The Churchill infantry tank represents the only truly heavy armor available to the western allies in Flames of War. Historically the Churchill had its roots in the trench warfare of the First World War and was designed to provide slow, but effective armored support and anti tank for infantry companies. The Churchill was unique in the war, for it was one of the few turreted tanks to have a purely support role for infantry. Though more advanced and arguably effective German doctrines viewed the tank as an independent machine of war separate from its slow infantry counterparts, the infantry tank in the form of the Churchill and its many variants proved invaluable for tommies needing armor support in the field. In Flames of War, the Churchill tank plays very similar to its historical role, and will provide any British infantry player with a slow but steady base of fire that can absorb large amounts of damage. This article will look at the most common variants of the Churchill tank and how best to employ them on the table. An article will follow later examining the Churchill “funnies” such as the Crocodile flame tank and AVRE.
In Flames of War the British have access to a variety of Churchill variants with varying weapon systems and armor. All Churchills, however, share the same set of characteristics which include Co-ax MG, Hull MG, Protected ammo, Slow tank, Tow hook and Wide tracks. These set of rules allow all Churchills, regardless of their type, to have a good chance of staying in their vehicles, traversing terrain and providing transport for gun teams.
The most common Churchill variants that saw service in the later European theater were the Type III, IV and VI. For the purposes of the game, these three main types all share the same good armor statistics of having eight frontal armor, a side rating of seven and a top value of two. The excellent armor rating of the Churchill is often the first statistic that stands out to British players ( and their opponents) and is the tank’s most important attribute. The heavy armor of the Churchill allows the tank to advance with the infantry and take out various anti infantry obstacles such as heavy machine guns and other medium armor. The excellent side and top armor values also make the tank an excellent assault vehicle that is all but immune to non dedicated anti tank infantry squads. Though the armor statistics may be identical, the armament of the three variants is quite different in terms of its range and versatility. The type IIIs and IVs have the QQF 6 pdr which has ROF 3, AT 10, a 24 inch range and a 4+ firepower check. This gun is basically identical to the towed version of the gun and serves much of the same purpose. Type III and IVs will be able to provide up to nine shots from their small three tank platoons. Besides having three shots, however, the QQF 6 pdr has no other attributes and a fairly limited range for a fully armored tank. The usefulness of the three main shots is also extremely limited by the reduced rate of fire of moving the tank.
A British player can upgrade their platoon of Churchill IIIs and IVs to VIs (Type NA 75 for Italy lists) for +15 points per tank. The VIs are a significant improvement from the earlier models as a result of their improved QQF 75mm gun. This gun, though having the same AT 10 rating has various other attributes such as a 32 inch range, 3+ firepower check, smoke rounds and most importantly, the ability use “semi indirect fire”. The ability for Churchill tanks to stay 32 inches away and bombard enemy targets with re-rolls is an invaluable asset to an infantry commander and also allows the tank to take full advantage of its excellent frontal armor. The upgrade to type VIs should be seriously considered by all British commanders for its cheapness and greatly increased versatility. Another optional upgrade for the IIIs, IVs and VIs is the ability to increase the frontal armor from eight to nine for +10 pts per tank. This is another addition that should be taken in almost all circumstance for it will give the tanks frontal armor 10 over 16 inches, making the semi indirect fire function even more devastating and giving your tanks the same armor as a Tiger! The final upgrade for a Churchill platoon out of the Turning Tide book and Fortress Europe (Normandy list) is the option to convert the platoon command tank into a Churchill VII for +60 pts. This relatively expensive upgrade increases the front armor of the vehicle to a staggering 13. The type VII command tank will be all but immune to most incoming fire and even the feared pak 88 can only gain a penetrating hit over 16 inches on an armor save throw of one. The type seven retains all other characteristics of the Type VI including the improved 75mm gun.
First and foremost, it must be recognized that the Churchill is an infantry support tank. It is not a dedicated anti tank hunter, nor can it swiftly move around the table. The tank’s main purpose is to provide durable and steady firepower to a commanders infantry component. There are two main tactics that may be applied to a Churchill’s deployment on the table. The first is the aggressive Churchill platoon. This platoon will advance in tandem with infantry platoons while providing fire on medium armor, or dug in targets. Once the advance comes close to the enemy, the tank platoon can be used to launch assaults , providing key pinning if the infantry need to make their own assaults. The aggressive platoon sacrifices its “semi indirect fire” ability for the chance to provide direct support to the infantry and add a great deal of strength to any foot slogging advance. The heavy armor of the Churchill makes it ideal for getting in close with the enemy and any commander planning to use this tactic should always spend the extra 30 pts per platoon to give all three tanks one extra front armor. The aggressive tactic is how I most often use my own Churchills and I find it creates an extremely durable and effective attacking force.
The second main approach to using the infantry tank is in the over-watch support role. Tanks used in this fashion will sit over 16 inches from the enemy and bombard their positions with re-rolled “semi-indirect fire”. While being over 16 inches away from the enemy will reduce the direct support giving to the infantry, this role will allow the vehicle to use all of its special rules and still take advantage of its heavy frontal armor. The over-watch Churchill will provide support from afar and may also use its smoke rounds to great advantage if dealing with heavy armor that may be encroaching on your infantry platoons. On the defense, this role will also be used to lock down objectives or key areas of the board where you opponent may maneuver.
When wilding a force with Churchills, British commanders must always be aware of the limitations of these vehicles and never force them into tasks in which they are ill suited for. Against heavy armor, these tanks will utterly fail. They may stick around for a bit longer than shermans or cromwells, but they will eventually succumb to the superior guns of tigers and panthers. If such vehicles appear, make use of the dedicated AT units in your force such as m-10s, Fireflies, typhoon air support or towed AT guns. The speed of these tanks also limits their use to the role in which they were designed: moving slowly with the infantry. Do not expect your Churchills to outflank your opponent or dash onto an objective. Probably the biggest weakness of the Infantry tank platoon is its small size of three vehicles. It will often struggle in certain assaults (especially if trained) and can be forced to take moral checks quite easily. The high armor values and protected ammo, however, help keep this small unit up and running.
The Churhill tank can be used to great success by a British commander if they employ the vehicle correctly in support of their infantry. Churchills are often the bane of German opponents who do not take the big cats (Tigers and Panthers) in their lists and can give a general infantry advance the much needed punch it needs to overcome an enemies defenses