Well, since it looks like May will be another barren month in respect of gaming and I haven’t done one of these in a while, here’s another filler… eh, I mean book review.
I picked up this book based solely on its title and who published it. Based on that, I expected a volume dedicated to “real” tank tactics, perhaps in a form of some sort of comparative analysis of low level tactics, equipment, training and real world experience of opposing sides. As it turns out, this book is a completely different animal and author of this book could not have chosen a more misleading title for this book if he tried to. Precious few pages (in my opinion, maybe five or six) deal with the actual tactics of armoured warfare on western front during 1944.
The real topic of this book is the implementation of armour on battlefields of World War Two at operational level, or more precisely during Normandy breakout attempts and subsequent allied race across France. Books dealing with this aspect of art of war are few and far between - it is a vast topic, encompassing a multitude of aspects, some of them quite mundane, other rather diffuse and difficult to define in clear and definite manner. Uniqueness of this book's topic makes it a valuable contribution to a library of any WWII buff all on its own.
Author deals with the subject matter by splitting it into three logical parts. In first section, Jarymowicz analyses the post-World War I development of armoured forces in armies of what would be major 'players' during the conflict. Theories of the time and how they translated in practical implementation in England, France, Germany, Soviet Union, United States and (oddly enough) Canada are dissected in detail. The author attempts here to compare and contrast different ideas and resulting doctrines. While a bit heavy on internal politics, this part of the book is something of an eye-opener, which answers a lot of questions reader may have about choice of the equipment used in World War II as well as about the rather varied quality of the leadership of armed forces during the conflict.
Next, the author, proceeds with an account of the actual events that took place during the period specified by the title of this book. It needs to be repeated - the narrative deals with the events on operational level, so those looking for exciting tank vs. tank combat descriptions are bound to be disappointed. Goodwood, Spring, Cobra and Totalize are picked apart and analysed in a search of explanation of failures and successes. I won't go into the details of Jarymowycz' analysis, but limit myself to observing that I don't believe I have ever had the pleasure of reading another book where Montgomery is so soundly and consistently trashed and belittled. If you're a fan of Monthy, you better stay away from this book. Of course other allied leaders are dealt with in similar harsh manner – Jarymowycz doesn’t have much good to say about the allied commanders, with the possible exception of Patton and some his lieutenants. To be honest though, it is hard to argue against author's ruthless and at times devastating critique.
In last part of his book Jarymowicz gives us his final analysis of deployment of armoured forces by Western allies during second part of 1944. In this section, besides the 'traditional' examination and comparison, the author does something rather unique and compares the doctrine and usage of armour by Western nations with that of Soviet Union. For me personally (after reading Glantz and Ericson) his conclusions weren't much of a surprise. I do however suspect that many, if not most readers from Western Europe and United States will find this part of the book as rather controversial, maybe even 'heretical'.
Personally, I find the topic of this book absolutely fascinating and was very pleasantly surprised when I realised what “Tank Tactics” was really about. It is therefore a great shame that I have now to say that this volume suffers from a couple of rather severe problems, all of them related to the writing style of Jarymowycz. To put it bluntly, the author doesn't strike me as a very talented writer. I found his style choppy, almost bullet-point-like. The flow of information felt disjointed, with abrupt, unannounced jumps between often unrelated topics every couple of paragraphs. This choppy impression was deepened by author's rather annoying tendency of using 'naked' personal quotes to emphasize the point he's trying to impress on the reader. I was a bit surprised over how disrupting this approach to quotations was for me - if I wanted to find out who said those words, I had to look up the reference at the end of the chapter, thus breaking the flow of often rather complex reasoning. Not a technique I would recommend for frequent usage in a book with this level of complexity.
Finally – how useable is this book from wargamer’s perspective? Well… if one disregards its obvious value as a source of information about otherwise often ignored aspect of modern warfare, its usability is probably limited to being an inspiration for ruleset and army list designers wishing to incorporate operational facets into their creations.
'Tank Tactics: From Normandy to Lorraine' is a solid, in some respects maybe even ground-breaking contribution to literature about World War II. Its main merit consists of the fact that it is solely dedicated to a topic that is almost totally overlooked by “popular” authors writing about that conflict. The effort is however somewhat spoiled by a writing style that fails to engage and makes it difficult to absorb the information contained in this volume. Thus, not the easiest read, but nevertheless worth the effort if you're interested in something else than battle depictions and personal recollections.