The Reconographers: intelligence and reconnaissance in British tank operations on the Western Front 1916-1918
by Colin Hardy
published by Helion & Company, 2017
ISBN 978 1 911036 34 4
Hardback 162 pages plus appendices, bibliography, index. Illustrated.
Cover price – not stated.
Reviewed by Chris Baker
This book is published as part of the “Wolverhampton Military Studies” series by Helion and is based on the author’s University of Birmingham MA dissertation. It was selected to win the first Western Front Association / Helion Holmes Prize.
Never heard of the term “reconographers”? No, nor me. Well, you are unlikely to, as it is a word invented by the author to describe the Reconnaissance Officers of the Tank Corps: an elite group of men, a special caste who made a considerable contribution to tank operations. Colin Hardy has a background in historical geography and organisational theory, and spent 35 years in education. His MA was undertaken late in life and this dissertation was a key output from that work.
It has to be said that this is a pretty specialist area as far as the general reader is concerned, but will be of considerable interest to those who like to study armoured warfare and the tanks in the Great War. The mechanical beasts played an important part in British offensive operations in 1916 to 1918 but had some terrible limitations. Not least of these were the ability to see where they were going; communicate with other troops and tanks; and to be able to cross difficult ground. Some of these were overcome by the dedication of the Reconnaissance Officers, who would examine ground that was to be crossed, map out routes and generally guide the tanks into combat. It was a role that demanded a mix of personal technical skills and nerve.
“The reconographers” introduces us to several of these men and explains what their reconnaissance entailed, both before and during the fighting. To some extent their work varied depending on the terrain and the action in which they were about to be engaged. Techniques gradually developed and played an important part.
Interesting stuff and a good dissertation!