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Beware of the Bull

 The 79th Armoured Division was created in September 1942; Major General Percy Hobart was appointed to command, having recently raised and trained the 11th Armoured Division.

11th Armoured DivisionMajor General PCS HobartHobart chose a symbol of a charging bull for 11th Armoured Division and retained the theme for the 79th, with this stylised bull’s head design. Shown is the cloth badge, or shoulder flash worn on a soldier’s arm. The same badge would be painted on 79th Armoured Division vehicles and it soon became one of the best known, and most popular divisional signs among the Allied armies.

Major General P. C. S. Hobart.

 

The 79th was raised as a conventional armoured division. Its three armoured regiments:

4th & 7th Royal Dragoon Guards
13th & 18th Royal Hussars
East Riding Yeomanry
4th/7th  Royal Dragoon Guards.
13th/18th  Royal Hussars.
East Riding Yeomanry

formed 27th Armoured Brigade while its infantry came from battalions of three famous regiments;

  • King’s Own Shropshire Light Infantry
  • Royal Norfolk Regiment
  • Royal Warwickshire Regiment
  • formed 185 Infantry Brigade.

In addition the division had the normal complement of Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers and other branches attached. For the next six months the 79th, based mostly in Yorkshire, underwent training for war just like any other, regular armoured division.

In April 1943 79th Armoured Division was nominated for an entirely new role. With the forthcoming invasion of occupied France in mind it was decided to form a spearhead armoured division that would employ specially modified armoured vehicles that could smash though the hard crust of the German defences and prepare a way for regular forces to follow through.

Churchill Crocodile Flame Thrower

Churchill Crocodile Flame-thrower

This meant that 79th Armoured Division would become a unique formation with a unique role. Nothing like it had ever existed before, nothing quite like it has been created since. However its very originality was also a liability. It was not just a question of accepting the new equipment; it had to be tested and improved, combat drill had to be devised and techniques worked out for the best way to use it. There was also the problem of ‘selling’ it to the rest of the army. Many people were cautious until they understood while others waited until the division, and its equipment, was able to prove itself in action.

Click to enlarge

As 27th Armoured Brigade was already part of the division it was converted to Duplex Drive amphibious tanks. It was joined by 35th Tank Brigade, which operated Canal Defence Light searchlight tanks and later by 1st Armoured Engineer Brigade, Royal Engineers, that would operate the Churchill AVRE, or Armoured Vehicle, Royal Engineers. In December 1943 79th Armoured Division took on responsibility for operating flail mine-clearing tanks, known as Sherman Crabs, which were issued to the three regiments of 30th Armoured Brigade.

Grant Canal Defence Light on a night exercise

A Grant Canal Defence Light on a night exercise.

The 35th Tank Brigade, with their CDL tanks were based at Lowther Castle, near Penrith in Cumbria while 27th Armoured Brigade would be dispersed to coastal; sites around the country.

 

 

Sherman Duplex Drive tanks on an amphibious exercise

Sherman Duplex Drive tanks on an amphibious exercise.

 





Meanwhile a separate organisation, the Anti-Tank Experimental Establishment (ATEE) was renamed the Obstacle Assault Centre (OAC) and, as part of the Royal Engineers experimented with different devices to blow up concrete obstacles and other traps. Based at Hankley Common, near Farnborough it would play an increasingly important part in the saga of The Funnies.

 

Testing a Goat demolition device on a Churchill Tank at Hankley Common

Testing a Goat demolition device on a Churchill Tank at Hankley Common.

There would be changes and more additions but these were the brigades that formed the division before D-Day. Over the next few months we will take a closer look at the regiments involved, the fascinating equipment they developed and some of the personalities associated with 79th Armoured Division.

 


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