MODELLING THE CHURCHILL VII and VIII TANKS
Below we see a model made of a Churchill Mark VII tank, based on the cheap and commonly available Airfix 1/76th scale kit. This kit is sold with the words "1/72nd scale" on the box, but this is a lie. The model has been photographed before painting, in order that you may better see the alterations made.
What makes this picture tremendously exciting, though, is that you can wander around it with the mouse sprite, trying to find things on which to click. Little words will appear in brown boxes, telling you how close you are getting to a link.
The front part of the left mudguard has been removed, revealing the front sprocket wheel. This part of the mudguard is often seen missing in photographs of tanks which have seen action. Back to photo
The front section has had added to it a strip which was the piece which held this front section on, which has five large rivets in it. Also with plastic card, representations of two strips of metal which were attached with a raised centre section have been added. I suppose these were to allow things to be tied on to the front mudguards. I have never seen any evidence for their use, however. Back to photo
The periscopes have been altered a lot. The actual periscopes were quite high, which they needed to be in order to see over the mudguards, when looking sideways. The periscopes of the kit are just moulded on to the hull top, and are far too low to see over the sides, and are too small. Also, the real tank had three, not two periscopes here, two for the driver who sat on the right of the tank. A square base for the third periscope was cut out from very thin plastic card, to match the bases of the other two periscopes. The periscopes were made with a short length of plastic rod, topped with a tapering wedge of plastic card. The fourth item in the row is a thick flat circle of plastic card, with rounded top edges, and the back edge trimmed straight. I'm fairly sure that this was the outlet for an extractor fan which took fumes away from the hull MG, which might otherwise have overwhelmed the hull gunner. A little lump which was perhaps an attempt at depicting this, was removed from the kit. Back to photo
The air louvres on the sides of the hull have had a grille scored into the top of them, and rain covers added. These are just strips of thin card, with their ends cut at a slight angle, bent and glued into place. Back to photo
The end of the main gun barrel has had a depression drilled into it, which will be painted black to represent the hollow
of the barrel, and the sides of the barrel brake have had an egg-shaped depression burned and carved into them, representing
the side holes of the barrel brake (which vented gas and smoke sideways, both to clear the gunner's vision, and to lessen the
effect of the recoil). The fat end of the egg shape is towards the front of the vehicle.
Either side of the square hole in the front of the turret, bulges have been added, carved from sprue. Perhaps modelling putty might have worked better, since the angle between the edge of the bulge, and the surrounding front of the plate is a bit harsh on this model, and in reality was rounded and gentler. These bulges are clearly present in all portrayals of the Churchill VIII, but the Churchill VII seems to be without them sometimes. I'm not sure what they are, but my guess is that they allow the pivot point of the gun to be a little further forwards, which might give more room in the turret, or balance the gun differently.
Around the bottom of the turret is a strip of plastic card, rounded off at the top, which represents the added armour to the turret ring. This is a prominent characteristic of the Churchills VII and VII, and Airfix made quite a blunder by missing this detail. With modern liquid polystyrene glues/solvents, it is not tricky to soften such a strip of plastic enough to bend it round the corners of the turret, without causing it to crack. Back to photo
On the turret top, can be seen the gunsight (a sort of M-shaped thing sticking up from a line moulded on the turret top);
three large hexagonal nut heads (cut from the bottom of the tank, and the same colour as the rest of the model, so tricky to
see - one is out of sight between the two rear aerials, and the other two are towards the front corners); two small rivets (on
the right of this picture to the right of the right hand turret periscope - they have blurred into one another and look like
a vague white line); tops to the two periscopes (little wedges of plastic card).
The front of the round blob above the main gun has been sliced off (just as the back of the added blob between the hull periscopes was sliced) - this is the extractor fan outlet for getting rid of fumes from the main gun.
On the turret front right edge can be seen some damage melted with a hot pin, to represent a hit which didn't penetrate. Back to photo
A stalk for the third aerial (the "troop" aerial), made from two thicknesses of plastic rod, with the main shaft of the stalk set into a small recess in the turret top, and the wider part at the top carved into a cone (the aerials themselves are artificial pine needles from a fake Christmas tree, super-glued into recesses burned with a hot pin). Back to photo
One wheel has been left off. This is surrounded by lots of scars burned in to the plastic with a hot pin. This represents
the effect of a mine or high-explosive near-miss. Churchills could keep going even when three wheels had been lost from the
same side of the vehicle.
Back to photo
Only just visible, is the U-shaped towing shackle, which hangs from the projection on the front of the lower hull piece. For reference material, see the front artwork on the box which comes with the kit. Note that the projection needs trimming down quite a bit first.
The same vehicle, shown from the rear. And if you think that I'm going to spend another two evenings dividing this picture up, and creating two dozen links just to go up and down a screen a tiny bit faster, then you've got another thing coming. A simple list was good enough for my grandfather, so it's good enough for you.
From this angle you can just make out some details already mentioned above. These include:
- the egg-shaped hole in the barrel brake;
- the two little rivets on the top left side of the turret;
- the position of the third aerial which is forward of the rear two aerials, off-centre, between the two turret hatches (not far from the rear left corner of the square hatch);
- the rain cover for the air louvre, which is highest on the inside edge of the middle, to drain rain away from the tank.
Also visible on the turret are:
- the cylinder containing signalling flags, with two straps holding it to the turret, and a round cap on its top;
- a small fire extinguisher carved from sprue, on the side of the turret bin (there is another the other side);
- the rectangular pad, made from Milliput putty, on the inside of the raised turret hatch, to stop the commander from being knocked out when going over rough terrain.
On the rear left end of the mudguard, you can see a holder constructed, which could hold two "flimsies" of oil. Two thin rods of plastic hold the flimsies in place, secured at their tops by long thin triangles of plastic card connecting the rods to the mudguard. The base of this holder is a rectangle of thin plastic card, with sides and a central divider made from triangles of plastic card. Only one of the two places is filled, with a scratch-built flimsy, made from sprue, with a plastic card handle and screw top.
On the rear right mudguard is a jerry can (of water), on its side with the handles outer-most, in a similar holder, which lacks the central divider. This was the standard stowage pattern.
Below the two holes in the rear projections (just inside of the jerry can and flimsy), are two more towing shackles, made from U-shaped plastic card. Inside of these, are the rear smoke generators which the kit lacks. These are made from a sandwich of thin plastic card between two thick bits, with the thin bit sticking out. Between these is the rear central towing pintle/thingy, which is made from a disc of plastic, between two carved bits of plastic, stuck to a rectangular base which spans the back of the upper hull, and the projection from the lower hull. This all makes a lot more sense if you have a copy of the kit in front of you.
On the flat back edge of the upper hull, is a box, with a line scored round it to represent the edge of the lid, with two small rectangles of plastic card glued over the top edge to represent hinges. This is the box which carried the infantry telephone. Troops behind the vehicle could use this to talk to the tank crew.
On the top rear deck of the vehicle, is a bicycle (dark grey) taken from the Airfix Command Post kit I bought as a kid. They have just re-released this, but it lacks the vacuum-formed base which once it came with (I think that the mould for this got destroyed, along with many others, when Pallatoy bought the moulds, and shipped them to the USA).
Here we see the Airfix Churchill VII converted to a Mark VIII, which had the 95mm howitzer instead of the 75mm anti-tank gun. Otherwise, the tank is very similar.
The barrel is made from two thickness of plastic rod. The main shaft of the howitzer is made using rod which is the same thickness as a cheap biro refill (so you could use one of those instead, but it won't glue as well as polystyrene). The greater thickness represents not a barrel brake, but a counter-weight, so this has no holes in the sides. Both bits of rod are hollow, and a small piece of the narrower rod has been inset into the end of the barrel, to make the gun seem of the right calibre.
A couple of holes have been burned with a hot pin through the left front mudguard, where bullets might have passed through the thin metal.
There are no rain covers to the air louvres. They only seem to have been in place when rain was expected.
This photograph gives you another view of the front periscopes and the turret top details.
On the rear right top part of the mudguard, is a long crowbar, held in place with two straps. This was standard on all Churchills. The bar is a metal pin with the head snipped off, and one end hammered flat and bent a bit to represent the business end of the bar.
Rear view of the same model.
- 1. Turret bin: for the hell of it, I have glued the turret bin lid ajar, with some Milliput putty stowage peeping through.
- 2. Side stowage: behind the side air louvre is some more stowage, tied to the side, made from Milliput. From looking at photographs, I see that this was the commonest place for such stowage to be tied.
- 3. Spare wheel: on the back of the vehicle top is a spare wheel (if you've read this far, you'll know where that was from), and a plastic card pick-axe handle and separate head, stowed between the two spades which are moulded on the kit, and a load of boots, packs, entrenching tools, grenade pouches and water-bottles which were cut off from unwanted British infantry figures.
- 4. Exhaust pipe ends: two round depressions were drilled in the exhaust pipe ends, to represent the mouths of the pipes. I made a hash of drilling one of the holes (on the left) which is why that pipe looks a bit damaged. It must have been very unpleasant to sit on the back of one of these tanks, and get a face-full of hot exhaust when the vehicle revved up. I had thought that the pipes had flat hinged flaps covering the holes, which flipped up when the gases came out of the pipes, but I can find no picture showing this.
- 5. Rivets on mudguards: notice that I have added rivets to the mudguard tops. These are the same on both the Mark VII and VIII. I just used a metal spike to mark the surface of the plastic, but strictly speaking these stood slightly proud of the surface, so you would have to add minute pieces of some material to represent them. On the square flat sections of the mudguard tops, there are rows of rivets running across the tank. You can see them on this photograph if you can be bothered. The rear-most has four rivets, next five, then on the front flat square there are three rows of seven rivets. There are other rivets, but then there are other things to do in life than add rivets to model tanks.
Now is this sad or what? Underside view. When you find yourself going to this sort of detail, you know that you are mad. Still, at least I will know that if ever someone destroys this wargaming model in a game, and flips it on to its side, I will not be embarrassed by the inauthenticity of the underside of my model.
In this photograph, you can see the front towing shackle, the damage to the underside of the side air louvre, and the way the rear central towing pintle/thingy attaches to the prominent bit on the rear of the lower hull.
All the hexagonal rivet/bolt heads have been removed with a scalpel, and saved, because they are useful for such things as adding the missing rivet/bolt heads to the turret top, as well as the two drain plugs on the bottom. The exact positions of these hatches as shown here won't be perfectly accurate. The diagram I was working from was a three-quarter view of the tank underside. Starting from the left of the photograph, and working rightwards, we have:
- 1. A small square "emergency disposal hatch, driving compartment", which I suppose was for getting rid of unwanted enemy grenades, and for pissing through when caught short;
- 2. A drain plug for the fighting compartment;
- 3. Two drain holes;
- 4. A small round circle representing the "petrol dump valve";
- 5. A large round cover with eight rivets (pressed through from the other side with a metal spike);
- 6. A small round cover with six rivets;
- 7. A large rectangular "engine inspection hatch" with four rivets down each narrow end and five down the longer sides (total 18 rivets);
- 8. Another small round six-riveted cover;
- 9. Another prominent drain plug;
- 10. A medium-sized round cover with six rivets.
Finished Churchills. In the foreground you see a model of John Foley's tank "Avenger", and behind it another from his troop "Alert". Foley wrote a highly entertaining account of his adventures as a tank commander in his book "Mailed Fist". Alert has stowage on the mudguards at the back in a location where it is often pictured to be. It also has a lot of spare track adding to the armour on its turret and front end. You can see that the fire extinguishers and commanders' sights are red. There is a fair amount of mud on the tank, including muddy footprints on the top of the tank where crewmen have climbed in or stood on the turret. There is a big caked mass of mud in the mud-chute which is forward of the side escape doors. Photographs near invariably show such a build-up of mud and vegetation.
Now, I hope, you understand why so many people wargame with 1/300th scale models.