Churchill Tank variants – Part I Specialist vehicles

Churchill Mark II flamethrower tank.

As a weapon, the flamethrower exercises far more power over the imagination than it can actually deliver in reality. It exploits our most primeval fears and, when mounted in a tank, becomes a formidable psychological threat. Fraser’s Twin Ronson Churchill Mark II in the markings of 102 Officer Cadet Training Unit, which later became the Westminster Dragoons. It may have had a short range and carried a limited amount of flame fuel, but with both projectors working this vehicle must have been an impressive sight. The projectors were mounted, one either side, on the inner track frames at the front of the tank so that they were visible to the driver and his mate. As with the Ronson, a pair of containers, each holding 30 gallons (136 litres) of flame fuel were located at the rear of the tank, feeding the flame-projectors via pipes running along each side of the hull. Since it would be difficult for one man to control the movement of two projectors they were fixed in place so it was up to the driver, directed by the tank commander, to take aim by turning the tank, while the hull machine-gunner was responsible for firing them electrically.

Following a demonstration on 26 March, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff asked Fraser if a single projector with greater range might not be better.
Nothing had been done at this stage to improve the range: it was still 50 yards (45.7m) and presumably two projectors would use up fuel twice as fast so the combat effectiveness of the arrangement would be very limited.

Churchill Mk II Oke flamethrower tank.

The OKE flamethrowing tank was named after its designer, Major J.M. OKE, who has submitted his ideas towards the end of 1941. The design was basically for a Churchill tank fitted with the Ronson flamethrowing equipment, which had already been fitted successfully to carriers. A cilindrical tank containing the flame fuel was fitted at the rear, with a pipe from it leading along the left hand site of the hull, passing under the tracks by the air intake, and emerging between the front horns. There it was connected to a Ronson flame projector mounted in fixed elevation. They had a machine gun in the hull. The flame-thrower was operated by a crew member from the hull MG gunner’s seat. The range of the Oke flame-thrower was 40 to 50 yards. The rear fuel tank was originally unarmoured, but by the time of the Dieppe raid it had been covered by a large armoured box. This design satisfied the General Staff specification that flame throwers should be mounted only on Infantry Tanks, and that theyshould be capable of installation in unmodified production tanks.

The Oke was a Churchill II or III with a flamethrower. Early version of a Churchill flamethrower, with exposed cyclindrical tank mounted on the back of the tank. The reserve fuel tank was capable of holding 32.5 gallons (147 litres), not much more than half the capacity of a pair of Ronson tanks. One of the vehicles transfered to the Calgary’s, ‘Tintagel’, which would serve as ‘Boar’.

An unusual photograph apparently showing two Churchill II Okes newly converted. It provides an excellent view of the armoured cover for the fuel tanks, but the non-standard trackguards were not fitted in service. The second Churchill has its air intakes resting on the engine deck.

The first Churchill Oke with a single projector was demonstrated on 24 May 1942 and resulted in an order for two more. Three Churchills were converted by Lagonda Ltd. to take the OKEequipment: T32049, T68875, and T31862. The first two were MK-II’s built by Newton Chambers and Beyer Peacock respectively. The T31862 was a MK-III built by Birmingham Railway Carriage Company. (This does not tally with books dealing with the OKE, which say that all were MK-II’s.)
All three were crewed by 8 Troop, “B” Squadron, 14th Army Tank Regiment (The Calgary Regiment (Tank)), C.A.C. and were carried on TLC-3 (Tank Landing Craft) No 159.

Beetle T68875 OKE Mk I, 1 Jun 42 transferred to 14 Cdn Army Tk Bn, commanded by Lt. Gordon Lloyd Drysdale (crew: driver Tpr. R.F. Milne, co-driver Trp. R.F. Anderson, gunner Tpr. S.G. Hodgson, radio operator Tpr. B.M. Skinner). Beetle landed without any real problems, but then found that it was unable to advance. It reversed, crushing two already wounded men to death. After a few more moments of movement, it broke a track pin on her right track and found itself immobilized on the shoreline, at the eastern end of Red Beach. It spent the rest of the battle acting as a pillbox.

 

 

BOAR made heavy landing from TLC-3 and knocked off the flame-thrower fuel tank on the rear, but still managed to cross the beach and onto the promenade in the area of the Cassino. It remained mobile throughout the morning before being ordered back to the beach to cover the withdrawal. Once back on the beach BOAR took a hit and immobilised, but continued to act as a pillbox.

  

 

BULL (MK-III) was the Troop Commanders tank and was launched prematurely and ’drowned’ in ten feet of water approx. 100 yds off shore. (the junction of Red and White Beaches).

Thus revealing photograph is another mystery. It is assumed to show the prototipe Crocodile, which employed a Mark II Churchill, but the boss on the near side just above the headlamp suggests that it was once an Oke and clearly not one of those sent to Dieppe.

 

The Beach Track Laying Device:

The main beach at Dieppe, over which the Churchill tanks of the Calgary Regiment were to land, was entirely composed of rounded and oblong chert rocks which range from one to six inches in diameter, and was resistant to cracking or breaking. Tidal action, leave most of these chert rocks eventually resting on the beach surface at an angle of about 15 to 20 degrees. With these rocks being many metres in depth, vehicles would not be able to dig down to a solid base for traction. If a tracked or wheeled vehicle tried to climb up this slope, it would immediately dig itself down, and in the case of tracked vehicles, the strain of these chert rocks caught up between the drive sprocket and track, would cause the pins that held the track links together, to break, thus immobilizing the tank.
Originally, to alleviate the foreseen problem of these chert rocks, it was planned to have four‑man teams of Royal Canadian Engineers, carried in each of the six Tank Landing Craft, that were scheduled to land in the first wave, who would run out ahead of the lead tanks, and roll out bundles of chespaling tracks. Chespaling was flexible roll fencing similar to wood slat snow fencing, but made with tough split slats made of chestnut. It was thought that by using chespaling, both wheeled and tracked vehicles would be able to get over the worst conditions of the chert rocks on the beach.
These bundles weighed approximately 250 pounds, were 25 feet long.
 

Because of the weight of these chespaling bundles, and taking into account the probability of high casualties amongst the four‑man teams of Royal Canadian Engineers, from enemy fire, it was decided that an alternate method of laying out these bundles of chespaling tracks, ahead of the leading tanks of the first wave, be developed.
Major B. Sucharov, an officer of the Royal Canadian Engineers, was assigned to develop a device to enable the tanks, not only to get over the beach on landing, but to get over the seawall that separated the beach from the Promenade. To this end, Major Sucharov came up with a carpet‑laying device using chespaling. He designed an apparatus that carried two separate rolls of chespaling, one for each tank track, which were suspended, about 24‑inches in front of each track, on a spindle that was supported by two short brackets above the front horns of the tank. The apparatus was mounted low enough to allow the tank commander a clear field of vision, and gave a clear field of fire for the turret mounted main armament and co-axial machine gun. On the inside and outside of each roll of chespaling, there was provided a 14-gauge metal disc shield, 3 feet in diameter to prevent the chespaling from fouling the brackets and spindle. Each roll of chespaling was 3 feet wide and 25 to 30 feet in length, with weighted ends that upon release, fell to the ground with the tank tracks themselves feeding out the rolls as the tank moved forward. The release of these rolls was controlled from the turret by means of an electrically fired small explosive charge. After use, the whole apparatus could be jettisoned by a small explosive charge, electrically set off from inside the turret. These were designed for laying rapidly and, if necessary, under fire, a carpet in a lane over poor or bogged ground and over barbed wire obstacles for the rapid advancement of troops, trucks and AFVs.
Development for fitment to the Churchill began in April 1942. Beginning on 7 August 1942 at Seaford, Sussex, the Beach Track Laying Device, which enabled a tank to climb a wall up to 28″ high, was tested and approved.
For the raid thefirst tank on each of the six lead TLCs was to befitted with it. nvo days before the operation,jive sets were completed and mounted while the sixth tank could not befitted as it had flamethrower. During transportation to the coast two sets were damaged and were removed so that only three tanks were so equipped for the raid.

 

– T31124R Chief, a Churchill Mk I, carried in Tank Landing Craft 1 (No. 145), commanded by the Officer Commanding “C” Squadron, Major A. Glenn, prematurely laid its chespaling, and having jettisoned the beach track laying device, remained on the beach. For a time, Major Glenn kept his tank in a position from which he could observe the promenade and both flanks of the beach, when not obscured by smoke. After moving down the beach to the area in front of the Cassino, T31124R (Chief), returned the way it had came, and took up a position at the western end of the beached Tank Landing Craft 3 (No. 159) and turned broadside to the enemy, to protect the men sheltering behind the beached Tank Landing Craft.

     

German ingineeres are recovering tanks from the beach, using the Churchill Mk III called Bert to tow the disabled Chief.

 

 

– T68173 Cougar, a Churchill Mk III, carried in Tank Landing Craft 2 (No. 127), No. 13 Troop, “C” Squadron, the Troop Leader’s tank, commanded by Lieutenant T.R. Cornett, successfully crossed the beach and having laid its chespaling, crossed the seawall onto the Promenade, having only jettisoned part of its beach track laying device. Whereupon, after turning to the west, it was immediately hit by a 75‑millimetre round that jammed its turret. After this, it was only able to engage the tobacco factory with its 6‑pounder main armament from its position on the Promenade. Eventually, after having broken one track and having the other blown by enemy fire, it was destroyed by its crew, prior to their retiring back to the beach.

T68173 Cougar with a partly jettisoned BTLD, one of the five tanks fitted with the “Beach Track Laying Device,” for the landings at Dieppe on 19 August 1942. Having only jettisoned part of its beach track laying device, the remains of it are clearly visible on her front. Notice how the two short brackets carried the spindle, and that the inside and outside 3 foot diameter, 14 gauge metal disc shields, that prevented the chespaling from fouling the brackets and spindle, have closed up on themselves. Note also, the remains of the rigid conduit, on her right side, that had to be added for the protection of the wiring for the electrically fired small explosive charges, that released the rolls, and for those that jettisoned the whole device.

   

 

– T31135R Burns, a Churchill Mk I, carried in Tank Landing Craft 4 (No. 126), commanded by the Officer Commanding “B” Squadron, Major C.E. Page, removed its beach track laying device prior to landing, because it had been damaged. Having landed, Burns started to advance across the beach, but found its path obstructed by a tank trap consisting of a trench dug along the front of the esplanade wall. Upon attempting to avoid this obstacle, the tank’s right track was broken by enemy fire, which caused Burns, to be pulled into this ditch by the forward momentum of her left track, leaving her immobilized pointing downwards and unable to use its armament against enemy targets.

  

– T31655 Buttercup, a Churchill Mk III, carried in Tank Landing Craft 5 (No. 121), No. 9 Troop, “B” Squadron, the Troop Sergeant’s tank, commanded by Sergeant J.D. Morrison, successfully laid its chespaling and, having crossed the beach, wire, and seawall, jettisoned its beach track laying device, whereupon it engaged enemy targets on the west headland and in seafront buildings to the west of the Casino. Later, it returned to the beach below the Casino, where it took up a position on the water’s edge. It could not be destroyed by its crew prior to their withdrawal due to the number of infantry wounded who had sought shelter from enemy fire on its seaward side.

T31655 Buttercup, also one of five Churchill tanks of the regiment that was fitted with the “Beach Track Laying Device,” for the Dieppe raid. that there are no remnants of the beach track laying device, on her front, it having been jettisoned successfully.

 

– T68557R Bob, a Churchill Mk III, carried in Tank Landing Craft 6 (No. 163), No. 6 Troop “B” Squadron, the Troop Leader’s tank, commanded by Lieutenant J.H. Dunlop, removed its beach track laying device prior to landing, also because of damage. It landed and successfully crossed the seawall near the Casino, where it engaged enemy targets with the 6‑pounder main armament until eventually returning to the beach, where it took up a position on the water’s edge to cover the withdrawal of the infantry.

 

British Carpet-Laying Devices:

Known generically as “bobbins,” the tanks carpet-layers were devices for laying mats over soft and/or boggy ground. The Bobbins were designed for laying rapidly and, if necessary, under fire, a carpet in a lane over poor or bogged ground and over barbed wire obstacles for the rapid advancement of troops, trucks and AFVs. Their development designation was by type (A through D), and production models were referred to by mark (I through III).

The Mark I—also known as the T.L.C. for tank landing craft—was the oldest and had been designed in March 1939 for Cruiser tank Mk. I. Further trials being carried out on a Matilda II tank and a Universal Carrier and then adapted for the Churchill in April 1942. The pilot was tested in July 1942, and at least one was used operationally in the Dieppe raid, Operation Jubilee, on 19 August 1942, where it was lost. As it advanced, the Mark I laid a wire-reinforced nine-foot-one-inch-wide canvas mat in front of the tank from a horizontal roller mounted on fixed arms. The canvas mat was later replaced by an eleven-foot-wide, one-hundred-footlong canvas carpet reinforced by wire and “chespaling” (chestnut palings). They were intended only for
supporting foot and light wheeled vehicle traffic.

The original carpet device Type A Mk I on a Matilda being demonstrated on a barbed wire entanglement.

Churchill Mk II with Type A Mk I carpet layer- first version.

Churchill Mk IV with Type A Mk I carpet layer- final version.

 

The Type B was a “twin bobbin” design that deployed two narrow mats directly under each track. This device featured two small bobbins of hessian and chespaling on a horizontal spindle carried across the front of the vehicle by fixed side arms attached to the tank. When in motion the spindle unwound a separate carpet under each track. A similar canadian device was also used during the Dieppe raid and consisted of a two small carpet bobbins fitted between the front horns of a Churchill III. The apparatus has proved unreliable and It was not produced in quantity or used in Normandy.

Churchill Mk II with Type B carpet layer.

The Mark II and III were developed specifically for the circumstances of the invasion, when reconnaissance of the beaches discovered strips of soft blue clay in which vehicles could bog easily. Similar blue clay was found on the beaches of Brancaster in Norfolk, and tests were done there, the solution being a heavier nine-foot-eleven-inch-wide mat of canvas and tubular steel, usually referred to as “shuttering” or “steel shuttering,” which required mounting the roller on a girder frame above the turret. In the Mark II, the carpet was 225 feet long. In the Mark III, it was nearly 350 feet long, but the larger roller and its weight made the vehicle clumsier and harder to deploy.
In all of the designs, the carpet was to unroll in front of the A.V.R.E. so that it could drive on the carpet as it unspooled. At least twenty-four carpetlayers of all types sailed in the assault landing craft, tank (LCT), on D-Day.

Churchill Mk IV with Type C Mk II Bobbin, the arms of this apparatus were moveables.

 

Churchill AVRE (Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers) Type C Mark II carpetlayer.

     

 

Churchill Mk III AVRE with Type D Mk III Bobbin, the arms of this apparatus were fixed.

 

Experimental version of the Bobbin which featyred a larger, wider carpet.

Churchill Crocodile

The Churchill Crocodile was a Churchill VII that was converted by replacing the hull machine gun with a flamethrower. The fuel was in an armoured wheeled 6½ ton trailer towed behind, containing 400 gallons of fuel and compressed nitrogen propellant. It could fire several one second bursts over 150 yards. No more than 800 Crocodile conversion kits were produced.

  

 

 

 

       

 

Knocked out Churchill Crocodile tanks.

 

 

Churchill AVRE (Assault Vehicle Royal Engineers) with 290 mm Petard spigot mortar.

The Assault Vehicle Royal Engineers was a Churchill Mark III or IV equipped with the “Mortar, Recoiling Spigot, Mark II” (or Petard), a 290 mm (11 in) spigot mortar which throws the 40 lb (18 kg) “Flying dustbin” demolition bomb with a 28-pound high-explosive warhead. The Petard was reloaded by traversing the turret to point front, slightly to the left, with the barrel directly over the co-driver’s sliding hatch. The regular two piece co-driver’s hatch was plated over, and a small sliding hatch was installed to allow access to the Petard. The Petard barrel would then be’ broken’ vertically, and the co-driver would slide open his hatch. The co-driver would then push the nom into the barrel. The barrel would then be closed, the Petard traversed back down, and the turret rotated back to its original position. The co-driver’s hands were briefly exposed during the process.

AVRE 290mm Petard Mortar and its ammunition.

 

 

 

40lb bombs as used by the 29cm Petard spigot mortar.

 

The loading technique is demonstrated on this  Churchill Mark III AVRE.

 

Once it is loaded the Petard reverts to a horizontal mode, ready for firing.

Churchill Mk III AVRE fitted with a 290mm Pétard spigot mortar.

 

Churchill Mk IV AVRE fitted with a 290mm Pétard spigot mortar. .

  

AVRE SPECIAL DEVICES
By the time of the invasion of France in June 1944, 180 AVREs had been converted. They were first deployed in Normandy by the 79th Armoured Division on D-Day. A further 574 followed.
Churchill AVREs equipped the 5th, 6th and the 42nd Assault Regts., R.E., these regiments forming the 1st Assault Brigade, R.E. As finalized, the AVRE design allowed for the fitting of various special devices and equipments for tackling the obstacles and defences likely to be encountered by the armoured units of 21 Army Group.
The following is a summary of the specialized equipment that was used and includes reference to the experimental devices that were developed but not used in action:

MARK II. S.B.G. (Small Box Girder), AVRE (ASSAULT BRIDGE)
This device was evolved by the Canadian Army in April 1943, as a method for wall or ditch crossing in assault. It consisted of a small box girder bridge fitted to the front of the AVRE and adapted for quick release. The bridge weighed four tons, was 34 ft. long, was able to take a load of 40 tons, and was controlled by a winch mounted on the rear of the vehicle. The bridge could surmount a 15-ft. wall or span a 30-ft. gap.

AVRE  with Small Box Girder bridge in travelling position.

Fascines (brushwood bundles) were often used in conjunction with the S.B.G. bridge. To enable the AFV to climb over high obstacles the AVRE released its bridge at an angle against the obstacle and then withdrew; a second AVRE carrying fascines climbed to the top of the bridge and dropped its fascines over the wall. This broke the fall of the AVRE as it followed the fascines over the wall.

  

FASCINES
This method for crossing ditches by AFVs had first been introduced during World War I, being used by British tanks at Cambrai in November 1917 to enable them to cross the wide German trenches. The modern counterparts consisted of brushwood bundles of two types, 6 ft. and 8 ft. in diameter and 11 ft. long. They were carried on the front of the tank supported by a wooden or steel cradle and could be jettisoned by a quick release mechanism which operated by a line led inside the tank through the cupola. In most cases a crew member had to expose himself to give directions to the driver whose view was obscured by the fascine. So experiments were carried out with periscopes similar to those used with the D.D. tanks. These were 6 ft. and 8 ft. in length and were fitted to the commander’s cupola to enable him to see over the fascines. These were later discarded with the appearance of new types of fascines which gave a better view ahead.

 

Churchill ARK (Armoured Ramp Carrier)

The Armoured Ramp Carrier was a turretless Churchill with ramps at either end and trackways along the body to form a mobile bridge. Fifty of these were built on Mark II and Mark IV Churchills. The Link Ark or Twin Ark was two ARKs used side-by-side to give a wide crossing. The ramps on these were folding types giving a longer, 65 ft (20 m), crossing. The Twin-ARK was used for the post-war Conqueror heavy tank.

Churchill ARK Mk I

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