Thursday, June 9, 2011

Little Sergeant

There was a little sergeant. His name was Culin, and he had an idea.
Dwight David Eisenhower

About this date 67 years ago, Allied forces had successfully landed on the shores of Normandy. Getting onto the beaches was thought at the time to be the big challenge, but it turned out to be the easy part. Miles inland, the French countryside created a big problem. The objectives that were expected to be achieved in days were not achieved after a month.

For centuries farmers built hedgerows, fences with mounds of dirt planted with bushes and trees to form dense barriers. Usually the hedgerows surrounded a field and only had a small opening from which to enter. By placing machine guns and artillery focused on these openings, the Germans slowed down the Allied advance with heavy casualties.

When tanks attempted to run over the hedgerows they slid up the side. Standing on end, gun pointed into the air, the unarmored underbelly of the tank was an easy target for the Germans.

Sergeant Curtis G. Culin provided the innovation that would break through the hedgerows.

In Eisenhower's words "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..."

Interestingly, the steel for these knives came from the steel barriers that the German's had placed in the water along the beaches to stop boats from getting to shore.

I can add little more about Culin as I could find no records of his life except that he was 29 at the time, lost a leg in battle a few months after his innovation, returned to his work as a salesman in Cranford, New Jersey, received the Legion of Merit and Purple Heart, died at the age of 48......and importantly......he knew it could BE different.

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