In the bleak days following Dunkirk, the British Army was left with only a few dozen tanks on English soil to defend against a German invasion. There was no time to develop an all-new vehicle, so it was decided to take the A20 prototype – essentially an evolution of WWI types, with sponson-mounted 2pdrs – and use this as a basis for a production vehicle that needed to be ready within a year. The resulting A22 was named Churchill. Armor was heavy, ranging from .63 to four inches, but the twin Bedford 6-cylinder powerplant was not suited for a vehicle of the Churchill's weight, and proved prone to breakdowns. A hull-mounted 3-inch gun and a 2pdr in the turret were fitted; the latter weapon was much too small, but it was what was available in a time of crisis. There were a few close support tanks fitted with the 3 inch in the turret and the 2 pdr in the hull (some sources have this variant being armed with a pauir of 3-inchers).
The Churchill III had a new turret to fit the much better 6pdr – this was of welded construction, while the Churchill IV had a cast unit. A considerable number of IVs in Africa were given field conversions to take American 75mm guns, while the Churchill V was a new-build close-support variant armed with a 95mm howitzer. The Churchill VII was the ultimate new-production model, with a new turret mounting a license-built 75mm gun and tougher armor. The Churchill VIII was the equivalent 95mm armed version. The Churchill IX designation applied to III/IVs given the VII turret, but with the 6pdr. Other IVs were refitted with the 75mm as Churchill Xs. Churchills were employed in a dizzying number of special configurations for use in mine clearing, combat engineering, bridge laying, and vehicle recovery. The Churchill would be out of service as a frontline tank with the British Army by the early 1950s, but AVRE versions would remain in service for a decade beyond that.
A major role of the Churchill would be as a flame tank; the Ore variant was a service test model with a flame adapter mounted next to the hull gun. A trio of Ores were part of the Dieppe Raid, but did not engage the German defenders before being destroyed. More sophisticated was the Churchill Crocodile, which replaced the hull machine gun with a flame projector fed from a trailer towed behind the tank.
The continuing need for ever heavier guns to defeat new German tanks led to the development of the Centurion, but as this vehicle would take time to bring to fruition, a small number of A43 Super Churchill prototypes were produced in an effort to develop an interim heavily armored vehicle armed with the 17 pdr.. Rechristened Black Prince, the A43 had a new, larger turret which in turn dictated a wider hull and tracks. Although powerfully armed, the Black Prince was slow, thanks to the use of the same basic engine as the Churchill. Too late for wartime production, the A43 was not put into production.
Video walk around of a Churchill at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa
An excellent overhead view of a Churchill.
Comet Cruiser Tank
The final evolution of the cruiser tank line, the A34 Comet design originated from the Cromwell, although the resulting vehicle was essentially new. The difficulties of fitting the 17pdr to a Cromwell-width hull led to the development of a short-barreled version that was designated as the 77mm. Small numbers of Comets began to be delivered in late 1944, but the type was only starting to arrive in quantity as German resistance was nearing its end. The Comet, with its Cromwell-inherited weak belly armor and unangled front armor was not ideal, but the 77mm was nearly as powerful as the full-up version, giving Comet crews a fighting chance against Panthers. The Comet was retired by 1950 for the most part, but examples were retained in the bastions of Hong Kong and West Berlin for some time afterwards.
Building the 1/76 scale Comet kit from Revell
The British counterpart to the American M103, the Conqueror filled a similar role, provividng heavy support firwe for smaller tanks (in this case Centurions) while being able to deal with the equivalent Soviet Joseph Stalin series heavy tanks. Again like the M103, the Conqueror used the same basic engine as its lighter companion vehicle, and was thus slow and prone to breakdowns. The Caernarvon prototype vehicle had a Centurion turret and cfrew, but production Conquerors had a massive 120mm weapon. The Conqueror had a short operational life, serving only from 1956-66.