By Lee Arten
ARMS OF DESTRUCTION
Ranking The Best Land Weapons Of World War II
by Robert A. Slayton
A Citadel Press Book
Kensington Publishing Corp.
850 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10022
Copyright 2004 Robert A. Slayton
240 pages. $22.95
Reviewed by Lee Arten
In the introduction to Arms Of Destruction, Robert A. Slayton describes the book as “an old-fashioned discussion around the cracker barrel.” But Slayton delivers a lot more facts and figures in support of his arguments than are heard in many discussions of weapons.
Slayton states that in rating “The BEST weapons of World War II...” he is setting himself up for trouble. He prepares a fall-back position by writing, “...I think it is fair to state than any weapon that saved YOUR life during the war has to be the very best weapon of World War II.”
In Part I, “Infantry Weapons,” Slayton then evaluates the pistols used in World War II writing, “...there are two candidates for the honor of being the best combat handgun of World War II;...” The guns he picks are the Colt 1911A1, and the Browning HI-Power. Later, he considers other handguns and writes, “The best of these all-purpose guns was the .38 caliber Smith & Wesson Victory revolver and he makes interesting arguments to support that choice.
In Part 2, “Submachine Guns,” Slayton divides World War II submachine guns into two categories: “The Beauties,” and “The Beasts.” He picks the Australian Owen as the best submachine gun of the war in the beauty category. The runners-up are the Beretta 1938a and the Finnish Suomi. The Owen’s reliability and disregard of mud, dirt, or other adulterants moved it from “Beast” to “Beauty” in Slayton’s mind. The Beretta has “...superb balance,” but Slayton felt that, overall, it lacked the quality of the Owen. The Suomi was extremely accurate for a submachine gun, and had a well-designed drum magazine, but still fell slightly behind the Owen in Slayton’s opinion.
“The Beasts” included the Sten, the M-3 (Grease Gun) and several Russian submachine guns. Of these, Slayton rated the PPS, “...a product of the siege of Leningrad...” best.
Of the bolt actions used in World War II, the British SMLE No. 4 MK I gets the nod. The U.S. Rifle Caliber .30, M1, John Garand’s masterpiece, is Slayton’s choice.
The German MG42 and the British Bren get high marks as general purpose and light machine guns. Surprisingly, an American gun doesn’t appear in the “Machineguns” section of Weapons Of Destruction until heavy machine guns are considered. There, the Browning M2HB gets well-deserved praise. Slayton writes, “...for overall use, the Browning M2HB, widely distributed and in land combat all through the conflict and in every possible theater, was flawless and unbreakable. It is still going strong in every part of the earth, and remains the best heavy machinegun around.”
After discussing heavy machineguns Slayton finishes considering infantry weapons with mortars, and anti-tank weapons, including anti-tank rifles.
Part II of Arms of Destruction is entitled “Tanks.” Slayton writes, “What makes a tank the best, instead, is balance. All armored vehicles make use of three criteria: firepower, armor and speed. A tank has to kill the enemy, it has to be protected, and it has to move. All of these are relevant.”
Slayton gives the Russians the best marks for balanced tanks. The T-34, he writes, “...was one of the best balanced of all time.” Slayton picks the T-34 as the best tank of World War II writing, “...the T-34/85 sits at the pinnacle, the top tank of World War II.”
The German Panther tank was a contender for best tank. But Slayton writes that the Germans produced too many different models. They also had problems with range and mobility in their tanks. “One estimate claims that Tiger units lost 50 percent of their strength to breakdowns after two or three days in combat.”
The Germans also lagged behind the Russians in armor design and tank tactics.
American Shermans are discussed in Part III “Other Armored Vehicles.” German tank crews called Shermans “Ronsons” (cigarette lighters) because they were easily set on fire. The Shermans were made in great numbers but were under-gunned and vulnerable to German tank guns all through the war. Slayton believes the Sherman’s best traits were reliability and maneuverability.
Other weapons discussed in this section include heavy tanks, light tanks, tank destroyers, monster tank designs, half tracks and armored cars. Slayton rates American half tracks, including one which “mounted a Maxson turret with four .50 caliber M2 machine guns...” as, “...the best of the war.”
In the last section, “Postscript: It’s Your Turn,” Slayton has a suggestion for readers, “...here’s what I think you should really do. Go out and actually talk to some World War II vets. Ask them what they used and how it worked... Then ask them about the rest of their experiences in the war. Believe me, you’ll be fascinated... Talking to a vet is like stretching out your hand to touch a piece of the past.”
Slayton recommends that readers “...move fast, for we are losing that generation every day, and they are a special group.”
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