Sir Percy Cleghorn Stanley Hobart to give his full title was born in India in 1885. He may well have a fantastically typical eccentric British name, but without him D Day may not have been the success that it was. I have been taking tours out to the Normandy battlefields for a number of years, but it is only recently that I have discovered that he lived and died just down the road from where I live in Farnham, Surrey.
General Sir Percy Cleghorn Hobart of the 79th Armoured Division, not only had a fabulous name he also had a fabulous mind. His “unconventional’ ideas about tank warfare had unfortunately fallen foul of his superiors and by 1940 he had been dismissed and was languishing as a Lance Corporal in the Local Defence Volunteers. With the debacle of the British Forces in France and the retreat from Dunkirk and the need to re-arm, Winston Churchill heard of his position and reinstated him in 1941as Major General. Hobart eventually finding himself in charge of the 79th with the remit to assemble a unit of specialist and modified armour. The requirement for specialist armour was further highlighted after the disaster at Dieppe in August 1942, where a primarily Canadian force was annihilated by strong beach defences.
The armour that was created by June 1944 was a real mix of ingenuity and British eccentricity. There was; the Sherman DD tank that could “swim” in the water, the Crocodile a modified Churchill tank that was a flamethrower, the Crab that had a flail fitted to detonate and clear mines, the AVRE’s which were modified Churchill tanks that could do a variety of operations including the
Petard , which could fire a huge charge known as “the flying dustbin” that could destroy concrete bunkers. The list goes on with various armoured vehicles capable of carrying bridges, filling ditches, laying a road, ploughing minefields, bulldozing obstacles, etc,etc. These “Funnies” contributed massively on the day overcoming problem after problem on the British and Commonwealth beaches of Sword, Juno and Gold. The Americans however , with a mix of scepticism and a shortage of available “funnies” only used the DD tanks (with poorly trained crews) on D-Day. This lack of modern technology on Omaha beach almost certainly cost hundreds of lives.
General Hobart retired out of the Army in 1946 to Farnham Surrey, not far from his more famous brother in law Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery who lived in Alton with Hobart’s sister Elizabeth. Hobart was knighted and became a KBE. He lived only a further 11 years leaving his wife Dorothea a widow at 10 Trebor Avenue, Farnham.Literally just down the road from where I live today.