MANUFACTURER(S): State Factories - United Kingdom
OPERATORS: Australia; United Kingdom; Soviet Union
Detailing the development and operational history of the Churchill Crocodile (Churchill Mk VII) Flame-Throwing Combat Tank.
Entry last updated on 4/27/2017.
Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com.
The proven worth and numerical availability of the classic Churchill Infantry Tank made it an ideal candidate for slew of projects during World War 2 (1939-1945). One particularly successful conversion was the Churchill "Crocodile" which mated the existing gun tank to a flame-projecting system. The flamer unit replaced the coaxial machine gun installation in the turret face and a trailer was attached to the rear of the vehicle carrying the needed flamer fuel and propellant. The base Churchill tank was converted by way of a kit of which 800 were manufactured during the war. The Crocodile saw service along the Western and Eastern fronts as well as in the Italian campaign.
The British had been experimenting with flame-throwing tanks since the conflict began and these projects were both partial successes and failures. The Churchill "Oke" represented a Churchill Mk II developed to carry a flamethrower and these were used in the disastrous Dieppe Raid (1942) of France. The Crocodile was a follow-up form which was initially to use the Churchill Mk IV as its host vehicle. When showcased during a 1943 demonstration, the Crocodile caught the attention of General Percy Hobart and he pushed for the system to see widespread use. Hobart's name was attached to many special tank projects giving rise to the name of "Hobart's Funnies".
Churchill Crocodile (Churchill Mk VII) (Cont'd)
Flame-Throwing Combat Tank
In service the Churchill Crocodile model of choice became the Churchill Mk VII. The conversion process could be had in-the-field as opposed to the factory floor which made it possible for crews to modify any existing Churchill tank as a flame-throwing vehicle if the situation allowed/required it. The kit comprised the fuel/propellant trailer and reinforced pipe work. The trailer was towed behind the vehicle whilst the pipe ran under the vehicle floor. The BESA machine gun in its coaxial mounting within the turret was removed and the projector unit replaced it. One of the positive qualities of the conversion process was that the Churchill tank retained full functionality of its 75mm main gun which allowed it to continue to provide general ranged heavy gun fire as needed. Once in range of the flamethrower - about 120 yards - the projector unit could be brought into play. 400 gallons were carried in the towable trailer section.
Such vehicles proved great psychological weapons against entrenched enemies who would rather surrender than be burned to death. While range was a limiting factor for the projector, it's devastating firepower was never in question. The flames could penetrate weak spots in a bunker's design or clear entire swathes of cover. If the flames did not convince a stubborn enemy soldier, the intense heat generated by the weapon would. The British valued their Crocodile technology so much that any abandoned Crocodile tanks were required to be destroyed lest it fall into enemy hands.
After its service in World War 2, the Crocodile managed to see additional combat operations in Korea during the Korean War (1950-1953). They soldiered on until 1951 at which point the series was withdrawn from frontline service.