D-Day: 'Funnies' with a serious purpose: Will Bennett reports on the important part played by the more unconventional weaponry - UK - News - The Independent

D-Day: 'Funnies' with a serious purpose: Will Bennett reports on the important part played by the more unconventional weaponry

GERMAN SOLDIERS defending the Normandy beaches were astonished to see tanks emerging from the sea. Until that moment they had thought they were small boats and had directed little fire at them.

The Sherman Duplex Drive tanks were part of a range of unconventional armoured vehicles developed by the Allies to breach defences, clear minefields and push inland on the day of the invasion.

Much to the annoyance of Major-General Percy Hobart, commander of 79th Armoured Division operating most of these vehicles, and a fierce exponent of armoured modernisation, British soldiers had christened them 'funnies'.

The DD tanks were the brainchild of a Hungarian, Nicholas Straussler. They were fitted with a canvas screen around the hull which displaced enough water to allow them to float, and were powered by tracks on land and a rear propeller at sea. On D-Day they enjoyed mixed fortunes - many were swamped by heavy seas after being launched off the beaches, and sank with their crews. But others made it ashore to direct high-velocity firepower at a crucial early stage of the landing.

The DD tanks were developed after the disastrous raid on Dieppe in 1942 when many of the tanks taken ashore were unable to leave the beaches because of defence obstacles. It was known that similar defences had been erected along the Normandy coast. So specialised armoured vehicles were developed to precede the infantry during the landings so that obstacles, pillboxes and mines could be cleared and exits from the beaches established.

The Americans decided against using 'funnies', apart from DD tanks and armoured bulldozers, and their infantry landed without adequate armoured support, suffering heavy casualties.

The principal workhorse on the British and Canadian beaches was the AVRE (Assault Vehicle Royal Engineers), a Churchill tank armed with a Petard which could throw a 40lb bomb - the 'Flying Dustbin' - to destroy concrete bunkers.

The AVREs had a range of specialised equipment to deal with obstacles, soft ground and sand dunes. These included assault bridges, bundles of palings or faggots to fill ditches, carpet layers for soft beaches, devices to explode or lift mines, demolition charges and ramps.

The most efficient vehicle for clearing anti-tank mines was the flail tank, known as the 'crab'. This was a Sherman fitted with a revolving drum at the front to which chains were attached to beat the ground in its path and detonate the mines. On 6 June, four squadrons of assault engineers and two regiments with flail tanks landed on the British and Canadian beaches. The 'funnies' overwhelmed many defences and astounded the Germans, who had nothing comparable.

The 'funnies' were regarded as so crucial to the North-west Europe campaign that much of their work was not publicised until much later - the existence of DD tanks was not officially admitted until after May 1945.

(Photograph omitted)

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

Retail Business Analyst

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Senior C++ Developer

£400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week