British Battle Tanks: British-Made Tanks of World War II
Osprey's new history of British-manufactured tanks of WW2 is a wonderful book, full of terrific information about some really questionable tanks. The Tank Museum's David Fletcher wrote most of this book; there is one chapter authored by Bruce Oliver Newsome and a joint Fletcher-Dick Harley chapter. This is a very high quality hardbound volume of 280 pages, heavily illustrated with photos, drawings, tables and color plates in the usual Osprey style.
The introduction starts with a tank I did not recognize -an interwar Vickers L1E3 amphibian, below.
Fletcher acknowledges that British tanks of WW2 began in doctrinal confusion, had serious quality issues, and were underpowered, underarmored, and underarmed. He tells this story in his wonderful style, with a chapter devoted, more or less, to the major designs of WW2: the Matildas, Valentine, Churchill, A13, Crusader and Cromwell. He finishes off with some of the oddballs such as the Tortoise, Tetrach, A33 and A25.
Below, a 'classic' Matilda in caunter scheme from the desert. Fletcher does a great job describing the development of the Matilda, which began in 1929. Most modelers are probably familiar with this famous tank and know it for its heavy armor. Fletcher, however, fills in the gaps of the poor track design and the difficult manufacturing challenge it presented. One bit of trivia that may be new to many: the Matilda's heavy cast nose was inspired by the BT's pointed nose.
The US designer J Walter Christie comes into the picture as Fletcher tells the tale of the cruiser tanks. After seeing Red Army BTs, the British bought a Christie tank as shown below. Although most British cruisers used the Christie suspension, Britain made important improvements in the track design.
An A13 Cruiser, first of the Christie tanks to be fielded by Britain. it is remarkable how much its capability resembles the BT series. The two tanks have similar appearance, of course, but with similar firepower and armor protection. The British tank had a far superior turret design.
The Crusader was considered a very good-looking tank, and there are all sorts of dramatic photos of them. This is a great one, below. Fletcher's book covers design, manufacturing and usage of all British tanks. The difficulties of manufacturing heavy cast components and the wartime politics of Nuffield's company, which made engines and entire tanks, is told in great detail. Quotes from unit reports make great reading. Comments on the Liberty engine are scathing.
Fletcher also has some great photos of experimental vehicles that never made it into production. Below, a Crusader SP 5.5 inch gun. Even though this is built on a Crusader chassis, oddly, this would not look out of place in a NATO army of the 1950s.
I've always found British vehicle designations difficult to follow. I suspect it's because the term 'Mark' is used two different ways. For example, you have an "Infantry Tank MK III" which designates all Valentines. But then, within the universe of Valentines, there are "marks" designating the variants.
For anyone who shares this disability with regard to British nomenclature, Fletcher has included handy tables showing what all the marks mean. For example, the table below on the Valentine. It makes it very easy to work out the correct designation for a particular set of features.
Fletcher provides some factory photos. I am amazed at the small size and low-tech look of British tank factories. Compared to US or even Soviet factories, they look tiny and almost like something out of the Dickens era. Nevertheless, it is remarkable that with all their difficulties and worldwide needs for shipping, aircraft, etc., Britain still managed to out-produce Germany in tanks.
Here a Churchill gets its tracks.
I had posted this photo, below, on the AMPS facebook page asking if anyone noticed anything odd about it. No one did. OK, here is the answer. This Churchill has its armament reversed from the normal positions, with the two-pounder in the hull and the CS howitzer in the turret.
A Cromwell command or OP tank in service in 1944/45. At least someone can get out of the rain. Fletcher has a real eye for the lives of ordinary soldiers and how they must deal with the equipment they are given.
The Tortoise, one of the last British tanks of WW2 and perhaps not the most successful either.
I don't say this often but - this is a delight to read. David Fletcher's engaging and witty style can be heard clearly in these pages. If you have seen him lecture you know how this book will read. He's the Mark Twain of tanks.
Must Have for British armor builders; Highly recommended for all others. Even if you're not all that into British armor, this is a seriously entertaining read.
Thanks goes out to Osprey Publishing for this review sample.
Reviewed by Danny Egan
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