In the past several months I have built a goodly number of tank models, and I have found the volumes treated here to be informative and fun to look at. One learns of the cardinal design triangle that goes into an armored design: the perfect blend of speed, firepower and protection. In their various ways, each of these books offers an in-depth look at the design specifications of the War’s tanks, supported by up-close photographs and illustrations.
I was able to find out everything I wanted to know about pre-War French tanks — a subject I was none too familiar with. Similarly, I could parse out the differences between KV-1 variants, in order to see how to finish my 1/72 version by Italeri properly. The same goes for any tank I have: Shermans, Japanese Chi-Ha, or British Cromwells.
Here I offer a taste of each book and things I like about them.
This handsome, large-format hard-cover book contains information about all of the turreted tanks of every nation that fought in World War Two. It does not try to cover other types of vehicles like tank destroyers, but by focusing only on tanks the author has managed to give a comprehensive, satisfying picture of these vehicles.
One of my favorite features in this book are its graphic comparisons of rival tank types at various stages of the war. It reminds me of the head-to-head comparisons that are a natural part of the Advanced Squad Leader game system, which gives detailed information on each tank just on the 1/2-inch counters.
This volume gives detailed specs for every Soviet tank from the time of the Revolution to the end of World War Two. Even obscure vehicles that never went into mass production are covered, often with photos of the prototypes.
In reading this book I was struck by the astronomical growth of the Soviet tank forces in a period of less than 30 years — but really over a period of only 15 years. In 1929 the USSR had but 340 tanks, virtually none of them of home-grown design. By 1941 the Russians had built an astounding 28,000 tanks, the most in the world, but they lost all but 1500 of them in the first year of the war. Winning the war required the mass production of good-but-not-the-best tanks (nearly 60,000 T-34 variants to 14,000 Pz Mk IV and V combined), but by 1945 the new generation of heavy tanks of the Red Army had not only defeated the apparent technical superiority of the Germans but then also proceeded to send shivers down the spines of the Western armies (6-7).
The Images of War take on tank history is, as one would expect, rich in photographs, both black and white from the past and color from contemporary armor museums. The result is that both tank buffs and modelling accuracy mavens will find all or most of the detail they could want about these vehicles. Michael Green’s accompanying text teaches readers the design concepts behind each tank.
For myself, the images came in handy as I recently built two early-war French tanks, the R35 and H35. RPM’s instructions are, unfortunately, small and not entirely clear, so it was extremely helpful to be able to refer to photos of the running gear and main guns, for example. Furthermore, it enhances my experience of building the models to know more about the tanks they represent.
Some of the results of my own recent work:
Michael Green’s companion to the Allied Tanks volume offers a similarly comprehensive history of Axis armor, with text to explain the concepts and photos to provide micro-detail. Like many of us military history enthusiasts, when I think of “Axis tanks” I immediately think mostly of German behemoths like the Tigers and Panthers — and, indeed, the majority of the book does provide great detail about German tanks — but one of this book’s welcome strengths is its extensive coverage of all Axis tanks, including Czech, Italian, Japanese and Hungarian vehicles.
One surprise for me was to learn about Japanese late-war tanks with high-velocity 75mm anti-tank guns — all of which were held in reserve for the defense of the Home Islands that (thankfully) never occurred.
Each time I read a book like these, my own expertise (and therefore my ability to immerse myself in a particular vein of history) grows. Of course, in this era one can find a great deal of information like that contained in these reference works by searching online, and that mode of exploration certainly holds its own pleasures. For myself, however, the book that I can take with me to the bedside and relax with in a way that might not happen with a screen, the book that I can have open at my workbench — the book that contains the well organized work of someone who has invested more time and effort than I ever will — remains a pleasure worth maintaining.