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on 13 August 2014
Excellent book detailing the adventures of the 5th Royal Tank Regiment, from the disastrous battle of France to the deserts of North Africa, Italy, and finally the bloody break-out from Normandy and the invasion of Germany.

One strong point of this book is how Urban effortlessly changes perspective from the tank turret to the wider strategic picture. Furthermore, it is (in my humble opinion at least) very fair and balanced in that it gives due credit to the admirable bravery of the crews, while also expanding on the less glorious aspects: badly planned and executed actions, tensions between crews and inexperienced commanders (sometimes resulting in near mutiny), battle fatigue, drinking and looting, and occasions of panic. A very understandable example of the latter is a confrontation in Normandy where a number of crews, finding their Cromwell 75 mm rounds just bouncing off a Tiger's thick skin, simply bail out and run for it.

'The Tank War' clearly focuses on the human side rather than on the technical. Readers should not expect details on the Christie suspension system of the Cruiser or on the sizes of bolts in the Cromwell, but Urban does a very good job in describing the evolution of the tank throughout the war. The 5th RTR operated a variety of tanks, starting with unreliable Cruiser A13s, then transferring into reliable yet still small M3 Valentines, then M3 Grant, Crusader, Sherman, and finally in Normandy, Cromwell and Sherman Firefly. For laymen such as yours truly this is quite educational; I had never realized that armour piercing ammunition is just solid shot that does not explode when penetrating a tank but rather ricochets around inside, the effect augmented by shards of spalled-off armour.

To conclude, an excellent book about a very brave set of soldiers.
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on 10 January 2015
My paperback copy of 'The Tank War' has the subtitle "The British 'band of brothers' - one tank regiment's World War II" so those reviewers who thought they were buying a general history of tank units in the war should have read the blurb more thoroughly.

I must admit perhaps due to academic snobbery that I thought a journalist's book about 5th RTR would be full of derring-do and 'Boys Own' style stories of individual bravery and would not give me a great deal of insight - I am glad to be proved wrong and it is my loss that I did not read this book earlier.

Urban has chosen his subject wisely - a battalion that served throughout the war in all theatres (except the Far East) and he follows a small number of key personnel throughout the war blending the strategic, tactical and personal stories very well. In tracking these men through France 1940, the Desert War, Italy, Normandy and Germany he provides a case study of the British Army, its battles, its internal politics and struggle to get to grips with the bloody and unforgiving nature of modern warfare.

I found the discussion of the Normandy battles particularly illuminating. Whilst Urban is no apologist for Montgomery, he understands the restrictions that 5 years of war have placed on British manpower resources particularly in front-line infantry and the need to spearhead offensives with armoured units and immense air and artillery bombardment as in Operation Goodwood illustrates the dilemma perfectly.

The infamous Villers-Bocage incident which befell the sister unit of 5th RTR, the 4th CLY, is frequently used to demonstrate the ineptitude of British armour tactics compared to the brilliance of the German army. However as Urban shows, the immediate aftermath of that disaster showed the ability of British tankmen to rally and give their opponents a bloody nose. Those reviewers who say that the failings of 7th Armoured Division (of which 5th RTR was a part) in Normandy have been glossed over have clearly not read those passages where this subject is addressed head-on and where the divisional commander is dismissed from his post.

There is an immensely powerful human interest story in these pages and whether you identify with Wardrop, Hall, Bull and Crickmay et al or not you cannot help but become immersed in their personal war and their hopes and fears which Urban teases out through their diaries, interviews and official papers as the war progresses to its end.

I can safely say that anyone with an interest in the British army in the Second World War would benefit on a number of levels from reading this book and Urban should be congratulated for this intelligent and no-nonsense history of 5th RTR.
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on 25 June 2013
I think this is probably the best book about WW2 that I have read so far. A heady mix of facts and people which illustrated time and again the useful nature of tanks on a battlefield requiring a great deal of logistics and counter measures to contain the threat they represent. Also a cunning insight into the need for precision engineering to make mechanised warfare reliable enough. Further, a fascinating insight into the political nature of the British army at the time and the restrictive nature of the regimental system. Additionally, a quick insight into the first true arms race which the Germans were so close to winning at times plus the exploding of the many myths that surrounded the early German successes and the surprising efficacy of the British counter measures, often played down or forgotten, and the bravery of tank crews who frequently survived their tank being put beyond use by enemy action and seemingly just returning to get another in order to re-join the fray. Quite uplifting in its way and a good absorbing read.
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on 28 August 2015
This is a nicely balanced book, enough details and the global scene but also the very human details of those actually facing the ordeals, dangers and stresses. The humanity and the personal accounts shine out from the page, as this unit escapes from France in 1940 and finishes the war in Germany, with North Africa and Italy along the way.
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on 27 December 2015
This appears to have obtained a new subtitle since its first release? It is not a British 'Band of Brothers'. As an intimate small unit account it bears no comparison to Ambrose's book, or the brilliant HBO portrayal. It is, however an engaging, interesting account of 5 RTR at war. Unlike some, no doubt well informed reviewers, the odd inaccuracy, or perhaps generalisation, does not really detract from an interesting and informative read. Apart from a 'warts and all' account of the units performance, Urban gives some interesting (maybe never will be definitive) views on British tank development; the genuine worth of the Cromwell; the late change of cavalry to armour; and the manpower constraints that led to use of armour in Goodwood and other 'failed' operations in Normandy beloved of meticulous revisionist historians. Thought provoking, perhaps more NCO based than many regimental histories, I enjoyed reading this, and would recommend it as a good general view of a British armoured unit in the war in Europe.
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on 20 March 2016
This is the only book I've read on the British tank aspect of the Second World War, so I cannot compare it to others. However, I have read other historical books written by Mark Urban which are both well researched and well written, and this did not disappoint.
I had previously heard of the Villers-Bocage incident in the Normandy battle, which is normally used to demonstrate the ineptitude of British tactics. Mark Urban, in contrast gives a fuller picture of the fighting at that time, and the excellent way the RTR acquitted themselves. He quotes the New Zealand Brigadier James Hargest, who blamed the cavalry's adaptation of tanks on such shortcomings, and that every unit of armour should belong the the RTR.
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on 27 May 2013
Mark urban writes consistently interesting and human accounts of what it's like to be a soldier, whether it be in the Peninsular War or as in this book, WW2. He uses his well established method of taking several soldiers of varying rank and following them through the various campaigns to tell a detailed and human story. In this case it is 5th RTR, a unit close to my own family and indeed one of the soldiers Mark follows through the war is my uncle. If you want to feel the claustrophobia of being in a tank during some of the fiercest fighting of the war this book is for you, I for one shall never view what my uncle and others went through in the same light again.
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on 15 May 2013
This book is needed badly. The number of books that degrade the tank operations of the British army seems to be the in thing. This book gives the true storey of the tank men in the desert Italy and the continent. The learning curve of these operations is clearly shown, as the tank men learned the hard way how to defeat superior tanks. Mark Urban books have always covered the content very well, and this book is no exception. I recommend this book, both to the proffesional and general reader.
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on 7 August 2015
A facinating insight into the experiences, thoughts and feelings of British tank crews in the Second World War. Full of human stories throughout, it really is 'the British Band of Brothers'. Also a lot of historical background into British tank design and doctrine, and the campaigns fought.
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on 11 November 2015
Bought this as my own father served in the eighth army's armoured division in all the areas covered in this book. He was in the army from 39-46 and like most of his generation never really discussed his service.
A casual remark at a meal for my sons twenty second birthday(stated that he was at El Alamein when he was twenty two) led me to try and get stories from him but to little effect.
So I read this book to try and understand what his life was like during those six years. Unfortunately my dad passed before this book was published so I could not discuss it with him. However both his grandsons are reading it to understand and appreciate what their grandfathers generation went through to allow them to live as they wish.
I found the book absorbing in the casual manner it describes the horror and sacrifices of war ,and it's reliance of the stories of individuals it's strength. Highly recommended
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