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Tank Warfare 1939-1945.

Tank Warfare 1939-1945.

Simon and Jonathan Forty.
ARRSE Rating
3 Mushroom Heads
This book describes the evolution of tactics and equipment in armoured warfare during the second world war, including European, North African and Far East theatres of war. The authors are the sons of the curator of the RAC Tank Museum and the publishing is by Pen and Sword, so an excellent book about tank warfare is expected. Unfortunately this is not totally the case.

The introduction describes the origin of the tank with the mechanisation of of firepower, protection and mobility brought about by the desperation and innovation brought about by industrial warfare during World War One. The development, or lack of in some cases, of tactics and vehicles during the inter war years until 1939. The first chapter deals with the German Blitzkrieg and is mostly taken up by the defeated French General Staffs report on the French campaign, almost verbatim.

Chapter two moves to the North African campaign and covers a rough summary of the tactics and the improvement of equipment throughout the ebbs and flows of the campaign there. There are excellent diagrams and notes of the Panzer Division tactics on the advance, in a meeting engagement/mobile defence and against an organised defended area. Unfortunately that is not balanced with any discussion of British or American tactics.

Chapter three covers the mincing machine of the Eastern Front with early German successes powered by the rehearsals of the 1940 campaign in the West. German advances in vehicles and equipment are covered after them finding the excellent Russian KV1 and T34 in the Soviet army. These were initially overcome by the better tactics of the Panzer Divisions. Eventually the Russians learned to put together the doctrine of 'Deep Battle', learned during the battles of Khalkin Gol against the Japanese in 1939, into a modern context, and by husbanding forces to create huge reserves capable of deploying over huge areas brought the Wehrmacht to it's eventual destruction. Unfortunately Russian tank division level tactics are not discussed, merely tank on tank tactics, which in that theatre is apt, and a sub chapter on German infantry co-operation with tanks.

Chapter four covers Sicily and Italy, and the slog up the boot of the Mediterranean. With the country favouring the defender tank tactics were limited. The authors state 'The Germans were puzzled by the Allied intention to march up the peninsula and reach the … Alps....Field Marshal Albert Kesselring … proceeded to give the allies a two-year master class in a fighting withdrawal...' The American 'tank destroyer' doctrine is introduced here and a verbatim report on battle Lessons from 7th Armoured Division of the British Army is reproduced.

Chapter five covers Normandy to Germany and this probably where the equipment and tactics of Western armoured divisions were mature. With the exception of supply trucks armoured divisions are 'armoured'. Attached artillery are armoured and self propelled, able to keep up with the advancing armour. With the American breakout of 'Operation Cobra', this would be the perfect place to have a sub chapter on 'The Armored Division, Field Manual 17-100, Armored Command and Control'. It doesn't. There is however an excellent After Action Report for the month of October by the US 7th Armored Division. In this we can see the patterns and formulas taken forward to our own battlegroup formations many Arrse members will be so familiar with.

Chapter six deals with the Far East and tanks against Japan. For me this was an excellent chapter as I am aware of little about the Japanese use of tanks. It appears that while use of the tank in support of infantry attacks, including through 'impassable' jungle was well done by the Japanese; and having a sound basic doctrine, Japanese commanders at all levels had little knowledge or understanding of modern infantry, tank and artillery tactics. Japanese armour was generally frittered away with low level attacks without support or dug into static defensive locations. Sub chapters on US armoured operations on Iwo Jima, and a US paper on how the American forces expected Japanese Armour to act, and generally how they didn't, are included.

Taking up about a third of the book are some rather good appendices covering necessities of armoured warfare. Guns, gunnery and ammunition. Antitank warfare, including guns, obstacles and mines. The American concept of the 'Tank Destroyer' is discussed in some depth. Tank recovery and maintenance. Tank radios and communications. Bridging and bridge-layers. Allied tank casualties – soberingly, no matter where you sat in a tank, the chances of being injured were roughly similar. The final appendix covers tank and self propelled gun production in World War 2. There are many excellent black and white photographs and explanatory diagrams, some of which could do with being larger on the page.

The book, while being less than perfect, is a good cornucopia of tanks, tactics and development through world war 2. It should be excellent for the beginner of a study of armoured warfare, a generalist should get something out of it (I certainly did.) and perhaps the appendices may turn up something new to an expert. It lacks with no discussion of the Soviet Deep Battle doctrine or US Armored Division tactics. What also lets it down is an almost unfinished 'rushed' feel to it; that there is a need to produce it without the chapters being properly proof read or edited, which is a constant niggle all the way through.

With a little more effort and polish, this book would be a worthy four, but alas I feel I can only give it 3, Mr Mushroom heads.

There appears to be a sister book by the same authors, Artillery Warfare 1939-1945.

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