Reference, Osprey New Vanguard 186, US Marine Corps Tanks of World War II

Joined: April 27th, 2005, 8:58 am

February 26th, 2012, 10:03 pm #1


New Vanguard 186, US Marine Corps Tanks of World War II. By Steven J. Zaloga, with illustrations by Richard Chasemore. Soft covers, 7.25 x 9.75-inches, 48 pages. Contains 45 B&W photographs, one drawing, one table, eight pages of color art, index and bibliography. ISBN 978-1-84908-560-1.

This recent title in the New Vanguard series covers, as its title states, US Marine Corps use of tanks during the Second World War. Readers expecting coverage of armored amphibious assault vehicles will not find such coverage between these covers. This is just as well since the 48 pages that this series format demands would preclude any meaningful coverage of the much broader story of all the AFVs used by the USMC in that time period.

In his usual fashion, the author provides an excellent (if necessarily brief) account of the use of tanks by the USMC, beginning with their limited acquisition, years before the war started. In this regard, the use of the M1917, the licensed-built US copy of the revolutionary French Renault FT of World War One is briefly mentioned. Then it is on to the mediocre Marmon-Herrington light tanks (actually, what were then referred to as tankettes), which, due to US Navy shipping restrictions, were far too small, too lightly armored and inadequately-armed to be combat effective. Quickly gaining a reputation for being mechanically-unreliable, they were mercifully relegated to guard duty on remote Pacific outposts. The first actual tanks to see combat with the USMC was the M2 and M3 light tanks, whose acquisition from US Army stocks was advocated by forward-thinking Marine tankers. The Marines received several variations of these relatively-effective light tanks; their combat debut was at Guadalcanal, where they were often instrumental in repelling Japanese infantry attacks, using their multiple machine-guns and 37mm canister shot.

But even the later M5s were not completely satisfactory and the Marines began operating the M4 medium tank, with first use on Tarawa in November of 1943. The M4 quickly became the mainstay of the Corps, while the quest for an effective flame-throwing tank began by using redundant M3s. These proved to be less-than-satisfactory, but development of an M4-based flame tank by the Corps itself never saw wide-spread use. Later the Corps often worked side-by-side with US Army flame-throwing tanks as they perfected the means to assault stubbornly-defended and extremely well-built Japanese fortifications.

Naturally, the Japanese did not remain idle and various conventional and un-conventional means were used to defeat the ever-growing USMC tank arsenal. In response, the Marines resorted to all sorts of improvised methods to defeat magnetic- and lunge-mines, fanatical infantry assault and the more effective Japanese 47mm anti-tank gun. Tank vs. tank engagements were nearly non-existent, with the few recorded instances going extremely badly for the Japanese. Deep wading systems were also locally-developed prior to the advent of more uniform systems developed by ordnance personnel. Tactics and training also evolved so that by the end of the war the Japanese realized that the potent Marine tank/infantry tactics (commonly referred to as cork-screw and blow-torch) represented the center-of-gravity of their assailants. If they could defeat this powerful combination, they felt they would prevail.

All of this is related by the author in a concise, informative and lively fashion, befitting his hard-earned reputation as the go to guy regarding US armored forces. This is all complimented by a table that names USMC tank units and their areas of operations, plus a bibliography and an index.

The photographs have mostly been seen before, but there are some new images. Regardless of their pedigree, they are germane to the subject, illustration and complimenting the text quite well. They are well-reproduced and often of a useful size for gleaning detail information, so the modeler should be well-served. A drawing taken from a contemporary Japanese anti-tank bulletin also shows what specific means they were using against US tanks. Captions are informative, but I did note one glitch: on page 11, bottom, an M3 with a commanders cupola is incorrectly captioned as being the less well-received flat-top version.

The color plates were created by Richard Chasemore; they are very well-done and include a two-page center-spread cut-away of an M4A3 from Marine 4th Tank Battalion on Iwo Jima in February of 1945. Most of the remaining art-work consists of profile illustrations of the following tanks: M2A4, Guadalcanal; M3A1, Emirau Island; M4A2, Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll; M4A2, Roi-Namur Island, Kwajlein Atoll; M4A2, Guam; M4A2, Peleliu; M4A2, Iwo Jima; two M4A3s, on Iwo Jima and finally, an M4A3 on Okinawa. One more illustration shows an M4A2 in field conditions on Saipan. Seen on page 21, it has escaped the editorial process in that it does not bear its name, Fireball, or the Unit Numerical Identification System (UNIS) codes, as described in its accompanying commentary. Regardless of this glitch, the color plates depict a wide variety of types, unit modifications, camouflage colors and insignia. The campaign locations cover the major operations of the Corps in the Pacific during WW2, making this ideal information for a modeler who wishes to depict history in miniature.

Fans of US tanks in WW2 will find this book quite useful. Indeed, those modelers with a special interest in the actions of Americas Leathernecks in the Pacific Theater of Operations will certainly appreciate what this slim, but information-packed volume has to offer.

Frank V. De Sisto

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