Sunday, November 12, 2017

British Tank Production and the War Economy, 1934-1945

All the major powers of WWII used tanks and especially in North Africa and in Europe they played an important role in the actual combat operations. Some of these tanks like the German Tiger were famous for their combat record, while others like the Soviet T-34 and American M4 Sherman were produced in huge numbers.

However both during the war and afterwards British tanks were criticized for being inferior. The design and combat performance of British WWII tanks is a subject that has received attention by historians and several authors like Correlli Barnett, David Fletcher and Peter Beale are critical of British tanks.

The new book ‘British Tank Production and the War Economy, 1934-1945’ by Benjamin Coombs covers the administrative and production history of the British tank program in WWII and its greatest strength is that it tries to explain why certain decisions were made and what effects they had regarding production numbers, tank quality and combat performance.


The book has the following chapters:

Introduction

1. Government and Industry during Disarmament and Rearmament

2. Government and Industry during Wartime

3. General Staff Requirements and Industrial Capabilities

4. The Tank Workforce and Industrial Output

5. Overcoming Production Problems and Delays

6. Influence of North America upon the British Tank Industry

Conclusion

A great review is available at amazon.co.uk by user ‘VinceReeves’ so I’ll repeat it here:

‘This is a long-needed objective view of British tank production during World War II that finally manages to eschew the hysteria and nonsense that generally attends this subject. Coombs chronicles the evolution of tank design, and the shifting priorities of production with authority and objectivity, and demonstrates how much misunderstanding has attended the controversies over real and perceived quality issues and inefficient tank production. 

Basically, British tank production underwent three stages during the war; an early stage in which tank production was downgraded in favour of more vital air defence work, a second stage in which quality was sacrificed to boost quantity production to rectify numerical deficiencies, and finally a mature third stage in which quality was emphasised, and British tanks became more effective and reliable.

Coombs makes sense of what appear to be irrational decisions to continue the manufacture of obsolete tanks long after they were required - more often than not this was undertaken to keep production facilities and skilled labour within the tank programme so that they would be available when newer tanks were ready for introduction.’

If you are interested in military history and you want to learn more about the British tank program then this book is a valuable resource.

For me the value of the book is that it helps explain German victories in N.Africa in 1941-42. The Germans benefited by fighting against an opponent whose tanks constantly broke down. In the period 1943-45 the British tanks became more reliable because a determined effort was made to thoroughly check and fix flaws and a high priority was assigned to spare parts production.

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