You knew it was coming. All those other Moscow musea reviewed...
So, I finally made it. I never thought I would. One of the most storied tank musea in the world. After having visited, though, I’m really not sure what to make of the place.
First things first, before any doubt enters your mind, however. If you get even the slightest opportunity, go. There is such a collection of vehicles there which you will never otherwise get to see in your life. Kubinka is not only a museum of produced tanks, it is also the local version of the Aberdeen Proving Ground, and has a number of fascinating prototypes. So great is the variety that I have had great difficulty narrowing down the collection of photographs I took to the ones on this article and as you can see I put up far more pictures than normal. Even at that, my batteries ran out in the last building!
You first problem is going to be getting to the place. The Russians were nice enough to put it to within an hour’s drive of Moscow, which, considering all the far-flung places that they could have put their facility, was considerate of them. It’s right off the main road about 40 minutes West of town, in what appears to have been a general military-industrial area which, in all fairness, is showing signs of being in need of some rejuvenation. Go up a small access road, and the gate (literally, a gate, it’s not as if there are big signs or anything) will be to your right. You have arrived.
A more significant issue is being allowed onto the base. I happened to have an ‘in’ when I showed up, but the website indicates that you need to be approved several weeks in advance as, basically, it’s part of an active military facility. It should be noted that the website itself is run by the Russian Military History Society which is a ‘friend of the museum’, it’s not the museum’s itself. You’ll need a local guide to keep an eye on you and prevent you from stealing the State Secrets of the 60-year-old Object 120 or something.
Anyway, once you’re allowed onto the base (You enter at the North of the satellite view), you are presented with a small courtyard. On your right will be a few tanks which have been relegated to the elements, including some lend-lease ones. This one should be familiar to you.
Also at the courtyard is a fountain and a memorial. But you probably don’t care about those. You want to go to the Pavilions, right?! There are seven of them open to the public. These are basically long warehouses, all of which hold two ranks of tanks, with some 15 tanks capable of fitting in per row. The warehouses are not in the best shape, but they do at least keep the worst of the snow off. Each pavilion has a theme, identifiable by a poster on the outside. This one, for example, is the Russian Medium Tank pavilion.
P1 is one of the more interesting ones. Marked with an IS-3M out front, it focuses on the Soviet heavy tank designs, to include assault guns. It is an extremely well-educated person who is able to go through this building and not have to refer to the signs in front of the vehicles in order to know the names of them. Sadly, as ever, the signs are in Russian only, so even though you are able to read the fact that this is an Object 770, you’re kindof on your own as to the vehicle’s history.
Of course, a WoT player is probably going to start immediately thinking “High Tier in-Game tanks” and wandering around thinking “Look at all the options that they could implement!” It is to be said, the Soviets were not afraid to experiment. This pavilion holds a number of unique vehicles, including in-game vehicles. The first vehicle you notice when you walk in the door is the T-35 and the first thing you think is “Whoa, that’s big”. Now, SU-14 is by no means a small vehicle, but I get the distinct impression that the T-35 behind it is even bigger. It certainly seems to dwarf the T-28 I saw at the Central Armed Forces Museum.
Speaking of the CAFM, there is a gap in the pavilion where the KV-2 used to sit. Obviously they are in no hurry to fill it with something else. I have a feeling that they could easily if they wanted to. OK, you Russophile WoT players will probably get mad if I don’t put these two up.
I cannot stress enough, however, that for someone who’s interested in more than just what’s in WoT, the vehicles are an amazing collection. Just one down side. You can’t really explore them to get a true appreciation. As you can see, you are limited to just walking down the aisle between the vehicles. (They all face inwards). I’d love to be able to see the rear of the superstructure of this SU-100U…
…or get a close-up inspection of the suspension systems of some of the vehicles, but no, remember about the whole State Secret business! (Actually, I’m told it’s also because the local visitors tend not to be particularly considerate to the vehicles and vanadlise them: By confining you to the central aisle, the old woman everpresent at every single museum or other point of interest in Russia is able to keep an eye on you. Plus, some of them are so close together that you just can’t even get an appreciation for the overall design, let alone the finer details.
Perhaps it’s just as well that you can’t look at the vehicles from any direction other than the front. If you could walk around them, you’d be running out of daylight and battery power before finishing the second building. Speaking of, P2 brings us to the medium tanks and assault guns.
This is another fascinating building for post-WW2 enthusiasts like myself. In addition to the ‘normal’ stuff like T-55 and T-80 are a series of other vehicles that they went through on the way to building the iconic vehicles we all study in AFVID classes today. Believe it or not, this is a T-64.
Apart from (somewhat) the roadwheels, it looks little like the T-64A and B we all tend to associate as being the T-64 family. Again, they were more than willing to experiment. These two T-64 variants certainly meet the definition of ‘low profile.’ See how long it takes you to figure out what’s ‘missing’ on this chap…
On Obj 287, we have an attempt to fit three autoloaders into a turret about six inches high. (One for the missile, one for each 73mm gun).
Suffice to say it wasn’t very successful.
So if P1 was Soviet Heavies, and P2 Soviet Mediums, no prizes for guessing what awaits in P3, guarded by this “BT-2”
Sadly, no BT-2s appear to exist any more, so this is the closest you’ll get to seeing one. Inside, yep, light armor, including tracked APCs and IFVs. The Soviets were big believers in the light tank, and looking at them all, you can imagine an entirely new Light branch might be possible in the game.
As a sidenote, as you wander around you will see a few MS-1s. Take note of them and compare with any other MS-1s you may see on your travels. There seems to be great disagreement as to just how they were built, given that the suspensions on the survivors were discarded when they were turned into pillboxes, and when they were ‘rebuilding’ them, no two suspension systems seem to be the same.
It’s hard enough finding two that have turrets the same. I’ll leave the light pavilion with this interesting little Tier III wannabe. Gotta love a gun which has a muzzle brake longer than the barrel.
So we move to Pavilion 4, wheeled vehicles and more IFVs. Again, the Soviets had an interesting collection of these things in WWII and prior, if you’re into that sort of thing.
And a few less traditional. The GAZ chassis on this KSP-76 couldn’t take the recoil.
Even if it could, I’m not convinced of the tactical utility of the thing. The building also contains examples of the various BTRs (BTR-90 is substantially larger than you might think, if you had only previously seen the earlier BTRs) and of particular interest a number of IFV prototypes of the BMP line.
So, to P5. Kubinka has entire buildings dedicated to foreign equipment, which is a definite plus. (American musea, take note) P5 is the US/UK building. You are met by this very green MkV. Which, now I have the time to take a look at it, seems to be in need of a track link removal.
This building actually doesn’t warrant the expenditure of much time as a foreign tourist, as pretty much everything in there is easily found elsewhere. Still the occasional rarity such as this Valentine AVLB is worth a photo, and there aren’t too many Tetrarchs left.
Can’t help but wonder if the M60 with ERA came via Syria. The Sherman M51 probably came through more peaceful channels. One item of note easily overlooked is the T48 halftrack, which I don’t recall seeing anywhere else. Poland has two, I believe. This is the only building where you can see both the backs and the fronts of some of the vehicles. Unfortunately, these are all American, and you’ve probably seen them all before.
Pavillion 6: Germany. Probably the most popular pavilion for some reason. Problem is that there are so many photographs on the web of the contents of this building that you don’t have the same satisfaction of the feeling of ‘discovery’ when you see something: You know what’s in it before you go! The VsKfz617 is the first thing you see, before you turn to the right. It really isn’t as big as you might think. However, even knowing what’s in there doesn’t remove the satisfaction of actually seeing these rare beasties, and to compound it they placed the Waffentraeger 8.8cm PaK43 (Ardelt) next to the Pz.Sfl. fuer 12.8cm K.40
Now, you know there’s a Maus around here somewhere… But they’ve somehow managed to hide it. Yes, I know, they're trying to hide a tank which weighs 200 ton and is the size of a small house, but they’ve done it.
You have to go around the Karl-Gerät in order to see it. The staff have a sense of humour, the display next to Maus is Goliath.
Then look over…
What? Everyone photographs the front of the thing… Nobody ever photographs the back
Somehow… I was expecting something bigger. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a small vehicle and is (after checking) the biggest tank I’ve seen. But dimensionally, it doesn’t exactly dwarf the King Tiger or Conqueror. The 200 tons is in bulk, not size.
I’m one of those odd people who will look at something and immediately think something a little out of left field. In this case, the thought was “how did they get it into the building?” The SP Mortar next to it poses the same question. The vehicles are higher than the walls. The only conclusion I can come up with is that they parked the two vehicles first, then built the building up around them. Most everything else could be dragged in through the doors in the sides.
Oh, to answer the question of “Is the Maus really as bad inside as they say?” the answer is… well…
Let us leave the German building and go to P7. This is the ‘everything else’ building, particularly France and Japan, but there are some other entrants, such as Hungary…
… or Italy.
Sweden gets double-billing, including a B-model S-Tank, wherever they found that.
The French series starts with FT-17 and tops out at the AMX-13 (sadly lacking a Char B or AMX-30), and the Japanese collection starts with a tankette and goes on to the Ke-Nu. Type-97 below is part-way down the line.
I think you’re about getting the idea.
We hopped outside, and feasted from the field kitchen serving… well… actually, I’ve no clue what the heck they were serving, though I’m told it was a popular local dish involving what if I recall correctly were lentils.
No obvious signs of restrooms or other sources of snacks. There are a couple of outdoor points of interest, to include an armoured (and quite well armed) railcar, but most everything was in the buildings. Exit out the gate you came in, get your souvenirs from the (rather pathetic, frankly) booths out front, and go home.
So, let’s review.
They have a heck of a lot of vehicles which you will never see anywhere else. Bring spare batteries, spare memory cards. Bring spares for the spares. It’s actually within a reasonable distance of somewhere you might happen to be at some point in your life. It is a definite ‘must visit’ on any tank enthusiast’s list.
So why am I still ambivalent about the place?
Mainly because one comes out feeling a little let down. The thing could have been so easily a better experience simply by nature of allowing you to look at the vehicles instead of just visit them and read a placard. What other musea confine you to the front of a vehicle so that you can’t see what’s around the side? The day I visited, one of the pavilions was actually closed off entirely, which would have been disappointing had we not gotten special permission to get in. Now, granted, the museum is really more of a collection of vehicles maintained by the Russian military than a museum in itself, but really, is it that hard?
And then you have the various restrictions placed upon you to access the place to begin with. You need to apply weeks in advance (I submitted my passport number), and be escorted around. Supposedly there are limitations as to the type of camera you’re allowed bring in. There are some special event days which are more of an ‘open access’, but you still don’t want to advertise that you’re a foreigner too much.
Don’t let this dissuade you, though. It’s still a heck of a place.