This volume of the Osprey Duel series follows the series format, comparing two combatant tanks against each other, and in this case focusing on the occasion of the first tank vs. tank battle in history that occurred on April 24, 1918. True to the format, rather than simply describe that historic battle, the author describes and compares both vehicles and the events that both led up to and followed the battle. In drawing perspective, Mr. Higgins reminds us that the Industrial Revolution had already altered warfare into an unimagined horror only writers of a new, ever popular genre, Science Fiction, dared dream. The Gatling gun already had decades of warfare by the time the Great War began in 1914, and had become obsolete then by the improvements of several other manufacturers including Maxim, Vickers, and Lewis. Machine guns turned the war into a grinding stalemate of attrition that baffled commanders on both sides. Digging in left scars of the deathly stale stench of trenches that stretched from the Swiss border to the North Sea, where progress of inches cost thousands of lives.
Author Higgins makes a point that British War Correspondent Major Ernest Swinton observed Artillery Prime Movers on 19 October 1914 and recalled how H.G. Wells’ 1903 science fiction short story The Land Ironclads envisioned an entirely new weapon, one that was similar to prime movers but far more aggressive – self-propelled, armed, and bulletproof armored vehicles. Wells’ fictitious yet prophetic vehicles caught the imagination of Major Swinton but fell upon deaf ears among senior British Army Staff officers. Initially, it was argued that limited industrial capacity and the high cost and time required of R&D made such a project impracticable. Most military leaders “shared the assessment of … General Sir Douglas Haig: that machine guns were a ‘much overrated weapon’.” Obviously, the Top Brass never had to find the extraordinary brass balls required of the rank and file to “go over the top.”
Fortunately, the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, had already examined proposed solutions to the Western Front’s stalemate. On 20 February 1915 he “…quietly created a Landships Committee at the Admiralty… it was kept secret from the War Office, the Board of the Admiralty, and the treasury.” Churchill donated £70,000 of his own money to create these “water carriers,” better known as tanks. It seems serendipitous that the right man of vision was the First Lord of the Admiralty at the right time and place, and was able to sway the Navy to think in terms of “Landships” when the Army remained bogged down in the slogging slaughter of archaic frontal assaults.
Germany suffered some similar, as well as additional, problems that delayed development of their own tanks, and even after the Allies fielded their first tanks into battle, the War Ministry (A2 Infantry Dept.) still remained skeptical of the tank concept! As the war progressed, Germany captured a bounty (beute) of British tanks that had been disabled, then repaired and marked with prominent German national insignia. The War Ministry then argued against Germany’s own tanks, arguing instead to rely solely on beute companies. On 13 November 1916, the War Ministry finally contracted for their own armored fighting vehicle. Hauptman Joseph Vollmer “...(the founder of the German Automobile Construction Company) was appointed as the new department head.” The vehicle was cover named the A7V after its development section.
The book continues laying down the chronology that would precede the first tank vs tank battle, including comparison of tank Design and Development, the Technical Specs of the German A7V and the British Mark IV, the Strategic Situation, and the Combatants from the highest ranks down to the individual tank commanders and their tanks names and numbers. The combat itself is described in detail from both sides. The fighting around Villers-Bretonneux showed that neither side had purpose-built tanks to combat enemy armor, nor could they stand alone without supporting infantry. Many lessons were to be learned and many forgotten and relearned.
The model builder will be glad to know that there are more interior detail views here than in other Osprey volumes on these tanks. This book offers three photos and a color illustration of the Mark IV’s interior not provided in Osprey’s British Mark IV Tank volume. It also has an A7V color interior view not included in the German Panzers 1914-18 volume referenced below. It is well illustrated, which will especially please IPMS members.
Most of us have heard that the Fokker D.VII was so feared and respected that it was specifically singled out in the Treaty of Versailles. This book concludes with a revelation most of us don’t know. Reichstag officials demanded an explanation from the German High Command why they made their “…sudden decision to sue for peace, the latter stated that ‘Two factors have had a decisive influence on our decision, namely, tanks and our reserves’...” The British invented the tank as we know it and far outpaced the Germans in their development and deployment. It was the solution to years of trench warfare stalemate and the final straw that sealed Germany’s fate.
If you have any interest in tank development and warfare, and especially if you intend to build a model of a Mark IV, Whippet, or an A7V, I highly recommend that you add this softcover book to your library. I don’t know, but I felt it was written by a modeler. Higgins describes his battle scenes as we would hope to see them. For example, he not only states how an A7V maneuvered, but he also tells us how it was painted, what markings it had, where they were located, who commanded it, and even the fact that it was released from the rear prematurely, so that it was only armed with machine guns. Osprey’s book is a very good value for your money! It will help modelers build accurately researched models, even all the way through to an accurate diorama or scene.
My thanks go to Osprey for providing this book for review, and to IPMS Vice President Steve Collins for allowing me to review it.
- British Mark I Tank 1916, by David Fletcher, Osprey Publishing
- British Mark IV Tank, by David Fletcher, Osprey Publishing
- German Panzers 1914-18, by Steven Zaloga, Osprey Publishing