Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Tank Museum

Commander K. with Tiger II
The Tank Museum, Bovington, UK

The Tank Museum in Bovington (http://www.tankmuseum.org/) is one of the greatest museums devoted to Armored cavalry in the world.  In addition to its vast collection of tanks, it also has a demonstration area where visitors can see armored vehicles in action.

Scale model of the da Vinci tank
The Tank Museum, Bovington
Leonardo da Vinci himself has been credited with inventing the schematics for the first tanks in the 15th century.  He summed up the essence of tank warfare in a 1482 letter to Ludovico Sforza, "I know how to construct secure and covered wagons for the transport of guns into the enemy's lines and not to be impeded by ever so dense a mass and behind which the infantry can follow without danger".  The connections between art, science and the military arts are deep and abiding  (see earlier post http://americanconservativeinlondon.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/argo-and-need-for-camouflage.html).

Winston Churchill, a former cavalryman himself, was an early proponent of the tank.  In a 1915 letter to the Prime Minister he wrote, "It would be quite easy in a short time to fit up a number of steam tractors with small armoured shelters...forty or fifty of these engines, prepared secretly and brought into position at nightfall, could advance quite certainly into the enemy's trenches, smashing away all the obstructions and sweeping the trenches with their machine-gun fire."

French WWI Renault light tank
Tank Museum, Bovington
At the Tank Museum you will find tanks from their introduction in World War I when they seemed to provide a solution for ending the horrific stalemate of trench warfare on the Western Front.  Tanks offered the Allies an opportunity to re-introduce mobility into a static battlefield.

British WWI Armored Car
Tank Museum, Bovington
The British were in the vanguard in terms of the introduction of armoured warfare.  In 1916 "a tank called "Mother" (later "Big Willie") became the first operational armoured vehicle produced by the British.  The machine was equipped with a six-pounder gun inside a small turret on each side, and four machine guns...On September 15, 1916 forty-nine "Big Willies" participated in the the Battle of the Somme."  Source: Patton: A Genius for War, Carlo D'Este, 1995

George Patton + Renault Tank
Bourg France, July 1918
Between the wars it was the most progressive military thinkers in all countries that were drawn to the potential of the tank -- De Gaulle in France, Patton in the US and Rommel, Guderian and others in Germany.  The German were the most aggressive proponents of armored warfare that would allow them to launch Blitzkrieg campaigns that conquered most of Europe and revolutionized warfare.  The Germans eventually developed some of the largest and most powerful tanks of the war.

Jagdtiger - tank destroyer
The Tank Museum, Covington
The German Jagdtiger (see photo above) was the heaviest armoured vehicle produced by any nation in World War II.  It weighed 72 tons and was equipped with a 128mm gun that could out range any allied tank.  Fortunately Allied bombing of their Austrian production facilities reduced the their effectiveness and output.  The Wehrmacht's efforts at mobile warfare were also severely constrained by fuel shortages.
M4 Sherman tank
Quantity over quality
The Americans, with their industrial might, produced more tanks than any other nation in World War II -- nearly 50,000 M4 Shermans, for example.  Churchill insisted on naming American tanks after US Civil war generals.  The Sherman, due to its weak armor and propensity to catch fire, was dubbed the "Ronson" by its German opponents.

M3 Grant tank, desert markings
The Tank Museum, Bovington
Many M3 Grant tanks were sent by FDR as part of his Lend Lease to Egypt where they helped to turn the tide again the Germans in the desert.  After the battle of El Alamein Rommel admitted, "The new American tank has torn great holes in our ranks."   Churchill told Parliament that Lend-Lease was "the most unsordid act on the history of any nation."

Soviet T-34, The Tank Museum, Bovington
At the largest tank battle in all history, Kursk, the Soviets relied heavily upon the T-34.  This tank featured improved armor that often deflected the 37mm anti tank projectiles fired by German infantry.

Tank Man on Tiananmen Square, Bejing, 1989
Tanks, in addition to being critical components on the battlefield, have also been used as an instrument of repression.  The Soviets rolled out their tanks onto the streets of Prague in the spring of 1968 to inspire terror.  The image of "Tank Man" defying Chinese authorities in Tiananmen Square was instantly seared into the global consciousness in 1989.

UN Scout Car
Tank Museum, Bovington
Tanks and armored vehicles have also been used as peacekeepers though out the world.

The US Army has developed the superlative M1 Abrams tank which was used in Operation Desert Storm (1991) and subsequent campaigns.  "During the war the M1A1 Abrams was credited with destroying over 2,000 Iraqi tanks, with not a single Abrams being destroyed by hostile tank fire."  (Source: Tank Spotter's Guide, Marcus Cowper and Christopher Pannell, 2011.)

The fire control system for Britain's most advanced modern tank, the Chieftain, resembles a Sony PlayStation.  Toys for boys indeed.
Landship Beer
"The Full Flavour of History"
The Tank museum offers a rich experience for anyone interested in modern land warfare.  You can even purchase Tank-themed beer ("Landship") in the gift shop!


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5 comments:

Chance Heath said...

Awesome post! Reminds me of checking out Aberdeen Proving Grounds back when I toured Groton.

I particular love the King Tiger (Tiger II) photo.

I'll have to check this museum out some day!

Steve Hernand said...

This museum explains why Brad Pitt is filming a tank movie in Bovington right now... called Fury (they were talking about changing the name) - a story about a group of American tankers crossing Germany near the end of WWII.

I tried out for a movie extra part there in Bovington about a month ago - didn't get the part.

Tom Winmill said...

I've put the museum on my list of must do's . . . .

The Tank Museum said...

Thanks for sending that over Chris,

It’s an excellent review, with some great pictures.

My next move was to post it on Facebook, but I see that it has already been posted!

Thank you for putting it together, and I’m glad you had such a good day.

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