not being fielded in large numbers.
Overall Allied tanks tended to have thicker armor and bigger guns. The Germans were able to defeat Allied tank forces through superior tactics and war doctrine, the radio being a more potent piece of equipment than guns and armor., something which Allied tanks woefully lacked. However there were instances when the weaknesses of German tanks became glaringly obvious.
One such incident occurred on the 16th of May, 1940 at the village of Stonne during the invasion of France. Stonne was an important strategic point on the way to Sedan, thus over the past few days heavy fighting had occurred over the village, resulting in the town changing hands no less than seventeen times. On the morning 16th the French conducted a counterattack against German positions with infantry attacking from the south and tanks attacking from the west.
At the head of the French tanks was Captain Pierre Billotte, in command of a Char B1-bis heavy tank nicknamed “Eure”. The Char B1-bis was one of those monster tanks that gave the German’s much grief during the invasion of France, with 60mm frontal armor, a 47mm gun mounted in the turret, and a 75mm gun mounted in the chassis, it pretty much outclassed everything the Germans had in their tank arsenal.
When facing larger Allied tanks German tanks would typically try to outmaneuver and outflank their opponents, attacking the weaker side and rear armor. However the German’s had their tanks lined up in a row along the main street of the town, and thus were trapped. Captain Billotte and his crew charged right into the town, blasting each tank one by one as they charged down the street. The German tanks opened fire, but each and every round bounced of the B1′s thick frontal armor. Capt. Billotte and his tanks exited the town to the east, popping two German anti tank guns on the way out. When the smoke had cleared, Capt. Billotte and his crew had destroyed two Panzer IV tanks, eleven Panzer III tanks, and two anti tank guns. During the battle, the Char B1-bis “Eure” had sustained 140 hits.
The German’s eventually took Stonne on May 25th, bring forth larger anti tank guns to drive off the French tanks. Capt. Pierre Billotte was captured by the German’s, though he later escaped and served with the Free French forces throughout the remainder of the war. After the war he became Assistant Chief of Staff of The French Army, and later headed the French Military Mission to the UN. In his post military career he served in many political positions. He passed away in 1992.