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Last Char B1 to Run at Tankfest

 

The last surviving Char B1 is to run at Tankfest this year, announces The Tank Museum, Bovington.

In a unique partnership the French heavy tank will make its way across the Channel to star at The Tank Museum’s premier event. It will be the first time the Char B1 has run for crowds in the UK.

The Char B1, and its derivative, the more common B1 ‘bis’, entered service from 1936. With a 75mm howitzer in the hull, and a turret-mounted 47mm gun, it was well-armed for its day. It also boasted exceptionally heavy armour, up to 40mm thick (60mm on the B1 ‘bis’) and comparable only to the British Matilda II and Soviet KV-1 in regard to early war protection.

The iconic early war French heavy tank. (Courtesy of The Tank Museum)

Almost impervious to German tank and anti-tank guns, the B1 often got the better of lighter German tanks with one example, ‘Eure’, commanded by Pierre Billotte, returning from a brief engagement on 16 May 1940 having sustained 140 hits and knocking out 13 Panzers.

However, the one man turret meant tank commanders also had to load and operate the 47mm in addition to performing other duties, and the lack of traverse on the driver-aimed 75mm howitzer meant the Char B1, designed as a breakthrough tank, was not well suited for mobile engagements. Slow, and with high fuel consumption, it was difficult to send the heavy tanks where they needed to be. They were also expensive and slow to produce, with just over 400 in service in 1940. The doctrinal deployment of French armour meant their tanks rarely operated in concentration, and were overwhelmed by their opponents.

The last original B1 will be crewed by members of the French Army and will run at Tankfest thanks to an international partnership between The Tank Museum, the Musée des Blindés de Saumur in France, and ‘World of Tanks’, the popular free-to-play video game made by Wargaming. Richard Smith, Director of The Tank Museum said: “it is fantastic that in their sponsorship of Tankfest, World of Tanks are able provide our visitors with a real treat by shipping this one of a kind tank to Bovington. We also look forward to welcoming our French counterparts, with whom we look forward to increasing our cooperation with in the coming years.”

French B1 bis ‘Ouragan’, of 8e BCC, after its captured by German forces in 1940. Note the much smaller Panzer II off to the left. (National Archives USA)

In addition to the exhibiting of the vehicle at Tankfest, Wargaming will celebrate the event with in-game missions featuring the Char B1. A premium version of the tank, the Char B2, will also be available for purchase. Proceeds from those sales will go towards the continued preservation of the real-life B1.

The Musée des Blindés, based at Saumur, holds one of the world’s largest tank collections, including the oldest running tank – the 1916 Schneider CA1 – which appeared at Tankfest in 2017.

This year, Tankfest takes place on 29 June – 1 July. Tickets are selling fast. For more information visit tankmuseum.org.

 

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