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Recently, Osprey has published a number of books dealing with World War One subjects; some in this particular series dealing with AFVs and ordnance, others in the Men-at-Arms series dealing with various armies of the period. In each case, these titles have left me scratching my head because, with a few exceptions, manufacturers (and by extension, modelers) have largely ignored this period. This is a shame since there are loads of interesting subjects from that period that should be attended to. Perhaps this book will help generate interest in this neglected era.
The author, a well known entity in the modeling world, has turned his talents towards relating the design history of the very first operational tank, the British Mark I. To do so, he begins with descriptions of the concept and development of the “Number One Lincoln Machine”, “Little Willy” and “Big Willy”, better known as “Mother”. He then follows with technical descriptions of how the first Mark I tanks were built, what duties the crew had, how the crews were trained and how the first units were organized.
The introduction of the first tanks into battle, at Flers-Courcelette on September 15, 1916 is described in detail. The results of the battle, (although essentially tactically inconclusive) were that the British began to prepare to build tanks in the thousands, since the previously skeptical Commander-in-Chief, Haig, immediately ordered that 1,000 new tanks be procured as soon as possible. Later actions are also described, but since most of the limited number of Mark Is did not last very long, the story of these particular tanks is not a lengthy one. Operations in the middle-east are also covered, as well as later operations by Mark IIs at Arras. It appears that no Mark IIIs saw combat.
The book also details the development of the Mark II and Mark III tanks. These were un-armored training tanks that were also meant to be used as test-beds for further improvements. That some of these vehicles actually saw combat is an indication of how important tanks came to be in such a short time. Modified supply and wireless station tanks are also described, as are some of the later battles in which these early tanks took part.
The text is an easy, informative read and is something the average person should be able to get through in a short sitting. The odd thing about it is that it ends rather suddenly without any real attempt by the author to make any conclusions, be they of a general or specific nature.
As is typical for books in this series, the photo content is quite good and the captions are all informative. Mr. Bryan’s excellent color artwork depicts the No. 1 Lincoln Machine, Little Willy, Big Willy (Mother), Mark I male and female tanks, Mark II female and Mark III male, and Mark I supply and wireless tanks. The color spread cutaway drawing depicts a Mark I male, which saw action on September 15, 1916. Various markings and color schemes are depicted, which would make these drawings quite useful to modelers … if there were decent kits available!
Frank De Sisto