This past weekend TankHistoria attended The Tank Museum’s bi-annual event dedicated to its famous Tiger tank, 131. As it is currently the only running Tiger in the world, Tiger Day is a must-do for anyone wishing to see, hear and feel a moving Tiger tank.
The day includes drinks, food and, of course, tanks! It isn’t just 131 on display either, as a selection of relevant vehicles like Fury and a Comet were put through their paces too.
Tiger 131, the star of the show, used to be displayed at the museum’s TANKFEST, but in recent years the tank has become something of a celebrity and now has an event all for itself.
This gives fans an opportunity to see the tank up close and personal without the scale of TANKFEST. Plus, if you are unable to make it to Tiger Day, fear not as there are two per year – one in Spring and one in Autumn. As a result, you are never more than six months away from an opportunity to see 131!
Due to other commitments I have not attended a Tiger Day in five years, so I was eager to watch 131 rumble around the arena once again.
With camera in hand and a raincoat on my back, I was ready for a showdown with a Tiger!
The event started at 8:30 am, where visitors could handle and interact with objects related to 131 in the Tank Story Hall. The Vehicle Conservation Centre balcony was also opened at this time, providing views of the vast selection of tanks inside.
In the hours leading up to the main event there was a display focusing on Second World War-era German motorcycles and numerous opportunities to ride around the arena in an M548 tracked troop carrier.
Around noon crowds turned their attention to a Matilda II in the arena, which was the subject of an interesting lecture.
At 1 pm I rushed over to the Tank Story Hall to catch Tiger 131’s startup sequence. After two museum staff spun the inertia starter up to speed, the 23 litre Maybach HL 230 V12 engine roared to life. Not a cough or sputter was heard as the staff brought the delicate engine up to temperature.
After 131 was reversed out of its home in the museum, it was time for me to rush back to an advantageous viewpoint of the arena in time for the beast to begin its display.
Unfortunately this Tiger Day was significantly impacted by the passing of Elizabeth II. As the Museum of the Royal Armoured Corps and Royal Tank Regiment, of which Elizabeth II was Colonel in Chief, the entire event was postponed from the 17th of September to the first of October.
This change undoubtedly affected Tiger Day, as many visitors were unable to adapt to the changed plans. Even I nearly missed it! Despite this there were still enormous crowds that showed to up see 131, a testament to this tank’s fame.
The postponement also pushed the event from a sunny weekend in September to a potentially cold and wet one in October. The days leading up to Tiger Day saw heavy rain, but thankfully the weather held, as it did for TANKFEST this year.
At around 1:30 the mighty Tiger entered the arena, kicking off the day’s main event. Incidentally, 131 was the third Tiger I had seen that week after a trip to Saumur and Vimoutiers in France, but nothing can match the sensation of watching a Tiger in motion.
A modern sabot round could punch clean through this 80 year beast from front to back, but no tank holds the menacing presence of a Tiger. It simply commands respect and attention from the crowds as it slowly makes its way around the ring.
60 tons of steel quite literally shakes the ground as it goes past, all the while the Maybach engine is purring away. The crew treated this exceptionally valuable and rare piece of history gently, although they did give it some beans on one section of the arena, countering the idea that Tigers were slow.
After a few laps 131 pulled up on a slight mound and gave way to a number of contemporary vehicles. These included a Panzer III, Stuart, Matilda I, Fury, Comet, Centurion and a Chaffee.
This list alone would have been worth the day out!
Tiger 131 fired up one more time – rewarded with a loud applause from spectators – and made its way back to its den, where it will remain until the next Tiger Day in April.
At this time the floor of the Vehicle Conservation Center opened up which, as I have mentioned before, is one of my favourite parts of the museum. It is rammed full of the weird and wonderful vehicles that haven’t made the cut for the museum.
Usually you can walk among the vehicles in here during big events at The Tank Museum, but sadly on this particular day the vehicles were fenced off.
For the rest of the day I took the opportunity to peruse the museum and its exhibits (for the millionth time).
Tiger Day is the only event on the planet where you can watch a Tiger I drive. This fact alone makes the day an absolute must for Tiger fans, not to mention the many other significant tanks displayed.
The postponement was a shame, but we were all there to see 131, and see 131 we did!
Read More TANKFEST 2022
The next Tiger Day is planned for April 29th 2023. You can read more about it and purchase tickets here!