TOUR THE BATTLEFIELDS OF NORMANDY
HOBART'S FUNNIES, BAILEY BRIDGE and ALG

79th Armoured Division
HOBART'S FUNNIES

(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

Lessons from 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:
CLICK HERE

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)

A Sherman Crab (flailtank), right a 'flailtank' in action

More on the mine-clearing M4 Sherman:
CLICK HERE

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 Dustbins'.

A 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 being released.

For more on the Churchill tank and it's specials,
CLICK HERE

A Crocodile in action, note the trailer with the fuel

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.

The Churchill 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 Gray-sur-Mer.

'Regular' M4 Sherman tanks can be found at the Memorial Museum at Bayeux, the OMAHA Museum, the UTAH Museum, in Arromanches and the museum St-Mere-Eglise.

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