For me, a highlight of our family vacation in England was a visit to the tank museum in Bovington. Somewhat off the beaten path Bovington is the armor (armour) school for the British Army and the site of the largest collection of tanks I’ve ever seen — and most of them have been repaired to working order. We modified our agenda to make sure we were in Bovington on a weekday when they perform a tanks-in-action demonstration.
The museum is actually a series of buildings, but we only had time for the main building. We did not go over to the conservation building where they repair tanks to working order.
The displays begin with a depiction of life in the trenches in WWI. This helps motivate the need for the tank to help break the stalemate in the trenches. This section of the museum then depicts the development and evolution of early tanks into the early 1930s. There were several WWI tanks that you could walk into or where sections of armor were replaced by plexiglass windows to enable you to look inside.
This hall was very dark, so many of the pictures are a bit blurry.
After viewing the WWI section, we went outside for the Tanks-in-Action demonstration. They drove four armored vehicles around a track, which included a hill. Each stopped in front of the audience so that the narrator could provide interesting information about each vehicle. The Tanks-in-Action demonstration naturally focused on British vehicles. The same type of demonstration in the US that focused on US vehicles would likely be criticized as jingoistic, because only in the US is it insensitive to highlight our accomplishments.
After showing these three vehicles, they set up a mock battle involving these three fighting insurgents from Ruritania equipped with a Saladin reconnaissance vehicle. The Ferret conducted reconnaissance to find the Ruritanaians and called in artillery, complete with pyrotechnic devices that were a crowd pleaser. Then the Chieftain and FV-234 advanced. Volunteers from the audience de-bussed the FV-234 and assaulted the Saladin, winning the day. It is not considered insensitive in England for the British to root for themselves and to defeat the enemy.
After the tanks-in-action demonstration (and some pasties and cider) we went back into the main building to look at the displays. The hall depicting the evolution of the tank is breathtaking and includes a number of displays I have never seen in person, like the D-Day wading device on a Sherman tank.
Each vehicle on display has a nice plaque next to it that describes the tank and also where this particular example of the tank came from. Some of the vehicles had a very interesting story behind how they came to Bovigton.
There are over 300 tanks at Bovington. It is mind boggling. I couldn’t see everything and read everything if I had two full days there. I MUST go back when I am not pulling the family along.
The US Army made many bad choices over the years regarding the extensive collection of armored vehicles on display at Aberdeen Proving Ground. The collection is now scattered and no longer available to the public. Even in its heyday the APG collection was open to the elements and deteriorating. It was amazing to see such beautiful specimens at Bovington. Some are claimed to be the only known example in the world.
This was a particularly interesting exhibit showing the interior of a tank. The kids were very surprised at how cramped it is inside a tank.
There were a number of simulators set up around the exhibit hall. There were ones for rifles, a Bren gun, and even a PIAT. Sadly the PIAT simulator was out of order, but in these next two pictures you see Sam and Tom firing a simulated Bren. Neither of them “qualified.” Both commented on how hard it is to aim the Bren with the site offset to the side because of the top-mounted magazine.
There are over 300 vehicles at Bovington. This does not include all there other items on display like anti-tank weapons, comparisons of barrel lengths, tank crew equipment, etc. While the story of the tank hall tells a story of the evolution of the tank, the largest hall is just filled with row after row of vehicles and other displays. It is amazing!
Bovington was the only item on my must-see list for this trip to England. I am very glad we went. All the items on display are extremely well maintained. Every vehicle has informative plaques. Many still run. Everything is under cover. It is tremendous museum. I need to try to talk a couple of my gaming buddies into coming here in June next year for Tank Days, when many of the vehicles are driven around and members of the public get a chance to get into some of the vehicles and drive them. I have driven modern US armored vehicles, like the M-1 Abrams and M-2 Bradley, but I would love to drive one or two of the historic tanks.
Despite starting the day at a QuikFit to replace the tire on our rental car, a harrowing drive through goat paths led by our GPS and dodging a farm tractor, and a need to depart Bovington early enough to arrive in the Peak District before dark, I had a great time at Bovington and NEED to return for another visit.