Tank Men

By Col Bob Kershaw

Published by Hodder Paperbacks (2009)

Tank Men is a turret-eye perspective of what it was like to fight from tanks from their sudden appearance in 1916 to the end of the Second World War. British, German, Russian, French, American and Italian tank crews describe the emotional and physical consequences that stemmed from the technological tanks arms race that occurred during this period.

The book describes what it is like to be inside a tank at war, a tight metal box, from which little can be seen to lighten an all-pervasive claustrophobia heightened by the fear of burning. Human senses are dulled by restricted vision, the reek of petroleum and oil, deafened by engine and track noise, tasting a gritty residue of dust and exhaust fumes. Hot spots have to be avoided as also potentially dangerous moving mechanical parts. Tank designers were obsessed with maximising technical gun, armour and mobility improvements. Human requirements and comforts were compromised to favour combat effectiveness.

Specific chapters cover a typical day of tank combat during the various tank campaigns of the Second World War. What it was like during the Blitzkrieg campaigns in Poland, France and Russia, the Western Desert, Kursk and the Normandy Bocage. Oral accounts are juxtaposed against letter and diary observations to expose the grim reality of tank warfare.

This is a human story that describes the emotional bonding that occurred between crew members, from where they were recruited and why they chose to fight in tanks. Countless small stories are told from a multi-national perspective, describing the experiences of the primary tank protagonists that fought the war. Fear of burning was all pervasive. There were only five to eight seconds available to flee a burning tank compartment rearranged by the wreckage of an in-coming shell, before the oxygen was sucked out by the flames or it exploded.

The First World War experience revealed that crew combat endurance was fundamentally limited by fumes, heat, enemy artillery and the buffeting ride with no suspension. By the Second World War Britain had lost her tank lead and operated in the shadow of German, Russian and American developments throughout. The Germans were the first to master the man/machine interface, electing to construct technically excellent and highly effective tanks. The Allies opposed technical excellence with the mass production of inferior tank types, coldly and rationally electing to accept the high loss of life that comes from any unequal battle of attrition.

Drawing upon vivid, newly researched personal testimonies from the crucial battles of the First and Second World Wars Tank Men illustrates the brutal and often moving story of tank crews at war.

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