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. 

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (29 May 2009), Churchill Ark (Armoured Ramp Carrier) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_churchill_ark.html

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