The ‘Culin hedge cutter’ on the Normandy battlefield

Sergeant Curtis G Culin who devised the hedge cutter whilst in the  fields of Normandy.

Sergeant Curtis G Culin who devised the hedge cutter whilst in the fields of Normandy.

US Army engineers fabricating the hedge cutter from the steel beach obstacles left behind by the Germans.

US Army engineers fabricating the hedge cutter from the steel beach obstacles left behind by the Germans.

With the British engaging most of the German Panzers forces on the eastern side of the Normandy battlefield, Montgomery’s plan was now for the Americans to prepare for the “breakout”. Even with over a million men now ashore and the supply situation rapidly recovering from the delays caused by the ‘Great Storm’, there was still more time before they would be ready to launch the final push which would see then burst out of the beach-head area.

The terrain of Normandy, particularly at the base of the Cotentin peninsula, where the US forces would have to concentrate, remained a limiting factor. The Supreme Allied Commander was well aware of the problems of bringing the tanks into battle, until American ingenuity solved the problem:

Complicating the problem of the breakout on the American front was the prevalence of formidable hedgerows in the bocage country.

In this region the fields have for centuries past been divided into very small areas, sometimes scarcely more than building-lot size, each surrounded by a dense and heavy hedge which ordinarily grows out of a bank of earth three or four feet in height. Sometimes these hedges and supporting banks are double, forming a ready-made trench between them, and of course aflording almost the ultimate in battlefield protection and natural camouflage.

In almost every row were hidden machine-gunners or small combat teams who were in perfect position to decimate our infantry as they doggedly crawled and crept to the attack along every avenue of approach.

Our tanks could help but little. Each, attempting to penetrate a hedgerow, was forced to climb almost vertically, thus exposing the unprotected belly of the tank and rendering it easy prey to any type of armour-piercing bullet. Equally exasperating was the fact that, with the tank snout thrust skyward, it was impossible to bring guns to bear upon the enemy; crews were helpless to defend themselves or to destroy the German.

In this dilemma an American sergeant named Culin came forth with a simple invention that restored the effectiveness of the tank and gave a tremendous boost to morale throughout the Army.

It consisted merely in fastening to the front of the tank two sturdy blades of steel which, acting somewhat as scythes, cut through the bank of earth and hedges. This not only allowed the tank to penetrate the obstacle on an even keel and with its guns firing, but actually allowed it to carry forward, for some distance, a natural camouflage of amputated hedge!

As soon as Sergeant Culin had demonstrated his invention to his captain it was speedily brought to the attention of General Walter M. Robertson of the 2nd Division. He, in turn, demon- strated the appliance to Bradley, who set about the task of equipping the greatest possible number of tanks in this fashion so as to be ready for the coming battle.

A feature of the incident from which our soldiers derived a gleeful satisfaction was that the steel for the cutting blades was obtained from the obstacles which the German had installed so profusely over the beaches of Normandy to prevent our landing on that coast.

However, we were still without this contrivance when the First Army began its tedious southward advance to achieve a reasonable jump-ofl’ line for the big attack.

See Dwight D. Eisenhower: Crusade in Europe: A Personal account of World War II

A Sherman tank equipped with the hedge cutter.

A Sherman tank equipped with the hedge cutter.

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