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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Panzerabteilung 206 in Flames of War

I recently took a Beutepanzerkompanie from Earth and Steel to a Flames of War Tanksgiving tournament - the army did surprisingly well (2-3, 5-2, 6-1) and did win Best Painted.  Perhaps the most satisfying part was I was able to represent Panzerabteilung 206 fairly accurately on the table.  Here's the army background and modeling notes.  Given the D-Day compilations will be getting an update in June of this next year, I'm interested to see what changes (if any) there will be to this fun little force!
Unit History and Background

With the fall of France in 1940, the Germans captured vast stores of French equipment, including large stores of French tanks.  Some of these were used as the basis for the construction of self propelled guns and tank destroyers.  Others were used with only minor modifications as Beutepanzer.  Given the fact that many of the French designs were quickly rendered obsolete by advances in tank technology during World War II, most units equipped with French Beutepanzer were not intended to be committed to front-line use.  Instead they generally equipped secondary units such as training brigades, reserve units, or units used in anti-partisan warfare. 


Panzerkampfwagen 35-S 739(f) from Panzerabteilung 205

Even in 1944, many of the French Beutepanzer and conversions were still operational in second line units mostly concentrated in France.  Given the fact Hitler expected the Allied invasion of France would occur at Calais, the Germans concentrated many of their best units in that sector.  Normandy and the Cotentin Peninsula were considered unlikely locations for an invasion, and many reserve and training units were concentrated in that area.  Panzerabteilung 206 was on such unit.

Unlike 21. Panzerdivision which was equipped with a mix of modern German tanks and tank destroyers on converted French chasses, Panzerabteilung 206 was a reserve panzer unit equipped entirely with French Beutepanzer.  The elderly French tanks were handed down to Panzerabteilung 206 and its sister unit Panzerabteilung 205 from 14. Panzerdivision and 21. Panzerdivision.  At the time of the Normandy invasion, the 206th had a paper strength of 28 Hotchkiss, 10 Somua, and 5 Char B-2 tanks, though not all of these were operational.  The Hotchkiss tanks were a mixture of long barreled and short barreled tanks.


Position of Panzerabteilung 206 on the Contentin Peninsula on D-Day and its movement to support Cherbourg

On D-Day, Panzerabteilung 206 was on the far northwest portion of the Cotentin Peninsula on the Cap de la Hague.  Major Ernst Wenk commanded the Abteilung, and he was ordered to move to Cherbourg to bolster the defenses there.  They fought a valiant defense alongside 709. Infanteriedivision, but were ultimately wiped out by the advancing Allied armies.  Some reports indicate the unit had been destroyed by the fall of Cherbourg on June 26, 1944.  Others indicate remnants remained and were destroyed in the retreat to Paris in mid-July 1944. 

The Vehicles of Panzerabteilung 206

Panzerabteilung 206 was equipped three primary types of French tanks:

·         The Char B-1 (bis), known as the Panzerkampfwagen B-2 740(f) in German service - both standard 7.5cm howitzer armed and flamethrower conversions were used.

·         The SOMUA S-35, known as the Panzerkampfwagen 35-S 739(f) in German service

·         The Hotchkiss H-35/H-39, known as the Panzerkampfwagen 38-H 735(f) in German service.  Panzerabteilung 206 used both kurtz and lang models of this vehicle denoting the short-barreled 37mm SA 18 gun and the long-barreled L/35 37mm SA38 gun respectively.

Panzerkampfwagen B-2 740(f)

Vehicle:  Panzerkampfwagen B-2 740(f)
Crew:  4
Weight (tons):  34
Armament:  One 7.5cm KvK35(f) L/17 (or one Flammenwerfer), one 4.7cm KwK35(f), one 7.5mm Reibel machine gun
Armor (front):  56-60 mm
Armor (side):  46-60 mm
Armor (rear):  46-55 mm
Speed:  28 km/h
Range:  150 km

Around 60 Char B-1 (bis) were converted into a flamethrower version with one or more of the flamethrower variants shown at right.  Generally the cupola was also modified to a German split-hatch style as well, though the original French armament was otherwise retained.

Panzerkampfwagen 35-S 739(f)

Vehicle:  Panzerkampfwagen 35-S 739(f)
Crew:  3
Weight (tons):  20
Armament:  One 4.7cm KwK35(f), one 7.5mm Reibel machine gun
Armor (front):  36-56 mm
Armor (side):  35-46 mm
Armor (rear):  25-46 mm
Speed:  37 km/h
Range:  257 km

The SOMUA S-35 was one of the best French tanks available in 1940, but by 1944 it was hopelessly outclassed by newer tank designs.  Panzerabteilung 206 had several of these tanks available, and they were generally used as command tanks for the various platoons.  All of the SOMUA were converted to the German split type hatch.  The view at right is a rare view of the top of a bogged down Beutepanzer, but it is interesting because the hatch is clearly visible.

Panzerkampfwagen 38-H 735(f)

Vehicle:  Panzerkampfwagen 38-H 735(f)
Crew:  2
Weight (tons):  12.1
Armament:  One L/35 37mm SA38 or 37mm SA 18 gun + one 7.5 mm Reibel machine gun
Armor (front):  29-45 mm
Armor (side):  34-40 mm
Armor (rear):  22-40 mm
Speed:  36.5 km/h
Range:  150 km
The diminutive Hotchkiss tank served as the backbone of Panzerabteilung 206.  Hopelessly outclassed by even more modern light tanks, it was a useful vehicle for training and in combat with partisans and other irregular forces lacking substantial armored assets.  Unfortunately for the 206th, the Allied forces were not at the same disadvantage.  All of the Hotchkiss tanks were also converted to a German-style split-hatch cupola design as shown above in a photo of another unfortunate bogged-down Beutepanzer. 

Panzerabteilung 206 in Flames of War

The Beutepanzerkompanie list in Earth and Steel is a solid historical list which allows the player to field either Ersatz Abteilung 100 (which was a training unit) or Panzerabteilung 206.  With a little imagination it could also be used to represent Panzerabteilung 205, though that particular unit was assigned to another Panzer division for the defense of Normandy.


Modified Char B-1 ready for priming

In keeping with the theme of the army, I limited myself to the vehicles to the organization listed on page 180 of Earth and Steel.  The force is therefore comprised of S-35 command tanks with H39 tanks filling out the ranks.  I also included the Schwere Beutepanzer Platoon with two flame-tanks.  I even included the battery of 7.5cm PaK40 guns.

Modeling the force was a challenge as nearly every tank had to be modified in some way to get the turret hatch correct.  Battlefront has since released a conversion Beutepanzer cupola, but the product released is accurate only for the Hotchkiss style of cupola.  The SOMUA and Char's used a modified version of the original French cupola.

The picture at above right shows two of the Char B-1 tanks (one conventional and one flame tank) ready for priming and painting.  The original kit cupola has been sanded down and a resin cast of a scratch-built master has been used to replace the existing cupola.


SOMUA with modified turret hatch

The SOMUA was modified in a similar manner with the original cupola being filed down and a resin copy of a scratch-built new hatch system was added (shown at left).  The command tank utilized the kit crew figure with a German head swap. 


Modified H39 Turret

The Hotchkiss conversion was a bit more involved since the original kit cupola had to be removed entirely and both cupola and hatches rebuilt from scratch.  I also took the opportunity to add additional rivet detail to the vehicles to improve the accuracy of the Battlefront turret.  The picture at right shows the modified turret.  Resin copies were used for all of the models, but the additional details were added by hand on each vehicle using a punch and die set and thin styrene.

Markings for the unit were based on those seen on the tanks of Panzerabteilung 205 since no photos of Panzerabteilung 206 are available that show the markings clearly.  Panzerabteilung 205 utilized a white number system with a black outline.  The same effect was reproduced on the Beutepanzerkompanie using a two-layered decal system.  First a solid white number was put down on the tanks, then a black outline number was added on top of the previous decal to complete the design.

Chamberlain, Peter, Hilary Doyle, Thomas L. Jentz Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War II (Revised Edition), Arms and Armour Press (London), 1993.

Jentz, Thomas L. and Werner Regenberg Panzer Trackts No.19-1 Beute-Panzerkampfwagen, Panzer Tracts (Boyds, MD), 2007.

Niklas Zetterling Normandy 1944: German Military Organization, Combat Power and Organizational Effectiveness, J. J. Fedorowicz Publishing (Toronto), 2000.


  1. I remember seeing this project unfold in the gallery, the final force is a real looker. Also you make mention of pictures that appear to be missing. I, myself, love seeing reference photos. The more the merrier I say. Keep up the excellent work, I will have to look at getting a punch and die set, can you pls recommend a brand/something googeable to find. Cheers

  2. Some of them must have not made it over in the transfer - basically they were photos of the top of the turrets showing the new split hatches.

    Right now I'm using the Waldron punch and die sets, but it looks like these are going the way of the Historex sets.