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My Tank Is Fight!

My Tank Is Fight!: An Evolution Of The Tank Review My Tank Is Fight!:
An Evolution Of The Tank Review
with Andy Hoare

Those with bosses that don’t monitor employees’ web browsing history too closely might know Zack Parsons as one of the guys behind SomethingAwful.com, a website that glories in (and in many cases is responsible for) some of the most eccentric and oddball features on and about the global interwebs. This isn’t a review of SomethingAwful.com though—it’s a review of My Tank Is Fight! Deranged Inventions of WWII, Zack Parsons’ first book and one that’s been on my wish list ever since I heard it was being published back in 2006. Shamefully, I’ve only just read it, and if you haven’t then you should feel just as bad as I do.
My Tank Is Fight is a trawl through the lost files of WWII innovation, with a focus on machines and ideas that were either too mad, too expensive, too ahead of their time or just too contrary to the laws of physics to actually work. In his introduction, the author describes his interest and approach as ‘pulp history’, a term that describes the book’s content very well. At some stage, someone thought that all of these inventions might actually work (and that includes an aircraft carrier made of ice!). They can all be appreciated in terms we might think of as fanciful or ‘pulpy’ but perhaps because they are all grounded (if tenuously) in reality, they are often far more interesting to read about than works of pure fantasy.

Despite its name, the book isn’t all about tanks. It covers a wide range of plans, from the German Maus (a tank many wargamers will have heard of) right up to Germany’s (thankfully entirely theoretical) space program. While the majority of the entries are torn from the drawing boards of German scientists desperate to find some super-weapon to avert the rapidly approaching fall of the Third Reich, a few of the entries are also from Allied scientists. 

It's All In The Tone
One thing worth addressing up front is the tone in which the book is written. Any publication dealing with Nazi science is in danger of straying into some decidedly grey areas when it comes to academic research, not to mention matters of taste and decency. Scores of books have been written making all sorts of claims about inventions being built, tested and even used in the dying days of the Second World War, many of them of very little academic or historical value. My Tank Is Fight! avoids that pitfall nicely, being a wryly-humorous study of known facts mixed with just enough technical analysis to evaluate the various inventions objectively. Zack does make assumptions, but when he does so its clearly sign-posted and he never strays into the realm of conspiracy theory.

Despite an occasionally tongue-in-cheek approach, there is also a serious thread running through the book. Time and again, we see that had the Nazis not been wasting such vast resources and skills on developing some of these ideas, the war might have lasted longer than it did.

My Tank Is Fight!: An Evolution Of The Tank Review
Format
The book is organised in a sensible and well thought out manner, with three main sections - Land, Air, and Sea. Each of the chapters addresses an individual invention, and because Zack employs a set format for each chapter I’ll take a look at each element and how it might appeal to us.

• Illustration
Each chapter opens with a line drawing of the vehicle, weapon or system to be described. Exactly what these drawings are based on isn’t always clear, but how true to actual plans they might be can usually be gleaned from the main text. It’s safe to assume, for example, that the drawing of the Panzerkampfwagen VIII Maus is based on photographs and studies of the actual vehicle, as we learn that several functional prototypes were made (and subsequently captured by the Soviet army). We can assume that other illustrations are based on the most provisional of plans (such as the German Braun space station with A9 launch vehicle). Further to these simple line drawings, the book contains 18 full colour plates showing artists impressions of various weapons systems in action.

• Overview

Following each line illustration, Zack presents us with an overview of the subject of the chapter. These are generally well-written and informative, providing a useful historical context before diving into the more technical details. It’s surprising how many of the plans were produced by designers and scientists who really should have known better, often illustrating the increasing pressure scientists were under as demands for war-winning super-weapons increased. A few were produced by individuals who really didn’t know any better though, and we can only shudder at what they might have created if their skills had been turned towards serious weapons development.

Also included in each overview is a table of technical characteristics. These provide such details as the weapon’s weight, size etc, but often most interesting is the Phase of Development entry. It really is shocking how many of the inventions in question had progressed to the functional prototype stage, or in some cases to an initial production run. Of course, in many instances the actual details are unknown, and this is made clear. Did the Germans test a low yield atomic weapon in Thuringa in 1944? Possibly, but it’ll be another four decades before the post-war investigations are declassified and we can find out what US military intelligence thought on the matter. In plenty of other cases, the weapon’s characteristics are a matter of debate and Zack provides us with reasonable estimates, such as the assumed speed of the Landkreuzer P.1500 Monster (a ponderous 15 kph in case you were wondering!)
My Tank Is Fight!: An Evolution Of The Tank Review
• Development History
Having provided a detailed overview, Zack goes on to describe the weapon system’s development. These sections show that the author has really done his research—while you might have read parts of these histories elsewhere and could find some of it on the internet, you’re unlikely to be able find it all in one place. While most of the details are matters of historical record, Zack isn’t afraid of presenting his own theories where the truth is far from clear.

• Technical Mumbo Jumbo

As if the tables of characteristics presented at the top of each chapter weren’t sufficient, each entry includes a section that goes into further detail, expanding on the details presented in the overview. This section tends to focus on such issues as weight, power requirements, armour and armament. For obvious reasons, these things are invariably interlinked and perhaps inevitably for projects of this type, one tends to dominate to such an extent that the others can’t keep up. The P.1000 Ratte for example is likely to have weighed in excess of 1,800 tons when fully laden for battle, yet powering such a beast would clearly have been all but impossible, even if it had been able to move without sinking into the ground!

• Variants
In a fair few cases the planners had several variants of their insane inventions in mind, and where known about Zack presents an overview of these too. In some cases the weapons system is so theoretical that no variants could be imagined, while in others numerous different versions and uses can be thought up. Of interest here are accounts of how some of the systems formed the basis of future inventions, especially after the war.
My Tank Is Fight!: An Evolution Of The Tank Review
• Analysis
Here Zack provides what is invariably a well-informed as well as entertaining analysis of the vehicle or weapon, including how it might have performed had it ever entered widespread service. Zack seems to know his stuff when it comes to military matters, so his analysis of how a given weapon might have been fielded always reads as plausible. He goes into ideas of how the weapons might have been integrated into existing military formations and how they might have performed in battle against their enemies. In many cases, the analysis is pretty heavily qualified—the super- and in particular the ultra-heavy armour envisaged by the Germans might have been able to enter battle, but only if it could have forded the numerous rivers between it and the front line, for such metal beasts were far too heavy to cross any bridge ever constructed! Also of interest is the tactics the enemy might have used against the weapon, and it is often clear that such vehicles as the aforementioned oversized German tanks would have suffered horrendously at the hands of the Allies’ overwhelming air superiority.

A frequent conclusion of Zack’s analysis is that other weapons would simply have done the job better, and in many cases this is the primary reason the weapon never made it into service. Why for example construct an ultra-heavy aircraft carrier made of ice to defend trans-Atlantic shipping when Allied navies were gaining ground using conventional methods (such as just building more ships!)?

• Hypothetical Deployment History
The next segment of each chapter moves the story on from fact very much towards fiction. The hypothetical deployment history is presented in the same tone as the factorial parts of each chapter, meaning that if your attention is drifting its easy to catch yourself out as you go from actual history to alternate history. These entries take a few necessary liberties with history (and sometimes physics!) in order to present a feasible account of what could have happened had the projects not been cancelled or otherwise terminated when they actually were. These hypothetical accounts tend to err on the side of plausibility and rarely present anything too jarring. Zack is a realist in his ideas of what might have happened and he makes it clear that testing, let alone fielding such improbable systems as the American M1932 Christie flying tank, the German Heliofly backpack helicopter or the German A9-12 space rocket would have been as dangerous to the unfortunate crew as to the enemy. Inevitably, even the hypothetical histories end in the projects failing, if generally in more spectacular fashion than actual history records.
• What Fight Have Been
The last section in each chapter is a piece of prose delivering a third person narrative of the weapon in battle. As with the hypothetical deployment history, these stories are largely pretty plausible and well informed in many ways. I actually found my own imagination running ahead of the author’s however, and about half way through the book stopped reading these stories. Its not that they’re badly written—they really aren’t—it’s more that I found them less engaging than the real history. Unlikely truth is often more interesting than plausible fiction I guess.

Another side-effect of this mix of fact and fiction is that having read the book you might find yourself recalling interesting facts that, on checking, turn out to be the result of Zack’s imagination, the factorial and fictional sections sometimes blending together in the memory. I’d suggest thinking twice before relating ‘facts’ gleaned from this book, especially in the presence of people that really know their World War Two tanks!

My Tank Is Fight!: An Evolution Of The Tank Review
Conclusions
To wrap things up, I’d heartily recommend My Tank Is Fight to readers of Wargames Illustrated. It’s almost guaranteed to be a fascinating read to all but the most hide-bound of wargamers (you know the type!) It could definitely serve as an interesting diversion from day to day gaming. While there are several games that cater to the full-on ‘Weird World War’ genre, Zack’s take on ‘pulp history’ is far more grounded and would be great to game. Some of the vehicles could be converted from other kits or scratch built by those with the skills and serve as the focus of some fascinating ‘what if’ scenarios involving the prototypes. World War Two legend actually claims that the Soviets faced one of the Maus prototypes in combat as its factory was overrun, and even if untrue, such tales could very well serve as the basis for a special scenario. What if an enterprising gamer were to convert an entire ‘Haubschrauber-Jäger’ platoon by fixing rotor blades to some Fallschirmjäger miniatures? I’d certainly love to play in such a game, and I know many others who would too.

Now all we need is a manufacturer of World War Two miniatures to pick up a copy of My Tank Is Fight and we might end up with a very interesting range indeed!


~ Andy.


Last Updated On Monday, September 09, 2013 by Blake at Battlefront