Churchill Crocodile Flame-thrower
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The highly specialized Churchill Crocodile frame-thrower of World War II, was both an effective and terrifying weapon which often induced many German soldiers to immediately surrender. The tank was so hated that reportedly, captured Allied tank crews were often promptly executed by German combat soldiers.
The flame-throwing tank replaced the hull-mounted co-driver's machine gun on the heavily armoured Churchill infantry tank, but retained the main gun and turret mounted co-axial machine-gun. IWM photo above shows a Churchill Crocodile flamethrower with fuel tank trailer in tow. (August 1944).
The flame-thrower in action
The Churchill Crocodile was often assigned for use against enemy forces who were entrenched or fortified in bunkers, but according to Fletcher in Churchill Crocodile Flamethrower, (p. 21), “in Normandy the regiment [the 141st Royal Armoured Corps] spent most of its time dealing with woods, trenches and similar obstacles”. In Normandy the Churchill Crocodiles were attached to the 79th Armoured Division commanded by General Percy Hobart, and became known as as one of Hobart's Funnies.
The flamethrower could be used two ways; it could shoot a flame at its target or shoot just fuel, which could be ignited shortly after. Its range was over 80 yards. It used a specially developed, thickened fuel, which allowed for greater distance and accuracy. It towed an armoured trailer which provided it with 400 gallons of pressurized fuel through a link with a fuel tank in the trailer which also carried propellants. When the trailer became empty or disabled it could be disconnected, allowing the tank to carry on as a traditional infantry tank. IWM photo, shows close up of flame projector.
Development of the Churchill Crocodile
Several factors spurred the development of the Churchill Crocodile. The need was seen to have use of a flame thrower unit which was longer range and could carry more fuel than the back pack units. This need, along with that fact that Great Britain had large amounts of fuel in 1940, lead to the establishment of the Petroleum Warfare Department (PWD) which worked on developing a tank mounted flamethrower as well as a suitable fuel.
Future specifications required the flame-thrower conversion to be done with the Mark VII Churchill tank, and that it should not impede the tank's ability to fight as an infantry tank. According to the Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II, (p271), “Churchill Crocodiles first went into action on June 6, 1944... [and] by the time the war ended, 800 Churchill Crocodiles had been produced.” Other sources state the Crocodiles first entered combat on June 20th. According to Nigel Duncan in 79th Armoured Division, the flamethrowers did take part in the Normandy landings but initially had little success until it was understood that the trailers should not pressure up earlier than 30 minutes prior to an attack due to the leakage that occurred under the pressurized system. Eventually the flame-thrower tank was used in both the European and Pacific wars to great effect. IWM photo shows a Churchill Crocodile in action (1944).