Caterpillar D8 and Sherman BARV to meet again - after 65 years
It’s rare that it can be established beyond doubt that a vehicle was actually on the Normandy beaches during the 1944 invasion. There was just too much going on, and records were – in the main – not kept.
Two vehicles taking part in this year’s War and Peace Show can make that claim however. They are a Caterpillar tractor for which records do exist, and a Sherman Beach Armoured Recovery Vehicle (BARV), which had to be there, because they all were.
The Caterpillar is a D8-8R owned by Andrew Bettney and Paul Marriott, from Derbyshire, who are big Caterpillar enthusiasts. They found the vehicle in 2003 at Stonegate, near Tunbridge Wells, Kent.
“We had no idea it was a military machine,” said Andrew. “Then Paul scraped away at one of the plates and discovered the green paintwork.
“A friend established that the serial number, E245206, was an army number, and that the machine was one of a batch of 60 brought over from the United States in 1941. It had gone into service with the 79th Armoured Division 819 dozer squadron.
“He later did more research with the Royal Engineers at Chatham and phoned me to say he had news that would make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. He had found records to show that the tractor had landed on the Normandy beaches somewhere in the Gold sector near Arromanches, and that its number suggested it arrived on D-Day + 4.
“I was thrilled and amazed that we had acquired such an important vehicle.”
Exactly how the tractor was used on the beaches is uncertain, probably to help lay roadways and to tow broken down vehicles out of the way. There is a picture in one of the D-Day books that shows a Caterpillar D-8 towing a heavy trailer, which carries a 70-ton locomotive.
“Once we found out about its history we decided we should take the Caterpillar back to Normandy for the 60th anniversary of D-Day in 2004,” said Andrew.
“We both felt we should make the effort, in memory of the lads that died during the invasion.”
They enlisted the help of family and friends and worked tirelessly on the vehicle at Andrew’s workshop at Tideswell, near Buxton. It was tough fitting the work around running two demanding businesses. Paul operates a drilling company involved in oil exploration and Andrew runs a welding and steel fabrication firm.
But with great pride they were able to drive the machine in the Veterans’ Parades on Gold Beach, where it had performed such sterling work 60 years before.
Sporting the white star of the invasion forces and the Spanish fighting bull emblem of the Royal Engineers 79th Armoured Division, it will once more visit the Normandy beaches during this year’s 65th anniversary celebrations, before returning to go on display at the War and Peace Show in July.
“She’s looking wonderful,” said Andrew. “She’s always a crowd puller.”
Rex Cadman’s Sherman BARV is well known to War and Peace regulars. Rex bought it from Pound’s Yard in Southampton nearly eight years ago.
“I wanted it as soon as I saw it,” said Rex. “It’s such an unusual beast. There are only four or five left, and this is the only one that runs.”
The BARV is painted battleship grey. The Royal Navy won the argument over colours on grounds that the vehicle had to operate in the sea.
Its job was vital to the invasion’s success. With so many vehicles of all kinds coming off landing craft into water, it was obvious that many would become stuck.
Unless a deep wading craft could be deployed to push or pull them out of the way, the invasion would have seized up in one massive military traffic jam. The BARV with its watertight welded hull and high superstructure, could operate in nine feet of water.
On occasions the Sherman BARV was used to push stranded landing craft back out into deeper water.
“This BARV was completely dead when we got her,” said Steve Cobb, who has carried out most of the restoration work. “The engine had to be completely restored and there was a lot of welding to do.”
Steve has driven the BARV in the sea at Studland Bay during and event to commemorate Operation Smash.
“You have no visibility, just a tiny square of glass to peer through,” he said. “You are relying entirely on instructions from the person on top.”
When working the BARV had a crew of four or five, a commander, a bilge operator, a radio operator and a driver. There was an outside man to attach winch cables, who was equipped with diving gear for under water work.
The Sherman BARV and the D-8 will be displayed together at the War and
Peace Show. But who knows? It may not be the first time they have met.
More information on the War and Peace Show website
The Caterpillar returns to Arrmoanches
Steve Cobb prepares the BARV for work again