British Tank Crewman 1939-45
Osprey's latest 'Warrior' series covers British tank crewmen in WW2. Neil Grant's book is a great read - well-written, concise, yet remarkably comprehensive given he had only 62 pages to do the job! This volume is a typical Osprey, with soft covers, high quality paper, and plenty of illustrations to accompany the text. We get 7 color plates, 47 black-and-white photos, and 3 period color photos.
Grant follows a logical sequence, first providing some very basic background on the creation of the British tank force inWW1, the interwar years, and the frantic expansion of the immediate pre-war and early war years. There is a basic chronology of the war included. He continues with recruitment, training, service, and finally separation from service postwar.
The 'Recruitment and Training' section was of great interest. All the major combatants of WW2 had to raise armies quickly using small cadre forces to train much larger units. The Germans and Soviets were to some extent an exception to this since they had very large professional forces before the war. But the problems faced by Britain, the USA and France were essentially the same: creating large trained armor units starting from a very small basis of trained professionals. It is therefore a great source of 'lessons learned' to see how each army solved this problem. The British initial assignment of personnel to the armor branch was remarkably inefficient with a high failure rate amongst trainees, which is a costly mistake in wartime. At the same time, it must be acknowledged that their regimental system created very strong unit cohesion, in sharp contrast to the US system of individual replacements in combat that tended to subvert cohesion. The author spends a full page or more on the social background of officers, which is an overlooked and important key to the performance of British units in combat. The US general James Gavin noted this issue during the war.
Grant does a fine job describing individual and unit training, and the barracks routine of units stationed in the UK. He goes into some detail on uniform issue, personal weapons, and conditions of pay, food and so forth. The amount of detail is just about right: he tells the story economically.
Where this book really shines is the descriptions of daily service in a tank crew, with all the work involved in the apparently simple tasks of getting food, fueling the tanks, loading ammo, doing maintenance, standing watch, managing personal needs, and of course surviving combat. Grant does a terrific job telling us what a day in the life of a tank crewman was like - the boredom, the backbreaking work, the exhaustion of simply carrying on every day trying to get it all done. The book is exceptionally strong in this area.
The many unglamorous tasks involved in operating armored units are described in text and illustrations. Below, detraining Valentines. Space for tactical training was very limited in the UK, and units expended an enormous amount of time merely moving between training areas.
These next two photos show perfectly the difference between training and actual combat service. Below, a UK-based Guardsman, looking very 'by the book' despite being in the field.
And below, other crewmen serving in the winter of 44-45 in the ETO. A little less neat and clean! Grant gives us all the little details about getting chow, dealing with the cold, being wet, swapping food with the local population, etc.
The emphasis in this book is very much on the ordinary enlisted crewman rather that the officers or even the NCOs. The color plate below shows M3s in Burma, but frankly the scene could be anywhere. Officers and NCOs gather around the map, while other crewmen load ammo, refuel, and clean weapons. The role of each crew position is described, along with some very basic tactical content. Obviously the goal is not to teach tank tactics here, but to illustrate the daily life of a tanker. Many short "I was there" stories are included as examples.
The final sections of the book are very short campaign overviews, which could probably have been omitted or shortened even more since they are easily available in other places. lastly, a one-page section describes the demobilization process. Tankers returning to postwar civilian life in Britain faced many of the problems faced everywhere by returning veterans, such as divorce and post-traumatic stress. Unlike their counterparts in the US, however, demobilized British soldiers faced severe shortages of the basic necessities for several years after the war.
This is a very well-written, 'just right' book about British tank crewmen.
Pros: Very well-written; free of grammatical errors; great descriptions of daily service life and tasks; inclusion of short anecdotes is just right for this kind of book; good photos.
Cons: A few pages are consumed with campaign histories that could have been better used for additional 'daily life' information.
Highly Recommended for Beginner to Advanced builders.
Thanks goes out to Osprey Publishing for this review sample.
Reviewed by Danny Egan
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