A lifelong enthusiast and collector, Kevin Wheatcroft tells Tank Historia how his obsession with World War II developed and where things stand with restoring some of the conflict’s most iconic hardware.
For those who don’t know me, my name is Kevin Wheatcroft and our collection is known as The Wheatcroft Collection or TWC. Born in to a family of collectors, I was the only one of seven children to inherit the bug to collect.
Having an interest from an early pre-school childhood of all things WWII, this I can only assume, came about as a product of my parents. My father went in to the army at the young age of eighteen and served throughout WWII as a private in the Royal Artillery, ending up as a tank driver in Shermans.
He fought in all the major conflicts; North Africa, Sicily, Salerno, Monte Cassino, Holland and Germany. He came through it all fairly unscathed with the same crew of lads.
On May 8th 1945, his twenty-third birthday, he met a young German girl on the day they received news the war had ended. He volunteered and stayed on for another twelve months, collecting and repairing damaged Axis armour. They were married in 1947 and had their first child, born in Germany.
My father then came back to England to start a new life along with wife and baby. Six more were to follow, I am sure all these war stories from both parents germinated a seed deep within me.
Every birthday and Christmas I requested a piece of militaria. I watched every film, documentary and scanned every magazine and comic hungry to learn all I could about the war to end all wars.
At the age of 14, my father’s mother, Grandma Mae, gave me £100, a huge sum of money at that time. With that I bought my first WWII military vehicle, a 1942 Willys Jeep. This, then, became the cornerstone for what is now TWC (The Wheatcroft Collection).
As I left school and earned money, more vehicles and motor cycles were to join the stable. My whole life to that point, I’d dreamt of owing a Tiger tank. By 1985, I bought my first piece of armour, an M4A1 Grizzly. Followed quickly by a Sexton SPG. By now, people were starting to take me seriously. I then decided to follow a piece of advise given to me by my late father, something I didn’t often do. That advice was ‘buy the rare things first as they’re only going to get rarer’.
Not something you hear everyday
At that point I started to search for German armour. In particular, a Tiger tank. At this point my father casually mentioned “I’ve got a King Tiger hidden in Germany.” To say that was a conversation stopper was an understatement!
Amongst the many things my father recovered, he kept several things; an R75 motorcycle which I still have the engine from and a 540K Mercedes (of which all that remains is the gearbox and radiator). Last but not least, the King Tiger, which he firmly believed the V12 Maybach would make an ideal engine for a racing car; which was his life long interest. Of course, he couldn’t have been more wrong as the engines are colossally heavy.
The Holy Grail
The King Tiger languished on a farm owned by my mother’s family. Because my mother and father did not return to Germany, the R75, 540K and King Tiger were slowly dismantled and the parts used for various civilian roles. I then negotiated over a number of years with my late mother’s family, and, bit by bit, the King Tiger was disassembled and brought to the UK.
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In my quest to find the King Tiger parts to complete this example, many finds were made and today we now have sufficient parts to rebuild two Tiger Is and two King Tigers. As you read this, the Tiger Is now sit proudly on their tracks whilst we concentrate on restoring the engines and gearboxes.
The King Tigers are gradually going back together. Restoring such a machine is not easy, but I have gained much support from overseas collectors and national museums. Whilst, to me, this is the Holy Grail to TWC, we have, in the meantime, pushed on with the restoration of many other worthwhile exhibits with over a hundred tanks, twenty-five half-tracks, a very comprehensive WWII VW collection, and over one hundred-and-thirty motorcycles.
Land, sea and air
We are now heavily involved in the re-engineering of parts in order to keep our own and many other vehicles operational. Like all collections we have strayed across the line several times and have acquired aircraft such as a Hurricane, Messerschmitt 109, Junkers JU87 Stuka, and, last but not least, the S-Boat 130; for which we are now restoring an historic dock in which to keep her.
With so many massive projects, we have had to be very selective in what we are restoring, as these projects can take years to complete.
Finally, the Collection has a dedicated home in Dorset, where very soon we will be able to welcome other collectors and enthusiasts to share and enjoy these reminders of a world changing conflict.
You can follow Kevin and his team via The Wheatcroft Collection Facebook page.