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Yankee Ingenuity in Normandy

 

There was a little sergeant. His name was Culin, and he had an idea. And his idea was that we could fasten knives, great big steel knives in front of these tanks, and as they came along they would cut off these banks right at ground level—they would go through on the level keel—would carry with themselves a little bit of camouflage for a while. And this idea was brought to the captain, to the major, to the colonel, and it got high enough that somebody did something about it—and that was General Bradley—and he did it very quickly. Because this seemed like a crazy idea, they did not even go to the engineers very fast, because they were afraid of the technical advice, and then someone did have a big questions, “Where are you going to find the steel for all this thing?” Well now, happily the Germans tried to keep us from going on the beaches with great steel “chevaux de frise”—big crosses, there were all big bars of steel down on the beach where the Germans left it. And he got it—got these things sharpened up—and it worked fine. The biggest and happiest group I suppose in all the Allied Armies that night were those that knew that this thing worked. And it worked beautifully.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, January 10, 1961

Curtis Grubb Culin III, a native of New Jersey, was a Sergeant with the 102nd Cavalry Recon Squadron in the 2nd Armored Division during the Normandy Campaign.  He, like most Allied troops fighting in Normandy, was frustrated by hedgerows, those tangled messes of bushes and shrub trees that delineated boundaries between fields in the Normandy countryside and served as ready made fortifications for German machine guns and snipers.  Culin mentioned that one day he was discussing the problem that the hedgerows presented for their tanks when a “hillbilly”, Culin’s phrase, suggested putting teeth on the tanks.

That is just what Culin did, welding tusk like blades to the front of a tank that allowed it to cleave its way through the densest of hedgerows.  Ultimately demonstrated to General Bradley, he put the idea into mass production, using the metal crosses that littered the beach defenses installed by the Germans to make the blades on some of the tanks.  By the launch of Operation Cobra, the breakout from Normandy on July 25, 60% of First Army tanks had been teethed.

Culin received the Legion of Merit.  Four months later in the Huertgen Forest he had a leg blown off.  Invalided home he became a salesman and died at 48 in 1963.

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

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