The B1 is a much maligned tank, both in real life and in the game. The in-game tank is not quite the historical article, inasmuch as World of Tanks does not yet have a multi-gun mechanism. This means that the large hull-mounted weapon is currently decorative rather than functional, meaning on has to rely on the smaller turret weapon for its somewhat lacklustre firepower. When judging the B1 one has to also remember that it has limited matchmaking – by itself it will only see Tier IV and V matches.
In some respects however the in-game vehicle is familiar, as its follows basically the same design features as the D1 and D2 – good armour and weak gun. In particular the armour is nothing to be sneezed at – a full 60mm to the front and sides. Physically the tank is also large with 420 hitpoints – a lot for Tier IV. Angled this means that the B1 can withstand a considerable amount of punishment. To be sure the Tier IV Tank destroyers remain very considerable threats in terms damage, as will Tier V tanks. However, with good angling you will still get bounces. One thing to note is that the large size of the tank makes it a relatively easy target to hit, and that the side armour is flat.
The turret is placed far forward on the tank, really a small bump at the front. It does however have on under-appreciated aspect – great gun depression. This means it is quite possible to hide most or all the hull beneath a fold in the ground, or an obstacle, and still shoot while exposing only a small target. The turret is not that well armoured but it is very small, which makes it tricky enough to hit in the first place.
Combined with the gun depression is actually a surprising agility with a track traverse of 28 degrees / second. The top speed is a bit underwhelming at just 28 km/h, but the upgraded engine means it gets there quite quickly. This allows the B1 a surprising degree of mobility, and a large degree of tactical flexibility. You can quickly reposition yourself and make use of the surrounding terrain.
You need this flexibility because of the other chief feature of the B1 as currently implemented – its poor firepower. The B1 has available a succession of 47mm guns with poor alpha and mediocre penetration. Even the upgraded weapon is anaemic on both fronts: an average alpha of just 55 and regular penetration of 66. That means this gun cannot, using regular ammo, reliably penetrate the Matilda, the front of the Hetzer, or the front of the M3 Lee. It will only scratch the paintwork of various Tier V tanks, especially the KV-1 or front of the M4 Sherman. With even a moderate angle it cannot reliably penetrate itself. And when it does penetrate, almost nothing. It takes 5 shots, on average, to kill a Marder 38T. Thankfully the rate of fire is high, at a rated 26/minute, with an aim-time to match. The accuracy is nothing special however, so shots can and so go astray.
The gun is no doubt the chief reason why this tank is so roundly loathed. However, I found some considerable success with it, even going so far as being able to penetrate both Matilda and KV-1 tanks. I did this by using premium ammunition, which is essential I found to be effective in Tier V matches. With premium ammo you can even pen the front of a KV-1 – if you know the weakspots.
And here I think is the crux of the problem with the B1 – to truly make this vehicle work you have to be able to play this game at a higher level. You have to know weakspots, know when to use premium ammunition or regular ammunition, how best to make use of the agility and gun depression, and how to give your armour the best chance of being effective. In other words it is just a difficult tank to make the most of. It is also, inevitably, a frustrating tank. No matter what one does, meeting up with a KV-1 or T1 Heavy is likely to be fatal. Also the Hetzer has a good chance of a penetrating shot with its howitzer which, with a sufficiently good roll, can totally wreck you.
Despite this, and despite some very frustrating games, I have ended up having a good time in the B1. I played 24 battles, and ended up with a 50% win-rate. That is not surprising given that this is underpowered. However, within those 24 battles I also killed 41 enemy tanks and earned 2 Top Gun medals, a Sniper medal, and a Steel Wall, and achieved my Ace Tanker. I really can’t complain.
I won’t be keeping the B1, but I do have some fond memories.