One of the fun things about collecting German forces for WW2 was just how bonkers a lot of their stuff was. Sure, they spent a lot of time and effort on designing high-tech wonder weapons, but they also flung a lot of crude mash-ups into action, much of it based on pre-war vehicles and weapons captured from the Czechs, French and Russians.
Case in point: this podgy old French Char B1 “bis” modified into a flamethrower tank and still in action at the end of the war:
The Char B1 bis flammpanzer
The Char B1 was originally designed in the late 1930s by a French tank industry that really hadn’t decided what it should be building, and why. After an initial few B1s were produced they took another crack at the design and eventually fired up production on the improved “bis” (“second”, or “Mk2”) vehicle. A further improved “ter” version was planned for introduction in 1941 but the Germans rather spoiled that timeline.
Obviously heavily influenced by WW1 vehicles with its long, high shape and “up and over” style tracks, the original French gun tank had a hull mounted howitzer, with a last-minute concession to modernity in the form of a rotating turret with a small high velocity gun. In this way the vehicles shares many design principles with the early British Churchills and the American M3 Medium (Lee/Grant).
The early war German tank industry was still struggling to match those of other countries and so the Wehrmacht was not shy about bringing foreign designs into their fleet after capturing them. As well as simply using them as gun tanks, several different marks of B1 flamethrower were produced. The early version was based on French plans to do the same and mounted the same flame projector as the Panzer II flamethrower in place of the howitzer in the hull. These saw action on the Eastern Front, and there were another two different iterations of the design, with the model here being the third and final version. For this version a large fuel tank was added to the rear of the vehicle, and the glacis of the vehicle where the flamethrower was was built up and the flamethrower operator given better visibility.
The flame tank retained the turret and 47mm AT gun of the original gun tank, although it was still only a one-man turret. The Germans were well aware how badly these sucked but it wasn’t massive issue, as the vehicle was not intended to fight other tanks. The flammpanzers were primarily used by pioneers to attack fortifications, and even the gun tanks were mainly used by security units for anti-partisan operations. Famously several were used at Arnhem against British paratroopers, and it was Nick Skinner’s scenario for that fight in WSS 107 that inspired me to buy one.
The Italeri/Warlord kit
This kit is a bit unusual, in that it was originally an Italeri one and is still available in that box. Warlord did a deal where they sold several of Italeri’s 1/56 tank kits in Warlord boxes, and this is one of them. I actually bought the Italeri-boxed version because I found it cheaper, but they’re both exactly the same so it doesn’t matter which you buy.
I do like this vehicle, but I have to be honest it was a bit of a pain to build. The kit is very, very fiddly. You get an awful lot of parts, including some very small and fragile detail parts that you’ll be needing tools like tweezers and small pliers just to attach. Just the 47mm gun for the turret is six individual parts. Not the turret: just the gun and its mantlet! You can see the instructions online here.
What you do get amongst all these fiddly pieces though are a great range of options for how to build the kit. You can build the original French tank, or any of three different versions of German gun tank or flame tank. I went for the late model flammpanzer, as I’ve got an Arnhem scenario in mind for this and it’ll work for anti-partisan battles too.
The kit includes both a French and two German commander figures. One of the Germans is low in hatch but weirdly has no arms or shoulders, while the other one is sitting up really high with binoculars. I took the second one and just cut him down so he’s not sitting suicidally high out of the hatch. For the Frenchies you can have the weird French hatch in the turret rear open with the commander hanging out the back like they used. The less said about pre-war French concepts of how to man a turret the better…
You get a range of hatch and cupola options, and in fact the instructions can be a little confusing at times due to all the different configurations that you can build. Make sure you have a good read through beforehand, and have a good idea of exactly which vehicle you’re trying to build. The instructions do include good three-view colour pictures of all the paint jobs and decals, for which you get a sheet jam-packed with every marking you could possibly need.
There are a couple of issues with the kit. As mentioned some of the small parts are fairly flimsy, you can protect some of them by adding stowage. The other main issue is that the turret won’t rotate through 360, as the tabs that attach it to the hull jam on some of the internal structure.
Paint-wise I started out following my normal recipe (AP desert yellow spray, with Vallejo Dark Rust and Luftwaffe camo green splodges), but I’ve been experimenting with weathing a bit and spent a bit of time using some oil-based Mig streaking grime and my usual Tamiya weathering powders. I may have overdone the oil a bit, as the sides of the vehicle have come out noticeably darker than the top, but I’m still learning how to use the stuff.
Overall I’m pretty happy with it. It’s an obscure vehicle that many not see a lot of table time and took longer than it should have to build and paint, but it’s got a lot of character. It’ll be used for Chain of Command, in which flame tanks are sadly a bit OP and cheesy, but for a special scenario it’ll be a lot of fun.