Some notes on the Churchill tank.

I was doing some research into the history of the Northern Irish Horse (a WW2 tank regiment) this week; I knew that they were the unit that took their Churchill tanks up Longstop Hill (properly named Djebel Rhar) but it is only now I know just what a feat that was. The rock-strewn hillside is very steep, up to 1 in 3, and was considered by its defenders to be impossible terrain for tanks to climb. Hence the defences were only set up for infantry attacks, which they had been able to repulse. Then the Northern Irish Horse tried taking some of their Churchill IIIs up the hillside and were able to do so -slowly, to be sure- sometimes zig-zagging to avoid the larger boulders. This caught the defenders by surprise, their mortars and Nebelwerfers were destroyed and the hill taken.

Later on, during the Italian campaign, during an ascent towards an assault on one of the many defensive lines, one of their Churchills slid off the narrow road down some 50 feet into a ravine, the tank rolling onto its turret and then back onto its tracks. The crew, surprisingly uninjured, then managed to climb the tank back up to the road without assistance. That same campaign also showed the Churchill's ability to cope with deep mud, something I have already written about in a precis of a trial towards the end of 1944.

I have always felt that wargames rules (and I have tried many!) do the Churchill tanks a mis-service. Yes, they take into account its thick armour, and there is no doubting its slowness, but no account is taken of its ability to go just about anywhere its crew want it to, whether it is up steep hills or through thick forests.

This page copyright SR Jenkins August 2022; reproduction without prior approval is prohibited.
Page last updated: 14th May 2023.
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