To gush about Tankfest 2016 would be a woeful understatement. For this adventure, my two friends Neil Stokes and James Naveira flew over to England last June from the USA to spend the weekend. Despite some delays at the airport, the trip was a tank-geek's dream: LOTS and LOTS of tanks! The Tank Museum holds the event every year to coincide with British Armed Forces' Day, so is really geared toward the British Army, not that this is a bad thing by any account.
My story starts in September, 2015 when the Tank Museum announced ticket sales for 2016. I crunched my numbers and figured out a way to get there (I'm in the U.S.), stay indoors at night and not have to fight pigeons in the park for crusts of bread. I also would need event tickets. You can scrimp on all the other stuff, just not the event itself! I got the President's pass for Saturday and the VIP pass for Sunday (as did my two traveling companions). Being this is the south of England in late June, having a covered place to sit was probably a good idea. Also getting free lunch helped (I do not believe I could drink that much tea in a 48 hour period!), as well as parking close to the entrance. The most important thing was that we were in the back of the arena on Saturday and the vehicles passed right in front of us, allowing for some great video and still photography. With 20,000 people there, it meant you didn't have as many heads in the way! Unfortunately, it seems that the weekend package I got has been discontinued, but the tickets can be purchased separately.
Tankfest is a two day event (the live program is the same for both days), although if you have not been to the museum, I would highly recommend scheduling an extra day to actually spend looking at the static displays in the museum proper. There is so much else going on, you can miss things. First, are the real stars of the show: the tanks. But at Tankfest they are out and about running around the arena. This comprises everything from their running Matilda 1 to the latest and greatest Challenger II (aka Megatron) and lots in between. There is also a mock battle fought at the end with re-enactors and lots of blanks being fired. Second, the museum's preservation facility is open to the public and you can wind around the rows of AFV's parked nose-to-tail and fender-to-fender. The lighting isn't great (it is a warehouse, after all) and the vehicles are packed in like sardines, but in some cases these are the only example of a particular prototype, so it's definitely worth a look. Third are the re-enactors who have set up encampments for the weekend. There are British, German, Russian and American (both WW2 and Vietnam) groups there portraying how these soldiers were equipped and how they lived. As an aside, it was rather odd to hear guys dressed in American uniforms speaking with English accents! Finally, there were the vendors. They covered everything from models to militaria. I did not spend a lot of time there simply because I had just been to the AMPS International in April and also because of being conscious of the weight restrictions on my luggage.
The live program was incredible. Being 2016 was the 100th anniversary of the very first tank assault (September 15th), there was a short presentation by David Fletcher in the spirit of his "Tank Chats" on Youtube. This time, they parked Megatron nose-to-nose with their reproduction MK IV male (the vehicle was originally built for the movie "War Horse") while Mr. Fletcher rode out into the arena in a 1920-pattern Rolls Royce armored car! Also out and about were some of the museum's surviving German runners; the Panzer III ausf L and the Tiger I (the vehicle used in the movie "Fury"). There was a virtual parade of current British vehicles, as well as American ones (including the vehicle that portrayed "Fury" in the film). Just to add to the fun, there was plenty of post-war armor, too; in the form of an M60A1, T-72 and Type 59. Finally, there were two fly-overs by a Spitfire and P-40. But enough of my blather, here are the pictures!