bookBritish Tanks in Normandy
by Ludovic Fortin.
Published by Histoire & Collections,
5 avenue de la Republique, F-75541 Paris Cedex 11, France
ISBN 2-915239-33-9

Review by Peter Brown

There are some books which are just waiting to be produced, and this is one of them. From the same publishers as the well-received two-part series "The British Soldier" by Jean Bouchery, it is a comprehensive and detailed account of the use of tanks in France from D Day to the end of August.

It is divided into three roughly equal sections. It begins with short operational histories of the Armoured Divisions, Armoured Brigades and Tank Brigades which fought in the campaign. Each unit has chart listing the component units - in the case of the Divisions, this includes the non-armoured units - showing the Arm of Service markings of each. Armoured Regiments are also described with a potted history up to 1944 and importantly a photo of their cap badge. Having these charts and badges make identifying a unit from photos a lot easier.

Next the vehicles themselves are described. Sherman, Churchill, Cromwell and Stuart are covered showing the marks in British use in Normandy so no 76mm Shermans or M3 Stuarts. Separate sections cover Sherman Firefly and Crab, Churchill AVRE and Crocodile plus ARVs and bridgelayers. Also included are M10 series tank destroyers and M7 and Sexton self-propelled guns, the operational use of these vehicles is not covered in detail though. Colour drawings show typical vehicles including markings of specific tanks, while these are useful beware of using them as plans for conversions as they often show generic and inappropriate details such as very early Cromwells and Fireflies with hull machine guns.

Third section deals with more general aspects, with chapters covering tactics and organisation as well as describing the daily life of tank crews in Normandy including accounts on and by those who were there. Sidebars include matters such as what War Diaries were and the differences between Administrative Orders, Operational Orders and Operational Instructions. We get insights into what the crews thought of their equipment, the problems they had with flies and mosquitos, the effects of local food and drink including what too many apples could do to a tank.

All these sections are fully illustrated with original photos. These are clearly printed and usually large enough to see details. Captions point out interesting features, where identifications of units or locations is not certain that is mentioned. Photos come from several sources, most are from Imperial War Museum and Tank Museum archives and original negative numbers are given which allows readers to look for other views in the same sequences. Many Tank Museum photos are also in the IWM, though only one reference is quoted here. The remaining shots are credited "RR", it is not stated what this refers to though most look like IWM views.

This is a well-written, well-researched and well-presented work, though there are a few traps for the unwary. Older hands will spot these but anyone with less knowledge may be confused. There are some minor misprints, such as captions saying Sherman IV and Churchill II which were not used in this campaign, while misidentifying the names of some units like Fife & Forfar Yeomanry and Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry is not surprising given the author's nationality. Other drawbacks are more complicated. Changes to some Arm of Service numbers as units were reorganised is recorded, however those for 22nd Armoured Brigade in 7th Armoured Divisions are not and the unusual system of markings used in this Brigade and variations in Divisional sign is also not covered. The turret numbers used in some units is mentioned but not gone into in detail, while the untypical system of colours and placement of tactical signs in Guards Armoured Division gets little mention. References to the specialised Kangaroo units in 79th Armoured Division could also confuse, these units did not operate as such in Normandy.

For some reason, a widely-used photo of 13th/18th Hussars tanks in a landing craft on the way to Normandy is miscaptioned as 8th Armoured Brigade and identification of some other photos will keep "experts" discussing before a consensus is reached. Also missing is a detailed breakdown of the composition of an Armoured Regiment, while a lot can be picked up from the text a list or better still an organisation chart with silhouettes of the vehicles would be helpful.

These are details which may seem minor and listing them sounds like looking for faults, but this book is so very good that those details which are wrong stand out. It is highly likely that this will become widely used as a standard reference work, these mistakes will be even more confusing if they are used by other authors or as modelling reference.

Emphasis is on vehicles, while many photos show the crew no information is given on uniforms though "The British Soldier" covers these well. Those who bought those books, especially Volume 2, for the vehicle details may feel they have to buy this book to get the whole picture, this one stands on its own or as part of the whole set.

Despite these few drawbacks, this is a book highly recommended to anyone wanting to study or model British armour in France. Not surprisingly, many of the photos have appeared elsewhere but some are not commonly seen and may even be appearing in print for the first time since taken. Having so many well-selected photos printed clearly in one book is also a bonus, doubly so for those with few other books to hand. Its cost may seem high, given that you get a lot and having all that is here in separate books would cost far more if is good value. Whether other volumes will cover Canadian, Polish or American formations remains to be seen.

Page created 28 April 2005

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