...Invention, Innovation and Inspiration
For anyone with an interest in British armour of WW2, then the 79th Armoured Division, often just referred to as 'The Funnies', will be a well known organisation. By the end of the war, as the book points out, the division fielded over 1400 tracked armoured vehicles, far more that the little over 300 in a standard British Armoured Division at the time.
The book starts by looking at the early life of Percy Cleghorn Stanley Hobart, who was born in India in 1885. His parents moved home so Percy could be educated in England, and they settled in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. Percy Hobart joined the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich in 1902, where his quick grasp of technical matters became evident, and he was a good shot. In 1906 he was commissioned into the Royal Engineers, and posted to the Ist Bengal Sappers and Miners, which saw him returning to India. It then tells the story of his first entry into combat on the Western Front, in 1915 and goes through the story of how Hobart developed his military career through WW1, serving mainly in Mesopotania and Palestine, where he served with much credit.
After WW1, Hobart was one of those soldiers who saw the potential of the tank, and in April 1923, his transfer request to the Tank Corps was accepted. He adapted quickly to the potential of armour and mechanisation, and proved a quick learner. The book goes on to explain his developing career, until it suffered in North Africa under others who didn't agree with his ideas. Fortunately that was not the end of the story.
The second part of the book moves to the Creation of the 79th Armoured Division, and this was to prove the perfect home for Hobart, his talent and his skill at training men for their tasks in wartime. It tells the story of their formations and training, using equipment that was based on obsolete equipment, but which served well for training purposes until new equipment came into production. Some of the ideas were not new, as fascines had been mounted on tanks in WW1, as had the idea of armoured infantry carriers, but they trained hard to work out how best to employ these new AFVs in training areas around the UK.
There is the detail of the training and where the different machines were tried out, including the special secrecy that surrounded the CDL (Canal Defence Light) which actually didn't see service until the Rhine Crossings. Using lots of personal recollections, it tells the stories of the involvment of the Funnies in the Normandy landings of 1944, going on to their use in liberating the Channel Parts and the gun positions on the Pas de Calais, then going on to work in Holland and finally Germany and the Rhine Crossing.
The equipment changed, and units also changed their equipment from one machine to another, going out of the line to train on their new tools. In Normandy the DD Sherman, the Churchill AVRE, bridgelayers and the Sherman Crab flail were valuable tools. The Crab flails were useful throughout, though interesting to read of the numbers and circumstance that many were lost. By the time of Holland, some units had swapped to using Buffalo and Weasel amphibians,which were put to good use, along with the converted 'Kangeroo' troop carriers. Getting to the Rhine, the DD tanks went into action once more.
The whole book is really quite fascinating, to read of the career of the one man who has remained for ever associated with leading the Funnies of 79th Armoured division. Richard Doherty has prepared a fascinating and very readable book covering the history of both the man and the division so closely associated with him. A few pages in the middle of the book show a selection of photos of the Funnies in action. On sale at £19.99.