Nick Moran's Can Openers
Nick Moran (aka "The Chieftain") is a well-known personality in the world of tank enthusiasts. His short videos "Inside the Chieftain's Hatch" are truly entertaining looks at various AFVs. Moran served in the Irish Army and currently serves as an Armor officer in the US Army National Guard. He has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. He also works at the firm that produces the video game 'World of Tanks'. If you aren't familiar with his videos, please get on over to Youtube and watch a few. You will learn something and have a laugh or two along the way. He is not just a knowledgeable narrator - his sense of humor keeps things entertaining at all times. He was also a speaker at ARMORCON (the old AMPS East show) this past fall.
Moran has taken his work to the next level with this book, Can Openers. The book is a heavily-illustrated history of the technical development of US tank destroyers in WW2. Think of it as a lightweight Hunnicut for TDs. Actually at 232 high quality, matte pages it's not that lightweight! Moran was kind enough to send us an advance copy for review.
Moran has provided a lot of background on US armor and tank destroyer doctrine in his videos and lectures so there's no need to get into that here in this review nor in his book; he touches the topic briefly, but the meat of this book is the various tank destroyer ideas that were considered. I strongly recommend you search out his video on 'Myths of American Armor" as background for this book.
Some of the ideas being tried out early in the war were, shall we say, sub-optimal.
Here we have a 57mm mounted on something that looks like it should be hauling luggage trailers at the airport.
The idea of massing hundreds of AFVs into multidivisional combined-arms Corps, and then launching that mass into the operational depths of an enemy army, was merely a vague notion between the wars. Only when Germany stunned the world with their six-week defeat of France in 1940 did the idea suddenly become dominant.
For the US Army, this was a huge turning point. I would write "paradigm shift" but that term has been used to death. The US rushed to create a modern armor force. At the same time, it struggled to figure out how to stop very large scale mechanized offensives. Since the head of Army Ground Forces (GEN McNair) was an artilleryman, it should not be shocking that the solution adopted was primarily an artillery-based one. The tank destroyer force was created, rapidly expanded, and as we all know, fielded dozens of battalions of towed and self-propelled guns in WW2. But getting from 'nothing' to fielding this huge force required the Army to figure out what tank destroyer vehicles it wanted. Moran's book is best understood in this context of an army struggling to build a TD force in a hurry with nothing to build upon. In that situation, it is not surprising that many bad ideas emerged and were tested before some of the more sensible ones won out. Even the good ideas took a few iterations before they could be considered battleworthy.
We're probably all familiar with the M10, M18 and M36 tank destroyers. These are the weapons the TD battalions took to war, and their story is told here. But because they are so well known, the really interesting stuff is all the ideas that got built as test subjects but never made it to production, or were produced in limited numbers. Again, in 1940 no one knew the 'correct' answer to stopping a blitzkreig, so some of this stumbling around is unsurprising. Other armies were also rushing around testing ideas and sometimes even putting things into production. Some of the designs rejected by the US Army are strikingly similar to AFVs that were actually fielded by others.
Below, if this reminds you of Cold War jeeps mounting 106mm recoilless rifles or TOW launchers, here's the original bad idea...... This is a Bantam 40BRC mounting a 37mm AT gun.
All of the content is rigorously researched - everything is based on Ordnance documents to avoid creating any new myths or errors. Quotes from the actual testing reports are informative. Inevitably at times like WW2, there are people who turn up with a "bright idea"; that idea gets approval for a prototype, and then cooler heads at places like Aberdeen Proving Ground have to test it and see if it actually works.
The book is organized roughly by caliber of gun and chassis type - wheeled or tracked. Broadly speaking, as the war went on, gun calibers went up and there was a general shift in favor of fully-tracked chassis. So, Moran's organization by technology is also very roughly chronological.
If a standard Jeep isn't quite big enough, add more Jeep....
Most of the proposed TDs in this book were entirely new to me. We've probably all heard of the 75mm GMC on the M3 halftrack or the 37mm in the back of the Dodge 3/4ton truck. But there were some really off-the-wall ideas proposed and they need to be seen to be believed. No spoilers here!
Looking at some of these items, you have to feel gratitude for the ordnance branch personnel at Aberdeen who ensured US soldiers were not sent to war in some of these AFVs. The T56 (below) for example, was a close counterpart to the Red Army's SU-76 or the German Marder series. Taking an obsolete but reliable light tank and throwing a big gun on the back is not the worst idea ever tried. But the problems could be huge.
Below, a GMC based on the M3A3. I think of this as a US SU-76 clone. Note the list of significant problems with the design!
It is also fascinating to see the obscure genesis of some of the successful designs, like the early prototypes for the M18 or M10. The M10 started out on a standard Sherman chassis, and the M18 as a 57mm GMC. Oddly, the M8 armored car, which most of us know as a recon vehicle, started life in the TD branch.
The genesis of the M8 armored car was actually this 37mm gun motor carriage.
By the time you read through the entire thing, you'll have a great appreciation for the war the TD force was put together for WW2. Lots of ideas had to be tried and weeded out before the fleets of M10s, M18s and M36s made it overseas. By the time the war was over, of course the Army had figured out that McNair's concept of massed, reserve TD units were a fantasy and that better tanks were needed. Postwar, the dedicated anti-armor vehicle lived on in different guises, such as the M56 90mm airborne GMC (covered here) and various missle-armed light vehicles.
This is a great story told by a great storyteller. If you are interested in TDs, AFV design, "what ifs" and good writing, this is a valuable resource.
Pros: Well-researched, well-illustrated, great photo reproduction, many "what ifs" and "dead ends" and "oh my goawd" type photos. Densely packed with information. Well-written.
Cons: None really.
Highly Recommended for Beginner to Advanced builders; MUST HAVE for fans of US tank destroyers.
Thanks goes out to World of Tanks for this review sample.
Reviewed by Danny Egan
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