by: Tom Cromwell [ ]
With the end of WWII came the threat of a Soviet invasion of Europe, and the Cold War was born. Up until the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and the reunification of Germany in 1990, it was assumed that the main battle between East and West would be fought by massed land armies on the plains of central Europe. To defend the “free” West the constituent countries of NATO all provided troops that were based in West Germany, and to keep them ready to repel the expected Soviet thrust, they undertook war-games at regular intervals. Free Lion 88 was the final such game for the 1st (Netherlands) Corps, while other exercises like Reforger 88, Certain Challenge and Golden Crown 88 were also carried out that same season.
The troops taking part were mostly Dutch, but also included Bundeswehr armoured reconnaissance and armoured grenadier battalions, plus American armoured units and British infantry. They were split into Green (attacking from the East) and Blue (defending from the West) Forces that were heavily-peppered with armoured vehicles. Tankograd has released a book detailing the exercise, and provides a handy table of units used by each Force at the start.
The book by Carl Schulze is a 64-page photo essay on the events of the exercise laid-out in several chapters to explain the action. In reality though, it is a collection of 127 great colour photos of tanks and other interesting vehicles that just happens to tell a story! There are several pages of explanatory text to walk the reader through the exercise, and of course there are the very descriptive captions, all of which are in both German and English. The pictures are mostly two or three to a page on thick glossy paper, and the reproduction quality is excellent. Book size is A4 portrait (297x210mm, approximately 8.5x 11.5 inches).
While there are a lot of different vehicles and nations represented, the stars of the book are of course the Leopards used by the Netherlands. The Leopard 1V is heavily-represented with photos from several angles (including multiple shots of the same vehicle to aid the modeller), as is the Leopard 2A4NL. Bundeswehr Leopard 1A1A4s, Leopard 1A5s, and Leopard 2s also feature, as does the US M1A1 Abrams. These are all pictured in the field, so expect some obscuring from trees, buildings, and camouflage nets.
Other tracked vehicles shown include APC variants (M2 Bradley, M3 Bradley, M106A1, M113A1, M113A2, M113C&V, M113G A1, M901A1, Marder 1A1A2, Marder 1A2, YPR765), recovery vehicles (Bergepanzer 2, M88A1), self-propelled artillery (M109A2/3), bridge layers (Brückenlegepanzer I Biber, M60A1 AVLB), combat engineer vehicles (M728 CEV, Pioneerpanzer I), anti-aircraft tanks (Flugabwehrkanonenpanzer 1A1 Gepard or “Leopard” and its Dutch sibling “Cheetah”), and cargo carriers (M548A1). Wheelies are represented by Dutch Landrovers, two possible Landy replacements on trials (Mercedes-Benz Geländewagen, Alter 4x4), DAF trucks, and of course all those lovely mid-80s civilian cars in the background! MILAN missile launchers are everywhere – my favourite is held by a couple of paratroopers hiding behind a bright yellow road sign outside a petrol station.
The thing I liked most when I opened this book is the way these vehicles have “weathered” in such a short time with streaks of tan-coloured mud that reminds me of my early attempts at dry-brushing. And then there are all those civilians. I’d love to model a tank “fighting” on a busy road while annoyed drivers in VW Golfs overtake, or aggressive Leo 2s crossing a bridge while local kids on bikes line the roadside to watch the parade! This book isn’t the most-detailed photo essay on any one of the vehicles it portrays, but it sets them all in a useful visual context that offers so many diorama opportunities typical of late Cold-War Europe.
As a modeller fascinated by Leopards and other Bundeswehr armour, I am glad I have seen this book. Sure, most of its vehicles are actually in Netherlands service (I may need some AM decals…), and the active nature of the photos means that the crew’s own efforts at concealment get in the way, but these images will fuel my modelling no end. I’d recommend it to anyone modelling NATO in the dying days of the Cold War.