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Flail Tank History.

Tank Museum photo No. 0004/E/2

 

The design of the mine-clearing flail is attributed to a South African officer, Major A. S. du Toit. In fact at least one design was patented before the war although du Toit was the inspiration behind the first type actually built, the Matilda Scorpion that was used at El Alamein.

<< Tank Museum photo No. 0004/E/2

achtung minen

Mines have always posed a problem. They can be planted on roads to catch people out, but that can prove a double-edged weapon, or they are planted in organised minefields, suitably marked, to channel attackers in other directions.

Thus, if you can break through an organised minefield chances are you will hit the enemy in a vital spot, but first of all you have to clear a route through. Many different systems were tried; rollers, ploughs, even explosives but flails certainly proved the most reliable.

They work on the simple principle of thrashing the ground ahead of the tank with weighted chains, on a revolving drum driven by an engine. The process is not perfect by any means; mines will be missed and the equipment is easily damages and soon worn out, but they will reduce risk to an acceptable level so long as their limitations are understood. It goes without saying that it requires an inordinate amount of courage to operate these things.

ank Museum photo No. 1318/C/4

 

The problem was selling the idea to those in authority. Here Monty and Ike attend a Flail demonstration on Salisbury Plain; they seem to like the idea.

<< Tank Museum photo No. 1318/C/4

Tank Museum photo No. 0352/E/2


Various tanks, including Matildas, Valentines and Grants, were fitted with flails but the best of them all was the Sherman, known as The Crab. What made the Sherman so effective was the fact that the Flail device could be driven by the tank's own engine (so there was no need to fit an extra engine) and it also retained its turret and gun. Even so the tank could not shoot and flail at the same time because so much muck was thrown up by the chains.

Tank Museum photo No. 0352/E/2 >>

Tank Museum photo No.0363/B/3

 

The Crab could do more than destroy mines. This one is tearing its way through a barbed wire entanglement during a pre-D-Day training exercise. Rotating cutters on the end of the rotor drum sliced through the wire and tore the pickets out of the ground. This tank is also fitted with trunking that enables it to wade through deep water from landing craft to shore. The white bars and figures on the side of the hull indicate water depth.

<< Tank Museum photo No.0363/B/3

Tank Museum photo No. 0331/F/6

 

Another problem caused by the dust storm that accompanied each tank was station keeping, when two or more tanks were flailing a minefield together. Here a Mark II Crab displays special station-keeping masts fitted to the rear of the tank and a sloping box, at the side, that dispenses a trickle of chalk dust onto the ground, marking the lane the flails have cleared.

Tank Museum photo No. 0331/F/6 >>

Tank Museum photo No. 2876/B/5


Even so it was terribly dangerous. Safe flailing speed was 1.5mph, dead straight and probably under fire from enemy guns. You could not shoot back, just keep going, other people's lives depended on it. This, by way of example, shows what mines could do to flail chains and rotor drum.

<< Tank Museum photo No. 2876/B/5

 


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