Books I’ve Read – By Russ Lockwood
US Airborne Tanks: 1939-1945
by Charles C Roberts jr. Hardback, 139 pages
This covers the M-22 Locust in depth. Indeed, it seems like half the technical manual is reproduced. If close-ups of subsystems are your passion, you’ll be mesmerized by the content.
For those more interested in operations instead of pin insertion in tracks and carburetor disassemblies, text covering the design and development of air mobile tanks is up front. British use during Operation Varsity in 1945 is at the back and provides the bookend to R&D.
Most major powers of WWII prototypes an air-droppable tank and all eventually abandoned such development as impractical. The idea was to get the tank treads running at the same speed as the air speed of the plane and then jettison the tank. Right.
The short description of the USSR dropping a T-37 amphibious tank in a lake made me sit up. Presumably, these were unmanned drops of the tank slung under the fuselage of a TB-3 bomber (p13). No crash-test dummies in 1942 or so. Don’t worry, comrade, if the impact doesn’t crush you, the tank often flipped and sank.
Most figured out to use a glider, such as the ME-323 or the British Hamilcar. The Japanese developed the large Ku-7 glider, but only made nine of them and never used them for dropping a light tank during the war (p16-17).
The book contains a short, mostly pictorial profile of the US 151st Airborne Tank Company (p72-111). Although it trained hard from its inception in 1943, it never was used and was disbanded Dec 31, 1944. Its officers and enlisted men were transferred to other units.
In total, the book contains 162 black and white photos and 40 black and white illustrations and offers an interesting look into a little-used, but much studied, armored vehicle.
From the Publisher
From their first introduction at the Battle of the Somme in the First World War, tanks proved to be one of the most important military developments in the history of warfare. Such was their influence on the battlefield, both as infantry support and as an armored spearhead, their presence could determine the outcome of any battle.
Another significant development during the 1930s was that of airborne forces, with a number of countries experimenting with air-dropped troops. Such a concept offered the possibility of inserting soldiers behind the front lines to sow fear and confusion in the enemy’s rear. However, such troops, parachuting from aircraft, could only be lightly armed, thus limiting their effectiveness. It is understandable, therefore, that much thought was given to the practicalities of airlifting tanks that could be dropped, or deposited, alongside paratroopers.
Tanks, though, are heavy, cumbersome vehicles and before there could be any thought of carrying them by air, much lighter models would have to be produced. Charles Roberts’ fascinating book opens with an investigation into the efforts in the 1930s by Britain, the Soviet Union and the USA into the development of, or adaptation of, light tanks for airborne operations.
It was, inevitably, the start of the Second World War which accelerated efforts to produce an airborne tank and the means of delivery. The use of conventional powered aircraft to carry the tanks, limited their use to existing airfields which negated their employment with airborne troops landing in the open countryside. Another method of delivery had to be found, and this took the form of the glider, which could be landed in a field behind enemy lines. The combination of light tank and glider made the aim of airborne forces being supported by armor a realistic proposition – and as a result, the 28th Airborne Tank Battalion was born.
This detailed and comprehensive study deals with every aspect of design and deployment of American airborne tanks from the earliest concepts to their actual use, by British units, on D-Day and during Operation Varsity, the Rhine crossing.
(Note: Reviews posted with permission of the reviewer.
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