The "Funnies" were the various tanks developed during World War two by the British for dealing with specialist tasks, such as bridge-laying, mine-sweeping, blowing up fortifications, amphibious attacks, flame-throwing, carpet laying, ploughing up ground, and such like. The British developed more of these than anyone else by far, and many were developed after the experiment at Dieppe, and in time for the Normandy landings. It was seen as vital that tanks should be able to support troops on the beaches from the outset, without having to wait for infantry to clear mines for them, and build ramps for them to get over walls. This proved to be wise thought and resources well spent. The British forces with funnies suffered far fewer casualties than American forces without them.
Many of the funnies were developed using the Churchill as the main chassis. The Churchill was well suited as it was low and heavy, and therefore stable, well-armoured for surviving carrying out these tasks under fire, had a convenient flat-topped shape which suited a lot of the roles, and had side exit doors which also suited many of the tasks.
Here we see models of four Churchill funnies. On the left is a Churchill fascine tank. A fascine is an old word for a bundle of sticks, and these were used for filling up trenches and ditches, and for supporting temporary bridges. It is difficult to see from this photograph, but the fascine has three large round pipes running through the middle of it. These were to allow the free flow of water through the bundle. Without these, if the fascine were dropped in a stream, it would act as a dam, and the water would look elsewhere for an exit, and turn the ground boggy. The tank has a petard mortar ("Flying dustbin") instead of the usual main gun.
Next along is the Churchill mine-sweeper. Many of these roller designs were developed, but I don't know for certain if others ever saw action, as this type did. The model is a kit that used to be made by Esci but today might be difficult to get hold of. The tank itself is a normal Churchill III, with the addition of the rollers and the mountings for them. Strictly speaking, the stowage on the turret sides should be green, not brick red, but the brick red was painted on when I was a small child, and loyalty to my former self has led me to leave it that colour.
On the far right is a Churchill Crocodile flame-thrower. The main part of the tank is an Airfix Churchill, converted for authenticity just as described for an ordinary Churchill VII. All Crocodiles were Mk.VII tanks, and could quickly be converted to ordinary tanks by removing the flame gun, disconnecting the bowser trailer, and putting the hull MG back in place. The trailer was armoured, and carried the copious amounts of fuel for the flame gun. The model is a white metal one by MMS Models. Others are available from other companies, in resin. The MMS model is pretty good, though it lacked a line of rivets down each side (soon put right with a spike), and has compromised with the connector with the tank. The actual connector had a complicated hinge which is solid in the MMS model, and the actual connection involved a thick hose in addition to what you see here, but the hose would mean that the tank and bowser would be permanently connected, and this would make storage and use on the wargaming table very awkward. You'd end up with a big solid thing, and would need to base the model on a huge base. The metal bowser weighs far more than the plastic tank. I think that the compromise is understandable, and for wargaming purposes a good thing. Instead, the connection is with a simple hook and eye.
The centre-piece of the photo is the excellent Matchbox kit of a Churchill bridge-layer. The kit is fairly accurate, although I did add a couple of things like telephone at the back, and I did raise the front periscopes which were low moulded on things, so that they could see over the mudguards, left and right. I like the kit for several reasons. One is that it is of a Churchill VI, which is one of the more common marks of Churchill, unavailable in kit form elsewhere. Another is that the instructions name the parts, telling you which bits are the fire extinguishers, and so letting the model maker know more about what he is making. One criticism I have is that the kit is challenging. This is not in itself a bad thing, but the skill level declared on the packaging suggests that it is as easy to make as other simple tank kits in the range, which it definitely is not. You have to add weights inside the tank to counter-balance the bridge, and you have to do all the cable rigging yourself, which is a fiddle.
The instructions for the model maker suggested gluing everything in place, but I wanted to be able to lay the bridge during a wargame. Accordingly, I made a few adjustments to the model. The cables attached to the front (high) end of the bridge end in loops that loop around the end bits of the bridge, and so can be detached. The bottom two ends of the boom are not glued to the bridge, but are held there by two little pins in two little holes, and by the weight of the bridge acting through the cables to provide a downwards force holding the boom in place.
Here you see a close up of the bridge-layer. Slightly out of focus, visible against the background of the front left side mudguard, is a bit of scratch-building. The cables coming through the top of the boom end in a hook, made from a piece of wire taken from a bicycle brake cable (thin and tough). This hooks into a plastic component made by sandwiching two little cylinders between two rectangles of flat card. The hook hooks around one of the cylinders, and the cables from the pulley block visible above the white star painted on the turret attach permanently to the other little cylinder. From the same little cylinder, another length of cable (cotton stiffened with super glue) passes down through a hole burned with a hot pin, through the top of the turret. In reality, the wire carried an electric signal to explosives in the block, which then detonated, severing the cable, which then let the bridge drop into place. The winches on the back of the tank were not used in combat, because men had to stand exposed on the back of the tank to use them. In a wargame, I unhook the hook from the little block, and the bridge then detaches from the tank, and the boom can be removed too.
One failing of the model has been rectified. The detail on the petard mortar was poor. This photograph shows the alterations made to the mortar barrel. To the left of the barrel, a curving piece has been added, which represents the bit of metal which partially enveloped the coaxial MG from underneath. To the right of the barrel, the detailing moulded on the kit part has been carved off and replaced by what you see here. The wedge-shaped section on the side of the barrel stuck out far more than shown on the kit, and had pieces at the front, back, and middle which attached it to the barrel, and among these was a very large black oily spring running from the top at the turret end to the bottom at the muzzle end of the construction. You can just see the plastic rod I used for the spring, sticking up at the back. This shot also shows the altered periscopes.