Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tanks for the Memories -

While humans have toyed with armored vehicles of one kind or another it seems since they first invented vehicles, the tank as a modern armored vehicle is only now approaching its centenary. So, with that 100th anniversary to look forward to, I have pulled a few of my own favorite books on tanks off the shelves and compile this list of recommended volumes on those marvelous machines. [Not all of the books on my shelves relating to tanks made the cut, but that is a reflection of just how many books on the subject there are, so I hope that at least some of you will find my contributions and comments useful.]

Tank Facts and Feats, A record of Armoured Fighting Vehicle Achievement, edited and compiles by Kenneth Macksey. © Guinness Superlatives Limited 1973. New York, The Two Continents Publishing Group, Ltd. ISBN 0-8467-0006-9.

Although a bit dated by its 1973 publication date, this remains one of the most useful single volume references on the history of tanks and armored fighting vehicles, so I recommend you seriously consider picking this up if you are interested in the subject. Also, if anyone knows of a more recent similar volume, I would be glad to hear of it – and if they don’t, then a shout out to aspiring experts on the subject to get cracking on a modern equivalent work!

King of the Killing Zone, by Orr Kelly. (c) 1989 by Orr Kelly. Berkley Books, New York. ISBN 0-425-12304-9.

The King of the Killing Zone refered to in the title is the M-1 Abram Main Battle Tank, and herein the author tells the tale of the two decades spent by the US to get it. This includes the wrong turns, bad decisions, and how it finally turned out a right. A tour-de-force description of how the USG's defense procurements can go wrong and can go right.

Death Traps, The Survival of an American Armored Division in World War II, by Belton Y. Cooper. © 1998 by Belton Y. Cooper. Ballantine Books, New York. ISBN 0-89141-814-8.

The author, Belton Y. Cooper, served with the 3rd Armored Division Maintenance Battalion as a liaison officer whose duties took him back and forth across the battlefield to identify and arrange the recovery of damaged tanks and other vehicles belonging to 3rd Armored. As a result he saw a great deal more of both the results of front line combat and of how US tank crews responded to the conflict and to the challenges of meeting German veterans in the vulnerable Shermans. This is an outstanding book and a must read for anyone wanting to know how tanks actually functioned in World War II Europe. This was originally published in hardback by Presidio Press.

Flame Thrower, by Andrew Wilson. © 1956 by Andrew Wilson. Bantam Books, New York. ISBN 0-553-24533-3.

I believe that this is possibly a unique account of the British Army’s Churchill Mk VII Crocodile flamethrower tanks of World War II. Andrew Wilson was an officer and Crocodile tank commander with the 141st Regiment, Royal Armoured Corps (The Buffs), serving in Normandy up to the end of the war along the Rhine.

With Pennants Flying, The Immortal Deeds of the Royal Armoured Corps, David Masters. 1943, Eyre & Spottiswoode, London.

As you can see, this 1943 volume focuses upon the early war experiences of British tank crews first in France, then Greece, Crete, Burma, the Dieppe raid, and in North Africa. Since it is the story of the whole of the Royal Armoured Corps, it includes information on various British tank units during this part of the war and a great many insights on the early lessons of tank warfare.

The Gods Were Neutral, Major Robert Crisp. © 1960 by Robert Crisp. Ballantine Books, New York.

Brazen Chariots, An Account of Tank Warfare in the Western Desert November-December 1941, by Robert Crisp. © 1959 by Robert Crisp. Bantam Books, New York. ISBN 0-553-24163-X

Although the latter work was published first, together these two volumes cover Robert Crisp’s war service in the 3rd Battalion, Royal Tank Regiment in North Africa, Greece, Crete, and again in North Africa from January 1941 to the end of the year. He began this interval in the A-10 and then A-13 Cruiser tank s and ended it in the M3 Light Cavalry Tank popularly called Honeys or Stuarts. Both books abound with excellent tactical level details and insights into the tank fighting of this period.

The Golden Carpet, Somerset de Chair. © 1945 by Somerset de Chair. Bantam Books, New York. ISBN 0-553-29580-2.

This is a firsthand account of the little known (at least in the US) and oft-forgotten 1941 invasion of Iraq via Syria, by 750 men of His Majesty’s Life Guards and Royal Horse Guards and of the Arab Legion under John Glubb Pasha – already becoming the stuff of legend. This mixed force traveling in heavy and light trucks, armed at most with machine guns, escorted by eight Royal Air Force Rolls Royce armored cars, supported by 2 pounder anti-tank guns, bested Iraqi police elements and a German supported Iraqi Army of 40,000 troops defending Baghdad in a one month campaign. The author was a Royal Horse Guards 2nd Lieutenant serving as intelligence officer to Brigadier Joe Kingstone who commanded “Kingcol” as the entire force was called. After taking Baghdad, they then turned back to take on French and Syrian troops at Palmyra, Syria that were loyal to Vichy France.

By Tank into Normandy, A Memoir of the Campaign in North-West Europe from D-Day to VE Day, Stuart Hills. © Stuart Hills 2002. Cassell, London. ISBN 0-304-36640-4.

The author served as an officer in the Nottinghamshire Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry from the D-Day landings on Gold Beach to VE Day which found him across the River Wesser heading for Hamburg. Stuart Hill was a crewmember and tank commander on Sherman tanks, including the Sherman DD (Duplex Drive) swimming tanks built specifically for the invasion. From this vantage point, he offers a good many tactical and technical insights into the challenges facing Allied Sherman tanks confronted by superior German Mark V Panthers and Tiger tanks, as well as the deadly 88 mm guns frequently deployed in anti-tank roles.