ARM: Review- "The Churchill Tank and The Canadian Armoured Corps" - Tonner

Book Review: The Churchill Tank and the Canadian Armoured Corps by
Mark W. Tonner; Service Publications, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, 2012;
126 pp. with B&W photos; price CDN $39.95; ISBN 1-894581-66-0 (http://
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Advantages: very good all around book on the history and use of the
Churchill in Canadian service to include Dieppe, includes a wealth of
detail to appeal to modelers as well as historians
Disadvantages: lack of plans will disappoint some modelers
Rating: Highly Recommended
Recommendation: for all Commonwealth tank fans
Most of the Service Publications books have followed a standard
format: they cover a single weapons system or area of equipment used
by the Canadian Army and present it in a 24 page 6" x 9" format. While
handy and useful for reference and modeling, it cannot by its nature
cover a specific vehicle or weapon in precise detail. Mark Tonner has
now expanded his very nice and useful =93Weapons of War=94 volume on the
Churchill tank in Canadian service with a full size 8=BD=94 x 11" big
format book on it with absolutely tons of information on the tanks.
Using material from a wide variety of sources and helpful historians
and modelers to include David Fletcher of the Tank Museum, Roddy de
Normann, Peter Brown and Steve Guthrie, Mark has presented an
incredibly detail accounting of the use of the Churchill in Canadian
service and their problems with the tank.
As I noted in my review of the first book, th 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. Here it notes
that it was =96 based on the A20 design offered by Harland & Wolff of
Belfast (the builders of the RMS Titanic) it was originally designed
with two sponsons, each with a 2-pdr gun. Vauxhall changed it by
lowering the sponsons, adding a turret and a host of other changes to
produce the A22 or what we now recognize as the Infantry Tank Mk. IV
or Churchill.
The 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade or 1 CATB was formed of three
battalions - regiments in the British sense - and was the first and
only formation equipped with the Churchill. They would have experience
with only the first four marks of the tank, and then only served with
them for one combat operation - Dieppe on 19 August 1942.
But the Churchill was rushed straight from drawing board to
production, and as a result suffered from a huge number of
shortcomings and failings due to its raw state of development. Early
tanks even came with a disclaimer from Vauxhall asking for patience
and also pleading for users to tell them what was wrong so they could
fix or replace the problem parts.
1 CATB became the primary user of the tank in the early days of the
war. Originally planned to be 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
trained aggressively on the new tanks.
Originally 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. As a result 1 CATB was constantly in flux
with tanks being rotated, tanks on deadline with inoperative systems,
and new tanks arriving to be worked up.
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 the Dieppe raid - Operation Jubilee.
The units had trained hard for the operation and were even receiving
some of the nascent vehicles which would evolve into the famous 79th
Armoured Division for D-Day two years later. These included carpet
layers, bobbin vehicles, and the Oke flamethrower variant. But first
came Dieppe.
The ill-starred raid on Dieppe was carried out on 19 August 1942 with
tanks from the Calgary Regiment being the only ones to make it ashore.
This proved to be a disaster with only 27 of 30 Churchills making it
ashore (two sank and one never left its transport) and all of them
being knocked out or broken down over the course of the operation. 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 good news was that the armor protection of the Churchill turned
out to be very reliable and none of the crews were injured inside the
vehicles. But the Calgary Regiment suffered heavy losses and it was
not until the end of October it was fully reequipped, but mostly by
hand-me-down Mark I and II tanks.
The special versions of the Churchill also had their problems at
Dieppe, one Oke surviving but not adding to the combat power of the
regiment. The =93Carpet Laying Devices=94 did try to provide beach passage
and two actually did succeed in laying their matting at Dieppe (out of
five so equipped) but to no avail.
Given the constant problems with the Churchill the Canadian Army
quickly soured on the type, opting to refit with the Canadian built
Ram Mk. II. By the end of May 1943 the Churchill was no longer in
Canadian service.
This expanded book provides tons of tables on data about the Canadian
Churchills as well as what is probably close to all of the Census
Numbers (registration numbers in US parlance) of the tanks provided
and used. Many of the tanks are shown with markings and names as well
as the details for each one and as such will be a real boon to any
modeler wanting to build an early (Mark I to Mark IV) Churchill tank.
Most useful is a complete description of Canadian markings and
insignia used on these tanks and a rundown of how the markings were
generated and assigned to each vehicle. A color illustration shows the
markings in full color and will help get modelers pointed in the right
A list of preserved Churchills in Canada with photos of each one are
also provided.
Overall, while some modelers may be disappointed no plans of the
fittings used at Dieppe are provided, the tremendous selection of
photos as well as the written text and tables should permit them to
build any one of the vehicles which participated in the operation as
well as many of the trainers used by the 1 CATB.
Thanks to Clive Law for the review sample.
Cookie Sewell
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