11 years ago
Service by Mark W. Tonner; Service Publications, Ottawa, Ontario,
Canada, 2010; 24 pp. with B&W photos and 1/35 scale plans; price CDN
$9.95; ISBN 1-894581-67-7
Advantages: good all around book on the history and use of the
Churchill in Canadian service to include Dieppe
Disadvantages: probably not enough for modelers
Rating: Highly Recommended
Recommendation: for all Commonwealth tank fans
The Churchill tank always struck me as something of a hybrid between
the rhomboid WW I tanks and more modern vehicles that defined the
Second World War. Big, slow, heavy and for the most part undergunned,
it nevertheless served well and in special purpose variants actually
served into the 1960s.
The Canadian experience only covered the first four marks of the
tank, but it did see heavy service with Canadian armoured forces in
Europe during 1941-1943. As it was an infantry (infantry support)
tank, it did not need high speed or maneuverability, only the ability
to accompany infantry while suffering punishment from enemy defenders.
Once the war began, Vauxhall Motors produced the first prototype in
December 1940. Once the design was accepted for service, production
began and the first tanks were fielded in June 1941.
The 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade (CATB) became the primary user of
the tank in the early days of the war. Originally fitted out with
Canadian built Valentines, the brigade swapped them out once they
arrived in England. Under the command of the legendary Brigadier F. F.
Worthington, the three armoured regiments =96 Ontario, Three Rivers, and
Calgary =96 were reequipped with the new tank.
The brigade had a mixture of Mark I and Mark II tanks. The former had
a 3" howitzer in the center of the hull and a 2-pdr in the turret
along with a coaxial 7.92mm Besa; the Mark II did away with the clumsy
howitzer in favor of a second Besa.
But as the early model Churchills left a lot to be desired, before
any were committed to action most of them had to go back to Vauxhall
for upgrading and correction of problems. Five tanks a week were
cycled through the program.
In April 1942 these early tanks began to be replaced with the
improved Mark III variant. As each regiment had an authorized strength
of 58 tanks, it took some time before all tanks could be replaced.
Practice was carried out with assault landings from tank landing ships
on the Isle of Wight, and it continued as the initial start of the
workup for what became D-Day.
In the meantime, the ill-starred raid on Dieppe was carried out on 19
August 1942 with tanks from the Calgary Regiment. This proved to be a
disaster with 27 of 30 Churchills making it ashore (two sank and one
never left its transport). 15 made it to the seawall and 10 were able
to return after attempting to take the town, but the shale beach was
more than the tracks of the tanks could take and most of them broke
down right on the beach itself. Four tanks were knocked out by enemy
fire, and the rest either broke down or had their tracks snapped. The
Calgary Regiment did not get its tanks replaced until the end of
October and then mostly by hand-me-down Mark I and II tanks.
In the meantime the Canadian troops tested the =93Oke=94 flamethrower
variant, to include taking one to Dieppe as the first Commonwealth use
of flame tanks, and the =93Carpet Laying Device=94 to provide beach
passage. Two actually did succeed in laying their matting at Dieppe
(out of five so equipped) but to no avail.
After Dieppe the Canadian forces quickly soured on the Churchill,
preferring the Canadian built Ram. Even though the Canadians were
issued the new Mark IV variant. However, in March 1943 the Canadians
made the decision to swap them for Ram Mk. II tanks and they soon
handed them back to the British. By the end of May 1943 the Churchill
was no longer in Canadian service.
This little book provides a number of excellent photos of Canadian
Churchill tanks as well as a set of plans by Kurt Gagnon giving the
Overall, as with all of the =93Weapons at War=94 series, this book covers
little-known aspects of weapons in Canadian service and as such is
always of interest.
Thanks to Clive Law for the review sample.