Book Review
M551 Sheridan
The US Army's Armored Reconnaissance /Airborne Assault Vehicle from Vietnam to Desert Storm
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by: Russ Bucy [ KEVLAR06 ]


Schiffer's "Legends of Warfare" - M551 Sheridan The US Army's Armored Reconnaissance/Airborne Assault Vehicle From Vietnam to Desert Storm by David Doyle

As a former Armored Cavalryman, I had my share of adventures with the M551 Sheridan during the late 1970s. The Sheridan was the "sports car" of the US Army's armored force during the later stages of the Cold War. Lightly armored, yet heavily armed, it was fast, manoeuvrable and packed a punch. At the same time, the shortage of missiles and subsequent heavy recoil of the 152mm conventional round for the gun resulted in serious mechanical issues for the drive train. As a result, those who crewed this innovative vehicle either loathed it or loved it. Last year, Tamiya and Rye Field Models announced new kits of the M551. Sabot released a new book on the Sheridan, and then, respected military vehicle author David Doyle announced he'd be releasing a new book on the M551 in the Schiffer "Legends of Warfare" series.
Having crewed an M551A1, I was very pleased to see this new "renaissance" for the Sheridan. Up till now, comprehensive references for the M551 have been few and difficult to find. In my recollection, there's Hunnicut's Sheridan: A History of the US Light Tank; a couple of abbreviated Squadron books (one by Doyle himself); Stephen Zaloga's Osprey book on the Sheridan; Sabot's newer technical book on the Sheridan, and now, David Doyle's new photographic history in the "Legends of Warfare series, which is the subject of this review.

Doyle's book is published in a compact 9" X 9" format, hardcover, with no dust jacket. The book has 128 pages with 231 color and black and white photos of the Sheridan, printed on high quality semi-gloss acid-free paper. The book is divided into a short Introduction and three chapters: Development; Armament; and Field Use. The text is kept to a minimum, instead focusing on presenting photographs with informative captions. The Introduction consists of a short narrative explaining the story of the US Army concept for the development of a light, Armored Reconnaissance/Airborne Assault Vehicle (AR/AAV) to replace the M41 Light tank, which began in 1952.

The first full chapter in the book is entitled "Development", from pages 6-23, and is devoted to the history and development of the Sheridan, with information and photos from Tank Automotive Command, the Patton Museum and the National Archives. This chapter effectively tells the story of the M551s beginnings with shots of Sheridan prototypes, ending with the 1966 production vehicles, and modifications that were added during the M551s emerging genesis. Of note are interesting photos of airborne drop tests and amphibious "wading" operations.

Chapter 2, "Armament", stretches from pages 24-52 with excellent close up shots of operational and restored vehicles. These photos were provided by several veterans, historians and enthusiasts, including the author himself, Doug Kibbey, Chris Hughes, and Armorama contributor Michael Koenig (the caption credits in the book unfortunately misspell Micahel's last name--and the only significant typo error I've found for this review). Doyle and Kibbey also assisted Tamiya with research on their new Vietnam M551 kit. Vehicles from the National Armor and Cavalry Heritage Museum and the Military Vehicle Technology Foundation and others are featured to provide an in-depth look at the Sheridan from glacis plate to the towing pintle. Copious photos of the interior, fire control systems and exterior are provided, along with explanatory captions.

The third and final chapter begins with three short paragraphs on the use of the Sheridan in operational environments, and one very short specification table. Pages 53-128 contains 144 color and a few black and white photos of the Sheridan during operational use in Vietnam, Stateside duty, the Inter-German Border, Panama, Desert Storm, and at the National Training Center (NTC) where the Sheridan chassis assumed the role of various configurations of Eastern Block vehicles for training purposes, forming the core of the NTCs OPFOR (OPPosing FORces). Some of the photos in this chapter have not been published previously.

The book uses photographs instead of text to depict the Sheridan's development and operational history. Each photo is accompanied by a short, well researched and well written narrative. Many of the photos are in color, either taken directly from museum examples or by crew members themselves during operations. Photographic coverage is provided for the drivers compartment, forward turret, Track Commanders (TCs) and gunners positions and targeting systems. In addition to interior photos, photos of the engine compartment, exterior, and suspension systems are provided. An operational photo of the BII (Basic Issue Items) in particular brought back some memories for me, as it seemed we endlessly had to account for this equipment. The photos from actual operations are of particular interests, since many are in color.

As a former Sheridan Crewman, I can say this book is "the next best thing to being there" and a must have if you intend to model the Sheridan. However, It's not a "technical manual" or "research guide" for the M551, as text is kept to a minimum, with a focusing on plentiful photographs with well written captions in a compact volume. It's an excellent source of previously unpublished photos with interesting captions explaining the Sheridan inside and out. With a recommended publisher price of USD $19.99, it's a bargain and will make an excellent addition to any library of interesting fighting vehicles. The book is available directly from David Doyle Books.
Highs: Excellent resource, packed with informative photographs and well written narrative captions.
Lows: None, however, the book is essentially a photographic record, not a detailed technical review.
Verdict: Highly recommended for modelers and military vehicle enthusiasts alike. The "Field Use" chapter photos are especially useful for interesting details.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: N/A
  PUBLISHED: Aug 23, 2019
  NATIONALITY: United States

About Russ Bucy (Kevlar06)

I'm a retired U.S. Army Officer, serving for 30 years on active duty. I've been model building in various genres off and on since 1959, when my Brother-in-Law and Sister gave me a Monogram Jeep and 37mm gun for my birthday that year (which I still have in the original box!). I appreciate and have e...

Copyright 2021 text by Russ Bucy [ KEVLAR06 ]. All rights reserved.


thanks for the book review. I am currently building Tamiyas M551 and really enjoying it, so interested in good books is high.
AUG 25, 2019 - 06:48 PM
by the way Russ, I didn't know there was any shortage of missiles for the Shillelag system, I was under the impression it was not used a) because it was very complicated to use and b) there were not real threats in Vietnam war to use it. As far as I know it there's only one confirmed kill with the Shillelag missile, first Gulf war. Interesting news, thanks for that.
AUG 25, 2019 - 11:28 PM
I've always thought that the Sheridan was an under-appreciated AFV as well as kit and am pleased to see something that might prompt some interest in it.
AUG 26, 2019 - 04:16 AM
The missile was highly accurate, It wasn't that it was complicated to use, all the gunner had to do was keep the crosshairs on the target. Storage and maintenance of the missile were more complicated than a "conventional round" but firing it wasn't difficult. But it was very expensive for the time. It wasn't used in Vietnam for several reasons (it was tested there though). But the humid climate had an effect on the electronics, and a lack of suitable armored vehicle targets limited its usefulness there. The "shortage" of missiles I was referring to was due to the cost of each missile. Because of this, by 1976, missiles were not commonly available for training. My entire Squadron (54 Sheridans) was allocated only two missiles for each annual tank gunnery. Each missile cost nearly $5K, so they were only given to the two top scoring Sheridan crews to fire, while everybody else watched. And if you were one of the crews firing, you'd better not screw up-- it was pretty disheartening to see a $5K missile ground itself just short of the target. As a result, training rounds were all "conventional" rounds (there was really nothing "conventional" about the152mm round). The 152mm TP-T (Target Practice-Tracer) round was a huge solid hunk of aluminum, and produced such a recoil it would rock the entire vehicle back, often lifting the first road wheel off the ground, which in turn, played havoc with the entire drivetrain. Sheared final dives, transmission problems, and other shock related issues were very common. The missile had almost no recoil, but we were not allowed to train with it, so the frequent firing of the "conventional" round during training was less than ideal. The 152mm round was just 3mm short of a 155mm Artillery round, so the firing effect was quite a memorable experience. The standard HEP-T (High Explosive Plastic-Tracer) and HEAT-T (High Exeplosive Anti-Tank- Tracer) were a little better, but not by much, they all produced a heavy recoil-- and this accounts for much of the Sheridan's maintenace problems. The "Beehive" Anti-personal round used so effectively in Vietnam was very hard on the barrel, so those were almost never fired during training. VR, Russ
AUG 26, 2019 - 05:51 AM
Hi Russ, thanks again for your insights! Great to read this from someone having experienced the use of the M551.
AUG 27, 2019 - 03:42 AM

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