Information

Churchill 'Jumbo' Bridging Tank


Churchill 'Jumbo' Bridging Tank

The Churchill 'Jumbo' Bridging Tank carried a 30ft long bridge which it could lower into place in 1 minute 35 seconds. Development of the 'Jumbo' began late 1942 at the Experimental Bridging Establishment in Christchurch, and took advantage of earlier work on similar vehicles based on the Covenanter and Valentine tanks.

The bridge chosen was a 30ft long Bridge, Tank, No.2, which came in four sections for easy handling. The Churchill was large enough to carry the completely assembled bridge on top of a turretless hull, with the hydraulic gear in the front of the fighting compartment. The hydraulics powered a pivoting army which lifted the bridge up and forwards in an arching movement before lowering it into place in front of the tank. Sources differ on the carrying capacity of the bridge, with figures ranging from 40 to 60 tons.

Production 'Jumbos' carried a crew of three – commander, driver and wireless operator, and had an armoured conning tower for the commander. Early in 1943 it was believed that 200 wound be needed, but the figure was eventually lowered to 64. At first they were used in troops of three attached to the headquarters of Churchill-equipped tank brigades, but they eventually became more widespread.


Armoured vehicle-launched bridge

An armoured vehicle-launched bridge (AVLB) Ώ] is a combat support vehicle, sometimes regarded as a subtype of combat engineering vehicle, designed to assist militaries in rapidly deploying tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles across rivers. The AVLB is usually a tracked vehicle converted from a tank chassis to carry a folding metal bridge instead of weapons. The AVLB's job is to allow armoured or infantry units to cross craters, anti-tank ditches, blown bridges, railroad cuts, canals, rivers and ravines ΐ] ), when a river too deep for vehicles to wade through is reached, and no bridge is conveniently located (or sufficiently sturdy, a substantial concern when moving 60-ton tanks).

The bridge layer unfolds and launches its cargo, providing a ready-made bridge across the obstacle in only minutes. Once the span has been put in place, the AVLB vehicle detaches from the bridge, and moves aside to allow traffic to pass. Once all of the vehicles have crossed, it crosses the bridge itself and reattaches to the bridge on the other side. It then retracts the span ready to move off again. A similar procedure can be employed to allow crossings of small chasms or similar obstructions. AVLBs can carry bridges of 60 feet (19 metres) or greater in length. By using a tank chassis, the bridge layer is able to cover the same terrain as main battle tanks, and the provision of armour allows them to operate even in the face of enemy fire. However, this is not a universal attribute: some exceptionally sturdy 6x6 or 8x8 truck chassis have lent themselves to bridge-layer applications.

External video
Video of FV4205 Chieftain Armoured Vehicle-Launched Bridge (AVLB) showing an AVLB in action and the various steps of laying the bridge


Biographical Note

INTRODUCTION
Lessons learned?
SPECIALIZED TANKS FOR OVERLORD
The CDL Canal Defence Light Night-Fighting Tank
The Sherman Duplex Drive Amphibious Tank
Deep-Wading Tanks
Churchill AVRE
AVRE Bridging Devices
AVRE Carpet Layers
Crab Flail Mine-Clearing Tank
Churchill Crocodile Flamethrower Tank
T1 Armored Engineer Vehicle
M1 Tank-Dozer
US Army acquisition of Armoured Funnies
TANKS, DOCTRINE, AND ORGANIZATION 21
Gunfire support groups
Armored engineer support
THE CAMPAIGN 25
Sword Beach
Juno Beach
Gold Beach
Omaha Beach
Utah Beach
The other D-Day
BATTLE ANALYSIS 45
FURTHER READING 47
INDEX 48


Churchill Great Eastern

The Churchill Great Eastern was a WWII rocket operated ramp tank designed to overcome obstacles which cannot could be bridged by the then in service Churchill ARK. It was able to form a bridge 60 feet (18m) long and could climb over a wall 12 feet (3.7m) high and 5 feet (1.5m) wide. The ramp was extended by firing two groups of 3″ rockets. The tank would stop at a canal, wall or any obstacle. Then the crew turning a windlass extends a distance-measuring device so that the correct position of the vehicle could be determined. When in the proper position, the rockets were fired causing the ramps to unfold and be thrown over the obstacle. Within seconds, the following vehicles could move up the rear ramp, over the bridging tank itself and then over the forward unfolded ramp. Recovering the ramp took longer and more effort which required an A-frame and a series of maneuvers to refold the ramps.

Cecil Vandepeer Clarke (1897–1961) was the engineer who designed and developed the Great Eastern. He also designed the Limpet mine and the Spigot gun The development work was done at the government department known as MD1 at Whitechurch in early 1944. Due to war needs, the department had some difficulty obtaining two Churchill tanks and the large amount of steel that was required. At the first live trial, the rockets were too powerful that they lifted the tank chassis along with the flying ramp where the driver had an unexpected rough ride but the trial continued and the viability of the design was confirmed. The prototype was built on a Churchill Mk I hull and after the successful initial trials ten more were built using the Churchill Mk IV chassis with heavier Mk VII suspension units fitted to handle the 48 ton weight.

After D-Day, Clarke and the ten Great Easterns were sent to France where Clarke demonstrated and trained the Canadians of the 21st Army Group who at the time were advancing in the Netherlands. As he hoped they were to be used to cross canals. They were planned to be used in an operation at the end of April 1945 but the Germans had surrendered in Holland and the operation was cancelled. So the Great Eastern was never used in combat.

Two vehicles were delivered to the 79th Armoured Division in early 1945. This Great Eastern of the 30th Armoured Brigade is seen in Deventer, Holand at the end of the war. Note the two heads peering over the top of the ramp.


Tank Origins

“What I did not know,” Swinton wrote, “was that though the first [seed] had failed to grow on military soil, it had struck root in another quarter—namely in the fertile mind of Mr. Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty. Naturally, it had not occurred to me that either he individually, or ‘Their Lordships’ as a body, were likely to interest themselves in an engine of land warfare!” (The Admiralty connection undoubtedly lent the idea for the first name for a tank: the “landship.”)

Maurice Hankey, secretary of the War Council, of which Churchill was a member, wrote a note about this at the end of 1914. As First Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill had under his charge naval air squadrons based at Dunkirk, accompanied by armored car squadrons to protect the air bases.

Swinton continues: “It thus happened that owing to the responsibility which had been placed upon the Admiralty for the defence of the home country against air attack, [Churchill] was concerned in land operations and methods of fighting in the Western Theatre of War—an anomaly, perhaps, but in the circumstances and in this connexion, a fortunate one for the nation.”

Britain had experimented with several designs of armored cars but they all had wheels, which could not cross trenches or perform well in mud. The Admiralty even tried to attach bridging equipment to them to help them along, but the results were disappointing. As Swinton proved, the tracks of a Holt caterpillar, with more grip and more weight-bearing surface, were ideal for the purpose


What if the USA army focused on heavy tanks in WWII?

Back on Page 1 or so, I listed how tall the Tanks were. There's not much difference between the M4 and M6, Feel Free to go back and look it over.

And why use late war Sherman Values, than the 1942 M4A1 and M4, with the weaknesses they had with the direct vision blocks?
If they were changed to improve protection, why not the M6? What drives your belief that there could be no change in the M6 past the initial design?

And for Fuel tanks high in the hull, better look at the KV, right in the crew compartment

[email protected]

But it is taller - and wider - and longer. Again, a much bigger target.

Because the late-war Sherman had a single glacis at a uniform slope which is easy to calculate the armor protection of, the early war Sherman had armor values that were similar but it has a curve which makes it very hard to give precise numbers. The M6 has even more weakspots, but even if these were fixed it still has no real advantage over the M4.

Because any meaningful improvement to the M6 makes it even heavier and it was already far too heavy and big: if the only improvements are fixing the vision blocks it still only has the same protection values as a Sherman, for twice the weight. You are launching a scarecrow of saying there can be no changes when I never said that: I said there could never be any meaningful upgrades because the basic design is so catastrophically flawed.

We're not talking about the KV, we're talking about the Sherman. Stop trying to shift the topic to foreign heavy tanks that have no relationship to the US.

US doctrine stated that the best weapon against an enemy tank was a tank and that that was the principal enemy of US tanks. US TDs were designed around a doctrine of operational defense, not tactical tank combats.

Marathag

Postwar, were used to move Centurions around with the Danish Army

Bsmart

That's a late 1944 program, not 1942.

And it's hardly larger than an M4, anyway. Note that m6 has side skirts, while M4 has none. That will stop any HEAT from effecting the lower hull

SealTheRealDeal

So rather than discussing the usefulness of the American TOG1, how about we sus out what a potentially useful heavy tank could look like for the Americans.

I think the T14 "Assault" Tank would be a good starting point, especially if the Brits stay on board with the project and ultimately adopt it in place of the later Churchill marks.

Riain

This is terrible projection. So far other people have told you that the heavy tanks logistical problems include -
Major losses of shipping.
Major problems landing them.
Major problems with bridges and transport infrastructure.
Major problems with production due to the more expensive parts involved.
Significantly higher gasoline consumpion.
Need for new tank carriers.
Greater manpower required for manning.
Decreased operational range.
Dock cranes maxing out at 40 tons.
M6 failed to pass the army's reliability tests and inability to send them back to maintenance depots like German tanks
More engineering units required

This is defined by you as "no serious thought to the subject", while your own efforts which reduce themselves to ridiculing them and haughtily declaring that the US could manage, without any additional sophistication or arguments, are apparently to be defined as works of logistical genius. Or Marathag's non sequitur of the essentially civilian transport of trains to the USSR or 1950s era unloading of small numbers of heavy tanks.

At this point you're either trolling or blind.

Riain

I said a Corps might have a btn of heavies, the US Army had a lot of Corps in WW2 so the US Army would have a lot of heavy tank btns.

Johnrankins

So rather than discussing the usefulness of the American TOG1, how about we sus out what a potentially useful heavy tank could look like for the Americans.

I think the T14 "Assault" Tank would be a good starting point, especially if the Brits stay on board with the project and ultimately adopt it in place of the later Churchill marks.

SealTheRealDeal

Johnrankins

[email protected]

Infinitely better than anything you've added which has consisted of name-calling your opposition and declaring what anybody else says is irrelevant, faith-based arguments about US logistics which include absolutely nothing about actual statistics associated with it, and if you look back through the thread you can easily see that there are plenty of quantifiable values concerning shipping, landing craft, docking cranes, and reliability ratios.

I said a Corps might have a btn of heavies, the US Army had a lot of Corps in WW2 so the US Army would have a lot of heavy tank btns.

Same problem applies - maybe that is only 3-4" of the increase in AFVs, but it is a lot more in the way of logistical demands, probably equivalent to at least 10% given that it requires twice the tank transporters and probably far more in the way of logistical equipment, not even mentioning the MASSIVE increases for bridging and engineering units.

The Churchill was around 40 tons, and the Diamond T according to wikipedia looks like it maxed out at 52,000 kilograms - and shows two of them being required to tow a Tortoise heavy tank. So at the very least you are looking at a doubling of the tank transporter units required for moving an equivalent number of M6 heavy tanks which weigh in at at least 60 tons.

So rather than discussing the usefulness of the American TOG1, how about we sus out what a potentially useful heavy tank could look like for the Americans.

I think the T14 "Assault" Tank would be a good starting point, especially if the Brits stay on board with the project and ultimately adopt it in place of the later Churchill marks.

SealTheRealDeal

Well, the T14 is about the same size and is better protected at only 4 tons heavier than a Jumbo, and even has a high degree of parts commonality with the Sherman.

edit: it also benefits from actually having the tracks and suspension needed for a 40ton monster, something the Jumbo was sorely missing.

Fasquardon

I once made a thread about Edna Chaffesurviving to WWII and how he could have changed the tank doctrine, and many people tough of how the USA armor corps could have developed with a focus on heavy tanks.

Let's say that for some reason, by the time the USA joins the war, their armored forces are focused on heavy tanks, and by the end of the war the main USA tank is the Pershing. What this would change in the war? Could the USA get the fame for having the best WWII tanks?

Well. The short answer is that more Soviet, British, American and other allied soldiers die.

The Sherman was probably the best tank of WW2. Good ergonomics, good optics, excellent manufacture quality, extreme reliability, ease of repair, extremely good crew survival features and all-round decent armour, gun and engine power made the Sherman a very powerful weapon.

Also, keep in mind, up until the Normandy landings, the Sherman had been demolishing everything that crossed its path. (It would continue to do so in France, but less so.)

If the US has more of a focus on heavies, the question is, IF they can make a heavy tank worth its salt (I mean, it's not like they weren't trying to develop the Pershing to fight the Germans in OTL - but its issues were ironed out only in time for the Korean War), can it result in stronger tank platoons? Stronger tank companies? Stronger armies? My bet is no. Sure, the technical problems are all solvable, as are the logistical problems. Modern MBTs are in most ways closer to the heavy tanks of WW2 than they are to the T34s, Shermans and Panzer IVs that were the real war-fighting tanks of the time. But what could a Pershing have done in North Africa or the Eastern Front or the invasion of Italy that a Sherman couldn't do at least as well, if not better? I see no reason why it should and many reasons why a Pershing (or other heavy design for the time) would be worse.

The experience of the Germans and the Soviets with heavy tanks provides ample reasons to be cautious, and both of them had more forgiving logistical challenges that the US. The Soviet IS and KV tanks were arguably superior designs to the T34 in terms of being better at being heavy tanks than the T34 was at being a medium tank. But the IS and KV tanks did not stop Barbarossa. They were too few, too expensive and were simply not sufficiently superior to the T34 as a platoon, company and army level weapon to be worth keeping in production. The Panther was certainly an opponent to respect on the battlefield, but it was still losing to T34s and Shermans at ratios that favoured those medium tanks. The Tigers were simply unspeakable. At minimum, the Germans should have put the effort that went into the Tigers into refining the Panther design, and probably they'd have been better served by focusing on refining and improving the Panzer IV.

As such, there's no reason at all to expect an American focus on heavy tanks to perform well, and ample reason that even if the tanks themselves are fine weapons, the cost of simply having less hulls there to support the infantry would harm the Allied effort on all fronts.


Churchill 'Jumbo' Bridging Tank - History

By Jon Diamond

An army that will be poised for victory requires élan, military intellect, a penchant for tactical and strategic innovation, and the zeal to use the most qualified individuals for training and leadership. This dictum was violated with the curious circumstances of the forced retirement of Maj. Gen. Percy Cleghorn Stanley Hobart shortly before hostilities were to commence in Western Europe and the North African littoral during the early months of World War II.

Hobart’s forced retirement occurred despite his spectacular rise through the young Royal Tank Corps (RTC) for well over a decade. Fortunately, Prime Minister Winston Churchill retrieved him from the Home Guard and empowered him to develop and train first the 11th Armored Division and then the 79th Armored Division, which would gain historical acclaim by the assortment of specialized armored vehicles (“Hobart’s Funnies”) fielded by this unit.

A Volunteer For the Royal Tank Corps

Hobart was born in Taina Tal, India, in 1885 his father was a civil servant there. He graduated from Clifton College and began, as his biographer Kenneth Macksey states, “an initially orthodox military career” by attending the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich in 1902. After graduation, he was posted to the elite 1st Bengal Sappers and Miners in the Indian Army in 1906. However, unorthodoxy was soon exhibited by Hobart, coupled with a keen intellect and an often abrupt, argumentative manner.

During World War I, Hobart won the Military Cross in 1915. The following year he served on the staff of an Indian Army infantry brigade ordered to relieve a British garrison in Mesopotamia (today Iraq). In this Middle Eastern theatre, he won the DSO, was wounded, and briefly taken prisoner by the Turks. Subsequently promoted to brigade major, he was highly regarded for his excellent staff work in the advance to Baghdad in 1917 and, then, at Megiddo. However, his actions in this theatre were also characterized by disobedience and insubordination.

In 1919, he attended the Staff College at Camberley and was a fellow student with H. Maitland (“Jumbo”) Wilson there. Their relationship 20 years later in Egypt would prove to be a bitter one.

The irascible Maj. Gen. Sir Percy Hobart did not suffer fools gladly, was demoted from brigadier to corporal to major general and was knighted.

In 1923, Hobart volunteered for the nascent Royal Tank Corps (RTC) and became an instructor at the Staff College in Quetta (then in India—today Pakistan), where he supervised the development of tank doctrine. At Quetta, he scandalized some members of the military fraternity in 1927 by appearing as a co-respondent in a divorce case in connection with one of his student-officers in the Royal Engineers whose wife, Dorothea Field, he would marry only months after her divorce. The effects of their action was not ignored and would impact the subsequent development of Hobart’s acrimonious interactions with his superiors in Egypt.

Back in England, in 1931, Hobart took command of the 2nd Battalion RTC. Two years later, he was promoted to Inspector General of the RTC with the rank of brigadier general and formed a strong friendship with the tank expert, Basil Liddell Hart. In his book, The Other Side of the Hill, Liddell Hart notes, “The command of this tank brigade—the Experimental Armoured Force of 1927/ 28—was given to an expert in handling tanks, Brigadier P.C.S. Hobart, who had both vision and a dynamic sense of mobility. He did much to develop the tactical methods and wireless control required for fast moving operations. He also seized the opportunity to try out, in practice, the theory of deep strategic penetration by an armoured force operating independently.”

In 1934, Hobart became the commander of the 1st Tank Brigade upon its establishment and had the opportunity of leading this unit in a large-scale exercise. When the exercise became a total failure, Hobart lost his temper because of the obstacles deliberately imposed upon the armor by the umpires, chief among them Major-General Archibald P. Wavell. The paths of Wavell and Hobart were to cross again with an even more disastrous outcome.

The Making of the Desert Rats

With the assumption of the War Ministry by Leslie Hore-Belisha in 1937, Hobart had found a supporter who wanted to reward him with command of Britain’s first modern armored division. However, War Office conservatives became belligerent in their rejection of Hobart to command this division and proposed a cavalryman instead. A frustrated Hore-Belisha wrote, “In all my experience as a Minister of the Crown, I never encountered such obstructionism as attended my wish to give the new armored command to Hobart.”

Fortunately, following the Munich crisis in September 1938, Hobart was sent to Egypt to raise and train Britain’s second modern armored formation, the Mobile Division, destined to become the famed 7th Armored Division (the “Desert Rats”). London was now free of Hobart, but Germany was on a war footing, having already studied and implemented Hobart’s lessons on tank warfare.

In Egypt, Hobart faced similar ostracism from the military command. The conversion from cavalry to armor was a bitter blow to the traditional and hidebound Hussar regiments and their Commander-in-Chief, Egypt, Lt. Gen. Sir Robert Gordon-Finlayson, who was also very unreceptive to any new ideas. Upon Hobart’s arrival in Egypt, Gordon-Finlayson met him with the discouraging greeting, “I don’t know what you’ve come here for, and I don’t want you anyway.” The tone was set for Hobart’s relationship with Cairo Headquarters and was not to change.

As commander of the 1st Tank Brigade, Percy Hobart was photographed on the turret of a Medium Mk.III tank during exercises in the early 1930s.

Gordon-Finlayson was a socially-minded soldier who detested Hobart at the personal level for his scandalous marriage in 1928. At the time, divorce was a stigma and Hobart’s involvement caused a considerable flap, provoking the War Office to issue a statement that if an officer were to disrupt the marriage of a brother officer in his own regiment he would be expected to resign his commission. Fortunately, Hobart was in the RTC while the divorced fellow officer was a Royal Engineer.

Nonetheless, through his own perseverance against a vocal, disapproving superior and an initially nonmotivated command, Hobart molded this North African tank division into the famous 7th Armored Division with the black jerboa (desert rat) as their emblem.

“No Confidence” in Hobart

Gordon-Finlayson despised Hobart and had sworn professional retribution. When Gordon-Finlayson returned to the United Kingdom to become adjutant general, he wrote a condemning report of Hobart’s fitness to command in order to “appease his pent-up frustration” with him. Some of the derogatory statements made in Hobart’s fitness report included, “difficult to serve with or understand” “impetuous in judgments which are not as consistent and confidence-bearing as a Commander’s should be” “not likely to qualify for the highest command and appointment” “marked reluctance to listen to others’ opinions and is too impatient with staff officers” “gives impression [of] not placing much value on other arms” “has caused misgivings and shaken his position as a Commander, result is he does not get the willing best from his subordinates and has not welded them into a happy and contented body” “General Hobart’s methods of managing officers and men do not give the best results. I cannot regard him a suitable commander in the field for a promotion.”

It seems that before Wavell left England to assume command of the Middle East, he had talked with Gordon-Finlayson who had, most irregularly, shown him one of Hobart’s confidential fitness reports. In any case, Wavell undoubtedly remembered the 1934 exercises in which Hobart’s opinion of his own umpiring had been both unfavorable and vociferous. Parenthetically, Wavell’s wife was among the ladies who thoroughly disapproved of the Hobart marriage in 1928.

In mid-1939, “Jumbo” Wilson arrived in Cairo to relieve Gordon-Finlayson. Wilson immediately found fault with Hobart after suggesting that an exercise with the Mobile Division be held. It was a complete disaster and led to an embarrassing confrontation between Hobart and Wilson, which was then followed up by a letter from Hobart to Wilson rebutting the latter’s military criticisms. It was quite clear that despite the vast area of the Middle East Command, there was not room for both Wilson and Hobart.

On November 10, 1939, Wilson wrote a letter to Wavell recommending that Hobart be replaced on the grounds that there was “no confidence in his ability to command the Armored Division to their satisfaction.” Wilson judged Hobart’s over-centralization of command and the heresy of his tactical ideas being based upon the invincibility of the tank to the exclusion of the employment of other arms in correct proportion as his principal flaws. Wilson’s letter to Wavell ended, “I request therefore that a new Commander be appointed to the Armoured Division.”

Medium tanks of Hobart’s 1st Tank Brigade during close-order military exercises on southern England’s Salisbury Plain, circa 1934.

Hobart’s biographer, Kenneth Macksey, notes, “Neither General Wavell nor General Wilson came out of this transaction with credit.” However, Wavell did write, “I hope that it will be found possible to use General Hobart’s great knowledge and experience in Armoured Fighting Vehicles in some capacity.”

When Hobart departed Egypt, the troops of the Mobile Division lined the route to cheer their general on his way. It must be noted that upon assuming command of the Mobile Division, Hobart showed great ingenuity in improvising equipment, at a time when shortages in everything was rife. As more equipment, infantry, armor and artillery arrived, the troops began to learn more about their weapons and vehicles as well as working better with the other arms. Other important details, such as learning to live in the desert, how to deploy, how to recognize the enemy while concealed, all began to take hold in Hobart’s maturing Mobile Division.

General Richard O’Connor, who commanded the 8th Infantry Division at Mersa Matruh, wrote of the Mobile Division, “It is the best trained division I have ever seen.” Six months after Hobart’s departure, the 7th Armored Division, using Hobart’s methods, was an integral part of the Western Desert Force in its famous victory over the Italian Army at Beda Fomm.

“We Have Wasted Brains”

On March 9, 1940, Hobart, now on retired pay, became a Lance Corporal in the Chipping Campden Home Guard. Neither an appeal to the King nor the War Office could help reinstate him to higher rank. Thus, during the height of the “Phony War” or “Sitzkrieg” with Germany, as the Allies were readying themselves for an attack in the West by the Wehrmacht, the upper echelon of the British Army deemed it suitable to sack their major armor expert in uniform.

Hobart engendered considerable opposition amongst top military leaders, who believed that his enthusiasm for the armored concept of warfare meant of necessity the denigration of all other arms including their own. They were mistaken, since Hobart was well aware of the need for integration of all arms, and far more aware than most of the need for cooperation between army and air forces. What more likely contributed to Hobart’s “forced retirement” in 1940 was his irascible, abrasive personality.

Also, he did not suffer fools gladly. He treated those whose minds did not move as quickly as his own with scant regard, whatever their rank, and cared little for the politeness of life as in the officers’ mess. “Military buffoonery” was a phrase Hobart often used to castigate many of the Army’s cherished traditions. He said, “I dislike all this dressing up. This emotional intoxication produced by bagpipes and bearskins, and the hypnotism of rhythmical movement and mechanical drills. The glorification of the false side of war.” Hobart’s attitude was not one that would endear him to the military establishment.

On August 11, 1940, Liddell Hart, the military theorist and correspondent, wrote an article that appeared in the press entitled, “We Have Wasted Brains.” It was Liddell Hart’s intent to convey that Hobart’s position, as well as that of other armored enthusiasts who had been diverted by entrenched conservatism in high places, be revealed to Churchill. Immediately, Churchill began the maneuvers necessary to bring Hobart back from the Home Guard to the Army.

From Corporal to General

Hobart and Churchill were not strangers to each other. In 1935, Hobart and Churchill met at an RTC dinner. The following year, when Churchill remained isolated in his “political wilderness,” in part because of his frequent criticism of then Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin’s meager attempts to rearm in the name of appeasement, Brigadier Hobart as the commander of England’s only tank brigade arrived at Churchill’s London apartment in mufti to advise the “backbencher” informally about the inadequate extent of Britain’s mobile armor. This was not unusual for Churchill, who had a myriad of uniformed officers providing him with both German and British armament capabilities.

On October 13, 1940, Corporal Hobart met with Churchill and the former delineated his grandiose design for an “Armored Army” comprised of ten armored divisions and 10,000 tanks. Six days later, Churchill corresponded with the CIGS, General Sir John Dill, to have Hobart command an armored division. After some contentious negotiations with Dill and a subsequent meeting with Churchill in November 1940, Hobart was given command of the 11th Armored Division in 1941.

Prior to this appointment, Churchill wrote Dill, “I was very pleased … when you told me you proposed to give an armored division to General Hobart. I think very highly of this officer, and I am not at all impressed by the prejudices against him in certain quarters. Such prejudices attach frequently to persons of strong personality and original view. In this case, General Hobart’s views have been only too tragically borne out. The neglect by the General Staff even to devise proper patterns of tanks before the war has robbed us of all the fruits of this invention.” Parenthetically, it should be noted that Churchill was instrumental in the ideas for tank development to break the stalemate of trench warfare on the Western Front in World War I.

In theory, Hobart’s Duplex Drive Sherman tanks, fitted with an inflatable canvas skirt, were supposed to be able to swim short distances, but rough seas at Normandy caused many of them to sink, drowning their crews.

Churchill further commended Hobart in his letter to Dill, “We should, therefore, remember that this was an officer who had the root of the matter in him, and also the vision. I have carefully read your note to me, and the summary of the case for and against General Hobart. We are now at war, fighting for our lives, and we cannot afford to confine Army appointments to officers who have excited no hostile comment in their career. The catalogue of General Hobart’s qualities and defects might almost exactly have been attributed to most of the great commanders of British history…. Cromwell, Wolfe, Clive, Gordon, and in a different sphere Lawrence, all had very close resemblance to the characteristics set down as defects. They had other qualities as well, and so I am led to believe has General Hobart [then reduced to Corporal Hobart of the Home Guard]. This is the time to try men of force and vision, and not to be exclusively confined to those who are judged thoroughly safe by conventional standards.”

As Churchill’s plans to reinstate Hobart were in play, Britain’s precarious position in the winter of 1940 must be emphasized. Although, the Western Desert Force under the command of Maj. Gen. Richard O’Connor was about to cripple the Italian Army during Operation Compass in North Africa from December 1940 through February 1941, both Western Europe and Scandinavia had been lost and the British Isles were still being pounded by the Luftwaffe during “the Blitz.” Churchill clearly needed an armored enthusiast to devise, equip, train and lead armored divisions if he ever seriously considered ultimately fighting the German Army on the Continent.

“The High Commands of the Army Are Not a Club”

Despite the prime minister’s ringing endorsement of Hobart, continued efforts were made to oust the 11th Armored Division commander on medical and age criteria on the eve of his unit’s deployment to Tunisia in 1942. Churchill, once again, defended Hobart with a memorandum to the Secretary of State for War on September 4, 1942: “I see nothing in these reports [of the Medical Board report on Hobart] which would justify removing this officer from command of his division on its proceeding on active service. General Hobart bears a very high reputation, not only in the service, but in wide circles outside. He is a man of quite exceptional mental attainments, with great strength of character, and although he does not work easily with others, it is a great pity we do not have more of his like in the service.” It seems as if Churchill were describing a kindred spirit of himself.

The prime minister’s endorsement of Hobart went even further: “I have been shocked at the persecution to which he has been subjected. I am quite sure that if, when I had him transferred from a corporal in the Home Guard to the command of one of the new armored divisions, I had insisted instead of his controlling the whole of tank development, with a seat on the Army Council, many of the grievous errors from which we have suffered would not have been committed.”

It must be emphasized that even though Rommel was stopped in his bid for the Nile Delta at the Battle of Alam Halfa at the time of Churchill’s memorandum, the British Eighth Army under many different commanders had suffered the worse for almost two years in armored engagements in North Africa. In July 1942, the Eighth Army had been on the brink of disaster after the Gazala debacle. A wholesale purge of Eighth Army leadership was to occur in August 1942. Thus, one has to wonder what would have happened in North Africa if Hobart had remained in command of the 7th Armored Division.

Churchill’s communiqué concluded, “The high commands of the Army are not a club. It is my duty … to make sure that exceptionally able men, even though not popular with their military contemporaries, are not prevented from giving their services to the Crown.” Ultimately, neither Hobart nor the 11th Armored Division went to North Africa. The 11th Armored Division was redeployed for Europe under General “Pip” Roberts. However, the 11th Armored Division, along with Hobart’s previous command in Egypt, the 7th Armored, remained one of the best British tank units of the War.

Hobart’s Experimental Tanks

Another pressing assignment had developed for Hobart. The new CIGS, General Sir Alan Brooke, offered Hobart command of the 79th (Experimental) Armored Division in March 1943 with the specific intent of devising and training specialized armor and crews for the Normandy beaches and beyond.

Specialty tanks were required to neutralize many of the beach obstacles, as the forlorn attack by the Canadians at Dieppe had clearly shown. If the vaunted Atlantic Wall were to be breached, military intellect and ingenuity were going to be required. Hobart accepted the command only after conferring with his friend and fellow armor enthusiast, Basil Liddell Hart.

An M4 Sherman “Flail” or “Crab” tank fitted with a rotating drum and chains that pounded the ground ahead of the vehicle to detonate land mines.

Thus, the origin of “Hobart’s Funnies”—modified Churchill tanks to bridge ditches and destroy pillboxes (Armoured Vehicles Royal Engineer or AVREs), Sherman tanks with a spinning flail to clear minefields (“Crabs”), Churchill tanks with flame-throwing ability (Crocodile), and amphibious Sherman tanks to swim ashore (duplex drive or DDs) with the infantry assault waves.

Finally, there was the Canal Defense Light (CDL) tank with its 13 million candle power searchlight intended to turn night into day and blind the enemy gunners after dark. “Hobart’s Funnies” ultimately proved their worth in the Normandy invasion and helped the Allied forces grab a foothold on the continent that they never relinquished.

“A Military Genius”

Among his postwar honors, Hobart was knighted by King George VI. From the United States, he received the Legion of Merit, Degree of Commander. According to his friend, Liddell Hart, Hobart was “one of the few soldiers I have known who could be rightly termed a military genius.”

In 1945, Hobart commanded the Specialized Armored Experimental Establishment. The next year, he officially retired from the British Army, six years after his “forced retirement” by a military hierarchy that scorned him for social reasons, denigrated him for his acerbic personality, and probably were both envious and afraid of his keen intellect and ingenuity. Sir Percy Hobart died on February 19, 1957.


Churchill tank

The Tank, Infantry, Mk IV (A22) Churchill was a British heavy infantry tank used in the Second World War, best known for its heavy armour, large longitudinal chassis with all-around tracks with multiple bogies, its ability to climb steep slopes, and its use as the basis of many specialist vehicles. It was one of the heaviest Allied tanks of the war.

The origins of the Churchill's design lay in the expectation that war in Europe might well be fought in conditions similar to those of the First World War, and thus emphasised the ability to cross difficult ground. The Churchill was hurried into production in order to build up British defences against a possible German invasion. The first vehicles had flaws that had to be overcome before the Churchill was accepted for wide use. After several Marks (versions) had been built, a better-armoured specification, the Mark VII, entered service with the British Army. The improved versions performed well in the later stages of the war. [2]

The Churchill was used by British and other Commonwealth forces during the North African, Italian and North-West Europe campaigns. In addition, 344 Churchills were sent as military aid to the Soviet Union during the Second World War and more than 250 saw active service on the Eastern Front.


Poor weather and delays

German forces managed to flood the River Roer to such an extent that the U.S. forces in the south, carrying out Operation Grenade which was the southern half of the pincer, had to postpone their assault.

The fighting was slow and difficult. Poor weather meant that the allies could not use their air force effectively. The Reichswald ridge is a remnant from a glacier, and consequently when it becomes wet, it easily turned to mud.

While Operation Veritable was ongoing, the ground was thawing and thus largely unsuitable for wheeled or tracked vehicles. Tanks frequently broke down in these conditions, and there was a distinct lack of suitable roads that the Allies could use for armour and troop supply.

Churchill tanks of 34th Tank Brigade in the Reichswald during Operation ‘Veritable’, 8 February 1945. Credit: Imperial War Museums / Commons.

The lack of useful roads was exacerbated by soft ground, which armour could not roll across easily without sinking, and deliberate flooding of fields by German forces. Roads that were usable were quickly torn up and broken up by the excessive traffic that had to carry during Allied assaults.

A note from one Allied report reads:

“The state of the ground caused great problems… The Churchill Tanks and the bridge layers managed to keep up with the infantry but the Flails and Crocodiles were immediately bogged down after crossing the start line.”

General Dwight Eisenhower remarked that “Operation Veritable was some of the fiercest fighting of the whole war, a bitter slugging match” between Allied and German forces.

When the Germans noticed the inhibited Allied mobility, they quickly set-up strongpoints on the roads that could be used, making advances even more difficult.

Attempts to use armour in isolation during Operation Veritable generally saw heavy casualties, which meant that armour had to be combined with and preceded by infantry at all times.

One commander noted much of the advance was dictated by fighting between infantry units, stating, “it was Spandau versus Bren the whole way through.”

A column of Churchill tanks and other vehicles at the start of Operation ‘Veritable’, NW Europe, 8 February 1945. Credit: Imperial War Museums / Commons.


Endnotes

1 Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, vol. 6: Finest Hour 1939-1941 (New York: Rosetta Books, 2015), 678.
2 Ibid., 747.
3 Ibid.
4 Taylor Downing, Churchill’s War Lab (New York: Overlook Press, 2010), 92.
5 Finest Hour 17.
6 Finest Hour 553.
7 Churchill’s War Lab, 38.
8 Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, vol. 3: The Challenge of War, 1914-1916 (New York: Rosetta Books, 2015), 534.
9 Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis, vol. 2: 1915 (Norwalk, Connecticut: The Easton Press, 1991), 20.
11 The Challenge of War, 40.