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Marines Under Armor

by Col. Ken Estes, USMC (Ret.)

Published by Naval Institute Press. Hard covers, 9.25 x 6.25-inches, 267 pages, 35 B&W photos, index, appendices and bibliography. Price: $34.95 USD. Available from the publisher at: www.usni.org. See their web site for further details.

Published in 2000, this book deserves more recognition amongst AFV modelers, (especially those interested in history) than it has previously gained. One of the reasons I enjoy being able to review new products is that very often I get to say to my peers the following: “Hey, check this out you guys … this is some great stuff!” What this book is not, however, is a photographic reference of the kind that gets modeler’s juices flowing. But it is essential reading for those who enjoy the inner workings of the military way of acquiring equipment and the way in which theory and established policy sometimes conflict.

The text details the initial Marine Corps acquisition of armored cars and the Ford M1917 (license-built US version of the French Renault FT-17) tank, along with their limited use. It then goes into the details surrounding the fielding of the various Marmon-Herrington “tanks” as part of the Marine’s eternal quest for a light combat vehicle capable of supporting the infantry in an amphibious assault. Luckily for those involved, although some were actually deployed to the Pacific, the various permutations of this ill-conceived and poorly constructed vehicle never saw combat with the US Marine Corps! As the Marines were faced by the advent of the blitzkrieg, procurement challenges and changing requirements emerged. This forced the Corps to acquire tanks designed for the US Army, such as the M2/M3/M5 light tanks and M4 medium tanks, as well as the M3 scout car and M3 75mm GMC tank destroyer. Then, the LVT series, a purely Marine innovation entered the scene, just in time for the Pacific island-hopping campaign. This vehicle in its cargo/personnel and armed/armored versions came along just in time to enable the Corps to successfully pursue its concept of ever-expanding large-scale amphibious assaults. The Corp’s assets at the war’s end are detailed, as are the continuing efforts to implement “lessons learned” into doctrine, as well as equipment, usually in spite of prevailing (read: ”opposing”) attitudes amongst some of the Corp’s leadership. With the outbreak of the Korean War, the Corps found itself playing the game of “catch-up”, especially regarding trained personnel, although it eventually had a passable mix of equipment, once the value of the M26 medium tank series was proven in battle. After that, came the M47 in very limited numbers (a tank that I never thought served with the Corps), then the later M48 and the M103 and finally the improved LVT-5 series as well as the Ontos (the discredited “tank destroyer” concept never died!). Vietnam intervened, then came the M60A1 in it’s various guises and the LVTP/AAVP-7 series. The author then takes the reader up to the present (2000) with the advent of the LAV, M1A1 and the soon-to-be-fielded Advanced AAV.

All this is done in a nearly flawless scholarly fashion, worthy of the author’s efforts. The few glitches I found in the text (having edited copy for a dozen years at a Museum and a magazine, I have fallen into the habit of “nit-picking” when it comes to such things in the name of producing a better product … not in an effort to prove that I know something that someone else does not!) include the term GMC (gun motor carriage), which the author calls “gun, mount, carriage”, the misspelling of “Guadalcanal Diary” author Richard Tregaskis’ name (“Tregasis” in Estes’ book, “Tregaskis” on the cover of the first-edition copy of that classic that resides in my reference library) and a couple of simple typos. As for Tregaskis’ name, the author obviously became aware of this as his latest book, “Tanks on the Beaches” has it spelled correctly.

There are almost no first person accounts of actual combat in this book although the author does mention a few notable incidents and there are some after-action bits here and there. However, that’s not the real focus of this book. This will be seen as an even lesser detraction when the reader obtains the author’s most recent work, “Tanks on the Beaches”, which is co-written with veteran Marine tanker Bob Neiman. The photos included are all well chosen to support the story and are an attempt at giving “catalog-like” coverage of the main AFVs used by the Corps during the period covered in the book. Missing is a photo of an M3/M3A1 light tank (an M2A2 and an M5A1 are shown) which was the variant that saw considerable action. I would have loved to see a photo of what a Marine M47 looked like, but that is no fault of the author! It should be noted, however, that the author recently e-mailed me an extraordinary color photo of a USMC M47, in service in Japan, with Mount Fujiyama in the background. Thanks Ken!

A couple of captions on photo page twelve are suspect as well. The top photo shows 75mm-armed M4A3’s (note the M34A1 mantlets) in the foreground, not the 105mm variants as captioned (which are in the far background of the small photo), while the bottom one depicts at least an M26A1 (not an M26 as stated) with bore evacuator and later single-baffle muzzle break on the 90mm gun tube (the text and spec tables indicate that it may actually be an M46). Printing the photo section on glossy coated stock would have also benefited this book. However, all these small things really do not amount to much when one considers the wealth of detail the author does present. If the reader compares this book to the more recent work of Ed Gilbert, with its emphases on personal stories of USMC tank combat, he should then consider this work as the absolutely vital contextual “skeleton” upon which the “meat” of Gilbert’s work can be draped. And in my humble opinion, that’s no small accomplishment.

Highly recommended.

Naval Institute Press books are available from the publisher at: www.usni.org. See their web site for further details.