Australian Churchills & Registration Numbers
Early in 1944, as a result of a recommendation made by the Lethbridge Mission, the War Office urgently requested the Australian Army to carry out tropical service trials on Sherman and Churchill tanks. The trials were to comparatively test these tanks (along with Matilda tanks) in tropical conditions similar to those in which Matilda tanks already seen active service. The War Office specifically requested a detailed scientific report on the effects of tropical conditions on electrical equipment (both in service and storage) detailing all modifications considered necessary. The Department of Tank Development were apparently depending on this feedback in order that the electrical equipment of Churchill tanks could be tropic-proofed in production. It was anticipated that the trials would take 2 to 3 weeks, after which time the tanks were to returned to the 4th Australian Armoured Brigade for further tests in Australia.
There was a proposal made by Brig. D Macarthur-Onslow, (Comd. 4 Aust. Armd. Bde) that Cromwell, Stuart and Grants also be included in the trials. However, this suggestion was rejected on the grounds that: the Stuart had already been used in New Guinea and found unsuitable, the Grant was being replaced by the Sherman anyway and the Cromwell being a cruiser tank was unsuitable for jungle use (also few spares available).
On the 15th July 1944 six Churchill tanks arrived in Sydney aboard the SS Leaside Park. These tanks were then loaded on to the US Liberty Ship, Norman J. Coleman which then sailed to Brisbane where, on the 5th August, three Churchills were unloaded (T173254/B Mk.V, T172724/B Mk.IV, T173279/C Mk.VI) and replaced with three Shermans (two M4s and a M4A2). The Norman J. Coleman then sailed directly to New Guinea. The three Churchills remaining onboard were (T173033B Mk IV, T173250B Mk V and T173165 Mk VII).
The trials took take place in Madang area, close to the workshops of the 2/4th Australian Armoured Regiment. The terrain selected was quite extreme including mud up to 3 feet deep, very dense undergrowth and creek crossings 18 feet wide and up to 10 feet deep. Rainfall during the period of the trials amounted to over 12 inches per month. Taking part in the trials were fifty personnel from the 4th Australian Armoured Brigade commanded by Major G.C. Dennis (appointed by 6 Armd. Corps), two British Army instructors who arrived from the U.K. with the tanks and two Matildas (Mk.V) of the 1st Australian Armoured Regiment from Finschhafen area (with full crews) used for comparison. The Australian War Memorial web site has a fascinating series of photographs of the trial - to see them use Madang and Churchill as keywords in their search engine.
Whilst the Sherman proved superior in terms of reliability, visibility and its ability to navigate side slopes, the Churchills manoeuvrability, especially at low speeds, was judged to be superior. This coupled with its greater armour thickness and ground clearance led to the Churchill being considered to be the more suitable vehicle for jungle operations.
Following the Madang trials, the tanks were shipped to Australia where some further trials were conducted prior to the Australian Government placing an order for 510 Churchills. By the time the war had ended only 51 Churchills (comprising of the six trials original trial vehicles and 45 production tanks) had been received and at this point the order for the remaining vehicles was cancelled.
Below is a list
of the W.D. numbers of the 51 Churchill tanks supplied to Australia.
The list has been generously supplied by Michael
Grieve and was compiled as a result of his research at the Australian
War Memorial in Canberra.
There are some points of interest arising out of this list:
Little is known
about the postwar use of the Churchill tank in the Australian Army,
although it is believed that these vehicles served with the 1st Australian
Armoured Regiment until the introduction of the Centurion. Legend has
it that a Churchill ARV nicknamed "Radish" soldiered on for
many years rescuing broken-down and bogged Centurions on the hills and
ranges of the Puckapunyal School of Armour.
© 2002 M. Grieve