Pioneers of Armour in the Great War, David A. Finlayson & Michael K. Cecil

Pioneers of Armour in the Great War, David A. Finlayson & Michael K. Cecil

Despite the title, the main focus of this book is on the exploits of what became the First Australian Light Car Patrol, a unit that was equipped with Ford Model Ts and operated in the Western Desert and then in Palestine and Syria. In many ways this unit had far more in common with the Long Range Desert Group during its time in the desert, and with the Jeep equipped SAS of the Second World War when serving in Palestine than with any armoured unit. However when the unit was first formed, as the First Australian Armoured Car Section, it was to take advantage of several donations of motor vehicles back in Australia, which were then converted into armoured cars by local enthusiasts. These vehicles did make it to Egypt, but rather quickly fade out of the story.

The first part of the book looks at the formation of the First Australian Armoured Car Section, then the exploits of Australian motor units in Egypt and Palestine. The armoured cars soon disappear and are replaced with Ford Model T’s with as much surplus weight removed as possible, producing the exact opposite of the armoured car! This part of the book is based around a full re-print of Captain E.H. James’ ‘The Motor Patrol’, an account of the First Australian Armoured Car Section then the renamed First Australian Light Car Patrol written soon after the war. James was the commander of both of these units for their entire existence, and so was in a good position to write an accurate account of their exploits. His work is supported by a number of newspaper extracts and letters from the period, which help to expand the material.

James’ work is followed by a series of biographies of the thirty three men who served in the unit between its formation in 1915 and disbandement in 1919, looking at their backgrounds and their lives after the war.

The second part of the book takes us back to Australia, and the arrival of the first actual tank on Australian shores. This was a newly completed Mark IV, sent across in response to a request for a tank to help with fund raising (replacing a tank that had been used in combat and that had actually set sail for Australia before it’s transport ship was damaged and forced back to the UK!). The idea appears to have been a success, with a great deal of public interest and money raised, although it was also marred by rather beaurocratic arguments about who should pay the costs of actually moving the tank around the country.

Histories of the Long Range Desert Group always refer back to the exploits of the light car patrols of the First World War, often with some amazement that they were able to achieve what they did using thin wheeled Ford Model Ts. This book helps to explain how those early pioneers of mobile motorised warfare were able to achieve so much, with what to later eyes looks like very primitive equipment.

Part I
The First Australian Armoured Car Section
The Libyan Desert
The Battle of Beersheba
The Dead Sea
The Battle of Megiddo
The Motor Dash on Aleppo
After the Armistice
The Battle of the Kurdish Bandits
Dramatis Personae of the Motor Patrol
The men of the original Armoured Car Section
The reinforcements
Old soldiers fading away

Part 2
Reality - the first experiences of tank support
Perception - the Australian public’s view
A real tank for Australia
Dramatis Personae
Home Services and Permanent Military Forces
Old Soldiers

Author: David A. Finlayson & Michael K. Cecil
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 375
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2017

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