ARM: Book Review - Organization and Markings of US Armored Units 1918-1941

Book Review: Organization and Markings of United States Armored Units,
1918-1941 by Charles Lemons; Schiffer Military History, Atglen, PA,
2004; 231 pp. with charts and illustrations; retail price US $59.95
(ISBN 0-7643-2098-X)
Advantages: First - and only - book on this subject; covers a
wealth of material, presenting a wide variety of fresh photographs and
data on US armored vehicles between 1918 and 1941; charts and serial
numbers a boon to modelers
Disadvantages: some of the markings data done in a poor graphics
format, with the result that color plates are "pixilated" and
Rating: Highly Recommended
Recommendation: for all armor historians and especially US Army fans
and modelers
Books on aircraft markings are very popular, and quite prolific; after
all, aircraft seem to have been among the most colorful of all of the
military machinery during the 20th Century. Some books also cover
ships, but few books have seriously paid attention to armored vehicles,
and fewer still to American armor.
The reasons are relatively simple to understand. Most US Army vehicles
were simply painted olive drab - either gloss, semi-gloss, or flat
- up until 1975, when the MERDC four-color camouflage schemes were
introduced to the tactical Army. As such, they were generally
considered "dull" and thus ignored. Up until recently, even most
model kits of American armored vehicles only had partial decal sheets
as nobody had done much research into how, or why, they had specific
markings applied.
Part of the reason for that is that the Army was thought to usually
just provided casual guidelines on what markings were to go on the
vehicle, where they went, and what data was essential. When I was a
tactical platoon sergeant at Fort Riley, Kansas, in 1975, we had to
provide each vehicle with a serial number, white stars, major unit
markings ("bumper codes"), specific unit markings, specific vehicle
numbers, and safe stenciling (e.g. "Do not fill at more than 28 gal
per minute" over the gas cap and "MAX 50 PSI" on the wheel wells
over the tires). We had some regs that provided overall schemes - for
example, TB 43-0209 dated October 1976, which covers the MERDC schemes
and where the patterns are supposed to go on specific items of
equipment as well as placement of codes. But like many units, we
deviated from the "norms" and followed local patterns.
These did not spring up from whole cloth in 1976, for in actuality the
Army had been using specific instructions and codes since it began
forming armored units in 1918. This excellent new work, which has only
received minor notice in the modeling community, answers many of the
pre-WWII questions about how the codes and markings developed prior to
1941. The author, Charles Lemons, is well qualified to cite these
instructions and codes: he is the curator of the famous Patton Museum
of Cavalry and Armor at Fort Knox, Kentucky, the current home of United
States Army Armor.
This book covers the first 23 years of armored vehicle use in American
service. But in the very beginning, since both of the major US allies
in WWII, England and France, had been using tanks since 1916, they had
their own conventions and thus the Americans used their respective
schemes on their respective tanks. British tanks used the British
pattern of markings and colors - khaki with white/red/white stripes,
and French tanks used their camouflage with their system of
identification - colored playing card symbols.
Over the years, systems became standardized, such as light tank
companies, National Guard tank companies, in the US from 1921 to 1935.
As things began to evolved, tank battalions came back into being in
1932 as well as regiments. But due to a disconnect in thinking, the US
Army had two kinds of tank units: "Infantry" - tanks to support
infantry, similar to the Soviet concept of "escort tanks", and
"Cavalry" - tanks used to carry out tank warfare, similar in
concept to the Soviet "fast tanks."
As the US Army finally began creating its own unique tanks in 1936,
the organization evolved still further, and while still designated as
"infantry" or "cavalry" regiments, the units began to evolve.
Finally, in 1940 the US Army created a true armor branch, and the first
two armored divisions, the 1st and 2nd, were created. Their regiments
were finally designated as "armored regiments" and no longer
infantry. Two more divisions, the 3rd and 4th, were added in 1941. Each
one had two full-strength armored regiments and one armored infantry
regiment; the concept of a third armor regiment (based on the old
"square" division concept of four regiments in two brigades forming
an infantry division) was abandoned at that time.
Also covered is the evolution of United States Marine Corps armor, but
it would take WWII and the campaigns in the Pacific before the full
concept of Marine tank battalions would emerge. Still, Charles covers
their nascent beginnings with Marmon-Herrington light tanks and US Army
The book includes a listing of all of the changes and documents
covering the organization and issue of armored vehicles, the lineage
and history of the first armored units, and as a boon to modelers, the
colors used and their closest modern FS595a equivalent numbers.
The book has over 200 good, clear photos of US Army tanks and armored
vehicles, plus such oddities as the tank transporters used in the 1920s
and 1930s, and shows how the markings were used and applied. There are
also a tremendous number of color plates and charts showing how the
colors were used for markings by unit and date. Unfortunately, some
were done using a second-rate graphics program and what is termed
"pixelization" is an annoyance, but that appears to be a lick at
the publisher and not the author. The colors are clear, however, and
since most people who read books like this know what a "star in the
circle" looks like it should not be a major distraction.
Overall this book is an essential shelf reference for any American
armor fan, and most modelers should have a copy as well. Up until now
the best overall book on WWII US Army markings has been one printed in
French over 20 years ago in Luxembourg. Having seen this great effort,
I hope that Charles has a "Volume 2" on WWII US armor planned!
Cookie Sewell
Reply to
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Schiffer doesn't have any in-house artists to do interior art (they contract out for cover art), and most of the time authors have to find somebody to do their art. They aren't going to get much for the amount of money these books return.
John Hairell (
Reply to
Thanks for the info.
Alas, there was a disconnect someplace, either with their publishing software or Charles' artwork, for the results are pretty ragged.
Cookie Sewell
Reply to
AMPSOne wrote in news:1144706145.417146.262500
Would you know a book that solely covers the markings for all US brigades, divisions, etc used in WWII. I'm not looking for pics of A tank with A marking, but I really want to know, for instance, what (kind of) vehicle in which division carried what marking(s) and when.
Could you help me with a title (or maybe a web site).
Reply to
Mechanical Menace
No, sorry to say.
There are several very general guidelines -- as noted the book I have published in Luxembourg on WWII American forces in Northwest Europe -- and one by Jim Mesko on US Colors and Markings in general.
If you put up the basics of what you have or want somebody on this group will probably be able to help you out. (I am assuming you just have one vehicle you want do and do it right, not "gimme data" on everything ever used by the US Army.)
Cookie Sewell
Reply to
AMPSOne wrote in news:1144865909.831555.323230
Well Cookie....... To be very honest, yes I would mean data on "everything used by the US army (in WWII)" but I understand that that is a mammoth task to write down.
I have the Jim Mesko book but that is just A tank with A marking, no explanation on markings.
But I've seen for instance bumper markings with triangles. Is that a divisional marking? if so what are the others?
I don't mean a listign all markings on every single truck and or tank, but it would be great to find an explanation about what was used.
Reply to
Mechanical Menace
The triangles are meant to replicate the "delta" shape of the Armored Corps insignia -- a triangle with each third in blue for infantry, red for artillery, and yellow for cavalry. But for simplicity's sake they used either a solid or hollow triangle.
Note that the USAAC/USAAF used a five-pointed star in the same manner, but mostly for higher level formations. Armor went down to battalion level.
Cookie Sewell
Reply to
AMPSOne wrote in news:1144967500.947845.248580
OK Cookie, this is the information I am talking about. Thanks. Now.... is this written down somewhere??
My question would be: did every vehicle have that triangle? And what kind of letter/number cobination should be before and/or after the triangle.
Thing is, I am producing some 1/48th scale military kits and I don't want the decals to be some kind of bogus combination or wrong for the type of vehicle.
Hope you (or someone else) can help me on this one.
TIA, Dennis
Reply to
Mechanical Menace

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