Book Review: Armored Campaign in Normandy by Stephen Napier

Armored Campaign in Normandy June-August 1944 by Stephen Napier

51ORzhG5PSL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_Much ink has been spilled over the past 70 years on the Normandy Campaign of 1944 and about the tanks used in that campaign.  Author Stephen Napier decided to put his own mark on the discussion with his new book ” The Armored Campaign in Normandy.”  At over 400 pages of text, this is an impressive work,  well documented and footnoted.

Napier’s central thesis is that the performance of British Armored forces in Normandy was rather lackluster and often failed in the face of resistance from German forces, even when significantly outnumbering their opponents.  He lays the blame for this on a variety of factors, including General Montgomery, British divisional and regimental commanders, British tank doctrine and technical deficiencies of British tanks.  His analysis of the German commanders is even more harsh, noting the convoluted chain of command of the German forces in Normandy which was almost guaranteed to create indecision, confusion and defeat.

Napier approaches the subject by breaking down each of the major operations of the Normandy Campaign as a separate chapter, each chapter divided up by the combatants.  This approach means that the majority of the book focuses on the British Army and their Canadian and Polish allies.  The German and American armored forces are included, although they receive far fewer pages.  The book starts out with an examination of the use of armor on D-Day, focusing on the swimming “DD tanks” used on the beaches of Normandy by British and US forces.  He ultimately concludes that these DD tanks were not particularly effective and that Allied forces would have been just as well relying on tanks landed by LCT ships (although he notes that the US was much harsher in their judging of the DD tanks than the British.)

The next chapter is on the only one not focused on a particular battle, but rather describes the tanks and tactics used by the combatants of the Normandy Campaign.  Napier describes the armor and firepower deficiencies of the M4 Sherman and British Cromwell compared to some of their heavier German tank adversaries.  He also describes some of the daily realities that tankers faced in the Normandy Campaign, their lives spent maintaining and living inside a cramped metal box on treads.

The rest of the book is broken down into ten more chapters, each looking at a major operation.  Since most of these operations, such as Epson, Goodwood, Totalize, or Tractable, were initiated by UK forces, the focus of much of the book is on British armored units.  Napier’s descriptions of these battles is lively and he presents a good deal of detail.  Intermixed with his descriptions of the battles are quotes taken from participants of the action, both Allied and German.  These quotes add considerably to the book, helping to keep the readers interest and provide some color.  One nice touch is that Napier usually follows up these quotes with relevant information from the historical record.  This is quite useful in regards to the quotes from some of the German tank commanders who often make claim to killing a certain number of tanks.  Napier sometimes follows these quotes with unit loss figures from Allied sources, often showing that the German tankers exaggerated their kill counts by a factor of 2 or 3.

In popular accounts of the Normandy Campaign, much is often made about the technical disparities between Allied armor and the dreaded German Tiger and Panther tanks.  Napier addresses this issue, but keeps it within its proper context.  He notes that while this was factor, it was certainly not the only factor in explaining the sometimes poor performance of British Armor versus their German adversary.  If anything, the reader comes away with the impression that by 1944, the tank had lost the aura of invincibility that it had in the 1939-1941 era and that any attack by armor against a position well defended by tanks and anti-tank guns was bound to suffer heavy casualties.  This is illustrated not just by the attacks carried out by British units, but also by the counterattacks attempted by the German Panzer forces.  Despite whatever technical advantages the Panzer forces might have had, when used on the offensive in the Normandy Campaign, they almost always failed to achieve their goals.  This is well illustrated in the chapter on the ill-fated German Mortain counter-attack.

The book comes with a center section of black and white photographs.  While interesting, these pages would have been better used to include a more detailed series of maps.  The few maps included in the book are frankly a bit inadequate considering the number of battles described in the text.  That said, the book itself is well made and the paper quality good.  Personally, we feel that a picture of a British tank would have been more appropriate than the Tiger tank which adorns the front duct jacket, but we realize that nothing sells a tank book quite like the image of a Tiger tank.  That said, we highly recommend this book for those looking for an account of armor in the Normandy Campaign.

Special thanks to Casemate publishing for providing a review copy.

From the Vault: Modern Mechanix.com AFV Articles

Modern Mechanix.com is a great website that hosts hundreds of old magazine articles and ads about technology.  We combed through the site to find as many posts as we could relating to tanks or armored vehicles.  Below is a list of what we found.  Many of these articles are rather amusing since the technology presented is either fantastical or just plain impractical. Not much of use for the serious researcher, but it should provide some entertainment for tank and AFV fans.

Why Don’t We Build… Underwater Tanks (1950)

Why Don’t We Build… Underwater Tanks (1950)

Flying tanks that shed their wings

Flying tanks that shed their wings (1932)

fort_on_wheels_0

Our Forts On Wheels (1917)

Novel War Tank Resembles a Rolling Ball (1936)

Novel War Tank Resembles a Rolling Ball (1936)

Super War Tanks (1936)

Super War Tanks (1936)

Why Don’t We Have… Baby Assault Tanks (1952)

Why Don’t We Have… Baby Assault Tanks (1952)

Phonograph Disks Run Crewless War Tank (1934)

Phonograph Disks Run Crewless War Tank (1934)

The Flame Tank (1936)

The Flame Tank (1936)

New Giant Tanks…PEACEMAKERS OR WAR BRUTES (1935)

New Giant Tanks…PEACEMAKERS OR WAR BRUTES (1935)

I Drove A Nazi Tank (1941)

I Drove A Nazi Tank (1941)

Now It’s LAND BATTLESHIPS! 1941)

Now It’s LAND BATTLESHIPS! 1941)

War Tank on One Wheel OPERATED BY ONE MAN (1933)

War Tank on One Wheel OPERATED BY ONE MAN (1933)

 

Nuts and Bolts of Tanks Video SeriesWoT

A couple weeks ago we posted links to a Russian language series of videos created by World of Tanks examining different factors in tank design.  I appears that World of Tanks Europe has released a similar English language version of the series as well.  These videos are pretty basic in terms of the information presented, but people may enjoy the footage presented.

DSEI 2015 Video on UK Scout SV renamed Ajax

A video featuring Jane’s 360 reporter Chirstopher Foss at the recent DSEI 2015 exhibition explaining the new UK Scout SV vehicle which has been renamed Ajax.

UK considers new MBT

Jane’s is reporting that the UK is looking for upgrade or replacement options for their current fleet of Challenger 2 MBTs.  According to the article:

BriA Challenger 2 main battle tank, of the Queens Royal Lancers, crosses an Iraqi defensive ditch by means of a General Support Bridge prepared by 39 Squadron, 32 Regiment, Royal Engineers.  Troops of the 1st Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, provided a guard as the sappers breached these first obstacles, clearing the way for British troops to enter Iraq.tish Army officers have become increasingly worried about the Challenger 2’s effectiveness, particularly the lethality of its L30A1 120mm rifled main gun and its suite of ammunition. One officer told IHS Jane’s that “the appearance of the T-14 Armata has had a significant impact and assessments of the new Russian tank’s armour and self-defence systems [have] suggested that the Challenger 2’s 120mm main armament no longer cuts it”.

The article says that the scope of the program has yet to be determined, options ranging from a limited life extension program to upgrade the most outdated components or a wider set of improvements.  The UK currently only operates 227 Challenger 2 vehicles.  The article stated that the option to replace the Challenger 2 with a different vehicle had not been ruled out.

Full article here.

The Chieftain’s Hatch: Armored Board talks 90mm

chieftains hatchNicolas “The Chieftain” Moran has posted a new article over in his “Chieftain’s Hatch” section of the World of Tanks online forum.  This article looks at minutes of a meeting that the Armored Board held on 17th May 1944 which he dug up while searching in the Archives. These particular meeting minutes deal with the 90mm armed M4 Sherman, a vehicle that only existed as a single prototype.  This vehicle has been mentioned before, particularly in ‘Armored Thunderbolt” by Steven Zaloga, where he states that a Sherman tank equipped with the turret and 90mm gun of the T26 was rejected due to the fact that it would not enter production any sooner than the T26.  This is confirmed in the minutes dug up by the Chieftain.  It is also interesting that General Barnes (Head of Ordnance) states that the production of 90mm guns is the bottleneck in the construction of these tanks.  The production of 90mm guns was completely stopped; it must be started again from the beginning.

The full article can be read here.

Video: Christopher Foss on Warrior IFV upgrades at DSEI 2015

Here is a video from the recent DSEI 2015 exhibition explaining the Warrior capability sustainment program (WCSP) for the UK Warrior IFV.  Click on the image below to go to the video.

wcsp video

From the Vault: A Survey of Tank Crew Problems

tank crew issuesToday we present a document from the Medical Research Laboratory at Fort Knox from 1952 on ‘Tank Crew Problems.”  This report examines issues reported by tank crews concerning ergonomic issues of US tanks, primarily the M4 Sherman series.  The report is divided in five different sections, one for each crew position.  This is not a very long report, totaling about 23 pages.  We have reprinted some of the specific crew complaints below, they should prove rather interesting to anyone looking for information on what it was like to be a Sherman or M26/M46 tank crewman (these were copy-pasted from the PDF, so there might be some typos.)  Special thanks to forum member LeuCeaMia over at SH for pointing this document out.  A PDF of the full report can be downloaded here.

Problems of the Commander

1. When operating the tank radio it is necessary to hold the spring-loaded switch on the BC606 control with one hand while holding * the microphone to the lips with the button depressed with the other hand. While going cross-country in rough terrain, my tank was taken under fire by enemy troops. In attempting to radio to other tanks in my platoon, I was unable to hold on securely and operate the radio, too. The tank came off a rice paddy and I was severely shaken up and fell to the turret floor.

[Read more…]

Hunnicutt’s Abrams and Pershing Books Reprinted

51kvxIYQoHL._SX385_BO1,204,203,200_Echo Point Books & Media have released a reprints of Abrams: A History of the American Main Battle Tank, Vol. 2 and Pershing: A History of the Medium Tank T20 Series by R. P. Hunnicutt.  The Abrams book is available in either softcover for $45 or hardcover for $55 while the Pershing book is $40 for the softcover or $50 for hardcover .  With the reprinting of Abrams and Pershing, Echo Point has now reprinted six of the ten books that Hunnicutt wrote documenting the history of US Armor.  Hunnicutt’s book ‘Firepower: the history of US Heavy Tanks”, is believed to be reprinted soon by the folks over at World of Tanks.  That leaves only Sheridan, Armored Car, and Bradley as available only in the original editions.  Fortunately, these three were later books in the series and generally can be found for under $100 on the used book market

51Xp1KKyCEL._SX385_BO1,204,203,200_It’s fair to say that the works of R. P. Hunnicutt are essential items in the collection of anyone serious about learning about US Armor history.  The Abrams book covers not only the development of the Abrams, but also earlier attempts at developing a new MBT during the cold war, such as the T-95 and the MBT-70.  The book was published in 1990, so it does not include any information on Abrams variants past that date.  Pershing covers the development of the T-20 series through to the M26 Pershing.  Used copies of the original hardcover editions of these books are long out of print and command $100+ prices on the used book market, so these affordable reprints are most certainly a welcome development for tank and AFV aficionados.

UK renames the Scout SV the “Ajax”

1642831_-_mainJane’s is reporting that the United Kingdom has renamed its Scout SV tracked reconnaissaince vehicle as Ajax at the recent Defense and Security Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition.  The Ajax name will apply to the entire family of vehicles, of which the UK has ordered 589.  These vehicles will be produced by General Dynamics UK in a manufacturing contract worth 5.4 billion dollars.  Of these vehicles, 245 will be the version armed with the CTA International 40mm Case Telescoped Armament System in a turret produced by Lockheed Martin UK.  Names have also been assigned to the other variants.  They include a reconnaissance support vehicle named Ares (93 ordered), a command and control vehicle named Athena (112), an equipment repair vehicle known as Apollo (50), equipment recovery variant called Atlas (38) and an engineering reconnaissance vehicle named Argus (51).  Three Ajax prototypes are scheduled to be delivered in 2016.