Monday, September 24, 2012

Book Review: TD's

As an avid reader of history, I feel that one of the things I can contribute to the hobby blogosphere are reviews of what I have recently read.  For my first review I will dive into a book that really inspired me to get into American Tank Destroyers for FoW.  The book is Tank Killers: A History of America's World War II Tank Destroyer Force by Harry Yiede.  I purchased the book for my Kindle off Amazon, for the great price of $6-7 (can't remember exactly).

M10 - made it's debut in Africa and became an instant favorite

Was this the best World War Two book I have ever read? No. But God-damn was this book an action-packed and well-researched portrayal of the American Tank Destroyer units (TD's).  The book covers the creation of the controversial TD doctrine, first contact with the enemy in Africa, the slugfest of Italy, the high-water mark of the Normandy breakout, and the death-knell of the winter fighting in Germany.

Throughout the book, Yiede intersperses unit histories and grand strategy with intensely humanizing anecdotes that focus on single soldiers and their crewmates.  He also goes to great lengths to demonstrate just how haphazard tactical operations could be.  For we gamers with a God's-eye view of the battlefield, moving our soldiers in perfect concert against our opponent, many passages are a harsh reminder that bureaucracy, human error, and poor judgement plagued the Greatest Generation as much as it plagues ours.

Also, friendly fire incidents are terribly common throughout these operations.  In particular, Allied troopers were often as afraid of their own planes as they were of the enemy's.  Those of us who have grown-up with smart weapons and instantaneous communications are simply spoiled in this world.

M18 Hellcat - the crews would often re-weld the .50-cal AA gun to the front of the turret

One aspect of this book that I particularly enjoyed was the pace. Yiede does not linger on topics.  He tells you what happened and where, and then moves on. Rather than making the writing seem frantic, this allows the reader to keep diving into the action (which is the true strength of the book).

M3 Self-Propelled Gun (75mm) used in Africa

As an aside, many gamers have bemoaned the American TD list, claiming historical inaccuracy, overpowered units, and nonsensical special rules.  All I can say is that reading this book showed me that Battlefront got a lot more right than wrong.  TD's would, at times, and especially in the Lorraine, engage the enemy at company strength.  Their recon elements would range ahead and scout for advantageous positions, and by the time the enemy realized they were surrounded it was too late.  Imagine being ambushed by Hellcats in-game, but without knowing where the security section was! Also, the kill ratios for TD's were totally lopsided in favor of the Americans. The TD-Panzer destruction ratio looks like Blaine Gabbert's career TD-Int ratio (football zing!).

A StuG III that fell victim to a TD

Ultimately the TD experiment failed as a result of its own success.  Allied tank doctrine initially foresaw that tanks would engage enemy infantry, and the Tank Destroyers would, surprise-surprise, destroy tanks.  But as the war went on, and technology progressed, Tanks and TD's began to blend in terms of objectives and capabilities.  The big guns that were once exclusive to the TD's were mounted onto Shermans. By the time that American forces were besieging fortifications in Italy and on the Siegfried Line, towed TD's were little more than artillery pieces and tracked TD's were being used for infantry support.  Finally, with the advent of the M26 Pershing, a relatively mobile and heavily-armed tank, the TD and standard Tank had merged, and dedicated TD units were disbanded.

At times the book can get a little tedious with the "this unit moved to X and shot and Y.  This unit moved to A and shot at B" style of military writing, but overall the book is well-written, engaging, and worth the low price.  Definitely a great resource for Flames of War hobbyists.

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