Battle of Montcornet

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The Battle of Montcornet, on 17 May 1940, was an engagement of the Battle of France. The French 4e Division cuirassée, under Colonel De Gaulle, attacked the village of Montcornet, held by the Germans. The French drove off the Germans, but later had to retreat due to lack of support and the intervention of the Luftwaffe.

Context[edit]

On 10 May 1940, the Third Reich had launched a vast offensive against the Netherlands, Belgium and France. After their breakthrough at Sedan on 13 May, the Germans had driven the French troops to a hasty retreat.

The next day, Colonel De Gaulle was appointed commander of the 4e Division cuirassée (4e DCr), comprising 5,000 men and 85 tanks, with which he led a counter-attack on the village of Montcornet on 17 May. Montcornet had strategic importance because it cut the roads to Reims, Laon and Saint-Quentin, and was a point of transit for the logistics of the 1st Panzer Division.

Battle[edit]

On 17 May, at 4:14am, elements of the 4e DCr advanced on Montcornet. After surrounding the village, around noon, B1 bis tanks came under fire from 3.7 cm Pak 36 anti-tank guns and from German Panzers. A number of the B1 bis tanks had to be abandoned when they ran out of petrol, and others when they sank into swamps.

De Gaulle ordered infantry to neutralise German defence pockets in Chivres, and D2 tanks to secure Clermont-les-Fermes. Around 16:00, De Gaulle ordered a new attack on Montcornet, but because the tank crews had not received detailed maps of the sector, and came under fire from 88mm Flak guns, the offensive was unfruitful. Around 18:00, German planes intervened, and the 4e DCr retreated to its original positions.

Aftermath[edit]

The French lost 23 tanks in the attack, while the Germans had around 100 killed. De Gaulle would fight another engagement at the Battle of Abbeville.