Tanks in Hell.

Tanks in Hell.

Oscar E Gilbert and Romain Cansiere
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
Tanks in Hell.

Tarawa is a tiny coral atoll otherwise insignificant in the vast Pacific Ocean, at its highest point it is only three metres above sea level. However on 20th November 1943 it was the complete focus of the Second Marine Division supported by an armada of warships and air support. All setting into motion the United States' war plan to defeat in detail the armed forces of Imperial Japan.

An integral part of the assault were the fourteen M4A2 Medium tanks of Charlie Company First Corp Medium Tank Battalion. The US Marine Corps had always been and remains an Infantry centric organisation, at this early stage in the war it would be quite accurate to say that their Infantry/Armour doctrine was in its infancy, or hardly even in existence. The specialist landing ships needed to put ashore and replenish the soon to be highly polished amphibious forces of later campaigns were in very short supply.

Into this perfect storm came First Lieutenant Ed Bale to lead his green company across a heavily cratered coral reef and up the sandy shore against well establish Japanese defences manned by elite Naval Infantry.

The authors, Oscar Gilbert and Romain Cansiere, have conducted meticulous research from numerous sources but focusing on interviews with survivors to build a fascinating and intricate picture of the unit's baptism of fire. No detail is overlooked building from uniforms, weapons, training and vehicles to a minute by minute account of individual's and crew's actions in the 72 hours of battle.

The books text is generously supported by photographs of the unit's vehicles and crews both before and after the battle. To establish an accurate chronology of the movements of both aerial reconnaissance photographs taken during the assault are faithfully reproduced and annotated. The book is full of surprising facts, for example the role of dismounted guides trained to move ahead of the vehicles to mark craters or indicate targets was a revelation to me (a suicidal role if ever there was one).

A fascinating book I cannot recommend it highly enough, it deserves a place on the shelves of any student of armour or the Pacific campaign.

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