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Churchill Mk.III AVRE

AFV Club 1/35 Churchill Mk.III AVRE Kit First Look

By Cookie Sewell

Date of Review February 2009 Manufacturer AFV Club
Subject Churchill Mk.III AVRE Scale 1/35
Kit Number 35167 Primary Media 604 parts (529 in olive drab styrene, 30 etched brass, 25 metal springs, 15 clear styrene, 4 black vinyl, 1 length of black nylon string)
Pros First kit of this vehicle in styrene; very comprehensive breakdown of parts and also changes from previous kit; good selection of AVRE fittings Cons Low volume conversion turret only choice; very complex suspension will try modelers’ patience and dexterity, marking accuracy
Skill Level Intermediate MSRP (USD) $48.00

First Look

Early on – even during WW I – the armies in combat realized that with the advent of the armored fighting vehicle armored engineer vehicles would be handy to use in combat. Few efforts were made, however, with the extent of things primarily being fascine layers which were little more than British line tanks fitted with cables and racks to carry and release a fascine of bundled logs or even a prebuilt one.

During WW II all of the major powers worked on armored engineer vehicles, but nobody was more active and dedicated than Britain. Mostly due to the efforts of General Percy Hobart, the Commonwealth forces were equipped with mine clearers, bridge launchers, amphibious tanks, and special purpose armored vehicles. But of all the vehicles created, probably the most ingenious of the lot was the Armored Vehicle Royal Engineers or AVRE for short.

This tank was basically a Churchill infantry tank with its main armament removed and replaced by a short-range explosive charge launcher firing a large 11.5" (290mm) diameter charge (dubbed the “flying dustbin” by crews as it looked like a small trash can) for demolishing roadblocks, enemy strong points, and other obstacles. This was loaded by the bow machine gunner who had to open his hatch, open the front part of the launcher, load the charge, close the weapon and then get back into the tank. A small charge was breech loaded behind it to launch it over short distances.

The tank was also provided with standardized fittings for various engineer equipment such as mine rollers, plows, push-launched bridges, and anything else Hobart’s geniuses could think of to ease the business of war.

While early model Churchills were used for these conversions during the war, as the Churchill was declared obsolete as a gun tank after V-E day many of the later marks (VII and VIII) were converted to AVRE vehicles and soldiered on long after, fighting in Korea and many other smaller fights around the world and lasting up until about 1960.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the AVRE, and built models of them in 1/76 and 1/35 scale. My favorite is the one with the winch and drop device on the engine deck with the fittings for the Small Box Girder (SBG) fitted to the bow for instant gap crossing. So it is no surprise that I was excited to hear that AFV Club was going to release an AVRE version.

The kit is now here, and unfortunately is something of a disappointment. It’s not that AFV Club muffed the molds or the details; they are superb as always. The main reason is that I can only find two photos of what may be AVRE vehicles built on a Churchill Mark III vehicle with its welded turret. Nearly all of the combat photos from northwest Europe show the Mark IV variant with its cast turret as the primary conversion base for the AVRE models. I do have to point out in defense of AFV Club that they have photos of what does appear to be an actual AVRE on a Mark III turret in the directions, but where they found or any other information is not provided.

While I understand mold amortization is a necessity in this day and age, with this in mind and many Commonwealth armour (with a “u”) fans keenly aware of the differences, this is something of a blunder and will not go down very well. While it is obvious that there were AVREs on the Mark III out of 180 or so built the bulk of them as well as most of the "in action" photos are of the Mark IV. As a result, I am willing to bet both Accurate Armour and Cromwell will be working to produce a conversion turret in resin to solve this problem.

Once past that glitch, the rest of the kit is beautiful. AFV Club provides 138 new parts for this version, and they are all petite and look the part. The charge launcher is very neatly done and consists of 23 parts; it may be mounted in either loaded or loading positions as the modeler sees fit. The kit comes with the universal fittings brackets for both sponsons and the modified hatches for the driver and bow machine gunner. A new cupola is also provided.

The rest of the kit pretty much mirrors the earlier Mark III kit (AF35153). The suspension is very complex and from comments I got back from Steve Zaloga is every bit the handful it appears to be. Each of the 12 bogie units per side consists of a central tower, metal spring, rocker arm, four-piece bogie carrier units, bogie separators/dividers, and twin wheel sets per set. The problems revolve trying to get all 12 of the bogie towers (which place the springs under compression in place in one sponson half and then cement the other side of the sponson to it to “capture” them without launching tower units into space (or worse, shag carpet). Each complete sponson requires 96 parts – more than many kits consisted of 30 years ago. Two spare units are included which mount upside down on the rear section of the fenders.

Once again, even with the new hatches for the front of the hull and cupola there is no basic interior. As before, the side hatches are neatly done and have inner and outer parts to provide for the correct thickness. But the actual vehicle (having photographed the one in the Cobbaton Combat Collection, which was a “runner” at the time and being serviced with hatches open) has a “tunnel” from the driver’s compartment to the hatch; here there are just the inner bits of the sponson assembly.

As with its parent kit note that the etched brass parts are called out as normal parts (G parts) with no flags for using ACC glue. The Besa machine guns also have lovely little etched brass ventilated guards that have to be fitted.

Credit for assistance in researching this kit is given to Mr Orsbourn.

Four different finishing options are given: 26 Assault Squadron 5 Assault Brigade, D-Day 6 June 1944 (T68141, White 3A 79th Armoured Division); 82 Assault Squadron 6 Assault Brigade D-Day 6 June 1944 (T68916, 79th Armoured Division); F Assault Squadron Black Half A Armoured Regiment RE, Italy 1945 (Black Circle 3); 26 Assault Squadron 32 Assault Engineer Regiment, Germany 1949 (T68148, BANDIT). As noted I have no clue as to whether or not these vehicles are correct or they should be Mark IV based tanks. Peter Brown reports the markings and credits are a mishmash and not very accurate, from his records on the tanks. Sort of figured that.

Overall, while the kit is physically lovely, I wish that AFV Club had used the Mark IV turret and eliminated both suspicion of error and also given more possibilities for correctly modeling this vehicle as it was actually used.

Sprue Layout

  • A 37 Hull, mud guards
  • B 32 Upper hull, fenders, hatches
  • C 26 Sponsons, turret details
  • D 70 x 2 Suspension, wheels
  • E 73 x 2 Sponson details, machine guns
  • F 11 Welded turret
  • G 30 Etched brass
  • H 15 Clear styrene
  • J 1 Black nylon string
  • K 25 Metal springs
  • L 39 AVRE parts (bomb thrower, brackets)
  • M 49x2 AVRE related fittings
  • T 4 Black vinyl

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