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The Dark Age of Tanks (Paperback)

Britain's Lost Armour, 1945–1970

Military > Tanks Military > Weaponry WWII

By David Lister
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 208
Illustrations: 50 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781399021319
Published: 2nd November 2023



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In the thirty years after the Second World War, the British army entered a period of intense technological development. Due to the lack of surviving documentation, this period is almost a second Dark Age. What survives shows the British Army’s struggle to use cutting edge technology to create weapons that could crush the Soviet Union's armed forces, all the while fighting against the demands of Her Majesty's Treasury.

On this journey, the Army entertained ideas such as micro-tanks of about 20 tons in weight with two-man crews, massive 183mm anti-tank guns, devastating rocket artillery, colossal anti-tank guided missiles and ended up on the cusp of building hover tanks.

This book takes a look at the records from a time period of increasing importance to the tank historian and starts the process of illuminating the dark age of British tanks.

Featured in

Loopholes, Number 85 - Journal for the Pillbox Study Group

Not just for the armour nerd. I suspect anybody interested in engineering & technology in the real world would get something out of it.
Most importantly, it's another crowbar being forced into the archives around this stuff. Honestly presented as shining a torch through the cracks into something that deserves further study.

Read the full review here

WW2 Talk

As featured on Miniaturas JM

Miniaturas JM

This is a fascinating book that despite the lack of source documentation seeks to make sense of a turbulent period in British tank development. Historians interested in post war armour will find much to interest them. Military model makers will find inspiration from the numerous artists impressions and will perhaps look to make models of some of these unusual weapons system – most of which never went beyond the drawing board. Highly recommended.

Tom Cole, Miniature Armoured Fighting Vehicles Association, September 2020

It's a must-have for anyone who believes they have a rounded out library section on British Armor because if you don't have this book well I'm sorry you are missing a pretty big chunk of information.

Watch the full video review here

The View From The Turret

This books looks at that sort of problem through the development of tanks, did they need different types of tanks for different problems, if they were going to change how would they change and what technology did the tanks have to have. The book explores these questions through each chapter from heavy armour to light armour, infantry armour to using no infantry. The book poses lots of questions and does answer quite a few of them but shows the difficulties people had in knowing what to come up with for the future. This is a very well written book by David Lister and I enjoyed the way he separated the various chapters. An excellent book that posed a lot of questions and thoughts.

Read the full review here

UK Historian

This is the largely untold story of British tank development through the Cold War. The author provides a comprehensive account of the development program and the designs that never reached the regiments, showing many original and advanced concepts. – Highly Recommended.

Read the full review here


David Lister describes a mysterious time between 1945 and the mid-seventies during which tensions were high due to the uncertainty of whether or not there would be a nuclear war, and when Britain was trying to find its way in the new world in terms of defence equipment, and in particular the design and acquisition of tanks that could counter the burgeoning Soviet threat. Absolutely must-read stuff!

Books Monthly

It’s well worth a read, it was an enjoyable book, well written and researched that provides a fascinating insight to the types of vehicle designers and the military were considering during this period.

Irregular Magazine, Spring 2020 – reviewed by Jason Hubbard

Another interesting book from author David Lister, looking at the various stories of potential armoured vehicles that didn't actually make it into British Army service between 1945 and 1970. The title of the book, 'The Dark Age of Tanks', comes from the number of gaps that exist in the records of the work that was carried out over the period.
A 194-page hardback book it is split into 4 main parts, and each of these is sub-divided into the various chapters. Part 1 looks at 'Armour of the Line', where different plans came and went, changing as did the requirements they had to meet. There are the questions of a heavily armoured tank, the Universal tank, a desire to keep a flamethrower in the army inventory and of course, the size of the main gun. Part 2 moves on to 'Light Armour', with again a mix of projects, some of which never got beyond the paper or mock-up design stages. The one I had known nothing about beforehand was the attempt to build a light armoured vehicle, either wheeled or tracked, which could 'jump' obstacles. Part 3 considers 'Infantry Armour', and this includes the Oxford and Cambridge carriers, as well as the FV432. Then finally, Part 4 takes on the 'War Rocket'. This includes the large missiles such as Malkara and Orange William, before things got to Swingfire, which many of us will know.
The book has a helpful list of Sources at the end of the book, and throughout the story there are archive photos, drawings and in some cases computer images of what a vehicle might have looked like. A really interesting read for anyone interested in post-war armour development in the UK, and some pieces which I had never seen before. The idea of a 'flying' armoured car for one. I think I won't be the only one surprised to discover that so many records seem to have disappeared, skipped rather than saved. This is an investigation which provides a good groundwork, but maybe additional details will yet emerge over time from somewhere.

Read the full review here

Military Model Scene, Robin Buckland

About David Lister

DAVID LISTER’s first experience with military history, and in particular armoured fighting vehicles, occurred at the age of 16 when he worked in a local museum. A few years later he started working with computer game developers as a historical consultant. Throughout this time, he visited numerous archives across the country and contributed articles to numerous websites. As well as being the author of two books on tanks, David has also been regularly published in History of War magazine and Tracklink, the magazine of the Bovington Tank Museum.

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