To enhance the prospects of crossing hostile beaches, Allied planners modified various armored vehicles to deal with the German defenses. Shermans were fitted with rotating chain flails (‘‘Crabs’’) to detonate land mines. Flame-throwing Churchills were called Crocodiles, while other Churchills with petards carried bridging material. Other examples were carpet layers that put down a long reel of heavy material across soft sand, and fascine layers (wood bundles) to fill up antitank ditches. Because of their unusual appearance, such improvisations were generically called ‘‘funnies.’’ Relatively few reached shore in time to be of use, but they proved the concepts.
The vehicles also were called ‘‘Hobart’s Funnies,’’ after the commanding general of the British Seventy-ninth Armoured Division. Maj. Gen. Percy Hobart, special armor adviser to Gen. Bernard Montgomery, conceived many of the devices, though only the duplex drive tank was adopted by the Americans. However, Hobart’s genius was proven in the successful application of the special-purpose machines on the British and Canadian beaches.
The tanks were designed in light of problems that a standard tank encountered during the amphibious assault Dieppe Raid. Allied units realized that in order to succeed they would need to overcome terrain, obstacles and coastal fortifications that they would encounter on the beach assault. The new models of tank were designed to be able to overcome these problems in the Invasion of Normandy. They played a major part on the Commonwealth beaches during Operation Overlord. They were the grandfather of the modern-day combat engineering vehicle.
This article on the phonetic alphabet is part of our larger selection of posts about the Normandy Invasion. To learn more, click here for our comprehensive guide to D-Day.