by: Mario Krajinovic [ ]
Long before tanks dominated the battlefield with speed, firepower and armor protection, they had a very different purpose as well as an insecure future. With the start of the Great War that entangled the entire world in a never before seen bloodshed, the necessity to defeat obstacles like barbed wire and trenches that spread across no-man’s land gave birth to tanks. During 1915, the British founded the Landships Committee that by the end of 1916 developed man's first tank as we understand the term; the final prototype nicknamed "Mother." Production models of "Male" (carrying naval cannon and machine guns) and "Female" (carrying only machine-guns) tanks would go on to fight in history's first tank engagement during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette (part of the wider Somme offensive) on 15 September 1916. Osprey’s latest book gives an account on the Mk.V and its family – a tank that holds the claim that it won the War for the Allies.
About the book
The book “Mark V Tank” is one of the latest issues in the New Vanguard series by Osprey and is signed by author David Fletcher and illustrator Henry Morshead. Published in April, 2011, it’s a soft-cover edition spreading over 48 pages with 39 black and white photographs and 7 full page color illustrations. I must note that the illustrations are very beautiful and besides the regular profile ones there are some I wouldn’t mind having framed on the wall. Every illustration is fully captioned and gives a brief history of the landship depicted. The photographs are crisp, full of action and can be used as inspiration for a number of dioramas just waiting to be built.
The book is comprised of the following chapters:
• The first Mark V
• The real Mark V
• Crew duties and conditions
• The Mark V*
• The Mark V and Mark V* in service
• The Mark V**
• Developments in Christchurch
• The Mark X
Introduction is letting the reader know of the logical evolution of tank development from the Mk.I to Mk.V and Ricardo’s engine development for a tank that would yet to be. A straight-six engine with 19 liter capacity and crosshead valve system providing 150 horse power easily to a tank that saw it’s debut in 1917.
The second chapter tells the story of the original requirements and design for the Mk.V; Ricardo engine coupled to a Wilson transmission, wider, 24 inch tracks and Hotchkiss machine guns. Initial mock-ups were built but unfortunately no example was preserved.
The real Mark V was different than the proposed design and on the 5 pages the author gives various technical descriptions and explains the difference in Male and Female models as well as how to differentiate the Mk.V to its very similar forefathers. Six black and white photographs accompany this chapter as well as a single illustration with full captions provided for each picture.
Crew duties and conditions in the Mk.V were far from ideal at the time. The 8 man crew had their hands full operating and maneuvering the beast. Driver controlled a 4 speed gearbox and used levers to steer the tank and communicated to the commander to be able to drive. Next to him were a dedicated front machine gunner and 4 more sponson gunners manning the Hotchkiss machine guns or 2 Hotchkiss six-pounder (57 mm) guns in the Male version. Commander had the best view for overlooking the battlefield and operated the pistol ports. The last man if he had nothing better to do manned the rear machine gun position. The conditions in the tank were harsh to say at least with cramped space, lack of any real protection for the crew and the danger of carbon-monoxide poisoning always present.
Mark V* tanks weren’t just stretched out versions of the original design, but an entirely new model featuring side doors for ventilation, longer body and a sloping rear cab.
Both Mk.V and the Mk.V* saw service in 8th and 13th battalion of the Tank Corps and fought all over the battlefields with the most famous for the Mk.V’s being battle of Amiens. The course of that battle is provided on 6 pages with the happenings after the armistice well described.
Learning from the lessons of Mk.V’s service, an ambitious programme for the Mark V** surfaced. Order for more than 900 tanks was in process but only 25 were ever completed. Some of the features are described in this chapter like the revised shape, lower hull frame, a 225 bhp engine located in the back, un-ditching gear and a mass of 35 tonnes.
Events in Christchurch created another necessity; an engineering tank that could lay bridges under fire. A Mk.V* tank was modified to a bridge-layer with a triangular pivoting frame-work manually operated by 2 crew members. The next step was employing hydraulics for operating the lifting mechanism for the Royal Engineer’s tanks.
More than 62 upgrades were intended for the Mark X, the latest version of the Mk.V** (to simplify nomenclature instead of Mk.V***) with more than 2000 ordered, but the entire production was eventually scrapped.
This is a nice book that can tell a reader a lot of things people should know about the history of tanks, and especially the one almost all modern tanks can trace its roots to. It tells about the technological developments that made this tank excel where others had failed, and the reasons why it gave the British the upper hand over the Germans on the battlefield. This book is an excellent resource for the study of the armor of World War I due to the wealth of information provided in the text as well as the captions and the photographic references.