Let’s introduce you to one of the most controversial figures in the British Army during World War II and most definitely, one of the most overlooked. He was Percy Hobart, a British General whose leadership, tactics and innovation remain evident in the British Army today.
Percy Hobart had been a senior officer, leading the development of armoured tactics during the 1930s, before being sacked in 1939. He ended up as a Corporal working for the Home Guard in Chipping Campden, armed with little more than a drainpipe with a welded bayonet on the end! Winston Churchill decided that this just wouldn’t do, as his knowledge and experience was essential. He invited him to lunch and then reinstated him as a General. Thanks to Churchill, Hobart would go on to train the largest Division in Europe during the Second World War, becoming Major General Sir Percy Hobart.
Now affectionately known as ‘Hobo’, he is regarded as one of the best trainers and strategists of armoured warfare in his day. His imagination knew no bounds and his often-bizarre vehicle constructions gave the Allies the upper hand when landing in occupied France for D-Day. It almost didn’t happen though, as he fought with his seniors over the usefulness of tanks. He was forcibly retired and left to watch with great dismay as German Panzers attacked the French and British in 1940. Thankfully, Churchill agreed with Hobart.
Hobart joined the army in 1902, first seeing combat during World War I in 1916. Following the Great War, Hobart moved to the Royal Engineers and the Royal Tank Corps. He foresaw the power, capability and destruction the tank could wield. He designed new manoeuvres and by 1934, was placed in charge of the very first Tank Brigade of the British Army.
Despite great scepticism, Hobart continued to develop new concepts for what armoured vehicles could achieve, such as night-fighting, combining with air power and the use of radio. Fancy driving a tank? For an unforgettable day of Tank Driving, Go to Armourgeddon.
When Churchill reinstated Hobart, after reading an article about how his talents were being wasted, the fortunes of the war slowly turned more favourable for the Allies. By 1943, Hobart trained a specialist armoured unit that would later become the 79th Experimental Armoured Division and had some 2,000 vehicles under his lead.
One major problem was that the Nazis had placed heavy reinforcements along the coastlines and new vehicles needed to be designed to overcome the obstacles, such as mine fields, rivers, ditches and pillboxes. Hobart’s job was to develop tactics and vehicles to do this. Some of the vehicles took on unusual shapes or purposes and were nicknamed ‘Hobart’s Funnies’. However funny they might have looked, they proved their worth assisting ground troops and helped the invasion to be successful.
By the time the war was over, Hobart was hugely respected, enjoyed a knighthood and awarded the Legion of Merit. Today tanks remain an essential part of modern warfare and Hobart played a huge part in this.