Hobart’s Funnies

Hobart

Hobart’s Funnies were a number of unusually modified tanks operated during World War II by the United Kingdom’s 79th Armored Division or by specialists from the Royal Engineers. They were designed in light of problems that more standard tanks experienced during the Allied attack on the German-occupied port of Dieppe on the northern coast of France in 1942.

These tanks played a major part on the Commonwealth beaches during the landings at Normandy. They may be considered the forerunners of the modern Combat engineering vehicle. They were named after their commander, British Military engineer Percy Hobart.

The beginnings of the Funnies started with the need to create a series of modern siege engines (devices designed to break or circumvent city walls and other fortifications) to lead the assault on the beach defences of the French coast. A rapid sweeping away of the obstacles and defenders in the British sectors would be important as the lay of the land would favor a rapid counterattack by German Armor.

Many of the ideas had already been tried, tested or were in experimental development both by Britain and other nations. For example, the Scorpion flail tank (a modified Matilda tank) had already been used during the North African campaign to clear paths through German minefields. Soviet T-34 tanks had been modified with mine-rollers. Close-support tanks, bridgelayers, and fascine carriers had been developed elsewhere also. A fascine is 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.

By early 1944, Hobart could demonstrate to Eisenhower and Montgomery a brigade each of swimming DD tanks, Crab mine clearers, and AVRE (Engineer) tanks along with a regiment of Crocodile flamethrowing tanks. Montgomery considered that the US forces should use them, and offered them a half-share of all the vehicles available, but take-up was minimal. Eisenhower was in favor of the amphibious tanks but left the decision on the others to General Bradley who delegated it to his staff officers. None of the other designs were used, because it was thought that they required specialised training and an additional support organisation.

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