The main prerequisite to the creation of another heavy tank modernization project for the engineering troops was the Dieppe Raid. During the course of this battle, the sappers of the advancing troops faced serious problems of various kinds. Among other things, there was a problem with the delivery of explosive charges to the various fences and other objects. Under the dense fire of the enemy, the fighters could not install explosives, because of which the barricades remained in place and prevented the troops from moving forward. Including for this reason the navy suffered a defeat.
After the retreat, Great Britain and Canada began to study the experience of battle and to draw the necessary conclusions. Thus, the Canadian military decided to develop a new model of armored vehicles, which could protect the fighters from enemy fire, as well as solve various tasks facing the engineering troops. It was proposed to build on an existing tank with a high level of protection and to equip it with a number of special equipment as well as new weapons. As the basis for such an engineering vehicle, we chose the Churchill infantry tank of the Mk.III modification.
General view of the museum engineering tank Churchill AVRE. Photo Tankmuseum.org
After upgrading, the Churchill tank was to be transformed into an “Armored vehicle of the royal sappers” - Armored Vehicle Royal Engineers or AVRE. The full name of the engineering tank looked like Churchill AVRE.
The main requirements for the machine used as a base for an engineering tank were a high level of protection and the ability to adapt to the solution of various special tasks. The Churchill Heavy Infantry Tank met these requirements. It was distinguished by relatively thick bookings; in basic versions it carried quite powerful. weaponand also had acceptable mobility characteristics. Thus, it could be equipped with new special equipment.
Protection of the front of the hull of the tank "Churchill" was assigned to several armor plates with a thickness of up to 102 mm. The vertical sides had a thickness of 76 mm, and 64-mm bronelist was placed in the stern. In the modification of the Mk.III a welded tower was introduced, consisting of several parts with a thickness of up to 76 mm. From above, the hull and the tower were protected by roofs up to 20 mm thick. With such a reservation, the tanks could withstand the shelling of various artillery systems without the risk of defeat. Given the need for the work of military engineers in close proximity to enemy positions armor to 102 mm thickness was an essential element of the machine.
Serial tanks were equipped with carburetor engines with power up to 350 hp. With the mass of the machine up to 40 t, this power plant provided acceptable specific power values. There was the possibility of moving on the highway at a speed of up to 25 km / h and at slower speeds on rough terrain. In this case, the tank could be equipped with additional funds in the form of trawls, mats, fascines, etc. These capabilities were most actively planned to be used in the operation of Churchill AVRE tanks.
Petard cannon. Photo of Armourinfocus.co.uk
A characteristic feature of the Churchill tanks was the undercarriage of unusual design. The caterpillar was enlarged so that it covered the hull side niches, increasing the size of the internal volume. On each side of the hull there on 11 dual road wheels with individual spring suspension. In front of the hull there were guide wheels, in the stern - leading wheels. Supporting rollers were absent, because instead of them special guides were used on the upper part of the side niches.
In the modification of the Mk.III, the Churchill tank lost its gun in the front hull sheet, instead of which it was proposed to install a rifle caliber machine gun. At the same time, an 57-mm QF 6 pounder Mk III gun and a machine gun paired with it were installed in the turret. Such weapons made it possible to solve the initial "tank" guns, but it was not suitable for using the vehicle as an engineering tank. It was decided to abandon the regular armament of the tank and replace it with a new system.
One of the main requirements for the engineering tank Churchill AVRE was the delivery of demolition charges to enemy targets. The authors of the project from the Canadian army decided to do without the traditional transportation of charges on the ground and use a new original solution. Now it was suggested to destroy the barriers in the most obvious way - by firing at them. To do this, the base tank had to lose its standard gun and receive instead a special system in the form of mortars with the required parameters.
"Slam" view from above. One can see the mechanisms of rocking the trunk. Photo of Armourinfocus.co.uk
Especially for an engineering tank was developed large-caliber short-barreled gun with the symbol Petard ("Slam"). It was proposed to mount on the full-time tools and fixtures used to deliver explosive charges by shelling. Due to the large caliber and relatively large size of ammunition, it was planned to increase the weight of the ammunition.
The main element of the “Flapper” mortar was a short barrel caliber 290 mm (6,5 inch). The length of the barrel slightly exceeded the longitudinal dimension of the used ammunition. The barrel had no rifling, on its inner surface there were several straight guides. The trunk was hinged on a support, which allowed it to swing to perform the loading. Due to the relatively large weight of the barrel and ammunition fastening system it was equipped with a spring, which makes it easier to perform basic operations. The trunk support had a plate that served as a shutter. The entire assembly was mounted on a tubular support that went into the tower through the front embrasure. There the support was fixed on the standard systems of installation of the instrument, which retained their functionality. There were propellant ignition systems inside the support.
By maximizing the basic tank designs could direct mortar in any direction in the horizontal plane by rotating the entire tower. Vertical guidance was carried out in the range from -8 ° to + 15 °. Arms control was carried out from crew jobs inside the tower.
For mortars Petard has developed a special ammunition of the original design. It had a cylindrical body with a main explosive charge, to which a cylindrical rod was attached. At the second end of the rod was located propellant charge in a cylindrical casing. The total weight of such a product was 40 pounds (18,15 kg), it was provided for a blasting mass of 28 pounds (12,7 kg). For the characteristic appearance of the ammunition for mortars received the unofficial name of the Flying Dustbin - "Flying litter bin."
Service tools. To the right of the soldier - ammunition for mortars (standing shank up). Photo of Wikimedia Commons
It was not possible to fit a large and heavy propellant charge into the dimensions of the ammunition, due to which the firing range did not exceed several tens of meters. At the optimum elevation angle of the barrel, the mortar Petard could throw the “Flying urn” only on 73 m. Nevertheless, it was enough to solve the main tasks of the engineering tank. Under the conditions of the battlefield, the crew could count on the protection of thick and powerful armor.
The use of “Slaps” was as follows. Approaching the target, the crew of an engineering tank had to prepare the weapon for a shot. To do this, the gunner disengaged the trunk and its support, after which it turned on the axis, lifting the barrel upwards. After that, the assistant driver could open his hatch in the roof and insert ammunition into the barrel. During recharging the assistant driver's almost no risk: beyond the armored housing for a short time turned out to be only his hands. After loading the new team fed mechanisms, and they turned the barrel in the firing position, fixing it locks. It should be noted that in some sources the Petard gun is referred to as dulnozharynym, however, the ammunition was sent when the barrel was turned through its breech cut.
After completion of the preparation for the shot, the gunner could set the required angles of horizontal and vertical guidance, and then make a shot. The product Flying Dustbin flew away to the target completely, without leaving a sleeve. After the shot, the crew could reload the mortar and attack a new enemy barrier.
Soldiers with "Flying urn". Photo Forum.valka.cz
Due to the relatively large size of the combat compartment of the base tank, the authors of the project Churchill AVRE managed to place a shotgun for the mortar inside the styling housing on the 31. All operations with the ammunition could be carried out under cover of armored housing, without any major risks.
An additional weapon of an engineering tank was the only BESA or Bren rifle caliber machine gun. In view of the dismantling of the standard gun, this weapon was located only on the installation in the front hull plate. To manage this machine gun should have an assistant driver.
Due to the absence of significant changes in the design of the hull or other units, the engineering tank had to keep dimensions and weight at the level of the base armored vehicle. The total length was 7,67 m, width - 3,25 m, height - 2,8 m. The combat weight did not exceed 37,65 t. Thus, the Churchill AVRE was even slightly lighter than a standard tank. The mobility characteristics and other parameters of the two samples were at the same level. To manage the tank was a crew of six. Among others, the crew was attended by a specialist miner who was responsible for the use of mortars, and also commanded the sappers when using other demolition charges.
The main task of the engineering tank Churchill AVRE was the destruction of obstacles and fortifications of the enemy on the battlefield. In this case, the machine could use various additional equipment. There was the possibility of installing trawls of the type CIRD, transportation of fascines, light bridges, etc. Thus, by installing a light bridge or closing the moat with other means, the tank could continue to move, firing at objects obstructing the attack.
Fighting vehicle at the front. Photo Forum.valka.cz
During 1943, Canadian experts completed the development of a new project, after which they collected a prototype of a new technology and tested it. Engineering tank Churchill AVRE was recommended for adoption and for the deployment of mass production. It was decided to abandon the construction of such equipment from scratch. As the basis for the machines of the engineering troops, it was necessary to use serial tanks of the corresponding modifications undergoing repairs. Initially, armored vehicles for sappers were built on the basis of the Churchill infantry tanks modification Mk.III. The latest series of such equipment were based on the machine version Mk.IV.
By the time the Allies landed in Normandy, the Canadian Army had the Churchill AVRE 180 engineering tanks. During the landing of a naval assault 6 on June 1944, this technique showed itself perfectly by performing various tasks. With the help of these or those means, the upgraded tanks helped to move other equipment, as well as bombarded the fortifications and barriers of the enemy from short distances, using the powerful armor available. According to the results of the first application, it was decided to continue assembling engineering tanks. Until the end of the war in Europe, a total of new types of 754 machines were assembled.
A curious feature of the operation of serial machines was the approach to manning the crew. Thus, five crew members were members of the Royal Engineers Corps, and the sixth, the driver, was listed as the Royal Armored Corps.
Churchill AVRE with additional engineering equipment. Photo Forum.valka.cz
Until the very end of the fighting in Europe, seven and a half hundreds of engineering tanks of Canadian design did not have to stand idle. The enemy tried with all his might to impede the advancement of the allies by some means or other with which the crews of Churchill AVRE had to contend. Part of the tanks was lost during the fighting, but most of this technology successfully coped with the tasks and destroyed a significant number of enemy targets.
After the end of the Second World War, the British and Canadian commanders decided not to abandon the existing engineering tanks. Armored vehicles, "Churchill» AVRE modifications remained in service until the mid-fifties. Subsequently, they began to write off and dispose of because of the hopeless obsolescence of the base chassis, as well as due to the development of the resource. Write-off of existing equipment tried to compensate by producing new, similar machines based on Churchill tanks later modifications. Such work allowed to some extent extend the service life of engineer tanks that were in service.
Due to obsolescence and physical obsolescence, as well as the emergence of newer models with enhanced characteristics, over time all Churchill AVREs were written off. Most of this technology went to the cutting, although several machines managed to live to this day. Currently, several museums of armored vehicles have a number of samples of such engineering tanks. For example, a tank from a museum in the British Bovington, restored in the late eighties, is still on the move and regularly participates in various events.
Perrett, B .: Churchill Infantry Tank 1941-51, Osprey, 1993