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Post Info TOPIC: TV Documentary: The Tank, Weapon of the 20th Century. Spoiler Alert.


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TV Documentary: The Tank, Weapon of the 20th Century. Spoiler Alert.

I present my review of The Tank: Weapon of the 20th Century (2018)

Part 1 of a 2-parter. By Spiegel TV for Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF), a German public service TV channel.

Some big name curators in this 50 minute doco: David Willey (Bovington), Pierre Garnier de Labareyre (at Saumur until June 2020), Markus Pöhlmann (military history at Potsdam University), and Ralf Raths (Munster).

Written by Almut Faas and Anja Kindler, one assumes in German. There are moments when the English translation is a bit awkward, and sometimes the narrator doesn't seem very sure of the subject. He is billed as Steven Charles, and his voice sounds familiar from British tv, but he does come up with some very odd pronunciations, and I think someone with more knowledge might have challenged some things.

But anyway - the story:

This film hops between the modern and the historical, a technique we've seen before. We start off with tank-driving days out at a tankodrome and restoration work at Saumur, then after a few minutes we begin the history, which is what I shall concentrate on. It starts with an analysis of Cambrai from the British, French, and German point of view. Then further back in time to the start of it all, which is, on this occasion, Gunther Burstyn. The drawing of his vehicle is shown, along with, unfortunately, an image of the wrong Burstyn, again: his brother Werner. That's two cases of the wrong Burstyn being shown in docos. And the narrator pronounces "motor gun" in a decidedly odd way - more of that sort of thing shortly.

Next, "the ground-breaking idea of an endless track belongs to an American." This is, of course, Benjamin Holt, whose picture is shown, along with various shots of Holt (and other) caterpillar tractors.

On cue, the "originator of the tank" arrives. "Holt's tracked vehicle inspired a British officer, Ernest Swinton. He had the idea of using Holt's armoured tractors as combat vehicles." Oh, here we go. But wait! "However, this attempt failed."  Good heavens. Swinton would not have liked that. And he is not mentioned again, which is as it should be. The last we see of him is the famous photo of him and Holt with the miniature dummy tank in California. The commentary offers no explanation of what is going on in the photograph.

Next, the Landship Committee is formed by "naval officer Winston Churchill." Then we see Little Willie (with Built 1916 on the side) followed by King George V inspecting a rhomboid that is described as "the second prototype" but is a Mark IV.

At this point Ralf Raths explains that, "The French were at least as important as the British (in tank development)," something very rarely stated in anglocentric accounts.

Then it's back to present-day Saumur to see restoration of a Panther and a couple of FTs. (The narrator delivers the most bizarre pronunciation of Musée de Blindés - why don't they ask someone?) Commentary states: "At the same time as the British, the French experimented with heavy models . . .," but they aren't named or shown.

Next comes the story of the Renault FT, with various clips. As we move on to the origins of the British tanks, two Medium Mk Cs make a short and unexplained appearance.

Then back to Flers for the story of the Mk I. Lots of footage from the 1926 film "The Somme," showing Mark Vs. The clips of British tanks are the usual mishmash, but I've seen worse. Amongst the footage of British and French civilians celebrating the tanks' success can be seen some British soldiers in 1937 webbing and uniforms shaking hands as if in celebration of something. No explanation.

Cue the A7V, and film of the crew riding on the roof of Siegfried. Narrator makes the odd claim that Germany built "only 20 of the 38 originally ordered."

We arrive at the Armistice and move on to the inter-war period, where my knowledge, such as it is, ends.

There is some good stuff in this. The guests contribute plenty, and it covers subjects such as shell-shock, war artists, tank banks, and the psychological effect of the tanks. It tells the story of WWI and the early years of the tanks pretty well. I know a lot of the flaws in this are minor, but they all add up to make it seem a bit shoddy, if only to the cognoscenti. The writers ought really to get it reviewed by an expert before the final version. And, for heaven's sake, check the pronunciation of foreign words and names.

BTW, the Austrian Photo Archive incorrectly labelled their photo of Werner Burstyn as Gunther. I don't know whether direct from there or via Wikipedia, it has got into the system. They have now rectified that, but too late - two documentaries have recorded it for posterity.

Score out of 10? 7


"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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