A visit to Bovington Tank Museum

The entrance to the main hall of the Bovington Tank Museum

For me, a highlight of our family vacation in England was a visit to the tank museum in Bovington.  Somewhat off the beaten path Bovington is the armor (armour) school for the British Army and the site of the largest collection of tanks I’ve ever seen — and most of them have been repaired to working order.  We modified our agenda to make sure we were in Bovington on a weekday when they perform a tanks-in-action demonstration.

A model of DaVinci's tank in the queue to get into the exhibits

The museum is actually a series of buildings, but we only had time for the main building.  We did not go over to the conservation building where they repair tanks to working order.

The displays begin with a depiction of life in the trenches in WWI.  This helps motivate the need for the tank to help break the stalemate in the trenches.  This section of the museum then depicts the development and evolution of early tanks into the early 1930s.  There were several WWI tanks that you could walk into or where sections of armor were replaced by plexiglass windows to enable you to look inside.

Sam and Tom coming out of a trench
A British Mark IV or Mark V tank

This hall was very dark, so many of the pictures are a bit blurry.

An early tank with a cutout to allow people to look inside. They said that this tank is in running order. Many of the tanks had oil drip pans under them -- an indication of which were still able to run.
Tom and me in the Royal Tank Corps -- and my patient wife wondering how long she was going to have to pretend she was interested in tanks before we could leave

After viewing the WWI section, we went outside for the Tanks-in-Action demonstration.  They drove four armored vehicles around a track, which included a hill.  Each stopped in front of the audience so that the narrator could provide interesting information about each vehicle.  The Tanks-in-Action demonstration naturally focused on British vehicles.  The same type of demonstration in the US that focused on US vehicles would likely be criticized as jingoistic, because only in the US is it insensitive to highlight our accomplishments.

A Cold War era Ferret armored car. This was very fast and incredibly quiet. I had seen Scorpions and Scimitars before and even had a chance to climb around inside one with the crew, but I had never seen a Ferret before.
An FV-234 armored personnel carrier. This vehicle is strikingly similar in design to the US M-113. The FV-234 is still in service.
The Chieftain main battle tank. This Cold War era vehicle never fired a shot in anger and is no longer in active service.

After showing these three vehicles, they set up a mock battle involving these three fighting insurgents from Ruritania equipped with a Saladin reconnaissance vehicle.  The Ferret conducted reconnaissance to find the Ruritanaians and called in artillery, complete with pyrotechnic devices that were a crowd pleaser.  Then the Chieftain and FV-234 advanced.  Volunteers from the audience de-bussed the FV-234 and assaulted the Saladin, winning the day.  It is not considered insensitive in England for the British to root for themselves and to defeat the enemy.

The "Ruritanian" Saladin reconnaissance vehicle

After the tanks-in-action demonstration (and some pasties and cider) we went back into the main building to look at the displays.  The hall depicting the evolution of the tank is breathtaking and includes a number of displays I have never seen in person, like the D-Day wading device on a Sherman tank.

A panoramic shot of the hall showing the evolution of tanks from WWI to nearly the present day
Another view of the history of the tank hall
A French Char B tank

Each vehicle on display has a nice plaque next to it that describes the tank and also where this particular example of the tank came from.  Some of the vehicles had a very interesting story behind how they came to Bovigton.

German Pz II tank

There are over 300 tanks at Bovington.  It is mind boggling.  I couldn’t see everything and read everything if I had two full days there.  I MUST go back when I am not pulling the family along.

German Panther tank
British Crusader tank

The US Army made many bad choices over the years regarding the extensive collection of armored vehicles on display at Aberdeen Proving Ground.  The collection is now scattered and no longer available to the public.  Even in its heyday the APG collection was open to the elements and deteriorating.  It was amazing to see such beautiful specimens at Bovington.  Some are claimed to be the only known example in the world.

 

Tom in front of a Pz III
A Sherman Firefly along with obligatory derogatory comments about US tank design in WWII
German Tiger I in the "Tiger Hall," where they have one example of each Tiger variant except the Sturmtiger.
A US M-46 Patton tank. The M-46, 47, and 48 were all called "Patton"
Sam in front of a cutaway view showing the interior of a tank

This was a particularly interesting exhibit showing the interior of a tank.  The kids were very surprised at how cramped it is inside a tank.

The other half of the tank
Another view of the history-of-the-tank hall

There were a number of simulators set up around the exhibit hall.  There were ones for rifles, a Bren gun, and even a PIAT.  Sadly the PIAT simulator was out of order, but in these next two pictures you see Sam and Tom firing a simulated Bren.  Neither of them “qualified.”  Both commented on how hard it is to aim the Bren with the site offset to the side because of the top-mounted magazine.

Sam firing a simulated Bren. If you look in the background of this picture you can begin to get a sense of scale for just how big the exhibit hall is.
Tom firing the Bren simulator

There are over 300 vehicles at Bovington.  This does not include all there other items on display like anti-tank weapons, comparisons of barrel lengths, tank crew equipment, etc.  While the story of the tank hall tells a story of the evolution of the tank, the largest hall is just filled with row after row of vehicles and other displays.  It is amazing!

A view of the largest exhibit hall that I hope provides a sense of the sheer size of the collection.

Bovington was the only item on my must-see list for this trip to England.  I am very glad we went.  All the items on display are extremely well maintained.  Every vehicle has informative plaques.  Many still run.  Everything is under cover.  It is tremendous museum.  I need to try to talk a couple of my gaming buddies into coming here in June next year for Tank Days, when many of the vehicles are driven around and members of the public get a chance to get into some of the vehicles and drive them.  I have driven modern US armored vehicles, like the M-1 Abrams and M-2 Bradley, but I would love to drive one or two of the historic tanks.

A final view of the large exhibit hall

Despite starting the day at a QuikFit to replace the tire on our rental car, a harrowing drive through goat paths led by our GPS and dodging a farm tractor, and a need to depart Bovington early enough to arrive in the Peak District before dark, I had a great time at Bovington and NEED to return for another visit.

Happy Birthday, US Army

Today, we celebrate the 237th birthday of our Army.

For 237 years, our Soldiers, Civilians and Families have been the strength of our Nation in peace and at war.

Today, America’s Army is engaged in nearly 150 countries around the world, on 6 of 7 continents, with over 94,000 Soldiers deployed today and 94,000 forward stationed. Our Nation depends on its Army to defend the shores of our homeland, defeat enemy forces abroad, and help with recovery efforts in the wake of natural disasters.

We have the best equipped, best trained, and best led Army in history because of the 1.1 million professional Soldiers who serve in the Active Army, Army National Guard and Army Reserve, as well as the dedicated service of our Army Civilians. It is our Army’s competence, adaptability, moral character, and resolute commitment that defines us as professionals and guarantees our long-standing sacred trust with the American people.

I’m proud of your accomplishments, your sacrifice, and your selfless dedication to our Army and to the Nation. Today, on its 237th birthday, we honor our Army and the remarkable men and women, past and present, who have embraced our Nation’s call to service. Army Strong!

Raymond T. Odierno
General, 38th Chief of Staff
United States Army

The Strength of our Nation is our Army
The Strength of our Army is our Soldiers
The Strength of our Soldiers is our Families
This is what makes us “Army Strong!”

Day trip to the Smithsonian

A couple of weeks ago, while I was recovering from surgery for two hernias, we took a short trip to the Smithsonian American History Museum.  We hadn’t been there since it was closed a few years ago for a whole year for renovation.  I have to say that I was underwhelmed, and think the American History museum has become ho-hum.

Why do I say this?

First it seemed that fully a quarter of the exhibits were closed.  I found this interesting in a museum that just opened two years ago after having been closed for a full year.  Secondly, the exhibits seemed really “dumbed down” to me.

On the top floor, where there are exhibits on American wars from the American Revolution to the present, I found many of the displays lacking in substance.  There was an exhibit the size of a broom closet on WWI.  The Vietnam display was 50% unrest, civil rights, and protests, and very little on the conduct of the war, phases of the war, campaigns, how a very professional Army went into the war, but how the long war eroded that professionalism, or how the majors and lieutenant colonels who came out of that war built back up the Army that amazed the world in Desert Storm.  There was no display about the Cold War.

The display about our current wars in the Middle East consisted on one small room.  For history class, my son is writing a paper about Iraq.  I was struck by how little our young people know about our longest wars.  If the job of museums is both to inspire and educate, I’d think that the Smithsonian should have significant, extensive, apolitical displays about these three wars.  I don’t think I would have understood anything about Desert Shield/Storm, OEF, or OIF from these displays.

The new display of the flag that flew over Fort McHenry is very nice.

Finally, I was a bit put out that they pushed American citizens out of the way to entertain a bunch of visiting foreign dignitaries.

So, if you want to see Dorothy’s ruby slippers, Kermit the Frog, Fonzie’s jacket, of First Ladies’ dresses, this is the place for you.  If you actually want to learn anything about our history or anything that really matters, seek other opportunities.

More 10mm Napoleonics

For the first time in two months, I picked up a paint brush.  With the prep for the move, the move, unpacking from the move, getting into the new (hectic) job at work, and going on vacation, I just haven’t had time.

After the last play test of Look, Sarge, No Charts: Napoleonic Wars at a HAWKs club night, I wanted to make some changes to the base labels.  So yesterday, I relabeled all my French and Austrian figures.

New labels on the bases of French infantry
New labels on the bases of French infantry

The rules worked pretty well that night — even with folks who don’t like Napoleonics.  At Historicon, one of the players observed that for combat you wanted to roll high, but for morale you wanted to roll low.  I share that frustration with rules design.  The fact that sometimes you wanted high and sometimes low was a hold-over from an earlier morale and skirmisher concept for LSNC:NW.  I was able to reverse the morale number so that the best kind of troops have a morale of “1” for “first class troops.”  This made all aspects of LSNC:NW consistent — you always want to roll high.

(I just noticed that in the picture above, the are two “left side” bases and no “right side” base.  A battalion consists of two bases (a left and a right to get a complete label).  This allows Napoleonic battalions to be formed into column, line, and square.)

In the process of rebasing all these figures, I found that I have several battalions of Russian infantry.  I have based them, but I haven’t labeled them yet.

Early stages of 10mm French Legere
Early stages of 10mm French Legere

This weekend I also had a chance to start on some 10mm Old Glory French legere.  I am  painting four battalions of them.  The Old Glory 10mm figures come on the five-figure strips you see.  Six strips makes a battalion of infantry for countries that fought three ranks deep.  That’s 30 figures to a battalion.  At this point in the painting, you can see the black priming, blue uniforms, white belts and turnbacks, flesh on faces and hands, and brown muskets.  I hope to finish the shakos, including the yellow/green and red plumes before the end of the day.

I have been dreading painting 10mm Napoleonic figures, but in practice, it’s not as onerous as I thought it would be.

In rebasing, I discovered that I have just about two complete corps of French infantry, but I’m missing the light cavalry that would be in a corp.  This uses the 1806 order of battle for Davout (III Corps) and Lannes (V Corps).  I have a large corps of Austrians.  I’ve ordered some Grenzers and Jaegers to get the Austrians to a good state.  I have a bunch of unpainted Prussians to begin as well.

HAWKs Plastic Army for Kids Game

Recipients of free armies from the second iteration
Recipients of free armies from the second iteration

The HAWKs sponsored two iterations of the Plastic Army for Kids project (see previous posts) at Historicon 2011.  All participants were supposed to be 10 or younger, and all of them received a Continental Army, a British Army, a ground cloth, a copy of Big Battles for Little Hands (donated by Phil Viverito of LMW Works and Classical Hack fame), dice, a deck of cards, two tape measurers (donated by Robert Seitz), some road sections, and two hills.  This picture shows the participants from the second iteration.  I think they look pretty happy — even the kids who cried a couple of times when his units ran away or were wiped out.  (He really empathized with those plastic widows!)  All of the kids seemed surprised that they were getting armies when the game was over.

American commander from the first iteration
American commander from the first iteration
British commander from the first iteration
British commander from the first iteration

I was the GM for the first iteration.  Duncan was the GM for the second.  The first time around, the parents sat away from the table and observed.  The second time, the parents sat up near the table and helped.  I thought the former methods was better.  While the parents were trying to help keep the game moving, sometimes they didn’t know Milk and Cookies Rules well and misguided the kids.  More importantly, it was easy for parents to slide from rules help to directing tactics and troop movements.

The British team
The British team
Duncan was the GM for the second iteration
Duncan was the GM for the second iteration
Serious looks before a key die roll
Serious looks before a key die roll

We consider this a very successful club effort.  We plan to do this again for the next couple of Historicons.  Most of the HAWKs provided time and/or resources to bring this to fruition.  During Historicon, at least two big boxes of figures were donated for future efforts.  Some people donated cash on the spot.  Others offered to paint armies next year.  Many came by the HAWKs room and were effusive in their praise of the HAWKs’ efforts to make wargaming approachable by youngsters.  This included not just the plastic army project but a constant offering of kids’ games all weekend.