The heaviest tank used by the western Allies, the Churchill Infantry Tank proved very useful in spite of some notable deficiencies.
Let’s take a quick look at an important part of the British arsenal.
Just before the start of World War II the British Army was looking for an upgrade of the current Matilda and Valentine Infantry tanks. The idea of an Infantry Tank was for a heavily armored vehicle that could operate and penetrate in the vicinity of World War I style front trenches. So while the British specified Cavalry tanks to be fast to exploit breakthroughs, the Infantry tank was not about such mobility; but it could climb, cross or crush any obstacle.
The design that became the Churchill really didn’t take shape however until after Dunkirk. That was a critical event in defining the Army’s needs. They now had fresh, modern combat experience, the country was in dire peril, and the Army had just lost virtually all of its armor.
So the new tank became a very high priority. And its development was rushed. The first Churchill Mk I entered service summer of 1941.
The freshly printed operating manuals included many pages of errata, and the friendly disclaimer “all those things that are not as they should be will be put right”. The rush was desperate!
Those first Mk I Churchills had a 2 pounder main gun like all other current British tanks, and 75 mm howitzer in the hull for high explosive ordnance. The howitzer was deleted after the first Mark (a bow machine gun replaced it), and the 2 pdr was replaced with a much improved 6 pdr in the Mk III. Many Churchills were converted to the American 75 (as used in the Sherman) which had better high explosive performance but lesser anti-armor. The Mk III and Mk IV Churchill saw service in North Africa starting at the second Battle of El Alemain (October 1942). The heavy tank showed an ability to take a serious pounding and could shrug off attacks from Panzer III or Panzer IV, one example boasted over 80 shell strikes. In April of 1943 a Churchill disabled a Tiger I, for the first kill of any type scored against a Tiger. (That Tiger today is at the Tank Museum in Dorset and is the only functioning Tiger in the world). Only one Churchill was lost in combat in North Africa (hit in the engine, destroyed by fire).
On the down side, the Churchill was slow. Cruising at 10 mph (maximum 17 mph) it often could not keep up in the pursuit phase of an offensive.
Later Marks were more heavily armored. Eventually more heavily armored than a Tiger, but slightly less than a King Tiger. By Churchill Mk VI the American 75 became the standard gun. Its engine and transmission were never improved, so it got even slower. It was seriously discussed dropping the tank altogether because of its slow speed, and building only Cromwells in the later part of the War. But Infantry Divisions did love the heavy support it provided, and the Churchill remained active and in production to the end of the War.
This example is a Crocodile variant. That was a very popular modification that involved replacing the bow machine gun with a flame thrower. It was one of “Hobart’s Funnies”, vehicles modified for a variety of special purposes under the oversight of Major General Percy Hobart. During the run-up to Operation Overlord, experiences from past invasions were closely examined and equipment needs of all sorts were looked at. General Hobart was specifically tasked with armored fighting vehicles. Ultimately 900 Crocodile modification kits were made for Churchill Mk VIIs (Total Churchill production was over 5600, 1400 of those were Mk VIIs).
The Crocodile involved an armored trailer for fuel, that meant 90 seconds of flame out to 150 yards if conditions were ideal. The trailer had to be pressurized prior to use, which took about 15 minutes. The trailer would not stay pressurized for very long, so planning ahead was required. The fuel then traveled through an armored line along the belly of the tank before entering the driving compartment where the nozzle was aimed. A spark plug at the end of the “barrel” ignited the fuel. The fuel was a British concoction with similar properties to Napalm. The trailer was armored against small arms only, but it could be easily disconnected if damaged, or even if empty to be reclaimed and refilled by support units.
A few comments about this tank. It was indeed named for the Prime Minister, which is extra appropriate because Winston Churchill was THE primary political sponsor of the very first tank in World War I. Funny how this is practically a footnote among his accomplishments. When the early Churchill tanks proved to be so riddled with problems, Churchill quipped (to Field Marshall Jan Smuts) “that is the tank they named after me when they found out it was no damn good!”
As previously mentioned, production of the Churchill was almost dropped in favor of the Cromwell. The Cromwell was lighter and faster, and overall more suitable for mobile warfare. This all goes back to the pre-War British doctrine that split Infantry and Cavalry tanks. Field Marshall Montgomery very much wanted an all purpose “Main Battle Tank”, during the War this often translated into just wanting Shermans. Post-War the Centurion, which was in development towards the end of WWII, finally met this need.
This is the Tamiya kit.