The Tiger I and the Churchill both fought in Normandy, and were both heavily armoured, sizable vehicles, but as the author frequently acknowledges they didn’t have the same role, and rarely actually clashed with each other. Realistically they only fit together in this book because they were the heaviest tanks present in significant numbers on each side.
The section on the two tank’s development demonstrates that they actually had more in common than is often realised. Both were developed very quickly in response to a military crisis – the appearance of the T-34 for the Tiger, the loss of most British tanks in France in 1940 for the Churchill – so entered service with a series of technical problems. Both were equally heavily armoured. They differed mainly in the power of their main gun, with the Churchill’s final 75mm gun not as powerful as the Tiger’s 88mm gun, and in numbers produced, with nearly five times as many Churchills built as Tigers.
Both types were used in Normandy in 1944, but while the Tiger’s role is still famous today (and was massively exaggerated at the time, when allied troops tended to report any German tanks as Tigers), the Churchill’s presence is largely forgotten, swamped by the vast numbers of Shermans (apart from the Churchill AVRE and other ‘funnies’). Three Tank Brigades were equipped with standard Churchill gun tanks, operating just over 500 tanks at full strength. These brigades were meant to operate in direct support of the infantry, so were often split up into smaller packets. In contrast the Germans had three Tiger battalions in Normandy, with a strength of around 140 Tigers.
Much of this book looks at how the two types of tank compared to each other, and what their roles were. Indeed the author makes the point that the two types rarely actually fought each other, but there were some occasions on which this happened, and several pages examine Operation Jupiter and the battle for Hill 112 near Caen. Even here the clash was part of a much larger and more complex battle, so we can’t be sure how many of the six Tigers or 39 Churchills lost in the day’s fighting were taken out by the other type, or how many other German tanks the Churchills might have eliminated. It is also worth noting that 171 Churchills were recorded as being destroyed in Normandy, compared to 134 Tigers, a fairly creditable balance.
This isn’t really a ‘vs’ book in the normal way – both tanks were indeed present in Normandy, but didn’t directly clash that often and weren’t intended for the same role – but instead could be seen as something of a ‘two for one’ tank book, comparing the development, design, roles and significant of these two heavyweight tanks.
Design and Development
The Strategic Situation
Statistics and Analysis
Author: Neil Grant