Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Tanking your boat

Boats at Bovington
10th May 2011

I asked Jeff if he fancied a trip to the Tank Museum and he paused, wondering what one could find interesting at a museum of water tanks.

Tank Corps statue - Bovington

Of course, I was thinking of the National Tank Museum at Bovington, near Dorchester which holds a display of over 200 tanks (the sort that go boom, boom) through the ages, from a mock up of a Leonardo da Vinci tank (he invented everything!) through to a modern Challenger.

Now tanks arn't everyone's cup of tea, and not everyone would think this a fun day out.

Tank Barrels - like a pipe organ

I am not sure I found it a barrel of laughs, but it was certainly interesting. These huge lumbering machines designed to carry an crew into harms way, disable an enemy and then escape are as impressive as they are sobering.

The first thing that strikes you is the sheer variety, big ones from the 1st world war with tracks which envelope them through light scouting trucks, dads army type lorries with concrete pill boxes on top, bridge laying tanks, flamethrowers and tracked sniper posts. It seems that here is a tank for every occasion.

Perhaps the pinnacle of the classic tank was the German Panzer, huge, heavy and loaded with a monstrous gun - Hitlers darling. In fact it was over engineered, over complicated, over costly and required 10 hours of maintenance for every hour spent operational. But when it worked it was unbeatable.

Sherman propeller propulsion

OK, that's enough about tanks (I am not inclined to make a return visit) what about boats? Well, even in this location a boating element caught my eye in the shape of a 35 ton Sherman tank. Did you know that they made a floating Sherman? It was real Heath Robinson stuff, but they figured that if you gave a tank enough buoyancy it could swim from the landing craft to the beach.

Sherman Tank with skirts up

The answer was to attach a high skirt to the tank, add propellers and then use the tank as 35 tons of ballast! The most amazing thing was that this idea worked and with the tank dangling beneath this flimsy canvas sack they were successfully (well, mostly successfully) deployed as part of the D Day landings. What did the crew do during the passage? Stand with their backs supporting the sides and making ready for an emergency exit if things went wrong!

A final thought about the tank museum. Its a bit of an eerie place, with all that ingenuity committed to building death traps which have the sole purpose of killing other people. Frankly, the idea of going onto battle in a tank scared the daylights out of me and I have to admire the men who did so on our behalf, especially those rickety old WW1versions where the engine fumes killed more crew than the enemy ever did!

It's well worth a look if you like machines and are in the Poole / Dorset area - Cost £12 per adult.

1 comment:

Joel said...

I remember watching some tv program about these things. They were a death trap. Quite a lot of them sank on the way to the beaches. They are still there, along the french coast, under metres of water. It must have been terrifying for the men in there. May they rest in peace.