It’s been a while since I wrote about Tank Crew but here I am doing a review of the most recent Collector Vehicle release. The Churchill Mark IV is the first British tank to join the series, a couple of unique features, and it leaves me with a bit of a question. Read on to the end!
A bit of history
British tank doctrine for World War II was heavily influenced by the fighting of World War I. Fearing a similar stalemate situation in Europe, British Army strategists devised the concept of two very different types of tanks.
The first was an ‘infantry tank’ which, in other nations, might have been called a heavy tank.
The infantry tank was intended to be heavy armored, well armed, slow and short ranged as a trade off. Intended to be able to take hits and keep on fighting, the infantry tank was meant to operate alongside infantry providing heavy firepower and blasting through enemy defensive positions. Speed wasn’t important but travelling over difficult terrain was. British designers put these concepts to work in the Churchill-tank.
Meanwhile, ‘cruiser tanks’ were intended to be lighter, faster, and longer ranged with the ability to tank advantage of the breakthrough opened by infantry and infantry tanks to spearhead into the enemy’s rear.
The Churchill went through teething issues through its initial development. Hurried efforts to produce tanks for the war effort meant little initial testing. One problem was weight. The tank was heavy at 41,000 kg and its engine was under-powered to support that weight. There were reliability issues and, once the system had broken down, it was difficult to service. Speed was also a problem as maximum speed dropped from 16 mph down to just 12.7 mph as weight and equipment was added on over the course of development.
The Churchill was very nearly cancelled and was saved by its performance during the second battle of El Alamein. Here, a small group of Mark II and Mark III Churchill’s were engaged in heavy fighting. One Churchill was said to have absorbed 80 hits from German and Italian anti-tank guns.
On the Eastern Front, the Soviet Union received 301 Churchill tanks (45 Mk II, 151 Mk III and 105 Mk IV) and these tanks saw service during the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942 and the Battle of Prokhorovka in 1943 – making it an obvious addition to the Tank Crew roster.
Visuals and sounds
Let’s get this out of the way right up at the front. The artists at Digital Forms are incredible at what they do and in every respect this tank is as good as or perhaps even slightly better than the ones that they have previously contributed to the Tank Crew line.
The exterior features are modeled in exquisite details from the tracks and treads to the armor plate to the various panels, access points, machine guns and, of course, the cannon.
On the inside, the details are similarly impressive. Everything is sharp, readable, animated, and highly detailed. I particularly love the plate that reads out the exact type of the tank right in the drivers position. There’s also the very British style gauges and compass off to the right side of the driver position. If you normally fly Spitfire’s in the sim, these would seem very familiar.
The sounds deploy the usual mix of tank sounds that we’ve heard in Tank Crew. They are all good and serve the job adequately conveying important information such as when the main gun has been reloaded, or while the ammo is being changed, or when you’ve been hit by enemy fire. But compared to some other experiences that I’ve had, its just fine, but not outstanding.
There are some interesting animations for the movement of the tank such as the dirt and dust being spewed out the back as well as out the front of the treads in some instances. I wonder if some of this is a bit overdone but then again it may have been par for the course on some of the fields that this tank operated on.
There’s also lots to appreciate when it comes to the physics of the vehicle and how that looks in operation. The subtle movement of the cannon when the tank comes to a sudden stop is just incredible.
The Churchill comes with a couple of unique features. It’s the first tank in Tank Crew to have a deployable smoke or explosive mortar. It fires from the top of the turret, having been launched by the 1 and 2 keys by the gunner, and then lands a few hundred meters in front of the tank. It can be a good distraction or, when used in numbers, potentially useful as a smoke screen. I’ve not been all that accurate with the HE version.
Speaking of smoke screens, this tank has a smoke screen system laying down a row of smoke that obscures whatever is behind it. Potentially useful in the right situation.
Armament includes a QF-6 which is a 57mm cannon better known as the ‘6-pounder’ in British service. It also has two BESA 7.92mm light machine guns. The first is coaxial mounted with the turret while the other is in the hull.
The Soviets often operated the Churchill without its bow or mid fenders and removed the rear fuel tank. Those are options in the modifications menu as well.
There’s a pair of telescopic sights (one for the gunner and another for the hull machine gun). The driver has a hatch which can be blocked by the turret in some instances. The driver cannot drive the tank from that position. The commander has a viewport on the top of the tank with a limited field of view and can also open the hatch for visibility although the view is limited.
The Churchill Mark IV has the same dynamic vehicle damage that all other Tank Crew vehicles do. Its tracks can be damaged and cut and in one instance this had me suddenly doing donuts on the battlefield when it happened to me in a rather sudden way.
This tank also sports the now standard tactical codes system.
From a gameplay perspective, at time of writing, the Churchill sadly doesn’t have very much to do. There are no included missions or campaigns and its not (so far as I know) integrated in any way into the current campaigns. This limits it to just the quick mission builder scenarios and multiplayer. I’d love to see a mini-campaign to show off the Churchill in action. You could turn to Pat Wilson or SYN_Vander’s mission generators for Tank Crew too but I feel like something really should be packaged here.
The Churchill offers a mixed performance while in combat.
On the upsides, it is undeniably tough. Lighter anti-tank guns and the guns of some lighter tanks on the German side seem to mostly bounce off or just get stopped by the Churchill’s tough armor. That means that it tends to have staying power against even some of the better armed tanks. It does, however, seem to get track damage very quickly and that can cause the already slow moving tank to be essentially useless, doomed to do donuts or be stuck in place, until repaired.
The QF-6 cannon also seems to make relatively short work of most tanks. The Panzer III and IV take a few hits, typically, to ensure that they are destroyed but the AP rounds do seem to be highly effective at demolishing whatever they hit. No HE or APHE option does limit the destructive potential.
Also of benefit is the quick firing (thus QF) nature of the 6-pounder as you can sometimes get off two or even three shots while a slower firing enemy tank is still reloading. A definite benefit in a difficult tank duel!
The gunsight doesn’t have the same kind of sophisticated ranging features that you see on the German tanks so its more about using the ranging lines and getting to know the trajectory of the cannon. Fortunately the QF-6 has a decent muzzle velocity and I found it not too difficult to get on to target.
There are really just two problems with the Churchill. First, its extremely slow and it can takes ages to get anywhere. Second, the QF-6 is effective versus most tanks but against the Tiger I it seems far less capable. In my limited experiences here, the Tiger easily punctured the Churchill’s armor in just a couple of hits while multiple shots on the Tiger bounced off and other hits seemed to be ineffective at doing much of anything. In real life the Tiger I was a huge problem for the Churchill but some lucky hits did contribute to some Tiger tank destruction. I haven’t been so lucky here.
I have to admit, the Churchill Mark IV is a bit of a hard sell.
On the upsides, this is a superbly modeled tank that looks great inside and out. It’s beautiful modeled and lovingly recreated. It has new and unique features like the smoke mortar and smokescreen systems which add to the depth of the tank’s operation.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t really have much to do right now. It’s really begging to have a single player campaign that helps show the Churchill in its context on the eastern front at the Battle of Prokhorovka. Such as it is, you’ll have to turn to a third-party generator, the QMB or multiplayer to get some time on the Churchill. I hope some missions can be added in because that would make this much easier to recommend.
In summary, this is an excellently modeled tank with great details all around and not much for it to do. I hope that changes soon because I’d like more excuses to operate the Churchill.