Vehicles have been utilised in warfare since time of the ancient Egyptians, but it was during World War One that the modern tank was born. And during this period, the term ‘tank’ was also coined. The British Army adopted it as a code word for their bulky new military vehicles, possibly because they resembled water tanks.
By the close of World War One, Britain had constructed some 2,600 tanks, and various nations around the globe had begun manufacturing their own models. Armoured vehicles have played a crucial role in wars ever since.
Here are 5 of the world’s best tank museums, where visitors can study the history of armoured warfare.
Arsenalen was officially opened on 17 June 2011, and its operations are handled by the Södermanland Foundation Military History Collections. The museum’s artefacts, meanwhile, are the property of the Swedish National Museums of Military History. Many of the site’s vehicles once resided in different historic sites around Sweden, such as Malmköping’s Military Vehicle Museum and Axvall’s Tank Museum.
Arsenalen’s collections have now grown to encompass more than 300 vehicles, with around 70 of them on display at any one time. There is also a Figure Museum on the site, which boasts an impressive collection of tin figurines crafted by the artist Holger Eriksson. And the museum’s Soldier and the Croft exhibit recreates the experience of a soldier in mid 19th-century Sweden.
After WWI, 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 Musée des Blindés traces its history back to 1977, when Colonel Michel Aubry obtained the blessing of the French authorities to establish a collection of armoured military vehicles. By 1983 Aubry’s collections had grown substantially, and had attracted widespread attention from the public. The site was opened to visitors, and the Musée des Blindés was born.
Today, the Musée des Blindés contains the largest collection of armoured military vehicles in the world, boasting upwards of 800 machines. Given the size of the collection, only around a quarter of its artefacts are on display at the same time. A display, the ‘Carrousel’, takes place at the Musée des Blindés every summer. It features a spectacular parade of historic armoured vehicles – both from the museum’s collections and from further afield.
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 Muckleburgh Military Collection’s artefacts are in working order. On occasion, vehicles from the collection are displayed live in action on the site.
The German Tank Museum, or Deutsches Panzermuseum Munster, is situated on the east German military camp of Munster (not, confusingly, the popular city of Münster in western Germany). It dates back to 1983, when the German Army’s training school began compiling a collection of its vehicles and artefacts. This extensive array of artefacts was later turned into an eductional and interactive museum and opened to the public. In 2003 the museum expanded again, opening a shop and café on site.
Today, the German Tank Museum in Munster features a large and varied collection of tanks. Among the organisation’s vehicles are a Swedish Stridsvagn m/21-29, a modern Merkava from Israel and a whole host of tanks from the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom. The core of the museum’s exhibits, though, are its German tanks and armoured vehicles. There are some 40 World War Two era German tanks at the museum, as well as an array of small arms, military uniforms, equipment and medals.
The American Heritage Museum was born from the private collections of Jacques M. Littlefield. Having been a keen fan of military vehicles since he was a child, Littlefield acquired an M3 Scout Car dating back to World War Two in 1975. Over the following 2 decades, Littlefield amassed a collection of some 200 military vehicles and tanks, which were later stored and displayed under the banner of the American Heritage Museum.
The American Heritage Museum is now an interactive educational experience, complete with exhibits, displays and guided dioramas. Within The American Heritage Museum’s collections are around 15 tanks and armoured military vehicles that cannot be seen anywhere else in North America. These rare historic relics include a T-34 tank, a Kommandogerrat 38 German Rangefinder, a Jumbo Sherman tank and an M1A1 Abrams tank.