Book Review The Dark Age of Tanks - Britain's Lost Armour 1945-1970

Discussion in 'Books, Films, TV, Radio' started by von Poop, Dec 11, 2020.

  1. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    The Dark Age of Tanks - Britain's Lost Armour 1945-1970

    By David Lister
    Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
    Pages: 194
    Illustrations: 50
    ISBN: 9781526755148
    Published: 5th March 2020


    The Dark Age of Tanks

    Full disclosure: David's a member here. Hopefully that wouldn't colour my review at all, but to be honest, who thinks I'd be particularly critical of a niche-ish book on armoured development anyway. :unsure:

    This one feels like another part in the ongoing redressing of the balance regarding 'non-German' armoured technical histories. Naturally, it's not about the Second War (though obviously that informs much business in the period covered) but it does show that it's possible to get things published these days that look at more niche areas that've been somewhat neglected. Seems like aviation titles have been looking at this sort of thing for years (Wood's excellent 'Project Cancelled' is 45 years old now!), but there's next to nothing on land-based stuff, with what there is being scattered among other histories. Growing Internet discussion over the years (long live it), but little in conventional print.

    'Weird title', I (and others) thought on first spotting, though that thought falls away early on as it's explained by a Tank Museum librarian using the phrase when referring to the subject covered. Fair point.
    From the very first he makes clear that this is a primer - a surface scratch of that neglected area, and hopefully one that will trigger more enquiry.

    Mr Lister's other book maybe suffered a tad from a slightly disjointed nature, but I think he's got into his stride with this one. More free reign to talk in proper depth about what interests him, more detail, more confidence as a writer.

    Lots of good focus on the A45 project, which I think it'd be hard to ignore as so much British (and, I feel international) effort flowed from that work. 'Universal' the intention, with the annoying practicalities that got in the way well-covered. Our modern grumbles about Defence procurement are not a new thing...
    Then goes on to a few themes & FV projects in a well-ordered logical manner. I don't doubt there is scope for individual books on each vehicle, but breaking it into headings such as flotation, flame, light etc. makes good sense in a detailed primer. 1945 caseless ammunition, FV215/Conqueror II, Flying Ferrets, Liquid propellants, fuel as armour (wonder if the Israelis/Tal saw that research) etc. etc. All that unconventional stuff covered, without ever descending into the weeds of too much extraneous/distracting detail. Crazy detail is nice, but it can easily ruin a book that wants to appeal to the more dilettante reader. I might like pages & pages of sprocket casting information, and am pretty sure Mr Lister would too, but he's got the technical/readable balance about right.

    Nice pictures. I particularly like the CAD style illustrations/impressions of vehicles (the presence of which show just how much is missing/still to be discovered in the records) and the 'now you see it, now you don't' test on two concrete filled barrels during AVRE work generated an instant expletive.

    Really pleased to see somebody give 'Contentious' some proper coverage.
    Been fascinated by the thing for a long time, and this is the best I've yet read on it. The umbrella Project Prodigal was new to me (and could do with its own book), and it's the first time I've seen even an inkling of what the final armoured machine might have looked like. 'Small Heavily Armoured Tank' should still be nomenclature now, though the acronym might be seen as problematic...
    The missiles too. That period when everything was being considered as a Malkara mount, Swingfire etc., is patchily mentioned everywhere, but a cohesive look at it here - another subject that could bear a whole book

    Useful list of sources very well-presented at the back, and... an Index! Phew...

    What might have been nice for the easily confused among us :unsure: would be a glossary list of FV numbers with a brief explanation of what they were. Kept a phone list open while reading as they become a bit of a blur.

    So, yeah, I liked it.
    As I said: I probably would, but I don't think it's an easy area to cover in a fairly concise book. I'm blinded by my interests, but would say if it was badly done or dull - and it's not.
    We think we live in an especially technological age, but the febrile activity engendered by a cold war following a disastrous hot one shows that's nothing particularly new.
    Not just for the armour nerd. I suspect anybody interested in engineering & technology in the real world would get something out of it.
    Most importantly, it's another crowbar being forced into the archives around this stuff. Honestly presented as shining a torch through the cracks into something that deserves further study.

    Cheers to P&S for the review copy.
    Cheers to David for writing it - no wish to blow smoke but some of us have been wanting this sort of thing for a while. Keep scribbling.

    Osborne2, Dave55, Listy and 2 others like this.
  2. Listy

    Listy Well-Known Member

    Yeah, but which Contentious...There's two of them!

    The same applies to this, for example FV101 is mentioned twice, with two very different vehicles. Although that is a bit of the nature of the beast, there's no cool names to use to identify many of them (although I do where I can).

    Thanks for the nice review though! Surprised you liked the CGI images though. They seemed not to work in the book, and have come in for some criticism elsewhere.
    jonheyworth likes this.
  3. Dave55

    Dave55 Atlanta, USA

    Centurion classed as pre 1945, obviously. :) That was my first thought when I saw the title.
  4. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    They've reproduced a bit murkily, but I laughed on opening the page most are on. Missing links all over the place. They show how many different ideas were being lashed out quite well.

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