Landships II

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Post Info TOPIC: The First Modern War: Armoured Beasts. Spoiler Alert.


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The First Modern War: Armoured Beasts. Spoiler Alert.

OK, this is a spoiler for "The First Modern War: Part I of 4: Armo(u)red Beasts" If you'd rather do your own analysis than be influenced by my review, stop now until you've watched the film here

Otherwise, read on.


The film features David Willey of The Tank Museum, U.K; Christy Campbell, author of Band of Brigands; some American historians/academics with whom I'm afraid I'm not familiar. Apologies.

Begins with the familiar explanation of how the Western Front came about. At 4' 29" Ernest Swinton's name appears. Like many accounts, this doco doesn't stray too far from the truth but comes up with some howlers.

"Reporting on the fighting at the Western Front, British war correspondent Ernest Swinton - it doesn't mention that he was a soldier - witnessed the carnage of trench warfare first hand," and his ideas about adapting a caterpillar tractor are explained, as is his failure to persuade anyone to take them further. So far, nothing that even Swinton would argue about. But the narration then says:

". . . February 1915, one highly influential official recognised (the ideas') potential - Winston Churchill, head of the British admiralty. Churchill called them 'Landships', and his interest in them officially allowed Swinton to develop the revolutionary new weapon", which we know isn't true. I realise they can't include everything, but there's no mention of the Landship Committee or the RNAS Armoured Cars; it's all Swinton.

It does say that "working in complete secrecy, British engineers William Tritton and Walter Wilson spent three months developing a prototype armoured vehicle intended to cross rough terrain and five foot wide trenches."

David Willey explains Tritton's track shoes, and there is lots of focus on Little Willie, but no mention of Mother. After 8' 0" the narration says, "In January 1916, after 11 months of research and development, Swinton's top secret armoured vehicle was ready for its first field trials."

It does credit Swinton with having coined the word 'tank,' and for a while, the story is told reasonably well, with all the principal events explained, but it's sprinkled with mistakes and omissions.

Self congratulatory quotes from Swinton's autobiography are included (the tank was "the embodiment of my ideas," and Elles's telegram saying "your show")

At 8' 40" the CGI of what is described as a "Mark I tank" is actually Bovington's Mark IV/War Horse replica - with a rearward firing Lewis gun.

As is customary, the footage of tanks is a jumble of Mk I, Mk II, Mk IV, real/replica/CGI, and bits from Stosstrupp 1917, all in no particular order. Mark Vs at Flers, Mk I at Cambrai, and all other possible combinations.

Cambrai is covered reasonably well, but the verdict is: "Three years after Ernest Swinton conceived of an armoured vehicle, he had seen his invention fulfil its promise on the battlefield," which, again, is stretching the facts to breaking point. And the commentary says that the Germans "contained the British advance," with no reference to the counter-attack. It also states that George Patton was among American observers at Cambrai, which isn't true.

As happens so often in documentaries like this, some pronunciations are terrible. "Flers" becomes "Fleur," "Courcelette" becomes "Courcelé," and I can't decipher the name of the opposing German general. It sounds like "von Varta." Why don't the producers just ask someone?

Finally: we get the traditional mention of German tanks and a few seconds of the Elfriede film. But not a word about French tanks.

It ends with the usual look ahead to Germany's adoption of the tank in WWII, et cetera.

On the plus side; some of the CGI is pretty good, especially Cambrai and deploying the fascines, and there's quite a bit of contemporary footage I hadn't seen before.

The worst bit is the continuation of the Swinton myth.

Feel free to add/argue.

(Made by Impossible Pictures for Sky History, 2014.)



"Sometimes things that are not true are included in Wikipedia. While at first glance that may appear like a very great problem for Wikipedia, in reality is it not. In fact, it's a good thing." - Wikipedia.

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