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Band of Brigands: The First Men in Tanks [Hardcover]

Christy Campbell
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
RRP: £20.00
Price: £17.69 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

15 Oct 2007

The dramatic story of the men who fought a new and terrifying kind of war amidst the carnage of the trenches in World War One: the British pioneer volunteers who were the first tank-men into battle.

Inspired by a visit to northeast France to witness the excavation of a remarkably intact First World War tank from beneath a suburban vegetable plot near the town of Cambrai, Christy Campbell – then defence correspondent of the Sunday Telegraph – began to piece together the little-known story of the young men who formed the British Tank Corps.

Very few of them had been professional soldiers; they were motoring enthusiasts and mechanics, plumbers, motorcyclists, circus performers and polar explorers. One officer declared: 'I have never seen such a band of brigands in my life.' They had trained in conditions of great secrecy in the grounds of a mock-oriental stately home in East Anglia and were originally known as the 'Heavy Branch, Machine Gun Corps'. The word 'tank' itself was deliberately chosen to mislead.

Men in tanks saw the face of battle at its most brutal. Their task was to crush and burn the enemy out of his fortifications, and to carve a path for the infantry so they could finish the job with bayonet and grenade. Captured tank crews were beaten up or sometimes shot out of hand by the Germans. They fought in their stifling armoured boxes packed with petrol and explosives, aware that at any moment a shell-hit might incinerate them all.

Christy Campbell has combed contemporary diaries and letters and later recollections to tell properly for the first time the robust yet harrowing story of how the first men in tanks went to war. The time frame is 1916-18, with a coda on how German blitzkrieg ideas developed from an English root.


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: HarperPress; 1st edition edition (15 Oct 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007214596
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007214594
  • Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 885,009 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

‘Continuously interesting, so much so that one has to remember that for almost all the 1914–1918 war, tanks were a sideshow.’ Daily Telegraph

‘A fascinating story…told by Christy Campbell with verve and an eye for the telling detail.’ Sunday Telegraph

‘A fascinating new book.’ Daily Mail

‘Wonderfully entertaining.’ BBC History Magazine

‘Campbell is to be applauded for producing a book that portrays life in the tank corps so vividly while guiding the reader painlessly through a morass of technical information.’ THE Book Magazine

Praise for ‘Phylloxera’:

‘An entertainingly educational story of scientific exploration, political filibustering, profiteering skulduggery and a disaster that was nearly total…This is not just a book for wine buffs. An intoxicating read.’ Peter Millar, The Times

‘Such are Christy Campbell’s superb story-telling skills that, notwithstanding my woeful ignorance of science, botany and viticulture, I found myself utterly hooked on this fascinating piece of social history.’ Hugh Massingberd, Daily Telegraph

‘“Phylloxera” is a rattling good read; the author handles scientific material with such a nimble touch that at no point was I overcome by the onslaught of entomological detail.’ Giles MacDonogh, Literary Review

Praise for ‘Fenian Fire’:

'Christy Campbell has come up with a genuine historical scoop…In a superb piece of historical detective work, Campbell has pieced together every element of the conspiracy on both sides of the Atlantic, from the prime minister's house in St James's to the Islington garret where the "dynamitards" were arrested in November 1887…It was a classic case of an agent provocateur sting.' Andrew Roberts, The Times

'Campbell has uncovered an extraordinary web of personal and political intrigue…an enthralling tale…the pace never slackens…Particularly good is his account of the origins of Irish revolutionary nationalism…To tell this involved story against the backdrop of bureaucratic bickering, revolutionary intrigue and clandestine meetings between spies and informers is both original and clever. Campbell is making this type of breezy investigative history his own.' Andrew Lycett, Sunday Times

'The "jubilee plot" is such a bizarre episode that I would regard it as the product of a febrile imagination had Christy Campbell not documented sufficient evidence to remove all reasonable doubt…From Mexico City to Liverpool and from the House of Commons to Chicago coroner's court, the story moves at the pace of the best sort of adventure story. All the Boy's Own Paper ingredients are there…colourful characters and compelling story…Its account of Fenian organisation and activity makes a real contribution to nineteenth-century history.' Roy Hattersley, Observer

From the Back Cover

Inspired by a visit to northeast France to witness the excavation of a remarkably intact First World War tank from beneath a suburban vegetable plot near the town of Cambrai, Christy Campbell - then defence correspondent of the Sunday Telegraph - began to piece together the little-known story of the young men who formed the British Tank Corps.

Very few of them had been professional soldiers; they were motoring enthusiasts and mechanics, plumbers, motorcyclists, circus performers and polar explorers. One officer declared: 'I have never seen such a band of brigands in my life.' They had trained in conditions of great secrecy in the grounds of a mock-oriental stately home in East Anglia and were originally known as the 'Heavy Branch, Machine Gun Corps'. The word 'tank' itself was deliberately chosen to mislead.

Men in tanks saw the face of battle at its most brutal. Their task was to crush and burn the enemy out of his fortifications, and to carve a path for the infantry so they could finish the job with bayonet and grenade. Captured tank crews were beaten up or sometimes shot out of hand by the Germans. They fought in their stifling armoured boxes packed with petrol and explosives, aware that at any moment a shell-hit might incinerate them all.

Christy Campbell has combed contemporary diaries and letters and later recollections to tell properly for the first time the robust yet harrowing story of how the first men in tanks went to war. The time frame is 1916-18, with a coda on how German blitzkrieg ideas developed from an English root.


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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Planning gone wong? 6 Aug 2009
By Hansen
Format:Paperback
This is a military history book written in the great modern tradition with sweeping general descriptions alternating with fascinating close-ups on individual experiences and destinies. The topic lacks no interest either, the pioneers in tanks in The Great War. The book is well written and the illustrations (photos) are fine.
Having said this, it must be mentioned that the book displays a curious imbalance. The first year of tank action (1916-17), which mainly consisted of fiascos, is described in great detail. Then the pace of the book picks up notably, and the events in 1918 are described on relatively few pages. You get the suspicion (warranted or not) that the author (or his publisher) some 250 pages into his book realised that it would become far too long, and then he raced through the rest of the story at double speed.
To illustrate this point the number of pages dedicated to each major engagement can be listed:
The Somme (1916): 29 pp.
Arras: 9 pp.
Flandern (1917): 9 pp.
Cambrai: 48 pp.
Le Hamel (1918): ½ p.
Amiens: 6 pp.
Cambrai of course was the most famous of them all, but very few details of the major successes scored at Le Hamel and Amiens are provided.
The same goes for the different technical versions of the lozenge-shaped tank. The later and more successful types are described in much less detail, the Mk VIII only mentioned in passing.
The author also seems to be biased towards the first "generation" of tank leaders, Swinton and his people. The successors, notably Elles & Fuller, are treated with much less sympathy and interest. J.F.C. Fuller especially is not credited with any positive contribution at all (apart from his Memoirs, which are characterized as entertaining).
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
A very authoritative and well researched work. Truly a must read for members of the Regiment, as it doesn't flinch away from some unpalatable truths. The various machinations and infighting of Whitehall are laid bare, in the development of the world's first true armoured fighting vehicle, including the impediment of and encouragement of the new Corps from the most surprising of Wartime celebrities. Most importantly, it lets us see the thoughts the staff of the new corps and the pioneering officers and men who crewed these first wagons. Most, if not all of the angles seem to be covered.

This book should sit proudly next to BH Liddel Hart's The Tanks, for although not as well written, time has undoubtedly allowed a different view to be articulated.

Interesting fact from the book; Matilda (Infantry Tank MkI), meaning "'mighty in battle' in old German." Not a comic duck or Hugh Elles's mistress.......
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
By Big Jim TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Not being an expert on the period I can only say that to this layman this is an interesting and very readable book. It is maybe just 50 or so pages too long because whilst I welcome the many personal anecdotes and tales (some of them very funny indeed!) I think the author may just over egg the pudding somewhat. I am sure that more technically minded folk may pick over some of the detail in here but on the whole I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in warfare and the Great War in particular
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars At last not a WWII book! 27 Jun 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Considering that tanks were invented in WWI their story has achieved very little in print compared to that of WWII. This well written book partial address this as it presents the story of early tank development. It is a mixture of politics, battles, technical developments and personal stories, and it manages to get the whole story over in a both informative and interesting way. If you want to know more about the period then this is definitively a must buy. Probably the most interesting thing is the sense of just how haphazard the development was and how it very nearly didn't start at all coupled with how bad the new 'wonder' weapon performed compared to what you expect of a modern tank.
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is purely average. As a keen WW1 Historian (but not of tanks) I found it interesting at times and was fine for sitting by the pool on holiday. However, the journalistic style lets it down at times - the writer gives you a negative outcome of a battle but then proceeds to spend 50 pages telling you how well the battle went on the whole. Rather than build suspense, you're told the punchline and then the joke.

Also, this is quite a high-level book. As the main sources seem to be official histories and biohraphies of generals and leaders, the focus is often on HQ and Whitehall rather than the micro-level of the actual men in the tanks. I found the number of names mentioned confusing especially when coupled with the journalistic style and throwaway comments. Finally, a lot of military terms are left unexplained thus a lot of context is missed (I'm ex-military myself and I was stumped at times!).

Overall, it's ok but I wouldn't recommend.
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