Border Regiment Museum, Carlisle

Well it has been a while since I have put anything on here due to a combination of a few things but mainly due to my blood thing which has been making me feel shite and not in the mood for posting anything. Sorry about that but there will be lots coming in the next few weeks as I’m feeling a tad better and there’s a few cool things to report on in the offing.

One reason for not posting was a trip up to Cumbria for a cousins wedding and whilst waiting in Carlisle for the train home I managed to convince the mem to schlepp round the castle which is also home to the Border Regiment museum. The castle itself is perhaps one of the most complete ones I’ve ever been to and is made of a nice local Sandstone so also has a different hue to most as well. Housed in one of the former barrack buildings is the museum and I must say I was pleasantly surprised by it, there were some nice exhibits and it was set out very well with a couple of interesting pieces on display – a young lad was particularly intrigued by the jeep being driven out the front of a glider – and I liked the 2pdr which I’ve never had the chance to see before. It was also good to see very well painted metal Napoleonics being used in a diorama instead of plastics, chapeaux raised to whoever was responsible. So well worth a visit if you are in that part of the country, it doesn’t take too long to have a good look around both castle and museum and the whole place smells lovely due to the proximity of the massive biscuit factory!

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Cracking Napoleonic diorama
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Love a Belgic, very smart
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Nice looking later shako
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Russian drums captured in the Crimea
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Boer War Yeomanry cavalry kit
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2pdr Anti-Tank Gun
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2pdr breech detail
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More modern AT kit, MILAN.
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6pdr awaiting renovation
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Sad looking Ferret

 

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Bovington Tankfest 2017

I was a very happy camper on Saturday as I joined 11 other members of the South London Warlords in a trip to Bovington for Tankfest 2017, which was Kindly organised by the club. Even a 7:30 start from Dulwich (meaning I had to getup at 5.30) wasn’t enough to spoil the start of the day. The 3 hour drive in the mini-coach passed smoothly enough helped immensely by watching A Bridge Too Far on the on board DVD player, an inspired idea by Dave there.

I had never been to Bovvy before and I was quite excited to tell the truth and couldn’t wait to get cracking. Of course though we had to be civilised as a brew and bacon bap was needed by Dan and Daren before we ventured into the museum – I breakfasted on Pork Pie and Coke, the choice of champions!  – but pretty soon we were in. The place was absolutely heaving with the event being sold out and so I didn’t take too many photo’s as there was usually someone in the way! We made our way round the museum and had an absolute blast, as if we weren’t going to enjoy ourselves really, it is a huge building full of tanks.

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Vickers 6-tonner – just loved this camo scheme
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Yes, the armour wasn’t great and the gun’s a bit pony but there’s just something about a Cromwell!
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Soviet T-26 captured and used by the Finns

So we spent the whole morning wandering round the exhibits getting our tank nerd well and truly on, with each of us coming out with little nuggets of information or being the first to recognise a certain mark. Then there was the shooting competition. I noticed a Bren Gun set up in front of a screen and a young lad ‘shooting’ at it, apparently a Skill At Arms Test Simulator thing. It was only a pound a go and hence too tempting to not to have a bash, so we all duly did. There were other weapons that you could go on too dotted about the exhibits so the Vickers and PIAT were tackled as well – indeed we kept coming back round to where the Vickers was as there was always a queue! It must have been the combination of the boyish joy of being around all those tanks and watching the film on the way down that caused it but it was bleeding good fun even though I was useless!

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Daren giving it some on the PIAT…
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.. and embracing his inner lad as a result!

The Tiger exhibit was well worth it and you can see why people were terrified of the buggers in WW2, they are truly impressive looking machines, the Tiger 2 being comparable in size to a modern MBT. I wasn’t too keen on seeing the ‘Fury’ bit though but as Dan said I suppose they have to take any sponsorship they can get. One thing that I particularly enjoyed was the many Centurions, hands down my favourite tank I reckon.  Just a great looking bit of kit and still has to be one of the most successful tanks that has ever been produced. Good to see the Panzer IV too, a much overlooked tank I reckon and one that we all agreed on is probably the image you get in your mind if you think of a ‘tank’. Some of the ‘odder’ vehicles and funnies were interesting too such as the Preying Mantis and Matilda Canal Defence Light.

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Pz IV, or a Tiger if you are reporting to HQ!
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Loved this Finnish StuG.

So with the museum done and the shooting comp finished it was outside for a couple of beers and to check out the show, where I bumped into ‘Lindybeige’ of YouTube fame which was nice as I like his stuff (fantastically eccentric, check it out). We had missed the morning’s event but got to see the WW2 and Cold War tanks doing the rounds of the arena which was, quite frankly, well cool! I loved seeing the Leopard 1’s (a German a3 and a Canadian C2) belting about and the incredibly squeaky Swiss Pz61 was a nice surprise. Hands down winner though was the Challenger, the speed of the turret traversing was quite frankly scary and it did look the business. We decided to skip the battle re-enactment to have a look around the conversation centre/shed which we all agreed we should have visited earlier as it had some great Cold War kit in – Marder, AMX-13 and AMX-VCI being favourites for me. I was quite surprised that just how big some of the vehicles were, the EBR-75 and 90’s are absolutely massive, as is the Luchs which made the Ferret seem even more ridiculously small!

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What’s better than a Centurion?
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One painted like this!
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Swedish upgraded model in their tricky camo scheme.
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Although a Chieftain in Berlin Brigade camo comes a close second.

As much as I really enjoyed the day out I could have done without the re-enacting. There was just something  a bit off about people pretending to fight battles when there are guys walking about the same venue that have been doing it for real quite recently, I did see one squaddie looking quite despairingly at a couple of geriatric looking Fallschimjager as they walked past him. Having said that though the place was absolutely rammed with people from all across Europe and beyond so they must be doing something right, and the World of Tanks sponsorship seems to have been a success with a long queue at their stand all day.

It was soon time to head back to the coach though and after a sleepier journey home – with the fantastically bonkers ‘Excalibur’ to watch this time as ‘Zulu’ wasn’t working – we got back to London about 8 o’clock, knackered but thoroughly happy chaps. Many thanks to the club for arranging the trip, an absolutely cracking day out. Daren, Dan and I have discussed maybe putting a game on at next years Wargame show so hopefully we can get back down there again.

 

 

Trip to Aspern and Essling

On Sunday whilst in Vienna I had arranged with the Mem that I could nip out in the morning to either visit the museums in Aspern and Essling OR the one in Deutsch Wagram. I went for the shorter journey just across the Danube from where we were staying and decided Aspern and Essling it was. These museums are only open on Sunday’s from 10-12 and from April-October, so as I would be there on the first day of the season I’d pop over the Danube on the U-bahn and have a look.

Sunday morning saw me up early and out at 8 as I wasn’t sure how long it would take for me to get there as I had to take a bus at the end of the tube journey. My plan was to go to Essling first, check out the museum which is in the Granary and then bus it back to Aspern next – I was also thinking that I might be able to squeeze Wagram in too if I had enough time or if the missus wanted to get out of the city for the afternoon (it was a glorious day and I thought this might be on the cards). The journey on the U1 line was nice and quick and upon leaving the station at Kagran jumped on the 26A Bus to Bad-Enzerdorf for Essling. Aspern and Essling are both now suburbs of Vienna so one had to try and imagine the terrain without the buildings but one thing that is noticeable is how flat it is – really, really flat. This explains the ferocity of the Artillery fire mentioned in accounts of the battle, there’s no elevations to shelter behind if you are in the open, it must have been brutal.

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Near the Granary, the whole area is like this…
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… it goes on for miles.

I arrived in Essling early and, thankfully, finding an open café plotted up until opening time at the museum. I have to admit I was quite excited heading round the corner towards the Granary as I have been reading ‘Thunder on the Danube’ again before I left so was eager to see this famous building ‘in the flesh’. I arrived about 9:55 and started taking some snaps of the truly impressive building, it is massive and you can completely see why it was so important to the battle it would have dominated the area at the time. I finished taking the photos and began to get an uneasy feeling as I noticed that the door to the building was still padlocked and it was now about 10 o’clock. By 20 past I had decided that whoever was supposed to be opening up wasn’t and so I headed off to Aspern in the hope that that was open and to ask why the Granary wasn’t!

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The short trip to Aspern on the (thankfully) very regular 26A over I was relieved to see a sign outside the museum stating that it was open. However, the much vaunted ‘Lion of Aspern’ statue was encased in a large wooden shed, so again disappointment. The 3 volunteers at the entrance to the large shed/outhouse type building that was the museum assured me that Essling was open and called the guy there who apparently had been there since 10, I was feeling quite miffed by this time as you can imagine!

It took me about 10 minutes to check out the displays in the museum which contained a large collection of musketballs, shrapnel from shell casings, canister, roundshot, assorted swords and hangers and the odd rusty musket barrel. There were a few articles of clothing and the walls were covered in prints of the battle and uniform plates but all in all it left me cold. There was no description of the battle that I could see, no maps and if you didn’t speak German no information from the volunteers. I realise that it is entirely volunteer run and so probably badly underfunded but you would expect that one of the most important battles of Austrian history that actually ended in a victory and is on the doorstep of the capital would warrant some sort of government assistance.

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Assured that Essling was indeed open and disappointed in what I had just seen I, yet again, jumped on the trusty 26A and headed back. The granary is huge once you get up close to it and the walls are bloody thick but, again, disappointment is the first thing that hits you upon entering. I was expecting the museum to take up at least half of the bottom floor but it was sadly not the case, probably about a third if that. The room is nearly filled by the diorama of the battle which is actually very impressive with tons of figures – 8,000 plus apparently – and some nicely modelled terrain. The tardy volunteer chap did explain some salient points of the battlefield but as the language barrier was up he didn’t attempt any more than that, which was understandable but I appreciated the effort. There were a couple of display cases and a map of the battle in the entrance part of the space but again, it was all slightly disappointing probably not helped by me having to stand around like a lemon outside earlier.

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I headed back to Vienna to meet the missus as she wanted to go to Schonbrunn and felt quite disappointed. I think I spent more time on the 26A than I did in the Museums and think it is a shame that they aren’t funded so that they can be improved, I can see why they don’t charge for entry due to their size which must affect what they can do and I appreciate the effort of the volunteers who run them. Oh well, next time we visit, Sunday will definitely be spent in Wagram, at least you can get an idea of the terrain more there.

 

 

 

Museum of Military History, Vienna

I’ve just spent the past 5 days in Vienna with the Mem and a fantastic time was had by us both checking out the beautiful architecture and fantastic art on offer not to mention the wonderful cafes and lovely beer and wine. I had been once before but the missus hadn’t and as she is an artist checking out the galleries was a priority mission of the trip (and one appreciated by myself too), but as she is also a decent human being I was allowed to check out the fantastic Army Museum. I was extremely happy about this as when I visited last time the halls containing the Napoleonic kit was closed for renovation which was a complete bunch of arse!

One of the great things about this museum is that it was purpose built within the Arsenal complex and the buildings are truly magnificent, as befitting something erected by the Habsburgs I suppose. After proceeding through the gate like entrance to the Arsenal you make your way through a courtyard and back out into the open to be confronted by the Museum itself. There are a great number of cannon displayed outside and there are a Saab Drakken and Tunnan posted at each end of the building too. I was eager to get a closer look at the Drakken as I have one for my Cold War Austrian force and was taken by the small size of the plane, it has always been a bit of a favourite of mine and looked better in the flesh very sleek and ‘sports car’ looking if you get my drift (I was also happy that my paint job was pretty close too!).

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Entry into the museum is a quite reasonable E6 and another E2 buys you a sticker which allows you to take photos, genius idea this as they know us geeks just have to take pictures so generates a nice extra bit of cash for the museum. Unfortunately for me my phone had not charged up fully so I had to limit the number of pics I could take and some of the ones I did take weren’t of the best quality but there are still quite a few. So with entry sorted we made our way upstairs and into the grand entrance hall to the exhibition halls. Unfortunately my phone’s camera was unable to capture the magnificent friezes painted on the ceilings and over the doors well enough but they are nearly worth the visit in themselves. First stop was the 30 Years War period hall which had lots of stabby weapons and early firelocks on display, in particular a beautiful pair of Wheelock pistols, and some great information about smiting the Turks and the siege of Vienna (naturally) but I didn’t take any snaps here I’m afraid as I was saving battery for later on.

Through this hall to the end of the wing was the hall displaying the period of the great ‘Succession’ wars through to the Seven Years War. There were some great trophies on display as well as uniforms and drill manuals – my missus was particularly taken with the illustrations in these books and the flags. Again lots of arms on display too but it was here that I did start to get slightly annoyed that there wasn’t any information in English, a few lines might have been useful for those who choose not to use the audio guides.

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After this it was back across the entrance hall into the ‘Hall of Revolutions’ which covered the period between the French Revolutionary Wars and the Seven Weeks War of 1866. I was like a kid in a sweet shop now as there were cabinets of Napoleonic goodness all around and, rather impressively, a captured French Observation balloon! I geeked out completely for the next half hour or so and seem to have some sort of obsession with hats going by the photo’s I took! Again everything was displayed very well with uniforms, arms and accoutrements in abundance along with captured standards (that ran the decreasing scale from French Imperial Eagles to 1864 Danish company fannions the further you went through the hall!) but information about the wars and political situations seemed to be lacking but that might be due to my lack of German. Anyway it was worth the 13 year wait to see this part of the collection as the plusses outweighed the slight minuses, I only wish I had taken some more pics of the later uniforms.

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One thing these uniforms showed is that if I do any Austrians or Saxons in the future, definitely don’t do the tunics and trousers white as they are distinctly a more creamy colour as opposed to the whiteness of the belts and straps although the better quality officers ones are whiter. Now some more pics from that hall of flags and other bits and pieces.

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After the more colourful and splendid exhibits of this hall it was time to return to the first floor and look through the 20th Century halls, the first part of which is some uniforms from the early part of the century then down a slope to be confronted with this…

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This innocuous looking car is the very vehicle that Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in and so the whole sorry chain of events that subsequently turned into one of the greatest calamities that mankind has ever unleashed started on that green leather seat in the back. Made you think.

In a cabinet just behind where I was standing to take this photo was the bloodstained uniform of FF, which seemed a touch macabre. The First World War exhibits are quite extensive with some large pieces of ordnance in but I didn’t spend much time in here, the car did it for me to be honest.

Across into the next hall was the period of the Inter war years with a nice display about the very brief civil war in Austria in the 20’s, again sadly no info in English, and then the Second World War is covered before the final hall that is given over to the Austrian Navy.  I skipped most of this as I had seen it before and the lack of info was annoying me now and as my phone was about to run out of juice I was saving what was left to take some snaps in the tank park at the back of the museum.

This very nearly didn’t happen as for some reason the small space where the roughly dozen post war vehicles are parked was closed until the 1st of April, the next day! I managed to spot a couple of gents strolling around amongst the vehicles though and I tried to get them to allow me in for a few quick snaps but I wasn’t allowed but one kindly agreed to take some for me. He asked if there was anything in particular I’d like photos of and I said the SK105 and the Saurer APC please – I had already noticed that I’d have to paint all my Austrian kit a lighter shade but some close up pics would be nice so here they are. Unfortunately no pics of the APC but that SK105 was the only Austrian AFV to have fired a shot in anger whilst on UN duty in Bosnia.

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So that’s that, a great way to spend the morning whenever you are in Vienna and all for about a fiver. I’ve got a smaller post about my quick trip out to Aspern and Essling to do next but need a bit of a rest!