Friday 18 April 2014

Bovington : Warhorse to Horsepower

Another post of pictures from my Dorset Holiday. This time my all time favourite place to visit, the Tank Museum in Dorset. My pulse always starts racing as I drive towards this world class collection of armoured vehicles and no matter how many times I come here I always find something new to enthral and excite poor wife thinks I'm slightly crackers! Funnily enough I recently bought a copy of the magazine Military Machines International and the editor Ian Young described the exact same feelings of anticipation and excitement whenever he visits 'Bovi', so I'm not alone!

The Museum has just opened a new exhibit, Warhorse to Horsepower which explores the transition towards mechanisation that the British army underwent during the first world war. This only opened a few days earlier so we were amongst the first to visit and I have to say we all enjoyed it thoroughly (even the wife!). New displays and swapping around some of the exhibits like this really freshens up the museum and lets the regular visitor looks at the collection from a new perspective. If you've been before, this is well worth a return trip! 

The new exhibition is in half of the space formerly occupied by the WWI Collection, and sits nicely next to the Mark I and other original early tanks on display. Some of the armoured cars that were here have been moved but the Vickers Independent is still here, just moved to a new position. (See this you Tube video Moving the Independent)
How military thinkers before the war thought it would be conducted. The mobility and manoeuvre of past European conflicts would soon be replaced by the mud and blood of static trench warfare and Cavalry would become largely irrelevant. 
The new exhibition has a contemporary feel to it but remains respectful of the period it looks at. It also has a very 'family' oriented feel to the way the display tells its story... when you stand by the horses they 'tell' you their story. 
For many horses their story ended here in the mud of Belgium and France. 
There are also exhibits showing the uniforms and kit of the Cavalry men themselves including this troopers basic uniform.
An original Service Dress Cap and Regimental Badge from 1914
Some of the exhibits are clearly inspired by the film Warhorse.
Another scene inspired by the film
Also on display is the new limited edition Armortek Mk IV. The basic kit will cost a mere £3995 with extras like RC, noises and smoke setting you back several hundred pounds more. Mind you it is an all metal kit and the detailing is absolutely superb.... maybe when I win the Lottery! 
The display boards throughout the new exhibit are excellent and very family friendly. 
I have to say that I felt this was a really excellent display and the museum should get 10/10 for family friendliness and inclusivity without dumbing down or skimming over the grim subject matter.

Once we had done this part of the museum we had just enough time to get round to the arena for one of the daily 'Tank Action Displays'. This is like a min version of Tankfest with a small but interesting selection of vehicles running around the arena. While the others enjoyed the display from up on the back overlooking the arena I got as close as I could to the action in my favourite spot for pictures. Here a selection of what I took. 

Museum Curator David Willey provides the commentary throughout the display.
The 'Warhourse' Mk IV Replica looks incredibly realistic and was a popular start to the display. 
The ferret Scout Car showing off its speed and agility in all conditions
An FV432 Armoured Personnel Carrier
This converted M548 gives rides around the arena for just £3 each and is specially fitted with 'bus seats' for visitors. 
The Chieftain Mark 11C Main Battle Tank
The Chieftain brings its gun round on the spectators!
The Chieftain is impressively fast and agile for such a huge machine.
As is this post war German Leopard I

With the Display over I quickly crossed the site to get a view inside the new Vehicle Conservation Centre. This had been completed but not filled when I was here last year for Tankfest. Then I had a quick glance inside the vast hanger like building and now I was eager to see the building full and in in use. The Museums huge collection has always outstripped the space available to display it so a significant number of vehicles have been stored in damp and unsuitable buildings elsewhere on the site. Some were also stored outside and even a tank is not impervious to the ravages of time and the weather. The new building finally brings all these vehicles into a dry and suitable environment to better preserve them and allow for ease of access for restoration. Here's a few pictures...

The museums collection is vast and growing. 
There are some superb examples of rare and important AFV's out in the Conservation Centre and at last you can view them. The only pity is that access to the vehicles is restricted to a viewing gallery only. 
Regularly used vehicles are at the front and I guess many of these were out in the arena a few days earlier for Tiger Day. Given how horrible the weather was on the Saturday I'm glad we decided to come later in the week!
Another wide shot of the VCC. Seriously, for a tread head like me this was a truly exciting place!
BigLee in his new favourite building of all time... now, how do I get down to the ground floor without being seen!

This was a great day out and with all the Easter activities it was also a very family friendly environment (much more so than our last group visit). My daughter, wife and in-laws also enjoyed the day which made the whole experience even more enjoyable for me. If you have a chance to get down to the Tank Museum this weekend then it is well worth it. At just £12.50 entry it is by far one of the best value days out you are likely to have and there is plnety to see and do that will keep you busy all day. 


  1. You are very lucky to have a place like that to visit. I would have to go to the next state over to go to Fort Knox if I wanted to see tanks.

  2. Excellent report. Many thanks, Lee.

    Cheers & happy Easter

  3. Years since I've been to Bovington. This reminds me I really must make the effort to get down that way again. Thanks for posting.

  4. I've often said Salute is my reason for traveling to England, and sure my wife wants to go. But Bovington, Hadrian's Wall, Culloden, and a few other sites are where I truly plan to hit! I really want to see the tank museum, I heard they have a monstrous clamp tool that spins a whole tank chassis to allow ease of restoration! Besides the displays and the field, that would be neat to see!

  5. What a great day out indeed.


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