Hasegawa is another name I remember well from my early modelling days, though I don’t think I ever built a Hasegawa kit back then. Hasegawa is a Japanese manufacturer based in Shizuoka in the Chūbu region of Honshu. The Hasegawa Corporation was (and is) a direct competitor to Tamiya. Like Tamiya, Hasegawa began as a manufacturer of wooden toys, puzzles and kits. In 1962 the company released their first plastic kit, a 1/450 scale model of the Japanese battleship Yamato. Within a couple of years, Hasegawa had switched entirely to plastic kits.
While Tamiya focused exclusively on 1/35 scale for its early AFV kits, Hasegawa produced a large line of 1/72 armoured vehicles from the late 1960s. This particular kit was launched in 1975. The Mk. I Churchill is still underrepresented in kit form and most kits of the Churchill kits available in all scales are based on later models.
I also have a personal connection with this tank. My father served in the Scots Guards during World War Two, initially as a driver and later as a gunner in Churchill tanks. I recall wanting to build a model of one of his tanks when I was young, and being surprised and more than a little disappointed to discover that he had no idea in which model(s) of Churchill he had served as crew member. I guess that fascination with marks and models is a luxury us modellers have that the men who served in these tanks didn’t care about – they simply used whatever they were given.
Recently, I found a supplier here in Spain offering some of these old Hasegawa 1/72 kits for just €9. How could I resist? Opinions vary as to the quality of these early Hasegawa kits. Some seem to be OK while others look pretty dreadful. Which is this? Let’s take a look…
Perhaps nothing illustrates the deficiencies in British tank design more graphically than the specification that led to what became the Churchill tank. In September 1939, two days before the declaration of war, a meeting of the General Staff of the British army discussed the need for a new infantry tank. They decided that it should be able to operate on ground churned-up by heavy shelling, it must have good trench-crossing capability and it should have sufficient armour to protect it against German anti-tank weapons. To facilitate these things, they envisaged a tank with tracks that ran all the way round the hull and with weapons mounted on sponsons on the sides. They also noted that it’s top speed need be no more than ten miles-per-hour and that it needed a range of no more than fifty miles.
A11 Infantry Tank Mark I, the original Matilda. It was named after a popular cartoon duck due to a tendency to waddle on its fairly soft suspension.
This would have been a perfectly respectable specification for a tank to be used on the battlefields of the Somme or Passchendaele in 1916. It was wholly unsuitable for a tank intended to oppose the German Blitzkrieg of World War Two. It seems that the General Staff envisaged an attack on the German Siegfried Line and wanted a tank capable of undertaking that mission. One year later, the Germans had graphically illustrated the importance of mobility in armoured operations. Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Holland and France were all occupied by Nazi forces and it was clear that British tanks would not be assaulting the Siegfried line any time soon. However, Britain desperately needed a new tank to counter the threat of a German invasion. The initial specification had led to the construction of a prototype, the A20. A new specification was raised for an infantry tank but, in order to produce tanks quickly, it had to use many of the features of the existing A20. This led to a new prototype, the A22, which would eventually become the Churchill tank.
An A12 Infantry Tank Mark II, the Matilda II, in North Africa
The British designation for tanks is confusing, so it’s probably worth spending a moment talking about that. In the inter-war years, the British Army recognised three distinct types of tank. The light tank was fast and lightly armed and armoured and used exclusively for reconnaissance. The cruiser tank was intended for the roles previously undertaken by cavalry of reconnaissance and exploiting breakthroughs. Cruisers were relatively fast and usually armed with weapons intended for anti-tank combat. Finally, there was the infantry tank. This was intended to be used in support of advancing infantry and to counter fixed defences such as blockhouses or trenches. It had no need for high speed and it was heavily armoured to protect it against anti-tank weapons.
The War Office classified all British tanks as one of these three types and most, but not all, were also identified by a War Office designation comprising the letter “A” (“Armoured”) followed by a number. When the war began, Britain already had three infantry tanks in service. The A11 Infantry Tank Mark I (often informally known as the Matilda), the A12 Infantry Tank Mark II (often informally known as the Matilda II) and the Infantry Tank Mark III, formally known as the Valentine (which, for some reason, never seems to have been given a War Office “A” designation). So, the new tank would be known as both the A22 and the Infantry Tank Mark IV, and sometimes as both. However, it was also later given a formal name: Churchill. To save excessive wear on my typing finger, I’ll refer to it here simply as the Churchill, with each major upgrade or change being further identified by a Mk number.
The A22 prototype. This was elongated for improved trench-crossing ability. The production version was shorter, with just 11 rollers on each side instead of the 14 seen here.
The finalised design was slightly archaic in appearance, with a central crew, weapon and engine compartment flanked by large side-pods with tracks running all round the circumference. Where other tanks used rubber for roadwheels and return rollers, the Churchill used eleven steel rollers mounted on individual bogies and steel “bumps” to support the upper run of the track. As a result, all marks of Churchill were extremely noisy when they were moving. The notion of mounting guns in sponsons was dropped for the A22 and all production Churchills had a fully rotating turret. The tank housed a standard crew of five, two in the forward hull and three in the turret.
A Churchill Mk I. This tank, “Indus” of the 9th Royal Tank Regiment, is shown during a training exercise at Tilshead on Salisbury Plain in 1942 and is one of the tanks for which (some) decals are provided with this kit. The red squares on the turret and hull front identify this tank as belonging to “B” Squadron.
The Churchill was designed for the then-new 6 Pounder gun but a shortage of this weapon meant that on the initial Mk I, armament comprised a QF 2-pounder main gun and a co-axial 7.92mm Besa machine-gun in a cast turret plus a hull-mounted QF 3-inch howitzer. On the otherwise identical Mk II, the hull howitzer was replaced by a second 7.92mm Besa machine-gun. The Mk III had the more powerful Ordnance QF 6-pounder gun in a squared-off, welded turret and the top run of the tracks was covered, something that continued for all subsequent models. The most numerous Churchill was the Mk IV, which was identical to the Mk III except that the turret was cast, though it retained the same squared-off look.
The Mk V was produced in small numbers and featured a QF 95 mm howitzer in a cast turret. The Mk VI was also only produced in limited numbers, and featured a 75 mm Mark V gun. The second most numerous Churchill was the Mk VII which had a wider hull and heavier armour in addition to the 75 mm Mark V gun in a cast turret. The Mk VIII mounted a 95 mm howitzer in a modified cast turret. Mks IX – XI were earlier versions upgraded with additional armour.
Holland, November 1944. Churchill Mk IVs of 3rd Battalion Scots Guards, the unit in which my father served, carrying infantry of the 2nd Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
The Churchill was also used as the basis for a number of specialist vehicles including the AVRE bridge layer and the Crocodile flame tank. Churchills served In North Africa, Tunisia, Italy and western Europe as well as being used for the first time in combat during the Dieppe Raid in August 1942. Although early models were inadequately armed, unreliable due to rushed production and slow (the top speed of the Mk IV was just 15mph), all Churchills were massively armoured. The Mk VII, for example, had six inches of frontal armour, 50% thicker than the frontal armour on the German Tiger. It may have originated with a wholly inadequate specification, but the Churchill gradually evolved during the war into a formidable tank. For example, the final wartime derivation of the Churchill, the fifty-ton Black Prince, was too late to see combat, but it was very heavily armoured and armed with the powerful QF 17-pounder gun.
What’s in the Box?
The box contains three sprues moulded in fairly brittle, grey plastic, a set of vinyl tracks, decals and instructions. Despite what it says on the box, parts are provided for both a Mk I (with a 2-pounder in the turret and a three-inch howitzer in the hull) and a Mk II (with the hull howitzer replaced with a Besa machine-gun). Some people who know more about Churchills than I do have suggested that this doesn’t really work as the frontal armour plates on the two types were different, but to me, it looks just about right. If you are feeling bold, you could probably also make this into a Mk II (CS) in which the hull and turret guns were swapped round so that the howitzer was in the turret and the 2-pounder in the hull.
First impressions on looking at the sprues is that the mouldings are very nicely done. They’re quite delicate and much better than I expected for a kit that’s heading for fifty years old. There is some flash and a few sink-marks, but these all seem to be on the inside of parts where they won’t be seen on the finished model.
Both turret hatches are separate parts that can be shown open or closed. The tools on the rear hull and jacks on the sides of the sponsons are moulded in place.
All the tiny rollers are moulded as integral parts of internal and external hull sides, though this is actually quite well done and I think they should look all right on the finished model.
The only part that is showing its age is the commander figure. The moulding here is rather vague and I don’t think I’ll be using the figure when I build this kit. If you want to place the figure inside the turret, you’ll have to chop off his legs. However, a base is also provided if you want him free-standing.
The tracks are vinyl and while they’re not wonderful, they’re not quite as bad as I was expecting. I have read some reviews which suggest that the tracks provided with this kit are so bad that they’re unusable. I disagree. They certainly aren’t as good as link-and-length tracks or even as good as some current vinyl tracks, but they do sort of resemble early Churchill tracks, at least from the outside. Here are the Hasegawa tracks next to a detail of the tracks on a Mk I Churchill at The Tank Museum in Bovington in the UK.
There is no detail on the inside of the tracks at all and I was initially disconcerted to find that they lacked internal horns. However, early Churchill tracks didn’t have such horns – they just had a raised area on the inside of each link and that’s missing here. Pitch is a little short – the original had 58 links per side while these have 66. So, wonderful tracks? No. Just about acceptable for 1/72? I think so, and I do prefer to build these old kits straight out of the box. The real test will be whether these tracks are long enough, and I won’t discover that until I start the build!
The instructions comprise a series of old-school 3D drawings that seem to show the sequence of assembly fairly well. The text is written in wonderful “Jinglish” the like of which I haven’t seen for many years. The history of the Churchill begins: “After a terrible in France, the Royal Army…”
Two colour schemes are shown. Both show standard green Churchills, a Mk I in the markings of “British Home Forces, 1942” (the markings are actually for a tank of “B” Squadron, 9th Royal Tank Regiment) and the other as a Mk II of the Calgary Regiment of the Canadian Army. The decals are printed in register, but aren’t particularly complete for either vehicle.
The decal sheet also provides insignia for both the 2nd Armoured Brigade and the 6th Armoured Division. However, I note that this decal sheet is for both the Churchill kit and Hasegawa’s Crusader Mk II, so I assume the spare decals are intended for the Crusader? If you were so inclined, I suppose you could use them for the Churchill and perhaps even for a Churchill in North African colours?
Would you want one?
Overall, the quality of the mouldings here surprised me. They’re good. Not perhaps up to the best current standards, but much, much better than many AFV kits from the 1970s. Overall, this looks like a reasonable representation of an early Churchill. And if you want to build a 1/72 scale Churchill Mk I or Mk II, this is your only option. As far As I am aware, no other manufacturer produces a small-scale kit of these early models of this tank.
Hasegawa do offer a slightly different version of this kit as the Dieppe Raid Limited edition. This includes a Daimler Mk II Armoured Car and a Mk II Churchill modified with wading gear. Dragon produce several versions of both the Churchill Mk III and IV in 1/72 as part of their Armor Pro series, and all are nice kits featuring Dragon’s DS vinyl tracks. Italeri do a Churchill Mk III in 1/72 – it’s a re-release of an old Esci kit from the 1970s, and it’s pretty good and comes with length and link tracks. The only other alternative in 1/72 comes from the Plastic Soldier Company who do a pair of “Churchill Tanks,” no Mk is specified, but these appear to be Mk IV or VI. Like all PSC products, these are really intended for wargaming and they are fairly simplified models.
If you don’t mind working in 1/76, the Airfix Churchill Mk VII from 1961 isn’t a bad kit and it’s still available as part of the Vintage Classics line. It was also re-released in 2006 as a Crocodile flamethrower variant and in 2009 in AVRE bridge layer mode, though both feature the same rather basic 1960s parts and tracks. Revell also do a Churchill in 1/76, though it’s only available as the AVRE model and it’s a re-box of the Matchbox kit from the 1980s.
Sadly, British Armour just doesn’t seem to receive the same attention from manufacturers (or modellers) as US or German AFVs, so it’s good to see what appears to be a reasonable kit of a little-covered British tank.