Britain has long held a deserved reputation for innovation and excellence in engineering, and nowhere was this shown better than during the D-Day landings of 6th June 1944.
Whilst established design classics such as the Supermarine Spitfire flew overhead in support of the invasion, down on the ground further British innovation was helping the ground forces storm the Normandy beaches.
Due to the nature & extent of the German defensive fortifications, and following lessons from previous campaigns the decision was made to develop a number of specialised armoured vehicles that could support the first wave of infantry and breach the German coastal defences.
The 79th Armoured Division under the command of Major-General Percy Hobart, was created in 1943 to undertake this and had nearly 2,000 specialised tanks and other armoured vehicles by the end of the war.
Once Allied troops were ashore they faced a number of threats and obstacles including creating safe paths through the extensive German minefields for the following forces. The contribution from the 79th Division was a series of specialised tanks, quickly dubbed ‘Hobart’s Funnies, operated by the armoured corps and the engineers.
A modified Sherman tank, codenamed ‘Crab’, was developed for mine clearance operations. It had two metal arms in front of the tank and connected by a cylindrical drum. The spinning drum (‘Flail’) of weighted chains on the front of the vehicle rotated to churn a secure path across the beach and smash through barbed wire and other light defences. In contact with anti-personal or anti-tank mines, the chains would cause explosions which would not destroy any part of the tank.
Other tanks used by Hobart’s division included adapted Churchill AVREs (Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineer) armed with a 290mm ‘Petard’ mortar that could fire a 20 kg charge at bunkers and gun emplacements, ‘Bobbins’ to lay huge carpets of reinforced sacking over soft ground to prevent vehicles bogging down, ‘Fascines’ to dump bundles of wooden poles into ditches to form an instant culvert and ‘Arks’ to provide longer and more permanent bridges.
While in command of the 79th Armoured Division, Hobart tirelessly oversaw the development of many specialised armoured vehicles, pressed for timely supplies, and instituted a rigorous training programme for his men. He also pressed for greater use of radio communications which was quite innovative for the time.
By the end of the war Hobart’s efforts had paid off with the development of a number of successful, innovative armoured fighting vehicles along with highly trained men to operate them.
This spirit of innovation, backed up by strong engineering principles, is the driving force behind all the work that we undertake at Performance Engineered Solutions (PES) Ltd. Whilst the technology and techniques we use today have changed from Hobart’s times, the push to provide innovative engineering solutions to real-world issues remains the same.
On this the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings we remember the troops that showed so much sacrifice and courage, and also those like Hobart, RJ Mitchell, Barnes Wallace, and others that provided the engineering excellence to support them.