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4.4 out of 5 stars
Tank Men
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Wow! This is the book that sees Robert Kershaw take a deserved place at the top table of military historians in the UK. With the publication of 'Tank Men' he fully deserves to sit next to John Keegan, Richard Holmes, etc. 'Tank Men' is an outstanding book - full of interesting stories from men on the front line - from many different nationalities. Concentrating on the two world wars, Mr Kershaw manages to achieve the difficult task of breathing new life into subjects such as, Kursk, The Blitzkrieg in the West and the Desert campaign. Warning! This is not a book full of cliches. Oh no. Instead it is a thought provoking, respectful collection of interviews and concise historical narrative. In short a book that anyone interested in military history should buy. Truly an outstanding read (I finished my copy in three days - it was so good.)
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 21 June 2008
Covering both the period from the introduction of tanks during the First World War up to the end of the Second World War the book is a fascinating and well written account of the lives of the men who fought in tanks. This is given by using the history of the tank almost as a backdrop to the experiences of tank men with the use of a many first hand accounts and thoughts of these men. Two of the main themes are how man and machine where either helped or hinder by the tank's design and also the effect on the tank men of being either above of below the technology curve of tank development. This can be dramatically be seen by the Americans crews belief that a Sherman was more than a match for the likes of a Panther or Tiger. This was soon changed when they actually encounted one. As a follow on it is also interesting how the British managed to be left behind in tank design until the end of WWII while the Germans forged ahead from the primitive Panzer I to producing some of the most technically advanced tanks of WWII in just a few short years.

So if you want an insight into the lives of the men who fought in tanks, this is highly recommended. The only warning is that this is the not the history of tanks and so is relatively light on their development and technical aspects.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 14 September 2011
As an ex army man who worked on post war tanks I was fascinated by this book. For anyone who thinks that the tank was a safe haven in war read this book. For all AFV modellers and re-enacters ( God preserve us ! ) who have never been involved with the real thing, read this book. To go into battle with a machine that is fundamentally flawed and inferior to your opponents machine requires a special kind of courage and the book exposes the criminal neglect of British tank design before and during WWII. All major combatants and campaigns are covered and it includes many personal accounts. Several people have criticised the book for its gramatical and typo errors and there are several passages that need re-reading before the meaning is understood but this is down to the poor proof reading ( if it ever took place ! )this is nit picking, the reason to read this book is to get an understanding of the horror of war and its effect on flesh, bone and mind. Read it.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 26 August 2010
I only bought this book on a whim as, although I love history, this wouldn't be the type of book I would normally buy. However what a great buy.

This is one of the best books I have read or bought in a long time. The human stories that unfold are incredable and very moving. This book I feel brought me as close to the horrors of war as I want to get to. To be any closer I think I would actually have to be there.

I would recommend this book to anyone, regardless of whether they are interested in tanks or not. It's not a technical piece of work but a human story of the tragedy of war, anyone who thinks war is glorious should read this - it may change their view. Very well written
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 23 May 2013
Tank Men is simply put one of the most fantastic, well researched and illuminating books relating to WW2 that I have ever read.

As the title suggests, the book concentrates entirely on armoured fighting vehicles - specifically between the debut of the first tanks durning the Battle of the Somme, upto the conclusion of the Second World War - and the men and significant units who rode these steel steeds into combat.

The book has incredible detail, with literally hundreds of eye witness accounts from all of the significant armoured conflicts of the period. These accounts are often revealing, humbling, shocking and even sometimes humerous, and they do an excellent job of accurately representing to the reader the feelings of those present at the time.

From the typically dry English wit of one tankie who when confronted with the fact that a fault in the decrepid A-series of cruiser tanks meant that its reverse gear often refused to operate, commented that they had the first tank that 'refused to retreat', to the macabre trend of describing being burnt to death within your own tank as 'brewing up', to the Americans response to the criticism by the British that they were 'over paid, over sexed, over fed, and over here', that the British were 'under paid, under sexed, under fed, and under Eisenhower', it is like opening a window into the period.

The book exposes many myths about tanks also. They were rarely the all-conquering steel monsters of the battle field they were thought to be, even the most famous tanks often had very serious mechanical or design faults, and Germanys success in the early years of the war was not a result have having vastly superior machines (in fact many of their tanks were already obsolete by the time of the invasion of Poland), but more a result of them having vastly superior training and tank doctrine.

British tankies training often consisted of piloting a tank shaped facsimilie placed over a bicycle, driving bicycles in a box shaped formation to represent the dimensions of a tank crew compartment, or driving a truck around with a broom handle to represent the tanks cannon, where as 'live fire' exercises were sometimes conducted with the use of an air rifle.

Then there is the relationship between the crews of each tank, and the relationships between the belligerents of the various opposing armies, from the mutual hatred between some German and Russian units, to the much more honourable relationship between the British and Germans during the desert war, which Rommel had once described as 'a war without hate'. Its extremely illuminating.

The differences between the tank building industries of the Germans and Allied powers are also explored, and really have to be read to be believed.

Where as the Germans put their faith in technology and designed their tanks to be as efficient, deadly and ergonomic as possible, the British mode of production could be better described as a 'cottage industry' which resulted in their tanks, many of which were arguably better than the vast majority of the German tank force in 1940, becoming obsolete only a couple of years later.

The approved 'tactic' for taking out one of the Germans mighty Tiger tanks was to get within 200 metres and fire a shot down its periscope, but when startled British tankies asked if this had ever been accomplished, the reply was a curt 'no', and that was simply the end of the conversation. The Tiger tank meanwhile could easily dispense of any allied tank from a distance of 2000 metres.

Bernard Montgomery himself once apathetically stated that the Shermans 75mm cannon as provided by the Americans 'would be more than sufficiant', so Britain halted research and development of better, more powerful weapons and British tank crews suffered when it became apparant that the 75mm would not be enough afterall.

George S Patton meanwhile delayed the production of the M26 Pershing heavy tank - which was capible of tackling the toughest German tanks on an equal footing - for no more reason than he personally admired the Shermans speed and manouverability, and favoured mass-production. It was a subjective decision that undoubtedly cost many lives.

Its shocking, and I was suprised to read about the extent of the bad feeling amongst tank crews who were thrown against a technologically superior opponant without the armour or weapons to defeat them - weapons denied them usually because of the personal and political motivations of the men who claimed to lead them.

Frankly the way many of these poor boys were forced to fight under such conditions and with such lack of support was nothing short of murder. Its an aspect of the war that i had never previously considered, and its quite eye opening.

The book does an incredible job of exposing how very small mistakes and oversights in the use and design of tanks were horrifically magnified by the pressure of war, but also highlights the will, drive, bravery, and ingenuity of those young lads compelled to fight the war despite these faults. I cannot even consider giving it any less than the maximum five stars.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 23 June 2012
I bought this on a whim, and it turned out to be one of those books which I felt genuinely gutted when I realised I was reaching the end. Just brilliant. Very balanced, taking testimony from all sides of a brutal part of any conflict. It combines human stories with technical detail and historical context - no mean feat. All in all, it's a really difficult task which the author pulls off with aplomb. I cannot recommend enough for anyone with a passing interest in conflict in the twentieth century, but for tank enthusiasts, you really need to read this if you haven't already.

Finally, not wanting to sound trite, but this book really does make you look at "Tank Men", and indeed women (check out the Russian chapters), in a different light. I always though I'd pick a tank over a trench any time. But no longer. There were times when I really felt their emotions, and I honestly had tears welling up imagining what it must be like sitting alongside the best friends of your life, in a metal box and with very little chance of escape once you come under fire. The testimony from the end of WW2 when the outcome was inevitable, but the fighting even more merciless, was simply harrowing. Hats off to the combatants of all sides, and of course the author for sharing their experiences. This is something I know I will read again and again, to remember.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 27 May 2012
I found the book interesting to read especially the parts dealing with the actions in Russia.
However I found one glaring error and that was on Page 314 and author was describing the Crocodile
flame-thrower tank, he said "a Churchill flame-thower tank towing four hundred gallon of viscous flame fuel
in a trailer behind. Liquid was projected through the 75mm gun nozzle...."

The flame-throwing fuel (naphthelene) was not projected through the main armament but through a flame-gun
mounted in a swivelmounting in front of the co-driver and was fired by the co-driver. In a normal Churchill
tank the co-driver would have used a 7.62mm. Besa macine gun in swivel mounting.

Also the tender towed contained 40 gallons of naphthalene (not 400 gallons) if my memory serves me correctly.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 22 May 2009
I agree with other reviewers about the writing and the historical content which are excellent. However, I noted that the index contains references in roman numerals, which have no reference point in the book itself. I haven't seen the hardback version of this book, but I suspect the paperback is missing maps and appendices, which is what the roman numerals refer to. This seems to be a distressing trend and Mr. Kershaw's works have suffered from it before - see review by "kamehouse" of "It never snows in September", which is by a different publisher.

I have always found paperbacks to be simply a smaller format version of the original hardback, but now there seems to be a distressing trend on the part of publisher's to cut costs by simply omitting parts of the book!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 6 October 2012
This book is very interesting, and provides a thorough study of what it was to fight in a tank in the two World Wars. But here lies my gripe... I think the title is misleading, as it doesn t touch on post WW2 tank men. I find this a bit dissapointing, as I think tank warfare has evolved a lot, and comparing how far thinks have improved/changed would have been interesting. A quick fix would have been to indicate this on the cover.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A few years back I read Christy Campbell's Band of Brigands, a history of the role of tanks in WWI, which is incredibly interesting in itself (for instance, rather than radio, early tanks used pigeons to communicate - which led to some loss of life when the pigeons ran short and only "young and untrained" ones could be obtained). But I digress. This is, deliberatlely or not, an excellent sequel to that book, with a short introduction to tanks in WWI, and then the interwar years "the locusts ate", when Britain fell from the forefront of tank development (but to be fair, probably not behind Germany).

The primary focus of the book though is WWII tank campaigns, on the early Blitzkriegs, the Western Desert, the Eastern Front, and then the Western Allies push into Normandy and beyond. Italy is not covered so well; apparently the mountainous terrain was unsuitable for large-scale tank warfare, at least when compared to the vast plains of Russia.

We look at both tanks and tankers, and how they differed across the various combatants. The Germans went from having the worst tanks and the best tankers to the best but most complicated tanks (and no fuel to run them), while the British developed the best tank gun of WWII, the 17-pounder, but had few tanks to put it in. How the Sherman was still the tank of choice for the US in 1945 as in 1942, even though of all its strengths, mass production was the main one. As the Germans said "A Panther can knock out 10 Shermans, but there are always 11 of them!" Both parts of this statement have a degree of truth. Exactly how all this happened is chronicled in some detail.

The development of the Russian tanks is also carefully considered - the T-34 being, for a time, the best tank of WWII, and certainly even once outgunned it had the virtues of simplicity and reliability. Its noted at one point that given the short expected life of a tank, the Russians took a pragmatic view that bells and whistles such as creature comforts were surplus to requirements. This is then contrasted with the increased crew reliaibility sought by the Western Allies by making a tank "user friendly". It is pointed out that for all the Russian tanks pushed the Germans back to Berlin, they lost 8 tanks for every Nazi tank. They simply had even more tanks to lose behind them.

This is an intriguing study of the early days of mechanised warfare: the development of tank tactics and logistics - for instance, the French had more and better tanks than the Germans when WWII opened, and also in May 1940 too. But where those tanks were and how they could be moved was better managed by Germany. This book is full of nuggets of information like that, just waiting to be understood. But it also tells the human story superbly too, of the life of tankers in a steel box, and of the horrible deaths that awaited tank crew, potentially while leaving the tank itself salvageable or even largely undamaged. Not that that was generally of much consolation, even for the next crew. All up, an enthralling read for military history buffs.
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