Friday, 6 December 2013

Bovington Tank Museum. (1)

Somewhere on my bucket list Bovington Tank Museum appears. It was one of those places I wanted to visit if ever I was in the area.  It turns out that the museum isn't too far from Southampton, so I decided to head out there on my day off. For those interested in such minutiae, you catch the Weymouth train and get off at Wool Station and take a brisk walk (in my case), or get a taxi. Most of the museum is inside so weather wasn't too much of an issue expect for the brisk walk part.

Again I will not sprout about the history of the museum, I will leave it to their own website. Suffice to say this is a legendary museum. It has a huge collection of vehicles that will make you weep. I took over 560 images, and frankly, I would not have liked to have met some of the exhibits on the battlefield. 

My own interest is World War 1 machines, as well as Axis tanks of World War 2. I will have to be honest and admit that I have seen a lot of the Allied vehicles back in South Africa, so they are not really new to me. 

I will try to split this blog into 3 parts, and this part will deal with the World War 1 collection.

"Little Willie" is probably the oldest tank in the world, and probably the granddaddy of everything that came afterwards. It is difficult to look at this vehicle and compare it to the behemoths that dominate battlefields today. 

The appearance of the tank on the battlefield must have been a terrifying moment for those who encountered it looming out of the chaos and carnage all around. The museum has a nice diorama that pictures what this may have looked like.

Of course the noise, explosions and smoke are all missing, and the guns thundering from the sponsons as the tank crushed the wire under its treads. The early British vehicles were lumbering creations that did not move very fast, and which were prone to breaking down at the worst conceivable moment. But there was no real deterrent against them,  and used correctly they could change the flow of a battle.

This is called a "Heavy Tank Mk V "Male"". It had a crew of 8 with a top speed of 7.4 kph. This particular vehicle took part in the battle of Amiens in August 1918, and was about as good as this particular style of tank was. It was armed with 2x6 pound (57mm) guns and 2 MG's. 

This slightly cutaway tank is a Mark II "Female", and it is the last surviving Mk II. Tanks were classed by gender. A "Male" had two canons, while a "Female" had 4-5 machine guns. All these vehicles had large crews to man the weapons and drive the vehicle.  

One of the evolutions of the tank was the Whippett. Designed in 1917, they were amongst the fastest tanks of their time. This particular vehicle was in battle on the 19th of August 1918, and it's commander, Lt Cecil Sewell won the Victoria Cross after he jumped from the vehicle to help some soldiers trapped in another overturned tank. 

He did not survive his heroic act, but his vehicle lives on. Strangely enough there is another Whippett surviving in South Africa. It was in action during the Rand Revolt. 

The French built another famous tank that seemed to be a successful design, and some still turn up in the strangest places.  The Renault FT-17 was a 2 man tank, and they were often called "Mosquito Tanks" with a crew of two, the theory seemed to be to swamp the battlefield with these small tanks, although most did not come into service as the war ended first. The result was that many were exported all over the world. 

This particular one was donated to the Imperial War Museum after the war, and was then relocated to the Tank Museum in 1965. 

When the war ended the tank was beginning to be recognised in some quarters as the weapon of the future. While in others it was being considered as inferior to cavalry, and not worthy of developing further. Yet some military strategists were looking at the lessons learnt in the war and considering how best to use those lessons to produce a robust tank force that could overturn everything in its path. Germany would soon use the tank in ways never tried before, and would succeed a mere 20 years down the line.

The period between the wars produced lots of odd experiments and inferior or superior designs. The context and potential use of many of the designs needs to be considered though. What works well in one case is a dismal failure in another.

One of the vehicles that seemed to have had a bit of a disastrous career was the "Light Mark VIB" which was not really meant to tackle much larger gunned vehicles. Yet it was a well constructed machine that performed in many theaters of the war. It was meant as a light reconnaissance vehicle, and was really undergunned and underarmoured. This particular vehicle was probably only used as a training tank.

The Carden Lloyd MkVI carrier was probably a way to build a universal carrier vehicle for use with infantry, This particular vehicle is mounting a Vickers machine gun and seems that it was operable from within the vehicle.

The concept probably evolved into the well known Bren Gun Carrier, or "Carrier, Universal Number 1. Mk II"  of which a large amount were built during the war. 

Continue onto page 2

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