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The Chieftain's Hatch: Tankfest 2012

There are a number of “Meccas” in the tank world. The Tank Museum at Bovington is one of these. However, there are two facets to it: Visiting the museum, and Tankfest. I have been fortunate enough to have been to Bovington a number of times in the past, but only this year have I finally been able to attend during Tankfest. Granted, I was there on business, as it were…

but darned if I wasn’t going to see what was going on!

This isn’t a museum review, there will be another post for that. But it is worth pointing out that Bovington is nowhere near London. Supposedly it only takes two hours or so to get from the one to the other, but I am convinced that the Ministry of Transportation has a Chieftain team whose job it is to arrange for construction or other traffic delays on whatever motorway it is that I’m planning on being on on any particular day. I took the M3, it took over four hours to get to Bovington from Heathrow. Parking, happily, isn’t too much of an issue. There’s special disabled parking, but poorly signposted.

One thing about Tankfest, it really isn’t a good day to visit the museum. You have a choice of two places to be: Inside the museum, or outside at the arena. If you’re there for both days, it is possible to split the difference somewhat as the program of events out in the arena is generally identical for the two days. (The quality of the events, however, can vary)

However, even if you cunningly schedule yourself so that you are inside the museum when the majority of the crowds are outside in the arena, you still have the issue that there are a –lot- of other people with the same idea as you, getting in all your photographs, or that there are a lot of trade stands scattered around the place, again blocking your view of or access to the tanks. You certainly can’t expect to visit the museum –and- experience Tankfest in the same day: The displays in the arena kick off at 1030 and finish at 4pm, with only a lunch break in between.

The displays themselves are in ‘categories’, and example being the above "American vehicles". They had a 20 minute segment entitled “Salute to the Chieftain.” After being turned away at the entrance to the reviewing stand, however, it turned out that they weren’t referring to me, unfortunately. Instead, somewhere around a half dozen Chieftain variants were put on display.

Some were more successful than others. The FV432 ballet, for example, wasn’t quite what I was expecting. It is probable (according to the museum director) that it was inspired by the car waltzing scene in The Italian Job (Still the best ever car chase, I will brook no argument), but in actuality, it seemed to be just FV432s driving around in circles to music, instead of driving around in circles to commentary/description like all the other vehicles (David Fletcher has commented that it has proven very difficult to commentate upon the parade of elephants: They tend not to do much, so he has to keep it interesting by waffling on about the tanks). On the other hand, it was wonderful to see some of the older vehicles on the move.

Not only because I firmly believe that tanks should be run (See Built to Run), but also because you can only get a true appreciation for capabilities by seeing them. For example, I was expecting Matilda II to be slow, but I wasn’t expecting Matilda I to be as nippy as it was. On the downside again, though, was the atrocious British Army ‘example battle’

It starts out well enough, with two members of the Bovington Insurgent Militia driving around looking for a nice place to set up their roadside bomb. The pimped out car which looks set to be blown up/run over seems promising too. Hollering “allah akhbar” as they dug got a few laughs (though probably lowered the PC score a bit), but, oh no! As they dig, they are spotted by an self-propelled electric French fry cutter! 

The Scimitar retreats into cover in order to observe, but the Militia are not oblivious! They spot and engage the CVR(T) with their assault rifles!

Now, if I were the CVR(T) TC, I’d probably be taking a good, hard look at the coaxial machinegun right about now, but no. All those electronics cost money, and a bullet from a rifle might damage one. Call in a tank! Conveniently, one was staged nearby. It engages with the RWS, but when that apparently fails, the chaingun is called into action.

Note how the steel-disciplined loader is working on fixing the RWS fully exposed even whilst 5.56mm rounds are directed his way by the insurgents! DSC material if ever I saw it! After a full minute or so of insurgents and tank trading shots with no apparent effect, again were I the tank TC, I’d just put a HESH round into them and be done with it. Then again, I –am- US Army and thus am supposed to suffer the issue of overwillingness to blow things up. However, the tank pops smoke and withdraws. The insurgents then get into their car and drive off. Cue mass confusion in the audience, as the announcer informs us that he has just been informed that the insurgents were killed and the engagement was over. I’m sure it’s on Youtube somewhere.

Now the above photo demonstrates on of the serious WTFs of the arena. I’m nearly two meters tall, please recall, so some of the other people next to me got an even more blocked view than I did. Now granted, there were some areas where you could go further away from the tanks and stand on a bit of a rise, but there was only so much room there, and, of course, you’re further away from the tanks! Fortunately, I’m told that the long-term plan is to get rid of the barriers. Won’t be soon enough.

There are, of course, other things than just watching tanks drive around.  I saw laser tag, radio controlled tanks, re-enactment camps, and the kiddies can clamber on some stuff.

Now, I’m sure this demonstrates great faith in the self-discipline of the British child. Military equipment is made to be soldierproof and battle-proof, obviously, but even the best designers cannot make equipment proof against the 12-year-old male. The vehicles which are used in the display can be accessed at certain times in the ‘ready rows’, (so even if you wanted to just see them as a museum exhibit, you still could) but the crewmen are often hard to find. If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say the crews are shared between a bunch of vehicles.

The ‘headliner’ last year was A39 Tortoise. This time, A43 Black Prince. Sadly, the day before the event, the engine blew a head gasket as they were trying to get it going. The vehicle spent Saturday sitting in a shed, but they towed it out so at least people could see it on Sunday.

The Grand Finale, as it were, was a re-enactment of WWI. On a slightly smaller scale, granted. A half dozen Germans, and about 20 Brits. The British tried twice. The first time, they walked across open ground to the barbed wire in a perfect replica of Mission Gainsborough. After having died in a suitably valiant yet tragically fruitless and wasteful manner, they rejuvenated, walked off the field, and tried again about ten minutes later. With a secret weapon!

In fairness, they did put some effort into this. The explosions were suitably large charges, and on the Sunday they even brought in some air support in the form of four aircraft.

There are, of course, fringe benefits to working for Wargaming as a tank expert...

(Photocredit: vonBummel on the EU forum)

Again, this is the sort of event that I would consider as an 'in addition to' visiting the museum, as opposed to 'instead of' or 'in conjunction with'. There's just too much going on at once, and the crowds do kindof kill the 'academic' learning portion of things. Hopefully next time they'll have an M1 and I can finangle my way into the hatch for that one as a qualified crewman...

There are already plenty of videos up on Youtube of the tanks driving around, so you can see and hear some of the sights and sounds. I'll leave you with this one though, a Churchill reversing at top seed...

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