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The Age of the Main Battle Tank, Western Tank Development 1960-1975

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Book Review

The Age of the Main Battle Tank, Western Tank Development 1960-1975

MP Robinson and Dick Taylor

Published by AK, 2023

Reviewed by Glen Broman (review copyright 2024)

Back in 2020, I bought a book from Last Cavalry called “Before the Birth of the Main Battle Tank” by the same authors and published by Kagero. It covered tanks from roughly 1945 to the end of the 1950’s. It was a soft back that was well illustrated and very good reference priced in the mid to upper $20 range. Imagine my surprise when I discovered early this year that it was volume one of a planned three volume series. I have a number of modeling related business pages that I follow in email and Facebook; one of them is Bookworld/Avid Reader in the UK. Roughly every week one of their employees goes through new releases they have received. Bookworld normally gets copies of European book releases weeks or months before they are available in the US. About a month or so, the nice lady from Bookworld showed the second volume in the series, The Age of the Main Battle Tank. This did not look anything like the first volume in that it was huge, over 300 pages, a hardback and published by AK. These are very similar in size, format and price to their recent books “Armor of the Vietnam War” and “Artillery of the Vietnam War”. At the time, it was only available via mail order from Bookworld or AK, in the 50 to 60 Euro/pound range, plus shipping. So one day, I was surfing the Last Cavalry webpage, as one does (www.lastcavalry.com), and I found a copy on his new arrivals page, so I ordered it and picked it up a few days later. That was a good day.

This book did not go to the end of into the reading queue but went right to the head of the line. This is an excellent reference book with a few minor niggles, which I’ll cover later. First, the authors are well known to the armor modeling and research community. MP Robinson is the author of numerous books and articles and is well known to readers of UK based modeling magazines. Dick Taylor has a tremendous reputation in the armor community; he is the official historian of the Royal Armor Corps and was a serving officer. He is the author of the Warpaint series on colors and markings of the British Army, as well as other books in the Green series and the excellent three volume series of British Armored warfare from 1916 to the present day. The list of acknowledgments also reveals the names of many world renowned researchers and authors that assisted in the development of this book.

The book is organized into sixteen chapters, including the Forward, Introduction and Color Profile section. The production values are excellent, and it’s printed in high quality glossy paper. The chapters focus on a particular series of vehicles, countries or cooperative tank development efforts. There is a lot of really good information in this book, some of which was new to me, so that’s saying a lot. A word on the photographs, while there are pictures in this book that have been published before, I would say the majority have not been, which again makes this a great reference. The treatment on Swiss and Swedish tanks is excellent and this information is generally not found with any great frequency in most publications. The photographs are large uniform sizes that show lots of details. They are both black and white and color. The captions are excellent and informative, with very few exceptions, those exceptions usually being American tanks, but again, I’ll get to that. I did not count the number of photos, but it’s probably up in the high hundreds. The written parts of the chapters are also informative and well researched. The final chapter is a nice wrap up and explanation of the impact of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War and sets the conditions for what I hope will be volume three covering Main Battle Tanks from 1975 to the current day. The final part is the icing on the cake, 220 color profiles of all those tanks, mostly side views, frequently showing both sides and the top, in cases of vehicles with camo patterns. Yummy.

The color photos were very beneficial to me as they help demonstrate a color conundrum I’ve been wrestling with for nearly 50 years. As a professional Armor Crewman in the US Army both as an NCO and officer, I served in Europe from the 70’s through the 90’s and trained with British, French, German and other NATO partner armor and cavalry units. I was also a modeler way back then and was particularly interested in how the vehicles were painted and marked. Most publications state that Germany painted their vehicles in both and early and late version of Gelb Olive, or simply called it “olive drab”, which was incorrect. The French, I was told, used “Vert Olive”. The problem was that many of the German and French tanks also had a distinct grey green color in the 70’s. There are many color photos in this volume of French and German tanks before the advent of the standard NATO 3 color scheme. The quality of the photos is such that one can discern both the early and late German Gelb Olive as well as tanks with a grey green color. A similar green grey tint also shows up on some French tanks. This goes beyond light, shadows and paint wear and, at least to my satisfaction, shows that there was some variation to French and German tank camo in the 70’s before the advent of standardized 3 color schemes, although to be honest, the French also went a bit off script on the NATO scheme by using a much brighter green than the US and Germany. A bit of Gallic flair, undoubtedly.

Let me cover a few minor niggles. The authors can’t consistently identify the differences between an M60A1 and an M60A3. There are way too many misidentified tanks both in photographs and profiles. On example clearly shows an M60A3 with the thermal sleeve on the barrel, the wind sensor on the turret and the laser port on the right former rangefinder blister in the open position. Perhaps adding a serving or former US Armor officer or NCO to the review team would help correct this? Also, the organization of the chapters, pictures and paragraphs are a bit disjointed. The paragraphs within the chapters jump around a bit and the photos of the vehicles do not always match the text of the paragraphs. While the text may discuss Leopard 1’s, the photos are AMX-30’s, but not to worry, the Leopard 1 photos will follow shortly. This is a very minor issue and does not detract from the overall quality of the product. The color profiles are excellent, but there are very few front or rear profile views that show the full hull markings. Perhaps some scrap views would help and also not take up space or drive up costs. I would also add one piece of advice for the authors, US unit designations should look like this: 3-37 Armor or 1-64 Armor, not 3/37 Armor or 1/64 armor. The slash denotes that the unit to the right of the slash is a tactical headquarters. In the US Army, armor units, with the exception of the Cavalry Regiments, are regimental affiliations, not tactical headquarters. So 1/11 Armored Cavalry Regiment would be correct, but 3/32 Armor would not be. These are not distractors, but are offered in the spirit of making Volume 3 even better.

Now to address the price, as we all know inflation and transportation costs are driving costs up. I paid $87 for this book. So is it worth it? As I mentioned, the production standards are excellent, the content is top notch and the majority of the photos are new to me. The 220 color profiles are also pretty sweet.

My opinion is that this book also fills a significant gap. It is an outstanding single source for main battle tank development. I have volumes of Kagero, AK, Hunicutt, Haynes and other books on individual tanks going back to the old profile series in my personal library that I would have to consult to get the same level of information on each of the specific vehicles. Those volumes generally go into more detail, but what this volume does is also compare and contrast the vehicles and puts them all in the context of the military requirements, financial constraints and political considerations that drove their development. For that reason the product is well worth the price.

I purchased my copy from Last Cavalry at www.lastcavalry.com

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