Tank combat in World War II: a different view

I recently came across a two-part BBC documentary about five men of the Fifth Royal Tank Regiment during World War II.  The unit saw action during the fall of France, fought through the Western Desert campaign, then came back to Britain in time to take part in the Normandy invasion and battle its way across Europe to Germany and final victory.

This is something different for American viewers.  British tanks were generally inferior to those of both its allies and its enemies during the Second World War, only Japan’s being worse.  British tactics were also abysmally poor during the early years of
the war.  They literally ‘learned the hard way’, by having several of
their tank formations smashed by German forces.  Once they’d learned
better tactics, and received (marginally) better equipment –
British Churchill and Cromwell tanks, and US Shermans – their performance improved.  You’ll see the last-mentioned three tanks in action in this documentary, as well as several of their predecessors.

These two episodes are a very interesting look at an ‘underdog’ combat arm, one that paid its dues in blood to learn its trade.  It rose to competence, but never to greatness.  I’ve embedded both of them below.  Each is almost an hour in length, so plan on watching them when you have time to spare.  I recommend watching them in full-screen mode.

All in all, a very interesting look at some long-ignored aspects of armored conflict in World War II.

(Historical note:  By the end of the war, British tank design had ‘caught up’ with the rest of the world, producing the Comet medium tank [approximately equal in capability to the Soviet T-34 or later versions of the German Panzer Mk. IV].  It saw service during the closing days of the conflict, and was followed by the world-famous Centurion, which went on to become one of the world’s workhorses during the third quarter of last century.  I served alongside updated versions of them in southern Africa during the 1980’s – not inside them, please note:  I was too big to be comfortable in a tank!)



  1. All of the American AND British tanks in ww2(AND Korea and well into the cold war) were self mobile crematorium. The gasoline powered rolling "Tommy cookers" were death traps. They were poorly armored,and under gunned. The men who fought in them were crazy brave. During the Battle of Normandy the British lost 400 tanks in ONE DAY, and yet they fought on ,God bless Em'

  2. In my early days in my shooting club, an older member recounted the story of his platoon of Shermans encountering a King Tiger. The Lt thought that half a dozen Shermans could take one German tank. In the ensuing melee, my friend survived by dint of their driver accidentally backing off a cliff & disappearing from line of fire. To add insult to injury, the only thing that rolled away under it's own power was the Tiger. My friend, for his part, crawled out of his Sherman, picked up a Garand and proclaimed he was now an infantryman.

  3. One hellva story, and those gents DEFINITELY clanked when they walked!!! I'll have some down time next week, so these will go on the must see list!

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