Tank Wrecks of the Western Front 1940-1945

Tank Wrecks of the Western Front 1940-1945

ARRSE Rating
3 Mushroom Heads
Anthony Tucker-Jones is a former defence intelligence officer and a widely published expert on local conflicts, counter-terrorism and armoured and aerial warfare. He is the author of numerous books including; Falaise: The flawed victory, Operation Dragoon: The liberation of Southern France 1944, Armoured Warfare on the Eastern Front, Tiger I & Tiger II, T-34: The Red Army's Legendary Medium Tank, The Panther Tank: Hitler's T-34 Killer, The Battle for Budapest 1944-45, The Panzer IV: Hitler's Rock, Armoured Warfare and the Waffen SS 1944-1945, T54/55: The Soviet Army's Cold War Main Battle Tank, The Battle for the Caucasus 1942-1943, Panzer I & II: The Birth of Hitler's Panzerwaffe and The Battle of the Bulge.

At the start of WW2 in Western Europe, German victors regularly posed with and photographed destroyed and wrecked Allied Armour. After they invaded France, the Germans left behind over 4,500 wrecked French tanks and took great delight in using their photographs for propaganda purposes. The boot was on the other foot after the D-Day landings. It was the turn of the wrecked and burned-out remains of the Panzers to be photographed by the victorious Allies during their key battles for Normandy and the Ardennes.

Tucker-Jones has cleverly divided this book into ten Chapters, each one dealing with a type of tank. Hence, Chapter One deals with the Hotchkiss tanks of the French Army; the H-35, H-38 and H-39. Most of the tanks in this chapter appears to have suffered little or no damage. Not surprising considering the thin armour of the French tanks. Many Hotchkiss tanks were redeployed by the Germans for internal security work.
French tanks are again featured in Chapter Two, this time the Renault family. The Renault 35/40 light tank was the French Army's most numerous tank type in 1940. Nearly 2000 were built, but only half of these were in front-line use. The other Renault tanks included the AMR -33/35 (Auto-Mitrailleuse de Reconnaissance), AMC-35 (Auto-Mitrailleuse de Combat) and the rarer D-2. The French were also still using the WW1 vintage FT-17. Although most of these tanks had better armour protection, they were woefully slow and had virtually no cross-country ability, this making them easy targets for German tanks and aircraft.
The heavy French tanks, the Char B1 and the S-35 Somua were intended to be the battle-winners. Unfortunately, as Chapter Three relates, turret sizes and slower speeds meant the French tanks were always struggling to catch or escape from their enemy. The fact that the S-35 required it to turn towards the enemy to fire it's gun meant that the enemy always had the upper hand. Many captured S-35s ended up on the Eastern front.

Chapter Four features the first of the British wrecks. These were the lightweight Vickers VIB/VIC and the Matilda II Infantry Support Tank. Both tanks were undergunned and couldn't match the German Panzer IIs. Chapter Five introduces us to the failings of the early Churchills. Like so many early British tanks, the Churchill mk 1 - 2 were woefully under-gunned, and even with the 6 pounder fitted to the mk 3, they still struggled to beat the Panzer. It was only the mk 6 & 7 (75mm gun) and the mk 5 & 8 (95mm gun) that they were finally able to compete in a level playing field. The final allied tank is the ubiquitous Sherman. A superb tank in all it's varieties, but sadly, the first target for many Tigers. M10 and M36 tank destroyers were built on the Sherman body and suffered from the same problem of many British tanks, under-gunned! The 3 inch gun of the M10 was only effective at 50 yards if it had to penetrate the Tiger's front glacis.

Chapter Seven gives us a first look at the Panzer I, II & III's. The PzKpfw I (panzerkampfwagon) was initially a light tank of no more than 6 tons armed with twin machine guns and a two-man crew. In theory, had the French showed better tactics, they could easily have defeated the Panzers. The PzKpfw II was upgraded to a 10 ton medium tank with 20mm cannon and three man crew. The PzKpfw III was again, an increase in size and gun. This time the tank was 15 ton and had a 37mm or 50mm anti tank gun. The Panzer IV makes it's appearance in Chapter Eight. This tank was the backbone of the German Tank Corps and saw action throughout WW2. Completely rebuilt, this was one of the serious heavy tanks with a 75mm gun and better armour. Nearly 750 Panzer IV 's were involved in the battle of Normandy and nearly every one was destroyed!

Chapter Nine gives us the Panther, Germany's supposed answer to the Russian T-34. Many were lost at the Battle of the Falaise Gap, unable to compete with the British and American Sherman's and Fireflies. No book of tanks would be complete without reference to the Tigers (I & II). Armed with the deadly 88mm gun and thick armour, it proved more than a match for most armoured vehicles. The Tiger II was brand new in 1944 and unfortunately for the Germans, arrived too late to equip more than one company, totalling about a dozen tanks. Like the Panther before it, it was beset by teething problems and mechanically unreliable. Apart from high fuel consumption, limited operational range, fragile steering and slow turret traverse negated the excellent 88mm KwK43 L/71 gun and extra thick armour. Many Tiger II s were destroyed after they had broken down!

The author has included some excellent black and white photographs of the subjects and has added intelligent captioning and are sourced primarily from the author's private collection plus US National Archives and PhotoNormandie. There is sufficient technical detail included in the book to form reliable opinions about the various vehicles and to wonder why, with France's initial involvement in tank development, they performed so badly and never as a cohesive force.

A good book for the diorama-builder, given indications of "what happens if" and especially useful for getting rid of the badly made model of your youth. There is some good historical data contained in the book although one of two of the pictures would bear further research. One picture purports to be Michael Wittman's Tiger I, but it is believed the turret was actually blown off Wittman's Tiger!

I am not sure what the purpose of this book is. It is certainly a record of destroyed tanks, but one has to ask why? Having a photographic record of damaged vehicles is useful from an identification point of view, but as an historical reference? I'm not sure. What I do like about it, is it poses questions which require further investigation.

I will give the book a 3 out of 5, but am not 100 per cent sure about it.I

Smeggers

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