Author Profile: R. P. Hunnicutt

ore0003165667_2_023148Echo Point Books has released reprint editions of “Bradley” and “Armored Car” by R. P. Hunnicutt.  This brings the number of Hunnicutt titles reprinted by Echo Point Books up to eight.  Only two Hunnicutt titles that have not been reprinted, “Fire Power” and “Sheridan.”

For those not familiar with the works of Richard Pearce Hunnicutt (1926-2011), his ten volume set chronicling the history of US armored vehicle development is unparalleled.  Despite the importance of his works, his name is not as well known as some authors who write about tanks and armor due to the fact that his ten volume set was published in relatively small print runs and priced outside the range of most casual readers. His ten volume set was written over the course of  thirty-one years, the first book being published in 1971 and the final volume in 2002.

Hunnicutt was a veteran of World War II and after the war pursued a master’s degree in engineering from Stanford University.  He went on to work at General Motors and later on became a partner in an engineering firm named ANAMET.  Hunnicutt’s professional specialty was metallurgy and he was recognized as one of the most knowledgeable expert in that field in California.

His success in his professional life gave him the means to pursue his hobby of researching and writing about US armored vehicles.  He formed friendships and connections with many of the critical figures in US armor history, as evidenced by the many tank luminaries who wrote the forwards to his books.  Hunnicutt was also one of the founders of the U.S. Army Ordnance Museum at Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD as well as a supporter and friend to the Patton Museum at Fort Knox KY.  His books were financed and produced largely out of his own pocket, since the size and quality of his books required a cover price far beyond what most publishers would be willing to consider for such a specialized topic.

The books themselves are high quality hardcover editions with thick glossy paper and an abundance of photos (primarily black and white), illustrations and diagrams.  Each book is patterned in the same fashion, the format changing little volume to volume.  The writing style is clear if somewhat dry.  People looking for exciting stories of tanks in action will be sorely disappointed if they expect that from a Hunnicutt books.  These books are detailed histories of the development and variants of US vehicles.  They contain little information as to the use of these vehicles once they were in service.  Nor does Hunnicutt provide much evaluation or opinion regarding these various vehicles.  His histories are first and foremost a presentation of hard information, providing details and data about vehicle development seldom seen in previous works on the topic.

His ten volume set consists of the following:

Pershing: A History of the US Medium Tank T20 Series 1971 – This is the first book in the series and it is probably the least expansive of any of his books, covering only the T20 series of tanks.  This book uses a slightly different font on the dust jacket than the following books, as well as being from a different publisher (Feist Publications) than the later books (Presidio).

Sherman: A History of the American Medium Tank 1978 – Since its publication, this book has widely been regarded as the bible of Sherman tank books.  The title is misleading, this book covers much more than just the Sherman tank.  The development of US medium tanks starting in the immediate post-WWI period up to the M4A3E8 “Easy Eight” is covered in this massive tome.

Patton: A History of the American Main Battle Tank Vol. 1 – 1984  This book picks up where “Pershing” leaves off with the development of the M46 Patton tank up through the final variants of the M60 series.

Firepower: A History of the American Heavy Tank 1988 – Since no US heavy tank ever got an official nickname, Hunnicutt had to give it a more general title than the other books.  This book deals with the early heavy tanks developed at the close of WWI up to the WW2 era M6 and the post war designs leading up to the M103.  Rumor has it that Wargaming NA is working on a reprint of this book.  They have access to many of the original photos used in the book and are promising a better quality reprint than those provided by Echo Point.  Time will tell what happens with this title.

Abrams: A History of the American Main Battle Tank Vol. 2  1990 – This volume covers US attempts to develop a new series of tanks to replace the Patton line going all the way back to the 1950’s.  The Abrams tank does not appear until the second half of the book, the first half being devoted to the T-95, the MBT-70 and other early programs.  Since this book was published in 1990, it does not cover anything beyond the M1A1.

Stuart: A History of the American Light Tank Vol. 1  1992 – Much like the Sherman book, this volume covers it’s topic from the latter part of WWI up to the final versions of the M5 Stuart as well as the M24 Chaffee.  Also covered in this book are other light armored vehicles of the period such as the LVT “Amtrac” and the M18 Hellcat Tank Destroyer.

Sheridan: A History of the American Light Tank Vol. 2  1995 – Much like the Stuart book, this one covers quite a bit of ground, including the M51 Walker Bulldog tank as well as the T92.  Also covered are the various Armored Gun System prototypes intended to replace the Sheridan.  The self propelled guns M107, M108, M109 and M110 SPGs are covered in this book as well.

Bradley: A History of American Fighting and Support Vehicles  1999 – This one is a very substantial volume, including all the US post WW2 armored personal carriers and the various vehicles that shared the same chassis.  This includes the myriad variants of the M113 APC.  In fact, the Bradley does not appear until after page 250!

Half-Track: A History of American Semi-Tracked Vehicles  2001 – This is one of the smaller books in the series.  The majority of the book is devoted to coverage of WW2 era US half tracks.

Armored Car: A History of American Wheeled Combat Vehicles  2002 – This is the last book in the series and it covers a greater time period than any other volume.  Starting with the earliest armored cars of WWI, it continues all the way to the introduction of the Stryker.  The M8 gets good coverage in this book.

The only flaw with this series is that certain vehicle types get scattered around different volumes.  For example, if someone wanted to read about US tank destroyers, they would have to start with Armored Cars, then go to Half-track, then Stuart and finally Sherman.  The situation with self propelled artillery is similar.  However, this is a rather minor complaint.  US armor enthusiasts owe a great debt to Richard Hunnicutt for creating this superlative set of books.  Unfortunately, armor enthusiasts may also go into financial debt trying to obtain a set of the original editions.  The more popular books in the series such as Sherman and Firepower regularly command anywhere from $100 – $300 on the used book market based on condition.  PDF copies of the books are not hard to find online, not that we condone that sort of thing. The Echo Point Books reprints are more affordable, although response has been mixed regarding the quality of the reproduction on these editions.

For a more detailed description of his life, you can read the obit for Hunnicutt in The Oregonian here.

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