One of the enduring images of the D-Day landings is the sight of Hobart's 'funnies' landing on the Normandy beaches, with DD tanks swimming to shore, flail tanks clearing mine fields and a selection of other specialised armour playing a major part in the success of the invasion. This book combines a biography of Hobart with a history of his unit, the 79th Armoured Division.
Hobart was a controversial figure in the pre-war army. He was a great advocate of armoured warfare (although to be fair to his critics many of his pre-war views on armoured warfare proved to be inaccurate). He was an excellent trainer of men and played a major role in the creation of what would become the 8th Armoured Division (the 'Desert Rats'). He fell out with his superiors in Egypt and was forced into retirement in 1940. He was brought back by Churchill and appointed to command the new 11th Armoured Division. This time his age stood against him, and when the division was ready for combat he was replaced by a younger man. Soon after this the army decided to restructure its armoured divisions, and the newest of those units, the 79th Armoured Division was chosen to go. Instead of scrapping it Brooke decided to keep the divisional HQ and use it to develop and run the many types of specialised tanks being developed at the time. Hobart was seen as the ideal man to command the division, and in the spring of 1943 he accepted the appointment.
The second part of the book looks at the creation and organisation of the division and the development of the various types of specialised armour. The division would end up controlling a wide variety of tanks, including AVREs, special tanks designed for use by engineers; flail tanks designed to clear paths through mine fields; bridging tanks; flame thrower tanks; DD floating tanks; carpet laying tanks designed to allow normal tanks to cross soft ground (especially on the Normandy beaches) and Canal Defence Light tanks that carried a blindingly bridge spotlight.
The third and largest part of the book looks at the operational history of the division, which became the biggest armoured unit in the British army. It operated in small battle groups, each reporting back to Hobart while supporting other units. The division's role on D-Day is quite well known, but it continued to play a major part in the fighting for the rest of the war, helping destroy enemy strongpoints, crossing water barriers both small and large and taking part in the major battles on Walcheren and the crossing of the Rhine.
This is an interesting account of the exploits of a most unusual unit, going beyond the normal focus on D-Day and the beach landings. Combined with a biography of its distinctive commander this becomes a very useful addition to the literature on the fighting in north-west Europe in 1944-45.
Part 1: The Making of a Commander - Percy Hobart
1 - Early Days and the Great War
2 - A Change of Direction
3 - Three Armoured Divisions
Part 2: The Creation of 79th Armoured Division and the Development of the 'Funnies'
4 - Now Thrive the Armourers
5 - Our Soldiers Stand Full Fairly for the Day
Part 3: 79th Division in the Campaign in North West Europe, June 1944-May 1945
6 - Unto the Breach
7 - The Signs of War Advance
8 - The Foe Vaunts in the Field
9 - That Winter Lion
10 - Let Not Difficulties Deter
11 - Through Mud, Through Blood
12 - Into the Heart of Germany
13 - To the Last Blow
Part 4: Specialized Armour and Hobart After the War
14 - Still Looking Forward
15 - Postscript
Author: Richard Doherty
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military