In the corner of our carpark sits a row of rusting hulks recovered from military ranges.
It’s not the prettiest sight at The Tank Museum, but ironically it illustrates how far we have come. Ten years ago, this entire area was filled with vehicles which are now stored inside the Vehicle Conservation Centre.
These hulks are all that remain. The fact they are still outside will make little difference to their overall condition in the medium term. Afterall, for the best part of six decades they were abandoned on exposed grassland and shot at. They are in poor condition. Some are missing chunks from their hulls. Others lack turrets, track, hatches and roadwheel assemblies.
So, what is the plan for these and how do we decide what to do with them?
Oversight of our collections management is provided by the Collection Committee. This is an advisory steering group composed of staff, heritage and military vehicle experts who report to the Museum’s Board of Trustees. Ultimately, it’s their call.
Among the hulks, we have a pair of Sherman hulls. These could form the basis of a rebuild project but as we already have a number of complete Sherman tanks, the Collection Committee may decide to use them as collateral in exchange agreements.
It’s common for museums to exchange items in this way. Most recently we were able to swap a Chieftain for a running T-72 with a museum in Poland.
Two of the hulks were once A27L Centaurs. As the Museum doesn’t have a complete Centaur gun tank, the intention is to use parts from both to create a single exhibit. We have a similar vision for the two Cavalier tank hulks nearby.
These projects would be a major challenge. Before they could be approved, the Collection Committee would need project plans and estimates of the time and resources required to undertake them. In the face of more pressing priorities these projects have yet to be considered. They remain some years off. Of all the hulks here, the one that receives the most interest is the Churchill Gun Carrier.
Churchill Gun Carrier
This rare experimental variant featured a casemate to house high velocity gun. Despite performing adequately in trials, the requirement was superseded by developments elsewhere and the project was abandoned. It never saw service, but it does appear in both World of Tanks and War Thunder. It is logical to assume that the enthusiasm we’ve seen for the vehicle to be restored stems from its digital cameo.
In deciding which vehicles to restore, the Collection Committee has to determine their significance to our objectives as a Museum. A vehicle that never made it into service with Royal Armoured Corps regiments, with their Allies or adversaries is less significant than one that did.
Therefore, a regular Churchill tank in running condition would add greater value to our collection (and be more achievable) than an expensive cosmetic restoration of the Gun Carrier. There are other factors in determining significance; scarcity being one and the “story” the vehicle can tell being another.
Like the Gun Carrier, Little Willie was an experimental vehicle that wasn’t adopted for service. But its importance to the overall story of the tank is clear. Sadly, the Churchill Gun Carrier is unlikely to get the attention its admirers hope for. But this doesn’t mean it isn’t valued.
The fact that it was dumped on a range and used for target practice is an integral part of its story as an artefact. Perversely, it’s also the reason why it has survived to be in a museum collection today.
Because the Gun Carrier spent many more years as a hard target than it did as a military vehicle, some might argue that displaying it in its current condition provides a much more genuine representation of its history.