Sir Percy Hobart

Sir Percy Hobart (Tanner (Lt), War Office official photographer)

Critical to the success of the D-Day invasion and the future of naval landing warfare were the unique inventions of Major-General Sir Percy Hobart, Commander of the 79th Armored Division. His series of re-imagined tanks commonly referred to as “Hobart’s Funnies” played a vital part in “Operation Neptune,” the amphibious assault part of “Operation Overlord” that reached the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. The success can be measured by looking at the differences between the beaches: Sword, Gold, and Juno which British and Canadian troops invaded, versus Utah and Omaha which the U.S. forces invaded.  

Despite requesting all styles of Hobart’s tanks, there was only enough time for the U.S to receive one variation of Hobart’s Funnies, the Modified Duplex Drive (DD), more commonly known as a “Swimming Sherman” or “The Floating Tank.” 

We hear more about their use at Omaha and Utah beaches because they are more commonly depicted in Hollywood. The odds were so stacked against U.S. troops in these locations that it resulted in more dramatic content. The tides were different, rougher. The Swimming Sherman tanks were released too far from shore, resulting in most sinking into the sea. The few tanks that did make it onto shore got stuck in the clay. Omaha beach had the most casualties at approximately 2,500, compared to Juno beach with the second highest number of casualties at approximately 1,063. Not being able to easily get to shore, and essentially fighting tankless, set back U.S. troops immensely.  

Comparatively, the territories covered by the British and Canadian forces were highly successful in their use of a variety of Hobart’s tanks. Because the operation went so smoothly, it isn’t highlighted in the media as much as it should be. The design of each tank was highly strategic. Using them all together made it possible to break through the “Atlantic Wall,” a series of obstacles, mines, pillboxes and barriers built by the Germans. The tanks were able to make it onto the beaches, safely disarm mines, roll over pits and other traps and push back the German forces.  

Here are brief descriptions of just a few of Hobart’s specialty tanks.  

Modified Duplex Drive (DD) “The Swimming Sherman”  

This amphibious tank was step one for invading the beaches, and the only tank used on all five beaches of Normandy. It was launchable from sea and modified with a floatation screen, inflatable tubes, and propellors to get it through the water. 

A black and white photo of a floating tank

DD Floating Sherman (USMC Archives from Quantico, USA, )

The Bobin Carpet Layer  

My personal favorite, because without it, it would not have been possible for the other tanks to make it past the beaches. This tank was equipped with a pulley system that laid out canvas embedded with metal bars so that the tanks had their own “carpet” to drive over the thick blue clay, and not sink in it.  

A black and white photo of a tank equiped with a mechanism to lay out canvas for other tanks to drive over

The Bobin Carpet Layer Tank (War Office official photographer, Laing (Sgt))

The Crab or “Flail Tank” 

A Sherman tank modified with a flail, or large rotating cylinder of heavy chains, that ate through barbed wire traps and upheaved and disarmed mines so that troops could progress safely. It was also equipped with a 75 mm gun that could be used when the flails were not in use. 

A black and white photo of a tank equiped with flails used to disarm mines

Crab Flail Tank (Mapham, J (Sgt), War Office official photographer)

The Fascine Carrier  

This tank also helped keep the operation moving through the rough terrain, ravines, pits and over hills. It carried a large bundle of sticks that could be dropped so that a tank could recover from going over a steep hill or get over a ravine simply by driving over the sticks.  

A black and white photo of a Fascine Carrier Tank, a huge bundle of sticks

The Fascine Carrier Tank (Malindine E G (Capt), No 5 Army Film & Photographic Unit)

The AVRE “Flying Dustbin”  

Equipped with a mortar the size of a propane tank that could fire a 40 pound HE shell over 100 meters, this variation made it so that the Allied forces could penetrate the concrete bunkers that German forces were firing machine guns out off and destroy roadblocks.  

A black and white photo of a tank equipped with a large mortar

AVRE Flying Dustbin (No 5 Army Film & Photographic Unit, Stewart (Maj))

The Churchill Crocodile or “Flame Thrower”  

The most fearsome of all of the tanks, this modified Churchill tank was equipped with a flame thrower and an armored trailer that fueled flames to shoot over a range of up to 80 meters. It is said the U.S. tank crews would sometimes squirt German troops with fuel as a warning and chance to surrender. Supposedly, once the Germans saw the fire-breathing Churchill Crocodile creeping towards them, they would surrender in fear of being burned alive. 

A color picture of a tank with fire coming out of a flame thrower

The Churchill Crocodile Tank (IWM, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

If you want to learn more about the tanks of D-Day, after you visit Normandy for the 80th annual D-Day memorial, travel to The Tank Museum in Bovington, England for the June 28-30 TankFest 2024. Many WWII tanks are on display there including the Churchill Crocodile, the Sherman Crab, and the Sherman Duplex Drive. 

The Memorial Museum of the Battle of Normandy also features the Churchill Crocodile right outside its doors.  

For more information

D-Day Overlord Website

Imperial War Museums


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Katie Wells is a writer and mixed media artist with an MFA in Creative Writing. She is passionate about nature, travel, and yoga. When she’s not writing or getting lost in new hobbies, you can find her cuddling up with a latte and her two dogs Zuko and Baymax and Fern the cat.

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