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A.22 Mark IV Churchill Tank

Best known for heavy armor, and large longitudinal chassis with all-around tracks with multiple bogies, the Churchill was used as the basis of many specialist vehicles. The successor to the Matilda, the Churchill tank was well liked by their crews and feared by their enemies. When the Churchill tank came out in January, 1942, it was hailed as being the most wonderful tank yet produced - it was spoken of as the best tank yet produced in the war. The book "Tanks Advance," written or published in January, 1942, on page 122, has the following words: ‘The new Churchill tank is probably the most formidable land-fighting weapon ever built.’ Others said, initially, that the Churchill failed as a tank.

After the German-Russian invasionof Poland in September 1939, British military planners concluded that three kinds of tanks - light, cruiser, and infantry - would be needed for modem warfan. The Churchill was in the last category. The British anticipated (mistakenly, as it turned out) that the new World War would involve trench warfare similar to the previous World War. Thus the need for an infantry tank, such as the Churchill - heavily armored, capable of spanning wide trenches, while traveling at dismounted foot soldier speeds.

In September 1939, the Belfast (Ireland) shipbuilding and engineering firm Harland and Wolff, best known for building the Titanic, began work on the tank, then designated the “A20,” as a successor to the Matilda tank. The hull of the new tank was a nearly-complete pilot model when the Germans invaded France in May 1940.

A letter written in May 1940 by the Chairman of the Special Vehicles Development Committee, read as follows: ‘In the meantime, I most urgently ask you not to allow the new model infantry tank, Mark IV, to be put into production until this has been re-considered by an impartial tribunal, any neutral mechanical engineers of standing, before whom I am prepared to put forward my reasons in detail. A vital one is that it has a petrol motor, with terrible danger of fire to members of the crew who are completely huddled up in this tank. The designer of this tank in these critical days has, I understand, never before designed a tank. In our opinion, this tank is a bad machine and is clogging, or will clog, the factories and machine tools of the utmost importance.’

When the Coalition Government was formed in 1940, the tank problem was at its height. The hon. Member for Edgbaston (Sir P. Bennett) was the Director of Tank Production, and in his struggle to produce tanks he found that "absolutely nothing" had been done between the end of the 1914–18 war and 1939 to design even an engine capable of driving a modern tank. Tanks for the 1939 war had to be equipped with engines developed in the 1914–18 war. It was not until the Churchill tank came along that an entirely new engine was developed. That meant that in the middle of the war those responsible for the production of new weapons were faced with trying, first, to design a tank, and then to produce it. One complication with which the hon. Member for Edgbaston was faced was the number of people who claimed to have invented perfect tanks. Members of Parliament fought battles over what was the perfect tank, whether it was a 65, 50, 40 or 35-ton tank. Meanwhile, there was no design of a modern tank available. Then the plunge was taken in this development.

Shortly after the National Government was formed, on 11 June 1940, Prime Minister Winston Churchill summoned a meeting to consider the tank production program. He had backed the tank in the Great War and also the Stokes gun. There were at that time in the hands of the troops in the United Kingdom less than 100 tanks. These and those under production at the time were of a type which had been proved in battle in France to be too weak to stand up to the German tank guns. Invasion of this country was expected, if not in the autumn of 1940, at any rate in the spring of 1941 or even in 1942. The problem, therefore, was to produce the maximum number of tanks of a sufficiently powerful kind for home defence. This tank was originally conceived in 1940, for fighting in the lanes and in the enclosed country of this Island. As a result of the meeting, Churchill called for a plan which would provide 500 or 600 heavy tanks by 03 March 1941; these were to be over and above the existing program and were not to interfere with it. The contract for the A-20 (now the A-22) went to Vauxhall, the British automotive division of General Motors Corporation, at Luton, England.

On 02 July 1942, when trying to explain how good the A.22 was, the Prime Minister said: "In June, 1940…I called a meeting of all authorities to design and make a new tank, capable of speedy mass production and adopted to the war conditions to be foreseen in 1942. In 1942 — that was the test… All the highest: expert authorities were brought together several times and made to hammer out a strong and heavy tank, adapted primarily for the defence of this Island against invasion, but capable of other employment in various theatres. This tank, the A.22, was ordered off the drawing board. ... As might be expected, it had many defects and teething troubles, and when these became apparent the tank was appropriately re-christened the "Churchill." These defects have now been largely overcome." It is reported that Field-Marshal Montgomery said to the Prime Minister, "You know, I still don't like the Churchill tank"; to which the Prime Minister replied, "Well, Field-Marshal, it had one or two blemishes on it, before they gave it my name."

On the great occasion in June 1940, when, apparently, the Army Council, or what is called the Committee of Imperial Defence, decided upon the production of the tank which is now known as the A.22, there was no civilian on the Tank Board who had any experience even of the production of tanks, and yet a decision was reached. By July 1940 the Tank Board approved the specifications subject to certain modifications, and it was agreed to go forward with the utmost rapidity with the production of what became known as the A.22 Tank. The general staff expressed themselves entirely in favor of the project.

By the exigencies of the situation in 1940 Brtian had to entrust the production of this tank to a firm that had little previous experience in tank production. It did in fact go into large scale production. There was in existence at that time a Tank Board which was responsible for the production and design of tanks. The point was realised that the Mark IV showed very considerable problems and possible weaknesses, and the Tank Board was anxious to see that this tank did not go into very large-scale production without having been proved completely battle-worthy. In spite of the desire of the Tank Board to examine this matter and to see that the works of the country were not completely filled with the production of a model which might or might not prove battleworthy, in the end the whole matter was taken out of their hands and large-scale production was continued and indeed increased. To make the situation worse, just when production was coming into full flood there was a change of Ministers at the Ministry of Supply, and a change in the heads of departments. The new Minister of Supply, Lord Beaverbrook, was all out for production. Quantity was first, and quality was second. The people who understood the technical problems had no power. The people who were in power were not interested in technical problems or in Service problems.

Work proceeded with the utmost enthusiasm. Britain could not afford the time to wait to carry out exhaustive trials with pilot models. This would have set things back at least six months; the paramount aim was to get the maximum number possible into the hands of the troops in 1941. The pilot model was running on 12 December 1940. Production began to flow in May 1941, and by the autumn 400 were available for battle. Vauxhall Motors was under instructions to produce the tanks as quickly as possible. As a result, the early tanks suffered considerable mechanical problems.

People sneered at the Churchill tank, but it was a masterpiece in a way, because it went straight from the drawing board into production. It was not the tank that was wrong when failures occurred, but the fact that at first cavalry men who had never seen an engine were put to operate it. One of the teething troubles was that when the first Churchill tanks were used, the War Office put a Hussar régiment in charge of them. None of the men of that régiment had seen any machinery before, and naturally many tanks were ruined. It was only when trained men were put in charge of them that they achieved the degree of success which helped us to finish the war. Tanks were also carried on the top deck on transports to Egypt and when they got there they were red with rust. It was no wonder that they could not be moved.

The A-22’s most distinctive feature was the 11 (initially 14) small bogey wheels on each side, enabling the tank to crawl over formidable obstacles on or off road. The small wheels, located outside the hull, allowed a roomier crew compartment inside. In many ways, the tank resem-bled the leader for whom it was to be named, with its squat, “bulldoggish” appearance, giving a feeling of security to those inside or behind it, and presenting a formidable face to enemysoldiers on the receiving end. Weighing more than 38 tons, with a five-member crew, and powered by a 350-horsepower Bedford twin-six (12 cylinder) engine, the tank’s top speed was only 17 mph - adequate for infantry. Like many World War I tanks, its tracks curved around the entire hull, the return span at the height of the hull deck.

Meanwhile, the German armies had been launched against Russia and the danger of invasion had lessened. The possibility of using the A.22 tank in an overseas offensive role was therefore considered, and modfications were introduced to make the tank more suitable for extended operations abroad. That winter engineers began re-working these tanks, and by December 1942 large numbers were in a fit condition for use in the assault of strong positions for which their armor fits them. Reports received from the brigades armed with these tanks were on the whole strongly favourable. There were between one and two thousand in the hands of troops. They were said to be the best weapons yet received by the units concerned.

It will be seen that this tank was never intended for the fast-moving long-range warfare of the desert. However, a certain number were sent to the Middle East in the autumn of 1941 for trial. A small number took part in the attack on Rommel's lines at Alamein, and reports show that they gave a good account of themselves, and stood up to very heavy fire. In the operations in the desert in 1941 the tanks had not proper cooling apparatus and that the turrets were wrong. But the Churchill tank had not reached that state of development for it to be used in the African desert. Up to May 1942, it had not been found suitable for work in the desert in Libya.

The German Mark IV tank, mounting the 76-mm. gun and firing a 13-pound shell, was known of before the war. While it is true that the mechanical efficiency of the A.22 had improved, a tank equipped with a 6-pounder gun, with an effective range of 800 to 1,000 yards, was not the real answer to the Mark IV, which fired a 13-pounder shot and has an effective range of 2,000 to 3,000 yards.

On 24 November 1942, Richard Stokes (Ipswich) said in the Commons "... it is an appalling thought to those engaged in production that some sum of the order of £50,000,000 or £70,000,000 has been expended on a machine which was never properly tested before being put into production and which has absolutely cluttered up the workshops of this country. While "unbattleworthy" may be too strong a word, it is very near it."

The A.22 was naturally surpassed by the latest types, but the production in large numbers in less than a year of an entirely new tank of much heavier pattern than anything Britain had before and thoroughly capable of going into action in Home Defence was highly creditable to the British engineering industry and to all concerned. The Prime Minister had no part in the decision on the name, but said "I can well believe that the fact that it was called by this particular name afforded a motive to various persons to endeavour to cover it with their slime." It was so christened by Lord Beaverbrook, and some protested against the stupidity of so naming it, arguing that the design of this tank never had anything to do with the Prime Minister.

There were to be seven different versions of the Churchill. The Mark I (303 tanks) employed a 40-mm main gun and a coaxial Besa machine gunin the turret, with a traversing 3-inch (76.2-mm) howitzer in the hull. The Mark II (1,127 tanks) substituted a machine gun for the howitzer. The mechanically superior Mark III (627tanks) used a 57-mm main gun: the Marks IV and Vs (1,627 tanks) featured improved main guns, with a higher muzzle velocity and improved armor penetration [the nomenclature is confusing, as the Churchill was initially known as the Mark IV, and then subsequently one series variant carried this same designation]. Marks I and II experienced the mechanical problems plaguing any complex vehicle produced in a hurry. Engines, clutches, suspension, and gear-boxes all gave trouble. By May 1942, however, the older tanks had been systematically improved. The Mark III, which first came on line in March 1942, was the first of the mechanically reliable Churchills.

Winston Churchill's faith and confidence enabled Ministers to develop the tank to the furthest possible extent. It was his tank. Much was said in criticism, but Mr. Churchill remained fixed and settled in upholding the production line when many of his supporters wanted him to bring it to an end. The Churchill tank proved to be a most valuable weapon.

By 1943 the A.22 was mechanically all right, but that was only because the top gear was really the third, and the fourth and fifth had been cut out because they cannot be engaged with the engine power available. But that was not what was intended. The A.22 was designed for a speed of 20 miles per hour in top gear and could do only 10 miles an hour. The machine gun fired in one direction only, and the wretched drivers felt that they were driving with blinkers on, and cannot see on either side, half right or left in front. The Churchill tank was capable of operating, but was limited in distance to half the distance that a really good tank could go without repair.

The Churchill Tank performed badly during the Dieppe Raid but was more successful in North Africa and some were supplied to the Red Army to use against the German Army in the Soviet Union. Originally designed for European fighting, the Churchill proved itself in Tunisia in 1943. The Churchill Tank proved very resistant to anti-tank fire. Climbing mountains, the Churchill added a new dimension to armor doctrine. Without infantry support, the Churchill, last of the infantry tanks, proved itself capable of surviving tank-to-tank combat in a country quite different from the European terrain for which it was originally designed.

On 02 August 1944 Prime Minister Churchill addressed the House. "The notorious Churchill tank, the most thick-skinned weapon in Europe, also won commendation. This tank was originally conceived in 1940, for fighting in the lanes and in the enclosed country of this Island, and in spite of every form of abuse as well as the difficulty inherent upon haste in design and construction, it is now once again coming into its own as it did for a short while in Northern Tunisia in 1942. It is coming into its own because the conditions of the war in France and in parts of Italy in which we are now fighting are extremely suitable to its climbing and manoeuvrable qualities and heavy armour. No particular type can be perfect. The Tiger and the Panther are, essentially, weapons of defence, whereas the Cromwell and Sherman belong to the offensive. The Churchill can be either defensive or offensive as circumstances may require. "But there is one more general feature which has emerged in the fighting in Normandy to which I must draw the attention of the House. No new tank weapon or type of ammunition has been employed by the enemy. They have brought out nothing new so far, whereas we have put into operation for the first time in these operations the Sherman tank mounting the 17-pounder, the latest Churchill tank, the new Cromwell tank and we have also a number of interesting variants of very great ingenuity, which I cannot tell the House about to-day, because we do not know whether the enemy have had an opportunity of testing them and tasting them." A major factor in Brtish success on D-Day was that the British assault forces were lavishly equipped with armor and "Funnies" of the 79th Armoured Division. The "Funnies" were the specialist vehicles. The Mark VII proved a versatile tank indeed. In October 1943, production began on 800 Churchill flame-throwing tanks, called “Crocodiles.” The only marked difference in the Crocodile from a normal Churchill tank was that the hull machine gun was replaced by a flame projector. Some 400 gallons of thickened gasoline trailed behind in an armored trailer, pressurized by cylinders of compressed nitrogen.

By D-Day (06 June 1944), 180 Mark III and IV Churchills were converted to AVRE (Armoured Ve-hicle, Royal Engineers), fitted (in the 75-mm mount) with a “Petard,” 290-mm spigot mortar, capable of firing a 25-pound demolition charge (the so-called “Flying Dust-bin”) up to 80 yards, for clearing minefields. British "Flails" were rotating chains on a barrel-like structure, mounted on the front of the British Churchill tank. This was the best method for mechanized force to breach obstacles such as minefields. Another capability had to be introduced to allow tanks to scramble over the sea walls and larger dry canals and ditches of northern France. This capability was the Churchill ARK (Armored Ramp “Carrier”). The ARK was a Churchill tank without a turret. In the place of a turret were laid two timber trackways, with extension ramps secured to either end.

About that time General Oliver Leese reported as follows about the fighting in Italy: "It may interest you to know of the fine performance of the Churchill tanks, which supported the Canadian Corps when they attacked and broke through the Adolf Hitler line last month. They stood up to a lot of punishment from heavy anti-tank guns. Several tanks were hard hit without the crews being injured. They got across some amazingly rough ground. Their 6-pounder guns made good penetration and were quick to load and aim."

The Churchill lacked the mobility of the Sherman and was slower than the Royal Tiger. Additionally, the Churchill, adapted to the British rail gauge, was too narrow to accommodate any gun heavy enough to knock out the German Tiger tank. The “Black Prince,” essentially a refined Churchill with a 17-pounder high velocity gun, arrived too late to serve in World War II. The Churchill (more than 5,000 were produced) functioned well in many assignments for which it had not been originally designed - especially with engineers in combined operations. It was well-liked by infantry and - after initial mechanical “teething problems” - by its crews (for its spacious interior).


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Page last modified: 10-12-2018 18:40:00 ZULU