In a logical follow-up to NVG 100 on the British Heavy Tanks Marks I to III, David Fletcher turns his attention to the Mark IV. The Mark IV can be regarded as the first ‘true’ tank, earlier marks being largely experimental, and it carried the Tank Corps through the dark days of 1917 and the short-lived success of Cambrai. Although largely replaced by the Mark V during 1918, the Mark IV soldiered on to victory at the end of the war.
In Brief - Contents
The book follows the usual New Vanguard layout, with 48 pages, photos and colour plates; the contents of the book are organised under the following headings:
- The first main battle tank
- The Mark IV described
- The Tank Corps Expands
- Into battle
- Mechanical improvements
- 1918 – The final battles
The headings are largely self-explanatory and David Fletcher’s usual lucid text carries the reader through the decision-making process that led to the production of the Mark IV before offering some useful hints on recognition and a description of how the tank was assembled on the factory floor. As usual with British armaments development, the process seems to have been more than a little chaotic, with a major error by Albert Stern leaving the Mark IV saddled with the gearbox of the earlier marks.
The confines of the New Vanguard format mean that combat history can only be touched on, for example the Cockcroft action is the only combat at 3rd Ypres that gets anything like a narrative description. To make up for this there is material Operation Hush, the proposed landing on the Belgian coast, including a very good photo of one of the winching tanks. Mark IVs also saw action in the Middle East, at 3rd Gaza, before being left behind in the pursuit of the Turkish army when conditions reverted to 19th century warfare.
The mechanical improvement section is mainly concerned with experimental work. W.O. Bentley (of car fame) managed to boost the power of the engine, only to be let down by failures in the gearbox and final drive. Uprated tanks were relegated to supply carrying as a result.
Early 1918 was probably the nadir of the Tank Corps fortunes with Mark IVs left behind to ambush the advancing Germans, leading to them being referred to as ‘savage rabbits’. By the summer, the Mark V appeared with an improved gearbox, this wasn’t the end for the Mark IV as they soldiered on as supply tanks and also as fighting tanks with two Tank Corps battalions. Mark IVs participated in both of the tank battles of the Great War, first with Lt Mitchell against A7Vs and towards the end of 1918 against German-crewed Mark IVs at Niergnies. The final section covers the other uses of the Mark IV, first as a booster for War Bonds and finally when totally obsolete as memorials. Of course most of these presentation tanks were scrapped in 1940, although some were used for home defence, luckily for us one was restored to working order by the Royal Navy (Excellent, below). Very few were exported, since they were outdated, but the Japanese got one together with some Whippets.
The photographic content is overall very good, about half of it is new to me and, better still, is printed at a reasonable size. Captions are, as usual with the author, informative. Plates are by Tony Bryant, and, of course, excellent. Colour notes at the beginning point out that Mark IVs were brown, which is good to have confirmed. The tanks featured include Deborah, excavated by Philippe Gorczynski from its resting place and now preserved, and Lodestar, on display in Brussels still bearing original paint and markings. The centrespread is an inspired choice, showing the tank during assembly, tying in neatly with the text earlier in the book. Also depicted is Excellent, shown as it was in WW2 after being restored to running condition. Excellent of course featured in the BBCTV series Soldiers, driven by Fletcher himself, though the date given for the series (1983) is surely wrong.
I’d like to thank Osprey Publishing for their generosity in providing the review copy. Here's hoping for more by the same author covering the Mark V and also the Medium Tanks.