Last week I had the pleasure of travelling to Cairns in Queensland Australia to witness the unveiling of the AC1 Sentinel. It’s one of only 7 remaining AC1 Sentinels that were made in Australia in the world. You can read about my time at the event in my blog post right here.
While there I was given the opportunity to chat with Nicholas Moran, the director of Militaria relations and resident Military historian for World Of Tanks in America. Moran is also currently in the Nevada Army National Guard as a cavalry officer with the rank of Major.
The following is a transcript of my interview with Nicholas on the day.
Bryan: Hi Nicholas, it’s a pleasure to be with you today! Could you maybe tell me a bit about yourself and what you do for Wargaming?
Nicholas: I’m the director of Militaria relations for Wargaming America, which basically means I know more about tanks than any normal person should. I interface with museums, reenactors, wargamers. I do research, I go to the archives and do whatever digging I can for stats to put into the game. I write history articles and I do YouTube videos which are basically tours of tanks and a couple of other things as well.
Bryan: I also saw that you have a blog called “The Chieftains Hatch” what is that all about for those who may not know?
Nicholas: That’s all about history, it’s nothing to do with the game, it is pure tank history and it’s for people who want to learn more about the tanks and for people who want to learn more about the tanks that they are playing with and that’s what The Chieftains Hatch does and there is also a video series is called “Inside The Chieftains Hatch”.
Bryan: Do you think Wargaming has been helpful to push the actual history of the tanks?
Nicholas: Absolutely, there is no two ways about it. I say this not as wearing my Wargaming hat but as historian and tank enthusiast. I’ve been giving tours of tank museums where I started back in 2001, back then there was a lot of ignorance about tanks. There was what people saw in the movies and a few people going on Wikipedia, but that was it. After World Of Tanks came out and with the million or so players we have, a lot of people started to know the basics about tanks and started identifying tanks, or that America had a heavy tank program.
What we think is important about this isn’t so much that we are the ones doing the teaching, but we are developing the germ of interest that a player can then go on his own and do the research that he wants to do, now we will provide him what we can, hence my blog or videos or whatever. But as long as it starts the interest and it gets them to come to museums like this one, then we think we’ve done good.
Bryan: With the Australian tank, when you are putting that in the game, how do you know how it would work compared to other tanks in the game?
Nicholas: Well, to a point we do and a point we don’t. We can make a certain estimate compared to real life. In real life this tank was obsolete the day it came off the production line, which was unfortunate, not very much fun, but realistic. The trick for us is trying to balance the tank so it as least somewhat fun. What happens in the game is that it’s a tier 4 tank and if meets other tier 4 tanks it’s very competent. If it goes up against a higher tier tank like a tier 6, it’s going to be outclassed and you’re going to have to be very careful about how you use it. Which is pretty much how it would happen. If this thing was sent to North Africa like it was originally intended to do it would be going up against Mark IV specials and tigers and it would be completely outclassed, kind of like the Italians at that point, going up against Shermans, they can still do it, but have to be very careful about how they do it.
Bryan: Does this tank have a specialisation, is it speed or armour etc?
Nicholas: In game terms, no it doesn’t really. I’ve maybe only played maybe 20 or 30 games in it, it seems to be a general purpose tank, it’s very flexible, it’s fast enough that it can get from A to B and it can turn and traverse, it’s fast enough that it can react to certain surprises, but it doesn’t have a special niche that it does. It’s not a long range sniper, it’s not a great all in close brawler, it is a jack of all trades, master of none. I think it rewards aggressive play though.
Bryan: Do you think the real life tank was an all rounder type of tank?
Nicholas: Not by the standards of the era in which it was built. The big problem it has is with the 2 pounder gun, which has no anti infantry capability worth to note. It doesn’t have a high explosive round, in World Of Tanks we don’t care because there is no infantry, there is no anti tank gun. There is only armour piercing and that’s the only thing this gun can do. So it would have been limited as a cruiser tank much like the real British tanks were which did see service and they had to wait until the Americans came along with 75 before they actually had a proper tank gun and that’s why Sentinel never entered service because the Americans started producing M3’s with 75 guns which have better anti-armour, they were just so much better than the others and there was no point keeping the Sentinel tank in production.
Bryan: With the AC1 Sentinel in real life what was it that made it so obsolete when it came out?
Nicholas: Well the main problem was the gun, the 2 pounder. So can you not just stick a bigger gun into it? They certainly tried, the AC4 which is just a few tanks back there, looks similar but with a much much bigger gun. But the problem with that is that it’s a huge gun and it’s going to make the inside of the tank almost impossible to work with. It would hit harder when it hit, but the problem was that you had a crew going though hell trying to make it happen.
Bryan: So mainly it was that Australia could not build the tanks quick enough to keep up with the technology?
Nicholas: Since Australia had not built a tank before they did not know how to build a tank. So they spent a lot of time just learning how to build a tank and that delayed them a fair bit. The other problems were for example logistics, so not only do you have to build a tank you have to get it to where it’s going and then you have to supply it. So by 1943 the Australians are now fighting in the Pacific Islands and they’ve come back from North America and they’re fighting against the Japanese with the Americans. If this thing saw service with the Japanese they would have to build spare parts in Sydney, ship them over and then get them to the Australian units. But if the Australians are using American equipment like they actually did, all they would have to do is just walk across the island and say “Hey Yanks! Can we take a transmission case for your M3 medium?” The Americans have thousands of these things, they would say “Yeah sure sign the paperwork, we’ll figure out the payment later”. No logistical problems.
Bryan: In the time period when they were fighting the Japanese or the other countries, did they have the knowledge of what the other countries tanks can do before they went?
Nicholas: They didn’t care. You were going to design the best tank you could regardless of what the opposition had. If your tank was stupidly better, then so much the better. It would have turned out in actuality, had this tank gone up against Japanese tanks it would have done well because Japaneses tanks to put it diplomatically, were crap, at least in terms of protection and nothing else. But you still had the problem that tank verses tank was actually still a very very small part of warfare, what is important is what it does against everything else on the battlefield including infantry and again, a 2 pounder gun has very limited capability against infantry compared to other things, the 37 and 75. Still better than nothing, but is it really worth the hassle bringing this compared to what the opportunity cost is for everything else that goes along with it? Reasonably enough the Australian war department said it’s not worth it and they shut the project down. I mean it’s a bit of shame in terms of national pride, but national pride doesn’t win a war.
Bryan: Did this initiative lead to Australia producing more tanks after that? Is Australia still producing tanks at the moment?
Nicholas: No. It was a one off, after that Australia never produced another tank. You could make the argument that the technological developments that Australia had to make in order to build this tank, they would have had a fall on effect in civilian industry after the war, so to that extent there was a development.
Bryan: So in the time period what was the rush to develop this tank then?
Nicholas: Well because nobody else could give them any.
Bryan: Oh so no one would sell one?
Nicholas: The British were a tad occupied building new tanks of their own because they just lost a whole lot in France and they also had that fight going on in North Africa that they had to feed and the Americans hadn’t gotten off the ground yet because of course we were a little bit late to the fight and by the time we started building M3’s which were the first real proper tank we could export, this was actually just about to come off the production line. So the theory was that if Australia wanted a tank and they needed a tank to support the industry if nothing else, they would have to build one themselves, it was a hedge and it was just in case no one else could come up with a tank before then and it turned out the hedge wasn’t necessary.
Bryan: That makes a lot of sense actually.
Bryan: So what was it that made you interested in this area of tank history?
Nicholas: A misspent youth I think, it’s me growing up as a 12 year old, I started making models, I think it was where it really started.
Bryan: What do you think a younger you would think of this game if you had it back then?
Nicholas: That’s actually a good question. A younger me today, let’s say if I was born in 1995, I would probably be over the moon! A younger me back in 1985 if this game came out would not result in the me of today, I don’t know if it would be a better me or a worse me. But it wasn’t as if I had a lack of things to hold my interest, again I made models. I would wager that the amount of people growing up in 1980 that made models is substantially higher than the amount of kids making models today because they play computer games. But when you are making a model you learn a lot more about a tank than you do playing a computer game because you are looking at the actual 3d representation in your hands and as you’re putting it together you’re thinking “what function does it actually do? They built it for something, why is it here?” Building the physical model gives you more of an understanding of a tank than simply playing a game with tanks in it.
Bryan: What is actually your favourite tank in the game?
Nicholas: I’m going to go with the M103, which is controversial, it’s one of those things that people seem to love or hate and more people hate it than love it. But it has meshed with my play style and I’ve got a great win rate with it, I like the flexibility, I like the speed, the agility of it and it can react to things very quickly and it hits hard enough that I am viable everywhere.
Bryan: Thank you for your time today Nicholas and I’m glad you could come and visit us here in Cairns at the museum to chat about World Of Tanks and The AC1 Sentinel.
Nicholas: It’s nice being able to work at this museum again, this is a top quality museum and I’ve seen the vehicles they are bringing in and the Sentinel is going to be in great company.
Bryan: Thanks Nicholas.