The author served in the British Army, including the duration of the 1990/91 Gulf war. This, his fifth book, covers a very popular military subject from a new angle. When the tank appeared on the battlefields of France and Belgium during the 1914-18 War, it introduced a major new approach to warfare. Armour was not new, only the combination of self-propelled machine, artillery and armour.
NAME: Tank Men, paperback
CLASSIFICATION: Book Reviews
AUTHOR: Robert Kershaw
PUBLISHER: Hodder and Stoughton
BINDING: Soft back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: Modern tank, AFV, Armoured Fighting
Vehicle, military technology, trench warfare,
armoured warfare, blitz krieg, Panzer, sol-
diers at war
Hodder and Stoughton have released a soft back edition of this deservedly popular title. The author served in the British Army, including the duration of the 1990/91 Gulf war. This, his fifth book, covers a very popular military subject from a new angle. When the tank appeared on the battlefields of France and Belgium during the 1914-18 War, it introduced a major new approach to warfare. Armour was not new, only the combination of self-propelled machine, artillery and armour. Its purpose was similar to the armoured knight of the Middle Ages, a method of punching through infantry to disperse and destroy the opposing army. It was essentially a counter to the machine gun. In 1914, the opposing European armies still employed infantry and cavalry, with specialist units for engineering and logistics. It was assumed that the battles would involve the movement of armies in a series of attempts to avoid or bring to battle. The opening stage was a traditional dash by cavalry and infantry towards the opposing capital city. This German attack was halted by a small British force and a formal line of trenches became established as the machine gun dominated the battlefield and denied movement to either army. This resulted in a war of attrition as each side suffered massive casualties in an attempt to gain a few yards of mud and shell holes. Britain built the first tanks in an attempt to find a way past the costly impasse. Produced late in the war and in small numbers, the first tanks had an impact beyond their numbers, but they were not yet a battle winning weapon system. They were mechanically unreliable, but they did provide a mobile strong point that resisted machine gun fire and provided cover for infantry following them. When they first appeared they did create terror, but after the initial shock, the Germans began to develop their own primitive tanks and anti-tank systems. During the period that followed the end of World War I, junior British and French officers wrote innovative books postulating new tactical options based around the use of the tank. Many countries built their own tanks, but technical development was slow, with many tanks in 1939 looking very much like those of 1919. The significant change was that the Germans had read British and French theory and developed it to produce a new concept of Lightning War, where armoured divisions would strike rapidly into enemy territory, supported closely by ground attack aircraft and paratroops. Conventional infantry following behind would then mop up pockets of continued resistance bypassed by the armoured formations. However, the first use of this approach in the invasion of Poland was dependent on a number of tank designs that were still primitive and unreliable, with most of the German ground forces comprising infantry on foot and the use of horses to haul guns and supplies. Even by 1940, and the attack on France, the German army was still short of armour and what was available was still dated without any significant technical advantage. German success was due to tactics and air support rather than to advanced armoured fighting vehicles. Some French tanks were superior to German machines and on the rare occasions when they were deployed in adequate numbers they demonstrated their superiority. The small number of British tanks were also able to stand against German machines in individual combat but were overwhelmed by German numbers. From that point, Germany began to introduce some outstanding designs that were superior to American and British designs. The German design and production of tanks suffered from too many models and difficulties in manufacture caused by shortages of materials and the effects of continuous bombing of the industrial heartlands. The Russians produced the outstanding T34 that shocked the Germans when they first met this formidable machine. The American Sherman was never a consistent match for German technology but was available in very large numbers, earning the unfortunate German nickname of Tommy Cooker because of its tendency to catch fire when hit. The British development of tanks was marred by an even more fragmented programme than the German programme but still produced some very able designs of which the Comet was an outstanding machine delivered late and in small numbers, only to be outdated by the Russian designs that followed on from the T34. From 1945, the design of tanks has continued to produce ever more powerful machines, but the fundamental challenges of deploying armour in battle remain unchanged. The author has begun his account with the first British tanks and taken the story through to the end of the Second World War. He has concentrated on the fighting tank and told the story through the eyes of tank men who served the armies of WWII. This is a human story and it differs from most books on the story of tanks because it demonstrates another side to the human experience. Viewed from the outside, the tanks has always been an awesome and powerful machine that seems invincible. Viewed from the inside, it is a cramped, noisy, smelly vehicle that is uncomfortable in the extreme and terrifyingly fragile to enemy fire. Rather than being a place of safety, it is all too frequently a trap that kills or terribly wounds its crews. In a continuing development battle the tank is frequently vulnerable to new anti-tank weapons. It is heavily dependent on a fragile supply line that brings fuel and ammunition, without which the tank is useless. The author has graphically demonstrated these realities through the comments of soldiers who served in tanks during WWII. In terms of the technologies, this book inevitably suffers a number of omissions because there is not the space to tell the complete story of armoured fighting vehicles and the many anti-tank devices deployed against them. Some may feel that the story should have been continued to include all the battles and developments since 1945, but that would have also required an enormous volume or a set of volumes to come even close to doing justice to the subject. The strength of this book is that it tells the previously untold story of how the tank came of age and affected those who served it in battle. It is a powerful story and it has captured accounts of men who rapidly reduce in numbers as the years take them. This may have been the last chance to capture these impressions directly and no library of military books will be complete without a copy of this book. It is to be hoped that the author considers a second book to tell the story in a similar format from 1945 to the present time.