The Churchill Specials


On the coming page you'll find some details on the 'specials' the British developed with the Churchill as a basis. These vehicles were mainly designed to support the landing forces during and after D-Day.

The Churchill Mk VII 'Crocodile'

During the at Dieppe Raid in 1942, three Churchill Mk II Oke's were deployed. This was the first version of the Churchill flamethrower. But before they could prove them self, they were all put out of action. The tank still had her main gun in the turret, but the machinegun in the front of the hull was replaced by the flamethrower nozzle.

Churchill Mk VII 'Crocodile'.

In October 1943 the Churchill Mk VII was chosen to become the basis for the flamethrower, 'Crocodile'. The system was delivered as a kit and could even be assembled in the field. The jelly-like fuel was towed behind the tank in a special trailer, and pumped by high pressure through a pipe system to the front. It was handled by the machine gunner in the front, who could give 80 shots of a second, or spray the whole lot in one go. The flame shot over a distance of 100 meters and was devastating. When the trailer was empty, it could be jettisoned, and the Crocodile could be deployed as a 'normal' Churchill

The connection point for the trailer of an Mk VII,
(Crocodile at the 'Musee Memorial de la Bataille de Normandie', Bayeux)

The reputation of the Crocodile spread ahead on the front, and a lot of German troops surrendered before the flamethrower could do it's terrible job. That was also the disadvantage of the Crocodile. If one got in trouble, the crew was given no clemency by the enemy. Until May, 1945, 800 Crocodile-systems were produced, of which 250 were made for the Far-East.

The Mk VII; on the right the flamethrower nozzle

De Churchill AVRE
(Armoured Vehicle, Royal Engineers)

One of the lessons learned during the failed landing at Dieppe in 1942, was the lack of a supporting vehicle that could assist in the destruction of concrete obstacles. Lieutenant Donovan of the Royal Canadian Engineers suggested not to invent a new vehicle, but to use a existing model as a basis.

An AVRE with the short Petard mortar

A Sherman and a model of a Ram were evaluated, but the best option was a Churchill. This tank had more workspace inside. It was also equipped with escape hatches at the side. This could be an advantage when the tank was operating close to it's target. The possibility that the tank was put out of action by the enemy, was much greater than normal, so a good escape for the crew was essential.

On the right, a Petard mortar, 'Flying Dustbin'

The main weapon was a Petard mortar of 29 cm at the front of the turret. This was an 18 kg heavy projectile, with the nickname, 'Flying Dustbin'. Through a hatch at the front the short barrel was loaded. A very dangerous ordeal when the tank was under fire. The devastating effect was enormous. But to have the best effect, the mortar was to be launched within 75 meters. For the basis Churchills Mk III and Mk IV were used. During D-Day 180 of these AVRE (Armoured Vehicle, Royal Engineers) tanks were in action with the 1st Assault Brigade of the 79th Armoured Division. Because of their great success, another 574 Churchill's were rebuilt as AVRE's and used in battles throughout western Europe.

An AVRE with Petard mortar near Bernières, Normandy

A variation on this idea to fight (concrete) obstacles, was the Churchill Mk IV with the so called ‘Onion’. It had a frame at the front which was covered in explosives. The Churchill drove towards the obstacle, placed the charges en moved back, en then the whole construction would blow.

A Churchill Mk IV with the 'Onion' frame

Some smaller obstacles, like ‘dragon teeth’, were no problem for the device, but pillboxes or casemates were though cookies, because the explosives could not be wrapped around these objects. The ‘Onion’ was not taken into production.

A Churchill AVRE with a 'Goat' frame

An improved version of the ‘Onion’ was the ‘Goat’. It was more horizontal placed in front of an AVRE, which gave the driver a better view. At an obstacle, it was place over or against the object with more accuracy then the ‘Onion’. There were 400 devices of the ‘Goat’ produced for AVRE’s, but if they were used during combat is not sure.

The AVRE's, equipped with a Petard mortar, were used in a series of duities. Some carried big roll's of timber, or logs to fill craters, ditches and trenches. Often they dragged behind them sledges with supplies or extra wood.

An AVRE loaded with wood

Another Churchill variant was the CIRD (Canadian Indestructible Roller Device) to clear fields from mines. When one heavy roller, that ran in front of the tank, hit a mine, it would detonate, the whole contraption of the wheel suspension would swing around it's axle. The AVRE would have to roll back to bring the wheel back into position. This system brought minimal damage to the rollers. The principal worked okay, but was cumbersome in the field. So the preferred tank to clear terrain from mines became the Sherman Crab with her flail.

A CIRD mine clearing Churchill

There were more adaptations for the AVRE. After the war the development with the Churchill as basis continued for some time. The Churchill VII AVRE stayed in British service until half way the 1960's, long after the 'standard' Churchill was called obsolete.

Below you'll find some other special developments with the Churchill as a basis.

Churchill Bobbin:
To prevent that heavy vehicles would strand in the sandy beaches of Normandy, the British developed a devise for the Churchill that consisted of a large roll of 'carpet'. This carpet was made out of canvas or coir matting and was rolled off in front of the Churchill. In this way, a temporary 'road' was laid down. In the sector Gold Beach a good use was made with these so called 'Bobbins'.

A Churchill 'Bobbin', shows the big drum for the canvas

Churchill ARV Mk I:
The Armoured Recovery Vehicle (ARV) was a Churchill Mk I or II without a turret. The supplies were stored in the open space where the turret normally was placed. On the front and back was an A-frame crane mounted for recovery work, such as broken down vehicles.

A Churchill ARV Mk I with in the back a Canadian Ram tank

Churchill ARV Mk II:
The Armoured Recovery Vehicle had as a basis a Churchill Mk III or IV. Just as his predecessor it lacked it's real turret, but this one had a fake turret installed with a fake gun. This hood gave some sort of protection for the crew and supplies. It had an A-frame and a winch which could tow 25 tons.

Een Churchill ARV Mk II

Churchill ARK Mk I:
One of the things that came to light during the Dieppe Raid, was the lack of bridge laying material, to cross ditches and to climb seawalls. At the end of 1943, the engineers of the 79th Armoured Division removed a turret from a Churchill and placed timber trackways. On the front and back ramps supported by kingposts and hinges were placed so vehicles could run over them. Testing was successful and 50 were ordered in February 1944. As a basis the Churchill Mk II and IV were used to produce the 'ARK' (Armoured Ramp Carrier).

An ARK Mk I during testing.

Churchill ARK Mk II:
In July 1944 the ARK was improved. The ramps were made longer and the left hand trackway was widened from 65 cm to 1.30 meter, so vehicles with a narrow wheel track could also use it. The ramps were held in upright position by kingposts when driven. A quick release mechanism dropped the ramps in place. There was no mechanism to bring them back up (this could be done with a recovery tank), because these ARK's were considered expendable.

An ARK Mk II 'UK Pattern'

There were two kinds of bridge layer ARK Mk II's, the 'UK Pattern' and the 'Italian Pattern'. The big difference between the two were the lack of the special trackways atop of the hull of the 'Italian Pattern', which was developed by the Americans. They used the topside of the tracks from the Churchill as die trackway. There was also a difference in the length of the ramp in front and the back (which were of even length at the 'UK Pattern') .

Churchill Bridgelayer:
From 1942 there was a 'real' bridge laying tank in development. A Churchill Mk III or IV without a turret had two bridgetracks of approximately 10 meters beside each other. An hydraulic mechanism brought the whole contraption to go across a ditch or crater. The bridge in place, could handle a weight of 60 tons.

A Churchill Mk III Bridgelayer

Other than with the ARK's, which were expendable (they even were driven or pushed into small rivers), the Churchill Bridgelayer recovered his bridge after use for the next use. After 1946 a heavier bridge was developed. It remained in service until the early 1960's when the Centurion bridgelayer replaced it.

A late Churchill Bridgelayer sticks out his bridge

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