The Second World War Tank Crisis

The Second World War Tank Crisis

Author
Dick Taylor
ARRSE Rating
4.5 Mushroom Heads
This excellent book explains how in two decades the nation that invented the tank (and the tactics for using it successfully) managed to end up with an utterly inadequate armoured force, no effective tank design method and an industrial base incapable of developing and delivering a competitive tank until the latter stages of the war.

It’s a depressing tale of inadequate military thought (which led to the dales dichotomy of “infantry” and “cruiser” tanks – yet another example of misguided British exceptionalism), a lack of leadership, and some self-serving industrialists. All of which led to inadequate battlefield performance and dead British soldiers. Some readers will draw comparisons with today’s current conceptual and practical problems with all things armoured and wonder if our society, particularly our military leadership, is ever capable of avoiding previous mistakes.

As it happened, by dint of some extraordinary efforts, it all turned out OK for the UK with the Cromwell, Comet and Centurion. Whether that was by luck, judgement or simply the result of finding a correct answer only after exhausting every wrong one is an open question. Given that the Army managed to have a tank called the “A13 Mk III Cruiser Tank Mk V Covenanter Mk IV” (it was useless and never deployed on operations, despite over 1,300 being bought and made) it’s hard to believe that it was in control of its procurement. Plus ca change.

The huge frustration is that the UK had the guns, (6 and later 17 pounder), had the engines (Rolls Royce Meteor (nee Merlin) and, conceptually at least, the structures. Neither the Navy nor the RAF had the problems of scaling up to industrial warfare that the Army encountered. Perhaps this was a result of the relatively lower appreciation of technology, plus some institutional bias against the newly emerging Tank Corps? There’s probably another book in that.

The book strikes an excellent balance between technical detail (such as the complexities of deep welding), jargon and wider principles while maintain readability throughout. The author, who is also the official historian of the Royal Armoured Corps wonderfully combines abundant expertise, the ability to explain complicated things in laymen’s terms and clear, engaging prose.
Had the book had a few more drawings and a better index this would get 5 mushrooms. So 4.5 it is. But buy it.

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Cynical
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