Famously Stonne changed hands seventeen times over this two day back and forth, a brutal slogging match. Which was exactly the sort of fighting the French were expecting. To give you an idea of how bitter the fighting was on May the 15th the town changed hands at these times: 0800, 0900, 0930, 1030, 1045, 1200 and 1730. The last change on that day was the Germans taking control. But that wasn't going to last, the French would be back.
|Photo taken in Stonne|
The third company reached the local water tower at 0527 and destroyed it to silence a German machine gun that had been sighted on top of the tower. They then began to take the outskirts of the village under fire, which was returned by German heavy weapons.
Meanwhile the first company had been trying to reach its objectives. The commander had been frustrated by impassable slopes, however, this worked in his favour as it had forced the company to move round the side of the German position. Suddenly the commander (Captain Pierre Billotte), found himself on the outskirts of the Village of Stonne, he led the charge towards the church tower he could see in the dawn light. As his tank came round a corner he saw eleven Panzers lined up on the road next to the church, the road was at right angles to him and just thirty meters away! The German tanks were manned and were readying to launch a counterattack against the third company.
|Cpt Billotte, and his B1, Eure|
Although immobilised the Germans guns could still fire, and they started a concentrated barrage of fire aimed at the one tank. Again the tanks armour and luck held out, and the German shells bounced harmlessly off for the few moments it took for Cpt Billotte to destroy all the German tanks in the column.
After this the Char B1 lurched on the road, turned left, and began to head deeper into German occupied territory. As he neared a T junction further up the road Cpt Billotte met another parked column of Panzers. These were lined up facing up the road Cpt Billotte was coming down. He quickly despatched all these tanks taking even more hits. As he neared a hairpin turn the Germans set up an ambush with an anti-tank gun, which again fails and the gun is destroyed. Finally they try another ambush, again with a lone anti-tank gun, which also fails. By now Cpt Billotte is over extended deep behind German lines, and out of targets. So he returns to the village, by now in French hands, the time is about 0730. The French managed to hold until 1730 when the Germans retake the village.
|Another picture of Stonne|
Pierre Billotte died in July 1992 aged 86.