Weapons of the Tankers – Book Review
Book Review: Weapons of the Tankers: American Armor in World War II
Zenith Press, 2006, Hardback.
On VE (Victory Europe) Day in Germany the United States Army fielded 91 tank battalions grouped in 16 armored divisions and 49 separate tank battalions attached to infantry divisions. This number did not include the 13 separate tank, 7 amphibious tank and 23 amphibious tractor battalions in the Far East. Yet from this mighty numbers most Americans didn’t realize that prior to May 1940 there were no American armored forces. It was only after the May 1940 war games in Louisiana and the rest of the south that the idea began to emerge for forming an armored force separate from the infantry and cavalry. Prior to the formation of the armored forces, tanks were deployed by the infantry and cavalry as organic parts of their organization. Therefore the American tanks were designed for two separate doctrines. The infantry tanks were designed to support the infantry. The cavalry had ‘combat cars’, as tanks were reserved for the infantry only, were designed to slash and maneuver against the enemy. The most numerous vehicles in the American inventory were the light tanks that would lead to the famous M3 Stuart line. Yet by the war’s end the Americans were fielding the prototype of the Pershing heavy tank, the M4 Sherman had soldiered on and even a brand new light tank (M24 Chaffee) that was state of the art had entered service. By wars’ end, the armored doctrine of the American tank forces had matured as well. How did this transformation occur? What was the equipment given to the armored troops that allowed them to flourish and conqueror the mighty panzer divisions of the Third Reich? Weapons of the Tankers: American Armor in World War II by Harry Yeide examines the rise of the American armored forces and the men that manned them.
The book Weapons of the Tankers (hereafter Tankers) is organized by the author in chapters that expand on the central element which revolves around two key components: 1) what gear the tanker used and 2) how did it come into being. The first chapter deals with the development of the armored force from a conception to an operational reality. It then follows the armored force into the main theatres where tanks were operated by the US Army. Each section included comments from the men who fought in the tanks to expand on the key points he was trying to make. For example in the Italy section he quotes the commanding officer of the 759th Independent Tank Battalion who noted a shortcoming in attaching and detaching the independent tank battalions to units who were not familiar with working with tanks. In fact, the CO noted that his battalion was attached and detached from three separate units in the period of twelve hours. After the overview of the campaigns that the US armor fought in; Harry Yeide goes into detail with the following chapters to discuss the various types of armor.
In each of the following chapters the author uses the same format. Brief introduction of the early weapons inherited by the armor force from the cavalry and the infantry ‘tank’ forces. Then he deals with the first purpose built tanks and weapons for the armor force. Chapter two deals with the light tanks. From the early ‘tanks’ and ‘combat cars’ of the infantry and cavalry to the M3 Stuart followed on by the M5 Stuart and then finishing with the ‘Cadillac’ of light tanks the M24 Chaffee. Chapter three details the creation of the first true medium tanks such as the M3, M4 and the M26, which, as the author acknowledges, was really the T26E model, and as in the previous chapters gives plenty of combat narratives that highlights the key points in his thesis. Chapter four covers the amphibious tractors and tanks of the Marine Corps, but also those used by the US Army and the Duplex Drive (DD) Sherman amphibious tanks. The next chapter is the ‘catch-all’ chapter for the various modifieds (mods) and conversions that the tanks (especially the Sherman) were known for. From the mine flail tanks to the rocket launching tanks to the dozer tank; if the basic chassis was modified than it falls into this chapter. Chapter six looked at the most important part of the kit in the armored force; the individual soldier and his gear. The last chapter deals with all the vehicles that are not otherwise included in the pervious chapters. Such vehicles included in this chapter range from the ubiquitous jeep to the old reliable ‘deuce and a half’, the weird and wonderful halftrack to the less glamorous tank retrievers. It should be noted that some of the tank retrievers are modified M3 and M4 hulls, but are included here for clarity of organization. Finally the book ends with the standard appendix (Table of Organization), glossary, bibliography and endnotes as well as the index.
In reviewing the technical aspects of the book I feel I need to make one thing perfectly clear. The book is not an in depth review of each vehicle or piece of equipment. You could, and many people have, written whole books on each of the subject matters that Harry Yeide has touched upon. However; what Harry Yeide has done is to bring the subject together in a logical framework that is not only succinct, but conveys the points he is trying to make. Each section flows with a rhythm that builds on the pervious knowledge. It can best be described as the following cycle: initial idea, fielding, combat, lessons learned, new/refined concept, new fielding, etc. This follows the natural learning cycle of humans and armed forces around the world. Even the sidebars that the author includes do not subtract from the chapter, but help enhance each one with new understandings on how things worked back then.
The book is well written and amply illustrated from a variety of sources including stills from cinematic film, as opposed to still cameras, which sometimes give a blurry image, but one that still conveys a lot of information. The book is free of technical faults and the quality of the materials is first rate. While the book can not be recommended for the hardcore treadhead; the book fits nicely into most libraries either as a primer on American armor or as a quick reference guide. With a cover price of $24.99 the book is not exactly cheap, but it is a worthwhile investment.
The book is recommended for everybody except the guy who has an M4 Sherman in his garage and every tech manual printed on the armor force.