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? 


    I have never understood what 'hedgerows' were before. Don't know why I didn't just look it up either...

  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

  3. Sgt Curtis Grubb Culin III (February 10, 1915 – November 20, 1963) was a World War II soldier credited with the invention of a hedge-breaching device fitted to Allied armored vehicles during the Battle of Normandy. As they moved inland after the D-Day landings, the Allies found their tanks were unable to operate easily or safely in the Normandy bocage countryside. Instead of breaking through the thick, high hedges the tanks rode over them, which exposed their thinly armored undersides to attack while their own guns could not be brought to bear.

    A native of Cranford, New Jersey, Culin was serving as a tanker with the 102nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron (New Jersey National Guard, the "Essex Troop," 2nd Armored Division)[1] when he came up with the four-pronged plow device created from scrap steel from a German roadblock. When attached to the front of his tank it was successful in rapidly plowing gaps in the hedgerows.[2] Military historian Max Hastings notes that Culin was inspired by "a Tennessee hillbilly named Roberts",[3] who during a discussion about how the bocage could be overcome said "Why don't we get some saw teeth and put them on the front of the tank and cut through these hedges?" Rather than joining in the laughter that greeted this remark, Culin realised the idea's potential and put together a prototype tusk-like assembly welded to the front of a tank. In due course this was demonstrated to General Bradley, who "watched in awe as a hedgerow exploded ... to make way for the Sherman bursting through".[3] According to Hastings, Culin, "an honest man", attempted to give credit to Roberts but this was forgotten in the publicity surrounding the invention. Hastings concludes: "[Culin] became a very American kind of national hero".[3]


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