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

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Treat 'Em Rough! The Birth of American Armor, 1917–20

By Dale E. Wilson
Casemate Publishers, Rev. Edition 2018
Bruce G. Sloan, Reviewer

American Operated French FT-17 Tanks, Meuse-Argonne Offensive

When this book was first published in 1990, its author, Capt. Dale E. Wilson, was a career armor officer serving as an assistant professor in the department of history at the United States Military Academy. Previously he had served in Vietnam as an infantryman. He succinctly describes the subject matter of his book in his preface:

US Tank Corps Banner
Note British Mk-5 Tank
What follows is the story of the American Tank Corps in World War I—from its creation to its dismemberment after passage of the National Defense Act of 1920. Particular attention is devoted to the development of equipment, organization and tactics, and a training program, all of which had to be accomplished from scratch in order to prepare the tanks and the men who would use them for combat. The meat of the story, however, is contained in the detailed accounts of the 1st/304th Tank Brigade's support of the American First Army in the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne campaigns, and the 301st Heavy Tank Battalion's combat experiences with the British Fourth Army beginning in late September 1918.

The author's research includes, among other sources, the personal papers of General George Smith Patton, Jr., archives of the Army's Military History Institute, and Tank Corps files at the National Archives.

The book is divided into the two main parts mentioned above, Part I being the birth of the Corps, training, the tanks, and the production thereof. Part II is a detailed explanation of the campaigns mentioned, with easily readable maps. An epilogue details the forced drawdown after the Armistice and the lessons learned. Appendix A has specifications of the various French, British, and American tanks. Appendix B is a list of Tank Corps personnel cited for valor.

The American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) Tank Corps did not exist until after June 1917, when Gen. John J. Pershing appointed several committees to study British and French tank tactics and operations. A mere 15 months later the Corps was in combat, with 752 officers and 11,277 enlisted men in its ranks, and two months after that, the war was over. However, all the tanks used in combat were either French or British: no American-built tanks arrived before the Armistice.

In addition to many others, we meet some familiar officers such as Lt. Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who reluctantly set up and commanded the stateside camps and training (never getting to France) and Lt. Col. George S. Patton, Jr., who was lucky enough to command the 1st/304th Tank Brigade in combat.

American Operated British Mark V Tanks, Somme Sector

Even though frustrated by entrenched Army reluctance, political and industrial roadblocks, and logistic nightmares, the Tank Corps got the men and most of the materiél to France. In action, the Tank Corps heavily contributed to the defeat of the enemy. "Treat 'Em Rough" was the Tank Corps motto and the title of their magazine published at Camp Colt. I found the book to be well written, organized, and very informative. A definite recommendation is in order.

Bruce G. Sloan

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