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“Hitler’s Atlantic wall cracked in the first hour under tempestuous allied assault.
As I write, deeply dug into a beachhead of northwestern France, German prisoners, mostly wounded, are streaming back. … Shells are exploding all over the beach and out at sea as wave after wave of allied ships, as far as I can see, move into shore.”
That was the scene as penned by Associated Press reporter Roger Greene from Normandy exactly 70 years ago today as Allied forces comprised of American, British and Canadian troops successfully completed one of the largest amphibious operations in the history of warfare.
Further down in Greene’s account is this detail.
“Our heavy stuff is now rolling ashore and we not only have a solid grip on the beachhead but are thrusting deep inland.
The beach is jammed with troops and bulldozers for many miles, and now it has been quiet for 15 minutes, which apparently means the German big guns are knocked out.”
Which got us thinking on this 70th anniversary of that “Day of Days,” just how helpful was the bulldozer to the brave soldiers who stormed that beach? As it turns out, very helpful.
According to an article on the site World War 2 Headquarters, armored bulldozers and tank dozers were used both during the invasion at Normandy as well as after the fighting on the beaches had ceased and greatly helped Allied soldiers push inland as they sought to liberate Europe from the clutches of Adolph Hitler and the army of Nazi Germany.
Typically, the dozer being used was a standard Caterpillar D7 with armor placed over the engine and cab. However, the more versatile machines were actually modified tanks. Soldiers could add a hydraulic jack and an M1 dozer blade to the Sherman M4A1, quickly turning these machines into tank dozers. In the video to the right, produced by the U.S. Army in 1944, the capabilities of the Sherman tank dozer are detailed as well as the process for installing and operating the dozer blade.
The most powerful of the tank dozers was the Centaur. This monster was developed by the 79th Armored Division and was made by removing the turret from a Cromwell tank and adding a dozer blade that was raised and lowered with a winch. More than 250 were built during WWII but they didn’t see action until the last months of the war.
During the D-Day invasion, 105 Sherman tank dozers were available for use, according to the WW2 Headquarters article. For the D-Day landings on Omaha and Utah beaches, a chapter from the book The Corps of Engineers: The War Against Germany hosted on the U.S. Army website, says 16 Sherman tank dozers were available but only six made it ashore and five of those were destroyed by the German army.
Dozers and tank dozers were used to clear beach obstacles and roads as well as fill bomb craters and remove disabled landing craft. The Allies also used the machines to plow up mine fields, breach hedgerows bordering battlefields, bury captured bunkers and as a way to clear a path while firing on the enemy.
In describing the usefulness of the one remaining tank dozer on the landings on Omaha and Utah beach, the chapter from The Corps of Engineers: The War Against Germany, continues:
“The remaining one provided the engineers an alternative to blowing up the obstacles, an increasingly hazardous undertaking as more troops and vehicles crowded onto the beaches. Instead of using demolitions, which sent shards of metal from the obstacles careening around the area, the teams set about removing the mines from stakes, ramps, hedgehogs, and Belgian gates, and let the tankdozers, joined later in the day by several armored bulldozers, shove the obstacles out of the way as long as the tide permitted. Pushed ashore after 0800 by the inrushing water, the gapping teams helped move wounded men off the tidal flat and consolidated equipment and the supply of explosives to await the next ebb.”
After the invasion, more dozers were brought in to clear a path for the Allies off the beaches. The book tells another story of dozer operator heroics where soldiers attempting to move tanks inland had blown through a German minefield to create a road. But the tanks were still struggling to get traction on the road which was near an antitank ditch. In order to fill that tank ditch and create a traversable path for the tanks, Pvt. Vinton Dove, a bulldozer operator of Company C of the 37th Engineer Battalion and Pvt. William J. Shoemaker took turns operating a dozer until the task was done in the face of severe enemy fire. For their actions, Dove and Shoemaker were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.