Vehicles have been utilised in warfare since at least as far back as the 2nd millennium BC, when ancient groups such as the Egyptians incorporated chariots into their battle strategies. And in 1484 Leonardo da Vinci designed a shielded vehicle for use in war, which he modelled on the shell of a turtle.
After the start of World War One, the development of practical, high-functioning tanks took on a new urgency. Experts across Europe raced to craft an effective model, and tanks have played a pivotal role in warfare ever since.
Across the United Kingdom, museums, collectors and activity centres have restored historic tanks for the public to study – and at some sites even drive.
Here are 5 of the greatest tank attractions in the United Kingdom.
After World War One, a number of British tanks were returned from France to the Bovington Camp military base in Dorset, England. Those that were still in working condition were set aside for military training purposes. Then, in 1923, the famed writer Rudyard Kipling visited Bovington and suggested its collection of damaged vehicles should be put on display for the public. The Tank Museum has been expanding and improving its collections ever since.
These days, Bovington’s Tank Museum boasts a collection of some 300 military machines. Its exhibits trace the history of the tank from its inception right through to the 21st century, touching on World War One, World War Two and the Iraq War. Visitors can expect to see the world’s only working German Tiger I, as well as an American M60 and the world’s oldest surviving combat tank, known as Little Willie.
The Tank Museum also hosts TANKFEST, a four-day annual event featuring live tank displays, historical reenactments, exhibits, lectures and much more.
Armourgeddon is an independent museum and activity centre in Leicestershire, England. The site’s collections have grown considerably since its inception, and now encompass a Russian T55, an American M3 Lee and a T-16 Mk I, as well as a Sherman tank, a 1947 BELL 47G helicopter and a Bofors gun.
Armourgeddon also offers visitors a whole host of activities and interactive exhibits, such as tank paintballing, military vehicle driving sessions, archery, air rifle shooting and clay pigeon shooting. The centre’s most popular activity is tank paintballing, where teams take part in a thrilling paintball battle while driving in an FV432 tank. As the Armourgeddon website states, “Tanks, cannons, mud and guns. What more could you want from a day out?!”
The Norfolk Tank Museum was created in the interest of education. As the Norfolk Tank Museum’s website explains, its purpose is to “provide an insight into the mechanisms and machines of conflict, as well as the lives of those that have taken part, soldiers or civilians.” The museum’s staff restore disused military vehicles and artefacts for displays and interactive exhibits.
As the museum aims to allow visitors to handle as many of the exhibits and artefacts as possible, visitors to the Norfolk Tank Museum can expect to enter and explore a Saladin Armoured Scout Car and a Chieftain Main Battle Tank. The Norfolk Tank Museum also hosts Armourfest, an event featuring live displays of tanks and armoured vehicles traversing a custom-made course.
The Muckleburgh Military Collection’s story begins at a disused military base in Norfolk, England. After the Royal Artillery Anti-Aircraft training camp at Weybourne closed down, stockbroker Michael Savory set about converting the site into a museum. In 1988 the collection-turned-museum was opened to the public, and it’s now one of the largest privately owned collections of military artefacts in the UK.
With tanks, vehicles and military machinery from around the globe, the Muckleburgh Military Collection offers visitors a fascinating insight into military history. As well as armoured vehicles from the 20th century, the museum houses artillery, guns, missiles and ammunition. Many of the The Muckleburgh Military Collection’s artefacts are in working order. On occasion, vehicles from the collection are displayed live in action on the site.
On 9 June 1920, the Imperial War Museum was officially opened in London’s Crystal Palace by King George V. It’s exhibitions cover, amongst other things, different aspects of the First and Second World Wars including military history, the Holocaust, women’s roles in the conflicts, wartime artwork and the political issues of the time.
The Imperial War Museum’s collections are vast, and in addition to its role as a museum, it is also a major national art gallery, a national archive of written and audiovisual recourse and a centre for research. Among its collections are photographs documenting the construction and use of British tanks in the 1940s. The museum has also displayed a T-34-85 tank, a Russian T-55 tank, a Montgomery M3A3 Grant tank and a Jagdpanther V tank destroyer.