In 1944, the greatest tank ace on either side was Michael Wittmann.
He had 135 ‘kills’, armoured vehicles of all types.
Of course it was easier for him, his tank was a Tiger, the best tank of the war.
It had thicker armour than any other tank, making it impenetrable to British tanks.
It also had the best gun of the war: the 88mm, which could hit any British tank from 1,000 yards, while British tanks had a range of about half that.
So Wittmann’s Tiger could destroy a British tank before it even got in range.
For instance, on June 13th 1944, in the village of Villers-Bocage, Wittman knocked out 29 British tanks and armoured vehicles on his own.
Units of the 7th Armoured Division were travelling in a column through the village, Wittman knocked out the first tank, then quickly drove round the back and knocked out the last tank.
Then, with the column stuck in the narrow road, unable to move, he could take his time destroying the other vehicles one-by-one.
The commander of a British tank said he hit Wittman’s tank three times and saw his shells just bounce off, then Wittman destroyed his tank with a single shot.
We desperately needed a better tank, but we didn’t have years to design and build one.
The only British gun that could penetrate a Tiger’s armour was a 17-pounder anti-tank gun.
So the obvious thing to do was fit a 17-pounder gun in a Sherman tank’s turret.
But the gun was too big, it wouldn’t fit, the powerful recoil would smash the radio, and the gun’s breech couldn’t be loaded from the top, there was no room in the turret.
So they moved the radio onto the outside of the turret, so there was room for the recoil.
And they revolved the gun 90 degrees so the breech could just about be loaded from the side.
And the machine-gunner was removed so the ammunition could be stored where he sat.
And although it was a bodge, at least it was a tank with a powerful gun, the muzzle flash was so bright it was called the Firefly.
On August 8th 1944, it was time to see if the bodge worked.
British Fireflies sat hidden in a wood, while opposite them Canadian Fireflies sat hidden behind a wall.
Michael Wittman came along with a column of seven Tiger tanks, knowing nothing the British had could touch them.
The Firefly was such a bodge that the British had to come out of the woods, fire the 17-pounder, then quickly retreat into the woods to reload, then pull out to fire again.
Despite it being a bodge the British Fireflies knocked out three Tiger tanks and the Canadian Fireflies knocked out another two Tiger tanks.
A shell penetrated Michael Wittman’s Tiger, the ammunition exploded and the turret blew completely off (the British and Canadians still argue over who actually hit it).
But the thing I like best is that it was a bodge that destroyed Wittman’s tank: the best, most powerful tank in the world, commanded by the world’s leading tank ace.
It was a bodge but it beat the most modern, most sophisticated equipment in the world.
Because that’s what happens sometimes.
Sometimes you have to find a way to beat someone who’s bigger, stronger, newer, and in every way better than you are.
You haven’t got time to design and build the perfect solution.
So you have to bodge together a quick fix that will solve the problem in the short term.
And, when they’re any good, humans can out-think equipment.
It’s called a bodge, but another name for it is creativity.
Or, as Ernest Rutherford said: “Gentlemen, we have no money, we shall have to think.”