The Man Whose Bizarre Tank Designs Made the D-Day Victory Possible

dryriver writes: In 1942, Allied troops tried to invade a French port at Dieppe. The troop landing was a disaster — within 10 hours, 60% of the 6,000 allied troops that landed were dead, and all 28 tanks that were supposed to support the troops had been picked off by mines and anti-tank weapons. The Allies realized that conventional tank designs were next to useless when landing on heavily fortified sandy beaches. A British army commander named Percy Hobart had the solution. Over two years, he designed completely new and unconventional tanks like the Churchill AVRE, Sherman Crab and and Churchill Fascine that were custom-made to storm a mined beach defended by an enemy army.

Commander Hobart had initially fallen out of favor, been retired early from the British army for his “unconventional thinking” and demoted, humiliatingly, to guarding his home village in Britain. When he managed to set up a meeting with Winston Churchill, Churchill reinstated Hobart, and Hobart went on to design some of the strangest looking beach lading tanks anyone had seen at that time. Hobart’s tanks carried everything from flamethrowers intended to frighten German soldiers into surrendering to fascines (essentially a huge bundle of sticks) that could be dropped to allow other tanks to drive over deep ditches and trenches, to huge mortars firing shells the size of dustbins that were designed to blow holes into seawalls and concrete fortifications. The tank designs performed as Hobart had intended, and the D-Day victory would not have been possible without them. A man who had once demoted to Corporal and retired for rubbing the British army brass the wrong way went on to make D-Day winnable for the Allied forces.

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