Battle of Gembloux - May 1940

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David Lehmann
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Battle of Gembloux - May 1940

Post by David Lehmann » 03 Nov 2005 12:04

Hello,

With the testimony of Louis Brindejonc, a 25mm AT gun commander, (see : viewtopic.php?t=87621) and articles like those from Jeffery Gunsburg, which depicts the battle very well I thought I could add more details and illustrations about the battle of Gembloux and what I wrote earlier about it.

THE BATTLE OF GEMBLOUX (14th - 15th May 1940)

The allied Dyle-Breda plan is to stop the German offensive in Belgium and the Netherlands with the French 1st and 7th armies and the BEF, using the Ardennes and the Sedan area as a hinge on their right flank. The 3 French DLMs (Division Légère Mécanique = Light Mechanized Division) have to delay the German troops of Armee Gruppe B (including 3.PzD, 4.PzD in Belgium and 9.PzD in the Netherlands). Their task is to establish contact with the Belgian and Dutch armies and to cover the allied infantry deployment.


1) Notes about the battle of Hannut (12th – 14th May 1940)

The 1e DLM enters in the Netherlands followed by the French 7th Army. The French cavalry corps (General Prioux with the 2e DLM and 3e DLM) enters in Belgium on 10th May at 10h30, followed by the French 1st army (General Blanchard) to encounter the 3.PzD and the 4.PzD. They wished they could have moved before the German attack but this was not possible due to the Belgian neutrality. General Prioux sends captain Métivier from his staff to makes liaison with general Krahe, commander of the 3rd Belgian corps. He reports the little will of cooperation of the Belgians. He also notes that the "Cointet" mobile AT obstacles planned around Gembloux are not deployed; they are completely dispersed several kilometres further around Perwez. The future French infantry positions should have been fortified by the Belgians but except a short portion of AT ditch absolutely nothing was done. The French troops will therefore have to defend on a completely unprepared position. To add to this bad news, Belgian railroad workers went on strike and delayed the arrival of armored elements of the cavalry corps.

On 11th May, general Prioux choose to wait for the enemy on the Tirlemont-Huy line, using the Petite Gette stream and the Méhaigne small river to anchor the defense. The northern part behind the Petite Gette stream and Hannut is defended by the 3e DLM, which will have to face the main assault. The southern part behind the Méhaigne small river is defended by the 2e DLM. The defense is organized in depth with infantry strongpoints in each town, village or farm, supported by tank groups deployed on the rear, ready to counter-attack between the infantry positions. There is also a whole tank regiment in reserve (1e Régiment de Cuirassiers).

The battle of Hannut is the first big tank battle of WW2 with 411 French tanks (3e DLM and 2e DLM) facing 674 German tanks (4.PzD and 3.PzD). On 12th May only the 4.PzD is really involved, the 3.PzD having completely crossed the Meuse River only for the 13th May. The 3e DLM (general Langlois) will have to face directly 2 Panzerdivisionen : 3.PzD (general Stumpff) and 4.PzD (general Stever). The 2e DLM (general Bougrain) will be only partially implicated. Therefore the 674 German tanks including 132 Panzer III and Panzer IV will mainly be opposed to 239 French tanks including 88 Somua S35 tanks.
Unlike the French troops, the Germans have a strong air support. The VIII.Fliegerkorps (general von Richtofen) with 300 Ju87 "Stuka" dive bombers and 42 Hs123 "assault" biplanes and about 130 Me109 supports Hoepner but on 13th May it is engaged over the Meuse River. The IV.Fliegerkorps and IX.Fliegerkorps add some 280 He111/Do17/Ju88 bombers and over 500 Me109 and Me110. On the French side each DLM has only 3 modern reconnaissance aircrafts attached.

As expected in tank versus tank warfare, the inefficiency of the 37mm SA18 L/21 gun of 80% of the Hotchkiss tanks is quickly demonstrated. It is unable to destroy the Panzer III and Panzer IV at 100m but on their side the German realize the inefficiency of their Panzer I and Panzer II light tanks against the French tanks and the inefficiency of their 3.7cm L/45 tank gun against the French armor at standard range (300-400m). Apart from the 7.5cm L/24 gun of the Panzer IV, no German shell could pierce the Somua S35 and the Hotchkiss H39 at a really comfortable range, they had to move to close range.
According to the war diary of the 3.Panzerbrigade (3.PzD) commanded by colonel Kühne : "huge quantities of ammunition were used during the battles against French tanks because of the lack of power of the 2.0cm and 3.7cm guns. In our brigade, all the 3.7cm and 7.5cm shells were used during a single battle on 13th May. Our unit had to wait for ammunition supply to continue to fight." German sources agreed that the "only really effective" German tank weapon against French armor was the 7.5cm KwK firing APCBC shells. The same source from 3.Panzerbrigade concludes that their 3.7cm gun was effective only at less than 200m range.

During the battle, the advancing German tanks were very often attacked on the flanks and the rear by the French tanks. Each counter-attack launched by a small formation of Somua S35 tanks is seen as critical but the French tanks fired also many times from static positions, using hull down emplacements at medium/long range to engage more numerous German tanks and meticulously fired at them from a safe position. The good armor and the powerful 47mm L/32 SA35 of the Somua S35 tank coupled to a 4x gunsight makes it able to engage safely every German tank at 800m. At this range it is roughly impossible for a German tank to destroy the Somua S35. The reports from the Panzerbrigade 3 indicate even that the 3.7cm gun is inefficient beyond 200m. Many Somua S35 tanks come back with 20-40 hits without any damage. The Somua S35 tanks will have to be neutralized by the Panzer III, Panzer IV and AT guns at close range and by the 8.8cm FlaK or 10.5cm leFH in direct fire at longer range.

During 2 days the 3e DLM (and the 2e DLM) managed to stop 2 Panzerdivisionen and to inflict them heavy losses. In fact the losses are heavy on both sides and the result of the battle is rather a draw. The French lost 105 tanks (75 Hotchkiss H35/H39 and 30 Somua S35 tanks) mainly in the 3e DLM and the Germans about 164 tanks but the German field workshops would work during the night to repair many of the tanks that were knocked out during the battle.

On 12th-13th May, the French cavalry corps is blocking the Germans about 30 km in front of Gembloux. General Prioux has been ordered to delay the Germans until 14th May and moves 10 km back in the area of Perwez hold by the 4e GRDI (colonel Arlabosse), the reconnaissance group of the 15e DIM. The 4e GRDI includes motorcycle platoons but also 13 Laffly 50 AM and 12 Citroën-Kégresse P16 Mle1929 armored cars. There are no natural elements really useful to build a defense, only several dispersed and rather useless "Cointet" mobile AT obstacles. During this time the Luftwaffe attacks all the French rears, on the frontline the French and German troops are too closely mixed. Fuel supply issues force the XVI.Panzerkorps to stop on the Jauche-Ramilles line. At 21h00, the 3e DLM is deployed on its new positions and the 2e DLM is deployed early on 14th May.


2) The battle of Gembloux (14th – 15th May 1940)

The resistance of the cavalry corps (2e DLM and 3e DLM) from 12th to 14th May 1940 allowed the deployment of the 1e DM (Division Marocaine = Moroccan infantry division - General Mellier) and the 15e DIM (Division d'Infanterie Motorisée = motorized infantry division - General Juin) around Gembloux, on a front of 12 km. Note that during this battle each division had to defend a 5-7 km front as intended for a French infantry division instead of 20-30 km for the infantry divisions around Sedan. The tanks of the cavalry corps were still involved on the beginning of 14th May and the artillery of the cavalry corps reinforced the French units at Gembloux. In Gembloux, the French infantry/artillery couple will face with success the German Panzer/Luftwaffe couple of the so-called "Blitzkrieg".
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Post by David Lehmann » 03 Nov 2005 12:07

The Gembloux gap is a wide rural plain with numerous towns, big farms and several woods. In the center there is Gembloux, a little industrial city of 5,000 habitants. It is an important communication nest with 2 important roads and 2 important railroads. The Brussels-Namur railroad which is roughly perpendicular to the axis of the German attack is used as main resistance line and in front of it there are several outposts. The railroad constitutes a decent AT obstacle (often running in a deep cut or on a steep embankment) and is reinforced by AT mines. The level crossings or tunnels of the railway are also blocked by Cointet AT obstacles. The city of Gembloux and the villages of Ernage and Perbais (which are mainly on the left of the railroad) constitute the main strong points as well as several farms. There is a stop-line is organized some 2 km behind the main resistance line.

The terrain is nevertheless favourable to a tank attack and in the skies the Luftwaffe has the air superiority. The French weakness was in the air. The French 1st army had only the remains of one group of 26 fighters, one reconnaissance group and the observation squadrons of the corps as well as theoretically 3 modern spotter planes for each DLM against the hundreds of bombers and fighters of the Germans.
The Germans have a strong air support. On 10th May the II.Luftflotte supporting Armee Gruppe B included 170 medium bombers and 550 fighters. In the morning of 15th May it was reinforced by I.Fliegerkorps and III.Luftflotte (which had 300 medium bombers on 10th May). Above all Hoepner was supported by the VIII.Fliegerkorps (general von Richtofen) with 300 Ju87 "Stuka" dive bombers and 42 Hs123 "assault" biplanes and about 130 Me109.

The 1e DM and the 15e DIM have travelled about 150 km before reaching Gembloux. They are close to complete manpower and have a strong field artillery supporting them. The 15e DIM has 36x 75mm Mle1897 field guns (1e RAD) and 24x 105mm C howitzers (201e RALD). The 1e DM has 36x 75mm Mle1897 field guns (64e RAA) and 24x 155mm C howitzers (264e RALD). That makes a total of 72x 75mm Mle1897 field guns, 24x 105mm C howitzers and 24x 155mm C howitzers (120 guns) and there is also support from army artillery units.

Hoepner's XVI.Panzerkorps (3.PzD and 4.PzD) will lead the attack in the Gembloux gap. In addition, Hoepner disposes of the 20.ID (mot) and 35.ID during the battle of Gembloux : 4 German divisions against 2 French ones.
To Hoepner's right, the IV.Korps (general Schwedler) had the 31.ID, the 7.ID and the 18.ID, from north to south. It is important to remember that these divisions with their thousands of horses moved primarily by muscles power unlike the Panzerkorps. The Germans counted above all on their Luftwaffe to provide fire superiority over the French troops. The Artillerie-Regiment 103 (4.PzD) and Artillerie-Regiment 75 (3.PzD) consist both in 24x 10.5cm leFH and 12x 15.0cm sFH. The artillery of the Panzerkorps is at least completed by the II./Art.Rgt.40, II./Art.Rgt.50 and s.Art.Abt.611 attached to the 4.PzD and the II./Art.Rgt.49 attached to the 3.PzD, which adds at least some 40 field guns or howitzers. The XVI.Panzerkorps has therefore around 112 field guns or howitzers in its artillery plus the help of artillery unit from higher levels and from supporting infantry divisions eventually.

The 1e DM defends a front of 5-6 km with the 7e RTM at Ernage, the 1e RTM at Gembloux and the 2e RTM deployed between them. Nonetheless, the 7e RTM arrived very late on the field and the position at Ernage remained in the hands of the II/1e RTM until 14th May night. The I/7e RTM deploys then in Ernage but is unable to properly lay the 1500 AT mines intended for the defense. On the stop-line the AT mines are operational but on the first line constituted by the railroad the mines were often lacking their fuzes. The I/7e RTM finally puts 2 companies in the main part of Ernage (east of the railroad) but the houses and orchards of the extended village constitute a too large area to be properly defended. On the railroad itself (main resistance line) is the 3rd company and all the anti-tank guns at the battalion's disposal. The II/7e RTM is behind the first battalion and the III/7e RTM is in reserve behind the stop-line.
The 2e RTM holds a 2 km square : the I/2e RTM has 2 companies dug in behind the railway and a 3rd company in support at Sart farm where is also the battalion's HQ and the medical post. The II/2e RTM is held in depth back to the stop-line. The III/2e RTM is in the rear, in the divisional reserve.
Each regiment of the 1e DM had a group of 12x 75mm Mle1897 field guns in direct support and the division receives priority support from the corps artillery. Two batteries (8 guns) of 75mm Mle1897 field guns are deployed forward in the AT role behind Ernage and Gembloux. The 15e DIM allocates also 24x 75mm Mle1897 and 12x 105mm C howitzers as support for the 1e DM and prepares a possible counter-attack starting from Corroy-le-Château into the flank of an enemy penetrating in the rears of Gembloux. The guns are ordered to fire without spotting round and the time for barrage fire is reduced by half to reduce the chance of the batteries to be spotted and attacked from the air.

The 1e DM is largely composed of Moroccan regulars. The 2e RTM, for example, had 2,357 men present at Gembloux (several hundred having been caught on the leave by the sudden German offensive). Of those present, there were 1,432 Moroccans and 925 Europeans. There were a few Moroccans among the junior officers and the NCOs cadre is composed of Europeans and Moroccans.

The German infantry divisions are generally stronger in manpower and are largely equipped with SMGs. They have more mortars and infantry guns (75mm IG and 150mm sIG, which are lacking on the French side). The German divisions have also more AT guns (75 in an infantry division, 72 in a motorized infantry division and 48 in a Panzerdivision) than the French infantry divisions. But the German 3.7cm PaK is rather insufficient against most of the French tanks at standard range (300-400m). In a classical French infantry division there are theoretically up to 50-54x 25mm SA34 AT guns and 8x 47mm SA37 AT guns for a total of 58-62 AT guns :
• 12x 25mm SA34/SA37 AT guns in each of the 3 infantry regiments :
--o 2 in each of the 3 infantry battalions
--o 6 in the regimental heavy company
• 12x 25mm SA34/SA37 AT guns in the divisional AT company (CDAC)
• 3-6x 25mm SA34/SA37 AT guns in the reconnaissance battalion (GRDI)
• 8x 47mm Mle1937 or 75mm Mle1897/33 AT guns in the BDAC (AT divisional battery)

The 1e DM has only 27x 25mm SA34 AT guns instead. It has no CDAC, no BDAC and even the regiments have not their full asset which should account for 36 AT guns.
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Post by David Lehmann » 03 Nov 2005 12:08

The French infantry divisions have nonetheless the advantage of having more field guns and howitzers : 36x 75mm Mle1897 field guns and 24x 105mm C and/or 155mm C howitzers against 24x 105mm leFH and 12x 150mm sFH on the German side. On the German side no field gun could match the rate of fire of the 75mm Mle1897 field gun but the 10.5cm leFH had a longer ranger.

The French troops are critically lacking AA guns to face the German air force. The 1e DM has no AA divisional battery, which means that the division is short of 6x 25mm AA guns. Nonetheless, the division has 6x 20mm Mle1939 AA guns (Oerlikon) in the support companies of the battalions.

On its side the 15e DIM has a divisional AT company, a BDAC, a BDAA and there are 12x 20mm Mle1939 AA guns in the division. The 75mm Mle1897 field guns fired also time-fuzed shells in the air to constitute improvised AA barrages against the German aircraft and compensate the lack of AA means !

The 2 French infantry divisions are supported by the 13e BCC (45 Hotchkiss H35 with the 15e DIM) and the 35e BCC (45 Renault R35 with the 1e DM). One infantry battalion of each division is kept in reserve with a tank battalion attached to it for future counter-attacks. The tank commanders are ordered to launch on their own immediate counter-attacks against German tank incursions.
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Post by David Lehmann » 03 Nov 2005 12:10

The 35e BCC is supporting the 1e DM and is led by battalion commander Ragaine (1 tank). The tank companies are commanded by :
• 1/35e BCC : capitaine Pelletier (13 tanks)
• 2/35e BCC : capitaine Murati (13 tanks)
• 3/35e BCC : capitaine Richard (13 tanks)
• the reserve company (compagnie d'échelon) : capitaine Maury (5 reserve tanks)
During the whole 1939/1940 campaign, the battalion will loose 14 KIAs, 35 WIAs, 14 MIAs and 18 POWs. The 45 tanks will be lost. The battalion will earn 1 citation and its men will be awarded 68 individual ratified citations, 5 Legion of Honor medals and 4 Military Medals.

A combat command is constituted with the III/2e RTM (capitaine Saut) and the 35e BCC. This tactical combat group is placed under the command of battalion commander Ragaine.
Morale in the units of the French 1st army is high, based on the soldiers' confidence in their equipment and their leaders. During the battle of Gembloux, general Mellier and general Juin didn't hesitate to join the French first lines to support the morale of their troops.


14th May 1940

The Germans troops are ordered to take Gembloux and to break through the lines of the French 1st Army on 14th May. In the morning, after the battle of Hannut, the 5.Panzerbrigade (colonel Breith) of the 4.PzD (Pz.Rgt.35 and Pz.Rgt.36) forms the spearhead of the XVI.Panzerkorps and goes on. The core of the German troops is delayed during about 1 hour in front of the "Cointet" AT obstacles in Perwez. The German engineers open passages for the vehicles and the trenches just behind are empty. They should have been occupied by Belgian troops. All these concentrated German troops are targeted by 9 Morane-Saulnier fighters MS.406 but in a short time 3 of the French fighters are shot down by the FlaK and the others are pursued by numerous German fighters.

Pz.Rgt.36 and elements of the divisional infantry (Schtz.Brigade 4 = Schtz.Rgt.12 and Schtz.Rgt.33) are blocked a bit later around the town of Grand Leez and the woods next to this town by the fire of French tanks from the 2e DLM which are ordered to delay the advancing enemy. The intervention of Ju87 dive bombers does not change the situation and the attackers are still blocked by the French fire. After an artillery preparation and a concerted attack, the town is finally taken. German engineers capture one French AT gun and knock out 4 French tanks with it. A fifth French tank is immobilized with an explosive charge in the tracks.

The 3.PzD on its side is delayed by the retreating 3e DLM north-east of Ernage. Like in Hannut, the 3.Panzerbrigade complaints that too many shells are fired without effect against the French tanks and that only the 7.5cm KwK of the Panzer IV is really efficient against them. The same source from 3.Panzerbrigade indicates that the German 3.7cm gun was effective only at less than 200m range. They are probably facing Somua S35 tanks covering the retreat of the 3e DLM. The infantry of the division joins the tank only at night and in the darkness one battalion is even fired at by German tanks.

Due to this rearguard resistance, the German attack on the French infantry positions cannot be launched as planned on this day and more tanks are lost on both sides. The French loose about 15 AFVs during these delaying combats. Because of the events in the area of Sedan, the retreating tanks from the 2e DLM and 3e DLM are first put in reserve but they are rapidly removed from the Gembloux gap and sent south to face new threats. Nonetheless, artillery units from the cavalry corps (including AT guns) remain with the French infantry. The 1e DIM (deployed north of the 1e DM) is for example reinforced by 12x 105mm C howitzers, 24x 75mm field guns and 4x 47mm SA37 AT guns from the 3e DLM.

The German HQ is at first informed that the Gembloux gap is unoccupied and not defended. The Luftwaffe has been unable to spot the French troops. The roads between leading to the French lines are full of refugees mixed with retreating French troops form the cavalry corps. Around 10h30, 30-35 tanks from Pz.Rgt.35 (4.PzD) pursuing the retreating French troops (the 4e GRDI) from the outposts enter in the eastern part of Ernage thanks to the confusion on the roads. The Moroccan tirailleurs (from 1e RTM) react nonetheless quickly and the 25mm AT guns destroy 9 German tanks from the 8th company, the other tanks move back. The 6th company of the Pz.Rgt.35 is unable to support the tanks in Ernage because of literally annihilating defensive fire.
During the same morning the 3.Panzerbrigade (colonel Kühne) of the 3.PzD (Pz.Rgt.5 and Pz.Rgt.6) is involved in hot fighting in Ernage and on the Wavre-Gembloux road. Blocked by intense AT gun and artillery fire, colonel Kühne decides to wait for additional infantry support.

At 12h30 the tanks of the 4.PzD run again into French defenses, this time facing the 2e RTM between Ernage and Gembloux. The German attack is defeated by the dense French AT guns and MG fire. The German HQ has to realize that the area of Gembloux is well defended by French troops but until the end of the day the high command urges the 4.PzD to pursue the supposedly retreating French elements. The French troops are just transiently silenced during the bombing of the Ju87 bombers but the defensive fire goes on just after the end of the bombing. The German tanks are constantly moving to avoid being hit and are forced to disperse. Each time they regroup for a renewed attack they are shelled by the accurate French artillery. Colonel Breith orders the retreat of his tanks around Baudeset. The German infantry support was insufficient, the artillery was not completely deployed and the Ju87s alone proved insufficient to neutralize the French resistance. Once the German tanks are regrouped at Baudeset, they are again shelled by the French artillery. Each German movement triggers the fire of the French artillery. The German artillery is only efficiently deployed during the afternoon. It will be helped by observers of the Luftwaffe and by the deployment of an observation balloon at Grand Leez.

The 15e DIM, south of the 1e DM, faces also German attacks but none penetrated the French lines. Many times the powerful French artillery spread havoc in depth among the German concentrations and several German attacks are simply cancelled. There is also confusion in the German ranks since many orders are later modified or cancelled.
General Juin, commander of the 15e DIM (who will later led the 120,000 soldiers of the French expeditionary corps in Italy in 1943-1944) delays the use of its artillery to avoid hitting the last elements of the 2e DLM engaged in delaying combats in front of his positions. Once these tanks safe, all the artillery is engaged massively against the German tank concentrations.
One French reconnaissance plane spots about 150 tanks in the edges of the Buis woods, where is also located the command post of the 3.PzD. In a few minutes, 6 batteries (24 guns) of the 1e RAD (1st divisional artillery regiment – 15e DIM) fired 432 shells on the Buis woods thanks to the high rate of fire of the 75mm Mle1897 field guns.
General Stever (commander of the 4.PzD) is WIA by a shell in his HQ. In Sauvenière an other German HQ is hit : 2 rifle battalion commanders [major Fritz Popp (I./Schtz.Rgt.12) and major Johann Beer (III./Schtz.Rgt.33)] as well as captain Helmut Philipp (commanding the 9th company of the Schtz.Rgt.33) are KIA.

According to captain Ernst von Jungenfeld, the shelling recalled that of WW1 and was deadly accurate from the first round, a number of tanks taking direct hits. The Germans, using radio actively and without coding the transmission, are listened too by the French troops who are rapidly localizing several important command posts.

Around 14h00, after strong artillery shelling and renewed bombings operated by Ju87 dives bombers, the 5.Panzerbrigade (this time well supported by an infantry battalion) assaults again the 1e DM south of Ernage (on the front defended by the 2e RTM) during several hours. The German artillery is used to neutralize flanking fire from Ernage and Gembloux. Numerous tanks are hit by the French AT guns. The AT guns emplacements are well chosen, camouflaged and AT mines have been laid in front of them. There are fake positions to attract the Germans and the 25mm SA34 L/72 AT gun is very difficult to spot because of its flash hider. Both French and German testimonies indicate the difficulty for the Germans to spot them. German tanks are trying to outflank the town but 4 of them are destroyed by 75mm Mle1897 field guns from 64e RAA placed in forward AT position. The action of the French artillery results in the same effect than on the front held by the 15e DIM. The 5.Panzerbrigade is forced to withdraw under dense and very precise artillery fire and to go under cover.

According to many testimonies and battle reports of the Germans themselves (Gembloux, Abbeville and others), the French artillery was very efficient in 1940 and it seems to have been often superior to the German artillery : fast responding, high rate of fire and very accurate. The French gunners and forward observers new their job and defeated many German attacks.
On the German side, the logistics and sometimes the mobility were probably better organized but they often went in combat with insufficient ammunition supplies. The German artillery has also the advantage of the air superiority, enabling the use of Fi156 and Hs126 spotter planes. Nevertheless, the French troops were skilled in camouflage tactics and the Germans were often too self-confident and caught on their positions by French counter-battery fire. Of course the quick advance of the German troops explains sometimes the lack of the German artillery if the attack was not well prepared. In the French infantry division there are more field guns / howitzers than in a German infantry divisions but the Germans have far more infantry guns and mortars.
In Gembloux, the French artillery proved to be very efficient and very precise, stopping many German assaults, firing on each German concentration, destroying many tanks and silencing the German artillery by counter-battery fires. Perfectly camouflaged, the batteries remained often undiscovered despite the German spotting planes. The German artillery and the Luftwaffe were unable to neutralize the French artillery.
The power of the French infantry / artillery couple as opposed to the German tanks / aviation couple is well illustrated by the Gembloux battle were many assaults were defeated thanks to artillery concentrations. German divisions' HQs were also quickly detected by French radio detection means and they were immediately under French artillery fire. The German reports about the battle of Abbeville also indicate that the French artillery was very powerful, accurate, fast responding and had a high rate of fire. Strong artillery will also show to be the king of the battle during the second part of WW2.
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Post by David Lehmann » 03 Nov 2005 12:11

During the afternoon, there is a period of confusion among the French troops. There is indeed a gap of several hundred meters left unoccupied between the 1e RTM and the 2e RTM because a mistaken passage over the railway was used as boundary between the 2 French regiments. About 40 German tanks and armored personal carriers try to infiltrate in this gap.

The combat command constituted by the III/2e RTM and the 35e BCC is ordered :
1) to take again the ground that could have been lost
2) to enable the engineers to destroy the remaining passages over the Gembloux-Ernage railroad
The attack is to be launched with 2 infantry companies, the 1/35e BCC on the right, the 2/35e BCC on the left and the 3/35e BCC in reserve. The advance starts but is stopped at the level of Cortil since the situation having been stabilized on the front.
At 18h00, enemy tanks are reported in Ernage and the 1/35e BCC is ordered to counter-attack. The Renault R35 tanks are spotted by enemy observation aircrafts which launch violet smoke dispensers. The tanks are then targeted by German artillery during their movement but the shelling is inefficient. When they reach Ernage, most of the German tanks have already retreated in front of the French infantry strongpoints.
The Germans pull back without any gain. A renewed German attack is at first planned later on 14th May but is finally cancelled because of the French artillery barrage (so dense that a poison gas alert was mistakenly declared among German troops). At night, the 1/35e BCC and 2/35e BCC are controlling the passages which are blown by the French engineers. At 22h00, the tactical group moves back and the tanks remains around Cortil-Couvent in support of the first line (1/35e BCC at Ardennelles, 2/35e BCC in the park of the Château-Foriest castle, 3/35e BCC at Cortil-Couvent). In Ernage itself, 2 French infantry strongpoints have been destroyed and 2 25mm AT guns have been lost.

On the battlefield the situation is good for the French troops and only in Ernage did the German tanks constitute a threat but they were defeated. At night the battalion of the 7e RTM, originally in charge of defending Ernage, is arriving. More north, around Perbais, on the front held by the 110e RI (1e DIM) the French troops are tipped off to the German tank attack by radio intercepts. The Panzers are stopped with losses thanks to the French AT guns and the artillery but several outposts have been taken out of action.

During the night, harassing fire from the French artillery continues and forces the German tankers to dig in under their tanks. General Aymes, commanding the French corps, learns that the promised 1e DCR (with its 63 Renault B1bis tanks and 81 Hotchkiss H39 tanks – plus reserve tanks : 6 B1bis and 10 H39) is not at his disposal anymore. The French armored division was first planned to counter-attack the 3.PzD and 4.PzD but has been diverted in emergency to face the German troops having crossed the Meuse River. Arriving out of fuel in the area of Flavion, more south in Belgium, the 1e DCR will have to face the 7.PzD and the 5.PzD.


15th May 1940

The German attack on 15th May faces the same fierce resistance despite stronger air support. Between Gembloux and Perbais the battle lasts from daybreak to the night. At dawn, the French forward observers report the concentration of about 300 German tanks followed by important motorized infantry columns. After the bombing operated by Ju87 Stukas and a German artillery preparation, the assaults are renewed. The French air force could provide only 2 fighter sweeps of 6 aircrafts each and several reconnaissance aircrafts which were generally shot down by the FlaK or German fighters.
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Post by David Lehmann » 03 Nov 2005 12:13

--> On the front of the 1e DM :

Early in the morning the main German effort is conducted against the 1e DM (especially against the 7e RTM and the 2e RTM), where the terrain is more in favour of the use of tanks. Nevertheless, the German attack is disorganized by a strong French artillery counter-preparation fire. The German communication lines are disturbed or cut, several artillery units receive their orders too late and the artillery forward observers are not deployed in time. The cooperation between the German infantry and its artillery is at this moment not good at all and the support provided by the artillery is incomplete. Smoke screens are created north of Gembloux to prevent the French to support their troops in Ernage by flanking fire.
Fierce combats (consisting on both sides in advances, retreats and counter-attacks) take place around Ernage. During 2 hours, the Germans are defeated everywhere but at 12h00 an important air attack is launched by Ju87 dive bombers against the French strongpoints, the command posts and the artillery emplacements around Ernage and Gembloux. Despite heavy French shelling the German infantry manages to sneak closer to the French troops. Thanks to the bombing, German troops infiltrate in the town of Ernage but they don't manage to cross the railroad. Each German advance is slow and costly, radio contact is lost with the staff of the 5.Panzerbrigade and the tanks are milling around before the obstacle and are picked one by one.

The commander of 5.Panzerbrigade (colonel Breith) is WIA in his command tank. His tank is first hit by 2 projectiles which don't penetrate the armor but a third one knocked out the vehicle : "a blue flash traversed our vehicle like a thunderbolt". The crew bails out and has to hide in a shellhole, playing dead during 3 hours. A light tank arrives hours to rescue the men but it is also knocked out. Colonel Breith added that he had not seen such artillery fire since the WW1. Captain von Jugenfeld is not far from the action and notes "again here all hell broke loose". All the heavy tanks of the 4th company are destroyed and the command tank of lieutenant-colonel Eberbach (commander of Pz.Rgt.35 ) is also knocked out. Further advance is proven impossible and at 12h30 lieutenant-colonel Eberbach refused to renew the attack.
Beside the AT guns which are firing, about 50 German tanks are destroyed by the French artillery during the battle of Gembloux. The Pz.Rgt.35 (lieutenant-colonel Eberbach) looses 9 PzI, 9 PzII, 6 PzIII and 8 PzIV. With about 30 tanks lost during the battle of Hannut, this regiment will loose 50% of its tank strength during these days.

At 12h00, the Germans tanks of the 4.PzD are ordered to retreat to their starting lines. At 13h00 the German infantry of the 4.PzD is also pulling back but with less luck then the tanks and many troops managed to retreat only at night. Corporal Matthias from 3rd company of Schtz.Rgt.12 noted : "here we are more than 10 hours under this hail of fire and we have not progressed more than 50 meters". The German infantry is completely pinned down by French fire. There is movement of panic and disorganization among the I./Schtz.Rgt.12 (probably following the retreat of the German tanks) and the attached engineers who abandon their position and flee back. The intervention of the II./Schtz.Rgt.33 and its officers stabilizes the situation. Lieutenant Fridjof Hildebrand from II./Schtz.Rgt.33 is KIA while encouraging the retreating troops. At 14h00, general Stever goes to the HQ of the Schtz.Rgt.33 to urge for a renewed attack but he is hit by a French shell and evacuated. Colonel Breith (5.Panzerbrigade) is out of contact and colonel von Boyneburg (Schtz.Brigade 4) takes command of the 4.PzD. At 14h00, general Hoepner orders definitely to stop the offensive for the 4.PzD. The 3.PzD is still engaged in Ernage. He plans a renewed attack with the addition of the 2 infantry divisions (35.ID and 20.ID (mot)). At first over-optimistic the German HQ thinks now that a proper assault cannot be tried again before 17th May and in any cases without the 4.PzD which is exhausted. The German artillery has big difficulties to locate the French artillery batteries and experiences also logistics issues and lack of ammunition.

The situation for the 3.PzD is better, the division has still tank in reserve and 1 of the 3 infantry battalions has not yet been heavily engaged. Bitter fighting takes place all the afternoon in the area hold by the 1e DM. The German artillery support is also more important than during the morning.
The 3.PzD remains at first blocked in front of Perbais but in the middle of the afternoon its renewed assaults enables to capture this town hold by the 110e RI (sector of the 1e DIM) east of the railroad. Nonetheless, the 3.PzD fails to pierce the French lines. At 18h00, several German infantry elements heavily shelled by the French artillery and afraid by the rumor of arriving French tanks begin to withdraw from Perbais. Panzers are sent to stem the retreat. During the afternoon the 18.ID deployed north of the 3.PzD reports French tanks and the 3.PzD urges its 8.8cm FlaK guns to the area of Perbais to stop the supposed threat. To cope with the situation around Perbais, general Aymes (commanding the 4th Army Corps) wants at first to engage the remaining tanks of the 3e DLM which had retreated behind the French infantry line. But these tanks are not available anymore and were directed more south and attached to the 3rd Army Corps.
The situation in Perbais exposes the flank of the 7e RTM in Ernage, which has not enough troops to defend the whole line. Taking advantage of this weakness, the Germans increase their air support in the area and renew their ground attacks. The 7e RTM withdraws progressively from the railroad to defend the stop-line. Ernage is finally captured around 18h00 but by troops from 3.PzD (2 infantry battalions supported by tanks) and not by the 4.PzD.

The weak point of the defense is left of Ernage, on the hinge between the 110e RI (1e DIM) and the 7e RTM (1e DM). At 12h30, capitaine Gracy, commander of the I/7e RTM authorized at first an encircled company (lieutenant Jouval) to move back, in contradiction with its order to fight without thought of retreat. General Mellier relieved Gracy from his command for that decision. In Ernage, Jouval and his men fight until 18h00 when he and only 11 survivors, all WIA and having exhausted all means of defense, surrender. In the town itself 2 companies from I/7e RTM are totally destroyed and from the about 700 men of the battalion only 74 men are still available on 16th May. In a perfect illustration of the famous "furia francese", several desperate elements of the 7e RTM launches a bayonet charge against astonished German troops.

On the right of the 7e RTM, German elements manage finally to cross the railway in the area hold by the 2e RTM and they progress towards the Sart farm. The 2e RTM has suffered heavy losses and lacks ammunition which can be only transported by the Renault UE chenillettes under enemy fire. The Sart farm is finally evacuated under protection of tanks and the French troops defend then the stop-line. The Germans will never break through this line. Despite the orders shouted by the German officers and NCOs the German infantry remains blocked.

The tactical group formed by the III/2e RTM and the 35e BCC is again ordered to counter-attack the German troops on the Gembloux-Ernage railway. Ragaine receives only a short and verbal order and the attack can be quickly launched but it starts from a reserve position at about 8 km from the front and will not remain unnoticed by the Luftwaffe. The objective of the III/2e RTM is to redeploy on the railroad and to rebuild the first French line. The 9th infantry company advances on the left with a tank company and the 11th company advances on the right with another tank company. Each rifle company is reinforced by a MG platoon and a 25mm AT gun. A detachment under command of lieutenant Portail is to cover the northern flank of the counter-attack. The 10th company and the battalion support company remain in reserve.
The deployments are hampered at 12h00 by about 80 Ju87 dive bombers attacking the French lines during 1 hour. The town of Ardennelles and Cortil-Couvent ar heavily bombed. The infantry fires at the aircrafts and 2 Stukas are reported to be shot down [during the whole battle of Gembloux 10-12 German aircrafts have been shot down by the weak French AA defense]. The losses in equipments and men are fortunately light but the French counter-attack is delayed. The attackers are regrouped at 14h30 and the advance goes on.
A German observation plane continues to mark the position of the French tanks with violet smoke dispensers. Between 16h30 and 17h00 3 allied fighters (French or British ?) force the spotting aircraft to flee but the observation balloon is still deployed above Grand Leez.
The German all arms fire manages to cut the French infantry from the tanks which are alone about 300 meters in front of the rifle companies. The attack is nonetheless progressing slowly, methodically and pulls the German troops back : the stop-line is reached at 16h30 and according to Ragaine at 20h00 the railroad is reached. Several German 3.7cm AT guns are quickly neutralized, sometimes before having been able of fire one single shell. The number of Renault R35 tanks immobilized by the German field artillery is increasing and as the French tanks arrive at close range of the German AT guns more of them are neutralized. Nonetheless, the French troops don't stop their progression; the infantry is still confident and remains with the tanks. One Renault R35 tank is destroyed when rolling on a French AT mine in front of a former AT gun position.
The reserve is engaged and the 10th company storms forward, supported by mortar fire. The German troops are pulled back but around 18h30 the attack is blocked by German tanks. According to Ragaine the German troops are forced to cross the railroad back and to retreat. At 21h00 the position is taken and the infantry is deployed in defensive stance. Ragaine's report may include a part of exaggeration : it seems the rail-road line proper was not completely captured and secured again and the attacked stalled a bit in front of it. The III/2e RTM has suffered high losses and 17 Renault R35 tanks are immobilized or destroyed according to the war diary of the 35e BCC. The Germans have been pulled back with heavy losses and 2 additional German counter-attacks are defeated. The Germans are reported to retreat on their starting line around the Buy woods. The operational Renault R35 tanks move back to Cortil-Couvent to be supplied in fuel and ammunition. The recovery unit is very active to tow and repair the damaged French tanks.

--> On the front of the 15e DIM :

On the front of the 15e DIM, all the Germans movements are immediately blocked by powerful infantry and artillery fire. In several areas, the railroad offered roughly no anti-tank obstacle, especially on a width of 600m in the sector hold by the 134e RI. The Pz.Rgt.36 tries to infiltrate in this weak point but it is defeated by well established fire plans and a perfect coordination between the colonel commanding the infantry regiment and the supporting artillery. Several German tanks are also neutralized by AT mines. Finally about 15 German tanks are destroyed and the attack is pulled back. Several German tanks attacking the 4e RI near Beuzet are also destroyed by 25mm and 47mm AT guns.


At night and after their failure, the German troops retreat to Les Cinq Etoiles and the Buy woods. The 1e DM stood the assault of roughly one and a third Panzerdivision and fought bitterly before leaving part of the ground. The French 1st Army checked the Panzers and the backbone of the French front didn't collapse despite all the German supports and repeated heavy assaults. The French lines were never pierced. During 2 days, the Luftwaffe tried without success to neutralize the French artillery. On 15th May night in the Gembloux gap, the German troops retreat to escape the enemy to their front and the French troops retreat to escape the enemy to their right rear.


Conclusion

During the battle of Gembloux the losses are heavy on both sides. For example :
• On the French side, the I/2e RTM is reduced to 74 men out of 700 men initially and the III/2e RTM has lost 35% of its strength. The I/7e RTM is reduced to 80 men and the II/7e RTM is reduced to 150 men. From the 40 Renault R35 tanks engaged by the 35e BCC only 6 seem to be fully operational after the battle.
• On the German side the Schtz.Rgt.12 (4.PzD) has lost 30% of its officers. The I./Schtz.Rgt.12 is roughly wiped out and is reduced to 4 officers and 31 men from an initial manpower that should have exceeded 700 men. The Schtz.Rgt.3 (3.PzD) has lost 15 officers and 184 men. The Pz.Jg.Abt.654 attached to 4.PzD has only 2 AT guns left from an initial strength of 12AT guns. The Pz.Rgt.35 has lost 50% of its tanks.

In Hannut some 164 German tanks were knocked out and in Gembloux the French artillery indirect fire alone destroyed about 50 German tanks, including 32 tanks in the Pz.Rgt.35. On 15th May evening, the 4.PzD had only 137 operational available tanks left (including only 4 Panzer IV) from the initial 331 tanks. So there were 194 tanks damaged, under recovery/repair or destroyed after the battles of Hannut and Gembloux. Only 41 % of the tanks were operational.

On 16th May :
• the 4.PzD had about 55% operational tanks = 182 available tanks. Therefore 45 extra operational tanks than on 15th May. But 149 tanks remained unavailable; this number is including destroyed tanks and tanks in the repair workshops.
• the 3.PzD had 75% operational tanks. Therefore about 85 tanks are still destroyed or in the repair workshops one day after the battles.

On 16th May 1940, one day after the battles, 234 tanks (35% of the tanks) were not operational anymore, including an unknown number of definitively destroyed tanks. The Germans repaired more of their tanks during the following days or weeks.

After the battle of Gembloux, general Hoepner estimated that he was unable to continue efficiently the combats the next day. Indeed many tanks were not operational anymore and the artillery lacked ammunition. The heavy guns had to await their supplies from Maastricht in the Netherlands, all the other dumps were empty. A renewed attack against the Gembloux gap is at first planned but it in any case it could not have been launched before 17th May and it was hopeless to think to pierce the French lines quickly, the "Blitkrieg" was stopped in that area. Hoepner's troops are so exhausted that they cannot exploit the retreat of the French 1st Army on 16th to 18th May 1940 to disorganize it.

The assault of 2 Panzerdivisionen supported by 2 infantry divisions have been stopped on an improvised line by 2 French infantry divisions. Hoepner had actually the order to pierce the French line in Gembloux, in which he failed. The battle of Gembloux can eventually be seen as a French Pyrrhic tactical/operational victory but it is only short-lived (the German achieved a breakthrough around Sedan during the same time) and the human cost is very high. On 15th May evening, the French 1st army, although undefeated, is ordered to move back due to the collapse of the 9th army on the Meuse River. This situation endangers greatly the rear right flank of the 1st Army. The French troops will move back and deploy between Arras, Valenciennes and Tournai.

Having used massively the air force and the artillery before the attack led by the Panzers would eventually have enabled to neutralize the French artillery and the French AT guns emplacements. Nonetheless, the orders were to pierce immediately and the Germans failed in that perspective. The French defense was rather improvised but dense enough to defeat the German "Blitzkrieg" relying on fast advancing tanks supported by the dive bombers as mobile artillery. This success can largely be attributed to the French artillery which could not be silenced despite several hits and about 3 batteries destroyed. In further battles, the French divisions will generally be overstretched (instead of defending 5-7km fronts) and fighting in 1 versus 2 or even more disadvantageous odds.


Sources :
• "Gembloux 1940 … Echec à la 4e Panzer" (Marcel Pieret) – the author uses mostly German sources
• "Gembloux" (Henri Aymes)
• "Mai - Juin 1940 : les combattants de l'honneur" (Jean Delmas, Paul Devautour and Eric Lefèvre)
• "The battle of Gembloux, 14-15 May 1940 : the 'Blitzkrieg' checked" (Jeffery A. Gunsburg, the journal of military history 64 (January 2000), 97-140)
• "The French army 1939-1940 – organisation, order of battle, operational history" (4 volumes, Lee Sharp)
• "Une pièce anti-char de 25 du 2e RTM à Gembloux" (Louis Brindejonc, Revue Historique des Armées n°1-1987 pp 66-73)
• War diary of the 35e BCC (on http://www.chars-francais.net)

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David Lehmann
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Post by David Lehmann » 03 Nov 2005 12:17

Notes about 2 French equipments involved in the battle :

1) Canon de 25mm SA Mle1934 (Hotchkiss) L/72

Caliber : 25x194R mm
Crew : 1 NCO + 5 men (commander, gunner, assistant gunner, 3 ammunition bearers) + 1 driver
Weight : 480kg (SA34 carriage)
Length : 3.71m
Width : 1.05m
Height : 1.10m (at the shield)
Protection : the shield is 7mm thick
Barrel length : 1.80m
Rate of fire : 25 rpm against fixed target and 15 rpm against moving target
Traverse : 60°
Elevation : -5° to +15°
Telescopic sight : 4x (L.711 telescopic sight, with a 3450m range drum, field of view 10.13°, V reticle)
V° : 920 m/s
Practical range : 800m (heavy armored vehicles), 1000m (medium armored vehicles) and 1500m (light armoured vehicles and softskins)
Penetration : 40mm/0° at 500m; 32mm/35° at 200m
Accuracy : at 800m HxL = 80cm x 80cm

The French 25mm AT guns were very modern in 1934. About 4500 of these guns were in service in May 1940. They were especially known as being very discreet, the flash hider used on them made them difficult to spot according to both French and German AARs. They proved to be very accurate guns, and able to destroy all the German tanks up to 800m if the impact angle was good enough. Only the PzIV Ausf.D at long range was tricky to be engaged by the 25mm AT gun in May/June 1940 if not at close range. In the first 500m the penetration efficiency was at least equal to the penetration of the 3.7cm L/45 PaK and at longer range the KE felt slightly more rapidly due to the lightweight projectile. The Germans captured such guns in large numbers in 1940 and used them in secondary roles as coastal defence and in some garrisons. Finland used also about 240 of these AT guns.
There were theoretically 12 of these AT guns in each French infantry regiment in 1940 but several regiments had only 4 or no AT gun at all. For example the 55e DI, a reserve division at Sedan, had no AT guns in its infantry regiments, 12 AT guns in divisional AT company, a total of 12 AT guns for the whole division (20-25% of the number of the paper). For the 71e DI the situation was even worse with only 8 AT guns in the same conditions. These units were also deployed on an overstretched front of 20-30 km whereas a division should defend a 5-7 km wide front. The 37mm TR infantry gun was often still in service even in AT role. The 25mm AT gun was lacking HE shells to neutralize human/soft targets and therefore the 37mm TR infantry gun was still liked since it could fire HE shells. About 220 25mm AT guns were also given to the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to increase its firepower, in exchange the British gave the French some Boys AT rifles which were not efficient and had a weaker penetrating power than the Hotchkiss 13.2mm HMG. The two ‘infanterie de l’air’ (airborne infantry) companies and several reconnaissance groups used some of these AT rifles. Each 25mm AT gun crew had 72 AP/APT shells immediately available and a total of 156 AP/APT shells per AT gun in a French 1940 infantry regiment. In typical infantry or cavalry units the 25mm AT guns were generally towed behind a Mle1937 infantry or cavalry trailer with horses. On the front the Renault UE tractor generally towed them. In motorized infantry regiments the towing vehicle was also often the Renault UE tractor and for long-range movements various halftracks and trucks were used. The AT guns could also be directly transported on a truck or towed on additional "wheels" (train rouleur FAR). In the divisional AT company/squadron of motorized units the official towing vehicle could be the Laffly V15T in cavalry units or the Latil M7 T1 in infantry units. The Unic TU1 was also used for that task.
One single 25mm AT gun from 18e GRCA destroyed quickly 7 German tanks of the 1.PzD in Gravelines on 24th May. During the battle of Gembloux, the 25mm SA34 AT gun commanded by Louis Brindejonc (2e RTM) destroyed 7 German tanks. In front of Stonne a Panzer IV from 10.PzD was knocked out by the 25mm AT gun of sergent Durand (67e RI), there are many photos of the same Panzer 35(t) destroyed in Lille by a 25mm AT gun from 46e GRDI (the hole in the front hull armor can clearly be seen) etc. There are many such examples of German tanks being knocked out by the French 25mm AT guns. According to colonel Kühne (3.Panzerbrigade, 3.PzD) : "the accuracy of the French 25mm AT gun is very good. The front hull armor of the Panzer III has been easily penetrated by the excellent French 25mm AT gun. Trials with booty guns proved that the French 25mm AT gun is superior to the German 3.7cm PaK. This 25mm AT gun is very hard to spot because the flash is invisible (flash hider)."

Ammunitions :
Cartouche de 25mm Mle1934 à balle perforante (AP)
Caliber : 25x194R mm
Weight of projectile : 0.320 kg (steel/tungsten core)
Length of projectile : 109 mm
V° = 920 m/s (charge normale = 137g propellant powder)

Cartouche de 25mm Mle1934 à balle traçeuse perforante (charge forte) (APT)
Probably white tracer, tracer effect up to 2000m.

Cartouche de 25mm Mle1934 à balle traçeuse perforante (charge forte) (APT)
Red tracer, tracer effect up to 2000m.

The Panhard 178 armored car had a shortened version of this gun and fired also an other shell :
Cartouche de 25mm Mle1934 à balle perforante (charge forte) (AP)
Caliber : 25x194R mm
Weight of projectile : 0.320 kg (steel/tungsten core)
Length of projectile : 109 mm
V° = 950 m/s (charge forte = 148g propellant powder – more propellant to offset shorter barrel length)
Penetration : 40mm/0° at 500m; 32mm/35° at 200m

German tests : The test was carried out 1/8-1941 with a 2,5cm KwK 121(f) by HWA on a 120 kg/mm2 armor plate (source : "Kennblätter fremden geräts heft 8a, Munition bis 3,6 cm" Released in Berlin 1941).

100 meters = 47mm /0°
500 meters = 40mm /0°
1000 meters = 30mm /0°

100 meters = 35mm /30°
500 meters = 30mm /30°
1000 meters = 20mm /30°

100 meters = 18mm /45°
500 meters = 16mm /45°
1000 meters = 15mm /45°

The French 25mm AT gun was rated by Germans to penetrate any German tanks during battle of France up to 800m, if the impact angle was good enough.


2) RENAULT R35

In 1933 the French High Command called for the design of a 6-ton tank as a replacement for the aging Renault FT17. The vehicle was designed to have a crew of two and to be armed with one or two 7.5mm MGs or a 37mm gun. Renault, "Forges et Chantiers de la Méditerranée" (FCM) and the "Compagnie Générale de Construction des Locomotives and Delaunay Belleville" took part in the design process. The first prototype was manufactured by Renault at the end of 1934 and was based upon the AMR 1935 type ZT. The armor specifications were increased to 40mm after tests with the 25mm SA34 AT gun. The vehicle was called the Renault ZM (prior to acceptance) and immediately sent into trials in the winter of 1935. By spring, an order for 300 was placed. The tank was now called "char léger modèle 1935-R" (R35). On 10th May 1940, the Renault R35 was the most common tank in the French army with 945 R35 tanks in metropolitan France and 125 R35 tanks in the French colonies. More of them were pressed into service in May/June 1940. If the exported R35 tanks and the tanks in the schools are counted, about 1,500 R35 were produced until the armistice. The tank was equipped with the APX-R turret (cast) and the hull consisted of three cast sections that were bolted together. The side plates carried bogies and front driving sprocket. The final drive and differentials were housed under nose plates. It was steered through a Cletrac geared differential and brakes. The driver was located to left side and had 2 splits and an episcope. The turret had 3 episcopes and a domed cupola with binoculars. There was a seat for the commander and the hatch in the rear of the turret that opened down could be used as a seat. The machine-gun spent cases went down a chute through a hole in the floor. The engine was to the right in the rear with the self-sealing fuel tank on the left.
The Renault R35 had no radio set (except the 24e BCC, the single R35 battalion in which all the tanks have the ER54 radio set) and the 37mm SA18 L/21 gun was rather inefficient against other tanks. The 37mm SA18 gun could be used at 300m against the Panzer I and Panzer II but to knock out a Panzer III Ausf.E/F (the previous models were less armored and easier to destroy) or a Panzer IV Ausf.C/D they had to get as close as < 25-100m, whereas the enemy could destroy them at about 300m (3.7cm KwK) to 500m (7.5cm KwK).
Several tanks were rearmed with a 37mm SA38 L/33 gun in May/June 1940 and named Renault R39 (only a few tanks for platoon and company leaders). During travel the spare MG stored in the tank was sometimes dismounted and put on the AA mount on the rear of the turret. The main gun was then facing the rear of the vehicle.
The tank is rather slow even compared to the heavier Renault B1bis and the suspension is poorly designed. The tank lacks mobility and crossing capacities in difficult off-road terrain because it is too short and the weight distribution is uneven. The crossing capacity was sometimes enhanced by the addition of the AMX Mle1938 crossing tail. The main advantages of the Renault R35 tank are its 40mm armor and the fact that it is exceptionally robust and sturdy. This tank could cross 500 km without a single maintenance or oiling operation if needed.
The Renault R35 tank has also been exported in Romania (200 ordered, 41 delivered in September 1939 + later 34 ex-Polish R35s. About 30 R35s were rearmed with Soviet 45mm tank gun in 1943-1945), Turkey (50), Poland (50) and Yugoslavia (54).

Weight : 10.6t
Length : 4.02m
Width : 1.87m
Height : 2.13m
Crew : 2 men
Maximum armor : 43mm (APX-R turret is cast and hull is cast armor + RHA bolted elements)
Maximum speed : 20-23 km/h (Renault engine, 4 cylinders, gasoline, 85 hp, 5880 cm3, 2200 rpm, water cooled)
Diameter of turning circle at 6 km/h : 8.50m (Jentz)
Transmission : 4 forward, 1 reverse
Autonomy : 140 km
Ground pressure : 0.86 kg/cm² (compared to 0.73 for PzIIc, 0.92 for a Pz III e/f and 0.83 for PzIVd)
Armament : a 37mm SA18 L/21 gun and a 7.5mm MAC1931 CMG (100 shells with at least 10 AP shells* and 2400 cartridges - elevation of -16 to +20° and traverse of 5° right and 5° left but could be blocked to aim only with the turret rotation).

* The Renault FT17, Renault R35 and FCM36 infantry light tanks, which were not included in an amored divisions had often only a dozen AP shells, illustrating their infantry support role seen as primary task. They were depending from armies' HQs and were attached to various infantry units for support. They only had AP shells for self-defense against tanks but were not thought to be engaged in big tank battles. In the case of Renault R35 tanks included in an amored division like it was the case with the 4e DCR (2e BCC and 24e BCC), the ammunition loadout included more AP shells. The situation was also different with e.g. the Hotchkiss cavalry light tanks, which had 60 HE and 40 AP shells and of course with all the heavier tanks like the Somua S35 or the Renault B1bis which had more numerous AP shells.

Detailed armor thickness (mm) :
Turret Front : 40mm/5° and 28° + gun mantlet
Turret Sides : 40mm/28°
Turret Rear : 40mm/30° (rear hatch is 40mm thick)
Turret Top : 25mm/90°
Copula : 40mm/round
Hull Front, Upper : 43mm/37° (driver’s hatch is 40mm/23°)
Hull Front, Lower : 40mm/round
Hull Sides, Upper : 40mm/10°
Hull Sides, Lower : 40mm/0°
Hull Rear : 32mm/24°
Hull Top : 25mm/90°
Hull Bottom : 10mm/90°

The surface of the front (turret and hull) really exposed to the enemy fire : 2.00 m2 with only 0.65 m2 with a slope inferior to 30°

The turret is hand-cranked (360° rotation in 27 seconds) but it could also be unlocked from the training crank and moved with the rotation of the gunner's body for quick snap-turns. With the 37mm SA18 gun there is also a traverse of 5° right and 5° left but the gun could be blocked to aim only with the turret rotation and so that the coaxial MG was always well aligned with the main gun.

Renault R35/39/40 and Hotchkiss H35/39 tanks vision means

Hull :
1x E2B episcope (early models) (28° vertical field of view) OR 1x PPL RX 180 P episcope (30° vertical field of view)
2x lateral slits

APX-R or APX-R1 turret (1350 kg with 37mm SA18 gun and 1540 kg with the 37mm SA38 gun) :
1x L.713 / L.739 sight (37mm SA18 gun) OR 1x L.767 sight (37mm SA38 gun)
3x diascopes (28° vertical field of view) (early) OR 3x PPL RX 160 episcopes (68° horizontal field of view and +3° to -21° = 24° vertical field of view))
1x slit in the rear turret hatch

Cupola :
1x slit (150mm x 7mm slit protected by a 15mm thick armored shutter) (early) OR 1x PPL RX 180 P episcope (APX-R1) (30° vertical field of view)


1st gear – speed : 3.5 km/h
2nd gear – speed : 5.5 km/h
3rd gear – speed : 10 km/h
4th gear – speed : 20 km/h (23 km/h according to Russian data measured on a captured Polish R35)
Top Speed in medium difficult off-road terrain : 8.7 km/h
Maximum slope to climb 23° on soft ground.


The Renault R40 is the final variation of the R35. Renault was well aware of the limitation of the suspension of the Renault R35 and on the Renault R40 the suspension designed by the Atelier de Construction d’Issy-les-Moulineaux (AMX) is a completely modified and largely improved version. This suspension has a strong resemblance to the D2 one and solves most of the weight distribution issues. The track looks like a B tank variant and the suspension includes 12 pairs of small road-wheels on each side mounted in pairs and vertical coil springs. The suspension is protected from projectiles and mud by 8mm thick armored skirts.
This vehicle mounted as standard the long barreled 37mm SA38 L/33 gun in the APX-R1 turret and had an AMX Mle1938 crossing tail. A little bit less than 120 tanks had been built from 10th May on only and put into service with the serial number 51541 to 51658.

The Renault R35 was intended to support infantry attacks and neutralize guns and MGs, generally not to fight against tanks. The 37mm SA18 gun could engage armored cars and Panzer I / II at 300m but to engage a Panzer III or IV the tank had to go to point blank range in most cases. In any cases, even with the latest 1937 AP shells the combat range was within 100m whereas the enemy could engage them roughly from 300m (3.7cm KwK) to 500m (7.5cm KwK). The Renault R39 and R40 were better armed with the 37mm SA38 gun which gave them a real AT role and capacity.

These French tanks were generally more adapted to heavy and brutal charges against slow or immobile targets but were not really conceived for a war in which speed and mobility rule. And this speed and mobility was created by the revolutionary Panzerdivisionen.
The German tanks were generally able to move at about 30 km/h offroad. For a Renault R35, the top speed in medium difficult off-road terrain was only 8.7 km/h. The Hotchkiss H39 was better with 16 km/h in medium difficult off-road terrain and even the heavy Renault B1bis was better with 21 km/h (easy offroad) to 10-15 km/h (hard off-road). The mean speed of the Somua S35 was measured at 35 km/h on-road, 32.3 km/h in easy/medium off-road terrain (fields etc.) and 11.19 km/h in hard off-road terrain (rough, ditches etc.), which makes of it a tank able to compete with the German ones.

But just comparing tanks should not prevent to consider the larger context. The French tanks were often engaged only in companies and faced 4 to 10 times more numerous German tanks. These German tanks were also supported by the Luftwaffe, AT guns and 8.8cm AA/AT guns.

--> Renault R35 company :
company commander : 1x R35
1st platoon (section) : 3x R35
2nd platoon (section) : 3x R35
3rd platoon (section) : 3x R35
4th platoon (section) : 3x R35 = 13 tanks

For the whole battalion :
3 companies = 39 tanks
+ 1 battalion command tank = 40 tanks
+ 5 reserve tanks in the "compagnie d'échelon" = 45 tanks



Examples of other involvements of Renault R35 tanks :

1) 10e BCC
40 Renault R35 of the 10e BCC were engaged with the newly created 7e DLM around Juniville (south of Rethel and Aisne River) against the 1.PzD (+ elements of 17.ID and 21.ID). There were only 65 French tanks including only 20 with the 37mm SA38 gun against the advancing 1.PzD.
The 37mm SA18 of the Renault R35 was insufficient against the Panzers, they had to close too much (25-50m) at a range were the good armor was not sufficient anymore. On 10th June evening, from the 27 Renault R35 tanks engaged by the 2/10e BCC and 3/10e BCC (two companies of 13 tanks and the battalion commander's tank) : 10 have been destroyed, 10 are damaged but recovered and under repair and 7 are fully operational. The 1/10e BCC has 13 more tanks and there are also the 5 replacement tanks (manned then by the surviving crews) of the battalion for a total of 20-25 operational tanks.

2) 3e BCC and 23e BCC
Renault R35 tanks from the 3e BCC and 23e BCC were also engaged for example on 9th and 10th June with the 14e DI and the 2e DI on the Aisne River.
--> FRONT OF THE 14e DI (east of Rethel) : from Thugny-Turny to Attigny
The German assault (73. and 86.ID) begins at 4h20 after a 35 minutes long artillery preparation. The 170.IR (73.ID) manages to cross the Aisne River at Thugny-Trugny and begins to infiltrate in the French lines. The 31e BCP is very close to be encircled in the town. De Lattre sends colonel Paraire to counter-attack with elements from the 25e GRDI, the 2e BCP and 9 Renault R35 tanks coming from the 3e BCC. They pull the German regiment back inflicting them heavy losses. On all the front hold by the 14e DI the attack of the XXIII.AK is a failure.
--> FRONT OF THE 2e DI : from Château-Porcien to Thugny-Turny (including Rethel)
The 2e DI is attacked by the 17.ID and the 21.ID, leading to heavy street fights in Château-Porcien and the southern part of Rethel. No German bridgehead can be established; at each attempt the French troops launch a vigorous counter-attack that defeats the Germans. About 500 German POWs are captured by the 2e DI.
During the afternoon two breeches will be opened and enlarged in the French lines. West of Rethel 6 assault groups from the 3.IR (21.ID) crosses the river on a lock in Nanteuil despite heavy losses. This breakthrough allows the Schützen of the 3.IR to take some hills south of Nanteuil and to cut the Avançon-Rethel road. Immediately the engineers of the 21.ID build a bridge over the Aisne to allow the tanks to cross the river.
A second breech is made east of Château-Porcien which is now threatened to be encircled by the two breakthroughs. The front is broken in this area despite the resistance of the II/31e RI. The garrison in Château-Porcien will fight until being out of ammunition and surrendered only after violent close combats, delaying the building of an engineer bridge for about 6 hours.
A counter-attack is rapidly organized with the 1st company of the 23e BCC (Renault R35 tanks), two infantry platoons and two dismounted cavalry platoons but it fails due to heavy bombardment from the German artillery and aviation as well as a very efficient anti-tank artillery destroying 9 from the 13 R35 tanks. At 7h00, the German have achieved a bridgehead south of the Aisne River, deep of about 5 km from Château-Porcien to Avançon. The engineers build bridges for Guderian in Château-Porcien and Taizy.

3) 12e BCC
The 12e BCC south of Amiens on the Somme River is split : 2/12e BCC with the 16e DI and 3/12e BCC with the 13e DI. On 5th June 1940, the 2/12e BCC is on the Essertaux plateau with the mission of stopping German armored elements. One Renault R35 is destroyed by a Panzer IV during an ambush on the move to the deployment area. The first platoon (lieutenant Provoost) faces a German tank attack. The 3 Renault R35 tanks are hit by numerous 3.7cm projectiles which do not penetrate the armor of the tanks. 2 R35 tanks are immobilized by the fire of Panzer IIIs and IVs. The crews continue to fire until all the shells have been used and then they evacuate their tanks and join the French lines. The 3rd tank (caporal Devies) is scattered with 3.7cm impacts and retreats in the French lines. On the evening the 2 abandoned R35 tanks are recovered and towed in the French lines too.
For the 3/12e BCC the things are harder in the Essertaux - Ailly-sur-Noye area and several R35 tanks are destroyed or damaged (5 tanks) by 75mm shells from Panzers IVs.
During this day the 12e BCC took part in blocking the German advance. The battalion had lost 5 WIA/KIAs, 3 destroyed tanks and 3 damaged and later recovered tanks transferred to the repair company.
To illustrate the facts in a larger context the German attacks in the area are largely defeated by the French artillery batteries firing in direct AT fire. On 5th June, the German XIV.Panzerkorps (9.PzD, 10.PzD, 13.ID (mot), 9.ID and "Grossdeutschland" regiment) assaults the French positions south of Amiens on the Somme River. The 14-20 km front (including the plateau of Dury) is hold by the 16e DI supported by 2 companies (26 Renault R35 tanks) of the 12e BCC. More than 400 German tanks and about 64,000 men are launched against about 18,000 French troops and 26 tanks. The French troops are organized in strongpoints in the towns and woods on a depth of about 10 km sometimes. These hedgehogs include infantry, HMGs, 25mm and 47mm AT guns, 75mm field guns used in AT role, AT mines etc. for a 360° defense. The advancing German tanks are rapidly cut from their supporting infantry and confronted on the rears to French 75mm, 105mm and 155mm artillery batteries engaging them in direct fire. On 8th and 9th June the 16e DI rears are reinforced by the 24e DI. After 5 days the German operation is stopped in that area, it failed and the Germans sustained heavy losses. The XIV.Panzerkorps is then moved and engaged behind the XVI.Panzerkorps in Péronne. The German troops lost 196 destroyed or damaged tanks (136 against the 16e DI and 60 against the 24e DI), including many definitively destroyed ones especially against French artillery batteries firing directly on the enemy tanks. The 2 French divisions have lost 60-70% of their strength but they stopped a Panzerkorps. Unlike in Gembloux the French troops had no strong artillery support since the artillery was mainly engaged in direct fire missions. After this battle the number of operational tanks of the XIV.Panzerkorps dropped to 45%.

4) 24e BCC
The battalion part of the 4e DCR but unlike the other units of the 4e DCR it was not constituted in the emergency with everything that was available. This BCC had been created in August 1939 and participated already to the attack on the Sarre area on in September 1939.
On 16th May the battalion is attached to the 4e DCR. The platoon (3 tanks) of sous-lieutenant Jeanney (3/24e BCC) is ordered to defend the bridge of Chivres. At 19h30 a German column with 3 armored cars and motorcycles is destroyed. During the night 2 more side-cars are destroyed. At 5h30 on 17th May another German column is attacked. The German column is destroyed : 23 KIAs, 33 POWs, 1 armored car destroyed, 2 75mm field guns destroyed or captured, 18 soft skin vehicles destroyed or captured, 6 motorcycles destroyed or captured and numerous radio sets captured.
The 24e BCC takes part to the attack on Montcornet (except this platoon). The town of Lislet and Montcornet are reached as well as the bridges on the Serre River, but the French tanks in Montcornet lack infantry support. Several tanks are destroyed by AT mines but they resist to the 3.7cm PaK except to the close range shots. Finally the battalion looses 7 tanks.

During the attack on Montcornet the French engages 90 tanks from various units :
• 46e BCC (about 30 Renault B1bis tanks)
• Elements of the 2e BCC and of the 24e BCC (Renault R35 tanks)
• Renault D2 tanks from the 345e CACC
• Infantry from the 4e BCP
They face German troops from various units including :
• AA 90 (10.PzD)
• very few tanks from the 10.PzD coming just out of the repair unit
• 666.Pionier battalion
• 56. Flak battalion
• Luftwaffe (Stuka dive bombers attacks)

The French units advances on 12 km and goes back. From the 90 engaged tanks 23 are lost (9 B1bis tanks, 2 D2 tanks and 12 R35 tanks), largely because of the 8.8cm FlaK.
The French human losses are nonetheless weak : 14 KIAs, 6 WIAs and 9 MIAs. On the German side the French reports having killed about 100 Germans captured 130 POWs.
On 18th May the 24e BCC is in defense in front of Laon and on 19th May it takes part to the attack on Crécy-sur-Serre and looses no tanks this day. On 20th May the battalion is attacked by the Luftwaffe and at 10h00 it defeats a German cavalry unit which sustains heavy losses. The 24e BCC defends then various accesses at Aubigny, Corbeney and Ville-au-Bois. The 1/24e BCC and tanks of the 3/24e BCC are ordered to rescue a French motorized column encircled in La Ferme d'Hurtebise. They attack the German AT defenses and manage to rescue most of the French troops but 1 Renault R35 is lost and the crew MIA. The battalion is then retreating and during this time 10-11 tanks are destroyed or abandoned for various reasons.
The battalion is then resting in Compiègne and takes part with the 4e DCR to the attack on the Abbeville bridgehead. Later it will fight during the retreat to the Loire River.

5) 44e BCC
The 44e BCC is engaged against the bridgehead of Abbeville as part of the 4e DCR but the French tanks are defeated by 8.8cm and 10.5cm guns used in AT role.

6) After the 1940 Western campaign, one can for example mention Operation Exporter (invasion of the French Levant = Lebanon + Syria) from 8th June to 11th July 1941. During this campaign, there were ad hoc formations with a total between them of 90 Renault R35 and FT17 tanks.
The allies (British, Indian, Australian, Free French) had a lot of difficulties when facing the Renault R35 tanks because they lacked proper AT guns to counter them. The British used their 25 Pdr in AT role. In this campaign, the Renault R35 fought with great success At Kouneitra for example they forced the 1st Battalion, Royal Fusiliers to surrender for the first time of its history (470 POWs). It was cut off by a Vichy counter-attack and the entire battalion was lost.


Regards,

David

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Battle of Gembloux - May 1940

Post by tigre » 06 Nov 2005 04:55

Thank you David, great post. A detailed description indeed. Best Regards. Tigre.

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Re: Battle of Gembloux - May 1940

Post by Peter K » 12 Aug 2010 16:54

• On the German side the Schtz.Rgt.12 (4.PzD) has lost 30% of its officers. The I./Schtz.Rgt.12 is roughly wiped out and is reduced to 4 officers and 31 men from an initial manpower that should have exceeded 700 men.
In Hannut some 164 German tanks were knocked out and in Gembloux the French artillery indirect fire alone destroyed about 50 German tanks, including 32 tanks in the Pz.Rgt.35. On 15th May evening, the 4.PzD had only 137 operational available tanks left (including only 4 Panzer IV) from the initial 331 tanks. So there were 194 tanks damaged, under recovery/repair or destroyed after the battles of Hannut and Gembloux. Only 41 % of the tanks were operational.
Total casualties of Schtz.Rgt.12 from May 10th to May 30th of 1940 were 519 men dead / WIA / MIA. Of them 23 officers, 82 NCOs and 414 men. Tank total losses of the division from May 10th to May 16th were:

15 Pz-I, 5 Pz-II, 4 Pz-III and 5 Pz-IV = 29 tanks as total losses (Totalausfalle).

On May 16th Starke an Panzern was 325 (compared to 354 on May 10th), of them operational were 161.

Totalausfalle of the division during the French campaign amounted to 144 (?) tanks (of them 12 in June). Of them probably 77 (?) lost from May 17th to May 24th, 29 from May 10th to 16th and 26 from May 25th to June 8th.

Source:

http://web.archive.org/web/200803290408 ... llgelb.htm

So probably Totalausfalle were:

10 - 16 May = 15 Pz-I, 5 Pz-II, 4 Pz-III, 5 Pz-IV
17 - 24 May = 34 Pz-I, 21 Pz-II, 3 Pz-III, 4 Pz-IV, 13 kl.Pz.Bef, 2 gr.Pz.Bef (???)
25 May - 8 June = 11 Pz-I, 4 Pz-II, 5 Pz-III, 2 Pz-IV, 3 kl.Pz.Bef, 1 gr.Pz.Bef
9 - 25 June = 1 Pz-I, 2 Pz-II, 3 Pz-III, 2 Pz-IV, 1 kl.Pz.Bef, 3 gr.Pz.Bef

Maybe some of those lost at Gembloux / Hannut were recorded as lost later.

And thus maybe some losses from Gembloux / Hannut are included in reports from period 17 - 24 May.

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Re: Battle of Gembloux - May 1940

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 13 Aug 2010 04:22

Domen121 wrote:
So probably Totalausfalle were:

10 - 16 May = 15 Pz-I, 5 Pz-II, 4 Pz-III, 5 Pz-IV
17 - 24 May = 34 Pz-I, 21 Pz-II, 3 Pz-III, 4 Pz-IV, 13 kl.Pz.Bef, 2 gr.Pz.Bef (???)
25 May - 8 June = 11 Pz-I, 4 Pz-II, 5 Pz-III, 2 Pz-IV, 3 kl.Pz.Bef, 1 gr.Pz.Bef
9 - 25 June = 1 Pz-I, 2 Pz-II, 3 Pz-III, 2 Pz-IV, 1 kl.Pz.Bef, 3 gr.Pz.Bef

Maybe some of those lost at Gembloux / Hannut were recorded as lost later.

And thus maybe some losses from Gembloux / Hannut are included in reports from period 17 - 24 May.
Should we understand these numbers have been adjusted for damaged tanks repaired and returned to use?

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Re: Battle of Gembloux - May 1940

Post by Peter K » 13 Aug 2010 09:06

What do you mean adjusted? Which numbers?

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Re: Battle of Gembloux - May 1940

Post by Michate » 13 Aug 2010 10:11

Having used massively the air force and the artillery before the attack led by the Panzers would eventually have enabled to neutralize the French artillery and the French AT guns emplacements. Nonetheless, the orders were to pierce immediately and the Germans failed in that perspective. The French defense was rather improvised but dense enough to defeat the German "Blitzkrieg" relying on fast advancing tanks supported by the dive bombers as mobile artillery. This success can largely be attributed to the French artillery which could not be silenced despite several hits and about 3 batteries destroyed. In further battles, the French divisions will generally be overstretched (instead of defending 5-7km fronts) and fighting in 1 versus 2 or even more disadvantageous odds.
While tactically the attacks failed, you cannot talk of a failure of Blitzkrieg (though I know Gunsburg does, I have read his, IMHo slightly biased, article) in operational terms, as part of the reason the Germans attacked there in the first place, was to fix the French there and give the main forces to the left (Frnech right) more time to go into the French flank and rear, in which they succeeded.

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Re: Battle of Gembloux - May 1940

Post by Peter K » 14 Aug 2010 11:53

On 15.05.1940 casualties of 4. Pz.Div. were:

Men: 105 - 113 KIA, 413 - 434 WIA, 29 MIA.

Tank losses (knocked out and destroyed) - 34:

- 9 Pz-I, 9 Pz-II, 6 Pz-III, 8 Pz-IV, 2 gr.Pz.Bef.

Operational by the end of day were 137 (certainly losses from previous days contributed to this fact, maybe also technical breakdowns).

I./Schtz.Rgt.12 casualties on 15.05.1940 were:

- 9 KIA, 23 WIA, 3 MIA

Pz.Rgt.35 lost on that day 6 KIA, 18 WIA *
Pz.Rgt.36 lost on that day 7 KIA (including 2 officers) *

*By comparison in Poland during the battles such as Mokra, Warszawa, Ruszki, these regiments lost more men from tank crews. Also for example Pz.Rgt.7 from Pz.Div.Kempf lost more tank crewmen in the battle of Mlawa.

2./Pz.Jg.Abt.654 lost on that day 8 KIA, 21 WIA

Many officers died or were wounded, especially in Schtz.Rgt.12.

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