Soviet T-10: Q&A with Stephen “Cookie” Sewell

Stephen Sewell croppedTank and AFV News corresponded recently with Stephen “Cookie” Sewell, co-author of the new book Soviet T-10 Heavy Tank and Variants published by Osprey.  Mr. Sewell was born in New York and is a retired US Army chief warrant officer and Department of the Army intelligence analyst.  Trained in both the Vietnamese and Russian languages, Mr. Sewell has written numerous intelligence articles as well as many pieces on American and Russian armor.  He is an enthusiastic scale model builder and the founder of the Armor Model Preservation Society in 1992.  He is also a prolific reviewer of model kits and books.

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Can you give us a description of your career in the US Army and US government?

I entered the Army in September 1968 and was trained as a Vietnamese linguist. After a short tour in Vietnam and then at NSA was retrained as a Russian linguist in 1973. Spent a total of nine years on strategic intelligence assignments and nine years tactical ones. Retired in 1990 as a Chief Warrant officer. Due to expertise hired back three months later into same job I retired from and arrived two weeks before Desert Shield/Desert Storm started. Changed to the National Ground Intelligence Center predecessor in 1991 and then to that organization when created in 1994. Retired from there in 2011

How did you get the nickname Cookie?

I came back from Vietnam in 1971 and my brother wanted me to see a new kids’ show on PBS called “Sesame Street”. First Muppet I saw was the Cookie Monster, who in the space of two minutes ate an entire box of cookies, the box, and a telephone. My kind of guy! When I got to NSA I started drawing him doing stuff like eating MiG-21s and people in my office started referring to me as “Cookie Monster”. Stuffed my desk with chocolate [Read more…]

Marines Under Armor: An Interview with Kenneth Estes

Tank and AFV News recently had the opportunity to pose a series of questions to retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel and professor of history Kenneth Estes.  Mr. Estes is the author of several books on tanks and armored warfare, most notably his history of the development and role of AFVs in the USMC, Marines Under Armor.  His other works include (but not limited to) Tanks on the Beaches: A Marine Tanker in the Pacific War (Texas A&M University Military History Series, 85.), A European Anabasis: Western European Volunteers in the German Army and SS, 1940-45, Into the Breach at Pusan: The 1st Provisional Marine Brigade in the Korean War (Campaigns and Commanders Series), Marine Officer’s Guide, 7th Edition and also several Osprey New Vanguard series titles.  Mr. Estes is a Seattle native and holds a doctorate in Modern European History from the University of Maryland.

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You had a long and successful career with the USMC, having held positions such as Company commander, instructor, historian and writer before retiring at the grade of Lieutenant Colonel (full career synopsis available at end of interview).  Describe the beginning of your USMC career.

CPend DelMar Apr70I graduated from the Naval Academy in 1969, took the basic USMC officer course [The Basic School] Aug69-Jan70, attended USMC Tracked Vehicle School, Tank Officer Course Feb-Apr70.  At the USMC Tank Officer Course, Camp Pendleton (1970), I trained on the M48A3, M67A2 and M103A2 tanks.  This included firing the machine guns, 90mm and 120mm tank cannon and the flame projector of the M67A2. Normally each of us in that course would have preferred assignment to the U.S. Army course at Ft Knox, but only one officer per Basic School class was so detailed. However, the truth of the matter was that the USMC course was fully ‘hands on’ and personal training for just 10 tank officer trainees and therefore much more suitable, and I found out months later that lieutenants attending the Armor Officer Basic Course at Ft Knox in those years did not drive the vehicles and several missed gunnery because of range weather conditions. Moreover, the USMC Tracked Vehicle School was located at gorgeous Del Mar Basin on the coast near Oceanside CA, so one could enjoy all the merits of Californication.

You either served or trained on the M48, M60 and M103 US tanks.  What were your impressions of these vehicles?

Well, by the time I came to serve in them, these were vehicles introduced into service in 1955-58, modernized in 1963-64 with most applicable M60 upgrades and once again rebuilt during the Vietnam War. So, they were very familiar to all hands and spares were available in the system. The principal difficulty was that the USMC supply system did not function very well in delivering spare parts to the units and particularly did not draw items well from the item manager [US Army]. Army provisioning of parts was much richer for units and we envied this.

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A Military, Political and Global History of Armoured Warfare: An Interview with Alaric Searle

Alaric SearleWe recently had the chance to pose a few questions to Dr. Alaric Searle, Professor of Modern European History at the University of Salford Manchester and author of the new book Armoured Warfare: A Military, Political and Global History.  His book is an impressive work, encapsulating over 100 years of AFV history into a single volume of just over 250 pages.  While there are many books that trace the technical development of armored vehicles, this book places the history of the tank within a broader historical perspective, examining its impact in not only the military realm, but also the political and economic.

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How did you become interested in the topic of armored warfare?

While I was an undergraduate studying History at Edinburgh University, I took a course on the Great War in my final year. This led to my discovery of the writings of J.F.C. Fuller, so I then decided to write a final year dissertation on the British Tank Corps in the First World War.

You state in the preface of Armoured Warfare: A Military, Political and Global History that this book was the result of your experience teaching the subject at University. What are some of the biggest challenges in terms of the preconceived ideas or lack of knowledge that students bring to the class room regarding armored warfare?

Possibly the biggest challenge is encouraging the students to move away from old and very dated works, very specifically memoirs such as Heinz Guderian’s Panzer Leader. As I have been researching German military history for around twenty years, I am fully aware of the latest German research. The students cannot usually access this research, so it often takes some persuading to change some of their idealized views of German commanders. The other challenge is to communicate to the students that there were conflicts beyond Europe and that that experience is as interesting and significant as some of the more well-known wars and campaigns. This said, we do have some very good students at Salford, so I am often surprised at how much the students already know.

The book takes a rather broad “global” approach to the subject. Was it a challenge to condense the topic down into a book that was of reasonable length?

There is a simple answer to that question – yes! While it is always possible to condense chapters and text, what I did find was that some explanations became unclear, so I had to return to the manuscript later and clear up some of the lack of precision by adding in more explanation. What was most irritating with the word length was that one or two conflicts simply could not be included. The two most obvious ones are the Soviet-Finnish Winter War of 1939-40 and the Indo-Pakistan wars. If there is a second edition of the book, then I will definitely include those conflicts.

Were there topics addressed in the book you would like to return to in a later work in more detail?

Oh, yes. I am currently working on an article comparing war elephants and tanks. I delivered an early version of this idea to a seminar at Oxford University last year. The reaction was very positive, so this has encouraged me to expand my talk into a longer article. Some of the ideas I developed in the final chapter on the visual history of the tank I would likewise want to turn into some articles. And, I am working on a full-length monograph re-examining the military theories of Major-General J.F.C. Fuller. So, there is going to be more work on this subject appearing over the next two or three years from my pen.

Typically with books about armor, the cover photo features a Tiger tank or something along those lines. Your book has a rather interesting photo of what looks like a location in Vietnam with some M113 troop carriers and a helicopter taken from the roof of an M48.  Is there a reason for why that particular photo is on the cover? [Read more…]

Patton versus the Panzers: An Interview with Steven Zaloga

Two years ago we had a chance to interview author and historian Steven Zaloga.  That interview became the first feature of this website when it launched in January of 2015.  We recently had the chance to do a follow-up interview with Mr. Zaloga in late August, 2016.  We were able to get his thoughts concerning his two latest hardcover books, Patton Versus the Panzers: The Battle of Arracourt, September 1944 and Armored Champion: The Top Tanks of World War II, as well as a variety of other topics, including Soviet tank development, the 1940 Campaign in France and the tank book publishing business.


 

sz15Steven Zaloga is an author and defense analyst known worldwide for his articles and publications on military technology.  He has written over a hundred books on military technology and military history, including “Armored Thunderbolt: The US Army Sherman in World War II”, one of the most highly regarded histories of the Sherman Tank.  His books have been translated into Japanese, German, Polish, Czech, Romanian, and Russian. He was a special correspondent for Jane’s Intelligence Review and is on the executive board of the Journal of Slavic Military Studies and the New York Military Affairs Symposium. From 1987 through 1992, he was the writer/producer for Video Ordnance Inc., preparing their TV series Firepower.  He holds a BA in history from Union College and an MA in history from Columbia University.


 

Why did you decide to choose the battle of Arracourt, September 1944 as the topic for this book?

There were two reasons. The first reason is that I wanted to cover a big US-versus-German tank battle. The underlying theme is stated in the forward of the book- there is this impression that US tanks are always getting defeated by German tanks because the German tanks technically were so much better. But I’ve spent so much time doing campaign books, not tank-oriented books but general campaign books on the ETO for the Osprey Campaign series, that I was aware that that was simply not true. There weren’t that many large US-versus- German tank battles. As I mention in the book there were really two big ones: Arracourt in September 1944, and of course the Ardennes in December 1944 – January 1945. I selected Arracourt partly because it’s not very well known. So it makes a more interesting and fresh subject. And also it’s relatively confined in time and space. It took place over a couple of weeks and it’s not over a very large area. Doing the Ardennes would be interesting. But the problem is that inevitably I have to basically do the whole Ardennes campaign all over again to explain what is going on. And that would make it unmanageable in a book the size that Stackpole wants. So I ruled out the Ardennes for that reason. Also I had done the earlier Osprey Ardennes book (Panther vs Sherman: Battle of the Bulge 1944 (Duel)).

The second big reason was availability of research materials on both sides. The German side in a lot of battles is not especially well covered because a lot of records were lost. The Germans lost the war. At one point in the war the main German Army archive was basically burned down. So a lot of records were lost there. And a lot of records were lost during the course of campaigns. But I knew from having done some previous work on the Lorraine campaign that the German records from that battle were fairly good. I actually have day-to-day reports at corps-level and in some cases at divisional-level explaining what’s going on. And the US side also is fairly well covered. The strange thing is that in many cases you would think that US battles are very well covered because we have all the records. In fact, there often times are after-action-reports, but they are very skeletal and don’t give much detail. But I knew that in the case of the Arracourt battles there had been an Army historical team stationed with 4th Armored Division and they did a set of interviews after the battle of Arracourt. This included a lot of maps, which of course, is very useful for trying to explain exactly what happened in the battle. So those were the two reasons; there was some inherent reasons in the nature of the Arracourt battle that made it attractive for a book; and I knew from having done previous work that there was enough historical material that would enable me to make it detailed enough to keep it interesting.

In the course of researching this book, did you find anything that surprised you or was it more a case of fleshing out the framework you had established in earlier works? [Read more…]

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Review: Russell Military Museum

20160710_151201This past Sunday we had the opportunity to spend a few hours at the Russell Military Museum.  This privately owned museum sits just south of the border between Illinois and Wisconsin about an hours drive north from Chicago.  The museum is situated right off the highway and is easy to get to.  A somewhat battered looking M3 Stuart light tank marks the entrance to the museum parking lot, a former car dealership lot converted into a museum in 2007.

20160710_151152If not for the light tank sitting out front and the sign on the building, a passer-by might be forgiven for mistaking the museum for a salvage yard.  Those expecting a highly polished, big budget affair such as the (relatively) nearby First Division Museum at Cantigny Park will be disappointed.  The Russell Museum is a “mom and pop” style museum, a labor of love by owner Mark Sonday and his family, who double as the museum staff.  While the museum may lack a certain amount of polish, it more than makes up for it in the amazing array of military hardware present in the collection.

Museum owner Mark Sonday has been building his collection over several decades, originally showcasing them at a previous location in Pleasant Prairie Wisconsin (which wife Joyce Sonday now refers to as “Unpleasant Prairie”.)  Forced to move due to Pleasant Prairie using eminent domain to clear land for a retail development, the Sonday family became embroiled in a long legal fight to gain fair compensation for the theft of their land [Read more…]

Review: First Division Museum at Cantigny Park

DSC_0303This past weekend we had the good fortune to spend a long weekend in the Chicago area.  While there we were able to check out a couple museums housing tanks and armored vehicles.  This review examines the tank collection at the First Division Museum at Cantigny Park in Wheaton, Illinois.  Cantigny Park opened in 1958, being the creation of newspaper magnate Robert R. McCormick who had established the Robert R. McCormick Charitable Trust and designated Cantigny as a public space for education and recreation.  The park has a number of different features, including a museum dedicated to McCormick, extensive gardens, walking trails and a golf course.  Also housed on the grounds is the First Division Museum and an outdoor collection of tanks, of which this review will focus on.

Robert_R._McCormick_cph.3b30054McCormick had served as a Colonel in the First Division in WW1, hence his interest in preserving the history of the unit.  The museum is not large but is well worth the hour or so it takes to walk through the displays.  Walking through the museum, the first thing encountered is a series of mannequins dressed in the various uniforms of the First Division from each major US war.  This section then leads to a winding path in which the viewer progresses through each US war in chronological order.  The WW1 section is the most impressive, designed to emulate the trenches of WW1, including a replica French Schneider tank.

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