After World War 1, the French army wished to modernize their tank force, including the construction of a new heavy tank. The Char B1, primarily designed by Renault, was one such design, conceived as early as 1919. For this reason, it was build as a heavy break-through tank, capableable of crossing trenches and engage enemy strong points, largely ignoring speed and maneuvrebility.
Because the Char B1 was intended for a trench-style warfare, its main gun, a 75 mm howitzer, could not traverse. In stead, the whole tank would be aimed at the target. For the same reason, its armor was strong by contemporary standards, which on the other hand made it relatively slow. These design decisions made the Char B1 similar in appearence to the much-larger World War 1-era Char 2C.
The turret was armed with a 47 mm gun, giving it much better firepower than most other French tanks, such as the Hotchkiss H35 and Renault R35. Nevertheless, as with the similarly-armed SOMUA S35, the one-man hatchless turret put the tank at a tactical disadvantage against contemporary German tanks.
To increase the tanks armor and tank fighting capability, an improved version, the Char B1 bis was designed. A total of 34 Char B1 and 369 Char B1 bis were manufactured.
When Germany invaded France in 1940, the Char B1 bis was issued to offensive breakthrough units. To counter the German forces, a number of Char B1 bis were quickly scraped together, and used against the Germans. While their thick armor made them virtually immune to German anti-tank gun fire, their lack of speed and maneuvrebility made them easy targets for the Germans.
Germany captured 161 Char B1 bis, which were mainly used for guard duties. 60 were converted to flamethrower tanks, and 16 were converted to self-propelled artillery pieces.
|Char B1||Char B1 bis|
|Weight||28 t||31.5 t|
|Armour (max)||40 mm||60 mm|
|Speed (max)||28 km/h||25 km/h|
|Secondary weapon||7,5 mm Reibel (2)|