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Rare Armour Steals Tankfest Spotlight

Photo: The Musée des Blindés Char B1 heavy tank. (Key Collection)


It was rare tanks galore at the The Tank Museum as a number of unique vehicles arrived at Bovington for late June.

Tankfest favourites were to be seen among the myriad tanks, including the Royal Netherlands Army Historic Collection Leopard 2A4 that was once again put through its paces, various wartime and Cold War icons such as the M103, and a selection of front line vehicles from British Army including; Jackal, Challenger II, and the massive Titan.

Jon Phillip’s painstakingly restored Stug III and Marder III were also on show and took starring roles in the event’s battle finales. Overlooking the arena were two Renault FT-17s from The Weald Foundation, including the extremely unusual command/wireless variant; the TSF. The Museum’s own Matilda II, recently restored, was also outside the Vehicle Conservation Centre in its new BEF-standard camouflage.

The Musée des Blindés Char B1 heavy tank. (Key Collection)

That spot was also occupied by another iconic vehicle – the Char B1. The French heavy tank was considered to be among the best when it rolled to the front lines during 1940 and provided another superb spectacle at Tankfest. The tank was exhibited as the result of a partnership between The Tank Museum, Musée des Blindés, and World of Tanks, the popular free-to-play video game developed by Wargaming. The distinctive B1 spit flame from its exhaust as it lumbered around the arena, accompanied by its commander sat atop in authentic French tank crew kit, including black leather jacket ­– a feat of endurance considering the summer heat. Excluding captured examples deployed to the Channel Islands in the Second World War, it was the first time the historic vehicle had been seen in Britain.

However, the show-stealer was the IS-3M. The Soviet heavy tank, lent by the Belgian Royal Military Museum, made its UK debut at Tankfest. The IS-3 was developed towards the end of the Second World War and featured improved armour layout compared to its predecessor, evidenced by its distinctive ‘pike’ nose and rounded turret. The type entered service just after the war and was later modernised into the IS-3M.

The Belgian Royal Military Museum’s IS-3M heavy tank. (Key Collection)

This particular tank arrived in Belgium, together with an ISU-152 assault gun, in 1989. Following a request from the Belgian Royal Military Museum regarding paint schemes, the Soviets decided to donate the two vehicles so long as they were received with full ceremony. In September of 1989 the Mekhanik Konovalov arrived in Antwerp with the pair on board. The tanks were received in full working order, complete with optics, machine guns, radios, and uniforms and the reception ceremony took place on 2 October. Just 38 days later, the Berlin Wall fell.

Highlights and livestreams from Tankfest 2018 can be found on the Facebook pages of Britain at War and our sister title Classic Military Vehicle, and also on The Tank Museum’s Facebook and YouTube channel.

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