Chieftans by Bob Forrest-Webb [Book Review]
Chieftains by Bob Forrest-Webb
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Chieftans is a speculative fiction piece on the Cold War going hot in 1985. It was written in the early 1980s and hasn’t dated well. Like Game of Thrones everyone dies, but in less interesting and more predictable ways.
Chieftans – review
There are good points to Chieftans. For the most part the characters are believable and likeable. Bob Forrest-Webb clearly has done his research, and understands British Army soldiers and officers. That aspect of the book was excellent. One of things that didn’t quite work for me though was that the book was clearly researched/written about four or five years before it was set (it was first published in 1982). This means that some of the kit wasn’t deployed, or had its name/designation changed on deployment. There was also an aspect that kit works better in the brochure than it does in the field. I was a teenager in 1985 and was trained by the British Army a few years later in some of the kit being written about. So I found it a little hard to suspend disbelief in places.
That said, it works well as a very personal account of life at the sharp end. Research from WW2 experiences are extrapolated onto the mid 1980s. Some of this results in a couple of anachronistic bits of dialogue, something most folk won’t notice. There are references to getting a wound stripe (not since WW2), and a threat to put someone on a fizzer (valid 1940s/1950s). There’s also the promotion of the troop sergeant to WO1 to command the troop, there was a WW2 practice of using warrant officers in place of junior officers, however it was discontinued early on. Other than that the dialogue fits my own experience with British soldiers.
The battles are seen mostly from the perspectives of a single Chieftan tank crew, although their CO features a bit, as does a stay-behind unit and an American Abrams crew. There’s cock-up as well as smooth operation, most of the viewpoint deaths happen through mistakes and/or bad luck. Although I found the Warsaw Pact artillery taking out tanks with indirect fire to be rather too effective. Short barrages seem to knock out entire squadrons, admittedly direct hits should have that effect, but a divisional artillery stonk shouldn’t be that effective on armour.
Given the publication date, and the focus on the soldiers at the very front, the book is a product of the times. The Soviets are clearly the bad guys. They start the war (not explained how, but it doesn’t need to). They use chemical weapons to unlodge defensive positions. Then, when the main characters unit repulses the Soviet advance on day 3, they use tactical nukes. The Chieftan crew aren’t explicitly killed, but the way it is left they’re only seconds away from it. Even though the Chieftan survives the blast, it catches fire.