Pioneers of Armour in the Great War

Pioneers of Armour in the Great War

Author
David A Finlayson and Michael K Cecil
ARRSE Rating
3.5 Mushroom Heads
I initially wanted to review this publication as I was misled by the title, incorrectly believing it to an account of the first armoured units of the British Army in the First World War, as my own grandfather served in the Tank Corps in the War. When I received the book it was only when I turned it over that it actually reads, and I quote "Pioneers of Australian Armour....", obviously this caused some disappointment to me. I tried not to let that disappointment flavour this subsequent review. The authors themselves are experts in the study of Australian military matters and have indeed produced an exhaustive and informative account of this subject.

The book starts with a preface describing how the First World War is understood in Australia, and how the view is coloured by the experiences and accounts of the Australian Infantry and Light Horse's exploits in the Middle East and France and Flanders. It explains how the exploits of smaller, more specialised units can be lost within this and how the early pioneers of Australian Armour, both wheeled and tracked have largely been overlooked.

The account starts off detailing how an enthusiastic Australian from the Reserve of Officers writes to the Minister of Defence and offers to raise and equip an Armoured Car section for the AIF. The narrative continues after detailing how donated vehicles were actually converted into Armoured Cars and how the embryonic unit was trained. This is mainly through extracts from contemporary news reports in the Australian papers and is well illustrated throughout with pictures and copies of articles. It then moves on to the initial deployment to Egypt, where the now named Armoured Car Section takes part in the Senussi campaign and details their experiences in the Western Desert, which is mainly covered by accounts from the members of the section's activities.

After re-equipping and being re-named as the 1st Austrailian Light Car Patrol, it embarks on the Palestinian campaign with General Allenby and details their part in the campaign and eventual capture of Jerusalem. From here it continues with the push North against the Ottoman forces and the capture of Damascus and Allepo. The story is engaging and shows how mechanical ingenuity and the use of captured equipment kept the patrol going through a lengthy and arduous campaign. It then covers the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and their part in trying to maintain some sort of order. After the war is over the book covers the make up of the unit, in quite exhaustive detail, complete with biographical notes on each individual person who served in the unit, both the originals and later reinforcements, and how they fared after the war.

The second part of the book covers the Australian Tank "Grit" and the Special Tank Crew. I have previously reviewed Bullecourt 1917, which detailed the Australian's part in the first attacks on the Hindenburg Line, and how the disastrous failure of the Mk II (a training version, never meant for combat) Tanks detailed to support the Australian Infantry attack coloured their view of the Tank until it's highly successful participation in the Hamel and Amiens battles of 1918. However, when news of the first widespread use of Tanks reached Australia in 1917, the Australian Government begin campaigning to get a Tank to tour Australia. This was to be used to help in raising funds and to aid recruiting, a Tank actually used on the Battle Field was requested, and originally this was complied with, and a veteran Tank from the Western Front was duly dispatched. Unfortunately, the HMAT A42 Boorara is torpedoed the day after setting sail and is beached. Consequently, a newly built MK IV tank is dispatched from Glasgow whilst a number of Australian Soldiers with relevant experience and skills, and mostly already medically unfit for further service at the front are being trained at Bovington. The arrival of MK IV (Female) Tank 4643 in Australia is then detailed along with the activities it took part in along with a complete nominal roll of all of those members of the Special Tank Crew who crewed her during this period. After the conflict and the subsequent demobilisation of the Special Tank Crew, it became the responsibility of a crew of Sappers from the RAE, again there is a complete and exhaustive biographical detail for all members.

The book finally covers the final disposal of "Grit" and how it was finally interred in the Australian War Memorial. It was recently restored and is reportedly the best example of the few remaining MK IV Tanks still in existence, and is believed to be as close as possible to its original condition when it left the Coventry Works in Glasgow for Australia. Included in the numerous Annex's and Appendix's there is a first-hand account from 1987 when the MK IV (Male) Tank belonging to the RAC Museum at Bovington was moved under its own power, which is very good. There is a nice forward from the current Head of the RAAC and for anyone interested a wealth of detail. For those Modellers amongst you, there is a wealth of original photos of both the original Armoured Cars and the stripped-down Model T Fords they were replaced with and some drawings and technical data on all the Armoured Cars deployed and the Tank sent to Australia.


The book has been exhaustively researched and it appears no detail has been overlooked in compiling as full an account of a very small and specialised unit as possible. It is well written and engaging, unfortunately, it's just not what I was expecting. So even though it's an excellent book and there's no really no fault with it, I can in all honestly only award three and a half mushroom heads. Indeed I grudge giving that much, but I cannot fail the authors and must blame the publishers for obviously it has been published under the alternative title of "Pioneers of Australian Armour in the Great War." and that sort of decision is normally not taken by the author.
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