Friday 9 April 2021

Book Review: Japanese Tanks and Armoured Warfare 1932-45 A Military and Political History

Even as an avid military history enthusiast, I don't come across discussion of Japanese tank warfare very often. This is not very surprising: people's imagination is captured by armoured titans like the Tiger tank or massive large scale clashes like the Second Battle of El-Alamein. The Pacific theater of WWII had space for neither heavy tanks nor large battles. Tank units in this region largely consisted of vehicles that would have been considered obsolete in Europe at the time. Discussions of tank warfare in the region usually boil down to one-sided beatings handed out by Sherman tanks against their much lighter armed and armoured Japanese brethren.

In his latest book David McCormack goes beyond such superficial comparisons and starts at the beginning of Japanese armoure warfare: the purchase of a Mark IV, six Whippet, and thirteen Renault FT tanks at the tail end of WWI. As the title promises, the prologue dives deep into the political battlefield between the innovators and traditionalists of the Japanese army. The book covers both the attempt to develop a progressive tank doctrine and production of domestic armoured vehicles inspired by foreign samples but tailored for the region.

The majority of the book is dedicated to analyzing tank battles, both on a tactical and strategic scale. Starting with easy victories against disorganized Chinese warlords and two significant defeats at the hands of the Soviet Red Army, McCormack analyzes the lessons that the Japanese learned from using their tanks and how these lessons were applied. A clear separation is made between success due to technical characteristics of tanks and the degree of skill with which they were used. In some cases, clever tactics allowed Japanese armour to gain an advantage over their technically superior opponent, in others even tanks that should have been a match for the Japanese end up being a tough nut to crack. 

The book follows the IJA into South-East Asia and across the Pacific, detailing the increasingly less successful application of Japanese armour against enemies both on the mainland and on numerous islands. Attention is also paid to Japanese attempts to keep up in the tank arms race, including German influence on Japanese design. 

In addition to 120-odd pages of text, the book contains a significant amount of appendices with descriptions of Japanese tank units, armoured vehicles, and other equipment.

McCormack's bibliography consists largely of secondary sources, although some reports and period publications are also listed. Not being particularly well versed in the Pacific theatre, I cannot say if this book provides any radical new findings, but I found it to be a good way to fill in the gaps in my knowledge of this part of the war. If, like me, you want a book to give you a good overview of the war in the Pacific with the occasional dip down to the tactical level, then Japanese Tanks and Armoured Warfare is a great way to do it.

This review of Japanese Tanks and Armoured Warfare 1932-45: A Military and Political History by David McCormack was based on a PDF copy of the book provided by Fonthill Media.

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