Academic journal article Military Review

Men, Ideas and Tanks: British Military Thought and Armoured Forces, 1903-1939

Academic journal article Military Review

Men, Ideas and Tanks: British Military Thought and Armoured Forces, 1903-1939

Article excerpt

MEN, IDEAS AND TANKS: British Military Thought and Armoured Forces, 1903-1939 by J.P. Harris. 342 pages. Manchester University Press, Manchester, England. (Distributed bv St. Martin's Press, New York.) t996. $75.00 clothbound. $24.95 paperback.

The book's front cover collage largely encapsulates the story of Men, Ideas and Tanks. Pictured are Major General Ernest Swinton and Winston Churchill, early tank development pioneers. Also pictured are the 1916 Mark I tank and the 1934 Medium Mark III tank, representing two important British tank design evolution steps. And prominently featured is Brigadier General George Lindsay, a little-known figure who served as the experimental Mobile Division commander in the interwar period. Conspicuously missing are the two icons of mechanized warfare theoryJ.F.C. Fuller and B.H. Liddell Hart.

In Harris' history of the ideas that drove British armored forces' development, he gives credit where it is due and demolishes the historical reputations he believes are ill-founded. Thus, Swinton and Churchill are credited as key "idea" men in the birth of the tank, along with relatively unknown figures such as Lieutenant Walter Wilson and William Tritton, who turned ideas into practical prototypes and, eventually, effective fighting vehicles. Lindsay is described as that rare interwar period officer who saw the need for a balanced, combined arms mechanized force. Fuller and Liddell Hart receive little praise for their widely publicized efforts as armored warfare prophets. Harris portrays their ideas as logistically unrealistic, tactically impractical and politically naive.

Harris also rehabilitates several senior leaders who have received rough treatment in the past. He portrays Field Marshal Douglas Haig, often criticized for his faulty use of tanks, as a perceptive commander who saw the early tanks' potential despite their serious mechanical limitations. …

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