Churchill tanks are the subject of this fascinating newsreel from British Pathé, as dozens of the ‘go anywhere’ infantry tank move in formation across the British countryside.
Later in 1942, after the footage was filmed, the tank made its combat début on the ill-fated Dieppe Raid. Where possible, the Churchill proved effective on that raid, but its deployment was severely hampered by the beach conditions which made them extremely vulnerable to enemy fire.
One of the heaviest Allied tanks of the Second World War – and among the most thickly armoured – the Churchill was a rugged tank known for its great hill climbing and cross country mobility. The Churchill continued to serve with the British Army in Korea, being withdrawn as a gun tank in 1952, but with specialist variants being retained for more than a decade after.
Early variants of the tank, such as those shown, featured around 100mm of frontal armour at its thickest. Later versions, such as the Mk.VII, had more than 150mm of armour all across the front hull and turret – much thicker than the armour on the infamous Tiger I.
The 2Pdr first installed in the turret were soon replaced with the more powerful 6Pdr gun, and this gun was in turn partially replaced by the 75mm QF Dual-purpose gun later in the war. The 75mm offered superior HE shell performance (more effective against infantry and anti-tank guns) at a time where German armour was uncommonly encountered. The 3in howitzer originally fitted to the Churchill’s hull was phased out.
The Churchill is perhaps best known for the series of specialist vehicles developed from its chassis, such as the AVRE and Crocodile flamethrower developed and utilised by Percy Hobart’s 79th Armoured Division. These tanks took on the lessons from the Oke flamethrower Churchills and other early devices used to support the landing at Dieppe. They proved indispensable during the Normandy campaign and beyond.