x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Book review: War through the tired eyes of a British tank regiment

In The Tank War, veteran BBC journalist Mark Urban chronicles the exploits of Britain's 'Filthy Fifth' tank regiment during the Second World War.

The Tank War
Mark Urban
Little, Brown

In The Tank War, veteran BBC journalist Mark Urban sets out to describe the arc of a whole conflict through the real-life experiences of the members of a single military unit.

Urban charts the fortunes of the fifth Royal Tank Regiment on its epic journey from the evacuation of France in 1940 through sometimes disastrous but ultimately successful campaigns in North Africa, Italy and Normandy to the regiment's final dash to secure the strategically important city of Hamburg in 1945.

Urban served as a junior officer in a tank regiment before reporting on every major conflict in recent times for the BBC. Using interviews with surviving members of the "Filthy Fifth" and the letters, dispatches and memoirs that emerged from the regiment, Urban creates an engaging account.

However, The Tank War remains a very military history about a subject that already has its laureate. Keith Douglas's memoir, Alamein to Zem Zem, manages what Urban cannot in transcending the genre and becoming great literature.