Both the British Centurion and Soviet T55 tanks trace their roots back to the second world war. With the Centurion, the woeful British tanks of the second world war inspired designers to make sure that the Army never went to war with such sub-standard armoured vehicles again. Not only that, but it proved very succesful as an export. Meanwhile the T55 owed much of its design to the legendary T34.
Although both were designed to combat the German Panthers and Tigers, increasingly as the Cold War developed they faced each other in North Europe, on either side of the Iron Curtain. They never faced each other in action, but they did however equip many of the second and third world states, particularly in the middle east. This book by Simon Dunstan compares the performance of the machines and the men who operated them, using the Yom Kippur War of 1973, between Israel and Syria and Egypt, as a case study.
Comnparison in history is crucial. Particularly in military history. It is one thing to say that a tank is impressive, but how does it fare against its contemporaries? That is the real acid test of any military hardware. Can it defeat its opponent? If not, then its occupants are in trouble. Therefore, the duel series is onto a winner in my opinion.
But comparing the machines alone is not enough. Without the men to operate them they would stand idle. In the case of the Yom Kippur War, the Israeli Centurions and Arab T55’s were finely matched technologically, but the Israeli’s training, leadership and motivation proved decisive. After being caught off guard and then holding back a strong attack at the beginning of the war, the Israelis held their ground and launched a decisive counter-attack. And this very much mirrored the British and NATO policy. They could never hope to build more tanks than the Russians, so chose to concentrate on quality, and training. And when opposing forces are matched in terms of a balance between quanitity and quality in equipment, training usually proves decisive, backed up by morale and leadership.
Simon Dunstan has written widely on both the Middle East and Armour, and this breadth of knowledge pays dividends in this book. Different factors are considered, without being disparate, and the broader context of the Cold War and the Second World War provide a sound basis. This book informs greatly our knowledge of armoured warfare. Not only that, but it makes me want to go to Bovington to look at some tanks!