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‘Airborne Armour': An Important Book on Air-Mechanized Maneuver Warfare

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pf button both <!  :en  >Airborne Armour: An Important Book on Air Mechanized Maneuver Warfare<!  :  >

A Review by Air-Mech-Strike Study Group (AMS-SG).

The following review is exclusive to DefenseReview.

9/27/07

Airborne Armour is a must-have book for understanding Airborne 3D maneuver operations, period. Flint is a superb researcher and writer and this book is a masterpiece.

However, Keith Flint is also at times the typical whiny, turret tank dueler where every tracked tank is never good enough; who jumps around from complaint-to-complaint and comparison-to-comparison without any sound basis of basic land war understanding as a framework. Perhaps he has no direct military experience and is stuck with just war gamer’s ratios, or he is a former tanker who has the stereotypical, knee-jerk prejudice against 2-man turrets where there is no loader and the already busy Commander or Gunner have to do it. The Russian T-34 medium tank had this overworked relationship and most tank gurus rate it as the best turreted tank of WW2; some of all time. If you want that "human-powered" gun loader and are…

limited in weight to work with, do without the turret and go
with a powerful cannon in the hull, which is the highly successful German Sturmgeschutze (STUG) assault gun
arrangement. What Flint fundamentally fails to realize is that if you take away
the tanks he doesn’t like, it leaves your fleshy men’s bodies vulnerable to
EVERY threat the enemy throws at them with the potential of WW1 level of
casualties and at best a foot-slog or very likely pinned down and bleeding all
around. His accounts of the 6th Recce Squadron’s using these light
tanks in Normandy and the far bank of the Rhine verifies their successful
contributions in the "female"
machine gun tank function. The "male"
tank function is to blast bunkers and enemy tanks-but if a tank cannot kill
other tanks, Flint has no use for it, which is a narrow view since a tank
limited to infantry fire support is better than no tanks at all–look at
American casualties on D-Day where Percy Hobart’s "funnies" were not there in force to help.

When the British Hamilcar
glider-land "imperfect" Tetrarch 40mm gun and Locust 37mm gun turreted light tanks and
open-top Bren gun infantry carriers
onto Normandy on D-Day and across the Rhine for Operation VARSITY in 1945, they
WIN because imperfect light tanks
that can move in the face of enemy bullets and mow them down with machine guns
beats having your own men being mowed down without them. As a non-Soldier,
Flint sometimes doesn’t know the significance of what he writes, but thank
goodness for what he has written! When the Germans saw gliders delivering tanks
on D-Day, their commander realized they could be cut off if they over extended
themselves in counterattack and withdrew.

That right there validated all the
effort to get the imperfect light tanks to the scene because this was the
decision that won the battle since with every passing day the Allies would grow
stronger with new forces arriving. For men facing imminent death, the moral is
to the physical as 3 is to 1; by being on the defensive, the British 6th Airborne
had another physical 3-to-1 advantage for a total overmatch of 6-to-1. Flint doesn’t get it that light tanks where they are needed now
are worth more than heavier tanks too late. What German tanks and infantry that
did show up in weak counter-attacks were detected first by 6th
Airborne Recce units on mobile patrols and taken out by air strikes, naval
guns, the Tetrarch‘s own machine guns
and cannon or if they reached the defensive line, their 6-pounder and
17-pounder antitank guns sitting and waiting. Not knowing this, fixated on only
the obvious, the British Airborne’s commanders make a fatal error of drawing
the wrong lesson from their D-Day DEFENSIVE battle and placing delivery of
towed 17-pounder anti-tank guns which cannot fire while moving higher in priority
than their light tanks which can—vital for the fluid situation in the
up-coming OFFENSIVE mission to take the bridge across the Rhine river at
Arnhem.

When the British command does not loan the 1st
Airborne’s Freddy Gough the 6th Airborne’s Tetrarch
light tanks not being used, as he requested (his reputation is now vindicated,
by the way) for Operation Market-Garden in Holland, they LOSE. Gough’s unarmored wheeled machine gun jeeps towing 20mm
anti-aircraft cannon don’t make it to Arnhem bridge to reinforce LTC Frost, who
then can’t hold out long enough for the XXX Corps land advance to reach them
and the Germans win the battle—preventing
us from crossing the Rhine river in 1944 and ending the war sooner than it did.
Flint with his detailed and pioneering research
does show that 18 Bren gun carriers
were glider-landing at Arnhem to carry SUPPLIES
for the infantry battalion’s 8 mile foot-march to Arnhem bridge but none of them had a German
STUG-style fixed high explosive cannon to blast through the German armored cars
and men with rifles blocking them. He reveals that the Alecto I 95mm assault gun based on a successor chassis to the Tetrarch was developed but not fielded
in time before WW2 ended. Flint doesn’t mention
that several Bren gun chassis with
even 25-pounder guns were prototyped during WW2 and could have been there to
blast through "Tiger Route"
opposition to Arnhem
bridge. He does conclude that Tetrarch
turreted light tanks should have been brought to the fight and would have
greatly helped.
Its good to hear a historian take a damn stand on the past
so we can learn something from it, and not just wail and make excuses.

Another excellent point Flint shows is that a male "tank" with a gun big enough to
destroy even heavy German Tiger tanks
within the size and weight constraints of the Hamilcar or a larger glider like the German Me321—was possible in
WW2—the British just didn’t do it. Flint
ever the conventional male tank enthusiast, notes a 75mm gun-equipped Mark IV
medium tank with 80mm thick armor protection was transportable by a Me321
glider. Flint
wants his 360 degree spinning turret with a big gun and thick armor protection
to keep enemy big gun shells out, so to have his cake and eat it, too he wants
a bigger transport plane. Do-able, look at today’s C-17 Globemaster III turbofan transports that can lift 70-ton M1 Abrams tanks—if you have 3, 000 feet
of smooth ground to land on.

If you want to surprise the enemy by landing at
unexpected places and swarm him with greater numbers to get decisive victories,
then you need lighter tanks. Having a turret limits the space you have for a
gun or a loader and adds weight you can do without when being light enough for
WW2 piston-engined Airborne transport, and Flint shows how the American M22 Locust light tank had to have its turret
removed to attach directly to the piston-powered 4-engine C-54 transport plane
of that time. Flint
describes that upon landing, the pilot could drop the chassis 14 inches to the
ground and the Driver could hop in and take it back to the tail and the turret
could be lowered into position by untrained men in under 10 minutes! The author
also sheds new light on the C-74 Globemaster
I
that its ingenious bomb bay floor could raise and lower an intact M22 Locust light tank in 1945. However, the
American concept of C-54/Locust
requires a smooth RUNWAY to pre-exist and Flint
duly notes this is a tactical planning handicap the glider that essentially
CRASH LANDS onto any open area that is flat–doesn’t have. He expertly describes
how to crash land, a glider on skids can accommodate uneven, unprepared terrain
best.

However, with the excellent Hamilcar
heavy glider, experienced pilots kept its wheels on so they could steer with
braking and avoid obstacles like other gliders during the crash land. Two Hamilcars at Arnhem have their wheels stick into the soft
ground causing them to roll-over killing 3 men, so the ideal cow pasture
glider/airplane should have skids with small wheels not likely to stick in back
for ground steering. Flint doesn’t connect-the-dots that after WW2 regulars in
an air force are not going to want to crash-land in ANY aircraft and the glider
land-anywhere capability was lost not because it was "obsolete" which is the author’s favorite word to dismiss something
he doesn’t like.

Something Flint
does like and justly so is the awesome Hamilcar
glider. Its two pilots sat tandem like in a fighter plane on top of their
armored loads protecting them from enemy anti-aircraft explosions. Vents took
exhaust gases out so the tanks inside could be started up for a quick drive-off
upon landing. The shock absorbers could be lowered quickly upon landing to get
a good angle for the tracks to drive out. Very smart, but Flint reveals some
more stunning facts about this great assault cargo glider—an U.S. Army Air
Force (USAAF) officer saw a German Me109 on top of a small German assault
glider and proposed we put a P-38 Lightning
twin-engined fighter on top of the Hamilcar.
An American C-54 or B-17 or B-24 4-engined plane tows the Hamilcar/Lightning into the air, then disconnects and flies back to
base for another glider combo to take-off. From that point on the P-38’s
engines would keep the Hamilcar
glider aloft all the way to the target since the power to take-off is drastically
more than what’s required to stay aloft!

Physicists point out the same is true
with our cars, you don’t need 200 hp once you get to 60 mph, only a fraction of
this power so driving around with a bug engine is inefficient. It gets better.
Once over the target area, the P-38 pilot releases the Hamilcar to land with its light tank and troopers and the
fighter-bomber is now free to strafe the ground of enemy ack-ack guns, troops,
tanks, trucks etc. or shoot down enemy fighters! Such an arrangement would free
up our glider tow planes and get ALL OF THE HAMILCARS WORKING DELIVERING COMBAT
POWER TO HOLLAND would have worked wonders during Operation Market-Garden where
German mortars needed continual silencing by fighter-bombers to relieve
pressure on LTC Frost’s men at Arnhem
bridge. General Gavin says the lack of en
masse
airlift is what doomed Market-Garden.

This realization that the power to fly once take-off was
achieved resulted in the Hamilcar X
fitted with two engines from "obsolete"
aircraft of its own. When fitted with the most powerful engines available the Hamilcar COULD FLY ITSELF ALL THE WAY TO
THE OBJECTIVE WITH ITS FULL LOAD OF LIGHT TANK(S). Now this is a class/type of
assault transport WE DO NOT FULL UNDERSTAND even today. This is a POWERED
CRASHLANDING GLIDER. This is a minimalist aircraft that if it breaks up in a
rough landing, OK. We can accept this because we want to land where the enemy
is not expecting us. We are not putting millions of dollars into it, its made
of wood.

This is NOT the C-130s we have today that are not only heavier and
cannot crash-land but need runways, handicapping us with having to seize an
airfield or stretch of road. When Gavin is talking about a "cow pasture" powered plane he is
talking about a plane that can CRASH
LAND either on skis,
skid-wheels or tracks or simply drops a KIWI pod that does the skidding to a
halt. Yes, if the powered Hamilcar
isn’t wrecked it could take-off again and fly back to base, but when the
pampered, doesn’t-want-to-get-dirty U.S. Air Force heavyied up our own CG-20
glider to the point that it became a RUNWAY dependant airplane we lost the
capability to land anywhere.

Regulars in peacetime don’t want to crash-land and
pilots certainly don’t want to be stranded and have to fight as ground troops
if their powered glider can’t take-off and get them back to base. What I’m
saying is that the USAF’s laziness and cowardice to not have to fight or get
dirty has ruined our Airborne warfare capabilities because we now have to work
around their planes that cannot and will not land anywhere. The USAF has also
refused to field technologies that would enable extreme short take-off and
landing (ESTOL) on their existing planes or to fund a vertical take-off and
landing (VTOL) assault transport because it helps the Army win wars by maneuver
and they want to try to win wars by themselves using Douhet bombing.

IMHO, the U.S. Army Airborne should adopt a Land-with-Power concept of operation.
We should parachute drop M113 Gavin
light tanks to carry paratroopers and some with large cannon assault guns and
others bulldozer blades and Rhino Snot
soil sealant trailers from existing USAF C-130s and C-17s so they need not have
to land and we need not have to seize a runway. We then build the runway
ourselves just as we were going to do as Flint
points out in Holland
using British flown Hamilcars to
carry our bulldozers and airfield combat engineers. This force in light tanks
is Gavin’s Sky Cavalry and Grange’s
Air-Mech-Strike Force that has armor protection, superior cross-country
mobility, firepower and vital supplies to not just "seize and hold" but can go to where the enemy is and collapse
him, an American blitzkrieg.

In the
meantime, we should press the USAF to field a C-17 derivative that can drop 10
ISO container BATTLEBOXes from a few feet over the ground without complicated
parachutes in one pass or at higher altitudes glider pods for stand-off coup de main assaults and to create a
VTOL assault transport that can deliver one M113 Gavin and a 9-man squad anywhere in the world while being invisible
to radar. The American airhead becomes a fortified BATTLEBOX operating base,
dispersed, hardened and with self-sufficient solar/wind staying power requiring
minimal resupply sorties of fossil fuel and food since it can collect its own
water and shoot the enemy’s ammunition.

Some troubling questions are raised in the book, if 863 x
M22 Locust tanks were built, why were
they not used by our own American Airborne? The USAAF asked for 144 Hamilcars to deliver light tanks and
settled on 50 for D-Day. When we couldn’t even get 50 Hamilcars, the Americans just gave up. We know the Hamilcar heavy glider production was
sluggish, but why wasn’t American firms asked to build some? Even if Locusts were not used, the Hamilcars could have enabled jeeps and
57mm or 75mm towed guns to be carried together, since we had to have one CG-4A Waco
carry the jeep and other the towed gun and hope to combine them on the ground
under enemy fire. If jeeps were lost, guess what? you were pushing your gun!
Studying Gavin’s Airborne Warfare, "Cavalry and I Don’t Mean Horses", and War and Peace in the
Space Age
, you discover General Ridgway had to scrounge from another
American unit just to get 57mm anti-tank guns. It doesn’t look like the American
Airborne had the clout to get Tetrarches,
mass-produced Brens and even on our
own Locust light tanks—let alone Hamilcar heavy gliders. When two forces
bump into each other in meeting engagement, the side that has to stop and
unhitch a gun from a jeep loses against the side with a gun mounted on a
vehicle ready-to-fire. How many G.I.s died because of this is a big
question.

Flint’s other conclusion that at war’s end that the British
turned against light tanks stems again from his whiny tank dueler bias and is
factually incorrect; the highly cross-country mobile and easily air-transported
by C-130 Hercules turboprop and CH-47
Chinook helicopter 8-ton Scorpion/Scimitar light recce tanks were
fielded and are in use today to provide "Airborne Armor"—so the
concept has been embraced not rejected by the British Army. Are we surprising
enemies in Afghanistan/Iraq with the noisy approach of these motor-driven
aircraft? No. Do we need to drop farther away and use stealthy electrical
powered light tanks with band tracks? Yes. Do we still need a STUG assault gun
on a M113 Gavin or a Scorpion/Scimitar or BV206-BV10S
chassis? Sure do. That’s where Flint’s book shines because it lays out the raw
facts that enables us today to ditch the bath water and take the infant
Airborne Armor to adulthood as visionaries like Tuchayevsky, Simpkin, Gavin,
Grange, Zumbro and Jarnot have been calling on us to do to have an effective 3D
maneuver "Cavalry" for
years.

Click on the link below if you’d like to learn more about and/or purchase this book:

AIRBORNE ARMOUR: Tetrarch, Locust, Hamilcar and the 6th Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment 1938-50 (Hardcover)

‘Airborne Armour': An Important Book on Air-Mechanized Maneuver Warfare by
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About David Crane

David Crane started publishing online in 2001. Since that time, governments, military organizations, Special Operators (i.e. professional trigger pullers), agencies, and civilian tactical shooters the world over have come to depend on Defense Review as the authoritative source of news and information on "the latest and greatest" in the field of military defense and tactical technology and hardware, including tactical firearms, ammunition, equipment, gear, and training.

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