79th Armoured Division
(AND OTHER VEHICLES TO CONQUER OBSTACLES)
After the failure at Dieppe (a small scale invasion on 19
August 1942) it became clear that the handling of tanks in
soft sand was very difficult. Another problem was that the
landingcraft had to come all the way to the beach and this
became an enormous easy target for enemy fire.
Major General Sir Percy
Cleghorn Stanley Hobart
this landing led to a whole range of special developed
vehicles. Under the supervision of General Major Percy Hobart
of the 79th Armoured Division, tanks were rebuilt for a
number of duties. But there was just a short space of time for development,
because the landings at Normandy were planned for 1944.
A test with a Churchill tank loaded
with a bunlde of wood
Hobart made his headquarters in April 1943 at Hurts Hall, Axmundham, in Suffolk.
At some eight kilometers from his HQ, a training facility was created with the codename ‘Kruschen’.
Here a couple of German obstacles were recreated as found on the landing beaches. During May 1943
the first demonstrations could be shown to Winston Churchill and some high military officers. And
they were more than pleased at what they saw.
A Sherman DD tank
with its canvas skirts in rest
The main goal was to develop a tank that could be unloaded
at sea from a vessel that was just a dot on the horizon and so
became a very small target for enemy fire. Hobart's team took
a Sherman tank and gave it a high canvas skirt. This was not an original
idea by Hobarts team, but it was developed by the Hungarian Nicholas Straussler
in 1941. To bring and
hold up the canvas skirt, they placed rubber hoses on the
inside of the canvas skirt that were inflatable (compare it
with innertubes). To give the tank propulsion in the water it
had two propellers at the back that were connected to the
engine. Because of all the extra features the tank got a new
name, DD tank (Duplex Drive).
A Sherman DD tank
with its canvas skirt deployed
The Americans had for UTAH Beach and OMAHA Beach 96 DD
tanks. On UTAH, 28 of the 32 made it to
the beach, but 4 were lost at sea. On OMAHA they were unloaded
way to far from the coast. Standard was between 5400 and 4500
metres, but at OMAHA 32 DD tanks of the 741st Tank Battalion were debarked at 10 and up to 13
kilometres! In the high waves most of the DD tanks were lost.
No wonder, only 30 or 60 centimetres of the canvas skirt was
sticking above the waterline. Of the 32 tanks from the 741st,
only 5 made it! The DD tanks from the 743rd were brought in with the LCT's and dropped
on the beach of OMAHA when it was clear wat had happend to the 741st TB. But they were all shot up in minutes.
More on the M4 Sherman DD on Omaha Beach:
Utah Beach, a
M4 Sherman with deep wading trunks
(for bringing air to the
engine (behind the turret) and the exhaust at the back.
The British brought the DD tanks much closer to shore and
some were even dropped directly on the beach. The losses were
minimal and the tanks were more than helpful. Some Sherman tanks were rebuilt
with two enormous chimneys at the back. These 'deep wading
trunks' brought air to the engine when the tank was wading in
deep water. The other at the back was used for the exhaust.
These were, by the way, no 'Funnies', but a development by the Americans.
A British Centaur tank
with wading trunks comes on shore
Other welcome uses on the Sherman tank were the development
of the, so called, 'Flail tank' for sweeping mines. This
configuration had a steel tube that rotated at great speed in
front of the tank and propelled chains with steel balls at the
end that flogged the ground (see the drama at SWORD Beach)
Sherman Crab (flailtank), right a 'flailtank' in action
More on the mine-clearing M4 Sherman:
Other types that they created were the Armoured Vehicle
Royal Engineer (AVRE) tanks. These vehicles were especially
produced to fill in bomb craters and tank ditches with a load
of wood. Other tanks were to carry bridges on their backs so
vehicles could climb over obstacles or pass small waterways.
For the crossing of swampy areas or loose sand there was a
Churchill tank rebuilt with an enormous role of canvas in
front of the tank. This so called 'Bobbin' could roll a
passable road over 100 metres and 3 metres wide. For
destroying bunkers and other strong points from up close some
Churchill tanks were rebuilt to carry the Petard mortar. The
grenades were that big that these were called 'Flying
Crocodile preserved at the Musée Memorial de la Bataille de Normandie
Then there was the 'Crocodile', a Churchill tank rebuilt as
a flame-thrower. The flame would shoot over a range of 80
metres! From a little trailer, that was connected to the rear
of the tank, the fuel was brought under high pressure before
For more on the Churchill tank and it's specials,
Crocodile in action, note the trailer with the
The British troops made great use of the 'Hobart's
Funnies', but the Americans were not that enthusiastic. They
only set their eyes on the DD tanks and a few 'Crocodiles'.
Because of this bad judgement the infantry on OMAHA Beach
lacked heavy fire power and minesweeping vehicles, this
decision did cost a lot of lives and time. (I'll have to make
a note here, OMAHA was not really suitable to use the
'Funnies' because of the high dunes in this area. This would
interfere with the movement of these tanks).
WERE CAN YOU FIND FUNNIES?
There are still some DD tanks you can find in Normandy. The
most impressive are in the underwater museum just outside
Port-en-Bessin, on the D 6. Another (a Canadian) stands as a
memorial in Courseulles.
tank with a Petard mortar near Gray-sur-Mer
A Churchill with the Petard mortar stands as a monument
near Bernières. Another AVRE
Churchill, 'One Charlie', you'll find in the dunes near
'Regular' M4 Sherman
tanks can be found at the Memorial Museum at Bayeux, the OMAHA
Museum, the UTAH Museum, in Arromanches and the museum