At the Forward Edge of Battle
A History of the Pakistan Armoured Corps, 1938 - 2016
This book in the Asia at War series covers a topic that has largely been ignored - namely the development of the armies in the Indian subcontinent. This particular book has a focus on the Pakistani side of things, rather than the Indian forces, but prior to Partition in 1947, the units of what became the Pakistani Army were fully part of the British controlled Indian Army.
The book is written by Major General Syed Ali Hamid, and in the opening paragraphs a number of senior officers give the author full credit for the high quality of research that went into this text. Being Volume 1, this book covers the initial armor battles that the Indian units were engaged in, from 1938, through WW2, and up until the period of Partition. The book continues to examine the establishment and employment of the Pakistani units up until around 1971, and there is no doubt that Volume 2 will pick up from this point.
The text in this book is scholarly, by which I mean it is very well researched and full of detailed facts, with little in the way of opinion or narrative. There are few personal insights, anecdotes or memoirs, with the focus of the writing being to document the historical aspects. I found the book really interesting, but undeniably it needs concentration - it is not a coffee-table browse or an exciting novel. The text is very informative, and factual. The author writes in perfect English, and that is more than can be said for some authors who are English speakers by birth......
So, we have 96 pages, in the international A4 size, portrait orientation, with about 100 black and white photos. In the centre of the book are eight colour pages, with 20 side views of military vehicles in Indian / Pakistani service, plus a series of unit markings. There are a few maps, but as most readers will be unfamiliar with the locations mentioned in the text, it would be good to have a few more. I found myself relying on Google Maps to make sense of some descriptions.
The chapters are:
- Mechanisation and the Early Years of the Second World War
- Rome to Rangoon
- The Officer Corps Pre-Independence
- Twilight Years and the Great Divide
- The Cantonments North of Ravi
- The Equipment until 1965
- Expansion and Transformation until 1971
What I learned from the book
I wouldn't claim to have read this book already knowing a lot about the subject. Indeed, much of the attraction was discovering new things about the origins of armoured forces in the Indian subcontinent. I was surprised by how the units were put together piecemeal, but then played significant roles in North Africa and then in the Burma campaign. The impact of armour against the Japanese is often unappreciated, and the way that the Allied units raced to Rangoon in the last months of the war is quite remarkable.
It is also fascinating to read about the way that the designated Indian and Pakistani army units extricated themselves from each country and separated during Partition. It was quite remarkable that units would sabotage vehicles due to be handed over to the other army, demonstrating the hatred and general animosity that suddenly exploded during the formation of Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India from the region previously managed as part of the British Empire.
The Pakistani army was largely equipped with surplus vehicles of British and US origin, and these were gradually replaced with more modern M47 and M48 tanks, plus French AMX-13 and other vehicles.
In summary, this book is noteworthy because it covers new and unusual topics, and is written with great authority by a real expert in the field. For anyone interested in the development and campaigns of these forces during WW2 and post-war, then this book is a superb resource. And for any modeller wanting to make US or Commonwealth vehicles in Pakistani markings, this book provides the necessary details.
Highly Recommended for Beginner to Advanced builders.
Thanks goes out to Casemate for this review book.
Reviewed by Chris Lloyd-Staples, 2VP (International)
If you liked this review, consider joining AMPS. Your annual membership
includes six copies of AMPS's magazine, Boresight,
and helps to support our ongoing reviews.
Click here for more information about joining AMPS