"Marine Corps Tank Battles in Vietnam" by Oscar "Ed" Gilbert is the third volume in his series chronicling the history of the Marine Corps tank forces. The previous two volumes, "Marine Corps Tank Battles in the Pacific" (2001) and "Marine Corps Tank Battles in Korea" (2003) were also published by Casemate Publishers and a fourth volume is in the works covering Marine Corps tank operations in Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, and Somalia. Mr. Gilbert himself is a former Marine artilleryman and has done extensive research on the history of the Marine Corps tank units, using the official archives of the USMC as well as first-hand accounts to create his narrative in this latest volume of the Marine Corps tanker's experiences in Vietnam.
The book comes as a hard-bound edition consisting of 304 pages 6.25" x 9.25" with an additional 16 pages of black and white photos in the middle accompanied by captions. The book is primarily an oral-history and the author acknowledges in the Preface that, as a result, some of the accounts overlap with each other and the chronology of events isn't always linear. This, combined with the fact that the Marine Corps Tank units were often fragmented and moved around from one unit to the next frequently as immediate events dictated, makes it difficult to adhere to the traditional approach of describing pitched battles or operations as you might expect. Partly to overcome this, the chapters are organized into a year-by-year account and the full Table of Contents consists of the following:
Two Thousand Years of War
1965: Taking Measure
1966: The NVA Moves South
1967: A Growing Momentum
1968: Crisis and Decision
1969: On The Ropes
1970-1973: Withdrawal and Final Spasms
Where Are They Now?
References and Bibliography
When most people think of Vietnam, the use of tanks is not often what springs to mind yet, as this volume proves, they were in fact widely used by the Marine Corps in the III MAF area throughout the conflict but without a high profile. The book does an admirable job of pointing out that, unlike previous wars, their use was not at the large unit level for the most part against other enemy armor but rather at the platoon or company level and often in support of infantry units or as convoy escorts, a hazardous activity under the best of circumstances. The author does a superb job of weaving together the stories of the men who served in these units using first-hand accounts combined with combat unit histories and the larger picture of the war and shifting strategy as time went on. The narrative draws the reader in and indeed is a gripping "you-are-there" account from the soldiers themselves, making the telling up close and personal in a way that only oral histories can by humanizing it at the individual level. Through the voices of the enlisted tankers and their company and platoon officers, the book takes you through the early experiences in the build-up of US troops and the changing mission roles to the street fighting in Hue and the heavy fighting along the DMZ right up to the draw-down of forces and eventual withdrawal from Vietnam. The book culminates with a section of brief accounts of where the surviving soldiers are now, providing a continuity from the events of the past to the present as an apt conclusion.
In addition to the text, the middle section of 16 pages contains 39 photos on glossy high-quality paper and the photos include many shots of the M48A3, M67A2 flame tank, M51 VTR, and the M50 Ontos. While the book's main focus is as a written text, the photos offer a nice supplement with detailed captions to go with each. The Index is detailed and thorough and includes all of the named operations that the Marine Corps tank units participated in for quick reference.
By the time I got to the end, I was amazed at the broad range of experiences that were captured so completely by the author in the process. The lengthy bibliography represents an extensive amount of primary research done to support both the historical and personal components of the Marine Corps tankers' experience in Vietnam. While not strictly a modeling reference book in the traditional sense, engaging in model building is also engaging in modeling history when we remember that the fighting machines were crewed by flesh-and-blood human beings. With that backdrop, this book provides an invaluable insight into the human aspect of the combat machines through the actual experiences of their crews in a war not normally associated with armor. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the Vietnam period, especially the experiences of the Marine Corps.
Highs: Superbly written oral history account of the experiences of Marine Corps tankers in Vietnam. Chapter organization is well thought out and follows a chronological pattern. Lows: Utility for the modeler will be determined by their interest in the history behind the men and machines. Verdict: An excellent read that tells the story of the Marine Corps tankers in Vietnam extremely well. Highly recommended for those looking for the "human" side of the history we model.
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About Bill Plunk (wbill76) FROM: TEXAS, UNITED STATES
Like many, I started out in the hobby as a kid building airplanes to hang from my bedroom cieling. I took a long break from the hobby, returning in 2001 with an interest in armor inspired mostly by online gaming. WW2 armor, 1/35 scale, is my preferred genre with a special taste for the stranger vehi...