Stonne - The Verdun of 1940

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  1. "The Verdun of 1940" was the name given by German veterans to the battle of Stonne, a very little known battle fought in May 1940 in the Ardennes.

    On the way back from a "Battle of the Bulge" tour or just an idea for a battlefield tour with a difference....70 years after the battle, a decent little museum and the possibility of an interesting battlefield tour in 14 steps in and around the hamlet of Stonne which was the scene of extremely hard fighting between the French and German forces in May 1940 in the region of Sedan in the Ardennes.


    Battlefield itinerary informations:

    Some infos on the battle itself lifted from Axis Forum (very little info in English on the subject AFAIK):

    The battle of Stonne has been called by the Germans the "Verdun of 1940". The town itself switched side 17 times in 3 days (May 15-17). The Kriegstagebuch (journal) of the "Grossdeutschland" regiment indicates that "the name of Stonne entered in the history of the regiment with blood".

    Possession of the town (according to K.H. Frieser - German time probably):

    - May 15:
    8h00: German
    9h00: French
    9h30: German
    10h30: French
    10h45: German
    12h00: French
    17h30: German

    - May 16:
    7h30: French
    17h00: German

    - May 16-17 night: Stonne remained unoccupied

    - May 17:
    9h00: German
    11h00: French
    14h30: German
    15h00: French
    16h30: German
    17h00: French
    17h45: German

    --> May 15:

    Early in the morning of the May 15, the "Grossdeutschland" infantry regiment supported by tanks of the 10.PzD assaults the town of Stonne, which is defended by the I/67e RI and elements of the 6e GRDI. The French position is attacked on the front and on the flanks. The French are pulled back and 7 German AFVs are reported to be knocked out (e.g. Panzer IV n°711 is destroyed by the 25mm AT gun from Sergent Durand - but mainly due to the intervention of the 3/49e BCC with its B1bis tanks). 2 Panhard 178 armored cars from the 6e GRDI are also knocked out.

    At 5h30, the 1/45e BCC (Hotchkiss H39 tanks) moves from the Grandes-Armoises to Stonne and they wipe out several German infantry positions. At 7h30 they are next to the town of Stonne but 2 Hotchkiss tanks are lost and the company moves back.

    The 3/49e BCC (Renault B1bis tanks) carries on with the attack. The heavy tanks move into the town and the Germans have to evacuate Stonne. At 9h30 the French tanks are deployed on the southern edge of the town. Since no French infantry has actually followed the heavy tanks, the town is later again occupied by the Germans.

    A renewed attack is launched at 10h30 with several tanks from the 45e BCC (Hotchkiss H39), 49e BCC (Renault B1bis) and one platoon of the 4e BCC (FCM36) supported by 1 infantry company of the 51e RI. The town is captured and again in French hands. The combats are intense and the infantry is fighting house by house. During their approach, the French tanks are already engaged by German guns (AT guns ? infantry guns ? AA guns ? tanks ?).

    The 14th anti-tank company from "Grossdeutschland" infantry regiment (Lieutenant Beck-Broichsitter) is engaged later against the French tanks. This Lieutenant describes a very confuse situation (in French in "Les combats du Mont-Dieu" by Gérard Giuliano): a German tank abandoned in a ditch, German guns hidden on a hill behind his own position and firing on the French troops. His men hide behind a house to avoid a French tank which moves very closely etc.
    Three 3.7cm PaK are deployed and engage 6 French tanks. The losses among the German infantry and gunners are increasing under the French fire. Then the Germans report having engaged about 10 French tanks on a large front. The combat will last about 1 hour.

    What is sure is that the overall situation is rather intricate. There are many different units involved, it is not a simple duel between 3.7cm PaK and French tanks like it is often described.

    The German infantry companies have to move gradually back. Lieutenant Beck-Broichsitter reports then the help of German self-propelled guns. Does that mean the StuG III Ausf.B of the Sturmgeschütz-Batterie 640 or the Panzerjäger I of the Panzerjäger Abteilung 521 ? He also reports that 4 infantry guns are deployed in support (7.5cm leIG or 15.0cm sIG ?) to engage the French troops. The German losses are nonetheless increasing, despite these reinforcements. Several AT guns of his company are scattered with splinters but continue to fire. Until yet they do not report having destroyed a single French tank.

    At this moment the AT platoon of Hindelang is said to be attacked by 3 Renault B1bis tanks. Corporal in Chief Giesemann targets an area on the 'right' side of one tanks and fire burst out of the tank. The two remaining AT guns then target this area on the French tanks. Quickly a direct hit destroys one of the two German AT guns. Hindelang moves then back with its remaining AT gun and the 3 heavy tanks are said to be out of combat. From this it is generally said that the B1bis intake shutter on the left side of the tank is a weak point and that 3 Renault B1bis tanks have been knocked out by German 3.7cm AT guns.

    The French troops capture the town of Stonne.

    According to the description in the report, the intake shutter of the B1bis is on the wrong side but in the heat of the battle the gunner may have made a mistake. The 3.7cm PaK of the AT company are often said to have knocked out 3 B1bis tanks. From what I have researched, only 1 of the B1bis which are claimed (3) can eventually be credited to the AT guns of the "Grossdeutschland" regiment. And this was apparently at very close range in the town (≤ 100m probably). The 2 others have been neutralized by the fire of a Panzer IV.
    Anyway, there were many German guns firing, it's not a simple duel at all as pointed previously. Concerning the efficiency of the 3.7cm PaK just read the German reports from 3.Panzerbrigade about the battle of Hannut. The 3.7cm KwK are inefficient against the French Hotchkiss H39 and Somua S35 tanks (40mm armor) beyond 200-300 meters.

    3 Squadrons of Ju-87 'Stuka' dive bombers attack Stonne at this moment. This action is followed by heavy shelling of the German artillery. At 12h30, the French troops move temporarily back under this intense fire. About 3 hours later, B1bis tanks from 49e BCC occupy the town again and the defense is now in the hand of infantry elements of the 67e RI. The French tank move then back; the town is only defended by infantry and AT guns.

    During the evening a strong German attack is launched: the "Grossdeutschland" infantry regiment is supported by all the infantry companies of the 10.PzD and takes again the core of the town. The French troops of the 67e RI are still holding the southern edge of Stonne.

    The presence of Panzer IV of the 10.PzD and of Panzerjäger I is confirmed in the town and in the vicinity by various photography of German wrecks.

    Only at the end of May 15, the 3e DIM is now rather complete to face the German troops.

    --> May 16:

    May 16 will see the involvement of 2 companies of the 41e BCC supporting the action of the III/51e RI. The attack is preceded by an artillery preparation of 45 minutes organized by the 242e RALD. The combats will be very intense. The "Grossdeutschland" infantry regiment and the 10.PzD are then replaced by the 16.ID, 24.ID and 26.ID. On May 16, at 01h30, the 41e BCC is ordered to attack Stonne with its 1st and 3rd companies.

    At 3h00, the 1/41e BCC and the 3/41e BCC are moving to the departure line in the woods of Fay. The Renault B1bis tanks will open the way to the III/51e RI of the 3e DIM. The infantry will be directly supported by Hotchkiss H39 tanks from the 2/45e BCC.

    The troops could not perform a reconnaissance of the area before the attack and the intelligence about the enemy is very limited. The 41e BCC is not aware if the town is currently in French or German hands when it starts moving.

    The B1bis tanks will advance in an inversed V formation. The B1bis "Vienne" of Commandant Malaguti is leading the attack.

    At 4h30 the Vth group of the 242e RATTT (12 105mm C howitzers) makes a 45 minutes artillery preparation on Stonne, the "Pain de Sucre" hill (the dominating hill east of Stonne) and the southern edges of the Grande Côte woods.

    At 5h15, the 1/41e BCC encounters the first German elements. These troops are from the "Grossdeutschland" infantry regiment, supported by 2 tanks and an AT defense organized in depth. The 2 German tanks are quickly destroyed. Commandant Malaguti himself said about the Germans of this elite regiment: "beautiful warriors, they fired at us until we were at 100m of them. Then they ran away, fall down and simulated death or stayed in their foxholes until we killed them".

    The 3/41e BCC reaches its first objective after 12 minutes and destroys the water tower of Stonne on which the Germans had deployed MGs. The French tank company stops and fires on the edges of Stonne to neutralize MGs and AT guns.

    The 1/41e BCC outflanks Stonne by the north-west but capitaine Billotte is hampered by several cliffs and important slopes. He has to move to the right, arriving in Stonne itself (from the north-west) before the battalion commander. The B1bis "Eure" arrives nose to nose with 13 German tanks of Pz.Rgt.8 (10.PzD) in column in the main street of the town. The first tank is only at 30m. Billotte orders the driver (sergent Durupt) to target the last tank with the 75mm SA35 hull gun while he destroys the first tank with the 47mm SA35 turret gun. The first shots destroyed simultaneously the first and the last German tank of the column, the others could hardly move. In several minutes, the B1bis "Eure" advances in the street and neutralize the 11 remaining tanks while numerous shells are hitting the armor of the B1bis without penetrating it. 2 Panzer IVs and 11 Panzer IIIs are reported as being destroyed (It is however not 100% sure that among them there were not several wrecks from the previous day). Billotte crosses the whole town and destroys also two 3.7cm AT guns next to the "Pain de Sucre". The armor of the B1bis revealed later to be scattered with 140 impacts and gouges, none of the projectiles penetrated the armor according to the war diary of the 41e BCC. One can see here a kind of small reversed "Villers Bocage".

    Malaguti enters the main street (from the south-west) a few minutes after Billotte and fires also at all the possible targets he could spot but none of the German tanks aligned in the street reacted anymore. Malaguti moves south in two other streets and finally exits the town by the south. He spots 2 B1bis wrecks ("Hautvillers" and "Gaillac" probably) from the 49e BCC (attack of the 15th May) and joins the 10th company of the 51e RI.

    Billotte contacts then the battalion commander (Malaguti) by radio to report that the woods north of Stonne are full of MGs and AT guns firing at him. He moves back to Stonne.

    Delepierre, the commander of the 3/41e BCC contacts Malaguti by radio to know if he can carry on with its progression but he is ordered to wait for the French artillery. 10 minutes later, the French artillery lengthens its fire and the 3/41e BCC moves to its next objective. The company arrives in a very rough ground with many gullies and cliffs hidden by dense vegetation. The dangers are hidden and the visual contact between the tanks is made difficult. The B1bis "Somme" is isolated and attacked at 100m by two 3.7cm AT guns. In 2 minutes the armor is scattered by a dozen of impacts. None of them penetrated the armor but the turret is blocked and the optics of the observation copula is destroyed. One German AT gun is destroyed by a HE shell and the B1bis moves on. Due to a hidden gully the B1bis falls over and lies on the flank. The tank is abandoned, put on fire by the crew. The men manage to reach the French lines again.

    At 5h30, the III/51e RI (10th and 11th companies), supported by the 2/45e BCC (Hotchkiss H39 tanks), begins to move towards Stonne. They encounter German troops which have joined again their foxholes after the passage of the French heavy tanks. Around 7h00, the French infantry controls the town of Stonne.

    At 10h00 and during more than half an hour the town is again heavily bombed by German dive bombers. They are followed until 12h00 by heavy German artillery shelling. At 15h00 the French tanks (41e BCC and 45e BCC) are ordered to move back to be used in other areas than the town of Stonne itself. At the end of the afternoon, the French infantry moves on the edges of the town because of the heavy German shelling. North-west of Stonne, in the woods the German assaults have all been defeated by the 67e RI. Reinforcements are arriving in the area of the Mont Damion, east of Stonne, with the III/5e RICMS from 6e DIC.

    On May 16, around 17h00, the Renault B1bis "Ricquewihr" (commanded by Lieutenant Doumecq or Domercq ? Apparently the second name is the right one but the first one can be found in several books) from 49e BCC attacks towards Stonne and encounters a German infantry column, which fires at the tank with infantry weapons including anti-tank rifles, without effect. The B1bis crushes German troops and pushes into the town defended by the Schützen-Regiment 64. When the German soldiers saw the bloody tracks of the tank they fled in panic and abandoned Stonne which remained unoccupied for the night. After that action Domercq was nicknamed "the butcher of Stonne" by his comrades. It will be heavily involved in the combats of Tannay on May 23-24. The B1bis "Ricquewihr" will be the last tank of the 3e DCr, abandoned on June 18, at Sombernon north-east of Dijon, the weapons having been previously scuttled by the crew.

    End 1942, Domercq (former commander of the tank and living in Paris) is in a pub on the Poincaré Avenue where a German tanker shows several photos to his friends. Domercq recognize his former tank, the "Ricquewihr". The German explains that he is now the commander of this tank, that he fired with it and that it was a good tank. He will join the tank and the rest of the crew on the Russian front. The German tanker gave the following photo of his former tank to Domercq (information by Roger Avignon).

    Stonne saw very hard combats and some German officers mentioned Stonne beside Stalingrad and Monte Cassino amongst the battles they will never forget.

    In two days (May 15-16), the "Grossdeutschland" regiment alone will loose 103 KIAs, 442 WIAs and 25 MIAs (570 men).

    For the whole campaign the "Grossdeutschland" regiment had 278 KIAs and 830 WIAs (1,108 losses). Therefore the regiment sustained 51% of its losses of May-June 1940 in only 2 days in Stonne. Then of course we would have to count all the equipment losses. I can only give details for the 14th AT company of the "Grossdeutschland" infantry regiment: 13 KIAs, 65 WIAs, 12 vehicles destroyed and 6 AT guns destroyed (50% of the AT guns of the company).

    On May 15-16, the 10.PzD will definitely loose about 25 tanks and the French will loose several 33 tanks. These wrecks will remain on the battlefield. What can also be said from German sources in that later, on June 5, before the battle south of Amiens, the 10.PzD is reduced to 180 tanks [85 "missing" tanks].

    Other examples of known losses can be given for the later stages of the battle in the Mont Dieu area. During May 23-24, the German 24.ID sustained 1,490 losses (347 KIAs, 1,086 WIAs and 57 MIAs) in the area of Tannay [left French flank]. During May 17-25, the I/79.IR sustained 191 losses (41 KIAs, 144 WIAs and 6 MIAs) in the area of the Mont Damion [right French flank].

    Between May 15 and May 25, the French infantry lost also many men. For example the I/67e RI had 362 KIAs and a company of the 51e RI finished the battle with only 5 sergeants and 30 soldiers left !

  2. Interesting but I don't see how a 10-day battle in which several hundred men were killed, however tough, is comparable to the hell of Verdun.
  3. The name "the Verdun of 1940" was given by German soldiers who fought there, it is not of my own making. I suppose it came from the very intense volume of artillery fire which was unleashed on both sides and which, in some ways, must have felt remarkably similar to what veterans of Verdun (and they were numerous WW1 vets on both sides) had experienced in 1916.
  4. Interesting post. The fight at Stonne is mentioned in several of the English language books on 1940, but its not covered in any detail. The French may have focused on Stonne because of the fear that the breakthrough at Sedan would lead to a right hook to roll up the Maginot line. It isdnlt clear when they first appreciated that the German axis was a left hook to destroy the NE group of Armies. I

    There are battlefield tours to the battlefields of the 1940 campaign, but most British ones focus on Dunkirk. The fight for the shoulders of the breakthrough doesnlt have quite the drama (or the British involvement) that takes osccasional visitors to Arras.

    We will have a look at the possiblities for running a tour there. Its probably of more interest for a military group than for the public. If anyione wants to go, we'ed be happy to take you.