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World War II: Churchill Tank

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World War II: Churchill Tank

An A22 Churchill Tank during World War II

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Specifications:

Dimensions

  • Length: 24 ft. 5 in.
  • Width: 10 ft. 8 in.
  • Height: 8 ft. 2 in.
  • Weight: 42 tons

Armor & Armament (A22F Churchill Mk. VII)

  • Primary Gun: 75 mm gun
  • Secondary Armament: 2 x Besa Machine Guns
  • Armor: .63 in. to 5.98 in.

Engine

  • Engine: 350 hp Bedford twin-six gasoline
  • Speed: 15 mph
  • Range: 56 miles
  • Suspension: Coiled Spring
  • Crew: 5 (commander, gunner, loader, driver, co-driver/hull gunner)

Design & Development:

The origins of the A22 Churchill can be traced back to the days prior to World War II. In the late 1930s, the British Army began seeking a new infantry tank to replace the Matilda II and Valentine. Following standard doctrine of the time, the army specified that the new tank be capable of traversing enemy obstacles, attacking fortifications, and navigating a shell-cratered battlefield. Initially designated the A20, the task of creating the vehicle was given to Harland & Wolff. Sacrificing speed and armament to meet the army's requirements, Harland & Wolff began design work in early 1940.

These efforts were halted following the British evacuation from Dunkirk in May 1940. No longer needing a tank capable of maneuvering through World War I-style battlefields and after assessing Allied experiences in Poland and France, the army retracted the A20 specifications. With Germany threatening to invade Britain, Dr. H.E. Merritt, director of Tank Design, issued a call for a new, more mobile infantry tank. Designated the A22, the contract was given to Vauxhall with orders that the new design be in production by the end of the year.

Frantically working to produce the A22, Vauxhall designed a tank that sacrificed appearance for practicality. Powered by Bedford twin-six gasoline engines, the A22 Churchill was the first tank to utilize the Merritt-Brown gear box. This allowed the tank to be steered by changing the relative speeds of its tracks. The initial Mk. I Churchill was armed with a 2-pdr gun in the turret and 3-inch howitzer in the hull. For protection, it was given armor ranging in thickness from .63 inches to 4 inches. Entering production in June 1941, Vauxhall was concerned about the tank's lack of testing.

Operational History:

The company's concerns were well founded as the A22 was soon beset with numerous problems and mechanical difficulties. Most critical of these was the reliability of the tank's engine, which was made worse due to its inaccessible location. Another issue was its weak armament. These factors combined to give the A22 a poor showing at its combat debut during the failed 1942 Dieppe Raid. Nearly cancelled as a result, the Churchill was rescued with the introduction of the Mk. III in March 1942. The A22's weapons were removed and replaced with a 6-pdr gun in a new welded turret.

A Besa machine gun took the place of the 3-inch howitzer. Possessing a significant upgrade in its anti-tank capabilities, the Mk. III performed well during the Second Battle of El Alamein, and saw service in Sicily and Italy. While the tank was updated and modified several times, its next major overhaul came with the creation of the A22F Mk. VII in 1944. First seeing service during the invasion of Normandy, the Mk. VII incorporated the more versatile 75mm gun as well as possessed a wider chassis and thicker armor (1 in. to 6 in.).

One issue that did arise with the Mk. VII was that it was underpowered. Though the tank had been built larger and heavier, its engines were not updated which further reduced the Churchill's already slow speed. Serving with British forces during the campaign in northern Europe, the A22F, with its thick armor, was one of the few Allied tanks that could stand up to German Panther and Tiger tanks, though it's weaker armament meant that it had difficulty defeating them. The A22F, and its predecessors, were also renowned for their ability to cross rough terrain and obstacles that would have stopped other Allied tanks.

Despite its early defects the Churchill evolved into one of the key British tanks of the war. In addition to serving in its traditional role, the Churchill was frequently adapted into specialist vehicles such as flame tanks, mobile bridges, armored personnel carriers, and armored engineer tanks. Retained after the war, the Churchill remained in British service until 1952.

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