THE BATTLE OF FLAVION IN BELGIUM (May 15, 1940)
The French 1e DCr against the German 5.PzD and 7.PzD
The 1e DCr was born on January 16, 1940. It is constituted with the already existing 28th, 37th, 25th and 26th tank battalions. The division is commanded by general Bruneau until May 18, 1940, when he is WIA and captured, then general Sandrier from May 19 to 31. General Welvert is in command of the reconstituted division from June 1 to July 1940.
Order of battle:
• 1e Demi-brigade lourde (colonel Rabanit – 1 command B1bis tank) (1st heavy half-brigade)
o 28e BCC (commandant Pinot – 31 B1bis tanks and 3 replacement B1bis tanks)
o 37e BCC (commandant de Cissey – 31 B1bis tanks and 3 replacement B1bis tanks)
• 3e Demi-brigade légère (colonel Marc – 1 command Hotchkiss H39 tanks) (3rd light half-brigade)
o 25e BCC (commandant Pruvost – 40 Hotchkiss H39 tanks + 5 replacement H39 tanks)
o 26e BCC (commandant Bonnot – 40 Hotchkiss H39 tanks + 5 replacement H39 tanks)
• 5e BCP (Bataillon de Chasseurs Portés) (commandant Perrodo) (including 9 25mm SA34/37 AT guns)
• 305e RATTT (Régiment d'Artillerie à Tracteurs Tout Terrain) (colonel Castaignet)
(24 105mm C howitzers, 8 47mm SA37 AT guns, 6 25mm AA guns)
• 131/1e Compagnie de sapeurs-mineurs (engineer company)
• 131/84e Compagnie mixte de transmission (mixed radio/telephone signal company)
144 tanks (+ 16 replacement tanks)
9 25mm SA34/37 AT guns
8 47mm SA37 AT guns
6 French 25mm AA guns
1 French infantry battalion
But only the French tanks took really part to the battle of Flavion on May 15, 1940.
On May 10, the 1e DCr moves from Suippes in France to Belgium in the area of Charleroi by road and rail-road. It deploys initially north of Charleroi to support the French 1st Army. On May 14, as a consequence of the critical situation on the front of the 9th Army on the Meuse River, the division is suddenly attached to the 9th army by the French high command. At 14h00, the 1e DCr is ordered to move south in the area of Dinant to counter-attack advancing enemy "elements". Elements of the division reach Flavion during the night, others only at the morning of May 15. The movements are largely hampered and delayed by the Belgian refugees thrown on the roads, their towns having been destroyed by the Luftwaffe. The first elements of the 1e DCr reaches Flavion around 20h00 but several tanks will need 7 hours to cross the 35 km. But the Lorraine 37L TRC fuel supply tractors and other supports and services are separated from the tanks. They join several of the tanks at Oret, 9km north-west of Flavion, only at 7h00 on May 15.
In the morning of May 15, the 1e DCr is in touch with French reconnaissance units to the north; to the south there is open terrain. The French troops are deployed as following:
• The heavy half-brigade (Renault B1bis tanks) is along the Flavion-Ermeton road, on the first lines
o 28e BCC : north of Flavion
o 37e BCC : south of Ermeton
• The light half-brigade (Hotchkiss H39 tanks) is deployed west of the B1bis tanks
o 25e BCC : north of Corenne
o 26e BCC : south-west of Stave
• 5e BCP and the artillery are on the rear, in the area of Florennes and will not take part to the battle on May 15.
• About 12 Renault R35 from the 6e BCC (provided by the army) are deployed south-west of Stave
Many French supply columns have been destroyed by the Luftwaffe. The French tanks are just arriving on the deployment areas and are rather out of fuel, several are already immobilized and others have only 1 or 2 hours fuel left. On their side, the German tanks have no logistics issues. In absence of fuel, general Bruneau is condemned to a static mission with his tanks. After Hannut, Flavion is the second most important tank battle of World War 2 at this moment.
The enemy "elements" are in fact the whole XV.Panzerkorps (general Hoth) with the 5.PzD (general von Hartlieb, with Pz.Rgt 31 and Pz.Rgt 15) and the 7.PzD (General Rommel, with Pz.Rgt 25). The XV.Panzerkorps is also followed on its rear and right flank by the VIII.Armee Korps, including the 8.ID and the 28.ID which are also involved in the battle. The 7.PzD arrives around Morville at only 5 km of the first French tanks on May 14 evening.
The German troops have 546 German tanks:
• 5.PzD: 243 Panzer I / Panzer II + 84 Panzer III / Panzer IV = 327 tanks
• 7.PzD: 109 Panzer I / Panzer II + 110 Panzer 38(t) / Panzer IV = 219 tanks
--> TOTAL: 352 Panzer I / Panzer II and 194 Panzer 38(t) / Panzer III / Panzer IV = 546 German tanks against 144 French tanks.
The Pz.Rgt.25 (7.PzD) is the first one to start the battle against the 28e BCC but Rommel avoids the French tanks and continues to move west with his tanks, letting his heavy AA guns, artillery and several armored elements to block the French tanks.
It is the 5.PzD which is mainly involved especially Pz.Rgt.31 with about half of the tanks of the division. During the morning there are about 350 German tanks engaged. Pz.Rgt 25 leaves and Pz.Rgt 15 arrives in the afternoon. There are then more than 300 tanks of the 5.PzD to face the French tanks.
But on the French side the tanks and only them are actually engaged, the infantry and the artillery remain on the rears and there is no air support unlike for the Germans. The German tanks are strongly supported by indirect artillery fire, direct artillery fire from 10.5cm leFH, direct fire of the 8.8cm FlaK used in AT role, strong air support and the support of the infantry.
From the 144 French tanks only the 62 B1bis tanks will face the initial shock of the 2 Panzerdivisionen, they will have to face more than 300-350 German tanks. The 28e BCC is supported by 40 Hotchkiss H39 tanks on the south, which will skirmish with the 7.PzD and one Hotchkiss tanks battalion remains on the rears. The Renault B1bis tanks are roughly alone on the frontline against the 5.PzD. The battalions are separated and 2x 31 B1bis tanks will fight against huge packs of German tanks heavily supported by all available means.
On May 15, at 7h00, the 3/28e BCC (3rd company of the 28th tank battalion) intercepts numerous German radio communications; the enemy seems close and very active.
The German attack is launched around 8h00 in the area of the 1e DCr. The Pz.Rgt.31 (Colonel Werner, 2 tank battalions from 5.PzD) is deployed and moving from Falaen to Flavion. The Pz.Rgt.25 (colonel Rothenburg, 3 tank battalions from 7.PzD) is attacking on the Morville-Flavion road.
The 1e DCr is not at this moment able to maneuver and to face the enemy troops. Most of the tanks are out of fuel and other tanks are currently just refueling. The 25e BCC, 26e BCC and 28e BCC are refueling during the morning and the 37e BCC only achieves its supply at the beginning of the afternoon. During their first battle, the crews of the 1e DCr kept their calm, proved to be very brave and had precise reflexes. The radio sets (in the Renault B1bis tanks mainly) were used and worked, with calm and without errors despite the battle.
1. The 28e BCC (Renault B1bis tanks)
The first German tanks (Pz.Rgt.25) are encountered around 8h30 by the 3/28e BCC. The first German wave is blocked and 5 German tanks are immediately destroyed. The 3/28e BCC has only 6 tanks left out of 10, the 4 other tanks experienced mechanical breakdowns during May 14. These 6 tanks and the 10 tanks of the 1/28e BCC more north are on the first line. The 2/28e BCC with its 10 tanks is a little bit on the rear of the 2 first companies: a total of 26 B1bis against the advancing Pz.Rgt.25 (109 Panzer I / Panzer II + 110 Panzer 38(t) / Panzer IV) of the 7.PzD.
There is a little hill between 3/28e and 1/28e BCC, hampering both companies to cooperate perfectly. The German tanks are still trying to advance. The Renault B1bis open fire meticulously and destroy several tanks. The Germans, which were not informed by the Luftwaffe that there were many French tanks in such an advanced position, are at first surprised. They are also quickly astonished to see their projectile bouncing on the armor of the Renault B1bis tanks. It is their first contact with French heavy tanks and the beginning of the reputation of the "Kolosse". At first only the 6 tanks of the 3/28e BCC are in contact but the battle is rapidly very hard and the whole 28e BCC is involved.
Several German tanks use the terrain to come closer to the French position. The combat is engaged at close range, about 100m. Many shells are clicking against the armor of the B1bis without penetrating. But finally one French tank is penetrated and put on fire. A second B1bis is hit at the driving post hood, the commander is also wounded but he is still firing with the 47mm SA35 gun. Several tanks are burning in front of the 3/28e BCC. The Germans break the attack.
At 9h30 the tanks of the Pz.Rgt.25 maneuvers too outflank the French position. The 2/28e BCC moves south to stop them but they are soon out of fuel. All the French tanks are hit by dozens of shells. The tanks still able to move begin to retreat. They fight then on the spot, the last liters of fuel being used to aim the 75mm SA35 hull gun. The tanks which are out of fuel are unable to aim their 75mm hull gun. The tanks fight than only with the 47mm SA35 gun of the turret, which is electrically powered by the battery (Ragonot turret electric engine). Once the battery also empty the turret is hand-cranked.
7 Panzer IVs are destroyed in front of the 3/28e BCC. 6 German tanks are burning in front of the "Philippeville". In a short time the "Tamatave" destroys 3 tanks. The B1bis "Sousse" destroys 7 German tanks (3 with the 47mm gun and 4 with the 75mm hull gun). The 1/28e BCC, more north, destroys about 3 German tanks.
After 2 hours of battle, the exhaust pipes are pierced by shells and splinters, the superstructures are blown away, the radio mast are blown away or cut. The battlefield is scattered with German knocked-out tanks. The B1bis tanks fire uninterrupted on their front, rear, left and right.
The B1bis "Quincy" is attacked by 15 German tanks, its motor is damaged and stops. Thanks to a slope the tank managed nevertheless to reach a safe area and the crew is rescued by the "Tunis".
The "Tombouctou" is close to be immobilized; the ricin oil of the Naeder system is leaking. After big efforts the tank is nevertheless moving but he is facing German artillery and 8 German tanks are attacking it on the rear. A fire starts in the tank but is quickly stopped and the battle goes on. Finally a track is hit and blown 20 meters away. The tank is immobilized. The crew exits by the floor hatch, armed with pistols, but it is quickly captured. They are close to be executed by the Germans but they are saved by a German colonel.
The "Brazzaville" receives so many shells around the same location that the inner armor is spalling (glowing red splinters) and all the members of the crew except the commander are WIA. Exiting the tank they were welcomed by tracer MG bullets but could be recovered by the B1bis "Tunis" and "Casablanca".
The Germans of the 7.PzD realize that their Panzer IIs have no chance at all against the Renault B1bis tanks and that their 3.7cm KwK are inefficient at standard range. They try to keep them out of range. The fight lasts all the afternoon, a Henschel Hs-126 forward controller guiding the German artillery on the French tanks which receive a rain of shells. Rommel wants to keep his precious tank potential and tries to move deeper on the west with them. A few tanks, Aufklärung Abteilung 37 supported by numerous AT guns, the 8.8cm FlaK of the division, the artillery (numerous field guns used in direct AT role) and heavy air support provided by Ju-87 dive bombers have the task to fix the French tanks.
Around 12h00, the 7.PzD is reinforced by the Pz.Rgt.31 and during the afternoon by the Pz.Rgt.15 (5.PzD).The tanks of the 5.PzD have a much more difficult fate, they don't avoid the French tanks. The Pz.Rgt.31 arrives on the northern flank of the 28e BCC and is engaged by the 1/28e BCC around 12h45. Numerous German tanks are spotted at 1,800-2,000m. The combat is engaged by the B1bis tanks at 800-1,000m with the 47mm SA35 and 75mm SA35 guns. Due to lack of fuel, most of the B1bis tanks don't change their position. They just move a little to the right or to the left to perturb the German gunners. They are forced to have the engine on to aim the 75mm hull gun.
After an hour's fight the Pz.Rgt.31 has lost a battalion commander and his Panzer IV. The Panzer IV is the only tank really capable of engaging the Renault B1bis tanks at decent range but they have already exhausted their ammunition. German supply vehicles are still on the east bank of the Meuse; the situation is becoming critical on the German side. The French had an open route into the rear of Rommel's 7.PzD. In desperation the Panzer Regiment commander personally led a renewed attack. And the French tanks finally give away during the evening.
One after one, out of fuel, the Renault B1bis tanks are completely immobilized. The 8.8cm FlaK from the 5.PzD and 7.PzD used as AT guns fire at the French tanks from about 1,000m. The ammunition racks of the B1bis tanks are slowly empty and the fire rate becomes slower but the German attack is still very violent. Under enemy fire, seething with rage, many tanks are simply abandoned and scuttled.
The B1bis "Tananarive" had an empty battery (no electric rotation of the turret anymore), the right track had been damaged, the turret had been blocked by various hits, all the episcopes had been destroyed by hits and only 30 liters of fuel were remaining to move a bit and aim the 75mm hull gun. The tank withdrew but remained stuck in a hole/ditch where it remained blocked because the pumps bringing the fuel to the engine were damaged too. Nonetheless, despite numerous hits on the tanks the crew was still alive and operational.
The ground was blocking the escape hatch on the floor; the crew bailed out by the side hatch. The men were finally captured by German troops which were only 50 meters away.
Many French crews will continue to fight on their position with miscellaneous small arms instead of retreating. Several of these men will join the French lines several days later after having avoided to be captured.
At 14h00, after 6h30 of battle in impossible odds, the 28e BCC still holds its position. The B1bis tanks are slowly submerged by the packs of German tanks and open fire at point blank. The losses are increasing but at 17h00 the battalion is still fighting. At 18h00, order is received to retreat to Chastre and Beaumont (by liaison officers since many radio masts are destroyed or the battery for the radio is empty). The tanks, which receive the order and are still able to move, retreat to Stave and Chastre. The other tanks fight on the spot until all their shells are fired. At 19h00, several B1bis tanks are still firing. The 28e BCC never received reinforcement or support and the battlefield was constantly over flown by German aircrafts.
Only 3 B1bis tanks out of 26 engaged in the battle manage to escape. They join the 4 tanks which were delayed by mechanical breakdowns on May 14. In the 28e BCC only 8 B1bis tanks (with the command tank of the battalion) out of 32 are still available.
2. The 37e BCC (Renault B1bis tanks)
The 37e BCC is the first Renault B1 battalion which was formed and later received B1bis tanks. The crews have a high morale and are all very confident in their training, their tanks and their guns.
At 12h15, the 37e BCC is ordered to support the 28e BCC but the fuel supply will be completed only at 13h30 (at 11h30 for the first tanks). Around 12h00, the 3/37e BCC destroyed a German column of AT elements from the 5.PzD on the Flavion-Ermeton road.
The 2/37e BCC is on the southern flank of the 37e BCC. It is ordered to counter-attack to support the 28e BCC, but the company is reduced to 7 tanks. The "Dakar" and the "Var" had mechanical breakdowns on May 14 and the "Oise" has been immobilized in the Biert River at the end of the morning. The 2/37e BCC with 3 reorganized platoons reduced to 2 tanks attacks at 13h15. A 1st platoon ("Ourcq" and "Isère") and a 3rd platoon ("Guynemer" and "Gard") are deployed in V with the company commander's tank (Capitaine Gilbert, B1bis "Adour") in the middle of the formation. A 2nd platoon ("Saône" and "Hérault") constitute the rear protection element.
Rapidly the 2nd platoon on the rear is in difficulty. In a rough terrain the "Saône" is immobilized and towed by the "Hérault". Isolated from the other tanks, they are attacked by numerous German tanks and guns (5.PzD) ambushed in the Biert-l'Abbé woods. To worsen the situation, the "Saône" has a mechanical breakdown and the "Hérault" is badly hit by several shells on a sprocket. The two tanks are not able anymore to fight efficiently and are sitting ducks. They are evacuated and scuttled by their crews.
Only the "Guynemer", the "Ourcq", the "Isère", the "Adour" and the "Gard" continue to move. They reach a plateau were they are ambushed by enemy tanks and guns perfectly hidden, embossed and camouflaged. The first enemy elements open fire at them at 700-800m. Many shells are clicking against the armor but they cause no damage. Lieutenant Bounaix, commander of the "Guynemer" gives a good testimony of what happened to the French tanks during the battle.
The B1bis "Guynemer" is reaching a plateau and moves along the edge of the Biert-l'Abbé woods. The tank is hit several times on its left flank. The hits are coming from a red flash in a hedge at 800m, probably an AT gun or an ambushed tank. After four 47mm HE shells the flash is still appearing. After two 47mm APC shells the enemy seems to be destroyed. After 100m, a new red flash appears on the left. This time it is neutralized with the 75mm hull gun firing HE shells.
The B1bis "Guynemer" is then engaged by a Panzer IV. Several 7.5cm shells are hitting the left side and the front hull of the tank without more effect than shaking the tank and removing a few bolts. Facing the Panzer IV, the B1bis "Guynemer" begins the duel and opens fire with its 75mm hull gun. Elevation 450m - too short. Shells from the ambushed enemy tank are still hitting the armor. Elevation 500m - too short. Elevation 550m - a big red explosion appears on the Panzer IV. 2-3 German tankers are seen bailing out in a hurry from the burning tank. In fact on the left flank of the French tanks, the woods are scattered with camouflaged AT guns and many Panzer IVs which are all firing on the 5 French tanks, it is a real hail storm on the armor of the French tank. The armor is thick and able to resist to many hits but the 5 French tanks are fighting roughly in 1 versus 6 odds and are in open terrain while the Germans are perfectly embossed, hidden and had apparently enough time to prepare their ambush and check the ranges. A direct hit on the bottom of the side hatch of the "Guynemer" damages it. The hatch is half open. Millard (a member of the crew) jumps to the hatch and keeps it closed.
The "Guynemer" destroys an additional Panzer but a projectile hits the shield of the coaxial MG. The hands of the commander are slightly it by splinters. A German shell hits the radiators. Water is leaking and the engine stops but the driver is able to start it again. After more German shells the 75mm hull gun is damaged and out of use. The commander in the turret continues to fire with the 47mm gun. The Renault B1bis tank tries to hide in woods at only 50 meters but the edges are heavily shelled by the German artillery.
The "Adour" of the company commander has been immobilized by a bomb launched by a German plane and the "Gard" has been knocked out. The "Ourcq" and the "Isère" are still moving and firing. They form a new platoon with the "Guynemer" which takes command.
On the left the French tanks there are Panzer IVs and now on the right of the French tanks there are numerous Panzer IIIs. The Panzer IIIs try to avoid duels with the French heavy tanks. Their fire is fast and precise, but each time one of them is threatened by a French turret it disappears in the woods. Nonetheless one Panzer III is destroyed by the "Guynemer".
Lieutenant Bounaix finally orders the retreat by radio. The 3 tanks move back under heavy German fire.
During the battle the "Guynemer", the "Ourcq", the "Isère" claim to have each destroyed at least 4 German tanks and the "Adour" has probably knocked out 3 tanks. The number of enemy tanks destroyed by the "Gard" is unknown. That makes at least 15 German tanks have been knocked out or damaged by the 5 Renault B1bis tanks.
Once returned to their initial departure area in the French lines, the engine of the "Ourcq" gives up. The right track of the "Guynemer" is broken. The "Isère" is heavily damaged too. All the superstructures and antenna are blown away, pierced or cut. Each of the B1bis tank is covered by more than 50 hits but all the men are safe. Nevertheless, at 15h40 the 37e BCC is reduced to 2 companies.
During the attack of the 2/37e BCC, the 2 other companies defended the frontline and prevented German infiltrations using many HE shells. One tank of the 3/37e BCC was lost during the morning. The 37e BCC is ordered to retreat to the heights of Somtet to establish a new line. The 1/37e BCC takes the road to Somtet.
The 3/37e BCC is blocked by a deep stream and moves more north to join the main road at Denée. But Denée is already held by the 8.ID with the Artillerie Abteilung 8 (a dozen 10.5cm leFH guns), the 14th company of the Infanterie Regiment 84, AT guns from the Panzerjäger Abteilung 8 and the 8.8cm FlaK from the 1st company of the FlaK Lehr Regiment.
The B1bis tanks crush several 3.7cm PaK unable to stop them and continue to move on the road. They are then ambushed after the western exit of Denée by the 10.5cm leFH and the 8.8cm FlaK firing in AT role at close range. The 2 last tanks, the "Guépratte" and the "Belfort II" are quickly burning. Only 7 tanks are remaining of the company. Speeding up, they manage to reach a safe area. But Capitaine Lehoux regroups his tanks and chooses to launch an attack against the German position at Denée despite being isolated, without infantry, artillery or air support. The "Poitou" of the company commander is hit by several 10.5cm shells and burns with the crew inside the tank. Successively all the 7 B1bis tanks are destroyed during their charge.
The "Nivernais II" is hit on the front by a 10.5cm shell damaging the 75mm SA35 hull gun. The commander continues to fire with the 47mm SA35 gun and the coaxial MG (mostly with APC shells, many HE shells having been fired during the morning against infantry infiltration attempts). At 500-600m he spots 2 German field guns, which seem to target him. After having fired a 47mm shell the "Nivernais II" moves at top speed towards these two German guns. Various shells bounce on the armor. The tank stops at 150m of the enemy guns and opens fire. The commander climbs in the copula to better observe the results. At this moment the copula is hit and torn out by a 10.5cm shell. The commander is WIA on the left eye and looses a lot of blood. More shells hit the tank on the front hull and on the tracks. The crew exits by the side hull hatch and is targeted by German MGs. They are captured at 18h00.
The "Vendée II" is hit by a 10.5cm shell which kills the driver, 2 other crew members are WIA. The crew bails out and the commander wants to scuttle the tank when a second shell hits the tank just beside him. He is WIA and looses consciousness. The crew is captured.
The B1bis "Ypres" is hit by several heavy shells (8.8cm and 10.5cm) and is destroyed.
The crew consists in 5 men:
Commander: Lieutenant Duhourceau
Driver: Caporal-chef Duranton
Radio operator: Sous-Lieutenant Mathieu
Driver assistant/loader: Chasseur Merger
Second Driver assistant: Chasseur Derrider
Duhourceau, Merger et Derrider are KIA. The two others are WIA and captured by the Germans.
Here is the testimony of Sous-Lieutenant Mathieu:
"We move on to join the company. We have been advancing for a moment when the first enemy shells hit our tank. Lieutenant Duhourceau fires back with the turret MG. Sergent-chef Beauchamp from 2/37e BCC and whose tank has been knocked out comes inside our tank. The crew is now composed of 6 men. The MG jams but the 47mm SA35 fires and fires quickly, accompanied by the 75mm SA35 hull gun.
Lieutenant Duhourceau tries to repair the MG but without success. We are still advancing and the fire exchange increases in intensity. The 47mm SA35 fires at right, at left, everywhere. Derrider takes the shells stored in the engine room and give them to me. Merger is manning the 75mm hull gun. The episcopes are broken by the hits. Lieutenant Duhourceau gives me a new episcope; he is quickly mounted and replaces a broken one.
We have only one 47mm shell left but we are still advancing. Duranton is ordered to turn left but as soon as he turns the engine stops. Impossible to start it again! The commander orders us to bail out and to try to reach a slope while he is firing the last 47mm shell to protect the evacuation.
It is impossible to join the road because the German fire is too intense. I am hit by several splinters in the face (one eye is hit) while hiding under our tank and crawling to the front of the tank. Merger is hit and the commander is lying on the ground with the head full of blood. Beauchamp seems dead and Derrider is lying on the right of the tank with blood in the mouth. I fell down ... once awake I am captured."
The B1bis "Nancy II" is hit by a heavy shell on the front. Due to the spalling effect many splinters of burning metal are spread inside the hull. The driver is wounded at one hand.
Another heavy shell hits the driving hood and penetrates. The tank is on fire and the fire reaches the 75mm shells.
The crew bails out. The "Nancy II" carried its crew plus 3 additional men: Caporal Poulain, driver from B1bis "Ourcq" (scuttled at Flavion) and 2 crew member from B1bis "Belfort II" knocked out a bit earlier by the German heavy guns. Lieutenant Lecocq and Caporal Poulain are KIA.
The crew consists in:
Commander: Lieutenant Lecocq (KIA)
Driver: Caporal-chef Bertrant (WIA and POW)
Radio operator: Caporal chef Princet (WIA and POW)
Driver assistant/loader: Chasseur Airand (POW)
Commandant de Cissey, commander of the 37e BCC is informed of the fate of the 3/37e BCC by several survivors who managed to escape and to join only late in the evening. Several B1bis tank commanders in Denée stayed in the turret and fired to their last shells and MG magazines to protect the retreat of the crews. All the company has been destroyed and 5-8 German field guns or heavy AA guns have been destroyed beside several 3.7cm PaK which were crushed under the tracks. The 37e BCC has only 11 remaining tanks with the tank of the battalion commander (14 tanks with the 3 replacement tanks).
3. The 25e BCC and 26e BCC (Hotchkiss H39 tanks)
The 26e BCC is reinforced by 4 Renault R35 tanks from the 6e BCC and defending the south edge of the woods north-west of Flavion. The 25e BCC is deployed further west around Corenne.
Around 10h00, the 26e BCC is fighting against Pz.Rgt.25 (7.PzD) which is trying to outflank the 28e BCC. After 1h30 of battle the intensity of the battle diminishes. General Hoth, who doesn't want to be late in his progression in comparison to the 41.Panzerkorps (general Reinhardt) or the 19.Panzerkorps (general Guderian), launches the Pz.Rgt.25 towards Philippeville in an area occupied by elements of 2 regiments from the 4e DINA (4th North African infantry division). The 28e BCC is strongly engaged by the arriving 5.PzD and the artillery and AT guns of the 7.PzD. The 26e BCC is not more able to pursue the German tanks, it is also rather out of fuel and pinned down by incessant air attacks.
The tanks of the 26e BCC continue nevertheless to fire on motorized German columns moving east-west at about 1,200m. At 14h00 a very violent artillery fire is directed against the Hotchkiss tanks. At 17h00, commandant Bonnot orders the 2 companies to retreat while fighting against the German tanks. On May 15 evening, the 26e BCC has only about 20 operational tanks out of 45 initially.
The situation is better for the 25e BCC which was far less engaged. At around 11h00, Germans are moving south of the battalion and avoid the combat. Only the first company really skirmishes with the German tanks but there are no losses among the French tanks. In the evening the whole 1e DCr is ordered to retreat. The Hotchkiss H39 tanks moves back but have to refuel around 18h30. Despite the German artillery fire the refueling is done and the tanks can continue to move back.
From the 144 French tanks initially engaged, 65 have been destroyed or abandoned (but definitely lost) and 79 tanks are still available (+ about 10 replacement tanks) on May 15 evening. From a total of 160 tanks only 55% are still operational. Although the French armor fought very bravely and well, as Hoth later wrote, many tanks had to be abandoned for lack of fuel when retreat began on evening.
On the German side some 100 tanks are more or less heavily damaged, including probably 30-60 definitely destroyed tanks which will not be repaired. Most of the tank losses are in the Pz.Rgt.31 (5.PzD). Some 20 armored cars and about 20 German guns are also destroyed.
Nonetheless, the action of the 1e DCr gave pause to the German high command, which held Hoth's Panzerkorps back until the afternoon of May 16, giving the French time to establish their defense on the French border. The possible attacks of French tanks on the flanks of the advancing Panzerdivisionen led the German high command to be suspicious. Practically the high command will stop Rommel during roughly one day and after the battle of Flavion the 5.PzD will seriously remain behind schedule.
The 1e DCr was not completely destroyed on May 15 in Flavion as it is often said and the German losses are significant, especially against French tanks out of fuel and devoid of support unlike the German units. Nevertheless, the 1e DCr after Flavion is only the shadow of the initial division. The remaining tanks slowly disappear in rear guard combats during the 5 following days.
The 1e DCr is reconstituted on the 1st of June with only 3 tank battalions:
o 28e BCCr with 34 B1bis tanks
o 34e BCC with 45 Renault R35/39 tanks
o 25e BCCr with 21 Renault R35 and 24 Renault R40 tanks
The division counter-attacks on June 6 at 8h30 in the area of Champien-sur-Chaulnes, supporting the 29e DI. And will fight on the Marne River, on the Loire River etc. until June 22. The division is disbanded in July 1940. It is a rather bitter fate for the men who fought in the tanks of the 1e DCr.
Could they have performed better in Flavion ? The answer is probably not. The 1e DCr was completely alone on the frontline, without support and without supply. The DCr is not a unit thought to fight independently at all. The French armored divisions are not like the German Panzerdivisionen. Badly used by the high command, the 1e DCr fought with courage and inflicted losses to the enemy.
• "Blitzkrieg à l’Ouest, Mai-Juin 40" (Jean-Paul Pallud)
• "Divided and Conquered: The French High Command and the Defeat of the West, 1940." (Jeffery A. Gunsburg, 1979)
• "L'Arme Blindée Française (Tome 1) : Mai-juin 1940 ! Les blindés français dans la tourmente" (Gérard Saint-Martin)
• "Le mythe de la guerre-éclair – la campagne de l'Ouest de 1940" (Karl-Heinz Frieser)
• "Mai - Juin 1940 : les combattants de l'honneur" (Jean Delmas, Paul Devautour and Eric Lefèvre)
• "The French army 1939-1940 – organisation, order of battle, operational history" (Lee Sharp)
• Histoire de Guerre magazine n°1 (January 2000)