There are tons of books on US armoured divisions and on hardware, so it is good to find a work like this that focuses on the less well-publicised independent tank battalions attached to the Infantry Divisions. For those unfamiliar with the concept, the US entered World War Two with two different ideas of armoured warfare based on the popular ideologies developed in Europe after the Great War. There were the Armoured Divisions, based around battalions of tanks and their immediate support services, that would act as a steel armada steaming across the enemy lines. These Divisions were not encumbered with much in the way of infantry troops, and in this respect followed the notions of JCF “Boney” Fuller, the great theorist of Britain’s Tank Corps.
The infantry needed support, though, and to serve the purpose a number of battalions were released from the Armoured Divisions to fall under the command of the Infantry Divisions as needed. (The British employed a similar split between “cavalry” and “infantry” roles, but went further to develop specialised vehicles for each. The US units by comparison all used standard Light and Medium tank designs regardless of the battalion’s role.) These battalions were late in coming, though, and without time to test the mechanics of Tank-Infantry cooperation it seems most of their doctrine was written on the battlefield.
Published in 2010 by Stackpole Books, this hard-bound book is a fairly standard 6x9-inch format on rag paper. There are 392 pages, broken down into 307 of text and a reference section of a whopping 83 pages including two appendices, chapter notes, large bibliography, and subject index. Then there are 33 black & white photos on 16 pages of glossy paper in the middle of the book, mostly two per page. I counted no less than 35 maps scattered throughout the text.
Appendix A has a list of each Tank Battalion with a paragraph on its history including activation date & location, overseas deployment, and service. Appendix B lists the major campaigns of World War Two – “Normandy (6 June to 24 July 1944)” – and the Tank Battalions which took part. The bibliography is split into three sections to cover traditional published works, articles and websites, and unpublished reports.
The author, Harry Yeide, set himself a daunting task since the separate battalions served in the Pacific, Africa, Italy, and Northwest Europe. The sheer volume of information really cries out for a set of separate books, limiting the degree to which the author can delve into details. The work also has to start with an overview of the creation of US tank forces in the 1930s as well as high-level background for each operation covered. However, Yeide manages to juggle this mix of general and specific subjects very well. It should be mentioned that although the book is a study of the separate or “independent” battalions it necessarily has to deal with the Armoured Divisions as well – the separate battalions were drawn from them at various times and in action they had occasion to mingle. This can be a little confusing to follow.
The layout follows the general chronology of the war. This allows each section to build on the “lessons learned” from earlier actions, but does lead to jumping about between the main war-theatres. Also, the author does not focus on particular hardware, so the text (like the battalions themselves) is sprinkled with light tanks, mediums, and amphibians like the Amtrac depending on the operation being discussed.
My familiarity with the development of tank doctrine made it easy to follow the various arguments the author puts forward, but for anyone starting out in the subject I’d recommend looking at some of the works in the very ample bibliography to understand the full implications of topics like McNair’s “tank destroyer” doctrine. If there is a surprise in the way the author presents doctrine it is the way he managed to draw no references at all to well-known seminal works on the subject of armour by the likes of JCF Fuller and Heinz Guderian, as well as the war-diary of Hans Von Luck. This does not detract from the quality of Yeide’s story however, and the book seems very well rounded, but it does cause strange omissions in an otherwise generous bibliography. Despite this I certainly feel the two appendices and the bibliography make this book a “must” for WW2 enthusiasts.
For a modeller like me the photos are a disappointment, as some are a bit grainy and most are reproduced too small for clarity. I’d have preferred to see most of them as full-page pictures to maximise the details. The maps sprinkled around the text are a bit odd, with many looking like they were perhaps originally formatted for colour printing instead of the grey-tones of the book. Some of them also look a bit like “works in progress” from computer mapping software rather than polished book illustrations. However, they do serve a purpose and contain the necessary information referred to in the text so I can’t complain too much. Besides, there are lots of them – far more than most event-history books of similar size – which is very welcome indeed.
This is an interesting subject for a Sherman-nut like me, and the hefty amount of reference materials at the back make this book worthy of a place in the collection. More and bigger photos would have been nice for us modellers, but then I suppose the author was writing a history of the Tank Battalions rather than compiling a modeller’s photo-gallery.
Many thanks to Chris Evans at Stackpole Books for the review copy!
Highs: Fine history of US Armoured Force development and service. Great reference section!Lows: Some photos too small, odd map styles.Verdict: Recommended reading for US WW2 armour fans!