This tank battle, happened between 12 and 14 May 1940 at Hannut in Belgium, contributed decisively to the success of the German operational plan Fall Gelb (Case Yellow), by General Erich von Manstein. The primary purpose of the Germans was to tie down the strongest elements of the French First Army and keep it away from the main German attack by Army Group A through the Ardennes. 

Two destroyed SOMUA S35s being inspected by German soldiers (Photo Credit)

As result, these Allied armoured forces were unable to participate in the Battle of Sedan, letting free hands to German Panzer Army to capture the Meuse bridges, cross the river, and advance across the open and undefended French countryside, beyond Sedan, and to the English Channel. The Battle of Hannut was an strategic German victory.

The Battle of Hannut is most known as the first real tank battle of World War II, the largest tank battle in the German Western campaign, and also the largest clash of tanks in armoured warfare history at the time, until the invasion of the Soviet Union and the Battle of Brody. It was also, the first clash between German and French armored doctrines, including tank design concepts and combat tactics. Although the French cavalry fought hard during the tank battle of Hannut and achieved their objective of stalling the German advance, they were still defeated by the Germans.

Tanks from 35th Regiment, 4th Panzer Division spread out in attack formation on the first day of Hannut tank battle. In this photo we can see Pz. I, Pz. II and Pz. III (Photo Credit)

In total, around 1,200 German and French tanks took part in the fighting. The French troops consisted of two divisions (3e DLM and 2e DLM) under the command of General Prioux, these divisions equipped with the powerful, modern French SOMUAs against German General Erich Hoepner's Panzer Is and Panzer IIs (4.PzD and 3.PzD). 411 French tanks (including 176 Somua S35 and about 60 Hotchkiss with a 37mm L/33 SA38 gun) were facing 674 German tanks (including 132 Panzer III and Panzer IV). Casualties and losses were 121 tanks destroyed/damaged or abandoned, and personnel: unknown, by the french side; and 60 killed, 80 wounded, 49  tanks destroyed and 111 tanks damaged, by the German side. 

The German PzKpfw III and IV were the only German tanks that could outmatch the SOMUA S35 in battle. They had a good balance between firepower, mobility and armor, and were capable of of long-distance pursuit. Unlike the French, the Germans concentrated their tanks in large formations intended to break through enemy lines and create openings for the rest of their forces. German tactics proved superior; by using radio to coordinate manoeuvre, the Germans outwitted the French who were limited to rigid, static positioning as in the First World War. The French tanks could not communicate with such fluidity or rapidity. The French missed tactical and operational opportunities and were poorly coordinated. The German tanks also had more crew members, so the commander could concentrate on command tasks but French commanders had to act as gunner and assistant gunner. 


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