For the Record: Tanks on Trial: Churchill – a Bad Tank or a Good One?
Hello everyone, first, a quick explanation what this post will be about. About a week ago, we had a bit of an Skype conversation with David “Listy” Lister – just some friendly jabs from my side about the Churchill not being exactly a stellar design. Listy, the British fan he is – of course started to defend the Churchill and from this discussion came an idea – let’s make it a trial and let YOU, the people, decide. So, here’s how it’s going to work – the rules: I am going to write a text (an “accusation”) about my opinion on the Churchill and why it wasn’t a good tank design. Listy is going to write his “defense” and send it to me for publication in this very same post. I do not know what he is going to write and I won’t know until I open his e-mail. He doesn’t know what I am going to write either (of course, based on the argument, we both have a rough idea about the matter though). I post both arguments at the same time and then there will be a poll about who is right and YOU, the people, will decide: Was Churchill a good tank design, or was it in fact a piece of (s)crap? Let’s begin! (please note that my knowledge of British tank details is nowhere near Listy’s, so I will not be going into too much detail and will get naming conventions probably wrong at some point, that however should not invalidate the general principles of the accusation) Silentstalker’s Accusation Churchill is possibly the best known British heavy tank and one of the iconic vehicles of the British tree in World of Tanks. But… is it good? Was it good actually? Did it historically make sense? Let’s find out. What we now know as the Churchill series of infantry tanks came to be as a replacement for the Infantry Tank Mk.II, widely known as the Matilda II. Matilda II was a nasty surprise for the Germans – its tough armor proved to be invulnerable to everything but the most powerful enemy guns. It however (apart from generally being underpowered) had one fatal flaw: it was so small it was practically impossible to upgun. Hence, a new infantry tank was needed. Let’s switch to the desperate year 1940, when Britain was barely holding on against the onslaught of the nazi air force. At that point, resources (including steel) were at premium – and being primarily a naval power, the steel was allocated to the shipbuilding industry. At that point, Soviet Union was still Germany’s ally, USA weren’t in the war yet and Britain was standing practically alone. It was at this point the development of the Churchill started with the A20 Infantry Tank. One might argue that in a country, that had very limited resources, developing a 43 ton infantry tank with the meager firepower of the 2pdr (although sufficient in 1940) was a complete waste of resources and thus a flawed concept from the beginning (the same way the Maus was pointless for the Germans – a resource hog, that – unless fighting under ideal conditions, such as German air superiority – would prove to be more a burden than a boon). The entire concept of the tank was built around three conditions: - very thick armor - infantry-type mobility (cca 20 km/h on the road, cca 10 km/h in terrain) - sufficient armament Looking back, it’s now obvious that the day of very slow (infantry) tanks was over by then (which actually almost every nation managed to understand – Americans with their M3 Medium and later the Sherman, Russians with their T-34 universal medium tank and the KV-1, which was not very mobile either, but compared to the early Churchill, it carried better armament, also was a pre-Blitzkrieg design – and of course the Germans with their Blitzkrieg concept), but the development and production proceeded anyway. The design of the A20 successor, Churchill Mk.I was obsolete by the time it was designed, let alone by the time the tanks started rolling off the production line (mid 1941). It was slow, underpowered (39 tons, 350hp engine) and unrefined. The speed with which it was designed and rushed in production meant that the design was full of flaws, unreliable and prone to breakdowns. The frontal armor was quite thick (102mm), but the turret was small and underarmed (only a 2pdr). This proved to be a bane of all Churchills until the end of the war – the lag of armament behind the enemy armor and gun development (although the OQF 75mm gun was adequate – although not excellent – for its time). The vehicle was also very slow, barely reaching 14 km/h off road – suitable for defensive operations perhaps, but not for anything else. Churchill Mk.I was also equipped with a hull mounted howitzer, that had to be aimed by moving the entire tank. This solution was as pointless as it was obsolete and the howitzer was removed in the future versions of the tank. The first use of the Churchill was the infamous and doomed Dieppe raid in August 1942. The battle was an unmitigated disaster and all the Churchills that made it to the shore (and didn’t drown) were either knocked out or got stuck and were abandoned. Germans took a look at the captured Churchills and their conclusion was it was an obsolete tank in every respect and nothing of worth was found (the armor was apparently judged as obsolete). This disaster nearly led to the cancellation of the Churchill program. Several Churchills (upgunned to 6pdr) fought in Africa as well in late 1942, but the numbers involved were small and thus the performance cannot be really measured, especially considering the fact that by the Second Battle of El Alamein, the German forces were in pretty bad shape and generally underequipped, compared to the divisions attacking the Soviet Union. In one instance, the Churchill managed to actually defeat one Tiger (the Bovington Tiger), but that was just an insane portion of luck, as the shell jammed the Tiger turret and the crew decided to bail out – other than that, the Churchill, despite being 40 ton heavy tank, was completely outclassed by the Big Cats. Better picture of the Churchill is offered by the Soviets. Around 300 Churchill Mk.III’s and IV’s (equipped with a 6pdr and partially new turret) were sent to the Soviet Union and actually participated in the legendary Battle of Kursk. We know that the Germans thought the Churchill was rubbish. Thanks to the translated report (special thanks to Ensign Expendable), we Continue reading →