Friday 10 December 2010

Wartime Films: British Tanks at War

Format: Black & White, PAL
Run Time: 89 minutes
I picked up a great DVD while Christmas shopping at the weekend. British Tanks At War is an Imperial War Museum collection of five wartime films made by the Ministry of Information, the Directorate of Army Kinematography and the Army Film Unit between 1941 and 1942.

The films are presented in their original format without commentary as historical documents in their own right. And I think they are a fascinating look behind the scenes both of the Tank corps at that time and of army film making in general.

In effect what you have on this DVD are five propaganda films made by the British for their troops and for training. I use the word Propaganda because they are particularly upbeat for an army that was still reorganising itself after the disaster of Dunkirk and where the desert victories of later 1942 and the Normandy Campaign were still to come. Montgomery would later refer to the need to "binge up" the troops - to get them in a fighting mood and confident of victory - and these films clearly formed part of that process.

Its hard to say if these films had the desired effect but the style is similar to the newsreels and broadcasts of the time so probably wouldn't have seemed as condescending as they do to a modern audience. Having said that they are informative, particularly the film on tank recognition.

The last of the five films was perhaps the biggest eye opener as it looked at the making of a tank, in this case a Valentine. It didn't go into every detail but showed that each tank was a collection of parts built and assembled in various workshops. One thing I was struck by was the incredibly manual nature of the work, and the lack of modern Health and Safety standards. The build process illustrated in this film is also a million miles away from the production line approach of the Americans or the TAKT system that the Germans employed. It's much more craftsmanship like and certainly doesn't look like a factory on a war footing.

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