Saturday 12 April 2014

Bovington Tank Museum 2014

My friend Tim and I had been promising ourselves a trip to Bovington Tank Museum for several years and so, after a particularly busy period at work, we finally got our act together and set off one Friday morning. The journey took us through some beautiful countryside which was a bonus and after two hours we arrived at the tank museum, full of eager anticipation. I hadn't been since a kid and all I can remember of the visit is based upon a single photo of my brother an I standing atop a Sherman tank outside the museum. A lot has, unsuprisingly, changed since then, with the museum having had a complete overhaul, which was completed a few years ago. 

As we arrived I started "oohing" and "aahing" at the site of several tanks parked outside along the driveway to the carpark. Sadly they were all showing the effects of being outside in all weathers, but never-the-less a great welcome to the museum. Having paid (the ticket allows unlimited visits for a year) we wandered in and headed up to the gallery area to get a good view of the first hall and to get our bearings. As we stood there there was an almighty roar as the museum's famour Tiger I tanks engine coughed into life! The noise was incredible and what a way to start our visit. We immediately headed on down to the Tiger which was being readied for the Easter Holidays and the various demonstrations that would be taking place over the following few weeks.

We then spent the first hour or so having a general wander around to get our bearings and to take it all in (there is an awful lot to see) and after a brief lunch, re-visited the areas that interested us most. To be honest we could have spent twice as long there, if not more, as there is so much information all around the tanks, which we didn't get chance to read and digest, talk less of actually really having a good look at the tanks themselves.

Sadly we didn't know that their restoration centre was open to visitors for one hour a day, but this is something that we will redress on our next visit. After all it will be free admission and now we know the layout etc, we can take our time on the exhibits etc that interest us most. I took loads of photos (no suprise there then) and have attempted to group them into similar periods, with captions where appropriate.


'Little Willie', where it all started.
Considering the age of these tanks, the museum has an excellent selection of these iconic designs.
Being able to walk inside this tank, you realise how small and cramped they are. I had to walk hunched over whilst inside.
It may have been this tank, but one of them was restored to active duty by a Royal Navy officer in anticipation of the German invasion of Britain in 1940.
A nice little exhibit showing the colourful early camouflage scheme used by the British.

This cut-way in the main hall really shows how cramped the tanks were.
The FT-17 shows a step change in the design from the British tanks into the layout that we all recognise today.
The wonderful and bizarre 'Whippet'.


A very early soviet T-26 in Finnish markings. A tank that would dominate the SCW and become a mainstay of the Russian army early on in the Great Patriotic War.
I can't remember the 'name' of this tank, but compare it with the T-26 above and you can see how inadequate it was, other than for policing the Empire and keeping the cavalry chaps happy.
A British 'landship' of some sort, but again I forget which. Crudely put together (a riveter's nightmare) and hard to imagine it of being any use whatever on the battlefield.
A rather lovely armoured car, but still with spoked wheels!
A wonderful camouflage scheme and a tank that the British could have had...

An early Lloyd carrier. Would you want to fight in one of these?
A great turret but could you exit one in a hurry?

Another large and rather ill though-out British tank, a result of the Inter-War defence cuts and British mindset towards tanks in general. Again I refer you back to the T-26.


The wonderfully weird Matilda I. Again, compare this to the earlier T-26 in terms of armament, layout etc.
Panzer I command tank that looks sleek and elegant compared to the Matilda I above.
Boxy and upright, the main British tanks of the French campaign look rather crude and ill thoughout.
The French UE tractor and trailer. So small it has to be seen to be believed.
A French Somua that exudes solidity, but not speed.
My friend Tim gives an idea of how big this French tank is. On the side can be seen the radiator louvre which was its achilles heel.
On the turret appears to be some form of linen or fabric that formed part of the camouflage. One tank was flocked as a trial, so whether this was a similar one I'm not sure.
The wonderful Panzer II for which I've always had a soft spot! At least it had a 20mm cannon compared to...
... the British Vickers. However I do love this tank/tankette as well.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. A concrete armoured truck with a pillbox that could be unloaded for airfield defence, or kept in place an used as a mobile AFV.

The Matilda II in Caunter camouflage.
The very first sherman tank shipped to the UK. Note the 3 hull mounted machine guns.
The Canadian RAM, their 'version' of the Sherman.
It's only when you get close to it do you realise how small the Universal Carrier is.
Churchill flamethrower variant.
In comparison to German tanks, the Sherman Firefly is rather tall and with a very high hull profile.
You can clearly see how the Churchill AVRE was up armoured on the turret as well as the hull.
The Tortoise is just massive! What were they thinking...?
The Black Prince, a more sensible route
The MkI Centurion. You can clearly see the beginnings of modern tank design with it's shape.
IIRC the captions states that this tank was the "worst tank ever designed".
The Covenanter tank, despite having that iconic shaped turret, is just a mess of stuff on the hull and engine deck. What were they thinking in putting the radiator on the front of the tank?

Although not a WWII design, I've included the Preying Mantis here as you can get an idea of its size next to the Covenanter tank. It is suprisingly large but completely bonkers!
The two man crew had to enter through these doors!
The Italian tanks are remarkably still with their original camouflage paint intact. As crude as their British counter parts to look at, but even more unreliable mechanically.
I've always heard how small the Italian tankette was, but I was suprised at just how small. The fighting compartment is tiny, with the handles of the flamethrower more or less just touching your face when fully inside. They certainly had guts to go to war in these death traps.
The Russian KV-1 is an impressive tank to look at. It exudes solidity.
The Russian SU-76. I was suprised at how small the fighting compartment is.
The Russian T-34/85, arguably the best tank of the war. Next to the German Panther, it looks crude in terms of construction. There are visible gaps between the armour plates at the back.
The 'Luchs' is a lovely looking and well engineered tank.
You can clearly see how up-armoured this Panzer III is.
A Stug III in Finnish markings. It has hadd concrete added to the front to improve its armour.
A Panzer IV, once again up-armoured.
The iconic Tiger I. When you can see it you can understand how much of a shock it must have been to Allied tank crew, in their Crusaders and Shermans.
The Tiger II is certainly an impressive sight.
The elegance of the Jagdpanther.
The Jagdtiger is HUGE!
The simply wonderful Panther.
The British TOG II, our 'answer' the likes of the Tiger II et al. The difference is clear...

The US Locust airborne tank is suprisingly small. Many or the British and US armoured cars are bigger.
A Tetrarch CS tank in an original section of glider.

We had a great day out and will definitely return, hopefully at some point this year. We concentrated on the WWI and WWII exhibits, but there is plenty of stuff for the armour enthusiast interest in the post-WWII era. Next time I will concentrate my efforts on the WWI, Inter-Wat and Blitzkreig exhibits, as these are my main areas of interest. Even by doing this I doubt I will have enough time to fit everything in to my satisfaction. If you get the chance, take a trip to the museum and I'm sure you won't regret it. Get there at opening time if you can to make sure you have as much time on site as possible.