World War II: Churchill Tank

A22 Churchill
Public Domain


  • Length: 24 ft. 5 in.
  • Width: 10 ft. 8 in.
  • Height: 8 ft. 2 in.
  • Weight: 42 tons

Armor & Armament (A22F Churchill Mk. VII):

  • Primary Gun: 75 mm gun
  • Secondary Armament: 2 x Besa Machine Guns
  • Armor: .63 in. to 5.98 in.


  • Engine: 350 hp Bedford twin-six gasoline
  • Speed: 15 mph
  • Range: 56 miles
  • Suspension: Coiled Spring
  • Crew: 5 (commander, gunner, loader, driver, co-driver/hull gunner)

A22 Churchill - Design & Development

The origins of the A22 Churchill can be traced back to the days prior to World War II. In the late 1930s, the British Army began seeking a new infantry tank to replace the Matilda II and Valentine. Following the standard doctrine of the time, the army specified that the new tank be capable of traversing enemy obstacles, attacking fortifications, and navigating the shell-cratered battlefields that were typical of World War I. Initially designated the A20, the task of creating the vehicle was given to Harland & Wolff. Sacrificing speed and armament to meet the army's requirements, Harland & Wolff's early drawings saw the new tank armed with two QF 2-pounder guns mounted in side sponsons. This design was altered several times, including fitting either a QF 6--pounder or a French 75 mm gun in the forward hull, before four prototypes were produced in June 1940. 

These efforts were halted following the British evacuation from Dunkirk in May 1940. No longer needing a tank capable of maneuvering through World War I-style battlefields and after assessing Allied experiences in Poland and France, the army retracted the A20 specifications. With Germany threatening to invade Britain, Dr. Henry E. Merritt, director of Tank Design, issued a call for a new, more mobile infantry tank. Designated the A22, the contract was given to Vauxhall with orders that the new design be in production by the end of the year. Frantically working to produce the A22, Vauxhall designed a tank that sacrificed appearance for practicality.

Powered by Bedford twin-six gasoline engines, the A22 Churchill was the first tank to utilize the Merritt-Brown gearbox. This allowed the tank to be steered by changing the relative speeds of its tracks. The initial Mk. I Churchill was armed with a 2-pdr gun in the turret and 3-inch howitzer in the hull. For protection, it was given armor ranging in thickness from .63 inches to 4 inches. Entering production in June 1941, Vauxhall was concerned about the tank's lack of testing and included a leaflet in the user manual outlining existing problems and detailing practical repairs to mitigate the issues.

A22 Churchill - Early Operational History

The company's concerns were well founded as the A22 was soon beset with numerous problems and mechanical difficulties. Most critical of these was the reliability of the tank's engine, which was made worse due to its inaccessible location. Another issue was its weak armament. These factors combined to give the A22 a poor showing at its combat debut during the failed 1942 Dieppe Raid. Assigned to the 14th Canadian Tank Regiment (Calgary Regiment), 58 Churchills were tasked with supporting the mission. While several were lost before reaching the beach, only fourteen of those that made it ashore was able to penetrate into the town where they were quickly stopped by a variety of obstacles. Nearly canceled as a result, the Churchill was rescued with the introduction of the Mk. III in March 1942. The A22's weapons were removed and replaced with a 6-pdr gun in a new welded turret. A Besa machine gun took the place of the 3-inch howitzer.

A22 Churchill - Needed Improvements

Possessing a significant upgrade in its anti-tank capabilities, a small unit of Mk. IIIs performed well during the Second Battle of El Alamein. Supporting the attack of the 7th Motor Brigade, the improved Churchills proved extremely durable in the face of enemy anti-tank fire. This success led to the A22-equipped 25th Army Tank Brigade being dispatched to North Africa for General Sir Bernard Montgomery's campaign in Tunisia. Increasingly becoming the primary tank of British armored units, the Churchill saw service in Sicily and Italy. During these operations, many Mk. IIIs underwent field conversions to carry the 75 mm gun used on the American M4 Sherman. This alteration was formalized in the Mk. IV.

While the tank was updated and modified several times, its next major overhaul came with the creation of the A22F Mk. VII in 1944. First seeing service during the invasion of Normandy, the Mk. VII incorporated the more versatile 75mm gun as well as possessed a wider chassis and thicker armor (1 in. to 6 in.). The new variant employed welded construction rather than riveted to reduce weight and shorten production time. Additionally, the A22F could be converted into a flamethrower "Churchill Crocodile" tank with relative ease. One issue that did arise with the Mk. VII was that it was underpowered. Though the tank had been built larger and heavier, its engines were not updated which further reduced Churchill's already slow speed from 16 mph to 12.7 mph.

Serving with British forces during the campaign in northern Europe, the A22F, with its thick armor, was one of the few Allied tanks that could stand up to German Panther and Tiger tanks, though it's weaker armament meant that it had difficulty defeating them. The A22F and its predecessors were also renowned for their ability to cross rough terrain and obstacles that would have stopped other Allied tanks. Despite its early defects, the Churchill evolved into one of the key British tanks of the war. In addition to serving in its traditional role, Churchill was frequently adapted into specialist vehicles such as flame tanks, mobile bridges, armored personnel carriers, and armored engineer tanks. Retained after the war, the Churchill remained in British service until 1952.

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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: Churchill Tank." ThoughtCo, Jul. 31, 2021, Hickman, Kennedy. (2021, July 31). World War II: Churchill Tank. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: Churchill Tank." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 23, 2023).