Review by Peter Brown
How the Firefly was developed, produced and used are all told in this book. By going back to original sources, several areas which have only been partially explained and even incorrectly reported in print before, often several times, can be disproved and we now have the facts readily available before us. Included are basic but often overlooked matters such as how to identify a Firefly when its most obvious feature - the gun - is not clearly visible, as well as pointers to telling apart the various basic Sherman types of which were converted. The text tries to find answers to several long-standing questions such as how many were actually built and what the numbers of each different type were. Even where definitive answers have not been found, the research involved in trying to find them is described and the author is prepared to admit that this is the best he and maybe anyone can do rather than make vague claims which will confuse the unwary.
Much more detail is included in the story of the tanks in action, both in North-West Europe from initial issues just in time for D Day through to the wars end in 1945 as well as in Italy which is a theatre which has not been so well covered in the past. Original sources such as War Diaries have been used alongside interviews with those who used the tanks. Included here are lists not only of the units themselves but reports showing how many tanks, often detailed down to type, they had at specific periods. Post-war use is also described though not in such great detail, many will be surprised that some were in action long after most been relegated to museum pieces or hard targets.
To go with these accounts are two sets of photos. Firstly there are over a hundred wartime pictures from sources in the UK, Canada and elsewhere, mostly of them in use in the field. Original captions have been sought out and checked so that the location of the photo and the unit concerned can be determined, much better than in many books where same few photos have been used again and again with little regard to this all-important area. Almost by accident this allows us insights into how each units tanks looked with extra stowage to a more or less standard pattern, as well as depicting markings and camouflage methods.
These alone would make this a very useful book for the modeller to say the least, but things get even better as we also have another hundred and more shots of preserved vehicles with both general views and more importantly close-ups showing details which do not appear on the wartime photos. Showing not only features specific to the Firefly but also details of components such as wheels, tracks and bogies they allow modellers to cross-refer with the WW2 views to build an accurate model. Equally important, the captions point out which are genuine vehicles and which are assembled from available turrets and hulls. We also have four-view 1:35th plans of typical vehicles, extracts from the original Stowage Diagrams showing the official layout of equipment inside as well as outside, colour side views and details of existing models with accounts of how the author has modelled several vehicles.
In short, we have at long last a detailed single-volume account of a major British vehicle of the kind which has long been available to those interested in American, German and even Russian armour. With so much included here it is hard to take in all in, suffice to say, if you want background on design and production, accounts of them in action, photos, plans, drawings, modelling notes, well, here they are. There are even touches of humour which include the fate of a tank of 10th Royal Hussars in Italy. I will leave you to look on page 132 and read for yourself, as you would be unlikely to believe without the evidence!
Although this book has been a long time in production and its final appearance has been delayed, it is here at last and it is well worth the wait. Though it is not cheap, the amount of material in it makes it very good value and doubly so when to find it all in several books would cost more. This is a book which should be on the shelves of everyone with an interest in the Firefly or the Sherman generally.
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Page created 4 March 2002