by: Matthew Lenton [ ]
Dragon continue to produce variants based on their 2011 Mk. IV Churchill kit, and following last year’s Mk. III AVRE, we now have a Mk. IV AVRE, which is the subject of this review.
The AVRE (Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers) was a conversion made to various marks of Churchills, as specialised assault vehicles for the invasion of Europe in 1944. The main gun, coaxial machine gun, co-driver’s seat, ammunition bins and turret basket were all removed, providing additional space for tools, demolition gear, etc. The “Petard” mortar mounted on the modified turret front could project a 20kg projectile over 100m to demolish concrete fortifications. Several hundred AVREs were produced, and although it is not clear how many of each mark of Churchill were converted, photographic evidence seems to suggest that the Mk. IV was the most numerous.
The kit is presented in a top opening box with an image of an AVRE trundling, turret turned, along a road somewhere in northern Europe while a Churchill Crocodile incinerates a house in the background. Inside there is a duotone instruction sheet, and the following components:
Sprue A – drive and idler wheels and hull details, a generic Churchill sprue (photo 1, 2)
Sprue B – road wheels, as per previous Dragon Churchill kits, with the hull sides shown as unused (photo 3, 4)
Sprue C – turret and details, identical to Churchill Mk IV 7424, including three gun barrels all marked as unused (photo 5, 6)
Sprue G – mostly as per the Churchill Mk. III 7327, so the AVRE hull sides and mortar, minus the Mk. III turret front armour, but with the addition of the spare road wheels to mount on the rear deck (photo 7)
X, Y, Z – hull top, bottom and tracks respectively, as per previous kits (photos 8, 9, 10, 11)
Decals – provides for two tanks: 26th Assault Squadron, 5th Assault Brigade, 6 June 1944 and 6th Assault Regiment, France 1944 (photo 12).
Some of this review will cover similar ground to that of the AVRE Mk. III, but we will look at what has and hasn’t changed and see how this kit adds up.
As with the Mk. III, the standard non-AVRE hull side sponsons on sprue B (photo 13) are to be ignored in favour of the items (photo 14) on sprue G, which include fittings on each side to enable the mounting of mine clearing rollers or a plough device, neither of which are included in this kit. There is also the appliqué armour which causes the escape hatch, proud of the surface on previous Churchills, to be slightly inset behind these plates. As noted in the Mk. III review, these sides are very well defined and include bolt detail on the sprocket covers, and a noticeable texture, so are some improvement over the unused items on sprue B. However, as with the Mk. III, the box art shows a tank with tow cables carried on the sides, but these are not moulded on, nor provided as separate parts, something of an omission.
Sprue G includes the Petard mortar, the barrel in two halves which attach to the mortar base and on which mounts a wedge shaped part to provide the sprung pivot enabling the mortar to be tipped upwards, away from the back plate, allowing a round to be inserted. This assembly is mounted by attaching to part G8 which is inserted from inside the turret. (Parts on photo 15).
New to this Mk. IV AVRE kit on sprue G are (photo 16) eight parts for the two spare wheel units which can be seen so prominently in some photos, sitting high on the rear deck complete with their axles and springs.
Those are the special AVRE components on sprue G, but obviously the main difference from the Mk. III AVRE is the inclusion of the Mk. IV turret sprue C, instead of the Mk. III sprue D. The other sprues in the kit are the same as in the Mk. III AVRE, so, if you have already read that review, you will know this means that there will be some accuracy issues in this kit.
As alluded to above, for loading, the mortar swivelled to a vertical position and the projectile was inserted up into the breech, by hand, through a small sliding hatch that replaced the standard Churchill front left split hatch. As with the Mk. III AVRE, the upper hull is the standard Dragon Churchill Mk IV component with the pair of slightly offset but otherwise identical split hatches that are on the normal gun tank (photo 17). Photo 18 shows a Mk IV AVRE on its side, clearly showing the small sliding loader’s hatch set into the welded over co-driver’s hatch (box A in the photo). Taken from the review of the Mk. III AVRE, photo 19 is my approximation of the position of the loading hatch, also showing how the turret (both Mk. III and IV) would be rotated to position the mortar directly above the hatch, through which a round would then be inserted into the downward facing breech. So no attempt has been made to correct this quite obvious error.
The turret (photos 20, 21, 22) is the same as in the standard Mk. IV kit, and the same internal mantlet, part A2, is used; the AVRE specific component G8 is inserted through the mantlet aperture and attached to the rear plate of the mortar. The instructions also show the coaxial machine gun being mounted, an error reproduced from the Mk. III AVRE kit; as well as being inaccurate, you’ll find in any case it isn’t possible to fit it with the mortar, instead leave the armoured machine gun mount in place but empty. The details on the turret roof look to be correct in terms of details and fittings when compared to our photo 18 for example, though when comparing it to various plans I started to think that there is something not quite right about the shape in that it doesn’t appear to curve out wide enough around the commander’s hatch. The effect of this is to make the angles of the left hand side of the turret (if facing to the front), and the relative lengths of the rear plate compared to the left plate that joins it all slightly wrong. As I couldn’t find a copyright free plan, I’ve used a photo from the Armorama review of AFV Club’s Mk. IV Carpet Layer to illustrate what I mean in photo 24; obviously there is no guarantee that the AFV Club item is correct, but it does chime with other sources I found. The Dragon item is on the left, the red line over the rear side plate is at the same angle as the plate on the AFV Club item on the right.
A further issue that I found with the Mk. III turret and that I can see also applies here, is the lack of any lip inside the turret hatches. It’s good that the turret hatches are separate parts as it provides more options, but to improve accuracy the modeller might want to add details on the undersides of the hatches (there is currently none, but see box B in photo 18) as well as the internal lip that supports the hatches when closed but which is missing, arrowed in photo 22, compare with box C in photo 18. Again, please refer to the Mk. III review for further quite lengthy discussion about the turret hatches that I won’t repeat here, other than to say that part A8 (ringed, photo 30) in this kit is identical to that which I had in the Mk. III kit in terms of having a fair surrounding of flash that needs to be trimmed off very carefully in order to fit exactly into the opening and to match the other half.
Existing photos of AVREs suggest the majority were Mk IV tanks, but as was the case with the Mk. III kit, I again wasn’t able to find any photos of Mk. IVs with apparently the exact configuration depicted in this kit. Photos of Mk. IV AVREs after the Normandy landings mostly appear to not have the appliqué armour, while photos that do appear to be of a Mk. IV with it in place also show additional armour plate on the side hatches, not represented on the components on this kit; this additional sideways-T shaped plate would be easy enough to add from styrene sheet, although I am not so certain that it is accurate for a war time tank.
As for the spare wheel / suspension units to be mounted on the rear, these can be regarded as optional, there being plenty of photos of operational vehicles without them mounted in this way, and I think fewer with them. Whether they are accurate for the units that the decals are provided for, I don’t know. There is a well-known photo of Mk. IV AVRE “Cheetah” on Sword beach on D-Day which has the wheels mounted in this way, it being part of 1st Assault Brigade, and it is one of the options that AFV Club’s 1/35 kit provides, but in their case they do only show the wheels being stowed in this way when using those decals. That’s not to say that the spare wheel units were not carried on the rear decks of other tanks, but stowed in ways other than being bolted upside down. The Mk. IV AVRE preserved at Graye Sur Mer has the spare wheels bolted to the back, should you wish to refer to the many photos of that which are online.
The instructions call for the sloped covers (A15 and 16, photo 33) on the air intakes; I did find some photos of Mk. IV AVRE with these in place, taking part in Operation Veritable in February 1945, so it is up to the modeller to decide whether to use them, or just stick with the uncovered stacks (A31, photo 35) the top surfaces of which feature a quite decently fine grille pattern.
The track guards are moulded in one piece with the upper hull, and are full length, including the curved sections over the idlers at the front, something that seems relatively unusual in photos, though certainly examples can be found.
For details of how the mortar goes together, please refer back to the review of the AVRE Mk. III. To summarise, the real mortar is a quite complex shape and some inevitable simplifications have been made in the kit as it is reduced down to only five parts. Careful construction is necessary, particularly with the mortar tube, though generally it looks quite good, with scope for further detailing, such as replacing the flat moulded spring on the back of G7 (ringed, photo 15) with something more three dimensional, and some additional parts on the mounting behind the mortar. As stated above, ignore the coaxial machine gun A14, just go with the empty mount A2 as it is.
As I haven’t built up the turret of this Mk. IV example I can’t comment on how the assembled mortar attaches to the turret, but in this kit the mounting point is already included, moulded inside the turret. Unlike the Mk. III instructions, there is no “do not cement” symbol, although looking at the two turret halves it looks likely that it can be assembled so as to elevate. If anything like the Mk. III kit however, the degree of elevation will be tiny, and nothing like what was actually possible with these devices in real life, so if you are intending to model it in action, lobbing a “flying dustbin” projectile in a high arc, you will need to consider how to achieve the correct angle during this part of the construction.
Inevitably the conclusion here will be similar to that for the Mk. III AVRE. There is a fair number of special AVRE parts over the base Churchill Mk. IV kit, and an extra here over the Mk. III AVRE kit is the addition of the spare wheel units. Though some of the AVRE parts are nicely executed, it seems to me that not all of them are completely correct if assembled as directed in the instructions and there remains the fundamental flaw of the incorrect hull front hatch. The overall turret shape also raised some doubts in my mind, and I imagine that correcting it wouldn’t be particularly easy.
The surface details of the Churchill are relatively complex, and one area that has come in for criticism previously is that of the two part rear deck which has been considerably simplified. The moulded on tools on the rear plate are not great, and while the exhaust openings are a separate component with an OK appearance, the pipes that lead to them have been simplified into something much flatter than in reality. As before, there are only two access hatch props instead of four, and the ventilator should probably be in the centre of the four hatches. The Petard mortar is not a bad attempt, and though simplified, could be used as the basis for improvement.
Some modellers will be happy to build out of the box and will end up with something that is recognisably a Mk IV AVRE, while those with greater interest in accuracy or who wish to model a particular tank will need to carry out further research to make their own modifications. Even more than perhaps with the Mk. III, this Mk. IV AVRE opens the door to a huge number of possibilities for enterprising modellers who wish to scratch and convert to create the many various devices deployed by the 79th Armoured Division, with fascine layers, mine rollers, bridge layers, and so on, and, as before, Dragon have also now created the potential basis for a whole series of further releases themselves. On top of those more major conversions, there is also great scope for lots of individual detailing of the base model as these tanks were normally carrying boxes, tarpaulins, cans, tools, track links and cables. Lots of potential modelling fun then, if you like that sort of thing.
Leszek Moczulski Churchill vol. I (Gunpower 26, AJ Press, 2008)
Peter Chamberlain and Chris Ellis Churchill and Sherman Specials (AFV Weapons 20, Profile Publications, 1970)
Chris Meddings et al Modelling Churchills Book 1 (ITA Publications, 2015)
Churchill Mk. III AVRE
Churchill Mk. IV
Churchill NA 75