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