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Secret of Swimming Tanks

The complex invasion force landing on Normandy beaches on 6 June wasn't entirely made up of infantrymen. A range of new adaptions, particularly to armoured vehicles, was introduced to deal with the problem of bringing heavy weaponry ashore.

One of the most successful of these innovations was the ‘Duplex Drive’ (DD) tank. Developed in strict secrecy and fitted with an inflatable ‘skirt’, waterproofed and with a propeller bolted to the drive shaft, they were able to ‘swim’ ashore under their own power.

Sergeant Leo Gariepy, a Sherman tank commander with 3rd Canadian Armoured Division was in one such ‘DD’ tank. He remembered coming ashore in the Canadian sector codenamed ‘Juno’ around 7.30am and the effect his tank had on the enemy.

Sherman DD (Duplex Drive) tank with waterproof float screens. When in the water the float screen was raised and the rear propellers came into operation. © IWM (MH 3660)

Swimming Shermans

Sherman DD (Duplex Drive) tank such as the one described by Canadian Sergeant Leo Gariepy with waterproof float screens. When in the water the float screen was raised and the rear propellers came into operation. © IWM (MH 3660)

Swimming Shermans

Sherman DD (Duplex Drive) tank such as the one described by Canadian Sergeant Leo Gariepy with waterproof float screens. When in the water the float screen was raised and the rear propellers came into operation. © IWM (MH 3660)

More by accident than design I found myself in the leading tank. On my way in, I was surprised to see a friend, a Midget Submarine who had been waiting for us for 48 hours. He waved me right on to my target and then made a half turn to go back. I remember him very distinctly standing up through his conning hatch and joining his hands together in a sign of good luck. I answered the old, familiar Army sign – to you too bud!

Being upfront meant Leo saw exactly how the enemy reacted to his swimming tank.

I was the first tank coming ashore and the Germans started up with machine-gun bullets. But when we came to a halt on the beach it was only then they realised we were a tank when we pulled down our canvas skirt, the flotation gear. Then they saw that we were Shermans. It was quite amazing – I still remember vividly some of the machine-gunners standing up in their posts looking as us with their mouths wide open. To see tanks rising up out of the water shook them rigid.


Leo Gariepy, cited in J. Lewis Voices from D-Day, 1994, Constable: London

The Stories of D-Day

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