The landings in Normandy demanded new sorts of hybrid tanks that were capable of fulfilling multiple engineering tasks to provide maximum support to the infantry. After the devastating defeat at the Dieppe-Seine-Maritime in 1942, better known as the Dieppe Raid, the Allies learned the hard way that landing on the shores of Europe was not going to be an easy task.
The Atlantic Wall ― which refers to the series of obstacles, minefields, bunkers, coastal batteries and pillboxes built by the Germans to prevent the Allies from landing in on the Atlantic coast ― had once proved impregnable and at that point, it wasn’t even fully constructed. In addition to the defense system, the Allies had to face unpredictable weather and soft sand and shingle on the beaches in which tanks risked getting stuck.
All of this meant that Operation Overlord demanded a large amount of inventive ingenuity to succeed. The Royal Engineers, together with the 79th Armoured Division of the British Army, were given the task of overcoming all obstacles and providing equipment that would guarantee the safety and mobility of Allied troops once they were on the ground.
The results seemed so stunning at the time that these vehicles became commonly known as the Hobart Funnies. The tanks were named after the Commander of the 79th Armoured Division, Major General Percy Hobart. Although these tanks were labeled as “funny”, they were used extensively during the landings by the Brittish and had proven to be most effective as assault or support vehicles. The Hobard Funnies became the prototypes of many engineer-purpose vehicles long after the war and changed the history of naval landing warfare forever.
The Crocodile was a modified Churchill tank, fitted with a flamethrower in place of the hull machine gun. An armored trailer, towed behind the tank, carried 400 Imperial gallons (1,800 liters) of fuel. The flamethrower had a range of over 120 yards (110 meters), far greater than man-portable units. Regarded as a powerful psychological weapon, this flame tank proved highly effective at clearing bunkers, trenches, and other German fortifications.
2. AVRE (Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers)
Another Churchill tank modification adapted to attack German defensive fortifications. The AVRE’s main gun was replaced by a Petard Mortar that fired a forty-pound (18 kg) HE-filled projectile (nicknamed the “Flying dustbin”) 150 yards (137 m).
It was capable of destroying concrete obstacles such as roadblocks and bunkers. The mortar had to be reloaded externally by opening a hatch and sliding a round into the mortar tube from the hull.
AVREs were also used to carry and operate equipment such as:
A reel of 10-foot (3.0 m) wide canvas cloth reinforced with steel poles carried in front of the tank and unrolled onto the ground to form a “path” so that following vehicles (and the deploying vehicle itself) would not sink into the soft ground of the beaches during the amphibious landing.
A bundle of wooden poles or rough brushwood lashed together with wires carried in front of the tank that could be released to fill a ditch or form a step. Metal pipes in the center of the fascine allowed water to flow through.
Small Box Girder:
An assault bridge that was carried in front of the tank and could be dropped to span a 30-foot (9.1 m) gap in 30 seconds.
A mine plow intended to excavate the ground in front of the tank, to expose and make harmless any land mines.
Two large demolition charges on a metal frame that could be placed against a concrete wall and detonated from a safe distance. It was the successor to the single-charge device Carrot.
3. ARK (Armoured Ramp Carrier)
A Churchill tank without a turret that had extendable ramps at each end; other vehicles could drive up ramps and over the vehicle to scale obstacles.
4. Crab Tank
A Sherman tank modified with a mine flail. The mine flail was a rotating cylinder of weighted chains that exploded mines in the path of the tank.
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