In the Battle of France in 1940, the German main tanks, the PzKpfw Mk III and some early Mk. IV did not enjoy total supremacy. The French actually did have tanks that could defeat these German tanks in the shape of the Char B1 bis. The B1 was large for its time with thick armor and a heavy 75mm hull mounted howitzer that could demolish German armor at close combat. The tank battle at Stonne on the morning of May 16th 1940 saw the B1’s destroying many German tanks in the village and shocked the German field command with the rate of destruction of the vaunted Panzers. It was an isolated incident of what might have been if the French had taken an integrated approach of combining infantry and artillery to support their tank thrust. Instead, these tanks were lost in small uncoordinated actions that did not affect the overall German advance. Most B1’s in France were lost from mechanical breakdown and running out of ammunition or fuel.
I picked up this 1/72 scale kit of the French Char B1 bis at the 2019 High Plains IPMS show. What attracted me to this model was its steampunk appeal with large rivets, big tracks, and the unusual early WW2 tank design that seemed like a carry-over from the WW1 British Mk.1 with a small turret added. The molding by Trumpeter is crisp and the fit was generally good. The detail level was pretty good but there are several key details that needed to be added to showcase this heavy tank.
The turret was molded without any openings for hatches. Since I wanted to show the tank with the commander sitting at the side hatch (the B1 did not have a top hatch on the commander’s cupola). I started by marking the door that will be removed. Using cellophane tape, I make a trace of the door and transferred to plastic card. Then the replacement door was cut out and shaped to match the original. After that, the side of the turret is cut open carefully to create the opening for the hatch. To facilitate the painting of the turret, the replacement hatch is attached to the turret with Blu Tack.
The massive upper hull was molded as a single large shell and did not require any assembly. Here, I have trial fitting of the turret onto the upper hull.
Preparation for building the chassis starts with building the sprocket and follower wheels.
The chassis is then fitted with the molded road wheels. I like this arrangement where Trumpeter saves me a lot of time by molding these large number of wheels into single molded strips so instead of 128 parts, I only have to contend with two! These wheels are ultimately hidden behind the hull shields anyway.
The next section to be built is the swivel assembly for the 75mm howitzer.
The rear fender and end caps for the upper hull are installed.
The kit did not have the chain hooks that could be seen prominently at the rear of the B1’s. I added these using .015″ silver solder wire.
I primed the all the separate hull parts (I have not joined the upper hull to chassis up to this point) with Tamiya XF69 NATO Black. I then installed the howitzer mounting, and painted that region with Tamiya XF-58 Olive Green since the access is limited once the hull is joined to the chassis.
The fit of the gun shield onto the hull was problematic. I had to file away some parts of the shield, and shave away some of the hull walls to make a snug fit.
The soft tracks are joined using Loctite 770 primer, and then with Super Glue. The tracks are painted with Tamiya X-10 Gun Metal, and then given a wash of “rust” using diluted Tamiya XF-68 NATO Brown.
The complex camouflage pattern separated by a hard black outline is done carefully with brushes. Three colors were used over the black primer, mainly Tamiya XF60 Dark Yellow, XF-68 NATO Brown, and XF-58 Olive Green.
After the area under the hull has been painted with camouflage, I added the large U-shaped exhaust pipe over the engine section.
The camouflage pattern is then re-instated onto the added sections.
Once the camouflage pattern is completed, I apply the decals after prepping the local panels with Micro Gloss, and then setting the devals with Micro Sol.
I did not chip the paintwork as part of the weathering as the French tanks were operating close to their bases and were relatively new when they were sent into battle. Instead, I just applied a thick oil wash of 50:50 Lamp Black/Burnt Umber.
The commander’s hatch is then removed and positioned in the open position.
French 1/72 scale tank crew figures from the early period of WW2 are rare, and so I converted one with a suitable seated pose from the Soviet 1939-41 tank crew set from Red Box. The details weren’t great, but the uniform was close enough for me to paint with French colors.
The figure is the installed at the commander’s hatch.
I used about 6 inches of micro-chains dipped in Tamiya XF-68 NATO Brown for rust effect.
A final dusting of Tamiya XF49 Dark Earth on the lower sections of the tank and chassis completes the tank itself.
The display base starts with a ceramic coaster 4×4 square base. For the slope on one side of the base, I use 1/2″ square balsa wood to raise the elevation, and then shave it down to form a sloped contour. Plaster and railway talus of different grades form the soil, followed by trees, static grass and bushes to form the idyllic French tree-lined country road about to be rudely awakened by the German Blitzkrieg.