B1 bis

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History

Ar fr char b1-bis.jpg
char B1 bis
Specifications
Type Heavy Armored Fighting Vehicle
Armament Main gun: canon de 47mm S.A. mle 1935
Coax MG: mitrailleuse de 7.5mm mle 1931
Hull gun: canon de 75mm S.A. mle 1935
Hull MG: mitrailleuse de 7.5mm mle 1931
Gun Elevation  ?
Turret Traverse 360° (?)
Crew 4 (Driver, Commander/Gunner, Loader, Radio Operator/Machine Gunner)
Weight 32,000kg
Top Speed 28km/h
400px
Main Gun Optics
Specifications
Designation  ?
Magnification  ?
Field of View  ?

In 1921, the Armée de terre (French Army) drew up its initial requirement for the char de bataille (Battle Tank) B1, which called for a 13-tonne vehicle with a maximum armour plate thickness of 25 mm to be armed with a hull-mounted 75mm gun for infantry support and two machine guns situated in a rotating turret.

The Armée de terre saw the B1 as a supplement to light tanks such as the R35. Classed as a medium tank, this vehicle was designed to accompany infantry attacks, tackle enemy tanks if need be, and break into enemy rearward positions.

Four companies were invited to build prototypes under the condition that they allow the army to mix and match parts from the various submitted vehicles to produce the best possible final product: Forges et aciéries de la Marine et d'Homécourt (FAMH); Forges et chantiers de la Méditerranée (FCM); Delaunay-Belleville; and Schneider-Renault. The Armée de terre received five prototypes to evaluate, two collaborative designs from Schneider and Renault (the SRA and SRB), and one from each of the other companies. All but the obsolete Delaunay-Belleville machine were presented at the arsenal Atelier de construction de Rueil (ARL) in May 1924.

The Schneider-Renault SRB was chosen along with its steering mechanism, engine, and gearbox as the basis for the new tank. The suspension and running gear were taken from the FAMH vehicle and the tracks from the FCM prototype. In March 1925, Renault was chosen as prime contractor, with the other four companies all to provide work and components as sub-contractors. Final vehicle assembly was to take place at the Renault plant in Paris. The French government placed a contract for the construction of three prototypes with Renault on Jan. 17, 1926 but it was not until January 1929 that the vehicles first appeared.

The prototype weighed 25 tonnes (28 tons) and carried a crew of four who were protected by 25 mm or less of armour. It was armed with one 75mm gun situated beside the driver, two hull-mounted, forward-firing machine guns, and two coaxially mounted machine guns in a revolving one-man turret. In October 1930, based upon experience gained in B1 tactical trials, the army initiated studies for an upgraded char de bataille. Prototype trials continued and by 1935, maximum armour had increased to 40 mm (1.57 in) and weight to 28 tonnes (31 tons).

The German re-occupation of the Rhineland in March 1935 galvanised the Direction de l'infanterie (Directorate of Infantry) to order the manufacture of 40 B1s up-armoured to 60 mm (2.36 in). These were to be officially designated the B1 bis.

Further design work and trials were needed before the tank could accept the heavier armour but in the meantime production proceeded slowly based upon the 1935 prototype with 40-mm armour, with the addition of a cast APX 1 turret that carried a 47mm SA 34 short-barrelled cannon and machine gun. Only 35 of these original B1s were delivered before the thicker armour and other improvements were introduced on the upgraded B1 bis, which weighed 32 tonnes (35 tons) and mounted a Renault engine boosted to 300 hp (224 kW) to haul the extra four tonnes. The APX 1 turret was exchanged for the similar but thicker APX 4 turret that mounted the superb high-velocity 47mm SA 35 armour-piercing cannon and a 7.5mm MAC mle 1931 (also known as Reibel) machine gun. The hull mounted a 75mm SA 35 cannon and a 7.5mm MAC 31.

A fireproof bulkhead divided the hull of the B1 bis in two: a fighting compartment in front held the crew of four and the rear compartment contained the engine and transmission. The main entrance to the hull was a square door on the right side of the vehicle. The driver had a hatch over his head and the commander a door in the rear wall of the turret. Escape hatches were provided in the hull floor and engine compartment roof.

The engine compartment was itself divided into left, right, and centre sections. The engine, with associated power train to the gearbox and rear sprockets, sat in the centre. Two self-sealing fuel tanks were situated on the right with another on the left. Two radiators with fans were mounted on the left parallel to the axis of the tank, so that cooling air was drawn in from above the gangway, across the engine and radiators, and out through a grill on the left side of the tank.

The driver at the left front of the vehicle was the only crew member apart from the commander with any means to see outside. The loader and wireless operator were both situated by the tank commander's feet. The loader served the two hull guns. He fit fuses to the 75mm shells and provided ammunition to the tank commander after the commander used up all rounds stored in racks in the turret. The tank commander was the sole occupant of the cast APX 4 turret, which was centred towards the rear of the fighting compartment and equipped with electric power traverse.

France eventually produced 365 B1 bis tanks.

At the same time that the Direction de l’infanterie made funds available in 1935 for production of the B1, it gave instructions for subsequent development of the vehicle to remedy certain disadvantages found in the B1 and B1 bis. The tanks' sidewalls and tracks had proven vulnerable to armour-piercing shells and practical experience had revealed the distinct disadvantage of aiming the 75mm gun solely by aligning the tank. The new design would give this gun a mounting with a limited traverse of five degrees each way. During the redesign, the opportunity was taken to make space for a fifth crew member, described as a mechanic. The turret and armament of the new vehicle, dubbed the B1 ter, remained the same as on the B1 bis. In June 1940, after the invasion of France, the only three B1 ter prototypes were loaded aboard a cargo vessel that was unfortunately sunk before reaching its final destination and no examples of these vehicles exist today.

Despite its post World War I heritage, evident in the round-the-hull track layout and the large nestled hull gun, the B1 family was a sophisticated line of equipment. Its massive armor protected the B1 bis from all directions. It was nearly impossible to kill with standard-issue anti-tank guns of the early war. The B1 bis had one vulnerability, overlooked by the designers, odd for a vehicle otherwise so comprehensively protected. Its Achilles' heel lay in its left radiator grille.

The Germans converted a number of captured B1 bis into flame tanks, some used against British paratroopers at Arnhem. The Free French recaptured others and re-deployed them against the Germans at the very end of the war.

Game Play

Playing the "Char" (as the B1 bis is often nicknamed) is an adventure. There are so many things to do that it it works best when multi-crewed. This is true for all vehicles, but more so for the "Char" than for any other vehicle. Because it's so slow, you’ll have a lot of time to familiarize yourself with the different controls common to most of the French tanks. The 75mm hull gun has a slow rate of fire so don’t rely on that in a shootout; it is far more useful as an assault gun. The driver must always be aware of the left radiator grille. German anti-tank gunners know to shoot first at the right track of the B1 bis. Tracks are relatively easy to destroy and shooting the right one will make a moving tank swing to the right, exposing the vulnerable left radiator grille. It's not a bad idea to stay still and slug it out with lesser German guns.

Players in the "Char", like those in the British Matilda, often feel that their tank's heavy armor makes it unbeatable but this is not true. You can be killed, it's just harder for the enemy than when you're in an armored car. Keep an eye and ear out for FlaK 88s, which will penetrate the Char easily. German sappers are also a threat, especially in the limited fields of vision of French armor. Never enter a combat zone unaware and it's a good idea to take along an infantry screen. Like in all French tanks, the gunner's port in the Bi bis opens a large hatch on the rear of the turret. This leaves your tank commander exposed to all attacks, even pistol fire.

One of the unique things about the B1 bis is that the driver gets to aim and shoot the 75mm hull gun. The driver can access his gunsight with the numpad "." or "Del" key and control the gun's elevation with the "I" and "K" keys. The traditional gunner handles the 47mm anti-tank gun in the turret.

Armor

Location Thickness Angle
Hull front 60 mm 45°
Hull sides 60 mm
Hull rear 55 mm 43°
Hull top 20 mm 90°
Superstructure front 60 mm 20°
Superstructure sides 60 mm
Superstructure rear 60 mm 20°
Superstructure top 60 mm 20°
Turret front 56 mm
Turret sides 56 mm 22.5°
Turret rear 56 mm 22.5°
Turret top 30 mm
30 mm
90°
72.5°
Gun mantlet 17 + 17 mm round