“Tank Hunter – World War One” – Review by Mark Barnes

 
 
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The proliferation of tank-themed pages on social media doesn’t show any sign of slowing down. It has reached the point where some of the newer delights have been created to mock the genre and the ever-present problem of sifting fact from fiction. It can be good fun, but social media retains the habit of giving credibility to a certain type of person who has strong belief in themselves as page moderators but who lack the knowledge to make a real success of it. Happily. I have never doubted my own abilities and am keenly aware I will never be considered expert in much.

There is hope. One of the trustworthy voices out there in the ether is Craig Moore, a retired copper with an unshakable love for armoured vehicles and military history. He impresses me because he never pretends to know everything. Instead, he uses his pages to ask questions and seek guidance. Perhaps his long career engendered a strong attachment to open-mindedness?

I like to think so.

Timing is everything. This book has been released on the centenary of the Battle of Cambrai when British tanks went into battle in their hundreds and played a decisive role in the battle before their efforts were negated by old problems blurring new solutions. Cambrai was where tanks were used effectively for the first time, but it was also where the Germans began to understand the importance of countermeasures. As much as the Tank Corps of the time have gone into legend, so have the German gunners who did so much to stop them.

But having been to Flesquieres in France and paid homage at the court of Deborah, I can tell you that there is something magical about those tanks and the men who fought in them. The history seduces you and love for it transcends nationalities and events. The Great War tanks and the pioneers who used them are worthy of all our admiration.

This new book is very much a no frills affair but it does a useful job of work to describe the tanks and tracked vehicles of the Great War and to explain how and when they were used. It is, in effect, an old fashioned guide; not unlike the books we used to see decades ago that used artwork instead of photography to create something individualistic.  If you ever owned a copy of the Guinness Book of Tank Facts and Feats you will know what I mean and there cannot be many publications from that time that did not include the art of John Bachelor, a prolific and gifted artist.

That it has a nostalgic feel is one of its key strengths, but the serious stuff is in the text. Craig Moore doesn’t pretend to be an immensely gifted wordsmith, but he does know how to describe stuff in a way that makes it clear and easy to retain in your head. Perhaps this, too, goes back to things he learned in his previous life.

Great War tanks have become something of immense interest during the centennial marathon. Replicas are appearing and many of them are things of beauty. Original tanks are rare, but the discovery of a number of Renault FTs in Afghanistan has shown that the things are out there. Being a Brit, I naturally turn my gaze to the Tank Museum at Bovington, England, spiritual home of the Royal Armoured Corps and the Royal Tank Regiment.  The museum has some seriously rare exhibits displayed with panache. The place lives and breathes pride in the achievement of the pioneers who built and operated the first tanks to see action in 1916 and on to the end of the war. Their MkIV is fully operable, but way too delicate these days, so the replica from Spielberg’s War Horse plugs the gap on show days. I was privileged to see the St Chamond visiting from France this summer and the replica A7V is a hoot. I’ve only just got back from the Fort de Seclin in France where an FT has been restored with love and devotion. All it needs is an engine. Watch this space.

Great War tanks have something about them that Craig recognises to be very special. His book separates the rhomboid monsters and helps us tell them apart.

He doesn’t get us bogged down in needless detail, although it is apparent he likes to himself.  The devil is always in the detail and this book lets us have what matters in a succinct and clear fashion. There is no confusion. David Bocquelet’s artwork drives the project along at a fair pace and although I, personally, would like more photographs; I am well aware they cost money to reproduce and it can soon mount up. Just because there is a lot of artwork here it does not mean the reader has been cheated. Mr Bocquelet’s work will be of much use to model makers and other enthusiasts trying to make sense of it all.

The book lacks froth and hyperbole and sticks to what’s what. You can use it as a guide, as a gradual read or as a reference to build or paint something. I enjoyed looking at the art and found the descriptions of the tanks really useful. So, for me it is a win, win. I learned stuff, I liked the pictures and I came away without feeling bamboozled. So as a proudly average reader I can recommend this book to my fellow travellers and look forward to seeing more. I’m not so much a person who wants to immerse himself in any given subject to a strong degree. I want to be informed and entertained. This book does it all. Top marks. Christmas is coming and this book is competitively priced to make it an ideal stocking present.

The author doesn’t confine his love to tanks of the Great War and I am sure we will see more of him in print.  You may have seen him helping to recover a Covenantor tank from a Surrey vineyard recently. He clearly loves what he does. It must be wonderful to make the thing you love your job. Good for him.

 

TANK HUNTER WORLD WAR ONE

By Craig Moore

History Press

ISBN: 978 0 7509 8246 7

 

Reviewed by Mark Barnes for War History Online