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The Great Book of Tanks

The world's most important tanks from World War I to the present day


by David Miller


S u m m a r y

Title, Description, Publisher, Media and Price Book Review: The Great Book of Tanks: The world's most important tanks from World War I to the present day (soft covers with flyleaf flaps) by David Miller; Salamander Books, London, 2003; 512 pp. Price $24.98 US (ISBN 1-84065-539-9)
Review Type: FirstRead
Advantages: Great selection of pictures, many fresh or presented in large format making them super for modeling
Disadvantages: So-so text with many errors; many, many mistaken identification errors in photos, some minor, some major and inexcusable; lame paintings appear to have been recycled from older Salamander books
Recommendation: Recommended with Reservations for hard-core modelers or armor fans only


Reviewed by Cookie Sewell

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The best thing for many of us in recent years is the fact that all major national archives with the exception of China are open to researchers and analysts, and as a result a wealth of new material has poured out onto the market on many subjects of interest to modelers. This book appears to be another one, as it is a real treasure trove of clear, large size photos (the book itself is 9" x 12" (227 x 305mm) and well rendered.

The subject of the book is armor, and after a 40 page background on the history of the tank, the author presents 100 tanks in chronological order which he sees as the most important and most deserving of chronicling. Each subject rates from 2 to 12 pages of text and photos, but in some cases the subjects are ill-served.

T-62, for example, rates two pages and a poor water-color painting (as does Leopard 1) whereas M60A2 gets 8 pages and color photos to boot. Likewise, some early British tanks such as A11 Matilda and A9 Cruiser rate coverage out of proportion to their effect on the development of the tank.

But what is really puzzling are the errors in the text and photos. Mr. Miller is noted on the end flyleaf as having been a British Army officer with extensive service in Europe, an IDR staff journalist and an editor of Jane's Major Surface Warships, but one would be hard pressed to tell that from the goofs and flubs. These are not just "typos" not caught in editing, but real off-the-beam blunders.

They start on the cover: the author identifies the head-on shot on the front as an M60A1; it is not, being clearly (since it is head-on, no opportunity for mistakes) an M48A5 with T142 track.

Some of the text errors show poor research and knowledge of the prototypes. Under the KV series tanks, Mr. Miller notes that 13,500 heavy tanks and SP gunss were built during WWII. The actual numbers are around 4,771 KV-1/KV-2/KV-1S/KV-8/KV-85 tanks and over 600 SU-152 guns. The rest of the tanks were all IS-1/IS-2 or ISU-122/ISU-152 types, which were on a completely different chassis. This is readily available information, so he should have separated it out rather than glossing over the tank. AMX-13, on the other hand, is noted as carrying a standard 90mm gun. Most information indicates that the AMX-13s were upgraded to this after their KwK 42 based 75mm guns were no longer felt capable of standing on the modern battlefield, but I have no references which say that was the standard weapon. AMX-30B2 is covered, but it rates two pages and all they doe is basically cover AMX-30, not the B2 variant, which merits one paragraph. This tank did see combat (in Desert Storm) unlike others, so again the coverage is erratic.

But it is in the photos that most of the errors come out. Most egregious of the ones I saw was what happened to M41. The first picture cited as M41 in combat in Korea 1952 is actually an M46, not M41. The next photo is that of an M24(citing the bow gun as a feature of M41 to make matters worse); after that, the author does get them right. T-54/T-55 fare a bit better: the photos there are (in order) T-55 Model 1958; T-55 Model 1958; T-62 Model 1966; T-55 Model 1970; T-54A or Type 59; T-55 Model 1970; T-54A or Type 59; Israeli Tiran; T-62 Model 1966; T-55AM Model 1970; T-55 Model 1958. Now ignoring the specific identification given here, nearly all are called "T-55" in text less the Israeli tank.

The list goes on: M3 Stuart page 226-7, M3 not M3A1; page 230-231, M2A4 not M3; page 231, M5 not M3; M3 Lee-Grant page 238, M3 Lee as modified by the Australians with no cupola and driver's viewer (sometimes called Grant VI by some sources) not M3 Grant; M4 Sherman, all listed as M4 regardless of sub-variant; Panther, all listed as Panther regardless of sub-variant; M48 page 375, M60 with Blazer not M48 with Blazer; T-72, paintings look like they date to 1975 or so and are very poor; all photos are of T-72 Model 1972 tanks; Merkava page 468-469, what appears to be the prototype; M-1 Abrams page 478-479, a painting of a developmental tank, not "an early model M-1"; only one photo separates M-1A1 from M-1s even though photos tend to alternate.

Likewise, some of the omissions seem odd. T-80 a turbine powered vehicle which shocked NATO and has seen combat, does not make the book. Likewise, some tanks which were more instrumental in either changing policy and tactics or showed more stretch than others get shoved into one segment whereas two would have been better, e.g. M4 Sherman 75mm and 76mm, Pzkw. IV short 7.5 cm and long 7.5. cm; T-34 with 76mm guns and T-34-85; Pzkw. III with 3.7 cm and short 5 cm and later with long 5 cm; Centurion in UK service and Centurion in foreign service. The possibilities are endless, but given the extraordinary amount of coverage some backwater vehicles get and the scrimping on others which did see combat and had an effect on the development of tanks is puzzling.

The book is worth it just for the photos for those not aware of it, three good photos from the Tank Museum or IWM Archives in the UK can set you back the retail price of this book. For those of us in the US, it seems to be making the rounds of the "warehouse club" type stores. I picked this copy up in Sam's Club for just $11.94 making it a real bargain. As to why, case in point: a clear shot of a 10th Cavalry M551 Sheridan firing a Shillelagh missile. The photo has been around for a while, but the reproduction here is crystal clear and for once the markings can be clearly seen. There is a silhouette of a buffalo in the red/white colors of US cavalry guideons on the rear of the tank, and as it is a 3/4 front shot, all of the vehicle's tac markings can also be read clearly. (Now to hope for a new styrene M551 kit!)

Overall, this is a great book for the serious modeler who has good research knowledge and is only looking for markings or finishes. For the newcomer to armor history or modeling, it is a very confusing book and will cause more frustration than it will cure.

If you consider that when buying it, it's not bad.

Cookie Sewell

Review Copyright 2003 by Cookie Sewell
Page Created 02 August, 2003
Last updated 15 August, 2003

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