Skip to content

The Churchill Mark III infantry tank in service with the Canadian Army Overseas, 1942-43

December 28, 2015

by Mark W. Tonner

Introduction

This article is the third in a series of articles on the various ‘Marks’ of the Infantry Tank Mark IV, Churchill (A22), which saw service with the Canadian Army Overseas between 1941 and 1943. The earlier articles being “The Churchill Mark I infantry tank in service with the Canadian Army Overseas, 1941-43” of August 28, 2015, and “The Churchill Mark II infantry tank in service with the Canadian Army Overseas, 1941-43” of September 7, 2015.

The Churchill Mark III was the third ‘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 52 Churchill Mark III 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 Churchill Mark I, Mark II, Mark III, and Mark IV tanks.

Image 1 (68173)

In the foreground, a Churchill Mark III of 13 Troop, “C” Squadron, The Calgary Regiment, on a regimental parade in June 1942. Source: MilArt photo archives

The British development of the Churchill Mark III

When the Infantry Tank Mark IV, Churchill (A22), was initially designed and went into production, it had been agreed that the 2-pounder gun mounted in the turret would be replaced by a 6-pounder gun when it became available. According to the British War Office policy of up-gunning cruiser and infantry tanks, the Churchill Mark III, which began coming off the production line in March 1942, was the first ‘Mark’ of the Churchill to mount the 6-pounder gun as its main armament, as opposed to the 2-pounder gun with which both the Churchill Mark I and Mark II had been equipped with. Also, this version standardized the Churchill’s secondary armament as one coaxial Besa 7.92-millimetre machine gun mounted in the turret, and another Besa 7.92-millimetre machine gun mounted in the front hull plate beside the driver.

A brief description of the Churchill Mark III

The Churchill Mark III (like the Churchill Mark I and Mark II) 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 7.7-metres in length, by 3.3-metres in width, and stood at a height of 2.5-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 III a total fuel capacity of 830-litres allowing for a cruising range of 145 to 201-kilometres.

Image 2 (DSC00479)

A reworked Churchill Mark III of 11 Troop, “C” Squadron, The Calgary Regiment, seen during combined operations training in January 1943. Note the driver’s large vision aperture. Source: MilArt photo archives

The Churchill Mark III had a 6-pounder gun (capable of penetrating 81-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 (Mark I) mounted in the turret roof, and a second Besa 7.92-millimetre machine gun mounted in the hull front plate alongside the driver. The 6-pounder gun had an elevation of minus 12.5-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, and the Besa 7.92-millimetre machine gun mounted in the hull front plate of the Churchill Mark II, 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 was divided into four compartments. At the front, the driving compartment also housed the gunner for the Besa 7.92-millimetre machine gun mounted in the front hull plate. Behind that was the fighting compartment containing the electrically-operated three-man (commander, gun layer, and the loader/(radio) operator) turret. Further to the rear was the engine compartment, followed by the rear compartment housing the gearbox, main and steering brakes, an air compressor, auxiliary battery charging set, and a turret power traverse generator. The hull was constructed of flat steel plates connected together with heavy steel angle irons, with rivets being used to secure the plates to the angle irons. The floor was flat and free from projections, and panniers were provided at each side between the upper and lower runs of the track for storage of equipment. The construction of the panniers was described as a double box girder, because each pannier formed a rectangular structure on each side of the hull, which created a hull of immense strength. The whole hull structure was suitably braced by cross girders and by the bulkheads that separated the various compartments.

The large square door (escape hatch) provided in each pannier just behind the driver and hull gunner positions was an unusual provision for British armoured fighting vehicles of this period, but was also very welcome by crews. Many a crewman who served as a driver or hull gunner on a Churchill is alive today because of these pannier doors. These doors could be opened or closed only from the inside, but the locking handles were designed so that the doors were automatically secured when they were closed. Each of these doors was provided with a circular pistol port, and two pistol ports were also provided in the turret. Double-hinged doors were provided in the hull roof above the driver and front gunner. They were normally operated from inside, but could be opened or secured from the outside by using a suitable key.

Image 3 (DSC00467)

An unidentified Churchill Mark III of The Three Rivers Regiment, photographed during training with other Churchill tanks of the regiment. Source: MilArt photo archives

The newly designed turret of the Churchill Mark III (to fit the 6-pounder gun) was of welded bullet proof steel plate construction, as opposed to the one piece bullet proof steel cast turret of the Churchill Mark I and Mark II. The turret could be controlled electrically when the engine was running, or it could be rotated by hand when the engine was stopped. When controlled electrically, the turret could be rotated at a fast speed of 360-degrees in 15 seconds, or at slow speed in 24 seconds. A cupola that could be rotated by hand independently of the turret was mounted in the turret roof for the use of the tank commander, which was rotatable by hand independently of the turret. A large hatch, closed by steel doors, was provided for the loader and gunner. A No. 19 wireless set (radio) was housed in the turret. This set 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.

For optics and viewing, the driver was provided with a large vision aperture, which could be reduced to a small port protected with very thick glass. When necessary, this small port could also be closed. The driver and hull gunner both had periscopes, and there were two other periscopes mounted in the front of the turret for the loader and gunner. The commander’s cupola was fitted with two periscopes. A Churchill tank driver’s vision was more restricted than on other tanks, because the driving compartment was set back so far from the forward track horns. Churchill drivers could see ahead, but could see very little on either side of the vehicle, and they relied on the tank commander to warn them of obstacles.

Image 4 (DSC00636 Neg 7239)

In the foreground, a newly issued (evidenced by the absence of the air intake louvre) reworked Churchill Mark III of The Calgary Regiment, on a regimental parade in June 1942. Source: MilArt photo archives

As with the Churchill Mark I and Mark II, there was adequate provision for stowage of ammunition and equipment, with the Churchill Mark III able to accommodate 85 rounds of 6-pounder ammunition, 6,975 rounds of 7.92-millimetre ammunition (in 31 belts of 225 rounds each), and 30 smoke bombs. Additionally, each tank also carried one .303-inch Bren (Mark I or Mark II) light machine gun with an anti-aircraft mounting and six 100-round drum type magazines, two .45 calibre Thompson sub-machine guns with 21, 20-round box type magazines each, 12 hand grenades, and one Signal Pistol, No. 1, Mark III (or Mark IV), 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.

Churchill Mark III tanks produced before May 1942 retained the original type of air intakes (louvres) on the side of the hull and fully exposed tracks, but those produced from May 1942 onwards had modified and improved air intakes (louvres) and track guards fitted. The distinctive welded turret for the 6-pounder on the Churchill Mark III greatly altered the external appearance of the Churchill tank.

The Churchill Mark III in Canadian service

The Churchill Mark III entered service with the Canadian Army Overseas in April 1942, when on 5 April, No. 1 Sub Depot of No. 1 Canadian Base Ordnance Depot, Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps (who handled all receipts and issues in the United Kingdom of Churchill tanks for the Canadian Army Overseas), began receiving Churchill Mark III tanks from the British. No. 1 Canadian Base Ordnance Depot began to issue this latest version of the Churchill tank (which were either new or reworked Mark III tanks) in exchange for Churchill Mark I and Mark II tanks to units of 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade, on 15 April 1942. At this time, the brigade consisted of Headquarters, 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade, Canadian Armoured Corps, the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade Headquarters Squadron (The New Brunswick Regiment (Tank)), Canadian Armoured Corps, the 11th Canadian Army Tank Battalion (The Ontario Regiment (Tank)), Canadian Armoured Corps, the 12th Canadian Army Tank Battalion (The Three Rivers Regiment (Tank)), Canadian Armoured Corps, and the 14th Canadian Army Tank Battalion (The Calgary Regiment (Tank)), Canadian Armoured Corps. On 15 May 1942, the three tank battalions of the brigade were redesignated tank regiments. By the end of June 1942, 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade held 47 6-pounder-armed Churchill Mark III tanks, with the Ontario Regiment holding six (all new), the Three Rivers Regiment with three (all new), and the Calgary Regiment with 38 (26 of which were reworked).

Image 5 (DSC00496 PA158011)

A Churchill Mark III of 7 Troop, “B” Squadron, The Three Rivers Regiment, which clearly shows the distinctive welded turret of the Churchill Mark III. 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 37 Churchill Mark III tanks (26 of which were reworked). Of these 37 Mark III tanks, 18 (12 of which were reworked) were lost at Dieppe, 12 while serving with “B” Squadron, and six with “C” Squadron. The 19 remaining Churchill Mark III 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 III tanks (one with “C Squadron, and two with “B” Squadron) which were fitted with a rudimentary apparatus (called a “Carpet Laying Device”) for forming a track way carried on a bobbin on the front of their hulls, were also lost at Dieppe. For more information on these three tanks, please see the MilArt article “Tank-based Devices used by the Calgary Regiment at Dieppe, on 19 August 1942” (of November 10, 2013).

Image 6 (Collection294)

A reworked Churchill Mark III of 6 Troop “B” Squadron, The Calgary Regiment, immobilized with her left track broken by enemy fire on the Promenade at Dieppe. Source: MilArt photo archives

Image 7 (Collection372)

A reworked Churchill Mark III of 10 Troop “B” Squadron, The Calgary Regiment, immobilized on the beach at Dieppe. Source: MilArt photo archives

Image 8 (Collection415)

A Churchill Mark III of 10 Troop “B” Squadron, The Calgary Regiment, on the beach at Dieppe. Source: MilArt photo archives.

As of 5 November 1942, the Canadian Army Overseas held a total of 33 Churchill Mark III tanks, all of which were on charge of the three army tank regiments of the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade. Starting in December 1942, with the Ontario Regiment, and continuing through the first three months of 1943, the army tank regiments of the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade began to be issued with the Churchill Mark IV tank, while the older Churchill Mark I, Mark II, and Mark III tanks, which had covered many miles and were generally in very poor condition, were withdrawn from service with the brigade. By 5 January 1943, 31 Churchill Mark III tanks were held within the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade, with the Ontario Regiment holding one, the Three Rivers Regiment six, and the Calgary Regiment holding 24 (10 of which were reworked). One month later, on 3 February, 22 Churchill Mark III tanks were held within the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade, with the Ontario Regiment holding one, the Three Rivers Regiment three, and the Calgary Regiment holding 18 (14 of which were reworked). Also, at this time, another 11 Churchill Mark III tanks were held as stock by No. 1 Canadian Base Ordnance Depot, Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps, but were subsequently issued to units of the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade. As of 1 March 1943, a total of 21 Churchill Mark III tanks was held by units of 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade, with the Ontario Regiment holding one (reworked), the Three Rivers Regiment three, and the Calgary Regiment holding 17 (13 of which were reworked), while the brigade’s remaining 12 Churchill Mark III tanks, were at No. 1 Canadian Base Ordnance Workshop, Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps, located at Bordon Camp, Hampshire, undergoing various degrees of repair.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A reworked Churchill Mark III of 14 Troop “C” Squadron, The Calgary Regiment, shown about to reverse up the ramp of a Landing Craft Tank during combined operations training in January 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, but 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 III (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 eight (five of which were reworked) Churchill Mark III tanks to No. 1 Canadian Base Ordnance Depot, Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps, for return to the British. This was followed on 29 March 1943, with the Three Rivers Regiment turning their three Churchill Mark III tanks, and the Calgary Regiment their remaining nine (eight of which were reworked). Earlier, on 19 March 1943, before the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade began to re-equip with Ram Mk II tanks, “B” Squadron of the Ontario Regiment with eighteen Churchill tanks (one of which was a Mark III) was sent to the British School of Infantry at Catterick, North Yorkshire, to assist in training infantry for a period of two months. These tanks were operated by Ontario Regiment crews on a rotational basis until 11 May 1943, when they were handed over to the British 148th Regiment, Royal Armoured Corps, at Catterick, and struck-off-change of the Canadian Army Overseas.

Image 10 (Scan10045)

A Churchill Mark III of Regimental Headquarters, The Three Rivers Regiment, photographed on Exercise Spartan, in March 1943. Source: MilArt photo archives.

By 12 April 1943, all Churchill Mark III tanks (except for the one with the Ontario Regiment squadron at the British School of Infantry, Catterick, North Yorkshire) had been struck-off-charge of the Canadian Army Overseas, and returned to the British through No. 1 Canadian Base Ordnance Depot, Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps. In all, between 5 April 1942 and 29 March 1943, approximately 52 Churchill Mark III tanks (of which 27 were reworked Mark III tanks) saw service with the Canadian Army Overseas.

More information on the Churchill Mark IIIs which served with the Canadian Army Overseas can be found at Ram Tank 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:

Churchill III and IV Instruction Book, T.S. 182, First Edition, July, 1942 (Chilwell Catalogue No. 62/426)(with Amendment No. 1 (October, 1942), Amendment No. 3 (November, 1942), Amendment No. 4 (February, 1943), Amendment No. 6 (August, 1943) and Amendment No. 8 (December, 1943)).

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.

Tonner, Mark W., The Churchill Tank and the Canadian Armoured Corps, (Canadian Weapons of War Series), 2011, Service Publications; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. ISBN 978-1-894581-66-0.

You can rate this article by clicking on the stars below

From → Vehicles

2 Comments
  1. Paul Roberts permalink

    Er, guys? All the photos are of Mk IIs and not Mk IIIs. They all have cast turrets and 2 pdrs…

    Paul Roberts.

    • Good catch Paul. The author noted this immediately and I have just corrected the photos (although the captions were correct I took the images from the wrong folder).

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: