Author: Robert Forrest-Webb
Original language: English
Publisher: Futura Publications, London, 1982
During the late 1970s and early 80s tension in Europe, between east and west, had grown until it appeared that war was virtually unavoidable. Soviet armies massed behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ that stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea.
In the west, Allied forces, British, American, and armies from virtually all the western countries, raised the levels of their training and readiness. A senior British army officer, General Sir John Hackett, had written a book of the likely strategies of the Allied forces if a war actually took place and, shortly after its publication, he suggested to his publisher Futura that it might be interesting to produce a novel based on the Third World War but from the point of view of the soldier on the ground.
Bob Forrest-Webb, an author and ex-serviceman who had written several best-selling novels, was commissioned to write the book. As modern warfare tends to be extremely mobile, and as a worldwide event would surely include the threat of atomic weapons, it was decided that the book would mainly feature the armoured divisions already stationed in Germany facing the growing number of Soviet tanks and armoured artillery.
With the assistance of the Ministry of Defence, Forrest-Webb undertook extensive research that included visits to various armoured regiments in the UK and Germany, and a large number of interviews with veteran members of the Armoured Corps, men who had experienced actual battle conditions in their vehicles from mined D-Day beaches under heavy fire, to warfare in more recent conflicts.
It helped that Forrest-Webb’s father-in-law, Bill Waterson, was an ex-Armoured Corps man with thirty years of service; including six years of war combat experience. He’s still remembered at Bovington, Dorset, still an Armoured Corps base, and also home to the best tank museum in the world.
Forrest-Webb believes in realism; realism in speech, and in action. The characters in his book behave as the men in actual tanks and in actual combat behave. You can smell the oil fumes and the sweat and gun-smoke in his writing. Armour is the spearhead of the army; it has to be hard, and sharp. The book is reputed to be the best novel ever written about tank warfare and is being re-published because that’s what the guys in the tanks today have requested. When first published, the colonel of one of the armoured regiments stationed in Germany gave a copy to Princess Anne when she visited their base. When read by General Sir John Hackett, he stated: “A dramatic and authentic account”, and that’s what ‘Chieftains’ is.