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Special tanks of the D Day

Written by Sakhal

When approaching the date of the massive disembarkation in Normandy, all the German defensive line known as the Atlantic Wall, destined to block the eventual invaders of the territories occupied by the Third Reich, boiled with work. Under the guidance of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, soldiers and workers from the Organization Todt sowed the possible landing beaches with obstacles destined to impale and destroy the Allied LCT (Landing Craft Tank) before these could reach the shore. Tens and tens of thousands of mines should blow up the barges that made the most minimal contact with them. Where the mines were not enough it had been resorted to large artillery shells placed with the fuze of the ogive pointing towards the sea. The beaches, as the immediate coast, were sowed with deadly plate-shaped mines "Teller", able to immobilize a heavy tank. More than five millions of mines "Schuh" were prepared to entrap the Allied infantrymen, and Rommel expected, before the landing, to have time to deploy up to six millions. Also artillery pieces of every caliber concealed their threatening muzzles inside cleverly camouflaged bunkers.

However, many of these bunkers were still not finished, for the scarcity of raw materials had already started to oppress Germany. There was insufficiency of steel and metals for special alloys and, above all, of time. The Atlantic Wall was actually, as Marshal Von Rundstedt defined it, "a huge bluff... more for the German people than for the enemy... and the enemy, through its agents, knows this better than us". In this regard Von Rundstedt was wrong, but he obviously could not know it. The Allies overvalued this mastodontic complex of defensive structures, and to overcome it they devised new tactics, strategies and weapons. Among these, destined both to open breach in the enemy defenses and to protect the landing troops facilitating their mission, there were the modified armored vehicles that would solve the diverse problems expected, from the cleaning of minefields to the removal of debris, from the direct support in the very frontline to the demolition of the most powerful fortifications. This article shows some of these valuable vehicles which, because of their unusual appearence, were known as "Funnies".

Special tanks of the D Day

Sherman DD

The Sherman Duplex Drive could be used either as a normal land tank or as an amphibious tank, able to take into sea at some distance from the shore and to reach this one by "navigating" like a true boat. The tank was fitted with an extensible canvas which greatly increased its size in the water. According to the principle of Archimedes, the tank would achieve so enough flotation thrust. Eventual water leaks were expelled by means of a bilge pump and the propulsion was given by two propellers that could be attached to the engine transmission when needed. For the rest, the tank was a normal series Sherman. During the approximation to the beach, the possible machine gun projectiles that could hit the canvas would not compromise the flotability of the tank. Only a direct hit from a cannon could stop its march.

Sherman "Crab"

This one was another modification of the Sherman. In the front of the tank was installed a thick cylindrical drum supported by two metallic arms and linked with the transmission of the engine by means of appropriate connections. This allowed the drum to rotate rapidly and, by means of pieces of chains attached to the rotatory drum, to hit the terrain causing the explosion of the mines placed therein. Special deposits installed in the sides dropped plaster powder to delimit with two white lines the cleaned area. This type of tank made its first apparition in North Africa, albeit then the minesweeper device known as "Crab" was generally installed in the British tank Churchill. For nocturnal operations, the tank was equipped with special sheltered red lights, visible only for those who were directly behind the tank, allowing the infantrymen to follow the tank safely.

Centaur tankdozer

The necessity of quickly opening tracks, even if rough ones, suitable for wheeled vehicles, or removing debris in areas still subject to enemy fire, gave birth to this strange hybrid of tank and bulldozer. It was a Centaur tank whose turret had been removed, fitted with a robust dozer blade whose operation level was regulable from inside the tank by means of a system of winches. Sometimes these vehicles were used to push masses of earth against the loopholes of bunkers protected by low-caliber weapons, obtaining success even if the system was unorthodox. On the other hand, to avoid during war rigid solutions imposed by which are considered infallible rules, can be the only way to solve dangerous situations.

Churchill "Crocodile"

This interesting flamethrower tank was the only one of its kind that was used by the British Army during the entire conflict. The model had been taken from the flamethrower version of the tank Ansaldo L3, produced in Italy until 1935. The flamethrower replaced in the Churchill the Besa 7.92-millimeter machine gun installed in the hull. The combustible liquid reached the flamethrower through an armored duct that ran beneath the hull. In the rear part it connected with an armored tube bound to a towing capable of storing 1810 liters of liquid along with the bottles of pressure gas (generally nitrogen) necessary to achieve the flaming jet; this one could have a maximum range of somewhat more than 100 meters and could be expelled either in a single long burst or in consecutive jets. The towing, attached to the tank by means of an articulated joint that allowed the march in rough terrains, could be detached from inside the tank in case of emergency.

Churchill AVRE

This was a modified Churchill transformed in an AVRE (Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers) by the Royal Engineers of the British Army. It was intended to destroy obstacles such as anti-tank structures, walls, bunkers and constructions in general. The main armament, which was a 57-millimeter cannon in the normal tank, had been replaced by a 290-millimeter mortar Petard, fixed to the frontal plate of the turret in the same place where the standard cannon should be. Being the mortar a muzzle-loading weapon, the operation of reloading the weapon was made through a wicket located in the hatch of the second driver, so the gunner had to lean out to introduce a new projectile in the barrel. This mortar could fire a projectile weighing 18 kilograms, of which 12 were of high explosive, to a distance of 70-80 meters, with a maximum rate of fire of three shots per minute. However, its destructive power was notable.

Churchill "Carpet Layer"

This was a modified Churchill AVRE which had installed in its fore part a metallic structure. This one supported a thick reel of strong hemp fabric which, being unreeled, was deployed under the tracks of the tank, being so extended to form a track. This system was used to create penetration paths in soft terrains that were unsafe for heavy vehicles, such as marshes and swamps. Often the tank was fitted with prolongations on the exhaust tubes to allow for a deeper fording level, as in the amphibious Churchill tanks used in the unfortunate incursion at Dieppe.


Special tanks of the D Day

Sherman Duplex Drive from the 10th Canadian Armoured Regiment, disembarked on Nan, one of the sectors in Juno Beach. This unit intervened in support of the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada and the North Shore Regiment.

Special tanks of the D Day

"Cannon Ball" was an M4 Sherman from the 741st Tank Batallion disembarked on Omaha Beach along with the first waves of the infantry assault. Even if the amphibious Sherman DD from this unit were almost all of them lost at sea, the models fitted with the amphibious device to elongate the engine exhaust were not more fortunate, for almost all of them were destroyed one by one by the German anti-tank artillery.

Special tanks of the D Day

Sherman "Crab" (or Sherman "Flail") from the 22nd Dragoons on one of the three beaches assigned to the British forces. Thanks to its flail of chains it could open a path through a minefield, but the way so opened was a narrow one, hence during night were used the lights on the rear part to allow the soldiers to follow the tank without getting outside of the cleansed way. The cannon is operational, allowing this tank to fight, contrarily to its predecessor, the Matilda "Flail".

Special tanks of the D Day

Sherman "Dozer", used during the assault waves to unblock the beaches, pushing the obstacles and the destroyed materials that hindered the advance.

Special tanks of the D Day

Churchill AVRE from the 5th or 6th Assault Regiment of the Royal Engineers, on one of the three beaches assigned to the British forces. This is the version fitted with the 290 millimeters mortar.

Special tanks of the D Day

Churchill AVRE bridge layer from the 5th or 6th Assault Regiment of the Royal Engineers. By deploying its bridge, this vehicle could cover a trench and allow the passage of a tank of its own weight.

Categories: Tanks - Engineering - World War Two - 20th Century - [General]


Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2015-06-20

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