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Author, film researcher and member of the Swedish Military History Commission.

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Lost Tank Battalions

Raiders of the lost tank battalions, this is the book you are looking for.

On 4 December 1942 Adolf Hitler ordered that all Tiger tanks that had been shipped to Italy and were earmarked for fighting Montgomery´s Eighth Army instead be sent to the newly formed 5th Panzer Army in Tunisia. To quote Harry Yeide: "American tankers were [thus] destined to find out that there was a top league of tank design that their own side had not even considered when designing their machines."

That is a quote from the surprising opening chapter of The Infantry´s Armor by military historian Harry Yeide. Yes, I have to admit that I was very surprised by it, because I was totally unaware of the prequel to the first US tank battles in North Africa - that took place on the other side of the world. US tankers were in fact in combat within twenty-four hours of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. Where? In the Philippines. But perhaps due to the fact that these tankers were not part of any tank division, but instead one of numerous separate tank battalions assigned to infantry formations, their bloody experiences are not that well known.

Well, thanks to The Infantry´s Armor I am now a great deal more aware of the very varied combat that the US Army´s separate tank battalions saw, starting in the Pacific and then in Africa, Italy, France, Belgium and Germany.

Returning to how everything started, here is a small but telling remark from the Bataan Death March orchestrated by the Japanese Army:

"Some 600 Americans and 5,000 to 10,000 Filipinos died during the march. According to a veteran of the 192nd Tank Battalion, tankers removed their Armored Force insignia once they saw that the Japanese were picking tankers out and taking them away, never to be seen again. The tankers had done the Japanese a great deal of damage."

In Africa and Europe it was initially harder for the US Army´s separate tank battalions to make that kind of impact on their enemies. One reason was, I learnt from The Infantry´s Armor, the uncertainty about how to employ tanks in support of infantry. The way that the US Army gradually learnt how to use them is a story told by the often ignored separate tank battalions. It is a story that still today is valuable for serving tankers, especially tank officers. But, make no mistake, this book also tells the rough and bloody stories of individual tankers. You get a sense of the conditions inside the tanks, both in the Pacific jungles and in Europe. The life of the tanker was often chaotic, hot and filled with nauseating gasses from heavy firing.

Normandy buffs get the best account I have ever read about how the countless hedgerows affected the fighting after D-Day, both through words and maps. Speaking of illustrations, this book contains some really great photos of US tanks in action. The number of photographs is not immense, totally 33 photos, but of these I had only come across one or two before. Several of them could be made into dioramas.

The Infantry´s Armor is very valuable for relatives of WWII tankers and other researchers looking for solid and reliable information about the US Army´s separate tank battalions, but it should also be read by currently serving tankers.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Swedish Armour & Leatherman Adventure

Swedish Landsverks in Dutch service saw action against the 1940 airborne assault.

For years I have been wanting to see the Swedish Landsverk M38 armoured car that is being restored privately in the Netherlands. The Landsverks of the Dutch cavalry took part in the fighting against the invading Germans in 1940. This summer my dream came true - plus we got a major surprise on the same trip, from Tim Leatherman himself.

We went to the Netherlands this summer, not least to later be able to write a magazine story about the WWII Swedish Landsverk armoured cars in service first against German forces and then in captured German service. Thanks to the Bosman brothers my family got to see their wonderful restoration job up close. Their M38 was a few years ago a very sorry looking wreck on Ireland. I will show many more photos of this most impressive project in a coming article and book. Just let me add here a huge thank you to the talented Bosman brothers.

When planning our Dutch trip we had not heard about the NEMO Science Museum in Amsterdam. Nor did we have an inkling that the inventor of the Leatherman multitool, Tim Leatherman himself, would be there to kick off a world tour. The Leatherman multitool was "born" on a 1975 trip from Amsterdam with a repeatedly malfunctioning little Fiat. A long trip through Europe and all the way to to Iran, that included leaky hotel plumbing and many other situations that so to say demanded a multitool.

Well, while visiting NEMO we became aware of Mr. Leatherman´s presence that day and decided we´d like to see what he looked like and perhaps even hear him speak. In fact, we got to talk to him and he turned out to be amiable, humble and also attentive to our son. I was in the process reminded of my first Leatherman, that I gave away to a Russian gentleman many years ago.

Tim Leatherman and our son Jarl at NEMO in Amsterdam.

Without hoping too much, our son left his name and address on a slip of paper to possibly win a limited edition multitool signed personally by Mr. Leatherman. Well, some hours later I got a call from an unknown number. I had a good feeling, took the call and heard a representative for Mr. Leatherman announce that our son was one of a handful of winners.

The next day we were not going to be in Amsterdam, but the Dutch Leatherman importer Mr. Jerko van den Hazel kindly suggested he would find us where we would be, at the Dutch National Military Museum in Soest, a museum that focuses on the Dutch Armed Forces in the past, present and even in the future. So, at the museum, which turned out to be one of the best museums I have ever visited, Jarl was presented with a limited edition Leatherman that is basically the same design that I once gave away to a Russian who hade been more than helpful for a WWII documentary that I was involved in at the time. Out on the Russian tundra, just before we parted ways, I slipped the multitool into his pocket.

Since those days, some twenty years ago, I have purchased another Leatherman for myself, of a later design. I had not, though, gotten a multitool for our children. So, that Jarl won one was both good timing and amusing, since the type he got was like the one I had once given away.

Jarl using his Leatherman to repair a half-track in the National Military Museum.

Many thanks to Tim Leatherman and Jerko van den Hazel for reminding us, in an unforgettable way, that giving away stuff is a great idea.

Now, just a few examples of what we saw at the museum - that has many hundred other large artifacts and thousands of smaller ones. Let me recommend you to stay there at least one full day. Best is to have two days, to be able to experience the interactive parts. Check out their website for special events (like a big show in the fall, that you should book). Many thanks to Dr. Mathieu Willemsen for your kind help and replies for a future publication.

WWI era FT-17 tank in good shape.

German V-1 meets Spitfire.

A Sherman tank after one or two hits...

This MiG-21 is just one of several Cold War planes that you can see up close.