Wednesday, June 04, 2014

More D Day Dweebs

D-Day Dweebs

Hobart's Funnies

Everyone is an expert; especially tank enthusiasts. One trip to Bovington, or a few games of Panzer Leader and some people will expound on anything related to tanks. This is why I get a wee upset when people, generally the British, make a statement to the effect that "the Americans had such a hard time on D-0Day because they refused the use of Hobart's specialty tanks because they did not invent them."

To which I say, "Bollocks! Can't you read a map?"

So the British developed all manner of oddball vehicles ranging from the useful, to the not so useful. They offered them to the Americans who said, "No thank you, we're fine." 

I wish I could dig out this photo I found of a tank at the assault training center stuck in the sand nose down, buried almost half way, with its rear end up in the air. I don’t mean at an angle, I mean the tank looks like somone dug a hole, stood the tank straight up on its nose and filled in the hole.  (I just looked again and can’t find it, damnit!). That was taken after one of the problems they had testing how to best land tanks off small boats (mainly the LCM). They had a lot of issues and decided that it was not a good idea as especially in rough water the boat could turn over, the tank would fall out, and no one would be happy.  So they were very careful about how and when to land heavy vehicles.

Mind you, the Americans did adopt the DD tank, and while there were issues, there is no doubt the ones that landed played important roles in getting off the beach. Actually, their main role was to lumber up the beach, draw fire from the blockhouses, and see if they could help the assault teams knock them out. However, we all know what happened to many of them on the right flank, and the troops in that area lost a great deal of support when they went down.

One of Hobarts vehicles was a tank with a bulldozer. Check. We had those. We could have used more, but hindsight is 20/20, and more of the dozer kits were just not available at the time. I suppose if the Americans had a bunch of extra tanks they didn’t need, as someone was giving them masses of better, new ones, we could have developed a lot of odd military vehicles as well. Oh wait, we did. There are scores of experimental designs created in the USA during the USA for all manner of things. Problem is, they didn’t all work that well.  This is why so few of them were actually fielded.

But what about the mighty and powerful Flail tank that would wisk units through a minefield? Well, what people generally don’t say is that every time one of the chains hits a mine, it has a bunch of links blown off. It doesn’t take all that many to reduce the chains to where they do not provide decent enough coverage to use, and the vehicle has to move back and more added on. This is not always that handy when you are stuck in the middle of a minefield, under fire, and you realize you now have to back out of the mine field on the same path.

So, this comes to map reading. Look at Omaha Beach. You have a beach, some obstacles, and then a high bluff with only a handful of exits. Knock out a tank in one of those exits and it's blocked. Tanks can’t move inland over the bluffs, so they have to move to the exits to get off the beach. On the other hand, infantrymen can cross inland at any place they can find that is not under fire. Thus the last thing you want to do is land a bunch of LCT's (LCM's can flip as we have seen, and an LCT coming in would draw fire from every major weapon in range until it was knocked out), under fire, and trust that a handful of vehicles will make it though said fire and actually get off the beach. They are pretty much limited to actions on that short stretch. That being said, I am not sure exactly what special vehicles would have made much difference on Omaha. The sand was not an issue. The Sherman main gun was faster and more accurate than the special weapons, and the only real way to knock out the pillboxes was a round through the opening.

Looking at Utah Beach we see there is something familiar. You have a beach, then obstacles, a line of defenses, and then more water: the inundated area. There are only a handful of exits from Utah Beach to the mainland, and there is a second line of defenses along its bank. This second line was taken out by the paratroops, or it might have prevented anyone from getting off the beach. But at least the men could walk across the flooded ground. So again you have a very tight space with little room to maneuver.  So ask, what special armored vehicles are going to be useful here?

I suppose you could have used some of the fascine/bridgelayer vehicles to cross the anti-tank ditch, but then again you are creating a bottle neck for everyone else to pass over. Enemy anti-tank weapons love bottlenecks.  Plus, everyone knows that if you stand out, you are more likely to get shot at. "Hey, that guy loks different. He must be important. Shoot him!"  

Now this is all a great oversimplification, but it boils down to the fact that the people running the invasion were not stupid. In fact, many of them were pretty damn smart. I don’t care who he is, but someone has to have some kind of talent to make General, or even Colonel. Most of the time if you if you assume that these guys made a major blunder, you're probably over looking something they knew and you do not. Or you are overlooking some limitations that they knew about.

So unless you can tell me what special vehicle was not used but should have been, and include how it was going to get to shore, and where and when it was going to be used, and rule out other things that could do the same thing, stop with the idea that the American planners were too stupid to use something that you think is kewl because Tamyia makes a 1/35th scale model of it.

Special purpose vehicles are great for special purpose uses; just not all the time.  And oh yeah, Monty still didn’t get Caen on time.

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