Reference, Osprey Duel 33, Pz.Kpfw.IV vs Char B1 Bis, France 1940
June 26 2011 at 2:15 PM
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Duel 33, Pz.Kpfw.IV vs Char B1 Bis, France 1940. By Steve Zaloga, with illustrations by Richard Chasemore. Soft covers, 7.25 x 9.25-inches, 80-pages. Contains five color and 50 B&W photographs, 10 pages of color art, two color maps, three tables, chronology, index and bibliography. ISBN 978-1-84908-378-2.
During the French campaign of 1940, Germany committed ten, fully-trained and battle-tested Panzer-Divisionen. These were well-equipped and well-balanced formations, fighting a mobile, hard-hitting campaign, and using a doctrine that had been evolving since the end of the Great War in 1918. Their principal medium tanks were the Pz.Kpfw.III, armed with a 3.7cm KwK and the heavier Pz.Kpfw.IV, mounting a short 7.5cm KwK; both were modern, fairly reliable and relatively mature designs with 30mm base armor. Their French opponents fielded four DCr (Division Cuiraseé, or Armored Divisions), each of which was barely (if at all) trained, inadequately equipped, poorly-balanced and without a coherent combined arms doctrine. The principal French tank was the Char B1 bis, armed with a short 75mm support gun and a 47mm anti-tank gun. By 1940, the base design of the Char B1 bis was already almost 20 years-old and although it was well-armed and heavily armored (up to 60mm), several archaic features made it a difficult tank to employ and support.
In essence, the Char B1 bis and the Pz.Kpfw.IV were the best designs each nation had at the time, so it is always tempting to try to understand how these two armored war machines stacked up against each other in actual battle. Although the French tended to disperse their tanks and the Germans concentrated them, these two adversaries met in a brutal slug-fest in the French town of Stonne on May 15th and 16th, 1940. This encounter provides enough data and anecdotal evidence to show just how well the premier tanks (and crews) of the two nations stacked-up against each other.
Although best-known for his studies regarding US and Soviet AFVs, the books author has always had an affinity for French AFVs. In this instance he brings his interest to the fore in this fascinating Osprey Duel title. Following a basic introduction and a chronology, the text covers the various aspects of the story in the following chapters:
Design and development.
The strategic situation.
Combat: Duel at Stonne.
Statistics and analysis.
All chapter titles are self-explanatory, with the exception of the The Combatants; this details training and doctrine, which had a profound effect on the outcome of each encounter. As usual, the text is lucid, informative and lively. It contains a wealth of facts and observations and provides a firm conclusion based upon these pre-requisites. The text is supported by tables that detail the following: overall French tank strength in May 1940; German tank strength, May 1940; and Char B1 bis tank casualties for the entire 1940 campaign. The two accompanying maps show the situation during the German breakout at Sedan, May 10-16, 1940, and a detailed view of the actions at Stonne; the latter identifies specific units, specific tanks, anti-tank guns and their locations, and finally, the time frame of events. The second map is especially telling and serves the story line quite well.
There were a few typos and what I suspect was a global editorial change to the text, which results in a couple of odd phrases. For example, the battles in Poland are termed the Poland Campaign, rather than the more familiar Polish Campaign, and France Campaign rather than French Campaign. I also noted one bit of confusion which occurs in the text: the Pz.Kpfw.IVs pre-war cover name is translated as Battalionführerwagen (B.W., or battalion leaders vehicle), when it should actually be Begleitwagen (escort vehicle). This glitch can probably be traced to the authors listed reference sources. Curiously, the term is correctly rendered in the chronology.
The photographic content is simply outstanding. It combines several familiar archival images with several that are new to me, for detailed coverage of both types, as well as several other relevant tank types and anti-tank guns. In addition, there are a number of images taken after the battle for the town of Stonne, which is the books main focus. These are especially telling and they really bring the story to life. A number of color photographs depict restored AFVs and guns that are relevant to the story, while the author has cleverly used scale models and figures, plus Photoshop, to show cut-away views of each tanks crew members at their respective battle stations. As expected, the images are well reproduced and informatively captioned. I noted one misidentified image on page 28; it purports to show a Pz.Kpfw.IV Ausf.D, but the engine cooling air intake grill pattern is that of an Ausf.B or Ausf.C.
Mr. Chasmores color plates are exceptionally well-done. They depict the following: three views of a Char B1 bis with technical specifications; the same treatment of a Pz.Kpfw.IV Ausf.D; the view from a Char B1 bis gun-sight; the same from the Pz.Kpfw.IV Ausf.D; Char B1 bis turret/hull interior layout, plus ammunition types; Pz.Kpfw.IV Ausf.D turret layout, with ammo. The final plate is a two-page spread which graphically depicts French lieutenant Bilottes rampage through the town of Stonne in his Char B1 bis, named Eure. All are accompanied by either detailed commentaries or coded call-outs that identify specific features.
This book abounds in modeling (Tamiya Char B1 bis and DML Pz.Kpfw.IV Ausf.D) and diorama ideas, so on that score, the modeler will be well-served. In addition, those who study the employment of AFVs in action will also appreciate what this title has to offer. It should be noted that another study from this author, also devoted to the French campaign of 1940, is in the works; stay tuned!
Frank V. De Sisto
Please note that this book was supplied to me direct from the author, who is a personal friend. Nevertheless, I have made every effort to be objective in presenting this report.
Osprey books are available from mail order and retail outlets. They can also be acquired direct through their web site at: www.ospreypublishing.com.