les chars francais
I will admit I have a real fascination with French tanks, particularly those on the cusp of development before the Fall of France as well as those clandestinely developed during the war. The French had a massive tank force as the war began, a long lineage back to the very first tanks including probably the most influential tank of WW1, and a research line on a par with anything the Germans or US had in 1940. But they lost quickly and much of this has been forgotten. For those of us who are interested in les chars Francais, the Museum at Saumur is the ultimate destination.
The good news is that it is quite easy to get from Paris to Saumur. The bad news is that it isnít cheap, with the round trip ticket at $207 each for our Sunday 2 hour trip. In addition, this is a busy train and traveling first class with an assigned seat is a really, really good idea. My wife and I travelled down on first class as the upcharge was about $10 each. The train was spacious and comfortable and the view was beautiful. The trip back was in steerage, er, not first class. Half the trip we spent sitting on the stairs as we couldnít find any available seats and the constant parade of people trying to get to the bathroom by us on the 2 foot wide steps was a great deal of fun.
The town of Saumur itself is rather pretty in passing. Taxis are available at the train station and you can arrange with them to pick you up at the museum at a predetermined time which is what we did. After a 10 minute trip we arrived at the museum. There are several tanks on display outside, but as our time was limited and the drizzle starting we went inside.
Entering through the gift shop the young man at the desk was very nice and spoke decent English when my mediocre French failed me while trying to locate an ATM, which is an important point: they donít take American Express, a US debit card may or may not work, and the nearest ATM is about a five minute walk away, so bring cash Euros. Admission is cheap, 8 Euros for admission and a further 5 Euros for permission to take photos. The gift shop is nice but I didnít see much there that isnít easily available on the internet. That said, youíll save a lot on shipping if you replenish your Histoire et Collections bookshelf here. At any rate, walk from the gift shop and youíre in the WW1 section.
the French collection
Several cannon are displayed as well as a CA Schneider, early St Chamond, and Ft-17 tanks. The tanks are in immaculate condition and I greatly appreciated that the museum staff have kindly left an awful lot of open doors and hatches so the modeler can see inside. Keep walking and youíre in the interwar and 1940 section. Fifteen cannon, tanks, and armored cars await you. If it fought, itís probably here. Again, most have open hatches so you can see inside. Hang a right and youíre in the WW2 German section.
Rather perversely the biggest section of the museum is dedicated to the conquerors of France, the WW2 Germans. Of course, there was an awful lot of their hardware left behind as they retreated back to Germany in 1944-45. Converted French tanks, Panthers, Tigers, Luchs, etc. are in this large room and are, again, very well maintained and cared for. At this point you havenít even seen half of what the museum has to offer.
PT-76ís, Conquerors, AMX 50, T-72, T-62, AMX-30, LeClerc, Pz 61, Leopard 2, M4 Sherman, Churchill Mk.V, Jagdpanzer Kanone, and on and on and on. The collection is immense and even if you have no interest in the French tanks, there are a massive amount of vehicles to look at. Heck, the German vehicles included rival the collection at Bovington and Aberdeen, and not much short of the German tank museum at Muenster.
For 13 Euros this is an outstanding museum. The train may be expensive, but the collection and access was well worth it in my opinion.