Germany, News, WWII

Tiger Day – Spring 2023 Review

When spring came around this year, us here at TankHistoria weren’t excited for Easter, chocolates or flowers blooming, no, spring means one thing for us: Tiger Day – the day where you get to watch the only running Tiger I tank on the planet fire up its V12 and start driving.

The TankHistoria team, along with a crowd of 4,500, descended onto Bovington last weekend to watch the famous Tiger 131 at the most recent iteration of this event.

As many will know, Tiger Day takes place at The Tank Museum in Bovington, and comes twice a year; once in spring time and once in autumn. Tiger 131 used to be a regular at their bigger TANKFEST event, but in recent years it has received its own dedicated show – a testament to this tank’s incredible fame.

This year was an extra special one too, as it is the 80th anniversary of 131’s capture in Tunisia. We were particularly excited, as this year the museum were to bring a running Churchill III into the arena.

The Day

Like all of The Tank Museum’s events, there is lots to see and do throughout the entire day. The gates opened at 8:30, at which time the museum allowed the public hands on time with items from the collection and access to the amazing Vehicle Conservation Centre’s (tank heaven) balcony.

10 am brought a display of wheeled vehicles and motorbikes, including the much loved Kettenkrad.

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The main event, which would see a wide selection of Second World War vehicles tear up the arena, was scheduled for 1:30 pm. Despite this, we arrived shortly after the gates opened to ensure we were set up and ready so we wouldn’t miss any of the action.

Centurion Pz 57/60 at Tiger Day.
Rain nearly put a damper on the day, but luckily it was only a brief shower.

Of course, as so often happens with these events, the weather was a very real concern. Tanks are tough machines and don’t mind getting wet, us humans, on the other hand, tend to dislike it. But of course, like clockwork, when we arrived the rain began, instantly activating the “oh no, today isn’t going to as fun as it should be” feeling.

Fortunately though it stopped shortly after it began, and thankfully stayed away for the rest of the day! Phew.

As we made our way to the museum to check in, we walked past a queue around a quarter of a mile long. That is about 400 meters of people all here to see one thing: 131. An incredible display of how famous the Tiger is and how important it is to the museum.

Comet, Chaffee and M4A4 Sherman at Tiger Day.
Display vehicles parked beside the arena.

After checking in we had a quick wonder around the site in preparation for the day ahead, involving a quick walk-through of the museum and then a bite to eat at one of the many hot food vendors located in what is normally the museum’s carpark.

Outside the VCC, next to the arena, was a stunning line of tanks – all of which run – that would be involved in the displays throughout the day. These machines included a Centurion, Comet, Chaffee, M4A4 Sherman and Fury – arguably the second most anticipated tank of the day after 131.

Other major players in the arena displays, such as 131, the Churchill and Matilda II were kept out of sight until they were ready to make their entrance.

Main Event

Before we knew it 1 pm had rolled around, and it was time for us to assume our “positions” to capture the action as best as we could. One of us set up in the press area (thank you to The Tank Museum for that!), and one inside the museum to catch 131’s start up. Unfortunately for us, the celebrity which is 131 attracted such huge crowds for its start up sequence that we were unable to get close – instead, plan B came into play: find a position near the arena entrance.

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This is a good place to be if you want real up close shots of the vehicles as they drive along the side of the museum to enter the arena. From here, we just about found a space with a view and were lucky to catch the Matilda II and Churchill fire up their engines. The entirety of the grass around the arena was packed with thousands of spectators, all eager to see the Tiger roar through the mud.

Comet and 131.
The Comet passes behind Tiger 131, positioned up on the arena’s hill.

The action kicked off with a skirmish in the arena between British and German troops in a mock North Africa battle that re-enacted 131’s capture. The British were assisted by a Matilda II and an M3 Stuart, but the German forces were soon reinforced by a Panzer III, and then the mighty Tiger itself. It travelled the arena and then roared up onto the hill, a spectacular and rare sight even for regular Tiger Day attendees.

While up there 131 scanned the field, turning its turret as it did – reminding all that this is a fully functional Tiger, not an empty hull that only looks pretty from the outside. As always, this machine still oozes an intimidating aura, making you think, if even for a second, that it could still do some damage on a modern battlefield.

Of course, plenty of pyrotechnics sold the display, and at one point the Churchill “fired” at 131, which was still sat up on its hill.

Tiger 131 at Tiger Day 2023 from behind.
The back end of 131, showing some of its original battle damage on thinner parts.

After the battle, the arena was then graced with successive displays of the Chaffee, M4A4, Fury, Comet and Centurion. With its Meteor V12 and loud, popping exhausts, the Comet is a personal favourite. As we said last year, even if 131 wasn’t on show, this list of tanks could be an event of its own.

Once the tanks had done their bit, they all parked up near the museum-end of the arena, while Tiger 131 and the Panzer III rumbled back into the museum.

All engines were then switched off, and the arena was opened up for an awesome opportunity to get up close to the tanks and speak to their crews. We waited for the crowds to quiet down and went in to grab our photographs.

Tiger 131 at Tiger Day 2023.
What a stunning machine!

Tiger Day spring 2023 was yet another fantastic event hosted by The Tank Museum, and really is a must-do for anyone who wishes to see a running Tiger I – there quite literally isn’t any other place like it! And, as we mentioned, the accompanying selection of tanks alone are worth the trip!

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So with the spring 2023 Tiger Day behind us, we now have our sights set on TANKFEST, which will take place on the 23-25th of June 2023, and the autumn Tiger Day, which is set for the 16th of September 2023.