by: Alan McNeilly [ ]
Originally published on:
The release of the AFV Club 1/35th scale Churchill Gun Tank has seen a revival of interest in modelling the tank, not that the desire probably ever went away. But it has certainly sparked an increase in interest in this often overlooked and maligned vehicle.
The book Mr Churchill’s Tank: The British Infantry Tank Mark IV by David Fletcher has been around since 1999. It’s in the A4 format containing 211 pages of text and pictures. I purchased mine a few years ago when I first became interested in the vehicle, but it’s time to give it a review.
The book tells the full story of the development of the Churchill Gun Tank form the over-sized prototype developed in Belfast in 1940 right through to the Korean War. Whether you are purely interested in the technical details of the tank, or you also have an interest in the political rational for this vehicle, or you are simply interested in the tank’s action performance, then your needs should be catered for in this publication.
Mr Churchill’s Tank is divided in to 14 Chapters following a logical pattern with each covering just about every aspect of the tank’s development I can think of. Whether you choose to sit down and read it cover to cover, or want to dip into the vehicle section you are interested in, then there is a good chance you will find the information you are looking for inside. The book’s historical information makes very interesting reading, and from a modeller’s perspective, it provides a wealth of useful detail. It is from mainly that point of view I shall be looking at the book.
Chapter 1 - The Winds of Change
Understanding the rational and thinking in British Tank design during the pre-war period, along with the nature and skill of the manufacturing base, are both pretty critical to understanding what armaments got made and when. The original vehicle was conceived as the A20, and the thinking was for a slow-moving tank to support infantry that could cross wide trenches, had low ground pressure and was simple to build. Harland & Wolf were contracted in October 1939 to complete between 50 and 100 tanks, with production expected to begin in 1941. After reading all this background information, it is easy to see why the word “committee” sparks such fun in the British sense of humour. Only 4 prototypes of the A20 were made and only one with a turret— a Matilda one at that.
Chapter 2 – Vauxhall Motors and the New Tank
Chapter 2 outlines the gradual involvement of Vauxhall Motors of Luton, which was already involved in the production of Army lorries. Vauxhall was initially contacted to look at engine cooling problems, and then to design a new petrol-fuelled tank engine. It had to be horizontally-configured, deliver 350bhp and was clearly intend for the A20. During the pre-war period, little tank engine development had been undertaken, and many in-service in 1936 still relied on a 90hp V8 engine that had been developed in 1922.
Events at Dunkirk upped the agenda considerably, and in June 1940 the “Committee” looked to consider the specification for a new tank (the A22), and from that point on, the Churchill Tank as we know it was born.
Chapter 3 – The Churchill Described
Chapter 3 provides a fairly comprehensive description of the Churchill Mk I covering the early development stages, types of track, and introduces the first of many detailed drawings and internal/external stowage diagrams that are invaluable to modellers. This is where you get the nitty-gritty on the Mk I and Mk II, with excellent information on the design and working of the vehicle, accompanied with production methods. The vehicles are well-referenced in terms of good quality photographs that support the diagrams and charts provided.
Chapter 4 – The Early Trials
This chapter covers the trials of the early marks, including performance, gunnery and deployment. You need to remember that Britain was very much in the front-line at this period, and urgency overrode everything else. The chapter also introduces the users of the tank: who had them, and where they were based, and brings into play the first mention of the 3 inch howitzer. There is lots of excellent reference material in this section making for very enjoyable reading.
Chapter 5 – Great Guns
The Churchill Mk I and Mk II were originally equipped with the 2pdr anti-tank gun, this being due to a shortage of production facilities and the urgency to produce tanks to defend against invasion. It brings us into the realm of the AFV Club Mk III variant that was equipped with the 6pdr anti-tank gun; again this chapter is packed with lots of useful information for the modeller, both in pictures and internal and external stowage data. As well as covering the Mk III in detail, it also deals with the Churchill 3 inch Gun Carrier.
Chapter 6 – With the Canadians
This is a short chapter dealing with the deployment of the tank, the Dieppe Raid, and the involvement of the Canadians in that disastrous event. It also covers the German evaluation of the Churchills captured at Dieppe. Again, this is excellent information for modellers (it was this data I used for my Churchill interior build).
Chapter 7 – The Great Re-Work Scheme
Hindsight is a great thing, and as a result of the trials, early deployment and the Dieppe Raid, the need to fix/upgrade the tank was clearly recognised. The immediate pressure of an invasion had gone by this time, and this chapter covers the development of the Mk IV, Mk V and all that that involved, including the introduction of the 95mm howitzer on selected Mk Vs. The chapter is excellently referenced.
8 – Churchills in North Africa
This section covers the testing and deployment of the tank in North Africa, the King’s Force version offered by AFV Club. It makes for very interesting reading, and includes a number of developments being suggested by those in the field— for example, mounting the 3 inch howitzer in the turret and not the hull (as originally designed). It covers the actions of the tanks during this time, and is well-referenced with actual wartime pictures.
9 – The New Model Churchill
This chapter opens with information of the export of the Churchill to the Russians; it also covers further trials carried out on the tank. This period saw the start of the flow of Sherman tanks form the USA, but it was also realised that the British should not rely entirely on their American ally, so development on the Churchill continued with an investigation into the addition of appliqué armour. The arrival of the 75mm gun in the Sherman Tanks also sparked a period of study in that field. Again, detailed pictures and stowage diagrams are provided for the Mk IV conversion to 75mm Mk VI .
These new developments led to the Mk VII (the old Tamiya kit) and the Mk VIII. The Chapter goes into great detail about the changes that were happening across this range of marks, and is fully supported by both excellent quality pictures and diagrams.
10 – The Churchill in Normandy
Despite its early failings, the Churchill went on to play a key role in the Battle for Normandy and in the campaign to liberate France in general. Chapter Ten is a good account of who had what, as well as where and when they operated, and has lots of wartime photographs useful to the modeller. It shows the tank coming into its own as an effective fighting vehicle, but also makes for very informative and enjoyable reading.
Chapter 11 – Campaigning in Italy
This chapter outlines the Churchill’s role in the Italian campaign, and the development of the NA 75mm version, and again like Chapters 6, 8 and 10, covers the units fighting in that theatre of war. It’s an area that is often ignored and under-modelled, so should provide some grand inspiration for the reader along with good background data and reference pictures.
Chapter 12 – The Last Battles
This chapter covers the deployment and use of the tank up to the end of the war. Again, more action coupled with who had what, where and when with excellent data and reference pictures throughout.
Chapter 13 – A Hero Retires
This is an interesting, but short chapter for post-war modellers that covers those years, as well as an evaluation of the tank’s performance, post-war experiments, and the tank’s deployment in Korea. This period was the scrapping and sell-off of the Churchill, even as it was being used in Korea.
Chapter 14 – Black Prince: the Big Gun Churchill
The final chapter both provides a round-up to the book, along with a final look in detail at the Black Prince, the 17pdr version of the Churchill Gun Tank. Like the rest of the book, this section is well-referenced and written, with an additional modelling opportunity for those who are interested.
The book covers the development, deployment, and use of the Churchill Gun Tank in its many shapes and forms. It is extremely well-written, and contains both excellent technical data and information of great value to both the historian and modeller alike. It puts the vehicle where it rightly deserves to be as a major player in the defeat of Germany, and also has the political and military background thinking of the period. The only references lacking as far as I can tell are diagrams of the fuel stowage and cooling system. I also feel an additional chapter could have been added to cover the engine in greater detail, although types and usage in technical terms are well covered.
Overall, this is an invaluable resource to the modeller, giving not only understanding of how the vehicle came into being, but its performance under fire, and a broad range of information on its deployment and usage. All the development stages of the gun tank are covered in-detail, and the support material in the form of technical diagrams, stowage diagrams and supporting photographs are all excellent.