Well its been a long time since I’ve done something like this – probably something like 1986 at university, which is ironic since Team Yankee was first published in 1988. Now 28 years later I’m writing a book review on it, instead of painting tonight….
First up – I’ve got to say I fall pretty clearly into the “I love Team Yankee” faction. The reason I love this book is because it’s one of the few books out there that I can still remember how I felt as I read the book all those years ago. And what’s more I can still feel a little of that each time I read it, and I’ve probably read it 7 or 8 times over the years.
On the cover Tom Clancy is quoted as saying “This book is so real, you can smell the smoke.” And that’s how I felt as I read it for the first time. I felt like I was getting a little taste of what it might have been like.
Now I’ve never served in the military, although I have worked for the Defence Department, a heart condition leading to a transplant, totally ruled me out. The reason I’m saying this is that I want to make it clear I’m no veteran, have no experience and am not an expert – far from all that actually.
So for a total outsider like me was given a glimpse at the pointy end of the stick in a Cold War turned hot.
The story contained in the book is set within the scenario set out by General Sir John Hackett in his two books “The Third World War” and “The Third World War: The Untold Story”. This postulates, amongst other things, a Warsaw Pact invasion of North West Europe in 1984. As with most NATO thought of the time (as I understand it) the scenario sees the WARPAC forces doing particularly well in the NORTHAG area of NATO, well CENTAG basically holds the attacks in their sector before going on the counterattack.
This is not a slag on NORTHAG, merely acknowledgement that the CENTAG sector, dominated by the Americans, was the most defensible sector of West Germany. The North German Plain which made up a lot of the NORTHAG area was considered to be “tank country” and much less defensible.
Harold Coyle, the author, as an American armour officer, and to me this provides the book with a sense of authenticity. Team Yankee is the name of a fictitious tank heavy combat team stationed in West Germany.
The beginning of the book sees Team Yankee dug in waiting to see if the war is going to kick off. Once it does the Team goes through a series of battles, which are generally described in great detail. Basic maps are provided throughout the book to give people like me a better understanding of the positioning of the platoons, the direction of attacks, etc. The action is therefore, very easy to follow.
In some ways I feel that the book is written almost with a wargame in mind or as a kind of a training manual. The first battle is purely defensive, with no manoeuvring necessary by the Team. The second battle on the same day introduces infantry into the mix. As the missions change and the battles progress, artillery is introduced, Team Yankee goes on a company attack, we get single tanks in action against numerous Soviet tanks. A fight takes place a night, from multiple directions, ambushes take place, infantry take on infantry. We then get into a battalion attack, introduce US and Soviet helicopters and then airpower. Last but not least, combat engineers, tank ditches, scatterable mines and DPICM artillery enter the book.
When Games Designer Workshop designed the Team Yankee game, it was able to replicate what I have outlined above, with the players able to get into the game almost straight away with different stages in the game introducing more advanced rules.
As a training manual it has some interesting points on Leadership, some practical pointers (like why you should listen in boring lectures to advice you might need some day on how to get your stuck tank off an tree trunk).
The characters, which are perhaps a little wooden, develop somewhat as the book progresses. The happy-go-lucky Team XO turns into a cold-eyed killing machine, while the hopeless First Lieutenant of the 3rd Platoon finds, once the shooting starts, that it all becomes clear and turns into a good soldier. The replacements, just like in World War Two, pretty much get ignored by everyone until they die, when the characters spend a couple of seconds wondering what their names were.
ORDERS OF BATTLE & SCENARIOS
Another of the great things about this book is that as you read it, if you’re a wargamer, you are constantly thinking “I’d like to play this!”
Coyle explains very well, how Team Yankee fits into the mechanised infantry battalion it has been assigned to. He details, not in a boring way, the Order of Battle of the Team and the Battalion it fits into. He also provides cursory OOB on the Soviet and Polish units it faces.
Through the majority of the book Team Yankee consists of two platoons of M1 Abrams tanks, a Mechanised Infantry platoon in M113 APCs and a command element of two more M1s. On occasion the Team is supported by a couple of M901 ITVs and a FIST team. Towards the end of the book another M1 platoon is added back into Team Yankee and some Bradleys are also attached.
The interesting thing here is that the M1s are original Abrams, armed with 105mm tank cannons, not the 120mm smoothbores which we know completely dominated the Soviet tanks in the Iraqi army in both Gulf Wars. It therefore takes 2 or 3 shots to cripple a T-72.
As I discussed above, each battle can be separated into wargaming scenario fairly simply. There are even non-Team Yankee missions that are obliquely discussed that could be made into a scenario. One I’ve always wanted to do is a Fighting Withdrawal similar to the Cavalry battle that takes place in front of Team Yankee’s positions at the start of the book. You don’t get much detail on it, but enough to fire up your imagination.
Some people in reviews I’ve read on Amazon, seem to have a problem with the main character Sean Bannon, Commander of Team Yankee. He can be a bit flippant at times, and has a bit of an attitude around his commanding officers on numerous occasions, and some seem to think that more than unlikely. Personally – I think this actually adds to his character. He admits he has a bit of an anger issue, particularly with things he thinks are wrong or stupid. He does seem to be a decent commander, not above reaming someone who deserves it, but he genuinely cares for his men. I like him.
The other problem many have pointed out with the book, and really the one thing that I felt slightly “unreal” in the book is the make-up and size of enemy forces fought by the Team. Sure, Team Yankee is a “lucky” unit – which means it doesn’t ever get totally stonked by Soviet artillery, or attacked by an overwhelming force. Most of the Russian officers are not quite portrayed as buffoons, but some are not to far from it – very stereotypical – but coming from a serving US Army officer, maybe this is not to surprising.
I was a bit disappointed in this aspect of the book. While things go wrong, Team Yankee makes it out of most of its battles relatively unharmed. I don’t want to make to much of this actually – as it would have made for a less than interesting book if most of the Team had been destroyed in the first artillery barrage. Much of Team Yankee’s battalion does get pretty hammered by the Soviets, but they are only typically in M113s or their derivatives. Certainly, some M1s do get knocked out.
Basically I think this stops Team Yankee from being an absolutely fantastic book. However, like I said at the start – I still love it, and if ever I want to get into a Cold War Hot frame of mind, I turn to it and have enjoyed it again and again.
I would recommend this book to anyone.