The Second World War Tank Crisis

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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@Listy may wish to offer comment on Liddell Hart or not, can't remember which arser pointed me in an interesting direction there.


Book Reviewer


Wasn’t it said that the British has superior quantity and quality of tanks with the BEF but not the tactics?
Do tell. In Sept 1939 the newly established Royal Tank Corps had 143 infantry and cruiser tanks. There would have been many more by May 1940 but ....
The key point though is that the Germans had concentrated their tanks en-masse, the French and the BEF were all over the place and therefore entered battle piecemeal
Possibly a reference to Everything Worked Like Clockwork that debunked pretty much everything Liddel-Hart ever said about tanks and mechanisation.
Earlier work referencing Mearsheimer, I read a full dtic paper or similar which someone posted a link to - which critiqued both L_H and Mearsheimer fairly dispassionately. Can I feck like find it.


The OP in his excellent review (the book is on my Christmas list, supply chain and panic buying permitting).

As a spectacularly boring engineer with more than a passing interest in these things the mention of "deep welding" caught my eye.

The modern world would struggle with comprehending what a massive issue this was, and not just tanks.

In my treasured possession is a bound notebook compiled by a well known manufacturer struggling with sticking bits of an armoured vehicle together with welding. There is page after page of notes taken on amperage, weld preparation, stick angle, rod composition,test results (components were repeatedly twisted which seemed to be the quickest way to failure)

About 3/4 of the way through the notes is a paragraph recording how the welders had got so p*ssed off that they had downed tools and legged it, and that there would be a delay before development could continue.

Another related book documents how the production process was set up to make best use of the skills available.

A brilliant almost first hand account of pushing the boundaries of engineering, in contact.
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