Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Pershing's Tankers: Personal Accounts of the AEF Tank Corps in World War I

Edited by Lawrence M. Kaplan. 
Forward by Dale E. Wilson
University Press of Kentucky, 2018
Bruce G. Sloan, Reviewer

Dear Beatrice:
One year ago today we reached Paris full of desire to kill Germans. We are still full of desire but so far as I am concerned there are just as many Germans as there were then. Sometimes I deeply regret that I did not take the infantry last November instead of the tanks.
George S. Patton, Letter, 13 June 1918

Probably the best explanation of Pershing's Tankers is a long quote from the Forword by Dale E. Wilson, who also wrote Treat 'Em Rough, which I previously reviewed for this blog on 30 July 2019. He describes how:

The cornerstone of this collection is the narratives American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) Tank Corps commander Brigadier General Samuel D. Rockenbach ordered his officers to write while their experience was fresh in their minds. Hoping to capture the essence of armored warfare and the important place it had on the modern battlefield, he instructed them to write in the first person and to avoid the dull language characteristic of most after-action reports.

Col. Wilson goes on to explain sources and processes further, but the foregoing should give you the gist. Both unexpected and refreshing is the humor included in many of the reports. As an example, Col. George Patton's combat report was humorously self-deprecating—NOT what I would have expected.

After a short summary of the Tank Corps operations, plus the Congressional testimony given by General Rockenbach and his January 1920 article in Infantry Journal, all of which set the historical and administrative basis for the Corps, we jump right into the Official Tank Corps Personal-Experience Reports.

These reports all start when the particular officer (or enlisted personnel, many of whom became an officer) joined the AEF, and especially when they got involved with the Tank Corps. They typically end when the officer was wounded, the Armistice was signed, or when the officer finally was allowed to go home.

The reports are organized by unit and by action, which can be followed on the maps in the back of the book. Unfortunately, as with most narratives of combat I read, the maps are barely sufficient, and I was left with my head spinning from time to time. (I understand this is normally caused by the publisher being too damn cheap, NOT by the author/editor.)

The two types of units, those with light tanks (the French Renault), and those with heavy tanks (the British Mark V, Mark V*, male, female, & composite), were in separate actions or sectors of the same battle. After some very nice representative photos, we read the Unofficial Personal Accounts, including personal correspondence to wives, fathers, and relatives of those "gone west," newspapers, books, and so on. The Tank Corps Organization Charts, Order of Battle, are included, as is a chart highlighting the type and number of tanks the U.S. Army planned to procure during an extended war.

I recommend Pershing's Tankers highly, as it includes both dry and colorful reporting. By the end the reader has a much better idea of who these young (and sometimes older) pioneers were.

Bruce G. Sloan


  1. Thank you for these words. Ordered book. Look forward to reading. Cheers

  2. I purchased this book and it was well worth the cost. I learned a lot about life in and operations of the AEF Tank Corps during WW I.