79th Armoured Division (United Kingdom)

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79th Armoured Division
79th armoured division badge.jpg
Badge of the 79th Armoured Division
Active14 August 1942–20 August 1945
Country United Kingdom
Branch British Army
TypeSpecialised armour
SizeDivision
EngagementsWorld War II
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Major General Sir Percy Hobart

The 79th Armoured Division was a specialist armoured division of the British Army created during World War II. The division was created as part of the preparations for the Normandy invasion on 6 June 1944, D-Day.

Major-General Percy Hobart commanded the division and was in charge of the development of armoured vehicles that were solutions to problems of the amphibious landing on the defended French coastline; these unusual-looking tanks it developed and operated were known as "Hobart's Funnies". They included tanks that floated, could clear mines, destroy defences, carry and lay bridges, and roadways. The practical use of these specialist tanks was confirmed during the landings on the beaches. Its vehicles were distributed as small units across the divisions taking part in the landings and subsequent operations. The division remained in action during the North-west European Campaign, providing specialised support during assaults to the 21st Army Group and, occasionally, to American units outside 21st. Again they were of significant use during the Rhine crossings.

History[edit]

Brigadier N. W. Duncan of the 30th Armoured Brigade watches the attack on Caen from beside his Humber scout car outside Beuville, 8 July 1944.

The division was formed as a standard armoured formation serving in the UK under Northern Command in August 1942.[1] General Sir Alan Brooke, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, who foresaw the need for specialised armoured vehicles, offered command of the division to Major-General Percy Hobart in October 1942.[1]

Initially the division included infantry, artillery and engineers but the infantry unit, 185th, was removed in September 1942, its artillery regiments were all removed by April 1943 and its engineer units were generally removed by November 1943.[1]

Hobart gave firm direction and the strange-looking tanks it developed and operated were known as Hobart's Funnies.[2] They included tanks that floated, could clear mines, destroy defences, carry and lay bridges, and roadways - anything that would enable the invasion force to get ashore and break through the German defences. The division landed in France in June 1944. The division was further used during the Battle for Brest, the battle for the Scheldt estuary (Operation Infatuate), the battle for the Roer Triangle (Operation Blackcock), the Rhine crossings (Operation Plunder) and the Elbe crossing.[3]

The 79th Armoured Division was disbanded on 20 August 1945. Hobart subsequently commanded the Specialized Armour Development Establishment (SADE), which was formed from elements of the 79th together with the Assault Training and Development Centre.[4]

Equipment[edit]

The equipment included the following:[2]

  • The "Duplex Drive" tank was a Sherman tank converted for amphibious use with twin types of locomotion: tracks and propellers; the design was used by the Allies in the opening phases of the Normandy landings in 1944.
  • The Sherman Crab was a mine flail tank designed to clear a safe path through a mine-field by deliberately detonating mines in front of the vehicle; the design was first used during the North African Campaign in 1942.
  • The Churchill Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE) was a heavily modified Churchill III or IV armed with a "Petard", a 290mm spigot mortar that fired a 40 pound (18 kg) "Flying dustbin" demolition bomb.
  • The 'Bobbin' Carpet Layer was a Churchill AVRE fitted out with a roll of matting for laying on a beach or other soft surface.
  • The Fascine Carrier was a Churchill AVRE which could carry and lay large bundles of sticks to repair holes in the ground.
  • The Small Box Girder ('SBG') bridge layer was a Churchill AVRE fitted and lay a bridge large enough to cross a 30 foot gap.
  • The Churchill Armoured Ramp Carrier ('ARK') was a turretless Churchill tank with ramps at either end which, when lowered, could form a mobile bridge.
  • The "Buffalo" Landing Vehicle Tracked ('LVT') was a tracked vehicle intended to carry replenishments from ships ashore; the design was used at the Battle of the Scheldt during the crossing of the Rhine in 1945.
  • The Kangaroo armoured personnel carrier was a self-propelled gun or other armoured vehicle, surplus to requirements which was converted by removal of the gun or turret into an infantry carrier. The Kangaroo was not developed until after the D-day landings and
  • The Canal Defence Light ('CDL') was a powerful carbon-arc searchlight mounted on a tank which could be deployed to dazzle and confuse enemy troops.
  • The Churchill Crocodile was a Churchill VII tank in which the hull machine gun was replaced with a flamethrower; fuel was carried behind the tank in an armoured wheeled trailer.

Order of battle[edit]

14 August 1942

The 79th Armoured Division was first raised as a conventional armoured division, with one Armoured Brigade, one Infantry Brigade and supporting arms.[5]

27th Armoured Brigade - Attached to the 79th Armoured Division from 8 September 1942 until 20 October 1943.

185th Infantry Brigade - Transferred out to 3rd Infantry Division on 9 April 1943.

HQ Royal Artillery – converted into 9th Army Group Royal Artillery on 1 May 1943[6]

1943

30th Armoured Brigade - Transferred to the division on 17 October 1943.

1st Assault Brigade and Assault Park Squadron RE - Formed on 1 November 1943

Operation Overlord (Normandy landings)[11]

The division was under direct command of the 21st Army Group, portions being placed in support of the Second Army for Operation Overlord.

1st Assault Brigade and Assault Park Squadron RE (AVRE)

30th Armoured Brigade (Sherman Crab)

September 1944

This is the order of battle on 17 September 1944, at the beginning of Operation Market Garden. The division was not involved in that battle, but was involved heavily in the battles for the Channel ports, such as Operation Astonia at Le Havre, and the Battle of the Scheldt.

30th Armoured Brigade (Sherman Crab)

1st Assault Brigade and Assault Park Squadron RE (AVRE)

1st Tank Brigade

31st Tank Brigade

Operation Varsity (Rhine crossing)

This is the order of battle for the division on 23 March 1945, which was the commencement of the crossing of the River Rhine, and the beginning of the final advance into Germany. As can be seen, the establishment of the division had grown as the requirement for specialised armour had increased.

1st Assault Brigade Royal Engineers (AVRE)

30th Armoured Brigade (Sherman Crab)

31st Armoured Brigade (Churchill Crocodile, Kangaroo (armoured personnel carrier))

33rd Armoured Brigade (LVT 4)

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "79th Armoured Division". Unit Histories. Retrieved 23 May 2020.
  2. ^ a b "The Funny Tanks of D-Day". Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 23 May 2020.
  3. ^ "The crossing of the Elbe near Lauenburg". Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 23 May 2020.
  4. ^ Fletcher, p. 39
  5. ^ Joslen, p. 30.
  6. ^ 9th AGRA at RA 39–45, accessed 30 March 2015 Archived 4 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "142nd Fd Rgt at RA 39–45, accessed 30 March 2015". Archived from the original on 31 March 2016. Retrieved 30 March 2016.
  8. ^ 150th Fd Rgt at RA 39–45, accessed 30 March 2015 Archived 31 January 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ "55th A/T Rgt at RA 39–45, accessed 30 March 2015". Archived from the original on 31 March 2016. Retrieved 30 March 2016.
  10. ^ "119 LAA Rgt at RA 39–45, accessed 30 March 2015". Archived from the original on 23 July 2015. Retrieved 30 March 2016.
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 5 June 2016. Retrieved 3 February 2016.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

References[edit]

  • Doherty, Richard Hobart's 79th Armoured Division at War: Invention, Innovation and Inspiration, Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2011, ISBN 978-1-84884-398-1.
  • Fletcher, D. Swimming Shermans: Sherman DD Amphibious Tank of World War II, Osprey Publishing, 2006.
  • Hastings, Max (1999). Overlord. London: Pan. p. 396. ISBN 0-330-39012-0.
  • Hobart, P C S; Montgomery, Field Marshal (1945). The story of 79th Armoured Division October 1942-June 1945. Hamburg: 79th Armoured Division. p. 314.
  • Joslen, Lt-Col H.F., Orders of Battle, United Kingdom and Colonial Formations and Units in the Second World War, 1939–1945, London: HM Stationery Office, 1960/Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2003, ISBN 1-843424-74-6.
  • Keegan, John; Kenneth Macksey (1991). Churchill's Generals. London: Cassell. pp. 250–254. ISBN 0-304-36712-5.

External links[edit]