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Mr. Churchill's Tank - The British Infantry Tank MK IV

Peter Brown

 

Mr Churchill's Tank - The British Infantry Tank Mk IV by David Fletcher

Published by Schiffer Publishing Ltd, 4880 Lower Valley Road, Atglen, PA 19310, USA. ISBN 0-7643-0679-0 210 pages, large format hardback, fully illustrated. Price US $49.94 or UK 37.50

During the Second World War, the British Army operated three classes of tanks. The Light and medium-weight Cruiser classes generally corresponded in their intended roles with those of other nations. However, in the heavier class, Britain used the Infantry Tank. This was designed purely for support of infantry in the attack, and was designed to be move at the general pace of a foot soldier, while its armour was usually heavier so as to be able to withstand anti tank fire as it moved forward. While four types of this tank were produced, the third - the Valentine - was used at times in a cruiser role, but the last was definitely an Infantry Tank.

The Churchill was born out of an planned design which would have acted in a similar manner to the first heavy tanks of the Great War. Times had changed however, and with them the need for the original design. Vauxhall Motors were asked to design and act as developer and technical experts on the new series, which first appeared at a time when Britain's tank recourses and general fortunes were at a low ebb. It was built without the usual cycle of building and testing prototypes, which meant that when first introduced into service it had many problems to be overcome. From then on, the tank's fortunes waxed and waned. It came close to being taken out of production more than once, only to be reprieved and improved before finally becoming a useful vehicle in the field in its intended role and some new ones.

Its story is very complicated, and intertwined with that of British tank development at this period. While it has been written about before, some of what has appeared has missed some points or left details out. This makes the coverage here all the more valuable. David Fletcher is ideally placed, not only as one of Britain's leading authors on tank matters with a thirst for knowledge and an ability to pass that knowledge on in a very readable manner, but as Librarian and Curator at the Tank Museum he has ready access to a store of information on the Churchill and related matters. He follows the tank from its early beginnings, through development, user trials, problems in service and their resolution, improvements and modifications.

Much light is shed on other matters such as development of tank armament, as well as the often conflicting demands and sometimes confusion and interference in design and production. Some interesting might-have-beens and even some areas not well documented are included. As tank development is always a continuing tale, he also describes the original "shelled area" tank which spawned Churchill and ends with Black Prince, a sort of Super Churchill, which appeared in time to be made unnecessary by the replacement of two streams of tanks by one, universal design.

Not only is the story of the machines themselves told, but also its actions, from a less than auspicious debut at Dieppe through more successful use in Tunisia, then through North West Europe and Italy, on to its final deployment in Korea. Details, sadly still sketchy after many years and much change, of its use in Russia and peacetime service in Australia and Eire, are also included.

Churchills were not only used as gun tanks. Many were converted or built as specialist armour, which wisely are not covered here apart from the unusual 3" Gun Carrier. This leaves the way open for a full and detailed study of them at a later date, allowing more detail to be included in areas not usually covered. Some unusual field modifications are however covered. Alongside a text which should be read closely as it contains a wealth of detail which could easily be missed, are a fine collection of photographs of the many versions produced, including views in the factory and of such things as the turret basket separate from the tank, and many photos of the tanks in action. Even more detail is shown using original stowage diagrams and extracts from various handbooks to show specific components.

While most wartime British armour had a bad press, and the Churchill itself had some adverse comments, it generally came through with a good reputation. Its full story has had to wait a long time to be told, but now it has been brought into the light in good form in a book which deserves a worthy place among studies of major armoured vehicles.

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