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.


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.


[Read more…]

Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front: An Interview with Robert Forczyk

Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front 1943-1945: Red Steamroller, the follow-up to the 2014 book Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front 1941-1942: Schwerpunkt, hit the bookstores this past week.  We had the opportunity to do a Q&A with author Robert Forczyk, both about his experiences as a US Armor officer and his research on the WWII Eastern front.  Mr Forczyk is a prolific author, having penned 26 historical volumes for publishers such as Osprey and Pen & Sword.  His primary interests are Eastern Front WW2, Napoleonic era, the American Revolution and Roman warfare.  He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, University of Virginia and University of Maryland.  He retired after a 20 year career as an armor and military intelligence officer in the US Army, having served in the 2nd ID, 4th ID and 29th ID(L) and currently works as a consultant in the Washington D.C. area.  He is also a highly rated vine voice reviewer of military history books on Amazon.


How did you end up as an Armor officer? Can you give us a brief description of your career?

I was commissioned from ROTC in 1983. Armor was my second choice, after Military Intelligence. However, in the early 1980s the US Army wanted more armor officers, not MI. When I got to Fort Knox, I took the Cavalry Officer’s Basic Course.


You mention in the intro of “Schwerpunkt” that you commanded an M60 in Korea in 1986. Did you spend your entire career as a tanker in the M60?

I was trained on both M-60A3 TTS and M-1, but spent my whole time as a tanker in battalions equipped with the M60A3 TTS. At Fort Knox, we got to compare both tanks on a daily basis and I came away with the impression that the M1 is better suited to offensive warfare (speed, firepower, protection), but the M60A3 is probably a better defensive tank (better fuel economy with its diesel engine).

[Read more…]

Germany’s Panzer Arm in WWII: An Interview with R. L. DiNardo

Last year we had the opportunity to conduct a phone interview with Prof. Richard DiNardo.  Dr. DiNardo is author of numerous books on military history, although it was his book Germany’s Panzer Arm in World War II (Stackpole Military History Series)
that brought him to our attention.  This book started out as his doctoral dissertation and  was later expanded on for publication.  The premise of the book is to examine the various different factors  and components that made up the German Panzer force.  These include the organizational, economic, personnel, doctrinal and tactical factors that affected the Panzer arm’s performance.  The book manages to accomplish all this in a very readable 199 pages.

Since the end of WWII, its fair to say that barrels of ink have been put to page concerning the German Panzer forces of 1933 to 1945.  Most books have focused on vehicles and/or battles.  This book does neither.  What it does is explain the underlying factors that made the Panzer forces what they were.  As such, we think it should be required reading for anyone looking for an understanding of German Panzer forces beyond just memorizing tank model numbers or Panzer division names.

While we certainly recommend Germany’s Panzer Arm in WW2, we would also recommend to those interested in WW2 history his book Mechanized Juggernaut or Military Anachronism?: Horses and the German Army of World War II (Stackpole Military History Series).  This book looks at the subject of horses and the German army of WWII.  While the focus in many military histories is on the mechanized component of the Wehrmacht, little attention has been paid , or analysis given, of the hundreds of thousands of horses that provided the motive power to the vast majority of the German Army.

Both books are available in softcover as part of the Stackpole Military History Series.

While we recorded this interview in spring of 2015, we have not had the opportunity to publish it until now due to technical reasons.  That is, we lost the files due to a computer mishap.  Fortunately, we recently were able to recover the files and finish transcribing (most of) the audio.  The interview is posted below, our questions in italics and Dr. DiNardo’s answers in regular font.


How did you get interested in the topic of World War II German panzers?

It’s the old saying by Thomas Hardy, peace makes for dull history.  War makes for rattling good reading.  Like a lot of kids I was drawn to the German military because I thought the uniforms were cool.  It’s that simple.

[Read more…]