Bovington Tank Museum – A Chicago Wargamer in London
My trip to London may have been scheduled around Salute 2018, but I had trips planned out for every day of my stay. I am the boring historical player in the group and I was a history teacher for a while, so of course I went in search of old things to see. So please follow along for a break from our regularly scheduled gaming news as I explore some actual history... I promise to at least try connecting it to gaming!
England is home to a hidden gem for fans of armored fighting vehicles, but it's a pain to get to. I speak of The Tank Museum at Bovington, located about three hours outside of London somewhere in the southwest corner of the country. After a long train ride, I found out very quickly why the place is so popular for tank fans.
After a half hour walk, I finally made it to the museum and started exploring. Like every museum I've ever been to, it's divided into a few sections. Of course I tried to see everything, but several areas are absolute must visits if one is short on time. The first section I visited tells the story of the development of the tank, from the very first Royal Navy experiments to the main battle tanks of the modern day. And unlike places I've seen try to tell this story, here there are actual tanks! Apparently they are always moving things around, but there were a few very special vehicles in this exhibit. The armored cars from the inter-war period were interesting to see, but the D-Day funnies were also very unique. There are not many of them left in the world.
After lunch I went through the World War One section which is home to probably the largest collection of vehicles from this period in the world. I had never heard of most of them and had to repeatedly pick my jaw off the floor while snapping pictures. The beginning of the exhibit traces the typical way new soldiers arrived at the front, starting in England getting gear and ending in a replica trench. I was guided through all this by a volunteer, who could provide lots of extra details for what I was seeing. After walking through the trench, I turned the corner and found this thing looming over me.
I can't imagine what it would have been like for the average German infantryman who encountered a Mark IV tank for the first time, but I'm sure it was not a good time for them. After encountering this beast there was another small collection of massive tanks, some of which are probably the last ones in the world. They had a personnel carrier tank combo thing that was amazing to see and something I had never heard of before. Another interesting area in the museum is their conservation center. This is where they park all their extra tanks and they have a lot of them.
Some of these still work and they bring them out every now that then to show off. Having nearly been run over three times by the British Army I can say that it's one thing to see a tank sitting in the museum. It's quite another to see, hear, and even feel one roar past. In addition to the themed exhibits, they have several rooms filled with tanks listing key info on each. There were some very rare machines including this British assault gun meant to breach the Siegfried Line.
One other highlight of the museum is their Tiger collection. Several of the tanks are on loan from other museums and this is probably the first time they've all been in the same place. Turning the corner and seeing this thing along with four of it's siblings was awe-inspiring. It's actually bigger than some of the tanks used today including America's freedom spreading machine, the M1 Abrams.
There are more things to do here at the Tank Museum than just these exhibits. I was able to climb inside a Chieftan tank but missed the Afghanistan exhibit. For any fan of armored vehicles the Tank Museum at Bovington is an amazing place to visit and one of the best in the world.