Friday, July 31, 2009

Axis & Allies miniatures -- Churchill tanks

I will be posting, on an occasional basis, musings about particular pieces in the Axis & Allies series of miniatures.

There's an old engineering saying about customer requests: Cheap, fast, good -- pick two. A similar dynamic seems to be in play in the design of armored fighting vehicles, particularity under the automotive conditions of the 1930s and 1940s. Striking a balance between mobility, firepower and protection was extremely difficult given the state of technology.

The genius of the Russian T-34 tank was that it managed to provide strong protection, good mobility and effective firepower in one design, but that achievement was precisely what made it remarkable. Most successful tank designers were satisfied with getting at least two -- like the Tiger, which sacrificed mobility in favor of firepower and protection or the Sherman, which had good protection and mobility, but was under-armed. The sorry state of British tank design during most of World War II is that they struggled to get at least one right -- the Churchill tank being a prime example. A contemporary to the Tiger tank, the Churchill had a similar level of protection, but was even slower then the Tiger and was armed completely inadequately. This Churchill IV is No. 4 of 60 in the Eastern Front set.

As a heavy tank, the Churchill wasn't a success, but it did provide an excellent basis for special purpose armor, for which the British seemed to have a knack. They had an entire armored division -- the 79th -- which was equipped purely with various special purpose tanks -- two of which show up in AAM, the Churchill Crocodile flamethrower tank (No. 8 of 48 of Base Set) and the AVRE engineer vehicle ( 9 of 45 in D-Day set).
All the models are well-done, and I think the AVRE is an especially striking vehicle to get on the table.

Eastern Front Churchill IV


Rarity: Rare

Speed: 2

Defense: 7/6

Cost: 25 for AVRE, 28 for Churchill IV, 35 for Crocodile

Attacks vs troops at short-medium-long ranges:

7-7-6 (Ch. IV), 10-5-4 (Crocodile) 12-6-4 (AVRE)

Attacks vs vehicles at short-medium-long ranges:

11-9-8 (Ch. IV), 13-11-9 (Croc.) 10-0-0 (AVRE)

Special abilities

Crocodile & Churchill IV: Superior Armor 2 -- An attack must beat this unit's defense by 2 or more to score two hits against it. (Note: The AVRE does not have this SA, although I'm not sure why, because it has the same armor protection as the other versions)

Crocodile: Hull-Mounted Flamethrower —This unit’s short-range attack ignores cover. If this unit rolls three or more 6s on a short range attack, the target is destroyed immediately. This ability doesn’t work against enemy units that are behind this unit.


This unit ignores Obstacles. This unit destroys each Obstacle it crosses. This unit destroys each Obstacle in hexes it enters.

Blast — When this unit attacks, make a separate attack roll against each unit in the target hex. (This includes friendly units.)

Bombardment — This unit can’t attack Aircraft.* This unit’s attacks ignore cover.

* revised wording

Base Set Crocodile

Historical text:

AVRE: Equipped with a 290mm spigot mortar—known as the “Petard”— and attachment points for mine clearing and obstacle crossing, the Churchill Armored Vehicle Royal Engineers was very successful on D-Day.

Churchill IV: The Churchill had a long service life with many variations thanks to its combination of heavy armor and a large interior.

Crocodile: Slow but very heavily armored, the Crocodile was a Churchill Mark VII fitted with a hull-mounted flamethrower in addition to its 75mm main gun.

Crocodile version showing hull-mounted flamethrower

The unit in history: The Churchill was originally designed in anticipation of a return to World War I trench warfare, so it included very heavy armor, superior obstacle-crossing capability and even sponson-mounted cannon. The fall of France resulted in a new situation and a present danger of invasion so a modified version of the Churchill was rushed into production. In keeping with British notions of an "infantry" tank, the Churchill was well-protected but exceedingly slow and rather lightly armed. The Churchill IV, in 1942, is typical of these early marks. While able to take it, the Churchill didn't have much ability to dish it out. What it did have was a spacious hull that made it well suited for modification for special tasks and it was in this role that the tank made its biggest contributions. Among the special versions of the Churchill were the Crocodile flamethrower tank and the Armored Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE) which was a general combat engineer support vehicle used for breaching obstacles and clearing fortifications. One interesting aspect of the AVRE was that it's crew included a sapper who would exit from the tank to emplace explosives.

D-Day Set AVRE

The unit in the game: The basic Churchill IV in the Eastern Front set has impressive defensive ability, but it's weak main gun stands little chance against German heavy armor and its slow speed means it will be hard to bring it into action.

On the other hand, the specialist versions found in the earlier sets have some interesting uses. There aren't too many flamethrower-equipped vehicles in the game and the Crocodile's high defensive factors mean its stands a good chance of getting close enough to use it. There's a 22 percent chance of eliminating a soft target outright with the flamethrower, plus a 10-die attack will kill or disrupt most soft targets anyway most of the time. If the Croc gets close enough it has a 37 percent chance of an instant kill against any tank, plus very high chances of damaging or destroying even Tigers and their kin. Flamethrower attacks ignore cover, which is a nice feature as well.

The AVRE version is one of the few ways to quickly eliminate obstacles, so it's useful when one suspects the Axis player may employ them. The Axis have no comparable capability. The AVRE's spigot gun is not quite as nasty as the Croc's flamethrower, but it also ignores cover and has the ability to affect all the units in a hex, which has been made even better with the new stacking rules.

All versions of the Churchill are reasonably costed. The agonizingly slow speed makes them hard to use, but it apparently does help to keep the cost down.


  1. Great post. I think Churchill doesn't get enough credit for the part he played in the development of the tank.