This review was originally published on Track-Link in 2014.
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Trackpad Publishing is a new publishing house and an associate of The Leopard Club, an online magazine devoted to modelling the Leopard 1 and 2. Dutch Leopard – Armoured Fist of the Royal Dutch Army, by author Willem Smit in collaboration with the Netherlands Institute of Military History (NIMH), is the first book to be published by Trackpad Publishing and will be the subject of the present review. It was originally published in Dutch language in 2008.
Physically, the book is a 80-pages, full color, soft-cover A4 format (21cm x 29,7cm). Editing work is irreproachable. Layout and typography are clear and overall the book is of excellent quality. The book appears to be a digital print and finish is mat. Although I am under the impression there is a slight loss in color quality for flats and gradients, pictures remain sharp and their overall quality is good. Pictures are clearly captioned, if somewhat succinctly at times. They illustrate a vast array of themes, from Leos in exercises to close ups on details that are specific to the Dutch variant. From a modeler’s perspective, these pictures are inspiring and informative.
Apart from an brief introduction, endnotes and annexes, the book is made of seven parts:
- Early Development
- Chieftain v Leopard
- Area of Operations
- Firing the Gun!
- Leopard 1V
- Phasing Out
These parts are organized chronologically and follow a logical path. In Early Development, the author briefly describes how the Leopard 1 came about and how it was introduced as a potential candidate in Netherlands to replace (or rather, ‘complete’) Centurion-equipped battalions. In Chieftain v Leopard, Smit goes into some details about the comparative evaluation of the Chieftain and the Leopard 1. Michael Shackleton did touch onto this comparison in the third volume of his [excellent and highly recommended] trilogy on the Leopard 1, but I was curious to learn more about this particular aspect of the program and was quite happy to get more details. Smit also discusses the process that led to the purchase of 468 tanks by the Netherlands. The specifics of the Dutch Leo 1 variant are discussed and presented with good close up pictures.
Areas of Operation deals with the tactical, operational and strategic planning behind the deployment of the Leopard 1 within the ranks of the Royal Dutch Army. This topic being later complemented in chapter 5, Organization and Maintenance. These parts are very interesting for reasons I’ll explain below. It is also in these parts that Smit briefly touches special vehicles (Bergingstank, Genitank, Brugleggende and Cheetah). Firing the Gun! deals with the more immediate topics of fire conduct, ammunition and general capabilities and handling of the weapon system, and problems that were identified in relation to NATO tactical contingencies, namely new Soviet tank design requiring the Leopard 1 to be upgraded as a night and mobile firing platform.
Leopard 1V is about the difficult, costly and ultimately failed modernization program of the Leopard 1. It is a very interesting read on which I’ll get back to in a minute. As its name implies the seventh and last chapter, Phasing Out, quickly deals with the progressive retirement of the Leopard 1 from the ranks of the Royal Dutch Army. Apart from endnotes and references, a table summing up the technical specs of the Leopard 1 is presented, but also, quite interestingly, a table titled “Overview of existing Leopard 1V tanks 1-1-05” which goes into some details as to the whereabouts of all 468 tanks today.
A Tank? Yes. But also a program
Dutch Leopard presents the history of the Leopard 1 program in the Low Countries, how it came to be selected instead of the Chieftain, how it was intended to be used, and how it evolved as a weapon system. Let me insist on the word history some more here. The primary quality of the book is that it presents all dimensions of the Leopard program in the Netherlands, and not only the technological specification of the vehicle. Doctrinal, strategic, financial and, of course, political aspects are also considered. This put the whole program into perspective and serve to illustrate why the Leopard 1 modernization program to 1V standard is considered a “failure” (note quotation marks) from certain viewpoints.
By the same token, the book serves as a great introduction to the struggle smaller NATO countries had to go through to comply with strategic and operational thinking from higher up the Organization’s food chain. Again, this perspective on the Leopard program is a real eye-opener in terms of the role and, to a certain extent, the relative value of this tank in NATO’ system of forces from the late sixties to the early nineties.
Overall, the way the information is presented makes for a good synthesis of the subject. It doesn’t go too deep into details but covers the subject thoroughly.
As a modeler, I also found much to be happy with. Like I mentioned above, pictures are great. A good chunk of these pics shows the Dutch tank in the single most important role the Leo 1 took during the Cold War: training. Even though it did serve during war and peacekeeping operations, NATO exercises remains the most important environment the tank served in.
Also, the book states precisely modifications that are specific to Dutch Leo 1 variants, with good close up shots, so that anyone wanting to go ahead and model a Dutch Leopard can work from this book. With one small caveat.
There’s no real ‘lows’ on this book, but one thing I think is worth mentioning: I would have liked to see detailed 1/35 plans of both versions of the Dutch Leopard (1NL and 1V). Not that these plans aren’t available elsewhere (at least for the 1V version), but I genuinely feel they are missing here. From a modeler’s perspective, especially for those interested in modeling a Dutch Leo but aren’t necessarily ready to go all out and acquire extensive references, good plans is a must. It’s especially important because Dutch Leopards do have a few very specific variations that will require some thorough dimensional checking (I am not aware of any aftermarket conversion sets, but I may just be ignorant, feel free to correct me). I would also have liked the map of the training ground Bergen-Hohne 1989 to be translated in English.
Willem Smit’s book on the Dutch Leopard 1 history offers a concise, well illustrated and thorough treatment of the subject. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the Leopard 1. If this is any indication of the scope and quality of Trackpad Publishing’s future titles, I look forward to their future offerings.
Those interested can get the book here.
- Michael Shackleton, Leopard 1 Trilogy, Volume 1 and 3, 2003, Barbarossa Books.
- Yves Debay, Leopard 1, 2005, Histoire et Collection.
- Frank Lobitz, The Leopard 1 MBT in German Army Service – Late Years (Militärfahrzeug Special No. 5014), 2006, Tankograd Publishing
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