Daily Archives: May 13, 2009

Reviewlet: Tank Men by Robert Kershaw

When looking at military history it’s easy to view tanks in terms of statistics; on the strategic scale the numbers employed and distances covered, at an individual level armour thickness, gun calibre and velocity, engine power. Tank Men, as the name suggests, concentrates on the human element, the men (and, in some Soviet divisions, women) who crewed the tanks in World War I and II, an area sometimes overlooked not only by history but also early tank designers.

Based heavily on letters, diaries and personal testimonies, Tank Men looks at the whole experience of armoured warfare. The camaraderie of crews functioning together, crammed into tiny uncomfortable spaces, frequently roasting or freezing, always fatigued but having to maintain constant alertness. A recurring theme is dread of being trapped in a burning tank; crews would not only see the results, at extremely close quarters if recovering vehicles, but also sometimes hear trapped comrades over open radio nets. Some of the accounts are quite harrowing, and really bring home the horrific nature of war that’s all too easy to distance yourself from on the other side of a screen.

From the initial deployment of tanks in the battle of the Somme to VE Day, via the first tank versus tank engagement in 1918, Blitzkrieg, North Africa, Kursk and Normandy, Tank Men covers the key formative campaigns of the tank from the perspective of the men who fought in them. A thoroughly researched and gripping book, highly recommended.