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The Tanks

The Tanks

Charles Messenger
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
This is the Fourth Volume of the History of the RTR, and being published on the anniversary of the Battle of Cambrai all the better for it. This book could easily have been a dull compendium of facts and figures, but instead Charles Messenger has brought the Regiment to life, bringing much needed facts, personal stories, and an honest appraisal of the situations that the regiment often found themselves placed in through no fault of their own.

The Author commends the many people that assisted him in the writing of this book, and the assistance and knowledge that they provided. A foreword written by General Sir Richard Lawson KCB DSO OBE sets the book in motion, with his knowledge of many of the operations the regiment was involved in.

The Introduction by Charles Messenger bring us up to date, and mention the previous 3 books on the Regiment's history, his approach to writing the book, and the invaluable assistance freely offered by so many serving and retired members of the Regiment.

Next are included full page maps detailing the regiments involvement in various theatres of war.

  • Operation Banner circa 1980
  • BAOR 1986, showing the British bases and formation Hqs
  • Cyprus serving with the UN
  • Iraq
  • Helmand Province
  • Operation Panthers claw June/July 2009

Chapter One : Wide Horizon and Ireland 1976-1980

The RTR Gathering at Munster with all four regiments together for the first time since the 50th anniversary weekend nine years before, the dismounting of 4 RTR and their move to Ireland first to Long Kesh then to Lurgan. The regiments working up and then taking part in Exercise Spearpoint; here the author is honest about the reliability of the Chieftain when used on tracks for long journeys as opposed to tank transporters.

The worries about the Warsaw pact are quoted as is the provision of spares and service items to keep the AFVs in action should the Communist forces decide to become aggressive. Also covered is the Spartan and Scorpion AFV and their variants, problems with the radio communications as the Regiment changed over from Larkspur to Clansman, 1 RTR being the first to convert to the new system, whereas the the Second was provided with the C13 HF sets, which turned out to be to useless for that type of theatre.

Northern Ireland is well covered, with the Regiments training for Banner, the need for better physical fitness, and observation of the hazards unique to that theatre of operations. Many personal anecdotes are included from officers and men serving in Ireland and their honest appraisal of their success and failures

Chapter 2 : the Cold War - its final phase 1980-1989

The Regiments' continued training and the threat of IRA activity outside of Ireland is discussed alongside the new policies of protection for all staff both on and off duty. The Regiment's participation in the 1980 Winter Olympics and their success in the Bobsleigh competitions.

The Regiment's attachments to foreign armies and the lessons learnt are here discussed, the 9th/12th Lancers carrying out an exchange with the troops of the US 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment in El Paso Texas, the regiment trained on the M60 and M113 APCS, however the return exchange did no fare so well, possibly because the American troops sent were not up to the RTR's high standards.

1st RTR also joined and passed the French Commando course so a wide range of new skills were learnt.

The New Chieftain Gunnery system is discussed with the changeover to IFCS and they new levels of accuracy being attained.

1982 and the 4th bid farewell to Munster.The gradual winding down and the move back to the UK is covered here.

Exercise Lionheart comes into being, and the Regiment proved itself once again by deploying well inside the stated times.

The trials of the new Warrior, the tracked Rapier, and the short range anti tank weapon the LAW 80 followed by the introduction of the new Challenger Tank

The Regiment's posting to Cyprus and many of the difficulties unique to this situation are discussed along with some of the problems they encountered and the methods of resolving them.

Chapter 3 : The first Gulf War

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the monumental changes in Europe are covered here, also the reduction in size of the British Army and its threat of cuts to the RTR. As usual Government cuts meant that essential spare parts were in short supply, so on the outbreak of the First Gulf War everyone in the Regiment had to work overtime to conquer the problems of shortages, 48 hours of sterling hard work by the men meant the tanks were ready, much scrounging was done and a great deal of cannibalisation had ot be carried out to ensure all the vehicles were ready for battle and with the necessary spare parts.

The Author is honest in his appraisal of the damage done to the Regiment by more government cuts and the loss of skilled and trained men as Regiments merged and other Regiments were disbanded

Chapter 4m : 1994-1999 - A new tank and a new role for the RTR

Again the regiment was called upon to cover the Maze Prison and also to work in West Belfast with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

The shortage of spares parts for Chieftain tanks and the problems with the Saxon APCs are here discussed honestly and without bias.

The regiment was once again in the buffer zone in Cyprus and dealing with the problems endemic to two races who hate each other, but managed to conquer them with dignity.

OPFOR rears its ugly head and much planning and work had to be done to cater for this new theatre. Germany was once again visited when the Regiment returned to Fallingbostel at the end of July 1997, again much burning of the midnight oil was called for to return the tanks to working order after being used in Bosnia.

Chapter 5 The Balkans and Operation Fingal 2000-2002

The year starts on a good note with H.M. The Queen being present when the RTR memorial is unveiled in Whitehall; of course nothing is simple and the author relates some of the problems involved in creating, the design and finding a location for the Sculpture.

Parts of the regiment are still on active service in Kuwait and others on duty in the Balkans.Until reading this chapter I had not realised how many different ethnic and religious groups were involved in trying to eliminate each other, while the UN forces tried to keep them apart

Also the regiments work in covering for the Fire services during the Strike of 2002 brings home to you the varied and complex work that they have to encompass.

Chapter 3 : The Gulf War- Round Two 2003

Once again much burning of the midnight oil, favours called in and the Regiment move first by rail and then by Ro-Ro ferry to Kuwait. As usual shortages occur as the logistics system suffering from cuts and reduction of spares rears it ugly head, the men once again work hard and bring the tanks up to battle ready condition.

Problems with the biological warning systems and its false alarms are discused; and then the Battle commences, the Regiment's part in the battle is well laid out alongside its mine clearance, and the very close contacts by the Iraqi Militia.

Chapter 7 : Ever Growing Commitments 2004-2007

The Joint training carried out between the RTR and the RAF regiment brings new skills to be learnt.

The Regimental Church is taken over by an Evangelist group and the Regiment is made to feel like an outsider so a new place of worship had to be found.

A return to old grounds as the 2nd RTR move to Kosovo. Again more changes and a reduction on tanks for each unit is called for and the PAYD rears its ugly head.

BATUS and the problems faced with worn out tanks and few spares are again honestly discussed.

The Regiment's task of manning the detention facility at Shaibah, and then the Regiments move to Afghanistan and changeover from Tanks to Warriors.

Chapter 8 : Telic to Herrick 2008-2011

The Regiment is presented with new Standards in the gardens of Buckingham Palace.

More changes and mergers result in there only being 2 Regiments now. More training and Iran and Afghanistan call again.

The Introduction of the 28 tonne Mastiff is warmly welcomed by the Regiment and its use in Afghanistan helps to change the tide of war, the Viking is also used, but failures with it are given frankly.

Chapter 9 : The End of Herrick and the Final Amalgamation 2011-2014

In the final Chapter, Liam Fox approves a recommendation of the Strategic Defence and Security Review with the effect on the RTR and the Regiment's future.

32 High Quality pictures, the most recent ones being in colour

A readers perspective

This is well researched book, full of accurate facts and technical data about the evolution of the Tank and the technology that controls it. Time and time again we see in this book, the Government cut backs on spending, the Regiment then has to shrink down and survive with limited spares, to be promptly asked to go and fight another war, all the time with a reduction in manpower and spares backup.

What comes across very well is how the Men and Women ( and wives) of the Regiment all pull together and work to the highest standards to maintain the fighting fitness of a great and respected Regiment.

I have not gone in to too much detail about each chapter as there is simply so much on offer, Personnel, vehicles, locations, conflicts and technical problems and resolutions
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This book is an excellent read and a must for any one interested in AFVs or the History of the RTR.

Joshua Slocum
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