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Churchill AVRE

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Armoured Vehicle

Churchill AVRE with fascine

The unsuccessful Allied attack on Dieppe in 1942 proved the need for for a special purpose armored vehicle for the combat engineers during the landing and assault on fortified beaches. The Churchill AVRE (Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers) was developed to give protection during transport as well as to assist in breaching enemy defenses. The AVREs were to successfully play a key role during World War II, during the landings on Normandy in 1944. Imperial War Museum photo above shows an AVRE from the 79th Armoured Division moving into Caen, France.


AVRE Design

Design of the AVRE was implemented using hulls of surplus Churchill infantry tanks because of their heavy armor and side hatches. It was through these hatches that the demolition NCO could leave the tank to place charges on obstacles. Also chosen for it roomier interior, the converted Churchill could carry six men, including the demolition engineer, instead of its normal crew of five, plus the demolition explosives mines. And engineering tools, although this was reportedly quite crowded.


The Churchill AVRE had a range of 120 miles, could travel approximately 15 mph and was powered by a 350hp Bedford Twin-Six petrol engine. Armament included one 7.93 Besa machine gun, with the main gun replaced with a heavy demolition weapon, the Petard 290 mm spigot mortar.


AVRE with fascine

Additional uses for the AVRE

External fittings could be used on the AVRE that allowed it to be used for a wide variety of other purposes such as, fascine carrier loaded with bundles of wood, box girder bridge layer, bobbin layer for use in placing carpet (mat) over soft ground, or for placing demolition charges with devices. The charges and their devices were known by unusual names such as Bangalore Torpedo, Jones Onion, and Goat. To extend its abilities even further, a sledge could be loaded with combat stores and towed behind. The AVRE became known as one of Hobart's Funnies a variety of specialized vehicles. Imperial War Museum photo above, right, shows a AVRE fascine carrier.


AVREs in Action

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According to Chamberlain and Ellis in British and American Tanks World War II, (p.70), "180 Churchills ...were converted to AVREs by D-Day, June 6, 1944... Subsequently another 574 vehicles were converted and AVREs played an important part in the NW Europe campaign". These armored vehicles were attached to the 1st Assault Brigade of 79th Armoured Division which was commanded by Major-General Sir Percy Hobart.

Successfully fulfilling a wide range of operations, the Churchill AVRE was consequently one of the most successful of the special purpose vehicles of WWII.


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