Clive Cullen, the cab driver from Chicago who solved the hedgerow problem in Normandy


M4 Sherman Tank in Bayeaux

The M4 Sherman tank in the above photo looks like a deadly piece of military equipment, doesn't it? But it turns out that the American idea of "bigger is better" didn't apply to these tanks because they proved to be a liability when they encountered the tangled hedgerows that divides the Norman countryside into thousands of small fields. When a Sherman tank tried to roll over the earthen embankments matted with the ancient roots of shrubs and trees, the tank's nose popped up and exposed its vulnerable underbelly to Nazi anti-tank fire. The Germans, who were using smaller Hetzer tanks, were able to hide behind the hedgerows and surprise the Americans.

The dense hedgerows continued to be a problem until Sergeant Clive Cullen, a cab driver from Chicago, designed and built a cutting device that could be attached to the front of the tanks. These devices, that were made by recycling the steel rails that the Nazis had used to defend the beaches, made the tanks look like rhinoceroses, so the soldiers affectionately referred to them as "Rhinos". When General Omar Bradley heard about Sergeant Cullen's clever invention, he asked for a demonstration and was so impressed that he immediately ordered 500 hedgerow cutters. According to Bradley's assessment of the situation after the war, it was thanks to the Rhinos that the American army was able to advance through the Norman countryside in time to defeat the Nazi army in France.

Hip hip hooray - three cheers for creativity, innovation and recycling! 

Imagine encountering these hedgerows on a rainy day in June 1944. Is there a German tank hiding behind them or not? 

Comments

  1. THANK YOU!
    I have never understood what 'hedgerows' were before. Don't know why I didn't just look it up either...
    merci
    carolg

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  2. Carol,

    Even though I had a vague notion of what hedgerows were before visiting Normandy, I had no idea that there would be so many of them. For some reason, my husband became obsessed with finding just the "right" hedgerow for the blog, which meant that we came to a screeching halt every 5 minutes. It was so bad that I was beginning to wonder if we would ever be able to leave Normandy (kind of like the Allied troops) so I finally took the picture of the one in the post to appease my husband.

    Thanks for commenting! :-)

    Mary Kay

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