image

CHURCHILL MARK IV INFANTRY TANK

  /  News   /  CHURCHILL MARK IV INFANTRY TANK

CHURCHILL MARK IV INFANTRY TANK

By: Michael Tobolo, Junior Curator, DITSONG: National Museum of Military History SA

 

Introduction

 

The Churchill Mark IV (A22) tank was a British infantry tank used in the Second World War. The history of the IV Churchill dates to around 1939. Its development was based on some assumptions by military strategists at the time who considered the conditions along the Western Front not much different from the First World War.

 

There was a strong need for a heavy infantry tank invulnerable to known anti-tank guns and able to cross very wide trenches and negotiate ground churned up by shell fire. The Churchill was designed and built at the time when the war was in its darkest hour for Britain with only. 100 000 men were made available for the whole British Army. The Mark IV was perhaps the most prolific Churchill tank and probably saw the most combat of any model.

 

The Churchill tank one on display at the DITSONG: National Museum of Military History (DNMMH) was built in April 1943 by Leyland and armed with 6-pounder guns. In 1946 it was one of two Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE) to be shipped to South Africa for demonstration and training purposes.

 

                                      

Figure 1: Visitors at DITSONG: National Museum of Military History having a look at

the Churchill infantry tank.

                                                                      

Development history of the Churchill infantry tank

 

Specifications for the new tank to be known as the A20 were issued in 1939. The tank had to be heavily armoured, similar to the then standard A12 Matilda infantry tank. Good trench crossing ability was necessary as the memories of the trench warfare conditions of the First World War was still fresh in the War Office.

In November 1939 the Chief Superintendent of Design, Woolwich, drafted the A20 requirements of which Harland and Wolff were instructed to develop a pilot model according to these specifications. The vehicle was to be capable of surmounting a vertical obstacle 5 feet (1.52 m) in height in forward gear and 4 feet 6 inches (1.37 m) in reverse, and to climb a slope of 30 degrees.

 

To be immune to the German 3.7 cm Pak 36 anti-tank the armour thickness was to be 80 mm and the engine compartment had to hold either the meadows DAV or Vauxhall-Bedford twin six engine. The crew of seven was to consist of a commander, turret gunner, loader, driver, hull gunner and hull loader. The hull loader would also act as a second driver with the weight estimated at 37,5 tons and a maximum speed of 15 mph (24.14 kph). Three types of transmission were considered, fluid flywheel, and crash gear box, the system employed on the MK V, or Merritt-Brown controlled differential steering.

 

Various armaments were proposed as the design was to lend itself to mass production. The proposed armament including a 6-pounder gun, French 75 mm, 3-inch Howitzer or twin pounder with a coaxial mount were all considered unsuitable, and the final decision was made to mount a single 2-pounder with co-axial 7.92 mm machine gun, a 2-inch smoke mortar, a second 2 pounder in the hull front and a machine gun recessed either side at the front of the hull. All the remaining blind spots were to be covered by sighted revolver ports.

 

The first order from Harland and Wolff for a four-pilot model was placed in 1940. The pilot models were to be constructed in mild steel and designated A20E1 to A20E4 respectively. The first was to be delivered by 11 June 1940 and an initial production order for a hundred vehicles was placed straight from the drawing board.

 

A preliminary trial run of over four miles was made on the first pilot model until the proceeding was halted because of gearbox trouble. This trial run, however, showed that the design was feasible as sufficient data were taken and further calculations made. The weight exceeded 37.5 tons and therefor required the reduction of the planned armaments to only a 2-pounder, especially when the performance had to be maintained. Development of the A20 was halted when only two prototypes, namely A20EI and A20E2 were built of which the A20EI had already undergone a trial run, but neither was fully complete at that stage. Both were lacking turrets or armaments.

 

The service career of the Churchill reflected closely to the many changes in the war office tank policy during the 1941 to 1945 period. It was nearly phased out several times but only to be reinstated, modified, or rearmed. As the fortunes of the war changed there was a need for the formulation of the requirements.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Figures 2 & 3: Depictions of the interior of the Churchill Mark IV infantry tank.

 

 

                                                             

Figure 4: The arrival of the Churchill Mark IV infantry tank at the

DITSONG: National Museum of Military History in August 1960. (The Museum was then known as the South African National War Museum).

 

Specifications and variations of the Churchill Mark IV infantry tanks

 

  • The MK 1 had one 2-pounder gun MK 9 with 10A 150 rounds; Co-axial 7.92 mm Besa machine gun with 4,735 rounds. One 3-inch howitzer with 58 rounds cast turret.
  • MK II 3-inch howitzer, but with 7.72 mm Besa in hull front and total of 6,957 rounds of Besa ammunition cast turret.
  • MK III one 6-pounder MK 5 with 84 rounds coaxial 7.92 mm Besa machine gun in hull front and total of 6 975 rounds of Besa ammunition. First of many derivatives, the 3-inch gun carrier MK I also dates from this early period and was also influenced by combat against the Germans.
  • MK IV and MK III were essentially the same but the MK IV was offered slightly better armoured protection than the welded turret of the MK III and the brief specifications of the MK IV are as follows:; Weight 92 tonnes.; Length 42ft 13/8 inches ; Width overall 10ft 8 inches; Width over tracks 9 ft 2 inches (2.7 m); Ground contact 12 ft 6 inches (3.8 m); Track width 22 inches (55.8 cm); Fuel 150 gallons plus 32,5 gallons in external tank; Road range 127 miles (204.3 km); Cross-country range  60 miles (96, 5 km); Power/weight ratio 8,45 hp/ton; Power 325 bhp at 2,200 rpm; Turret ring diameter 54,5 inches (138.4 cm); Main armament 20 degrees elevation; 12,5 Degree depression; Armour – hull front 101 mm; Glacis plate 38 mm/70 degree ; Side 76 mm; Rear 50 mm; Floor 19 mm; Hull top 15-19 mm; Turret front and side 89 mm; Turret 76 mm; Turret roof 19 mm; (MK III) or 35 mm (MK IV); In addition, some vehicles had 20 mm of applique armour on the hull side.

 

Capabilities of the Churchill infantry tank

 

After numerous mechanical problems of the Churchill were solved, the expertise and the capabilities of the Churchill started to show with a very distinctive suspension and a 152 mm armour making it an incredibly strong vehicle. It enabled it to withstand an onslaught from heavy artillery weapons including many German anti-tank guns and most powerful tanks.

 

The Churchill tank was very mobile and versatile with excellent ability to climb rough terrain and could easily cross anti-tank ditches. The Churchill had the ability to keep going even if the other side got blown off. It was the only tank that could negotiate any type of landscape. It could easily climb steep slopes and its long chassis allowed it to be the perfect vehicle to climb over obstacles and cross wide trenches or ditches. Its transmission allowed it to turn easily and the Churchill`s machine gun could outgun most German medium tanks such as the Panzer 4 and the Panzer 3.

 

Service history

 

Dieppe Raid: the Dieppe Raid (also known as Operation Jubilee) was an Allied amphibious attack on the German-occupied port of Dieppe in northern France on 19 August 1942. The Churchill tanks were used offensively for the first time in during the raid. Many lessons were learned as this was the first large scale landing on an enemy-held territory in the European conflict; particularly in the deployment of armour in amphibious operations.

 

Only MK IIIs and a small number of MK Is were used. The 14th (Canadian)Calgary Tank Regiment was also involved in the Dieppe Raid. Thirty vehicles were sent across the channels and only 28 landed and all were waterproofed for deep wading with trunking and exhaust stacks. Three of the Churchill tanks were fitted with experimental flame throwing equipment known as Okes and all three were destroyed before they could be used against the army.

 

As a result, the Germans were able to acquire and evaluate the Churchill at an early stage in its existence. Special lessons were learned at Dieppe, for example that specialised armoured vehicles were required for future landings, such as the AVRE, the BARV and the carpet laying (bombing) that stemmed directly from experiences of the Canadian Churchill in this brave but futile action. It was not recorded that three Churchill IIIs that were present in the Battle of El Alamein (1942) for testing warfare conditions saw action.

 

Some of the Churchill tanks together with Valentine and Matilda tanks were sent to Russia in 1942 but did not appear to be rated highly by the Red Army. The Churchill was also in action in large scale in Tunisia in the hands of the 25th Army Tank Brigade (United Kingdom). Later when they were in action in the Western Desert campaign in January 1942, it was suggested that speed and reliability were more important than heavy armour protection in tank actions. It was thus decided to cease production of the Churchill once the Cromwell became available in the hilly country of Tunisia where the Churchill vindicated itself as a vehicle that can take punishment from enemy anti-tank guns and tanks that had an advantage of concealment and succeeding in its designed role as an infantry support tank.

 

Northwest Europe: the Churchill operated in the battle of Hill 112, during the Battle of Normandy (June, July August 1944) and operation Bluecoat, a British offensive in the Battle of Normandy (30 July to 7 August 1944) and took part in fighting at Reichswald, Germany in operation Veritable, during the final stages of the Second World War.

 

Burma and India: In late 1944, early 1945 the War Office decided that the Churchill tank should be used against the Japanese in Burma. One MK V was trialled and operated by the 3rd Dragon Guards, a cavalry regiment in the British Army, in India.

 

Korean War: 20 Churchill tanks were deployed from the C Company 7th Royal Tank Regiment. It arrived on the Korean Peninsula along with its first sent troops in November 1950.

 

Ireland: The Churchill was considered the perfect tank for Ireland. Three MK VI tanks were delivered between 1948 and 1949 and rented from the British War Office as trial vehicles until1954.

 

Conclusion

 

Despite its bygone appearance, the Churchill tank proved highly valued in the fighting of the Second World War. It helped to bring about complete Allied victory and an end to the war in Europe. It served the British from 1941 to 1952 (post war). The Churchill`s great contribution to British Armoured Fighting Vehicle (AFV) history was that it was a special purpose vehicle and it remained one of the most feared tanks by the Germans.

 

Reference

Museum Archives (Museum Review volume 1 by Richard Henry, former Senior curator at DITSONG: National Museum of Military History).

Ditsong Logo