Simon and Jonathan Forty, Tank Warfare 1939–1945 (Pen & Sword, 2020)
Is it possible to cover the entirety of tank warfare in World War II in just over 200 pages, including photographs? You might not think so, but Simon and Jonathan Forty set out to do just that by emphasizing the theatres of combat you need to know about while seeding their text with technical aspects of tanks and tactical vignettes on tactics and other useful pieces of information. The result is an engaging introductory survey that will appeal to general readers.
Forty provides tank-related abbreviations and Glossary to get the ball rolling, which is handy for the uninitiated. A potted history of tanks follows by way of an introduction, narrating the evolution of the machines and tactics by many nations through World War I and the inter-war years. Forty lingers on Nazi Germany and Heinz Guderian’s influence, which is fitting because the Nazis were ahead of the game when it came to tanks. That brings in the next chapter on the Blitzkrieg that showed what tanks could do, though Forty points out the Germans did not have things all their own way and had to evolve their tactics on the hoof. North Africa is next on this survey where the Allies persevered to overcome the Germans despite inferior tanks. The introduction of American designed tanks helped with that. The other major tank battlefield was the Eastern Front where a war of relentless attrition ensued that the Germans could not win. With the war turning in favour of the Allies, Sicily and Italy then Normandy became crucial battlegrounds for tanks and are given their due consideration. The most difficult battlefields were in the Far East where the environment often caused the problem for the Allies rather than the inadequate Japanese tanks. That concludes the narrative. Along the way, Forty injects many useful vignettes and sub-topics, including tank crews, concepts of armoured warfare and tactics, an extensive section on how tank battles were fought, and infantry cooperation with tanks. Forty closes with various appendices on Tank Guns, Gunnery, and Ammunition, Antitank Warfare, Tank Maintenance and Recovery, Tank Radios, Bridging and Bridgelayers, Amphibious Tanks, a survey of Allied Tank casualties in WWII, and Tank and SP Gun Production numbers.
The tracks could easily have come off this book because there is so much to cram into relatively few pages. Yet Simon and Jonathan Forty succeed in producing an engaging survey using elements of narrative mixed with description and analysis. They also avoid a dry and dusty text through an informal writing style that may not be to everyone’s taste but largely works. They are assisted by many interesting contemporary photographs and the vignettes sprinkled throughout. Their book is not for specialists and does not cover every aspect of WWII tanks, but for those with a general interest in the period, Tank Warfare does that job quite nicely.