After the disastrous Dieppe raid in 1942, it was evident that specialized vehicles would be needed for the invasion of France. Major General Percy Hobart of the British Army was charged by Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, with creating vehicles that would aid in taking the beaches and securing a bridgehead when D-Day arrived.
Hobart became commander of the 79th (Experimental) Armoured Division Royal Engineers and set about modifying existing armored vehicles for specialized roles such as mine clearing, obstacle demolition, carpet laying and flame throwers. The Churchill Crocodile flamethrower was one of several vehicle-types modified for specialized purposes for the D-Day invasion.
The Churchill Crocodile was a standard Churchill Mk VII converted into a flamethrower. The bow machine gun was replaced with a flame projector and a fuel trailer was designed to be towed behind the vehicle. The Churchill retained its 75mm gun and coaxial Besa machine gun in the turret for use against conventional targets, while the flame projector was used against enemy bunkers, trenches and strong points inside buildings. The six-and-a-half ton fuel trailer held 400 gallons of jellied gasoline along with bottles of compressed nitrogen propellant, enough for eighty one-second bursts. The trailer was connected to the tank at the rear, the armored coupling also being the inlet for fuel and propellant and could be disconnected from within the tank in an emergency. The projector had a range of 120 yards and could project just fuel around obstacles that would then be lit with a secondary flame burst.
The Crocodile proved to be a strong and effective weapon. Once the Germans became acquainted with the Crocodile, they were targeted first, mainly the fuel trailer. There were also reports that captured Crocodile crews were summarily executed by the Germans. Because of the fear it generated, sometimes just the arrival of a Crocodile would cause the enemy to surrender.
Crocodiles were assigned to the 79th Armoured Division, specifically to the 31st Armoured Brigade, 141st Regiment RAC and the 7th Royal Tank Regiment. They were also used in Italy with the 25th Armoured Assault Brigade.
Little is known about the Churchill Crocodile in this article. It once was part of the Tony Budge collection in Retford, Nottinghamshire, England. Mr. Budge assembled a huge collection of military vehicles in the 1980's and 90's but was sold off when his company, Budge Industries, was forced to downsize after financial problems. According to former Patton Museum curator Charles Lemons, the Crocodile was acquired in a Title X trade with the Center for Military History and it became part of the Patton Museum collection. It is now in storage at the Armor and Cavalry collection at Fort Benning.
Click on the links below to see interior and exterior photos of the Churchill Crocodile now at Fort Benning. Use your back button to return to this page to see each gallery. Hover your cursor over each photo to see captions.