In 1940, after the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk on the French coast, the British government commissioned Vauxhall Motors, Ltd., to design a new tank to replace the Matilda II, which had limited mobility and other deficiencies. The first Churchill model, the Mark I, was ready by June 1941 and entered large-scale production soon afterward. The Mark I was armed with a two-pounder gun in the turret and a three-inch howitzer mounted on the hull. Like subsequent Churchill models, the Mark I had good speed and turning ability, a robust suspension system, heavy armour plating, and a low silhouette. In the Mark II model, the three-inch howitzer on the hull was replaced by a maschine gun.
From the time they entered service in mid-1942, the Mark I and II tended to be outgunned by German tanks, but their ability to climb hills served them well in the closing phases of the North African campaign. Faced with the need to upgrade their tank’s main armament, the British fitted the next model, the Mark III, with a six-pounder gun. Even this gun was barely adequate by 1943, when the Mark III entered service, so later versions of this model were fitted with a 75-mm gun.