Major-General Sir Percy Hobart
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June 14, 1885—February 1957
Major General Sir Percy Cleghorn Stanley Hobart was responsible for the development of specialized armored fighting vehicles, to spearhead the amphibious assault phase of the Normandy D-Day invasion during World War II.
Upon graduating from the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, he received a commission into the Royal Engineers, serving in India with the 1st Bengal Sappers and also served during WWI.
In 1938, Hobart became the first commander of the 7th Armoured Division in Egypt, which later became famous as the Desert Rats. Fearless, opinionated, and driven, Hobart was a constant irritation to his superiors, relentlessly pushing his new ideas about armored warfare. In 1940, he was forced into retirement. This fact came to the attention of Prime Minister Winston Churchill who was looking for men of force and vision, and saw that Hobart was re-enlisted in 1941.
The 79th Armoured Division and Hobart's Funnies
In 1943, at the age of 57, Hobart was given command of the 79th (Experimental) Armoured Division, and responsible for developing equipment that could break through the barriers of the Atlantic Wall as they lead the amphibious invasion of the coast of France on June 6, 1944. Interestingly, when deployed, the 79th Armoured Division would be divided and dispersed among other units.
The insignia for the 79th was a black bull's head on a yellow triangle.
Hobart's 79th Armoured Division was referred to as the Zoo or Menagerie, because of its wide range of unique, specialized armored fighting vehicles (AFV). Specialized vehicles of the 79th included the DD Sherman amphibious tank, the Crocodile flame thrower, the mine-clearing Crab flail tank, the AVRE, the small box girder and many others, collectively referred to as Hobart's Funnies (also Hobo's Funnies). The vehicles were offered to the Americans as well, and all were refused but the amphibious DD Sherman tank, although British Crocodile flame thrower tank units were later borrowed for the American assault upon the port of Brest.
While in command of the 79th Armoured Division, Hobart tirelessly oversaw the development of the specialized armored vehicles, pressed for timely supplies, and instituted a rigorous training program for his men. He also pressed for greater use of radio communications which was quite innovative for the time. Proven repeatedly during action, the flail tanks and the small box girders were successful in getting Allied forces on to the objective of numerous assaults, while the AVREs destroyed bunkers and other fortifications at close range. The Churchill flamethrowers commonly encouraged large numbers of German soldiers to quickly surrender. Hobart's efforts had paid off with the development of a number of successful, innovative armored fighting vehicles along with highly trained men to operated them.
Daniels, Michael, J. Maj. Innovation in the Face of Adversity: Major-General Sir Percy Hobart and the 79th Armoured Division. MA thesis. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 2003.
Delaforce, Patrick. Churchill's Secret Weapons. London: Robert Hale Limited, 1998.
Duncan, Nigel. 79th Armoured Division - Hobo's Funnies. Windsor, Berkshire, England: Profile Publications Limited, 1972.
Macksey, Kenneth. Armoured Crusader, a Biography of Major-General Sir Percy Hobart. London: Hutchinson & Co, LTD, 1967.