This isn’t a regular tank. It’s a Churchill Crocodile outfitted with a super-powered flamethrower.
Many Germans in WWII were incinerated alive shortly after seeing this view. Here’s an excerpt of a first-hand account from a German who went up against a Churchill Crocodile.
Cornelius Tauber, German First Lieutenant, (mid-sentence telling his d-day experience … he’s posted up in a defensive compound/bunker trying to hold off the allied invasion).
“Then another tank came around the corner to attack us. This new tank that emerged was a different model, I recognized it as a Churchill series, with heavily armored covers and a squared-off turret.
Our Turret fired, but the shell bounced off the Churchill’s front plate and tumbled away into the dunes. It fired again, but again the round richocheted off, and this worried me, because this Churchill was advancing on us quite quickly.
The churchill then fired high-explosive shells which blew up one of our machine gun emplacements at the corner. The crew of the machine gun were thrown out of their trench, and they lay badly injured on the barbed wire in front of us. They were moving and crying out for help, but of course there was nothing we could do for them in the situation.
Our French gun kept firing, but I think the gunner was panicking by this point, because he missed twice. The Churchill fired once again and this round exploded directly onto the French turret. It knocked the whole turret off its concrete base, and this thing went rolling away to one side. The gunner remained in the open concrete ring, with his whole body emitting smoke and flames.
At this point, looking from this poor man to the British tank, I became aware that this Churchill was different in some way from the photographs we had seen in our training sessions, in which we were taught about the strengths and weaknesses of the different Allied tanks. The training lectures had made no mention at all of what I saw next.
As the tank halted, there was a burst of flame from a point in the tank’s hull plate at the front.
Interviewer – So you were facing the type of tank known as the Churchill Crocodile?
“After the war, I learned that “Crocodile’ was the official name for the thing. We came to know it as a Flammenpanzer (flame tank), and it had a hugely demoralising effect on our troops.”
What form did its attack take in this situation?
“The initial burst of flame from its front hull was only a few metres long, and it set fire to the ground in front of it. The range by now was about two hundred metres from us. One of the troops in the slit trenches fired a Panzerfaust (German rocket propelled grenade) but it fell short and failed to explode.
Now, after that initial burst of flame, the Flammenpanzer began to fire at full power – and the effect was completely horrific.
It produced a jet of fire, which was a burning liquid of orange-yellow color. This roared out towards us at a very high speed, climbing perhaps ten metres in the air. The front of this flame jet spread out to the left and right, so that it produced an absolute curtain, or a solid wall, of flames. We all watched, stricken dumb by this apparition. The flamethrowers I had seen before were hand-held devices, such as the one at the beach bunkers, and they were bad enough!
This machine was a hundred times more powerful. This huge wall of flames collapsed down onto the ground in front of our position, so that it fell onto the two wounded machine gun men who were stranded on the barbed wire. They were swallowed up in this inferno of flames.
The heat burned our skin and hair, and the smell of the gasoline fuel was sickening. The flames poured all over the front of our position, and they went gushing into the slit trench there.
There was quite a row of men in that trench, with their rifles at the ready, and this all happened so rapidly and in such an unexpected way that they had no time to escape. I think there were a dozen men in there, and they were set alight at once. I saw that the whole trench was filled with this burning liquid, and the men in there were incinerated where they stood.
The heat was so intense that I couldn’t breathe properly, as the flames were about twenty metres away from me.”
How did the other men at the resistance Point react to this?
There was a panic, which seized us all, including myself and the other officer. We saw the spout of flame die down, as the Churchill ceased firing, but I was gripped by a terror of what would happen if it fired its flames again. We would all be swallowed up in that orange-yellow fireball. I leaped from my trench, as did all the other men around me, with no thought for rank of discipline. Some of these men were cut down by machine gun fire from the Churchill, and they tumbled around us as we, the surviving men, either threw our hands in the air in surrender or ran to the back of the point away from the tank.
I was among the latter group, which was about half a dozen men, and we ran to the Eastern side, getting away from the Flammenpanzer. I still had my MP40, but some men had dropped their guns and were simply running like civilians – no weapon, helmet just fleeing the wall of fire. Two of us were hit by machine gun fire from the Churchill, and in the end it was only myself and three men who managed to jump down into a sunken track and run along that, intending to reach the nearest German line to the rear. At one point, I looked back and saw a huge column of smoke rising from the area of the Resistance Point, which I assumed was now burned completely.