With the 75th Anniversary of the Overlord (D-Day) landings this week, Saving Private Ryan has a limited re-release in theatres and you know I had to catch it again on the big screen.
One underlying central theme in the movie is the lack of Allied armor in the minutes and hours after the balloon went up, leaving lightly armed Ranger, paras and leg infantry up against the wall.
The thing is, the plan was to have lots of armor on the beach from the first minutes of 6 June, all optimized by Maj. Gen Sir Percey Hobart’s British 79th Armored Division for the task at hand, with mixed results.
Duplex Drive (DD) ‘swimming’ Sherman. The Americans called these “Donald Ducks.” In all, some 185 M4 Sherman tanks were lost on D-Day, many offshore. Rough seas were not good to these craft, which were launched as far as a mile offshore. IWM photo
Tankers of the 741st Tank Battalion wait aboard a LCT to start the crossing from England to OMAHA Beach. Four other tank battalions were also waiting: 70th, 743rd, 745th, and the 746th Tank Battalions. Note the trunked Shermans. Different from the DD models, they could ford water theoretically about 15 feet deep, provided they could get enough traction in the sandy bottom. (U.S. Army Tank Museum)
4 June 1944, this photo shows the 70th Tank Battalion embarking its vehicles onto a LCT (Landing Craft, Tank) in southern England. Soon men and machines would cross the English Channel toward their landing site at UTAH Beach. The M4 and M4A1 Sherman tanks seen here are equipped with wading trunks, which allowed the tanks to ford short distances through water from the landing craft to the beach without drowning out the engine. Interestingly, the lead vehicle loading onto the front of the craft is the unit’s T2 Tank Recovery Vehicle (U.S. Army Tank Museum)
Mired M4 Sherman on a Normandy invasion beach, named Cannon Ball, is fitted with wading trunks–raised air intakes for amphibious use. NARA photo 80-G-252802
Assault craft and a partially submerged Sherman tank during the initial stages of the invasion of Normandy, June 1944. Photograph by Major Wilfred Herbert James Sale, MC, 3rd/4th County of London Yeomanry (Sharpshooters), World War Two, North West Europe, 1944. Although Allied intelligence had identified which areas of beach were suitable for the landing of vehicles, several tanks, jeeps, and lorries were lost in water that was deeper than expected or in the shifting sands. The Normandy invasion beaches were also choked with disabled and sunken landing vessels which made unloading vehicles even more hazardous. NAM. 1975-03-63-18-33
At Omaha, a group of 29 DD Shermans were released some 6,000 yards from shore in heavy seas and 27 of the awkward 33-ton shower-curtain tanks dropped immediately to the bottom, sinking like a stone. Just three other DDs made it to the beach on a damaged LCT that brought them all the way in–but couldn’t drop its ramp to let the tanks disgorge. Another 32 DDs earmarked for sea release on Omaha were landed on the Western sector of the beach directly, as the officer on board judged them unable to manage the surf.
Ernest Hemingway, then acting as a war correspondent, landed on Omaha in an LCI(L) and wrote that he saw lots of tanks when he hit the beach midway into the assault as the tide was receding, but they were not in the best of shape. Easy targets for German 88s and suffering through a surf zone riddled with mines of all sorts, they had a short combat life.
“Just then, one of the tanks flared up and started to burn with the black smoke and yellow flames,” Hemingway wrote. “Farther down the beach another tank started burning. Along the side of the beach, they were crouched like big yellow toads along the highwater line. As I stood up, watching, two more started to burn. The first ones were pouring out grey smoke now, and the wind was blowing it flat along the beach. As I stood up, trying to see if there was anyone being the high water line of the tanks, one of the burning tanks blew up with a flash in the streaming grey smoke.”
The swimming and otherwise semi-amphibious Shermans did make it ashore to some degree in later waves and on June 7.
An ARV (Armoured Recovery Vehicle) wading ashore in Normandy, 7 June 1944. Photograph by Major Wilfred Herbert James Sale, 3rd/4th County of London Yeomanry (Sharpshooters), World War Two, North West Europe, 1944. 3rd County of London Yeomanry (Sharpshooters) landed on 7 June 1944 in support of 153rd Brigade near Mont Fleury La Rivière. The ARV shown is a Sherman ARV 1 with deep wading trunking applied to protect exhausts as well as crew and engine compartments from sea water. These devices would have been discarded once ashore. NAM. 975-03-63-18-28
Of course, they were not the only examples of the “Funnies” in Normandy:
‘Crab’ was a Sherman tank with a flail (roller and weighted chain) attachment used to clear mines. IWM photo
Churchill AVRE (“Avery” Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineer) was a modified Churchill tank fitted with a Petard spigot mortar. IWM photo
Churchill AVRE’s main weapon was a 29cm Petard spigot mortar demolition gun. It fired a 40-pound bomb known as the ‘Flying Dustbin’ shown to the right. IWM photo
To break down the types in more detail is The Tank Museum at Bovington: