Wednesday 27 January 2010

By Tank

I received By Tank : D to VE Days by Ken Tout for Christmas and have just finished reading it. This book is an absolutely gripping memoir taking the reader through the last year of the war in Europe through to Victory.

I have read lots of books about the second world war but few covey the heat, dirt and noise of fighting inside a tank quite like this book. Tout's narrative style evokes the confusion, the fear and the pace of battle. Each event unfolds so quickly the reader often finds himself gasping in shock as comrades fall in battle. If Quinten Tarrentino had written this book he could have done no better to describe in full bloody detail the horror of war.

Any tank, could be a death-trap. But the Sherman had a tendency to burn like an evil roman candle if the engine was hit, earning it the nickname "The Tommy Cooker" by the Germans. Even the crews themselves gave these lightly armoured tanks the nickname "The Ronson" after the Ronson Cigarette Lighter whose slogan was "lights first time, every time".

When the young Ken Tout (he was only 20) wasn't imagining all the horrible ways death might come for him he was utterly bored. This wasn't the heroic war of honour and daring-do depicted in the cinema. "...most of the time nothing happens. The truest literary representation of a typical hour of war might well be fifty pages left completely blank... during that time nothing happens. Nothing at all except noise and dirt and smoke and glaring confusion."

What makes this book a fascinating read is not just the no-holds-barred brutality of the battles, but the equally graphic, but eminently more mundane, details of life in and on a Sherman. Cleaning the gun barrel prior to battle; toilet arrangements in hostile territory; the all too brief moments of comfort between advances; the 'gallows humour' of fellow soldiers; and the generosity of the liberated as the advance pushes away from the D-Day beaches.

This book would make a worth addition to any bookshelf but if you're into tanks and WWII then it is an essential and has earned the title 'classic'.


  1. Interesting reveiw. This is a book I have picked up and looked at but never bought, probably will now. Also been meaning to buy Von Lucks 'Panzer Commander' for a couple of years as well.

    PS Keep up the Flames of War posts

  2. I read Ken Tout's memoirs of the fighting in Normandy some years ago. They are an honest and instructive window into what it felt to be a Sherman commander in WWII.


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