Stonne - History

History

This small village, consisting of only a handful of farmsteads, was heavily contested during the invasion of France in the Second World War. The village changed hands 17 times over the course of three days of fighting between 15 May and 17 May 1940.

Operations near the town involved 90,000 German troops and 300 German tanks, opposed by 42,500 French soldiers and 130 French tanks. The Germans lost 26,500 men (wounded and killed) and 24 tanks, while the French lost 7,500 men (wounded and killed) and 33 tanks.

On 13-14 May, 1940, German tanks crossed the Meuse river under the command of General Heinz Guderian. The town of Stonne and the woody hills of Mont-Dieu were the single area where it was possible to try to stop this German advance. On the night of 13 May, the French moved various elements to this area to attack the Germans;

  • elements from the 3rd motorized infantry Division (DIM: Division d'Infanterie Motorisée)
  • elements of the 3rd DCR (Division Cuirassée)
    • 1st company of the 45th Tank Battalion (BCC: Bataillon de Chars de Combat) (Hotchkiss H-39 tanks)
    • 3nd company of the 49th Tank Battalion (BCC: Tenault B1bis tanks)
  • 2nd company of the 4th Tank Battalion (BCC: FCM-36 infantry support tanks).

They faced the 10th Panzer Division, Panzer Regiment 8, Infantry Regiment 69, Infantry Regiment "Grossdeutschland", and elements of the 43rd Assault Engineer Battalion.

The town switched sides 17 times in the course of the fighting:

15 May
0800 German
0900 French
0930 German
1030 French
1045 German
1200 French
1730 German
16 May
0730 French
1700 German
16–17 May night
Stonne remained unoccupied
17 May
0900 German
1100 French
1430 German
1500 French
1630 German
1700 French
1745 German

At first the French tanks were used in an infantry support and defensive role. On the morning of 16 May a counter-attack was led by the French tanks. The 3rd company of the 41st Tank Battalion (B1 bis tanks) went into attack without infantry support. They met Panzer Regiment 8. A single B1bis tank (Lieutenant Bilotte's "Eure") pushed into the town itself, into the German defences, and then withdrew after attacking a German column and destroying two PanzerKampfwagen IV tanks, 11 PanzerKampfwagen IIIs and two PaK 36 anti-tank guns single-handedly.

After 16 May, the 10th Panzer Division withdrew to be replaced by the 16th and 24th Infantry Divisions. The Infantry Regiment Grossdeutschland had already lost 570 men and 12 guns at Stonne, while the French had lost about 33 tanks and the Germans about 24 tanks. The majority of casualties suffered by Grossdeutschland in the 1940 campaign were lost at Stonne.

Stonne was totally occupied only on 25 May, as pockets of resistance continued to hold out. The Germans failed to clear the Mont-Dieu woods which were bypassed. The French infantry lost many men, for example the 1st battalion of the 67th Infantry Regiment had 362 officers, NCOs and soldiers killed and wounded. One of the 51st Regiment's companies finished the battle with only 5 sergeants and 30 soldiers.

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