The Devil's Chariots Hardcover – 23 Nov 2001
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This scholarly and clear-sighted book is a happy marriage of history and technology and deserves to become standard reading. -- email dated 7 12.01 from Prof Richard Holmes, Royal Military College of Science. (Presenter of the recent TV 'Battlefield' series).
From the Author
I particularly wanted to write this account of the tank's birth in World War One and the men behind it, because astonishingly, the full story has never been told.
It has taken six years to research many hundreds of personal recollections and official files and reports of the period. What emerges with absolute clarity is the fact that behind the tank's shooting war lay another series of often bitter conflicts between the military and the weapon's visionaries and builders. The clash of personalities and prejudices under the pressures of war resulted in disastrous delays and often bizarrely naive experimental machines, but they led to ultimate triumph on the battlefield.
I wanted also to describe the bravery and suffering of the crews, the personalities of the pioneers and their opponents, the machines themselves and the struggle to build them in competition with the demands for aircraft, guns, locomotives and other vital munitions etc.
I hope readers will find the story as gripping and as revealing as I have. It is a salute to bravery and to engineering achievement, but above all to the determination of a handful of men in and out of khaki to forge a weapon which transformed the conduct of land warfare.
John GlanfieldSee all Product description
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Glanfield describes the organisational struggle to achieve this, not least the plethora of special committees, often with overlapping areas of responsibility and conflicting priorities. Glanfield identifies the contribution of individuals, for example creative men (who often could not tolerate bureaucracy) and men who were not prepared to support change - and the consequent friction.
Part of the problem was that few people understood the potential of the tank. But somehow the dominance of the trench and the machine gun had to be overcome to cut the appalling loss of life in frontal attacks for little or no gain. The existing idea of High Command was to use shellfire to clear the barbed wire and nullify the trenches, and if this failed simply intensify it. In the Somme offensive the opening barrage of 1.7 million shells left much of the wire uncut.
Various ideas were put forward, most of which were unworkable. Churchill for example supported the 'landship' which was essentially a huge armoured container which could carry 50 or so men across no-man's land, then, on reaching the trenches enfilade them, allowing the men to get out to tackle the enemy face to face. Such a cumbersome vehicle would have been a sitting duck. Even with very big wheels these landships could never have crossed the boggy terrain. But at least it was an idea.
Even top brass failed to grasp the nettle: "The tank in its present form is no value as a fighting unit". GHQ had failed to appreciate the nature and implications of the German defence. Haig encouraged the use of the tank when it became available but did not fully understand its potential. Against advice he used tanks piecemeal as they became available instead of in massed formation: this was to come later. To exploit any 'break out' he kept his favoured cavalry in reserve. Haig had no officer on his staff with any experience of tanks.
But the development of the tank did take place both in Britain and in France. Eventually tanks became war-winning weapons. Glanfield describes the various British models very fully. I have one gripe: I would have preferred more diagrams and pictures in the body of the text, though the chapter on tank types is well illustrated.
A stimulating and thought-provoking read.
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