Today, Duncan looks back at one of his first loves; the Churchill tank but this time it has got a distinctly Soviet aftertaste…
This article will be my 50th published for Breakthrough Assault, so I wanted to look back with some teary-eyed nostalgia to one of the first things I wrote to actually get on to the blog in the first place and that is my love of the Churchill.
Growing up in the south-east of England on of my enduring memories was summer holidays spent down in Portsmouth and walking past the D-Day museum there on the seafront. The Churchill Crocodile, standing proudly as a memorial to the brave men who stormed Hitler’s Atlantic Wall, always fascinated me and that childhood memory of being there with my Dad and staring up at this ugly brute has always stuck with me.
This love led me to complete a V3 Grenadier Guards Churchill force for Normandy. But with the release of Red Banner, my Sauron like eye has been drawn back to this true Mid War Monster in V4.
But why are British tanks in a Soviet list designed for 1943 and Kursk? – let’s have a look together.
The Lend Lease Program & Churchill’s in Action
Reading some articles into research conducted by a team of Soviet historians, the Soviet Union lost a mind-boggling 20,500 tanks from June to December 1941. That is an astounding number – to give it some context the entire British Empire only manufactured around 47,000 tanks and self-propelled guns during the totality of the six years they were fighting the Germans.
At the end of November 1941, only 670 Soviet tanks were available to defend Moscow. The Soviets needed to up manufacturing, and quickly if they were to remain in the fight on the Eastern Front.
British armour, provided under the Lend-Lease program, began landing in Archangel in northern Russia as early as October 1941 and it is estimated that by December 1941 up to 40% of all Soviet heavy and medium tank strength relied upon to defend the Soviet capital was lend-lease. Having helped safeguard Moscow from the marauding German Panzers the flow of British and American armour continued to flow into the Soviet Union at an astounding rate.
By 1942, Soviet armoured production had to switch to the modern T-34 medium and KV-1 heavy series tanks but their manufacturing was still woefully short of what was required to feed the voracious appetite that the Eastern Front had for chewing up both men and materials.
While the Matilda Mk II and Valentine tanks supplied by the British were certainly inferior to those homegrown models, the 2pdr gun was soon relegated to only being able to take on light tanks, their armoured protection allowed them to still remain useful to the Soviet war effort long into 1943. The Valentine was much praised by Soviet crews as a useful scout tank and Canada would eventually produce 1,420 Valentines, almost exclusively for delivery to the Soviet Union.
With regards to the Churchill, some 344 Churchill Mk III and Mk IV types were dispatched to the Soviet Union as part of the Lend-Lease programme but 91 were lost on route to their new home via the perilous Arctic Convoys. The Churchill that did make it safely to the Eastern Front were deployed as part of the Independent Breakthrough Heavy Tank Regiments and in 1942/43 they saw some of the fiercest
Churchill’s saw action in the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942 in the 47th and 48th Heavy Tank Regiments and the Battle of Kursk and the Fourth Battle of Kharkov in 1943 in the 15th and 36th Heavy Tank Regiments. In fact, Churchill’s were still in operational use in 1944 and were really only supplanted as a frontline heavy tank by the introduction of the IS-2 in 1944.
In Flames of War
So, on to the good stuff! What does this all mean for your tabletop aspirations? Well, the Churchill was, and is, a great tank in the British Armoured Fist list, but the Red Banner full formation of these brutes is a beauty.
The basic formation of an HQ Churchill and 2-4 platoons of 3-5 Churchills gets really pricey really quickly so be careful with not making your force too lopsided and not leaving enough points for some suitable support. Whilst I mention it I think the support options for this formation are really important as there are some inherent weaknesses in the Churchill that you must account and plan for.
I have opted for an HQ and 2 minimum sized platoons as this already clock in at around 60% of a standard list. This still leaves you plenty of wiggle room for some decent support choices.
Number one on that list of support is a respectable barrage to dig out infantry and gun teams. With the No HE rule, the Churchills are not going to be able to achieve this themselves with anything other than a close assault. I’ve opted for the more expensive SU-122 to support the Churchills for a few reasons.
The 122mm gun has a 3+ Firepower barrage – that extra pip of Firepower is amazing; so many times I’ve failed my 4+ Firepower with German tanks. The indirect AT 3 also lets you go “fishing for 1s” on a concentration of armoured targets which the smaller calibre SU-76 doesn’t really give you the option of. I’ve opted for the armoured, rather than a towed gun option, simply as it gives survivability. The SU-122 can’t be pinned and can happily come on from Reserve giving you flexibility too.
All that being said, I think that the SU-122 is costly for what it offers; FA5 is nice but is not going to last long in an AT12+ world but, saying that, the AT10, FP 2+ gun is an excellent assault weapon and can happily take on medium armour like the Panzer III or IV.
Next up in support is the IL-2 Shturmovik Assault Company. I’ve already written how I had, initially, in V4 dismissed airpower as unreliable and expensive and how I’ve now adopted a U-turn on this assumption.
The IL-2 gives you the power to reach out and affect the battlefield where you’re direct firing weapons simply cannot. Its 23mm cannons pack enough punch to shred German Tank Hunters or other High AT, Low S/RA assets and the AT5 bomb gives you a weapon that can threaten the real monsters coming out of Ghost Panzer.
Whilst the IL-2 is not reliable, only making an appearance 50% of the time, it will make your opponent think and affect their gameplay and for that alone, I am more than happy to include it in this list.
Your FA8 Churchills will need something to kill or contain
Finally, I’ve included a BA-10 Armoured Car Platoon. Mainly this is to take advantage of the scenarios that allow you to get some additional movement via Spearhead; the Churchill is as slow as it gets currently so any additional movement on deployment helps. The AT7 gun on the BA-10 is a welcome addition, whilst the highly mobile MG firepower is most welcome in a list lacking a lot of models.
Well, that is my whistle-stop tour through the Bulldogs of the Soviet army – I’m a massive proponent of quirky equipment and the addition of British Khaki to the red of the Soviet star makes my little “Flames of War Hipster” heart sing with joy.
Imagine the fun of having Soviet Churchills in British Khaki taking on German T-34s in Dunklegelb… just imagine… logs on to eBay…