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1Sep/180

Bolt Action Char B1 Bis

It might be a bit odd to present a French tank during the Operation Market Garden week, but the Char B1 Bis is in there for a reason. They were used for example by the Panzerkompanie 224 in the battle of Oosterbeek.

Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis

The Char B1 was a French heavy battle tank that was designed in the 1920s and produced between 1935 and 1940. After an initial run of 34 Char B1, the pattern was improved and around 370 units of the heavier armoured and armed Char B1 Bis were build. It was one of the most powerful tanks at the time and proved to be very effective against German tanks during the Battle of France. But it was designed to be a break through vehicle and did not adapt very well to the modern, more fluid style of warfare, especially the rapid Blitzkrieg of the Germans.

With the fall of France the German military captured almost half of the produced Char B1 tanks and repurposed them as Panzerkampfwagen B-2 740(f). Several tanks were converted into flame throwing tanks, self-propelled artillery tanks or ammunition carriers. With this kit of the Char B1 Bis you have the option to build to build the German and French variant of the battle tank and two different variants of the Flammpanzer (flame throwing tank).

Roughly a dozen Char B1 (incl. the Bis variant) survived the war, beside one example being shown in the Tank Museum in Bovington UK, all others are displayed in museums in France, among other locations in Saumur and the last remaining Char B1 near Strasbourg.

This French tank kit by Warlord Games and Italeri costs 20 GBP und contains two large sprues for the tank, decals, stat cards, damage tokens and the new larger assembly and painting guide. The scale is 28mm / 1:56 scale and the decals cover mostly French insignia but German as well. The sprues cover two tank commanders, a French and German, as well.

Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis

The sprues manufactured by Italeri have a round frame and the plastic is a bit softer/flexible compared to the ones of from the Infantry kits by Warlord Games themselves. Casting is good with a moderate amount of mould lines.  The place within the frames is properly used and there are a few options that will be covered in detail during the building process.

Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis

Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis

As usual the building of the tank begins with the tracks. As the Char B1 is a rather long but narrow tank, these are very dominant parts.

Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis

Assembly of the tracks is easy and the fit is properly done. The chains look different to what you are used from German or other Allied tanks, as they have overlapping plates instead of track links.

Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis

The upper hull has a couple of different drillings prepared on the underside and depending on the variant, you want to build, these have to be opened up. There is an extensive overview of what needs to be done in the instructions, for German or French variants, as well as the Flammpanzer. As this one is going to be build as the Flammpanzer 3rd Model Variant B, I drilled the corresponding holes.

Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis

The hull is aside from the mentioned above holes at this step the same for all variants.

Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis

In the first picture, you can see the generic parts for all variants, the towing hooks, spare tracks and exhaust pipes. If you would build the regular gun tank, you would have a hull mounted gun, the earlier Flammpanzer variants have different flame projects that need to be added at this step. The 3rd model uses parts that are just glued to the front, no need for the inner mount to be prepared. The gunner's sight is added in the last picture, along with an upper armour plate.

Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis

The tools, a support brace and the drivers hatch is added. Now the front of the hull is complete.

Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis

Next up the turret. This turret itself is the same for all variants, but covers the option for different hatches as well as an higher commanders cupola, similar to the M3 Grant / Lee "mini-turret", which is available in two different variant again (rounded and edged). There are two (actually three) tank commander in there, French and German. Of the German is a slimmer version included for the narrower turret. This one receives the turret for the Flammpanzer 3rd Model variant B with closed hatches, so no additional superstructure or exposed commander.

Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis

The last few parts are added to the rear. A compartment, a few tools and the heavy chains on some hooks. The chains are a bit tricky to assemble and I'd suggest replacing them with some model kit chains for a more realistic look.

Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis

And here is the assembled Char B1 / Flammpanzer B2(f).

Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis

A brief comparison to another French tank (Renault Ft) and the PzKpfw. 38(t) that were build and were in service at the same time. Just look at the differences in size.

Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis

But to put that size into perspective, here's the PzKpfw. VI Tiger I Ausf. E. Yes, the Char B1 is similar in length and roughly in height, but the Tiger was much broader.

Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis

As usual, the last row shows the tank in front of the backdrop from different angles.

Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis Bolt Action - Char B1 Bis

Conclusion
I really enjoyed building this tank. It is somewhat odd and unusual design wise, not just another Sherman variant or something that is clearly a German tank. I have this tank as a premium vehicle for World of Tanks and it is incredibly fun to drive in low tiers. And it was similar fun to build.

So, in case you're building an early war French army, this is definitely a very welcoming and presentative piece to use. And it is just half the price of the FCM Char 2C (okay, it is half the size, but who needs a vehicle that large in Bolt Action anyways?). As the captured Char B1 Bis were mostly used in the Balkans and the Eastern Front, even in Operation Barbarossa, they might be a good kit to pair with the Winter Germans. But not only with them, some were used on the Channel Islands, so use for Operation Sea Lion / Gigant is an option as well. Along with the tanks of the Panzerjäger-Abteilung 657 (Panzerkompanie 224) in the Battle of Oosterbeek, mentioned in Campaign Market Garden.

Sixteen of the tanks were converted into the 10,5 cm LeFH 18/3 auf Geschützwagen B2f, and I have to be honest, I'm very tempted to get myself another box of this tank and convert it myself using the 10,5 cm LeFH and a few bits of plastic card. Panzerserra, one of my most favourite model kit builders, did a build report on his 1:35 kit.

As you can see, lots of potential with this kit. Reasonable price of 20 GBP, solid quality in casting and fit and multi-purpose use for different armies and parts of the Second World War. A very satisfying result.

Bolt Action is a brand of Warlord Games.

The reviewed product item was provided by the manufacturer.

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