Osprey's latest volume in their Warrior series covers the Marine Corps tank units during the Vietnam War era. The author, Ed Gilbert, is an ex-Marine artilleryman and Battalion Training NCO in the Marine Corps Reserve. The book consist of 64 pages, plus 8 pages of colour artwork by Howard Gerrard.
Introduction and Training
The book begins with a historical background and chronology of the Marines' use of tanks. The expanding role of the Marines took a major step in 1936 with the formation of the Fleet Marine Force, designed for conflict across the expanses of the Pacific in an anticipated war with Japan.
The author gives a brief outline of the Marines' use of tanks in WW2 and Korea, which led to their being an established part of the Corps by the 1960s.
The bulk of the book consists of seven chapters of "historical narrative". In this, the author follows the progress of three fictional characters. I was initially somewhat sceptical about this approach, but it works very well and allows the author to condense personal experiences from a variety of sources to paint a vivid picture of the lives of "everyday" tankers. Backing up the fictionalised account are direct anecdotes from veterans.
The chapters follow logically from volunteering for the Marines (there was no enlistment to the Marine Corps at that time), through the punishing training at Boot Camp. The book covers the tankers' training in some detail, including operational procedures and the methods used to foster an esprit de corps. The early chapters also dtail basic uniforms and equipment and give a good, often amusing, account of their daily life during training.
The scene soon shifts to Vietnam, as the characters are called upon to replace casualties and crewmen rotated out of the combat zone. The author discusses the effect on moral and efficiency caused by the rotation system, rather than keeping experienced crews together.
The text is crammed with detail about the conditions that await the newcomers on their arrival in Vietnam. Every "snuffy" had a lot to learn fast - from the ever present dangers of mortars and suicide sappers in supposedly "safe" areas, to mundane ways of making life more tolerable in the new environment. The dangers of enemy action are balanced by the daily grind of camp life and the "delights" of latrine duty and C-rations.
The text covers the range of duties which the Marines tankers faced, including convoy protection and infantry support, plus boring periods of bridge guarding, where the tanks became little more than mobile pill-boxes.
The story concludes with the intense close-quarters fighting in Hue in 1968, when three Marines battalions, assisted by a small number of tanks, fought to recapture the city from fourteen NVA battalions. Some idea of the ferocity of the fighting can be gained from the fact that every single tank suffered at least one penetrative hit to the turret. The carnage suffered by the crewmen was appalling and some tanks went through as many as eleven replacement crews before the fighting ended.
Fittingly, the book concludes wth a look at museum collections and re-enactment groups, followed by a glossary of terms.
Photos and Artwork
The text is illustrated throughout by useful B&W photos, which give plenty of detail of uniforms and equipment, as well as showing the conditions under which the crews operated.
The colour plates are divided into two types. Detailed artwork depicts the development of uniforms and equipment from training to specialised jungle-gear, while full-page paintings show scenes from Boot Camp through to service in Vietnam.
This is a very interesting book, which provides a great starter for anyone studying Marine Corp tank operations during the 1960s. From a modeller's point of view, the detailed descriptions and excellent artwork will prove very useful and will, no doubt, be a source of inspiration for many Vietnam dioramas.
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Thank you to Osprey Publishing for kindly supplying the review sample.
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