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DD Tanks on D-Day

Article by Tim "Canambridge" Ambridge

Myth: The Americans didn't want to use British funnies

Reality: Eisenhower was enthralled by the funnies in general and the DDs in particular. He ordered them to be part of the US assault groups. The US Army ordered M4 based "funnies" from British industries in February 1944, but the British and Canadian demand was so great, that it was impossible to meet the US order. 25 flail tanks and one hundred Sherman Crocodile flame thrower tanks had been ordered. As for DD tanks, the US Army provided 80 DD Shermans to the British and Canadians, from 350 kits produced by US industry. The funnies ordered from the British didn't arrive until about a month after D-Day. Of the M4 Crocodiles, only four were ultimately delivered. It is true that the US Army did not go with the Churchill bridging and fascine funnies, having decided the the M4 Sherman tank dozer was a more versatile vehicle.

Myth: The Americans lacked armored support on D-Day

Reality: Each of the three assaulting US Infantry regiments had a GHQ tank battalion assigned (70th at Utah; 741st And 743rd at Omaha). Each battalion had two companies of DD M4s (16 each) and one of deep wading M4s (16), and 8 dozer tanks. While the DD's had only been used in tests and training, the deep waders had been proven at Dieppe, Sicily, Salerno and Anzio, (and in the Pacific). Even if all the US DD's had been lost, the US assault regiments would have had 72 tanks to call on. The British-Canadians were supported by the equivalent of seven battalions, including DDs, AVREs, and 79th division funnies.

Myth: The Americans didn't know how to use their DD tanks on D-Day

Reality: The US Tank Battalions had been training with DDs since late 1943, although the "Donald Ducks" were far from well loved. The DDs were derisively referred to as 30 tons of steel in a canvas bucket. Considered makeshift as best and a disaster at worst by the USN officer in charge of training. It was concluded that the sea keeping capabilities of the Sherman were marginal at best and that they could not be used in seas above Force 3 (about three foot (1m) waves), and should be launched no more than 3000 yards from shore. It appears British practice was to launch from 5000 yards, conditions permitting. The US Navy had determined that if conditions were not right, the LCTs should carry the DDs into the beach and land them normally, also a British practice.

Myth: All the US DD tanks (and tankers) drowned

Reality: At Utah beach, the 70th tank battalion launched its DDs from about 1500 yards out. Four had been lost when their LCT hit a mine, but the remaining 28 DDs made it to the beach, about 10 minutes after the first infantry waves hit.

At Omaha, things went bad even before dawn. Two LCTs, carrying 8 deep wading M4s, hit mines and went down. The winds were blowing at 18 knots, and waves were 46 feet high. Because of tides and geography, landing conditions were far worse at Omaha than at the other beaches. Unfortunately the US Army thought they were in charge of the launch decision. Things turned into a disaster when someone decided to start launching the 741st DDs from 5500 yards out, and this was the birth of the myth of the US DDs on D-Day. Company C lost 16 of 16 DDs launched, almost all within 1000 yards from the launch. It seems a majority, if not most, of the tankers were recovered. Company B launched nearer the beach and two of its DDs made it all the way in. Three more DDs were landed directly on the beach by their LCT after the first tank sank, and the shrouds of the remaining tanks were damaged. A total of 5 DDs, 6 waders and 5 dozer tanks of the 741st made it ashore, 16 out of a total 56. The 743rd on Omaha made out better when it was decided to land all of its tanks, including DDs, directly on the beach from the LCTs. 32 DDs, 7 waders and 3 dozers made it ashore, 42 out of 56. Of the 112 tanks destined for the assault on Omaha Beach, 58 made it ashore, but only two DDs swam ashore. These 58 tanks were crucial in finally winning the day, providing much need support. By the end of the day, 42 were still in action, but only three from the 741st.

Myth: The British/Canadian DDs made it ashore as planned and without problems and paved the way for the infantry assault

Reality: On Sword, 34 of 40 DDs were launched from about 5000 yards out and three promptly swamped. Of the remaining 31, eight stalled in the surf when their engines were submerged when the shrouds came down. They were eventually swamped by the incoming tide. 10 LCTs landed their AVRE/funnies tanks directly on the beach. The tanks landed pretty much on time, just ahead of, or with the infantry.

The plan was to launch from 5000 yards out at Gold as well, but conditions resulted in launching some DDs from much closer in, about 700-1000 yards, and landing the rest directly on the beach from LCTs. Only two of the 16 tanks that should have landed with the first wave arrived on time. The rest of the DDs arrived in time to joint the flail tanks landed earlier by LCTs.

The DDs at Juno launched anywhere from 4000 yards out to very near the beach. In some cases the bottom was so shallow where they launched, that they were able to wade in. The DD tanks arrived after the initial infantry waves.

Origin of the Myths

The myth of the US DD disaster on D-Day can be traced back to the unfortunate C/741st DDs. While the British-Canadians had no equivalent to the C/741 disaster, their experience with DD's was hardly perfect and without problems. The US Army successfully used a small number of DD tanks duirng the landings in southern France (Operation Dragoon), and in some river crossing operations. In retrospect, landing tanks with deep wading gear directly from the LCTs was a much more reliable and timely method of delivering tanks in an amphibious assualt.

Further Reading

Sources

  1. FORD, Ken & ZALOGA, Steven J. Overlord: The D-Day Landings. Oxford : Osprey Publishing, 2009. 368 p.
  2. ZALOGA, Steven J. US Tank and Tank Destroyer Battalions in the ETO, 1944-45. Oxford : Osprey Publishing, 2005. 96 p.
  3. YEIDE, Harry. Steel Victory: The Heroic Story of America's Independent Tank Battalions at War in Europe. Presidio Press, 2004. 336 p.
  4. YEIDE, Harry. Weapons of the Tankers: American Armour in World War II Battle Gear. Motorbooks International, 2006. 128 p.
  5. BALKOSKI, Joseph. Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944. Stackpole Books, 410 p.
  6. BALKOSKI, Joseph. Utah Beach: The Amphibious Landing and Airborne Operations on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Stackpole Books, 380 p.
  7. MORRISON, S.E. History of US Naval Operations in WWII, Vol XI: The Invasion of France and Germany, 1944-45.
  8. War Department, Historical Division. Utah Beach to Cherbourg (6 June-27 June 1944) [online]. War Department, Historical Division, 1948. Available from Internet: <http://www.history.army.mil/books/wwii/utah/utah.htm>.
  9. War Department, Historical Division. Omaha Beachhead (6 June-13 June 1944) [online]. War Department, Historical Division, 1945. Available from Internet: <http://www.history.army.mil/books/wwii/100-11/100-11.htm>.
  10. DD Tank [online]. Available from Internet: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DD_tank>.