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The Churchill Mark II Infantry Tank in Service with the Canadian Army Overseas, 1941-43

September 7, 2015

by Mark W. Tonner

Introduction

This article is a follow-up to my earlier article “The Churchill Mark I infantry tank in service with the Canadian Army Overseas, 1941-43,” of August 28, 2015.

The Churchill Mark II was the second ‘Mark’ (the term ‘Mark’ used to designate different versions of equipment) of the Infantry Tank Mark IV, Churchill (A22), which was an ‘Infantry Tank’ specifically designed for fighting in support of infantry operations. The Infantry Tank Mark IV, Churchill (A22) was the fourth in the family of infantry tanks that had been developed by the British, and was designed by Vauxhall Motors Limited of Luton, Bedfordshire, England, who also acted as parent to a group of companies charged with the tanks production. Approximately 182 Churchill Mark II tanks saw service with the Canadian Army Overseas, with the units of the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade being the main Canadian user of Churchill infantry tanks. Between July 1941 and May 1943, the brigade was equipped with the Churchill Mark I, Mark II, Mark III, and Mark IV.

A Churchill Mark II of the Ontario Regiment on a field training exercise somewhere in England. Source: MilArt photo archives

A Churchill Mark II of the Ontario Regiment on a field training exercise somewhere in England. Source: MilArt photo archives

The British development of the Churchill Mark II

The original Churchill Mark II tank was to have been a Close Support tank, bearing the designation Churchill Mark II Close Support, which was based on the Churchill Mark I (which had a 3-inch howitzer mounted in the front hull plate next to the driver, and a 2-pounder and a coaxial Besa 7.92-millimetre machine gun mounted in the turret), but with a 3-inch howitzer and a coaxial Besa 7.92-millimetre machine gun mounted in the turret, and a 2-pounder mounted in the front hull plate. However, because of production delays, deliveries of 3-inch howitzers had fallen behind schedule, causing delays in Vauxhall Motors’ production of Churchill Mark I and Churchill Mark II Close Support tanks. This delay led to the decision being taken of mounting a second Besa 7.92-millimetre machine gun into the front hull plate, in lieu of the 3-inch howitzer, on in production Churchill Mark Is, which was followed shortly afterwards by the decision to cancel production of Churchill Mark II Close Support tanks (with only a few having been produced), so that when supplies of 3-inch howitzers became available, they could be mounted in Churchill Mark Is. While the delays in deliveries of 3-inch howitzers continued, and production of Churchill tanks continued, those with a 2-pounder gun and a coaxial Besa 7.92-millimetre machine gun mounted in the turret, and a second Besa 7.92-millimetre machine gun mounted in the front hull plate, were now designated the Churchill Mark II.

The Churchill Mark II was designed and built to the same specifications as the Churchill Mark I, except for the mounting of a second Besa 7.92-millimetre machine gun in the front hull plate, in lieu of the 3-inch howitzer. Because it was built to the same specifications as the Churchill Mark I, and since issue of the first production models of the Churchill to units was to begin in June 1941, the Churchill Mark II suffered the same “teething troubles” as the Churchill Mark I, and was subject to the rework programme later carried out to correct some of the tank’s more glaring faults. Under this rework programme (starting for Canadian units in the spring of 1942) many Churchill Mark I and Mark II tanks were brought up to the standard of the Churchill Mark III (which Canadian units also started to receive in the spring of 1942) by having their tracks fully covered, their hull side engine air intakes changed to top opening to prevent engine flooding when wading (and so that deep wading, trunks could be fitted to the top of the air intake louvres), fitting strengthening plates in the front horns.

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Note the placement of the second Besa 7.92-millimetre machine gun in the front hull plate of this Canadian crewed Churchill Mark II. Source: MilArt photo archives

A brief description of the Churchill Mark II

The Churchill Mark II (like the Churchill Mark I) had 102-millimetre thick armour (with a minimum thickness of 16-millimetres), making it one of the most heavily protected tanks built to that time. It weighed approximately 39-tons, and was 7.4-metres in length, by 3.3-metres in width, and stood at a height of 3.8-metres. It was powered by a 350-brake horsepower, 12-cylinder, horizontally-opposed engine, which could produce a road speed of 25-kilometres per hour and a cross-country speed of 13-kilometres per hour. It had an onboard fuel capacity of 682-litres, carried in six interconnected fuel tanks, three each side, located within the engine compartment, and also had an auxiliary fuel tank mounted on the outside rear hull, which carried an additional 148-litres. This auxiliary tank was connected to the main fuel system, but could be jettisoned from the tank in an emergency. This gave the Churchill Mark II a total fuel capacity of 830-litres allowing for a cruising range of 145 to 201-kilometres.

The Churchill Mark II had a 2-pounder gun (capable of penetrating 57-millimetres of armour at 457-metres) and a coaxial Besa 7.92-millimetre machine gun mounted in the turret, along with a 51-millimetre smoke bomb thrower mounted in the turret roof, and a second Besa 7.92-millimetre machine gun mounted in the hull front plate alongside the driver. The 2-pounder gun had an elevation of minus 15-degrees to plus 20-degrees. The Besa 7.92-millimetre machine gun mounted in the hull front plate, suffered from the same restricted traverse as that of the 3-inch howitzer mounted in the hull front plate of the Churchill Mark I, due to the width of the hull between the horns. It had a crew of five (a commander, a gun layer, a loader/(radio) operator, a driver, a co-driver/hull gunner) men, all of whom was cross-trained. The hull layout, turret, and the optics provided for the crew, were exactly the same as that of the Churchill Mark I. A No. 19 wireless set (radio) was also housed in the turret of the Churchill Mark II, which included an “A” set for general use, a “B” set for short range inter-tank work at troop level, and an intercommunication unit for the crew, so arranged that each member could establish contact with any one of the others.

As with the Churchill Mark I, there was adequate provision for stowage of ammunition and equipment, with the Churchill Mark II able to accommodate the stowage of 150 rounds of 2-pounder ammunition, 9,675 rounds of 7.92-millimetre ammunition (in 43 belts of 225 rounds each), and 25 smoke bombs. Additionally, each tank also carried one .303-inch Bren (Mark I) light machine gun with an anti-aircraft mounting and six 100-round drum type magazines, two .45 calibre Thompson sub-machine guns with six 50-round drum type and ten 20-round box type magazines each, and one Signal Pistol, No. 1, Mark III, with twelve cartridges (four red, four green, four white). Designated stowage locations for vehicle tools, spare parts, and equipment, and the crew’s personnel equipment, were also provided.

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Note the Bren light machine gun in its anti-aircraft mounting on the turret roof of this Canadian crewed Churchill Mark II. Source: MilArt photo archives

The Churchill Mark II in Canadian service

The Churchill Mark II entered service with the Canadian Army Overseas on 10 July 1941, when No. 1 Sub Depot of No. 1 Canadian Base Ordnance Depot, Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps, located at Bordon Camp, Hampshire, England, began to receive Churchill Mark II tanks straight from the Vauxhall Motors production line. These, in turn, on the same day, were issued to the 11th Canadian Army Tank Battalion (The Ontario Regiment (Tank)) of the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade.

Prior to arriving in the United Kingdom at the end of June 1941, and before leaving Canada, the three army tank battalions (later renamed army tank regiments on 15 May 1942) of the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade (which was the first formation of the Canadian Armoured Corps sent overseas), were to have been equipped with the Canadian-built Infantry Tank Mark III, Valentine. However, because of delays in Canadian tank production, the British War Office was asked to lend tanks to the incoming brigade. These would be replaced with Canadian-built tanks when Canadian production problems were overcome. With the support of the British Army’s Commander of the Royal Armoured Corps, this endeavour was successful, and immediately upon arrival in the United Kingdom, 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade was able to draw equipment on a respectable training scale. Under these arrangements with the British, the 11th Canadian Army Tank Battalion (The Ontario Regiment (Tank)) was to be equipped with Churchill tanks, while the 12th Canadian Army Tank Battalion (The Three Rivers Regiment (Tank)), and 14th Canadian Army Tank Battalions (The Calgary Regiment (Tank)), was to be equipped with the Infantry Tank Mark II, Matilda II (A12), until such time as more Churchill tanks became available. By 9 August 1941, the Ontario Regiment held 12 Churchill Mark II tanks, which grew to a total of 19 by September.

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A Churchill Mark II of the Ontario Regiment shown here shortly after it was issued on 18 July 1941. Source: MilArt photo archives

Because the Churchill Mark II was a brand-new type, the Ontario Regiment’s work included experimentation and tank trials as well as training for the tank crews. A representative of Vauxhall Motors Limited, was seconded to Headquarters 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade to record and report on the tank’s performance. The history of the regiment for this period states that they had constant problems with the mechanically unreliable early-model Churchill tanks, which were described as “having bugs in their guts.” With the Churchill tank having gone straight from the drawing board to production, this was natural and, indeed, expected. Nevertheless, the officer commanding 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade had faith in the merits of the Churchill tank and requested that his entire brigade be equipped with it, to which the British War Office readily agreed. The crews provided the Vauxhall representative with a steady stream of information, which in turn sent was back to Vauxhall Motors. This led to continual modifications and improvements to the tank. By 1 November 1941, the Ontario Regiment held 44 Churchill Mark II tanks, eight tanks shy of its total infantry tank strength of 52, as authorized under the War Establishment of a Canadian Army Tank Battalion.

At this time, a Canadian army tank battalion was organized, equipped, and manned, as per the War Establishment of a Canadian Army Tank Battalion (Cdn III/1940/33A/1) of 11th February 1941. The war establishment was a document that specified the organization of a unit, and its authorized entitlement for personnel, vehicles, and weapons. The document was updated whenever the unit was reorganized or they received new equipment. Under War Establishment (Cdn III/1940/33A/1), a Canadian army tank battalion included a battalion headquarters, headquarters squadron, and three tank squadrons. The battalion headquarters included four cruiser or infantry close support tanks. The headquarters squadron had a squadron headquarters, an intercommunication troop with nine scout cars, and an administrative troop. Each of the three tank squadrons had a squadron headquarters and five tank troops, each with three infantry tanks. The squadron headquarters had three tanks: one cruiser or infantry tank, and two cruiser or infantry close support tanks (the role in which the Churchill Mark I was employed). In all, each Canadian army tank battalion, was entitled to an overall tank strength of 58 tanks, 45 of which were infantry tanks.

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A Churchill Mark II of the Three Rivers Regiment fording a stream during a field training exercise in March 1943. Source: MilArt photo archives

On 6 November 1941, both the Three Rivers Regiment and Calgary Regiment began to be issued with the Churchill Mark II. By 30 November, the Three Rivers Regiment held six Churchill Mark II tanks and the Calgary Regiment held 19. As of 31 December, the Three Rivers Regiment held 42 Churchill Mark II tanks and the Calgary Regiment held 30. By 31 January 1942, 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade held a total of 143 Churchill Mark II tanks, with the Ontario Regiment holding 58, the Three Rivers Regiment holding 50, and the Calgary Regiment with 35.

Beginning in April 1942, Canadian-held Churchill Mark II tanks started to be withdrawn in exchange for Churchill Mark III tanks, which was followed on 30 May 1942, by the start of the withdrawal of Mark II tanks under the previously mentioned rework programme. Under the rework programme, these tanks were returned to the British Army’s Chilwell Mechanical Transport Sub-Depot, Royal Army Ordnance Corps, located at Vauxhall Motors in Luton, Bedfordshire, England. There, once all tank stores and wireless (radio) equipments were accounted for, the tank was struck off charge of the Canadian Army Overseas. New or reworked Churchill Mark II (or Mark III) tanks were in turn issued to the Canadian Army Overseas through No. 1 Canadian Base Ordnance Depot, to replace those that had been turned in. Like the Churchill Mark II, not all of the Churchill Mark II tanks operated by units of 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade had to be reworked. In July 1942, Canadian Military Headquarters (London, England) issued a list of tanks, that were not affected by the rework programme.

A reworked Churchill Mark II of the Calgary Regiment on a field training exercise in March 1943. Source: MilArt photo archives

A reworked Churchill Mark II of the Calgary Regiment on a field training exercise in March 1943. Source: MilArt photo archives

By the time of Operation Jubilee, the ill-fated combined operations raid carried out against the port of Dieppe, France, on 19 August 1942, the Calgary Regiment, held 15 Churchill Mark II tanks (six of which had been reworked), all of which had been issued to the regiment between 13 and 20 June, to replace thirteen Churchill Mark II tanks withdrawn under the rework programme. Of these 15 tanks, four were lost at Dieppe, one while serving with “B” squadron headquarters, two that were serving with regimental headquarters, and one serving with No. 15 Troop of “C” squadron. One Churchill Mark II serving with regimental headquarters (which did not land), along with the remaining ten Mark II tanks serving with “A” squadron returned to England, with the squadron not having landed. It would not be until 23 October 1942, that these losses to the Calgary Regiment would be replaced. Although not part of this story, three Churchill Mark II (Special) tanks (equipped with the Oke flame-throwing system), that had been taken on charge of the Calgary regiment on 20 June 1942, were also lost at Dieppe, while serving with No. 8 Troop of “B” squadron. For more information on these three tanks, please see Tank-based Devices used by the Calgary Regiment at Dieppe, on 19 August 1942 

As of 5 November 1942, a total of 127 Churchill Mark II tanks was held by units of the Canadian Army Overseas, in the United Kingdom. Of these 127 Mark II tanks, units of the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade held a total of 106, while ten were held between No. 1 Canadian Ordnance Reinforcement Unit, No. 2 Canadian Armoured Corps Reinforcement Unit, and No. 3 Canadian Armoured Corps Reinforcement Unit, and eleven (one of which was a reworked tank) were held as stock by No. 1 Canadian Base Ordnance Depot, Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps. The Churchill Mark II tanks held by No. 1 Canadian Ordnance Reinforcement Unit, were used for the training of craftsmen (mechanics) of the Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps on maintaining the tanks. Those held by Numbers 2, and 3 Canadian Armoured Corps Reinforcement Units, were used for the training of tank crew reinforcements for the tank regiments of the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade.

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A knocked out Churchill Mark II of Regimental Headquarters, The Calgary Regiment at Dieppe. Source: Authors’ image file

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Two Churchill Mark II tanks of “B” Squadron, The Ontario Regiment on a field training exercise in the fall of 1942. Source: MilArt photo archives

On 10 November 1942, Canadian Military Headquarters (London) informed No. 1 Canadian Base Ordnance Depot that 72 “new” Churchill tanks (12 Mark IR (reworked) and 60 Mark IV) were being released for issue to the Canadian Army in the United Kingdom. As these 72 tanks were issued, the Ontario and Calgary Regiments, between them, were to return eight Churchill Mark I and 64 Churchill Mark II tanks to Ordnance for either rework or issue to training units and schools within the United Kingdom. As of 5 January 1943, a total of 76 Churchill Mark II tanks was held by units of the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade. The Ontario Regiment held 15, the Three Rivers Regiment held 38, and the Calgary Regiment held the remaining 23. Also at this time, No. 1 Canadian Ordnance Reinforcement Unit held seven Churchill Mark II tanks, while No. 2 Canadian Armoured Corps Reinforcement Unit, and No. 3 Canadian Armoured Corps Reinforcement Unit held three apiece.

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A Churchill Mark II of “B” Squadron, The Three Rivers Regiment crossing a river ford during a field training exercise in 1943. Source: MilArt photo archives

By the beginning of March 1943, the British War Office intended that 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade should retain their Churchill Mark IIIR (reworked) and Mark IV tanks, and also keep their Churchill Mark IR (reworked) tanks as close support tanks. As of 1 March 1943, a total of 38 Churchill Mark II tanks was held by units of 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade, with Three Rivers Regiment holding 17, and the Calgary Regiment holding 21 (four of which were reworked). The War Office would try to exchange the brigade’s Churchill Mark II, Mark IIR (reworked) and Mark III tanks with Churchill Mark IIIR (reworked) and Mark IV tanks. This never happened. By 19 March 1943, the Canadian Army had decided to immediately re-equip 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade with the Canadian-built Cruiser Tank, Ram Mark II for their Churchill tanks on a one-for-one basis. Starting on 22 March 1943, the Churchill Mark II (along with the other Marks of the Churchill tank) began to be withdrawn from units of 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade, with the Calgary Regiment turning in 18 of their 21 Churchill Mark II tanks to No. 1 Canadian Base Ordnance Depot. This was followed on 29 March 1943, with the Three Rivers Regiment turning in their 17 Churchill Mark II tanks, and the Calgary Regiment their remaining three. By 12 April 1943, all Churchill Mark II tanks had been withdrawn from Canadian units in the United Kingdom and returned to the British. In all, between 10 July 1941 and 29 March 1943, approximately 182 Churchill Mark II tanks saw service with the Canadian Army Overseas, of which seven were reworked Churchill Mark II tanks.

A Churchill Mark II of “A” Squadron, The Three Rivers Regiment on a field training exercise in 1943. Source: MilArt photo archives

A Churchill Mark II of “A” Squadron, The Three Rivers Regiment on a field training exercise in 1943. Source: MilArt photo archives

More information on the Churchill Mark IIs which served with the Canadian Army Overseas can be found at RamTank.ca under the Churchill Registry heading.


Acknowledgements:

The author wishes to thank Clive M. Law, for providing photos from the MilArt photo archives, and for publishing this article.

Any errors or omissions, is entirely the fault of the author.

Bibliography:

Tank, Infantry, Mark IV Instruction Book. T.S. 149, May, 1941(Churchill I and II Instruction Book)(Chilwell Catalogue No. 62/308)(with Amendment Sheet No. 2, Issued October, 1941).

Tonner, Mark W., The Churchill in Canadian Service (Canadian Weapons of War Series), 2010, Service Publications; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. ISBN 978-1-894581-67-7,

— The Churchill Tank and the Canadian Armoured Corps, 2011, Service Publications; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. ISBN 978-1-894581-66-0.

From → Vehicles

One Comment
  1. Another excellent, informative article, Mark. Thanks for sharing your research with the community.

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