07 July 2017

WWI French tank to very latest British tank showcased

The Tank Museum runs an event known as Tankfest, where many of the vehicles come out and go through their paces

ARMOURED Fighting Vehicles have been a subject of fascination since they first rolled onto the battlefield more than a century ago

One of the world’s premier tank museums, appropriately named The Tank Museum, is located at Bovington in the Dorset region, England, about two and a half hours west of London.

To give you an idea of how large the collection is: There are more tanks at the museum — they have 300 — than are currently operated by the Australian Defence Force, which is understood to have about 75.

As any motoring enthusiast can tell you, having an awesome car is only part one of the fun — the really good part comes when they get to take it out of a garage and go for a spin. The same is true with tanks, and every year The Tank Museum runs an event known as Tankfest, where many of the vehicles come out and go through their paces in front of an enthusiastic crowd of thousands.

It’s the largest event of its kind in the world and remarkably, in recent years a lot of this has been facilitated by a video game company, Wargaming.

Wargaming are famous for their hugely popular and detailed World of Tanks game and the company’s special projects head Tracy Spaight said partnering with museums like The Tank Museum was an obvious choice which had significant benefits for everyone.

“A lot of what we’ve done in Wargaming Special Projects is work with museums, because if you’re interested enough in tanks to come to a tank museum, chances are pretty good you might actually like playing World of Tanks — it’s a natural fit,” he said.

“It’s not one way — we’ve benefited our museum partners quite a bit; we bring new audiences to them that might never have thought ‘I should go to a tank museum or see a battleship’.”

“It’s great we can help a museum conserve history and tell the story for another generation. It’s good for us too because we get to show our players and the community all this amazing hardware; most people never get to see this stuff.”

Tankfest is the largest event of its kind in the world.

Tankfest is the largest event of its kind in the world.Source:Supplied

More than 20,000 people attended Tankfest 2017 at the end of June to see everything from an original WWI French tank to the very latest British tank, the Challenger II, in action.

Accompanying to vast array of armour was a sizeable and frankly breathtaking living history element, with re-enactment groups covering everything from WWII Soviet soldiers to American paratroopers to British commandos to German Volksturm units — all with meticulous attention to detail, and a genuine willingness to share their passion with event visitors.

Trade stalls selling militaria and uniforms abounded, with my credit card only saved by the possibility of unpleasant conversations with Australian Customs regarding all the fake grenades, real bayonets and stylish black tacticalneck commando gear in my luggage.

What was surprising to me was the diversity of the audience — given the subject matter, I was expecting the “people your dad’s age with beards, leather-elbowed tweed jackets and possibly a pipe” brigade to make a strong showing, but there were heartwarmingly large numbers of children, women, families, young people and old people from across the world there, all having a magnificent time.

Tanks are loud and they are impressive — you hear them coming long before the bulk of their hull and turret makes an appearance.

Seeing tanks from across history and around the world — including Soviet tanks and modern British armour — actually moving really is quite impressive; I was particularly impressed by a Soviet tank which deployed a smokescreen during its display, demonstrating the effectiveness of the tactic. There’s something quite unnerving about knowing there’s a tank somewhere in that impenetrable cloud of smoke, and being able to hear it clanking around — but having no idea where it actually is or what it’s targeting.

Re-enactment groups cover everything from WWII Soviet soldiers to American paratroopers to British commandos.

Re-enactment groups cover everything from WWII Soviet soldiers to American paratroopers to British commandos.Source:Supplied

Wargaming’s partnership with The Tank Museum extends well beyond Tankfest, however, with the company recently unveiling an exhibit on one of the most famous of WWII tanks, the Tiger. Used by Germany, the Tiger series of tanks were among the most advanced of their day, and the museum is home to the only operating Tiger I tank in the world.

The Tiger exhibition brings together real examples of all the members of the family, with one exception — the Sturmtiger tank, which was prevented from joining the collection due to political reasons.

However, Wargaming solved that problem with the magic of Virtual Reality and Augmented reality, allowing visitors to don a Microsoft Hololens headset and explore a virtual representation of the tank in the empty space where it would otherwise be.

Tank Museum marketing head Nik Wyness said they believed TankFest to be the biggest and best event of its kind in the world.

“The Tank Museum has one of the most unique collections in the world … we’ve got things here you can’t see anywhere else,” he said.

He acknowledged the invaluable support Wargaming gave to the museum, including shipping an Elefant tank across the Atlantic from a US museum to be part of the museum’s Tiger display.

Mr Wyness said another vital way the company supported the museum was by the exposure it provided through World of Tanks, its informational YouTube videos, and other promotions — bringing the museum to a much, much wider audience than they’d ever dreamed.

“People who play tanks in video games will always want to know more about the real thing,” he said.

Wargaming CEO Viktor Kislyi is a keen historian and Mr Wyness said his support had been instrumental to the museum’s success.

“He knows and understands the importance of keeping this kit restored … and that’s why Wargaming have been so involved in the tank museum, supporting our exhibitions and our education centre in particular,” Mr Wyness said.

“One of the reasons why Tankfest has gone from a 10,000 ticket event to 20,000 ticket event is Wargaming support us to push awareness of it to a wider branch of people.”

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