bookDust, Sand and Jungle - A History of Australian Armour 1927-1948
by Paul Handel.
Published by RAAC Memorial and Army Tank Museum.
Hopkins Barracks, Puckapunyal

Review by Peter Brown

Published to commemorate the Australian Army's use of armour during the Second World War, this is a fitting tribute to those Australians who fought in armoured units. It covers the full history of each unit which made up what was to become the Royal Australian Armoured Corps, from the earliest steps when a small number of British Vickers Medium Tanks and several Light Tanks from the same source in the late 1920s and 1930s which were used alongside a small number of armoured cars designed and built in Australia. The outbreak of the new World War speeded up developments which led to formal creation of the Armoured Corps itself in 1941, though before that the infantry divisions sent to the Middle East each had a small Divisional Cavalry Regiment equipped with light tanks and tracked carriers which were the first Australian armoured units to see action far from home in North Africa, Syria and Greece. Heavy tanks were first used by the 9th Divisional Cavalry Regiment who had Crusaders and Honeys at El Alamein, but it was to be closer to home on the Pacific Islands where Australia was to make the main use of tanks. Stuarts were the first into action but they proved less than ideal in the close-fought jungle actions and the Matilda was to get a new lease of life in the campaigns while a small armoured contingent was part of the post-war occupation of Japan.

Every stage in the development of the RAAC is followed, from the setting up of training schools, workshops and ranges to the units in battle, along with details of the vehicles with which they were equipped. Although these were not always of the latest generation they were in many cases ideally suited to the task they performed, with the Matilda's armour being more than a match for most things the Japanese could bring to bear against it even if it had become outclassed elsewhere. Several vehicles were used, a large number of Grants and Lees formed the basis of the 1st Australian Armoured Division alongside numerous Stuarts as well as locally-built scout and armoured cars as well as carriers, Lend-Lease Staghounds, Canadian Lynx scout cars and even a small number of commercial Marmon-Herrington tanks. Various specialised vehicles were developed for jungle warfare, with dozer versions of the Grant and Matilda as well as wading equipment for both tanks, and the perhaps better-known Matilda Frog flamethrower and Hedgehog bunker-buster. Each is described along with less spectacular but maybe more important developments such as air-conditioning for tanks. Another area covered is the trials of various tanks under tropical conditions, Churchills and Shermans being tested alongside a pair of Chaffees and the accounts of these and a report on medical problems associated with using tanks in hot and humid conditions make fascinating reading.

Each section is well illustrated with photos, maps are included to help follow the actions of each unit and there are scale plans of various marks of Stuart, Grant and Matilda as well as colour scheme and marking notes for modellers. Short histories of all Australian armoured units are included, even those who were not to see action. Short biographies of individuals who played a large part in the early history of the corps are also provided. Added to this we get summaries of vehicle strengths, a glossary of terms and abbreviations and a bibliography to round of a very comprehensive account.

While Australia may not have used its armour in big tank against tank battles, this account shows that they did have a part in the armour story. As would be expected from its author, it is well written and carefully researched. As little on this area has appeared in print and most of what has like Hopkins' "Australian Armour" is no longer available, this is a welcome and worthy addition to the bookshelves of armour enthusiasts in Australia and elsewhere and it should provide inspiration for modellers as well as well as filling a gap in the published history of the RAAC.

Page created 28 July 2003

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