ARM: Book Review - Tank Warfare on Iwo Jima

Book Review: Tank Warfare On Iwo Jima by David E. Harper; Squadron
Signal No. 6096, Squadron Signal Productions, Carrollton, TX 2008; 96
pp. with photos and illustrations; price US$19.95 (ISBN
978-0-89747-559-3)
Advantages: first dedicated, clear cut view of Marine Corps tank
operations on Iwo Jima; covers all three Marine tank battalions in
action as well as some Japanese tank activity; detailed information on
differences among tanks and tankers=92 uniforms
Disadvantages: some lack of framework and perspective makes it
difficult to understand USMC tank operations in late Pacific War
battles
Rating: Highly Recommended
Recommendation: for all Sherman and USMC fans and historians
When it comes to the use of the M4 series Sherman tanks, the US Army
gets the lion=92s share of the coverage, as it was heavily involved in
Europe and Africa. Next the coverage goes to the Allies who used the
Sherman, especially the Commonwealth, as they too made extensive use
of the tanks in the same theater. But while the Marine Corps also used
the Sherman in its Pacific combat, they tend to have been ignored and
even in coverage of the battles there more coverage in print thus far
has gone to Army tank battalions and not the Marine ones.
This book goes far to correct some of the imbalance, and while it
focuses on only one battle =96 but the biggest and most costly one of
any fought by the Marines =96 it provides a great deal of insight into
Marine Corps operations and the tanks they used.
As this book shows, the Marine Corps put a considerable amount of
armored vehicles ashore on Iwo Jima to include three complete tank
battalions =96 3rd Tanks, 4th Tanks, and 5th Tanks. As 3rd Tanks was the
oldest, it was still equipped with the diesel-powered M4A2 variants of
the tank, whereas the newer 4th and 5th Tanks were equipped with M4A3
tanks. While the 3rd Tanks ran their vehicles =93stock=94 the other two
had added locally designed protection packages of wood and sandbags,
as well as screens and other standoff means, to protect them from
Japanese improvised antitank means (showing the concept of what are
now called IEDs has been around for a very long time, and was just as
effective in 1945 as it is today). The Marine tank losses on Iwo seem
to have gone to either point-blank broadside hits by Japanese 47mm
antitank guns from either concealed positions or Shin-Hoto Chi-ha
tanks, or to IEDs made from items such as 500 lb bombs buried along
the main avenues of approach for tanks. With the former the improvised
armor protection does not seem to have worked, as photographic
evidence in this book shows.
The author has done an excellent job of sorting out whose tanks are
whose (the 3rd Tanks vehicles being very easy to spot) as well as the
modifications to each one, as well as the supplementary flamethrower
tanks used by each of the battalions. Unlike the Army units, the
Marines believed in very close support and as a result all of their
tanks were fitted with an external telephone box for
intercommunications with the tank=92s crew for pinpoint target
suppression. (The Army picked up on this one later and as such most
tanks through the M1 series had a telephone box installed at the
factory.)
The book is primarily oriented on the modeler. Using a series of
screen captures and what color photos were taken at the time, the
color schemes for each battalion and the markings are identified and
covered in detail. Of interest is the fact that the 4th and 5th Tanks
vehicles were camouflaged, the add-on armor packages added, and then
the camouflage paint added to the new items, so that when the add-on
armor packages were damaged the original tank still shows the camo
scheme.
What the book does not do is put things in context. Marine tank
battalions were not identical to their Army counterparts nor was their
organization the same, and the reasons for the different types of
tanks is not explained very well. To really get the best out of this
book (unless simply using it for a =93monkey-see-monkey-do=94 painting and
finishing reference for a specific model) it should be read together
with the excellent =93US Marine Corps Tank Crewman 1941-1945 Pacific=94 by
Kenneth W. Estes (Osprey Warrior No. 92, Osprey Publishing 2005, ISBN
1-84176-717-4). This book shows the organization and evolution of USMC
tank units and explains many of the details found in Mr. Harper=92s book
in greater detail; taking both books together will give a very
detailed picture for the level of heroism and achievement of these
units.
Overall, as noted above, this is a great book for modelers and
provides a wealth of photo information for the historian.
Cookie Sewell
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