A few weeks on and we have finally worked our way through the gigabytes of photos and videos from the 2023 instalment of TANKFEST, the biggest and best display of moving armor in the world. With that done, we can now take a look back on this heavy-metal event.
TANKFEST is the hobby’s biggest day of the year hosted by The Tank Museum in Bovington, one where people can see a huge variety of armored vehicles running under their own power around an outdoor arena. It is noisey and it is dusty, perfect for tank nuts!
By this point it has essentially become a pilgrimage for any self-respecting tank enthusiast.
It began around two decades ago, and has since grown to world-wide fame, drawing in visitors from all corners of the globe. I am fortunate to live a stone’s throw from the museum, and have been lucky to attend since the beginning.
To say it is completely unrecognisable is an understatement! Back then the museum’s arena didn’t exist, and the event was simply a small gathering of vehicles in a field.
Today, TANKFEST hosts stages, rows of food vans, a huge vehicle roster, live talks, VIP areas, photography spots and more. In fact, this year was the biggest ever, with a staggering 26,000 visitors over the weekend.
Something that has never changed, however, is the weather. It is as unpredictable and inconvenient as ever! Recent events at The Tank Museum (TANKFEST 2022, Tiger Day Autumn, and Tiger Day Spring) have all cut it worryingly close with the weather, and ended up combining dark clouds with spots of bright blue skies.
TANKFEST 2023, however, wasn’t like that, it was hot. Very hot.
Now, while this tends to turn the crowd red and cause lots of dust to be thrown up from the dry arena, it is much, much better than standing out in the rain.
As we mentioned last year, TANKFEST has a much more “festival-y” vibe these days, which actually suits it very well and honors the “FEST” in TANKFEST. It also truly feels like the effects of the pandemic have been shaken off, and the event could really take shape.
Typically the event runs over three days, with only two of the days showing the full display. This year was different though, as the full display took place on all three days for the first time.
So with that in mind, and learning from previous iterations, TankHistoria brought another member of the team along to help capture everything in our high-quality fashion.
We arrived early Friday morning, kicking our day off by setting up our equipment as replica Mark V and A7V World War One tanks rumbled around inside the arena. It was around this point that we realised we had left our sun screen at home.
Following this was a few “warm up” displays, featuring small interwar tanks like a replica Panzer I, as well as the world’s only running Matilda I and Light Tank Mark IV.
Powered by an awesome-sounding Ford V8, and carrying a genuinely impressive array of armor, the Matilda I is quite an underappreciated little machine. The Panzer I, meanwhile, is a replica built by the Spanish Panzer I Project, which can be found here.
Crowds were then treated to some blank firing-action from 2, 6 and 17-pounder guns. Now, I am not usually too interested in blank firings and explosions as they are rarely done well, but these guys really put on a great show, with breech-loaded ammunition and phenomenally loud bangs that certainly woke up anyone who may have dozed off while catching some rays.
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We watched as the 17-pounder was set up opposite us, knowing we were directly inline with the muzzle brake and that sound was going to come straight at us. Spoiler: it did.
Another notable display was of a Sd.Kfz.7 half-track, which was towing an 8.8 cm Flak gun.
A Churchill III, a favourite of mine from the Spring Tiger Day, also graced the arena, as did a Matilda II and Panzer III. One of the most entertaining regulars at The Tank Museum’s events is an M3 Stuart; its speed and the sound of that radial engine is just a joy to witness.
Following this was a number of very nice German machines, including two Sd.Kfz.222 armored car replicas, an Sd.Kfz.251 half-track and a Jagdpanzer 38t “Hetzer”.
Usually, there are a few special guest vehicles that “headline” TANKFEST. Last year, for example, was M50 and M51 Shermans, while previous years have featured an IS-3, a Jagdpanther and a Gepard.
This year that was meant to be a Centaur III from the Bannister Collection and a Nashorn that was coming from the Netherlands. Sadly the Nashorn was stopped at Dunkirk due to incorrect paperwork, and was unable to attend the event.
Still, the Centaur showed up and sounded absolutely fantastic with its 400 hp Liberty V12.
However, while the tanks may no longer be at war, they were under attack from above – by the Sun! The constant heat took its toll on some of the vehicles, with the Chaffee backfiring away and having to take a minute, and the Centaur spitting flames and having to sit the final day out.
Fury made an appearance, as did an M18 Hellcat and, of course, “Spud” the Comet.
One of my personal highlights from the weekend was the T-34/85, which looked and sounded great.
Remember that “leaving the sunscreen at home” thing mentioned earlier? Well, that came back to bite us. By around 2:30 PM the Sun had certainly done a number on us, so knowing we had another two full days ahead of us, we thought we’d quit while we were ahead and called it day. We probably looked like a pair of coal miners as we made our way home – covered head to toe in dust, and stinking of diesel fumes!
The following day began similarly to the first; getting there early and setting up equipment for the day ahead. This time we came prepared with a bottle of sunscreen, too.
We did the full day, finally watching my personal favourite display: Cold War tanks.
It is hard to beat the overwhelming speed, weight and sound of a eight Cold War tanks tearing up the arena.
The British Chieftain, with its fearsome sounding engine, is always entertaining in my book. As is the Leopard 1 and Challenger 1.
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Another interesting guest vehicle was a Centurion Mark 3 from the Historic Collection of the Royal Netherlands Army. This was an unusual example as it still retains its 20-pounder gun.
The show was ended with a display and reenactment by the British Army, which included the famous “Megatron” Challenger 2, which is in the TES, or Theatre Entry Standard configuration.
A Trojan engineering vehicle showed off in front of the crowds by deploying and collecting a fascine under a smoke screen, while a CRARRV, Megatron and a Warrior flew round the arena at speeds that made even the Cold War tanks look slow.
That concludes this year’s TANKFEST.
As always, the event is a MUST do for any tank fan, as you are unlikely to see such a quantity and variety of moving tanks on display anywhere else in the world. In addition to this, you also get free access into the museum! Win-win!
The 2023 instalment reminds everyone why this is a world-renowned event, one that is a regular in most enthusiasts’ diaries. Tickets for TANKFEST 2024 are on sale now, and can be found here.
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So, what is next at The Tank Museum? Well, their next big event is of course the Autumn Tiger Day, Tiger 131’s second outing of this year. Following that is the Spring Tiger Day 2024, and then we’re back to TANKFEST.
We will see you there!