It is a common myth that the Battle of France in 1940 was quick and easy victory for the Germans. It is true that compared to the titanic battles that came later the French campaign was not the bloodiest or most violent, but it was nevertheless a conflict that in the end left over 150 thousand German soldiers and over 360 thousand French troops dead or wounded. Heroes were made during the fighting but when it comes to armor few achieved what Captain Pierre Billotte did.
On 16th of May 1940, in the battle of Stonne, Billotte commanded a Char B1 bis heavy tank called “Eure”. The B1 was not quite the best tank to ever see the light of day. For its 28 tons it was somewhat underpowered and quite unreliable but for 1940 its 60mm armor was thick enough to resist any German anti-tank fire as the Germans were to find out much to their dismay.
That day in the morning, Captain Billotte and his unit ran into a column of German tanks in Stonne. The Germans were unsettled by the appearance of the French behemoths but soon the battle was joined in earnest. When the smoke cleared, Billotte claimed 13 German tank kills before retreating – two Panzer IV’s and 11 Panzer III’s.
As extraordinary as it was, Billotte’s feat could not save the beleaguered French forces. After the fall of France, Billotte was arrested and imprisoned by the Germans only to escape a year later and to join the Free French units. Pierre Billotte survived the war and pursued a political career in the 50’s and 60’s. He passed awaz in 1992 in Boulogne-Billancourt.