Not so much hot but warmishly on the heals of the magnificent RAF in the Cold War album in this series comes this equally as riveting book by Michael Green. He has shown himself to be a no nonsense bloke who does good work and this fantastic look at the Vietnam War ticks all the right boxes for me.
I’ve mentioned it before but work in the vast photographic archive of a newspaper group who at one time had the legendary Don McCullin on the staff. Now, for whatever reason his Vietnam material is no longer in the collection but for many years a print of one of his colour shots hung on the wall in one of the catacombs of the old picture library. The pic showed a couple of truculent looking chaps sitting on top of an M113 while an M48 tank rumbled off down a jungle path. As shots go it was pure Coppola imagery and I always liked it but after a while I realised there was something very wrong and one day – bazinga! The photo was printed back to front.
Now anybody who claims to know a bit about armoured vehicles should have spotted it straight off, but fortunately I don’t ever make such a claim so I can just about get away with it. The reason for telling you this nonsense is it leads me into the nuts and bolts of this book. Mr Green looks at a whole range of armoured vehicles used in the Vietnam War by the protagonists – Vietnamese, French, Australian and American. It goes without saying that US weaponry dominates the book and in this the standout types on show are the M113, the M48 and the M551 Sheridan. There are others of course, and it doesn’t appear to me like anything is ignored; but these three form the backbone of the book and I will happily admit to having a real soft spot for the M113 while regretting I have never seen an M551 in the tin.
So this is where this book wins for model makers or Vietnam era living historians. There are so many detailed shots of the M113 and it’s derivatives in particular that I did find myself reminiscing, yet again, for times past building Tamiya kits. I think I also had a fair few Roco Minitanks M113s getting under my feet and there may well be some in my loft to this day. Mr Green explains how the M113 was adapted from the battlefield taxi role it was designed for, becoming more or a less a pseudo-tank, bristling with guns and packing huge amounts of ammunition. Aside from all the detail of hardware and operations we also see what could happen to an M113 as a result of mines or RPG damage. The results are pretty scary.
Learning about the Sheridan has been fascinating. This problem child of a tank was landed in a role it was quite unsuitable for while possessing some pretty unpleasant deficiencies, most significantly in respect of it’s combustible main gun ammunition; an invitation for disaster if ever there was one. The author shares some pretty stark quotes from the poor lads expected to crew the things
and I do not envy them. All the same, on an entirely aesthetic level, the M551 is a lovely looking thing as far as I am concerned and I would love to see one on the show circuit. I assume they have pretty much all since been consigned to making beer cans and I don’t doubt this would meet the approval of many former operators. One grisly story about slaughtering a huge number of the enemy with flechette rounds is straight and to the point… as it were.
The M48 remains a classy bit of kit for it’s time and there are still quite a lot of them knocking about in service with a wide range of countries today. We learn how the protection they offered was pretty good in the minds of the people using them and the armament speaks for itself. It is a distinctive looking tank I sometimes tend to confuse with the bigger M60 but thankfully I have learned enough in this book to sort myself out. Again, I have never seen one on the move and would happily rectify the omission.
The rest of the book is brimming with the obvious Soviet or Chinese stuff in use by the North Vietnamese alongside an array of odds and sods left behind the French. In an attempt to show the widest range of armour from the war we do see a few snaps of appropriate kit in museums and collections around the world, the most familiar example being the gun trucks operated by our friends at Rolling Thunder, the top class Vietnam re-enactment group who enrich many events in the UK. The Aussies with their Centurions will always be of interest.
It is impossible not to have a soft spot for this prince among tanks.
I guess it’s fair to say that it is the larger amphibious vehicles that are least likely to be seen in my neck of the woods but happily an M113 has appeared on the show circuit and I think it is correct to say this has been abetted by the Dutch, among others, passing on their huge fleets of the things, including the YPR upgrades, for more modern toys. Mr Green shows them in their classic incarnation and we can have no complaints.
This book is a must for armoured vehicle devotees. In addition to the usual spread of mono imagery there is a colour section to enjoy. Further comment on value for money is superfluous. Top marks.
Reviewed by Mark Barnes for War History Online.
ARMOURED WARFARE IN THE VIETNAM WAR
By Michael Green
Images of War series
Pen & Sword Military
ISBN: 978 1 78159 381 3