Prior to 1943, there were two distinct French forces - the first, which served in North Africa, the Armee d'Afrique
(French Army of Africa) and the Forces Françaises Libres
(Free French Forces). In 1943, the two forces were amalgamated into the l'Armée de transition (literally translated as 'transitional' army) which became known as the French Army of the Liberation. Three 'light' Armoured Divisions were formed (each with three Armoured Battalions) - the majority of their vehicles coming from the U.S.A.. What makes the F.A.L. such an interesting subject for the M4 builder was undoubtedly the variants used - almost every M4 variant was used, albeit with one or two notable 'absences' such as the Firefly. Of course, it is not simply the variants, the markings of French vehicles were probably the most individual seen in the later part of the war.
The French Sherman's of the Liberation 1943-45 is the first in a new series from Editions du Barbotin: 'Century Tracks' which, it is envisaged, will cover a wide range of military vehicles. The book is written by Claude Gillono
and illustrated by Eric Schwartz
. The book is TOTALLY bi-lingual (French/English) and comes in slightly smaller than A4 format. Getting into the 'vital statistics' of the book, it contains 63 pages within which are contained 72 black and white photos, 18 good-sized Colour profiles (along with many smaller ones) and 8 black and white diagrams. For those who require it, the book's ISBN is 2-9520988-6-7.
The first part of the book covers the development of the Sherman from the M2 Light tank to the M3 Medium Tank program and then moves onto the M4. The second part looks at the (always complex) area of the difference between variants and their evolution. This, for many, may seem like 'inbuilt redundancy' due to the quantity of reference books on the M4, however, in my mind at least it is completely justified. Many modellers DO get confused by the subject and the more sources on the subject the better.Not everyone has access (or the inclination to buy) Hunnicutt, any author who attempts to explain the 'Dark Art' of Sherman variants should be applauded... Moving on from the very competently done first sections, the third chapter puts the French Sherman in its historical context with the historical background to the creation of the F.A.L. along with some interesting material on its force structure. Some concise information on the actual vehicle types used is also presented in this section - the use of the M32 for example. The penultimate section looks, in closer detail at the three ADs with some useful sidebars three are particularly interesting, the first, the provision of M4A1 (76)s. The second is a good (though previously well-documented) account of the liberation of Paris in august 1944. The third is taken from the journals of a crew in the advance toward Didenheim in November of 1944 which demonstrates the elation and fear (in equal measure) of a Sherman crew in combat. The final section of the book (14 pages) consist of the Colour profiles - more of these in the next section.
A touch of the visuals
The prime reason for purchasing a book of this type is inevitably as a modelling reference. Two areas are of importance to the modeller. the 'contemporary' images of the actual vehicle and translating these images into Colour profiles - particularly dealing with something as 'dramatic' as French vehicle markings. It therefore may be useful to look at the two areas separately, beginning with:
Black and White Images
: Having a 'vague' familiarity with French M4's, but owning little in the way of reference material, the majority of the (French) B W images were new to me. One image which caused my eyebrows to somewhat shoot up, was the image of a test (?) vehicle with Zimmerit - an interesting project for those who are bored with the usual M4A2.. The quality of the images is good although in many cases they were a touch on the small side. All have been re-screened giving good crisp images. The value of these images lies in areas such as the application of stowage and, in many cases, ideas for dioramas.
The colour Profiles
: Interesting as the history of the Sherman in French service undoubtedly is, this is the area which will capture most modeller's attention (and imagination). It can also be hoped that some of the AM decal manufacturers are going through the images as well. These profiles are, in my opinion, some of the best-executed illustrations ever done. Nine pages cover a single vehicle which is dominated by a large full-colour side-view. In addition, separate sections cover detail of squadron markings, colours used in these markings, vehicle types and as a welcome bonus, the names of other vehicles in the squadron. Also included are contemporary black and white images of the actual vehicle. The final three pages of the book cover nine more M4's (3 per page) which are well-done side views along with brief notes on the history and vehicle type. Regarding the large profiles, an error was made in the initial print-run of the book which (nice detail on the part of the publishers!) was rectified by the inclusion of a separate 'errata' sheet.
Considering the attractive nature of the French markings, it's a touch absurd that we have had to wait so long for a 'dedicated' title in English. However, it was certainly worth the wait. This is an excellent book and for the dedicated and imaginative modeller it will suggest dozens of future projects. With the quality (and variation) from the recent Sherman releases in 1/35th, 1/48th and 1/72nd scale now seems like as good a time as ever to actually move into a different and fascinating area. Good though as the book is, I do have a few 'negatives' to express. Firstly, (and it's a moot point), the Sherman's technical development is pretty well-covered in other books and on the 'net so some of the information could be seen as duplication or, at worse, using up space which could have been used for more images/profiles. I personally don't think its negative - any attempt to explain the Sherman is welcome. Its also worth mentioning (by way of a suggestion) that future books should have their proof-reading done by a native speaker. The English is good but it does 'jar' a little in some sections (typical language teacher on a Crusade here folks!) . Some of the B W images would have been better in a larger format as well, but since the publisher has to get a lot of information in the book, I don't see how it could be improved. As price is a factor in most modellers lives, it is rare to see a book which is such good value as this one - €14.50 for a book of this quality represents extraordinary value. This is a book which deserves to sell by the 'camion' load. It is truly excellent and indicates great things from this new 'division' - hopefully the halftrack and Stuart books in a similar format are already in the planning.
The book is available DIRECTLY from the publishers through their website a link to which can be seen: HERE