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13 November 2014

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You are in: Dorset > History > Local History > Dorset's tank tradition

Panzer III tank

Panzer III tank

Dorset's tank tradition

Bovington is home to the armoured military vehicle commonly known as the tank. The collection at the site's museum contains some of the rarest examples of tanks in the world, and a dedicated team who restore and maintain them.

For years the people of Bovington have grown accustomed to the occasional boom of tank gunfire and the slow rumble of tanks rolling through - this is the Dorset village which could rightly hold the title of 'home of the tank'.

It was decided by the War Office over ninety years ago that it was the perfect location to test this new weapon of war, as it was close to the coast, and the new armour could be easily transported to the front line.

Even today, Bovington camp is part museum, part working army base; and the camp is home to tanks and soldiers training for active service.

Kipling

One of the driving forces behind the museum's history was the famous author Rudyard Kipling.

As tanks were brought back to be tested, they were just left to rot, but it was Kipling who suggested to the army that Bovington could be a resource of tank memorabilia, making good use of the vehicles which lay unattended.

In fact, many of the vehicles which make up the World War I collection came from this initial display.

Panzer I

A Panzer I tank

Capturing

Many of the tanks at the collection came from the British Army's own 'discarded' machinery, but obtaining 'enemy' vehicles was a much harder task.

And many of the German vehicles on display were actually seized in combat, and as such have interesting tales to tell.

Nik Wyness, the museum's PR manager, explained the story of one particularly prized capture - the Tiger:

"This is a perfect example of something that was captured in the battlefield, taken back to Britain for evaluation, completely stripped down, they tested the engine, they saw how it worked and basically 'caned' it.

"The Tiger is quite an iconic machine, and you can see there how it was knocked out. It was captured by British Churchill tanks from 48th RTR.

"There were four or five Churchill tanks after one Tiger, a shell from a Churchill lodged itself in the mechanism which turns the turret, and the crew have panicked and bailed out.

"This Tiger was found empty but relatively functional. It was unusual because when they abandoned Tigers, the crews were told to blow them up. So this was the first Tiger to be captured intact, but also fully functional, which at the time was a great publicity coup!"

"This is the only running Tiger in the world, which is another piece of unique history here in Bovington."

An Iraqi tank

Grafitti daubed in Iraq

There are also more recent examples of tank history, and reminders of how chilling war can be, particularly as Nik points out in the case of an Iraqi tank:

"We captured an Iraqi tank that had a strange network of pipes on the outside, and when the investigation team got it back here they were trying to work out what these pipes did.

"Eventually we found out that the pipes took carbon dioxide fumes from the engines and were used in ethnic cleansing of Kurdish villages."

Maintenance

As many of the tanks are ages old, they require an awful lot of maintenance, and the museum is lucky to have an in-house team to help.

One tank which has thrived on the care and attention paid by the team is the German WWII tank - the Panzer I.

"This Panzer is riddled with holes, as you can imagine that would have caused a lot of damage to the man inside it!

"What we do with all our vehicles is, the way they are painted in the museum is not totally the way they were painted when they were captured, as paint doesn't last that long, and a lot of these vehicles, especially if they've been knocked out in combat will be badly damaged.

The artwork on a German tank

Intricate artwork on a Panzer III

"When we're restoring these vehicles we make them as authentic as possible, we can find out the exact hue, the exact markings. We put them back to as they were in their hey-day.

"It's all about conservation and preservation - but the sad fact is that while they were being evaluated with the British Army they were badly beaten up! The other problem would be souvenir hunters, squaddies ripping bits off!"

last updated: 20/05/2009 at 10:54
created: 11/05/2006

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