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The Churchill in Canadian Service

The Churchill in Canadian Service Book Review

By Cookie Sewell

Date of Review December 2010 Title The Churchill in Canadian Service
Author Mark W. Tonner Publisher Service Publications
Published 2010 ISBN 1-894581-67-7
Format 24 pages, softbound MSRP (CDN) $9.95


The 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. Big, slow, heavy and for the most part undergunned, it nevertheless served well and in special purpose variants actually served into the 1960s.

The Canadian experience only covered the first four marks of the tank, but it did see heavy service with Canadian armoured forces in Europe during 1941-1943. As it was an infantry (infantry support) tank, it did not need high speed or maneuverability, only the ability to accompany infantry while suffering punishment from enemy defenders. Once the war began, Vauxhall Motors produced the first prototype in December 1940. Once the design was accepted for service, production began and the first tanks were fielded in June 1941.

The 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade (CATB) became the primary user of the tank in the early days of the war. Originally 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 – Ontario, Three Rivers, and Calgary – were reequipped with the new tank.

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.

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 D-Day.

In the meantime, the ill-starred raid on Dieppe was carried out on 19 August 1942 with tanks from the Calgary Regiment. This proved to be a disaster with 27 of 30 Churchills making it ashore (two sank and one never left its transport). 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 Calgary Regiment did not get its tanks replaced until the end of October and then mostly by hand-me-down Mark I and II tanks.

In the meantime the Canadian troops tested the “Oke” flamethrower variant, to include taking one to Dieppe as the first Commonwealth use of flame tanks, and the “Carpet Laying Device” to provide beach passage. Two actually did succeed in laying their matting at Dieppe (out of five so equipped) but to no avail.

After Dieppe the Canadian forces quickly soured on the Churchill, preferring the Canadian built Ram. Even though the Canadians were issued the new Mark IV variant. However, in March 1943 the Canadians made the decision to swap them for Ram Mk. II tanks and they soon handed them back to the British. By the end of May 1943 the Churchill was no longer in Canadian service.

This little book provides a number of excellent photos of Canadian Churchill tanks as well as a set of plans by Kurt Gagnon giving the color scheme.

Overall, as with all of the “Weapons at War” series, this book covers little-known aspects of weapons in Canadian service and as such is always of interest.

Thanks to Clive Law of Service Publications for the review copy.