Hobart’s Top 9 Special Tanks of World War II
Hobart’s Top 9 Special Tanks of World War II

Hobart’s Top 9 Special Tanks of World War II

Maria - June 22, 2016

D-Day operations and the latter stages of the Second World War saw some of the most unusually designed armored vehicles. The Allied forces had learned an important lesson after a failed attempt to raid the German-occupied port of Dieppe in 1942. The landscape favored the Germans and their armor. To successfully carry out Operation Overlord, the Allied invaders needed better preparation against their strong opponent and specially designed armored vehicles that could execute tasks beyond the ordinary. These were central to their success.

Chief of the Imperial General Staff General Sir Alan Brooke, therefore, commissioned the armored warfare specialist Major General Sir Percy Stanley Hobart to lead the development of these special units. He would also train crews on how to use them in actual combat. These special vehicles popularly referred to as Hobart’s Funnies came to play a key part in the successful invasion of continental Europe starting with the Normandy landings.

Hobart’s Funnies were a wide range of unusually modified tanks that could perform specialized tasks which standard tanks could not. Many of the ideas behind the fashioning of these tanks had already been tried or tested or were under experimental development by Britain as well as other countries such as Germany and Russia. This means that the Nazi Germans were fairly privy to the technology that could build these tanks, so the Allies kept their development as guarded as possible. The British military engineer Hobart improved on the existing designs and went further to create some entirely new technologies as well. Hobart’s Funnies became the most elaborate collection of engineering vehicles ever.

9. The Crab

Hobart’s Top 9 Special Tanks of World War II

The Crab Flail was a modified Sherman tank designed to explode mines in front of the tank to create safe passage for the Allied troops. It was equipped with a rotating cylinder with weighted chains all over it- the mine flail. The flail tank was one of the technologies that already existed before the time of Normandy invasion. Its predecessor, the Matilda ‘Scorpion,’ was used earlier in the 1942 Battle of El Alamein. Hobart, however, adapted the ‘Scorpion’ flail for use on the Sherman. This Crab differed from the Matilda ‘Scorpion’ in that its flail was powered by the main engine of the tank. It also retained the Sherman’s 75mm gun that could normally be fired when the flail was not being used.

8. The Crocodile

Hobart’s Top 9 Special Tanks of World War II

This ‘Crocodile’ flamethrower was a Churchill tank converted and fitted with a flame gun in replacement to the normal bow Besa machine gun. It featured a 9-ton armored trailer carrying fuel that was sufficient enough to fire about 100 one-second shots at a maximum range of about 120 yards. That distance corresponds to approximately 110 meters. It was equally effective as an assault weapon as it was a psychological weapon and was used all through the process of liberating Northwest Europe.

7. The ‘swimming’ Sherman

Hobart’s Top 9 Special Tanks of World War II

The DD (Duplex Drive) Sherman was one of the most unique innovations of Hobart. The tank was able to fire its main gun while in water as it approached the shore. It had a screen that enabled it to become buoyant enough to float in water and propellers powered by the duplex engine that enabled it to glide like a standard sea vessel.

Once ashore, its canvas floatation screen would be deflated allowing it to become fully operational as a conventional tank with its duplex engine powering its track. This amphibious tank was used on all the five beaches where the D-Day landings took place. The tank’s multiple functionalities enabled the troops to afford quick and invaluable support for the attacking infantry forces.

6. The AVRE

Hobart’s Top 9 Special Tanks of World War II

AVRE is an abbreviation for Armored Vehicle Royal Engineer. The AVRE was a uniquely modified Churchill tank fitted with a Petard spigot mortar. This was designed principally to demolish structures made of concrete and steel such as bunkers or gun emplacements. The AVRE could also perform other specialized tasks when specialized equipment was added to it.

5. The ‘Bobbin’ carpet layer

Hobart’s Top 9 Special Tanks of World War II

One of Hobart’s Churchill AVRE designs was adapted primarily to maneuver soft beach surfaces that could not otherwise support the weight of heavy equipment or the other armored vehicles. The ‘Bobbin’ carpet layer or the AVRE mat-layer as it is otherwise referred had a reinforced matting on its track that allowed it to drive across the soft and steep terrain.

4. The SBG Bridge Layer

Hobart’s Top 9 Special Tanks of World War II

Another of Hobart’s Funnies that proved most useful was the SBG or the Small Box Girder bridge layer. This AVRE was designed to bridge a gap of up to 30 feet wide. In addition, it would provide a ramp to scale a 15-feet-high wall, often used together with fascine to provide a softer landing surface when a vehicle fell from an elevated position or a surmounted wall.

3. The ARK

Hobart’s Top 9 Special Tanks of World War II

Just like the bridge layer, the Armored Ramp Carrier (ARK) was designed to bridge a gap for other vehicles to pass. This modified Churchill tank had no turret. A foldable ramp took the place of its turret. The ARK would be driven into a gap; it would then open its ramps to create a bridge that other vehicles could cross.

2. The ‘Kangaroo’ Armored Personnel Carrier (APC)

Hobart’s Top 9 Special Tanks of World War II

Used to transport infantry, the (APC) was instrumental in helping troops keep pace with armor during offensive operations. At the Battle of Normandy, they provided the highly needed protection to the vulnerable infantry and an increased speed of mobility.

1. The CDL

Hobart’s Top 9 Special Tanks of World War II

This armored vehicle was deliberately given an inaccurate label- Canal Defense Light (CDL) – as a way to best keep it secret. It featured a powerful carbon-arc searchlight inside its modified turret. The light would provide the Allied troops with illumination during nighttime operations. It, however, would also produce a dazzling effect that would temporarily blind the rival forces. It was ingeniously designed to flood the light out of a fairly small incision in the armor to minimize the chance of damage by enemy fire. Of all Hobart’s Funnies, the CDL was the most furtively kept.

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