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TOUR THE BATTLEFIELDS OF NORMANDY
HOBART'S FUNNIES AND THE MULBERRY HARBOUR

HOBART'S FUNNIES

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. Lessons from this landing led to a whole range of special developed vehicles. Under the supervision of General Major Percy Hobart of the 79ste Armoured Division, tanks were rebuilt for a number of duties.

DD Sherman with canvas skirts (the blue line shows the waterline)

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. 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 gave 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).

DD Sherman (Port-en-Bessin, underwater museum) on the right are the two propellers

The Americans had for UTAH Beach and OMAHA Beach 64 DD tanks, for both beaches 32. 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 they were debarked at 10 and up to 13 kilometres! In the high waves most of the DD tanks were lost. No wonder, only 10 or 20 centimetres of the canvas skirt was sticking above the waterline. During the first wave at OMAHA only 5 of the 32 DD's made it!

A Sherman M4 with deep wading trunks (for bring air to the engine) on UTAH Beach

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.

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

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'.

Then there was the 'Crocodile', a Churchill tank rebuilt as a flame-thrower. The flame would shoot over a range of 72 metres! From a little trailer, that was connected to the back of the tank, the fuel was brought under high pressure before being released.

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 THEM?

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 (see the page British and Canadian sector, part two). A Churchill with the Petard mortar stands as a monument near Bernières (SWORD) (see for a picture: this page). Another AVRE Churchill, 'One Charlie', you'll find in the dunes near Gray-sur-Mer (see for a picture 'Statistics'). 'Regular' 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.


THE 'MULBERRY' HARBOUR, 'PORT WINSTON', ARROMANCHES

Arromanches, on the left, June 1944 and right, present day.

Arromanches was liberated in the afternoon of June 6th 1944 by the 1st Battalion Royal Hampshire Regiment that came ashore at GOLD Beach. Despite of the heavy barrage of navy fire, just 6 civilians lost their life. Because there was a shortage of harbours in the landing area, the decision was made to built two artificial harbours, one at OMAHA Beach and one in front of Arromanches. From 1943 some 37.000 men were working in the south of England on these harbours. Other beaches that were to be used for offloading goods were UTAH, JUNO and SWORD. To protect these beaches from the strong waves, these beaches got a protective wave breaker. This 'screen' was made up from 60 old ships, with the code name 'Gooseberry's. The first of these ships was sunk on 7 June. The artificial harbour 'A' (OMAHA Beach) en harbour 'B' (ARROMANCHES) had a basis of 146 Caissons ('Phoenix') and that made the shape of the harbour and the offloading docks.

Left a 'Phoenix', right the harbour at work

Sixty of these 'Phoenix' elements had a water transfer of 6000 tonnes. The first to arrive was on 9 June. On June 18th some 115 'Phoenix's' were already sunk and the harbours were ready for use. On that first day some 24.412 tonnes ammunitions was brought to shore. To bring the unloaded material to shore from the docks they used a long metal road that was placed on pontoons, the so called 'Whales'. The unloading docks were floating and had a slide system of poles that were placed in the sandy bottom so it could move on the tide. The complete Mulberry harbour consisted of 500 towed parts with a weight of 1½ million tonnes. 19 June, after its first operational day, a severe three day storm hit Normandy and destroyed the harbour at OMAHA Beach. 22 'Wales' that were on there way, were lost in the high waves. Usable parts of OMAHA were brought over to Arromanches. This harbour, Port Winston, handled over 39.000 vehicles and 220.000 men.

The slowly deteriorating Mulberry harbour, right 'Whales' on the beach

On the beach at Arromanches you may still find some 'Whale' elements, a short distence from these elements is a unloading dock beached. The screen of 'Phoenix' elements gives a good impression of the size of this artificial harbour.


A TIP:

If you are planning to visit a lot of museums, buy your self a reduction ticked. You have to pay the full amount the first time but afterwards there is a nice reduction at the most museums (a museum that does not accept the reduction ticked is OMAHA Museum 6 June 1944, this is privately owned).

above: this is how the reduction ticked looks like

A show you don't want to miss, is 'Arromanches 360', this is a 'round' theatre that runs the film 'Price of Freedom'. There are 2 shows every hour, 10 minutes and 40 minutes passed the hour. (They accept the reduction ticket here as well). The museum about the Mulberry harbour in Arromanches was for me personally a disappointment. The model of the harbour is worth the visit, but the larger part of the museum consists of the museum shop, that sells the same souvenirs that are sold here around the harbour. That's why a price of €6.50 is way too high (with the reduction ticket €5.00, still to steep).

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