In 1940 the French Army believed that they were totally ready fro a German Invasion. They knew that were coming, it would be through the hotly disputed Alsace Lorraine region and the magnificent Maginot Line, a series of Gun emplacements and forts full of troops that could last a long siege plus take massive air and land bombardment was ready to thwart any examples of Hunnish aggression. To back this up was the Char B-1 Bis. It was a heavy tank that has been in development since 1935 by Renault with the view to be highly advanced. It isn’t possible to drive a Char B-1 now but you can have a Tank Driving Experience that can give you a fair idea. Go to www.armourgeddon.co.uk/tank-driving-experience.html to see how you can.
The Char B-1 was heavily armoured and had a 47 mm gun that certainly packed a huge punch. It could be easily massed produced and out out into the field, so far, so good. However, there is an old thought process that says you prepare for the last war and not the next one. This was certainly the case with the Char B-1. It was built purely with infantry support in mind. The French Generals believed that the Second World War would turn into a similar scenario to the first namely that you would have two massive armies facing off against each other in trenches. Therefore you needed a front heavy mobile gun that men could hide behind as they advanced across the divide.
Unfortunately, the Germans had decided that they were having none of this the second time around and they had developed the idea of the Blitzkrieg or lightning war. Using light mobile tanks like the Panzer 1 and 2, combined with paratroopers and swift diving bomb raids the Wehrmacht could cover huge amounts of ground and get behind static defences with ease. The Maginot line problem was solved by invading the Netherlands and Belgium, taking them over quickly and then cutting the British Expeditionary force off from their allies by invading Northern France.
By the time it came to use Char B-1 the battle was over. Brilliant and effective thought they were The Panzer’s got round the back of them and hit their vulnerable rear. You could barely see out of them and the crew of 4 had far too much to do when they were inside one not that there was any room for a fifth person. Loads were captured and the Germans happily used them instead of their own in places they had already captured.