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 Post subject: D-Day @ 70 - Hobart's Funnies
Unread postPosted: 06 Jun 2014, 10:51 
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D-Day @ 70
Hobart's Funnies
The specialist armoured vehicles of D-Day

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Sir Percy Cleghorn Stanley Hobart, 1952
© National Portrait Gallery, London


By Oliver Thébault

Hobart's Funnies were a collection of unusual vehicles specifically designed for use in amphibious operations, each vehicle fulfilled a highly specific role making it an invaluable tool on D-Day. This article will examine the most successful and famous of the Funnies; the Sherman DD, Sherman Crab, Churchill Crocodile and Churchill AVRE. Hobart and his teams revolutionary designs and ideas revolutionized amphibious operations, to the extent that many countries today employ modern versions of the Funnies such as bridge layers, mine flails and bulldozers.

Dieppe- ingenuity from incongruity
The Dieppe Raid 1942 brutally illustrated the problem of amphibious operations in modern warfare, throughout history amphibious operations have always been difficult, with the modern weaponry of the Second World War the task of creating a beachhead was made even harder, the use of such technologies was unprecedented meaning there was very little experience which could be drawn upon. These factors can all be used as justifications for the Dieppe Raid, to try and understand how a large scale amphibious landing would be carried out, by mounting a small scale one. The Dieppe Raid was not a full blooded invasion, more of an experiment as to whether it was possible to seize a port, which in a time before the development of Mulberry appeared to have been, to all sides, the only method with which a foothold on the continent could be gained.

Unfortunately for the Allied commanders and troops on 19th August 1942 Dieppe was very heavily defended and the beaches selected were unsuitable for tanks, infantry and tanks landed and found themselves helpless, pinned against the sea wall at the mercy of concentrated machine gun and accurate artillery fire. The tanks which were supposed to have spearheaded the advance and cleared the beaches became bogged down in the sand. Dieppe was a complete disaster for the Allies and unlike Dunkirk very few positives could be found, however several very important lessons were learnt and issues highlighted. The barbed wire and mines had to be cleared, concrete walls and ditches had to be scaled and bridged, concrete emplacements had to be destroyed or their crews neutralized and steps should be taken that tanks do not become stuck in the sand. All these criteria were fulfilled by a strange group of vehicles known as 'Hobart's Funnies'.

For the invasion of Normandy the Allied chiefs were determined to make sure that Operation Overlord would not be a repeat of Dieppe. Crucial to the success of D-Day was the quick capture of the beaches and de-embarkation of tanks, surprise was everything, if the Allies became bogged down on the beaches they would be at the mercy of German artillery and mortar fire, it would give the Germans time to prepare a counter-attack and if worst came to worst it would blow the Fortitude ruse wide open for all to see. To prevent this from happening Major General Percy Hobart, a pioneering tank man, was tasked with developing ingenious ways in which the Allies would be able to clear the beaches. Hobart's creations were know as 'Hobart's Funnies' and were in wide scale use in the 79th Armoured Division and the Royal Engineers.

Major Hobart had been a great proponent of armoured warfare and his work was highly influential, in the inter-war years he had been tasked with training and formulating new tank tactics. In these endeavours he was highly successful, to the extent that his works was translated and used by the Germans.

Hobart was retired in 1940, however an intervention by Churchill led to his re-employment allowing him to continue his work and train the 11th Armoured Division. After the failure at Dieppe Hobart became engaged in the development of secret and unusual weapons, these were used and trialled by Hobart's own 79th Armoured Division which was converted into a specialist armour unit. The 79th Armoured Division's services and vehicles were offered to all those participating on D-Day, and were wholeheartedly embraced by British and Canadian units however the Americans were sceptical and as a result were lacking in many of Hobart's ingenious vehicles, which contributed to the quagmire at Omaha.

The Funnies

Sherman DD
Image
A Sherman DD
(Public Domain wikimedia.org)
The Sherman Duplex Drive is perhaps the most famous of Hobart's Funnies. The Duplex Drive had originally been trialled on the Valentine tank, however the Valentine was outdated and too few in number so it was instead fitted onto the Sherman. The DD tanks had propellers which were driven off the engine and a canvas screen which could be raised an lowered as needed. In the British sectors Sherman DD's proved highly successful, allowing tanks to be deployed on the beaches much sooner than the Germans had anticipated. The canvas screen's resemblance to a normal landing craft also caused some surprise and confusion. In the American sectors the DD proved less effective owing to heavy seas and them being launched too far from the shore. The DD was a brilliant design as no compromising modifications had to be made to the tanks armour or armament which meant it was just as effective as a regular tank, however the tanks were not renowned for their seakeeping.

Sherman Crab
Image
A Sherman Crab with its flail in operation, the Sherman's turret had to be turned to the rear during mine clearance.
(Public Domain wikimedia.org)
The Sherman Crab was a highly successful mine and barbed wire clearance vehicle. The mine flail had first been used by the British Army in the North Africa Campaign 1942, it had been fitted to a modified Matilda tank with its turret removed. The removal of the Matilda's gun made the Scorpion (as it was called) useless in combat, this shortcoming was rectified when the flail was fitted to the more versatile Sherman tank. It was important for Hobart and his team that the 'Funnies' could, to the greatest extent possible also operate as normal tanks. The flail itself consisted of a steel drum and drive system fitted with chains weighted with heavy balls which could penetrate over a foot of ground to destroy the deepest of mines.

Churchill Crocodile
Image
FLAMETHROWERS IN ACTION, AUGUST 1944. © IWM (TR 2313)IWM Non Commercial Licence
The Churchill Crocodile was a standard Churchill tank but in place of its hull machine gun a flamethrower was fitted, and a trailer containing over 1000l of propellant was towed behind the vehicle and a pipe run through the vehicle between that and the projector. the flamethrower had an effective range in excess of 100 yards. The Crocodile proved to be an effective bunker clearing and anti-infantry weapon and also caused panic among the German lines. The Crocodile maintained the Churchill's standard 75mm gun meaning unlike other flamethrowing vehicles it was still effective in the anti-tank role.

Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers
Image
An AVRE armed with a Petard Mortar
(NAM Image Number 101763)
The AVRE or Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers was a heavily modified Churchill tank which carried a Petard Mortar which was specifically developed for bunker busting and infantry support roles. The round the mortar fired was nicknamed the flying dustbin due to is large size and shape, it weighed 18kg and could be propelled to a distance of around 150 yards. The mortar was on a hinge and was reloaded through a hatch in the hull. The AVRE proved to be an indispensable in the arsenal of infantry support weapons deployed on D-Day, its capabilities as a bunker buster were much appreciated, and it was also used in an assault gun type role.
The Churchill AVRE was the most adaptable of Hobart's Funnies being able to fullfill a number of important roles. It could carry a fascine, a bundle of sticks and logs first used during the First World War to bridge trenches and ditches. It could lay a bobbin, which was effectively a carpet which would prevent vehicles from becoming bogged down in the soft sand of the beaches. The AVRE could also carry a small bridge which would have been used to bridge the larger ditches and river crossings, important due to the heavy Allied bombing and German attempts to slow the Allied advance.

Conclusion
The role played by Hobart's Funnies was crucial to the success of the D-Day landings, Sherman DD tanks could arrive much quicker that vehicles which had to land directly on the beach, the Sherman Crab greatly speeded up the advance and rendered minefields useless. The Churchill Crocodile proved to be highly effective at clearing out trenches and other fixed positions, not to mention the psychological effect it had on the Germans. Perhaps the most important of all of Hobart's Funnies was the AVRE, this versatile platform proved to be a jack-of-all-trades, but master of them all.

Despite the massive artillery and aerial bombardment the German defenders were subjected to before D-Day, ground can only be taken and held by infantry and tanks, in this Hobart's Funnies proved indispensable in securing beach heads and allowing for an advance into Normandy itself.



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 Post subject: Re: D-Day @ 70 - Hobart's Funnies
Unread postPosted: 06 Jun 2014, 19:44 
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I wonder why the Americans showed so much contempt towards the designs?

The only designs they used, they cocked up - their deployment of the DD Sherman was disastrous.

It is not like they had a large number of their own designs to fulfil the same roles, they did experiment but few were found to be as successful as those used by 79th armoured. And it is not like the designs were a one off to solve a niche problem found only on British beaches, because they remained useful long after D-Day and even after the war.



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 Post subject: Re: D-Day @ 70 - Hobart's Funnies
Unread postPosted: 07 Jun 2014, 16:09 
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Imperator wrote:
I wonder why the Americans showed so much contempt towards the designs?

The only designs they used, they cocked up - their deployment of the DD Sherman was disastrous.

It is not like they had a large number of their own designs to fulfil the same roles, they did experiment but few were found to be as successful as those used by 79th armoured. And it is not like the designs were a one off to solve a niche problem found only on British beaches, because they remained useful long after D-Day and even after the war.


did you deliberately post at 19:44?

:lol:


yes the US were very sceptical of Hobart's designs and it costed lives, however I couldn't really find any reasons why. Maybe they weren't too happy about British tanks being on the US beaches.

EDIT
from doing further reading about other British designs and the question of US service the problems seem to arise with supplies, or at least that is the most frequently cited reason anyway.

The US seemed paranoid not to overcomplicate its supply lines with a mixture of several different tank models.



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 Post subject: Re: D-Day @ 70 - Hobart's Funnies
Unread postPosted: 07 Jun 2014, 20:20 
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The anti-British/American superiority argument regarding the use of 79th Armoured Division is one which is thrown around a lot. It is probably true to some extent, American commanders and the people their soldiers were recruited from were not unanimously united behind the British, many were still in two minds about Britain as a nation and power and the Imperial aspect of British history and culture, which of course was very, very prevalent, was very contentious in American eyes. Then there are the personality clashes between British and American generals, which went far, far deeper than just Monty and Patton. It's not all bad news though! Bradley was an American officer who was well regarded and liked by the British, and Horrocks an example of the vice versa.

Personalities aside, there are other cultural/social factors to consider. Lets face it, whilst many an arrogant person parading their inflated opinions on their own military can be found in every nation on this earth, the American's have a particular claim to fame for it - and for good reason. American combat performance has been pretty good from 1943 onward, and generally the equipment they have produced over the decades is pretty damn good and has been widely exported. Transport this attitude back in 1944, do not forget that the Americans were selling and donating their equipment all over the place, there is no way that the Allies would have been on the edge of a major invasion of Europe in mid-1944 without US assistance. There is no way that the Allies at the end of June 1944 could be poised to charge headlong towards Berlin from deep inside the Russian border without US assistance.

So yes, there is that reason why they may not have wanted non-American equipment on the beaches, but that reason alone really wouldn't have influenced that decision that much. The use of Funnies on American beaches would have saved many lives and Bradley received a heck of a lot of criticism for his decision. The fact remains that early in 1944, the Funnies were demonstrated to Eisenhower and Montgomery. They were shown a brigade each of the DD tanks, Crab mineclearers, and the AVRE and an extra regiment Crocodile flamethrowing tanks, and the US would be offered a third of the Funnies produced. Eisenhower liked the DD tanks, but left any decision regarding use of any of the Funnies to Bradley. Bradley then refused all but these DD tanks.

It was a mistake, a costly one. Montgomery thought that the Americans should have used each of the Funnies, and to be honest, he probably should have used his position as commander ground forces to enforce this. Not to mention whilst American help was highly valued and necessary, D-Day was a British dominated affair (sorry American readers, but its true), British and Canadian forces would outnumber US forces pretty considerably on D-Day itself, they would take more ground on day one, and land at more beaches. Eisenhower may well have been supreme commander, but it was British officers who held nearly all the other top jobs. The British would not ceded dominance in command, in politics, and in numerical strength to the Americans until after the Normandy Campaign, that's August 1944. Had the British insisted that the Funnies be used on American beaches, they probably would have/should have got their way. Therefore, it is clear that the Americans had to have had a stronger, more convincing reason that a dislike of the British/British equipment to not use the tanks. Well other than the DD Sherman and the Crab all the other designs were built from Churchill's, a British heavy tank that the Americans did not use nor want to use. They did not want the logistical complexity of using Churchill's in their armies, nor did they want to retrain a number of their crews to operate and maintain the Churchill, nor did they want to set up another support unit or provide the specialist training for it. In short it was a pain in the arse.

After D-Day the Americans made use of the Crabs, but when they used other Funnies they got them from 79th Armoured with British crews. Why this wasn't arranged on D-Day is beyond me.



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 Post subject: Re: D-Day @ 70 - Hobart's Funnies
Unread postPosted: 09 Jun 2014, 10:31 
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I think that goes most of the way when answering the question. Although I feel that had the British forced the Funnies on the US it would have ended badly politically.



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 Post subject: Re: D-Day @ 70 - Hobart's Funnies
Unread postPosted: 17 Jun 2014, 17:42 
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What made the Americans deploy their DD tanks so far out to sea?


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 Post subject: Re: D-Day @ 70 - Hobart's Funnies
Unread postPosted: 21 Feb 2016, 12:51 
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Good question, though I have to ask, as innovative as they were, did the DD tanks really make a difference?



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