The first man to comprehend and use tanks for full effectiveness was a Scot

Sunday, May 26th, 2019

In spite of our propagandists, Dunlap says, the Germans were the best tank engineers:

We had better armor steel, and our turret mechanism on the later models was very good. The stabilizer was ahead of enemy equipment, but the tanks were heavy, high, noisy and did not last long.


You could hear a Sherman two miles on a clear night, but a Mark IV could sneak up on you, making less noise than a GMC truck. The Germans had a little the edge in the main tank gun and armor piercing ammunition, but not enough in 75mm to make much difference. Of course in heavy tanks they were ahead of us, although we copied their model and got it out a little late for real use. It is a good thing we had airplanes. It only took us three years to wake up.

There was no excuse for the U.S. and England not being up on panzer stuff. Both countries were rather unsmart about the whole thing. Early in 1943 I read an English news article about their forces, bitterly condemning some of their army practices and bringing out one point worth remembering: The first time in the world that armored vehicles were used in numbers strategically and as a new weapon of war was in Spain, at the battle of the Ebro, during their Civil War. All the nations should have been watching and maybe were, but only the Germans saw anything. The Spanish Republican chief of armor at that battle, who was the first man to comprehend and use tanks for full effectiveness was a Scottish independent soldier name Malcolm Dunbar. His were the tank tactics which made Guderian and Rommel world famous in later years.

In 1943 Malcolm Dunbar was in the British tank troops, in England. He was a corporal.

As commenters Bruce and Kirk pointed out a while back, Ronald Malcolm Lorraine Dunbar was not a stereotypical soldier:

A middle-class, Cambridge-educated, homosexual aesthete, he could hardly have been a less typical volunteer. Yet, like a number of other intellectuals, in Spain he discovered a hitherto undiscovered talent for military life. Ranking only soldado (private) at the Battle of Jarama in February 1937, he rose quickly through the ranks, becoming Chief of Staff of the entire 15th International Brigade at the Battle of the Ebro in July 1938. Unfortunately, the shy, taciturn Dunbar never gave any interviews on his time in Spain and information on him has always been fairly scarce, despite his high rank and illustrious record.

Not much is known about his life after Spain, either. During the Second World War Dunbar served in the British Army, but never rose above the rank of Sergeant, adding fuel to claims that veterans of the Spanish war were being discriminated against. He later worked in the Labour Research Department until, in July 1963, having apparently removed all identification from his clothing, he walked into the sea at Milford-on-Sea, near Bournemouth. A clear case of suicide on the face of it, yet intriguingly, as Vincent Brome pointed out in Legions of Babel, his (now out of print) history of the International Brigades, the coroner declared an open verdict at the inquest, rather than declaring his death to have been suicide. This, and Dunbar’s alleged relationship with the Cambridge spy, Kim Philby, have led to persistent rumours of official cover-ups and Secret Service skulduggery.


  1. Ezra says:

    Probably just a suicide. Homosexuals are very prone to killing themselves.

  2. Kirk says:

    I think it’s also a good question to ask about whether or not he was really “all that” in Spain, as well. The Soviets did like to pick their “front men” that they would run in the background, which was a common bit of tradecraft for them, going back to the Cheka under the Tsar.

    After all, who got the blame for Gavrilo Princip? The Serbs, and nary a word gets mentioned that the Black Hand was a catspaw of the Cheka. Even a lot of Serbs are unaware of the facts, and think that Princip and his fellow assassins were creatures of the Serbian irredentists, not being aware that the irredentists themselves were creatures of the Cheka, with an overseer/paymaster who worked out of the Russian Embassy in Belgrade…

  3. Cassander says:

    Spoken like someone who didn’t realize how unreliable the German heavy tanks were in practice.

  4. Kirk says:

    There was also this tendency on the part of Allied troops to report every single German tank as a Tiger or a Panther; if you tot up all the reported heavy tanks, both destroyed and spotted, you got a number that was like three or four times their actual production…

    Just like “all the German MGs are Spandaus…”. Uhmm. Yeah… Spandau arsenal quit producing machineguns with the Maxim. Schmeisser had little to nothing to do with either the MP38 or the MP40, although his name was all over the magazines…

    Perceptions of the combatants are the last damn thing you want to use as historical reference points. Just trust me on that…

  5. McChuck says:

    Actually, I believe the first commander to truly understand the role of the tank in warfare, the inventor of modern combined arms tactics in 1918, was an Australian: John Monash.

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