The undisputed king of the desert – Churchills in Armoured Fist

 The ubiquitous Churchill Infantry Tank has been a favourite in British forces the world over, and now Battlefront bring us the new plastic models to go along with their inclusion in the V4 Desert. In this article Mark N. will be looking briefly at the history, and some lists that can take these fearsome armoured beasts

Choppy beginnings

You may know that I don’t really go into the history of the units I review and discuss on here; I usually leave that to people a lot more in the know. However, the Churchill tanks was such a turning point for the British armour in the desert and beyond, that I couldn’t not discuss it.

Churchill I tanks on exercise. Note the lack of track-guards along the return line.

The Churchill was rushed into development after the evacuation at Dunkirk in 1940. The original plan was that the tank was going to be designed along the same lines as the old Mk IV and Mk V tanks from the First World War, with two OQF 2pdrs located on sponsons either side of the tank. However, this idea was scrapped after the defeat in France, as the War Office realised that the war was not going to be the old, stagnant trench-warfare of yesteryear.
In June 1941 the first model Churchill tank rolled off the production line, armed with a turret 2pdr, co-axial Besa MG, and improved with the addition of a smoke and HE firing 3″ howitzer in the hull; the tank was perfect for infantry support.

Sadly, the first test of the tank, the raid of the French town of Dieppe, in August of 1942, almost sounded the death knell for the now famous Churchill tank. The ill-planned raid bogged down on the stony beach of Dieppe, and the tanks barely got past the sea-wall, before the Allied commanders were forced to call a retreat. 58 Churchill took part in the raid, along with 3 converted to carry flame-throwing equipment (given the suffix ‘OKE’), but not one was able to bring its weapon to bear before being put out of action.  Ultimately the raid provided some food for thought for the planners of D-Day, leading the “Hobart’s Funnies”.

A sad end for what should have been the ideal tool for the job.

Two months later, six improved Churchills (III); equipped with the harder hitting 6pdr firing a supply of HE and APCBC ammo and a BESA in place of the hull 3″ howitzer, were shipped to Egypt to be commanded by Major Norris King. A quick coat of paint to allow them to not stick out like a sore thumb in the desert, and the ‘Kingforce’ was ready to roll into action alongside the 2nd Dragoon Guards.
The Second Battle of El Alamein proved the worth of the Churchill in a proper combat situation. The advance had stalled, but despite taking numerous hits (estimates at over 100), the troop only lost one tank, but claimed several in return.
A few days later, and a tank down, the Kingforce took to the field once again, and proved their worth once more. This time no losses, though some were put out of action for a brief moment before repairs were conducted to get them back in the fight.
With the success of the Churchill in the Second Battle of El Alamein, the tank that was heading for the rubbish bin had been cemented as arguably the best infantry support tank of the war.

In Armoured Fist

The Churchill Armoured Squadron in Armoured Fist is based off the North Irish Horse, which was originally an Armoured Car Regiment, but were issued tanks in 1941, and re-issued the fairly decent Valentine. But this only lasted half a year, as they were reassigned to the 34th Army Tank Brigade, and issued Churchills. The regiment spent less than a year, and saw no action with the Brigade, before being transferred to 25 Army Tank Brigade, to support the 43rd (Wessex) Infantry division, in September 1942. Eventually, they were sent to Tunisia in February of 1943, where they committed themselves well in a number of operations, most notably ‘Longstop Hill’.

The North Irish Horse, along with 51 RTR and 142 RAC making up 25 Tank Brigade.

The vital statistics

And now about the unit itself:

The Churchill is a scary prospect for Italian Armour

The Churchill retains the standard ratings for British units in the desert:

  • Motivation:  Confident 4+
  • Skill: Trained 4+
  • Is Hit On: Careful 4+

The points to note are:

  • The heavy armour comes as no surprise to the veteran players who have used Churchills since their inclusion in the V1 book. The 8/7/2 armour has been a staple of the early Churchill mark’s.
  • The speed of the tank. Slightly slower than the medium tanks such as the Sherman and the Panzer, but with armour that thick, you don’t need to be getting anywhere fast.
  • Cross rating 2+, the Churchill would have had the standard cross rating of 3+, but then you factor in those tracks and suspension, which allowed it to cross terrain that even British commanders thought impassible.

A little look into the sub-ratings for the Churchills motivation, and we see a new inclusion which will also appear for the Valentine: Infantry Tank. To keep the Churchill (and Valentine) in the fight as long as your infantry are, they too are given a boosted Counterattack rating, allowing you to trundle these behemoths through dug in positions with glee. Their 2+ Cross rating coming in handy should the Axis decide that terrain is their friend, and you surprise them by Counterattacking and rolling straight through that defended position. Add into this the boost to Remount from the Protected Ammo, and the Churchill is a very stubborn brute who will refuse to go away until dealt with by something much larger (Avoid Tigers, 88s, and maybe even Marders).

Finally the gun. The surprise ‘discrepancy’ here is the lack of No HE for the 6pdr, which in previous editions always carried this liability. Here, the North Irish Horse have been issued HE rounds to deal with troublesome gun positions. The most probable reason behind this is that the Churchill III was issued with the HE shell Mk II, designed for use with the 6pdr, while the Crusader III and Valentine VII sadly miss out.  Additionally the Churchill is boosted to AT10.  This presumably models the issuing of Armour Piercing Capped, Ballistic Capped (APCBC) ammo.

What can you do with it?

As the core of a force

Believe it or not, this is a legal formation, albeit a slightly fragile one.

Let’s have a little discussion about lists for this one. As expected, the Churchill will not come in cheap, and as such fielding an entire Squadron of them will find you filling up your points rather quickly.
We’ll deal with this first, by taking a look at the starter box for Armoured Fist:

As you can see, the Churchill Armoured Squadron may take Sherman Armoured Troops as Core formation choices, this lessens the impact on your points, but not by much. Two Churchills, as shown in the list above is only a few points cheaper than Three Shermans. Added into this are two patrols of Universal Carriers; useful for scouting ahead and getting your big tanks into positions that will surprise your opponent.

But what else goes along with an infantry tank? Well, one would assume infantry. And you’d be right. The Churchill Armoured Squadron may take a single Rifle Platoon as part of their Core Formation, and adding one full strength platoon rounds the list up nicely to a points total that many people use.

A very simple addition to the starter box, and you have a decent little force that could probably deal with most threats.
There are quite a few downsides to this list, as you can imagine: No artillery means dealing with a horde of advancing infantry may be difficult, despite the presence of the Churchills (Top Armour 2 making them immune to basic infantry assaults). And of course all it takes is a daring Hun in a Stuka to get that lucky bomb-drop to really put paid to your plan.
Another major issue with this list, is that if you are unlucky enough to lose one of your Churchills through the attentions of 88, Lancia, Marder etc, then the ‘Confident – 4+’ rating might not be enough to keep his partner on the field long enough for you to achieve your goals, and if the other Churchill goes, that’s a lot of points that just fled the field.

As Support

In my own humble opinion, the Churchill works best as a support tank. Coupled into a strong Infantry Company, and clearing the way through difficult positions such as Dug-In HMG teams, and Mortar positions, allowing the infantry to push through and take objectives. I have another article, Australians in Armoured Fist, which takes a look at a list including Churchills as support, but for now, let’s just look at a ‘vanilla’ Rifle Company list with some Churchills.

That, to me, feels much better. Firstly, a nice strong core of Infantry, able to either sit back and hold the objectives, or get up and advance. Add into that the full-strength Churchill Armoured Troop, and you’re left with a force to be reckoned with. Again, the lack of AA, and the smaller artillery fire from the mortars might let you down, but there’s not going to be much that will shift the Churchills.

Command Cards?

The last thing to mention is that in the upcoming Command Cards, there are two Churchill specific cards. I’ll leave one of them a surprise, but I couldn’t not talk about my favourite Command Card so far. This card epitomises the Churchill as a tank, and when added into the list above, rounds it off nicely to a good, balanced point limit.

What’s not to love about this card? The Churchills can trundle through terrain, machine-guns rattling, before assaulting into that German position who thought they were safe.
Now, I know some people might consider this card a little ‘brainless’. You might think that this defeats the tactical choices for the player. But then again, you may only issue one movement order a turn, so if you are setting up an assault, you might find yourself just that little bit short, and might need that ‘Follow Me’, rather than the card above. But then, what if your ‘Follow Me’ takes you into terrain? Well, then you have to rely on 2+ Cross Checks. Or, do you set up in one turn, hope your opponent can’t bring guns to bear, or even retreat their unit you were targeting, and leave your Churchills high and dry without targets?

Final Thoughts?

I’m looking forward to getting some Churchills onto the field. Finally have some tanks that can resist the German AT that reigns supreme in some cases, and in others completely outclass anything the Brits can field. I will also no doubt be slowly replacing my tons of resin/metal Churchills with these snazzy new models, my shoulder is already thanking me.
Hopefully they’ll serve you well too.

Category: BritishDesertFlames of WarMid WarReviewsV4

2 comments

  1. I’m psyched. Ever since I was a lad (70’s ) I’ve read how these ugly ducklings went where no tanks could. In the Blitzkrieg PC games Chchs did their job, however slow. Nice to see the V4 MW Chchs serve/restore the Honor of the Regiment. Coming for ya Tiger 131!

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Article by: Mark Nisbet