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After leaving the beaches during the Battle of Normandy, the Americans confronted the Germans on the so-called "bocage", or pastoral land. This included large "hedgerows," that made it excellent defensive terrain for the Germans.

During the campaign, some American soldiers came up with a brilliant idea for what later was called the "Rhino tank". That was a tank to which metal pieces or "prongs" were attached to the front. This could be used to knock down the hedgerows, and help flush out the defending Germans.

Are there any records of what improvements (e.g. speed in miles per day, lower rates of casualties) the Allies enjoyed after, compared to before, the introduction of the Rhino tanks? This question would apply only for the time the Americans (and British and Canadians) were fighting in bocage/hedgerow territory.

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    I suspect it's less about speed of advance and more about taking fewer casualties. Tanks going over the bocage exposed their very vulnerable unarmoured undercarriage, whie the rhino tanks were able to uproot the hedgerows instead. Jul 3 at 15:37
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    Note: the British and Canadians "confronted the Germans" in Normandy too, and they called the Rhino modifications "prongs". Jul 3 at 15:40
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    @PieterGeerkens: I incorporated your excellent comment to change the emphasis to "improvements" in the advance.
    – Tom Au
    Jul 3 at 15:44
  • @MichaelHarvey: Changed the reference to "Allied" advance. I knew that the British and Canadians confronted the Germans in Normandy, but thought that their line of advance was on Caen and did not include the bocage.
    – Tom Au
    Jul 3 at 15:45
  • Plenty of bocage to the south of all the invasion beaches, including around e.g. Villers-Bocage, Tilly sur Seulles, etc, south of Bayeux. Fough over by British 50th Infantry and 7th Armoured divisions, plus 4th Armoured Brigade Jul 3 at 16:25
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Sergeant American Culin invented the Rhinos: the use of the Rhino was as followed:

  • The tank drives at 25 mph
  • It goes through the hedgerow thanks to the prong
  • Other tanks could use the breach to advance without exposing too much

1/ The bocage battle

During the bocage battle to Cherbourg, the Americans started to use the Rhino tanks: it did help them to advance fast, since they were opposing only low-quality Axis units that had not that much antitank weapons nor training: in this situation, the Rhinos allowed faster advance for the tanks on a difficult terrain, as well as regular presence of tanks close to infantry and thus better support provided to infantry.

During the later advance on Saint-Lô, Rhino tanks were not of a great help: the Americans most of the time used artillery and infantry to capture hills, and the help of tanks was often delayed. Still, German centers of resistance could be destroyed during this phase of battle with tanks/Rhinos assault: for example, the 8th corps suffered 5 000 casualties for 5 kilometers taken, while later the 5th corps had 6 000 casualties for 10 kilometers advance: the difference in casualties per kilometer is real, but its causes are multiple (better artillery and air support, Rhinos, tactical adaptation of American infantry...) and overall losses were still high.

Note that the Germans had no Rhinos but similar problems: the Lehr division lost half of its tanks in two days of failed counter-attacks and had to play defensive.

2/ Cobra operation

During the Cobra operation, that was basically a massive attack of tanks, opened by infantry assaults and a massive air attack, the Rhino tanks proved useful:

After the air bombing, and the first infantry advance, German resistance was still harsh. The Americans once thought they were stalled again, but Bradley decided to launch the armoured divisions into the breach to actually open the breach and enter the exploitation phase of the battle. This decision could have triggered a disaster (a kind of Seelowe), would American tanks be slowed down and vulnerable in their advance. But the Rhino tanks helped in opening the roads, thus avoiding jams, and they allowed tanks to fight head-on ennemy defenses instead on manoeuvering slowly on each hedgerow and being an easy target during the manoeuver.

Conclusion:

The Rhinos did give better results in terms of speed of the advance and tactical disponibilities of tanks/ But against classic German division (around Saint-Lo) and not weak ones (around Cherbourg), it did not reduce significantly the amount of casualties overall (less casualties in tanks, but still numerous ones in infantry).

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