Lately I have been thinking a good deal about the role of Walter J. Christie in pre-WWII tank development. As I have been attempting to assemble as much information concerning Christie as I can, I discovered that in the mid 1980’s, Christie’s son Edward wrote a short book about his father’s career called “Steel Steeds Christie.” This book was published by a vanity press and is now quite rare and expensive. Fortunately, ARMOR magazine featured a review of this book back in the Jan-Feb 1986 issue. The review, by retired Col, Leo D. Johns, is quite negative, prompting a number of replies from both Edward Christie defending his book, and other readers posting even harsher reviews than the original one by Col, Johns. I have reprinted the original review below as well as the various letters to the editor concerning the book. I have provided these letters in part as a warning to anyone thinking about shelling out the dough to purchase a copy of this rare book, but primarily because I think these letters are really quite entertaining.
ARMOR book review Jan-Feb 1986 issue
STEEL STEEDS CHRISTIE: by J.
Edward Christie. Sunflower University
Press, Manhattan, KS. 1985. 86 pages,
softbound. $1 5.95.
Armor buffs, military historians, and a multitude of others have been waiting many years for a definitive work on the life and armored vehicle developments of J. Walter Christie. They will have to continue to wait, as this is not it. Written by his son, J. Edward Christie, it is an emotional rendering of remembrances of life with J. Walter Christie as he attempted to promote his various vehicles – sometimes by ordinary and occasionally by rather overwhelming means. The personal remembrances are filled out by research into the times and events in which the son did not participate, such as the work on the early racing cars, automobiles, and fire engine conversions. While the book contains some rather unusual quotations by some well known personalities, the portions having to do with military vehicles have too numerous technical and historical errors.
Note need be taken of only a couple, since to cover them all would require another book. On page 20, the statement is made that the Model 1919 Christie Tank (called the M-1917-19 Tank in the book) was unveiled at Aberdeen Proving Ground in November, 1919. True, there was a Christie vehicle at Aberdeen in November, 1919 -the pilot model of the first Christie Self-Propelled Mount for the 155-mm Gun, which was demonstrated there in that month for the Chief of Artillery. However, the contract for the design of the Model 1919 Christie Tank was prepared November 28, 1919, and the tank arrived at Aberdeen for official testing on February 5, 1921. Testing was suspended on April 21 at Christie’s request as it was impossible to further operate the tank without serious damage resulting. Before it returned to Aberdeen, it would be extensively modified into the Model 1921 Tank.
Also on page 20, the author offers a tale on the supposed initial firing of the Christie Self-Propelled Mount for the 155-mm Gun, which he indicates as occurring in the same month, November, 1919, that the tank was supposedly unveiled. The gun mount actually arrived at Aberdeen on July 11, 1919, was driven to the firing range, and fired its initial rounds on July 12, 1919. The testing team, which probably was involved in the demonstration for the Chief of Artillery, took station under cover – most likely because the ammunition being fired was not considered bore safe – a standard precaution of this and other times.
The many illustrations are, in the main good. Most have been previously published. Even so, numerous illustrations are miscaptioned. The sketch on page 18 of the supposed truck used in the Pershing expedition is a copy, with changed wheels, of the Christie Model 1917 Anti-Aircraft Gun Mount, shown just below the sketch. They were completely different vehicles, the former having only front wheel drive with a farm wagon style rear end and about twice the ground clearance of the anti-aircraft gun mount. On pages 28 and 29, the same photograph is shown with different captions.
In summary, this memoir is indeed an interesting book to read, strongest in the early parts covering the Christie automobiles. But it should not be considered technically and historically correct as a reference on the achievements of automotive and armor pioneer J. Walter Christie. Use only with a host of other references. (British readers will not be pleased with the book, as on page 66 the author refers to General Rommel as the Desert Rat!)
LEO D. JOHNS
Colonel, USA (Ret.)
Newport News, VA.
Edward Christie responds:
ARMOR Letters to the Editor Jul-Aug 1986
The review of Steel Steeds Christie. in the January-February issue of ARMOR, is in some cases incorrect and misinterpreted and severely needs correction. Where the summary is feebly favorable, it leaves much to be set straight …
There has never been a book published that dealt with J. Walter Christie’s life and inventions in detail until my book, Steel Steeds Christie, was published. It was not written exclusively for “armor buffs” and “military historians,” but also for “the multitude of others (who) have been waiting many years for a definitive work on the life and armored vehicle developments of J. Walter Christie.” Contrary to what Colonel Johns states in the opening paragraphs of his review, it is just that! (The books covers) his turret-buitding days for the U.S. Navy, his front-wheel-drive automotive era, commercial truck days, Christie fire engine conversion tractors, the Marines’ amphibian vehicles, and U.S. Ordnance gun carriages – all of them invented by J. Walter Christie- and what about the modern fastest Christie high-speed tanks on record? This encompasses more than just armor buffs and historians, who have not been overlooked. I could have written a technical textbook; I have ample data if I wanted to.
My father’s detailed spoken events, recited to me, were sufficient for my records, plus the records in the family Bible … l didn’t need 250 written references by others, many of them inaccurate, to write my Steel Steeds Christie. In addition to my participating in many historical events, I worked on many of the vehicle projects from 1928 to 1944 with my father.
… The caption mistakes are mostly miscaptioned by my publisher and his staff. The sketches on page 18 that you mention are photos and the errors underneath the photos were incorrectly placed there by the publisher’s staff, even though my original manuscript contained the correct captions.
Enclosed is a picture of the truck used in the 1916 Pershing Mexican campaign; it was a 4×4. Also on pages 28 and 29, the same photograph is shown with different captions … the errors here again were my publisher’s: they had the correct pictures before them – as they appear in my manuscript – and it was called to their attention, but was not corrected. Additionally, the 4×4 truck of the Pershing Mexican campaign was adapted from the Christie fire engine tractor and was only a forerunner of the Christie Model 1917 antiaircraft gun mount, which did not exist at that time.
My captions are correct and I can identify almost all of the people standing (in the photos) or driving the Christie. In the past, many’ authors have used incorrect captions and these have been copied incorrectly by others. Who would know better than I what the captions should be?
Colonel Johns refers to. the “supposed initial firing of the Christie Self-Propelled Mount for the 155-mm Gun” as a tale. My eyewitness account of the firing of the gun is a fact, not a tale. My father mentioned to me that it would be the biggest firecracker I would ever set off, so it could possibly have been in July, in conjunction with firecracker-firing time.
Many tests of Christie’s gun carriages, armored vehicles, and tanks were conducted at Sandy Hook,. Rock Island Arsenal, Camp Meade, Fort Halibut, Aberdeen, Fort Knox. Fort Benning, etc., many, many times. My father tested his own vehicles on his own testing grounds before they were presented for the so-called “official tests,” and many dates were recorded wrong ….
J. EDWARD CHRISTIE
In the same issue, Col. Johns responds to Christie’s rebuttal
With respect to J. Edward Christie’s letter, about all I have to say is as follows: To be rated definitive orra subject, a book should at least be authoritative, precisely accurate, exhaustive of the subject, and leave no room for doubt. For reasons stated in the review, I do not consider that Mr. Christie’s Steelsteeds Christie meets these criteria.
This in no way casts adverse reflections on the inventive genius of either the Iate J. Walter Christie or of his son, J. Edward Christie. The work of J. Walter Christie has been covered piecemeal in numerous publications over the years, including. many official documents in the National Archives. Use of these type publications and documents, official and unofficial, are key-to the production of an authoritative, accurate, and exhaustive.book on almost any subject.
As an example, take a look at the photo in the upper left hand corner of page 160 of Fred W. Crismon’s U.S. Military Wheeled Vehicles. and see if that is the vehicle in the sketch printed in the upper third of page 18 of Steel steeds Christie. Nothing in Mr. Christie’s letter or its enclosures would lead me to modify any part of the book review.
LEO D. JOHNS
Colonel, USA (Ret.)
Newport News, VA
Also in the same issue of ARMOR, a rather scathing review of Steel Steeds Christie is provided by retired ordnance officer Fred Crimson.
I have just seen a copy of the January- February issue of ARMOR Magazine and noticed the review of J. Edward Christie’s book, Steel Steeds Christie.
You have no idea just how relieved I am that someone else reviewed this little volume, About three years ago, the editors of Automotive Quarterly asked if 1 would review a manuscript which had been sent to them, unsolicited, for comments. They found that the manuscript for a book entitled Steel Steeds Christie, told very little of the era involving Christie’s famous racing cars(which AQ had already covered magnificently several years earlier), but seemed to dwell on the military ventures of J. Walter Christie. And they warned that the author, J. Edward Christie, son of J. Walter, might just be a tad touchy to deal with.
Having been forewarned, I nonetheless accepted the offer, as I was curious to know what the younger Mr. Christie would say, and devoutly hoped he would have access to good photographs. Many Christie vehicles are only known by dismal, heavily retouched photographs – indeed, some are so heavily retouched one has to ask whether the vehicles actually existed.
In short, the manuscript was depressing. It was a child-like rendition of J. Edward’s remembrances, accompanied by photographs and drawings even worse than those historically available! And it was unbelievably inaccurate and naive, indicating J. Edward had not even done minimal research on the documented life and work of his father …
I prepared a long, carefully worded critique so as not to overly offend, but there was no way there would not be some offense in what I had to say. I offered to provide good photographs from my collection. and mailed it off.
In return; I received the most vituperative letter I have ever read, essentially saying that he should have known an Ordnance officer (in 1983, yet!) would be strongly prejudiced against the great accomplishments of J. Walter (in 1919-1940) and that he should have realized I would reflect the “official Ordnance dogma”.
Obviously, he ignored most of my suggestions concerning both the manuscript and the illustrations. The book appeared in print almost exactly as.he had written the original manuscript. He did delete one photo which I pointed out was quite well-known, from an Aberdeen Proving Ground negative, and that his doctoring of it by scissors or white-out to claim it was a completely different vehicle would definitely be noticed.
… Although vanity presses will print anything you pay them to, it seems a real shame that a book as flawed as Steel Steeds Christie is even on the market and will be accepted by unknowing readers as gospel. And the worst part is that the book is about someone who was quite famous in his day, and about whom we should be hearing facts, not emotional fiction.
Please pass my sentiments of appreciation on to Colonel Johns for his astute review …
FRED W. CRISMON
7th Army CATC
(Major Crismon, a retired Ordnance officer, is the author of U.S. Military Wheeled Vehicles and a frequent reviewer for ARMOR.)
Also in the same issue, D.P. Dyer, a contributor to the AFV News bulletin provided his own assessment of the Christie book.
I read with interest the book.review of Steel Steeds Christie in the January- February issue by Colonel Leo D. Johns. He is perfectly correct in stating that it would require another book to rectify all the errors in this one. Where I disagree with Colonel Johns is when he states that the personal remembrances are filled out by research into the times and events in which the son did not participate. The whole book is afflicted by a complete lack of any research. Plagiarism is very evident, along with a strong streak of fantasy, what must be an extremely poor memory and vivid imagination. In the main, J.Edward Christie is ignorant regarding the details of the majority of his father’s designs. Attached is a copy of a review of the same book I had,published in AFVNews, Vol. 21, No. 1 ). A copy of this had previously been supplied to J. Edward Christie in September to let him know there are people who know him for what he is. Since this date, I have advised him of 34 main errors and falsifications just dealing with the military vehicles. This doesn’t take note of the multitude of omissions.
D. P. DYER
Constantine, near Falmouth
Thank you kindly for publishing the major edited portion of my letter of March 15, 1986, in the July-August issue of ARMOR Magazine. (Mr. Christie in his letter took issue with ARMOR’S review of his recent book. “Steel Steeds Christie.” I am enclosing here in six Zerox copies of various letters which I received, concerning “Steel Steeds Christie,” which are self-explanatory. I received a number of others, in the similar characteristic vein, and shall be glad to furnish copies if you wish to have them.
Your biased and opinionated reviewers are only cognizant of their own limited views, and their blinders will keep out any streak of enlighted light. There is no “emotional fiction” in the book, as Major Crismon, a retired ordnance officer, has claimed, and that it was inaccurate and naive. He merely reflects the standard ordnance dogma to alibi ordnance’s atrocious treatment of J. Walter Christie. The documented research on the life of J. Walter Christie certainly is minimal, and mostly incorrect. What need did I have for the incorrect documentation, when I had the recital directly from my father as well as my daily personal contacts with him and his historical projects?
Furthermore, these so-called reviewers have never produced a shred of official evidence to confirm their verbose attacks on me and my book. If they showed more truthful emotions, they wouldn’t act like programmed humanoids.
J. EDWARD CHRISTIE
(Editor’s Note: Included with Mr.Christie’s letter were complimentray letters from U.S. Senators Lawton Chiles and Alfonse D’Arnato; J. R. Sculley. Assistant Secretary of the Army for Research, Development and Acquisition; L. Scott Bailey, publisher of Automobile Quarterly; William E. Baumgardner, director of the Antique Auto Club; and Charles M. Province, president of the George S. Patton Society.)
I agree with Colonel Leo D. Johns’ review and comment, and the comments made by Phil Dyer, and especially, Fred Crismon. Steel Steeds Christie is a sorry memoir loaded with emotional bias, altering history in order to fit the would-be imperative of the past, and, at the same time, expunge embarrassing facts. However, it needed to be published, because not only does it stimulate a reaction and dialogue, it can be used as an example on how not to write a memoir. I agree with the book’s editor, Dr. Robin Higham, in letting J. Edward Christie say what he thinks, even if the book is distorted.
True, there has never been a book on the life and contributions of J. Walter Christie. Nevertheless, a number of extensive studies have been published reflecting considerable research and oral interviews. “The Ordnance Department: Planning Munitions for War” by Constance McL. Green, Harry-Thomson, and Peter Roots, (Washington: OCMH, 1955) is an extremely well-documented study, especially the chapter on research and development. Other studies: “The Demise of the U.S. Tank Corps and Medium Tank Development Program” (Military Affairs, February 1973); “A Yankee Inventor and the Military Establishment: The Christie Tank Controversy” (Military Affairs, February 1975,and reprinted in ARMOR, March-April 1976); “A Self-Made Automotive Engineer Finally Convinced the Military That an LVT Existed in the 1920s” (Marine Corps Gazette, September 1977); “The United States’ Contribution to Soviet Tank Technology” (RUSI, March 1980); and the “Troubled History of the Christie Tank”(ARMY, May 1986) are all based on a comprehensive examination of archival material. These articles – especially the ARMY article which was primarily written to refute Steel Steeds Christie – were not composed in a vacuum nor were they based on inaccurate documentation, as maintained by J. Edward Christie. Thousands of original documents can befound in the Ordnance Office General Correspondence Files and Ordnance Committee Minutes, Record Group 156, Washington National Record Center, Suitland, Maryland. Correspondences between Christie and the U.S. military, including Letters to and from the Office of the Secretary of War, are located in the former. The Records of the Chief of Arms, RG 177; the G-2 Intelligence Files, RG 165; and the Adjutant General’s Office, RG 407, all located in the National Archives, contain excellent material on the Christie affair. In addition, Christie documentation can be found in Decimal File, 1930-39(861.2422/5-6). Department of State, RG 56, NA.
The material from Record Groups 56 and 165 contain considerable documentation covering Christie’s duplicity in regards to his preference for dealing with the Soviet Union’s GRU and the Polish Government rather than the U.S. Army in 1930. Also, there are numerous highly respected contemporaries of Christie – including Generals L. H. Campbell, Jr., John Christmas, and Joseph Colby; and Colonels Robert lcks and George Jarrett -who had viewed with trepidation Christie’s exclusive personality and various machinations. Even General George S. Patton, Jr. had reservations, which he expressed as Christie’s “histrionic inclinations.” The late Colonel Robert lcks summed up the situation when he appropriately stated: “J. Walter Christie’s personality antagonized those with whom he came in contact … the vehicle itself was very fragile … overshadowed his good ideas.”
GEORGE F. HOFMANN, PhD