Churchill Ark (Armoured Ramp Carrier)

Churchill Ark (Armoured Ramp Carrier)

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Churchill Ark (Armoured Ramp Carrier)

The Churchill Ark was an expendable bridging tank produced by fitting folding ramps at both ends of a turretless Churchill tank. It was developed separately in Britain and Italy, originally for different tasks, but eventually the two designs became very similar.

The original Italian Ark, first known as the Octopus, was designed to cross small rivers and ditches. It was produced by Army workships in Italy by removing the turret from a Churchill III and fitting American 12ft 3.5in or 15ft 3in ramps at each end. The ramps could be raised for travel and lowered into place. The Octopus would be driven into place in a ditch and the ramps lowered, allowing other vehicles to drive across the top. The Churchill's own tracks were used as the central part of the bridge. After the development of a similar vehicle in Britain the Octopus was designated as the Churchill Ark Mk II (Italian Pattern).

The Churchill Ark Mk I was designed in Britain with a different purpose in mind. The Dieppe raid made it clear that sea walls could be very effective defensive fortifications, preventing the attacking troops from leaving a beach. The 79th Armoured Division (Major-General Hobart) designed the Ark (Armoured Ramp Carrier) to solve that problem. As with the Italian model two ramps were installed on a turretless Churchill, but this time the rear ramp was much longer than the front ramp, and full length runways with regular cross members were installed on the tank itself. The idea was for the Ark tank to force itself as far up the sea wall as possible, either taking advantage of any existing slope, or by dropping fascines at the base of the wall. Once it could go no further the short forward ramp would be dropped onto the top of the sea wall and the long rear ramp onto the beach. Other tanks could then drive up this ramp (the runway with cross members was provided to give extra grip on steep climbs). Fifty Ark Mk Is were produced by REME workshops and the MG Car Company, using kits provided by T C Jones & Co. The Ark Mk I took part in the D-Day landings.

The Ark Mk II was developed in July 1944 to carry out the same tasks as the version produced in Italy – crossing ditches, shallow rivers. The original ramps were replaced by a pair of longer 12ft 6in ramps, extending the bridging capacity of the Ark. The left hand runway was doubled in width from 2ft to 4ft to allow vehicles with a narrower wheelbase to cross the bridge. Fifty conversion kits were produced and all surviving Ark Mk Is were upgraded to the new standard.

The Ark was expected to be expendable, at least in the short term. Once it had been driven into place it would be left in place until either no longer needed or a more permanent bridge or ramp could be built. Two Arks could be combined to fill deeper bridges, with one tank on top of the other, while a row of Arks could provide a temporary bridge across shallow rivers.

File:Sherman tank using a Churchill 'Ark' armoured ramp carrier to climb over an escarpment, 79th Armoured Division, 13 February 1944. H35790.jpg

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World War I and the Emergence of the Tank

It was the emergence of the tank in WWI that saw the birth of modern assault bridging. Major General Sir Ernest Dunlop Swinton RE, author of Duffers Drift and war correspondent was credited with proposing the first practical armed and armoured vehicle, mounted on tracks. These were first called land ships but were renamed tanks by Swinton in order to provide a measure of deception. Another Sapper officer, Brigadier H J Elles, went on to lead, in person, the Tank Corps on their first major success at Cambrai in November 1917.

Many of the stock spans of the time were simply unable to carry the weight of the new vehicles and were extensively redesigned. Tanks would thus have a major impact on bridge design but assault bridging was a completely new area of development.

The seeds of the bridgelaying tank were sown by a former Royal Navy officer, Admiral Bacon, who was then a manager at the Coventry Ordnance Works. The early tracked vehicles were unarmoured artillery tractors and the suggestion was that these could carry a small bridge section to enable them to traverse obstacles. Although the idea was not developed it was a concept that would come to fruition later as it was realised that the tank alone could not manage the extensive trench works in the area.

Early experiments involved bridges on sleds but the then Charles Inglis redesigned the Inglis Mk I bridge with the resultant Inglis Mk II bridge, the inspiration for the Bailey Bridge, able to carry the heavier loads. After a visit to France, Charles Inglis also designed a tank carried 21 foot bridge called the Lock Bridge, the first tank carried assault bridge, although it was too late to see service. Another image here

Despite the early promising designs it was the simple fascine that was to see most service in WWI.

A fascine is simply a bundle of brushwood lashed together to form a lightweight gap crossing. It can also be used to secure the banks of rivers or other construction uses but for the purposes of this post it is the former. They have been used since the early days of warfare, in the published work, a Treatise on Ancient Armour and Weapons by Francis Grose, published in 1786, he mentions their use a number of times.

Derived from the Roman word Fasci, its greatest advantage is that it can be constructed more or less on the spot, it is a simple device.

In 1917 the newly formed Tank Corps was started to look for the most effective terrain to test the new vehicles with as little shell holes and mud as possible. Cambrai was selected because of the terrain and after looking at the comparative cost of using artillery fire to destroy the barbed wire along the proposed attack route it was clear that the tank at least presented an economical alternative. GHQ, however, remained sceptical, pointing out that in some places the trenches were up to 18 feet wide, too wide for the tank to cross.

The answer was the ancient technology of the fascine.

Despite the Royal Tank Corp’s enthusiasm GHQ remained sceptical and concentrated on planning the Third Battle of Ypres, a battle where tanks were continually squandered in unsuitable ground. By mid-September it was clear that the Third Battle of Ypres had been a failure and so reluctantly the Tank Corps Cambrai plan was approved.

The attack started on the 20th November using a carefully planned combined arms approach and initial advances were rapid. After the inconclusive results of using tanks at Ypres and by the French at a number of locations it was thought to be make or break for the new machines.

Despite being ultimately inconclusive, the Battle of Cambrai showed that the humble fascine could be used to support tanks and tanks were here to stay.

Prior to the battle 400 fascines were constructed, 11 feet in diameter and 10 foot long. Whilst the construction work was the responsibility of the Tank Corps Central Workshop the majority were made by the 51st Chinese Labour Company who were attached to the Workshop. The timber for the fascines came from the Forest of Crecy and special techniques were used to compress them, two tanks driving in opposite directions!

18 tanks were specifically modified to carry the fascine bundles.

Mark IV Tanks with Fascines on the eve of Cambrai

Reinforcing the old adage of train hard fight easy, fascine launch drills were relentlessly practiced, using a technique devised by none other than Colonel Fuller himself. The tanks worked in sections of three with the lead tank responsible for barbed wire clearance, stopping just short of the obstacle it would veer away to the side and provide covering fire for the two follow on vehicles that would be carrying the fascines. These would be dropped into the gap with the first tank following through. It was an effective drill and its elegant simplicity did much to restore the morale of the tank crews who had suffered in the mud of Ypres.

Mark IV Tank with Fascines

In a precursor to the great deceptions prior to D Day a wide variety of counter intelligence and deception activities were used to mask intentions and keep the massive build of forces secret. A little known aspect of the battle was the logistic preparations beforehand. Using a combination of light railways, trucks and of course horses, an enormous amount of material was moved forward with little knowledge of the German forces. The tanks themselves were moved from the Plateau rail head, located close to Central Workshops.

Operation Hush was the planned amphibious landing on the Belgian coast by the British 1 st Division.

Although the operation was cancelled it is an interesting case study in armoured amphibious landings and the need for specialist combat engineering, a lesson that was to be learned again at great cost at Dieppe many years later.

The sea wall would need to be breached and testing on replicas confirmed that a suitable tank carried ramp as shown below would allow the tanks to traverse them.

Operation HUSH Preparations

Excellent and detailed accounts of Operation Hush can be found here and here

ARC (Armoured Ramp Carrier)

Developed in 1943, the ARC (also spelled ARK) was and was based on the Churchill tank. In place of the turret, the tank was fitted with a ramp which was mounted just above the hull, and an additional, hinged ramp was added to either end.

With a crew of four, the Churchill ARK was driven with the two hinged ramps in a vertical position until it reached the obstacle which need to be bridged. It could then be driven into a void or near a sea wall, depending on the situation, where it positioned its two hinged ramps to create a bridge, in order that the vehicles which followed, could drive across the obstacle. Imperial War Museum photos.

If the void proved too deep for one ARC, another could be driven over the top of the first ramp carrier. Click thumbnail to view second photo of two ramp carriers bridging the River Senio in Italy in 1945. Note Sexton 25 pound self-propelled gun traveling across the ARC in second photo.

The earlier version of the ARC had trackways approximately 2 feet wide. To accommodate vehicles with a narrower wheel base, the width of the left trackway was increased to 4 feet in later versions as can be seen in the IWM photo to the right.

Reportedly no Churchill ARCs were used on D-Day, but soon proved very successful as the advance continued across France. Usually no attempt was made to recover the ramp carrier after the vehicles crossed over it. Other developments in British mobile bridging equipment during World War II, included the Churchill bridgelayer.

This turretless tank could carry and launch a bridge by means of a hydraulic arm. It was also possible for the bridgelayer to later recover the bridge for further use.

Hobart's Funnies

Infantry and armour on Sword Beach. Medics are attending to wounded in the shelter of a Churchill AVRE from 5th Assault Regiment, Royal Engineers. In the background is an M10 Wolverine tank destroyer, probably from 20th Anti-Tank Regiment - 6th June 1944

Churchill AVRE fascine carrier passed infantry during the attack towards Hertogenbosch in Holland, 23 October 1944

Churchill AVRE with fascine, Italy, 19 December 1944

Churchill AVRE of 79th Armoured Division with fascine in position, Suffolk, 6 September 1943

Churchill AVRE carpet-layer with bobbin, 79th Armoured Division, March/April 1944

The Churchill AVRE FURY's Petard demolition mortar

Sherman tank using a Churchill 'Ark' armoured ramp carrier to climb over an escarpment, 79th Armoured Division, 13 February 1944

Churchill Ark Mk II (UK pattern) bridging vehicle

An Achilles 17pdr tank destroyer crossing the River Savio on a Churchill ARK which was driven into the river, 24 October 1944

Sherman crab flail tank under test, 79th Armoured Division, 27 April 1944

German prisoners next to a disabled Sherman Crab

Sherman M4A4 (flail) with 75 mm gun - mine clearing tank - Worthington Tank Museum at CFB Borden (Ontario, Canada)

Sherman M4A4 (flail) with 75 mm gun - mine clearing tank - Worthington Tank Museum at CFB Borden (Ontario, Canada)

Equipment [ edit | edit source ]

Sherman Crab under test. The flail has been lowered to work in a dip in the ground and the turret traversed to the rear to avoid the flails.

Churchill AVRE with fascine on tilt-forward cradle.

Churchill AVRE with a bobbin and extended radiator intakes for wading.

Close-up of an AVRE's Petard Mortar.

Medics are attending to wounded in the shelter of a Churchill AVRE from 5th Assault Regiment, Royal Engineers - Sword Beach, 6th June 1944

Universal Carriers with deep wading screens pass through Lion sur Mer. A Churchill AVRE can be seen in the background, 6 June 1944.

Infantry of 53rd (Welsh) Division in a Ram Kangaroo personnel carrier of the 79th Armoured Division, on the outskirts of Ochtrup, 3 April 1945.

Buffalo LVT 4 amphibious vehicles taking Canadians Across the Scheldt 1944.

DD Sherman tank with its flotation screen lowered.

Sherman Crab [ edit | edit source ]

The Sherman Crab was a mine flail tank designed to clear a safe path through a mine-field by deliberately detonating mines in front of the vehicle. The Crab design was first used by the British during the North African Campaign. The Sherman Crab was a standard Sherman tank with the mine flail mechanism added.

The mine flail was a horizontal, rapidly rotating rotor held in front of the vehicle on two arms. Heavy chains (the "flails") fixed to the rotor continuously and violently struck the ground detonating the mines. The tank received little damage in the process but had to travel slowly and the flails had to be replaced on a regular basis as the explosions broke the chains.

Churchill AVRE [ edit | edit source ]

The Churchill Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE) was a heavily modified Churchill III or IV that had a crew of six (tank crew and carried engineers). In place of the main gun was the Petard, a spigot mortar, which fired the 40 pound (18 kg) 290 mm wide "Flying dustbin". The round had a 28-pound (13 kg) high explosive warhead with a practical effective range of 100 yards (90 metres), designed to quickly destroy fortifications. The AVRE was designed after the Canadian failure at Dieppe. It could be fitted numerous other attachments, such as mine plows, fascine bundles, carpet rollers, explosive placers, etc. It also carried Bangalore torpedos for clearing barbed wire obstacles, and hand-emplaced demolition charges. After the Second World War the Churchill AVRE was re-armed with a breech loaded low velocity 165 mm demolition gun.

Churchill ARK (Armoured Ramp Karrier) [ edit | edit source ]

A turretless Churchill with ramps at either end and along the body to form a mobile bridge. The Mark 1 had trackways over the tracks for vehicles to drive along. The Mark 2 was an improvised version and crossing vehicles drove directly on the Churchill's tracks.

Churchill Crocodile [ edit | edit source ]

One of the more notable Churchill variants, the Crocodile was a Churchill VII in which the hull machine gun was replaced with a flamethrower. The fuel was in an armoured wheeled trailer towed behind. It could fire several 1 second bursts over 150 yards. The Crocodile was one of "Hobart's Funnies".

Kangaroo armoured personnel carrier [ edit | edit source ]

The first Kangaroos were converted from M7 Priest self-propelled guns used by 3rd Canadian Infantry Division that had been used during the assault on Normandy. These were no longer needed, as their artillery regiments were re-equipped with towed 25 pdr at the end of July. At a field workshop they were stripped of the artillery equipment and the front aperture welded over, then sent into service carrying twelve troops. Since they carried infantry as a kangaroo carries its young, they were dubbed Kangaroos and the workshop carrying out the conversion also received that name. [ citation needed ] Infantry were said to be 'empouched' when they boarded a Kangaroo. They were first used in Operation Totalize south of Caen. At the end of August, the Priest Kangaroos were returned to the US Army, and other vehicles converted. The majority of vehicles converted were Canadian Ram tanks but a few Shermans and other Priests were also used (which were sometimes referred to as "unfrocked" or "defrocked" Priests). The name Kangaroo was applied to any similar conversion. They were operated by the 1st Canadian Armoured Carrier Regiment (1CACR) during Canadian attacks on the various Channel ports in late 1944, and later by the 49th Armoured Personnel Carrier Regiment. Both units were under command of the 79th Armoured Division from October 1944 until the end of the war.

Buffalo LVT 4 [ edit | edit source ]

The first "Buffalo" Landing Vehicle Tracked could hold 24 men or 4,500 pounds (2,000 kg) of cargo. Originally intended to carry replenishments from ships ashore, they lacked armour protection and their tracks and suspension were unreliable when used on hard terrain.

Travelling at a respectable six knots in the water and twelve mph on land, it could deliver 24 fully equipped assault troops to the beach, and supply supporting fire from two .30 cal. machine guns. As it was not armoured its thin steel hull offered virtually no protection. Tracks performed well on sand, but not on tough surfaces.

The 79th used the Buffalo at the Battle of the Scheldt during the crossing of the Rhine along with the Terrapin.

Duplex Drive Sherman Tank [ edit | edit source ]

DD tanks (from "Duplex Drive" referring to its twin types of locomotion: tracks and propellers) were amphibious swimming tanks developed during the Second World War. The phrase is mostly used for the M4 Sherman medium tanks used by the Allies in the opening phases of the D-Day landings in 1944.

The swimming tank idea arose when it was realised that the first waves of infantry that reached an invasion beach would be acutely vulnerable without the support of tanks. However, if landing craft were used to carry those tanks, they themselves would be vulnerable to German heavy guns. The loss of too many landing craft would slow the movement of reinforcements from ships offshore and the invasion beaches would be choked with disabled and sunken landing craft. By giving tanks the ability to float, they could be launched from landing craft offshore and make their own way onto the beach.

Canal Defence Light [ edit | edit source ]

The Canal Defence Light (CDL) was a British "secret weapon" of the Second World War.

It was based upon the use of a powerful carbon-arc searchlight to dazzle and confuse enemy troops. A demonstration had shown that the use of a vehicle mounted searchlight both disoriented the units facing it and masked activities behind the searchlight.

The searchlight was mounted in an armoured turret fitted to a tank. Initially the Matilda tank was used replacing its normal turret with a cylindrical one containing the searchlight (the light emitting through a vertical slit) and a machine gun. This was later replaced by the US M3 Grant which was superior in several ways it was a larger roomier tank, better able to keep up with tanks such as the Sherman and it had a hull mounted gun which was unaffected by the replacement of its normal turret with the searchlight turret.

The light could be varied in two ways to further enhance any effect.

Addition of blue or amber filter would make the light source seem further away or closer respectively. the operation of a shutter would create a flickering effect. The project was shrouded in secrecy. It was tested during Exercise Primrose in 1943 at Kilbride Bay with the result that it was determined to be "too uncertain to be depended upon as the main feature of an invasion".


With the crew having to abandon out of the top rather than out of the sides, as on the British ARK, they would be dangerously exposed to enemy fire and, with the bridge section curved over the front, any firepower of the vehicle would also be limited. The relatively small size of the bridge carried and the overhang at the front and back severely limited the mobility of the vehicle. Likely, these are these reason that very few (perhaps just the three shown in 1938) were built. None are known to have seen any active deployment and the status of the vehicles is unknown.

An impression of positions for the ramp in use. Top: Carriage, Middle: As a ramp, Bottom: As a bridge

The 'swimming' Sherman

The Duplex Drive (DD) 'swimming' Sherman was an amphibious tank used on all five beaches on D-Day. The duplex drive engine powered propellers in water and tracks on land. The canvas flotation screen gave the tank enough buoyancy to support its weight without having to sacrifice armour or firepower. Once ashore, the screes were dropped and the tanks became fully operational. This allowed for a quick build-up of armour and provided almost immediate support for the invading infantry forces.

The 'swimming' Sherman

The Duplex Drive (DD) 'swimming' Sherman was an amphibious tank used on all five beaches on D-Day. The duplex drive engine powered propellers in water and tracks on land. The canvas flotation screen gave the tank enough buoyancy to support its weight without having to sacrifice armour or firepower. Once ashore, the screes were dropped and the tanks became fully operational. This allowed for a quick build-up of armour and provided almost immediate support for the invading infantry forces.

LVT Buffalo (Landing Vehicle Tracked)

The Buffalo was the British version of the American LVT 4. Even though it lacked armor and was easily damaged, its ability to respond quickly and move fast on the beach saved many lives. The Buffalo was used extensively in Europe after D-Day, most notably on the crossing of Rhine river.

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