The DAS Military Vehicle WingWords by Gary Beach photographs by Barry Smith, Howard Burton and Gary Beach
WHO ARE WE?
The Military Vehicle wing is a semi-autonomous group within DAS having its own constitution and annually electing its own committee. All members of the Military Vehicle Wing are also members of the Duxford Aviation Society. Based in the workshop area of the Land Warfare Hall with its associated running area the group has an expanding mix of members of both sexes and all ages from teenagers to those in their seventies. Our members also come to us with varied skills and abilities but all have a plentiful supply of enthusiasm which is put to good use.
The aims of the Wing as enshrined in our constitution is to support, through its volunteer workforce, the aims of the Imperial War Museum and the Duxford Aviation Society both on site and at other locations. To ensure a duty of care to our members and by training and encouragement advance their skills and aspirations; to offer all present and future members fair and equal opportunities.
In a nutshell the group aims to allow, with training, all members to take an active part in the activities of the wing. This includes the use of workshop machinery and (providing the member holds a full current UK driving licence) eventually the driving of the vehicles owned or managed by the wing including, if suitable, tracked vehicles. A high number of current members have passed their H license which allows for the driving of tracked vehicles on a public road. Only H licensed drivers are allowed to drive when members of the public are in the vehicles.
The group has its own bi-monthly newsletter, ‘The Mucky Overall’ which aims to keep members informed and amused.
Health and Safety is paramount and rules are strictly enforced. As well as a committee member responsible for training we also have a Health and Safety advisor who works closely with their DAS and museum counterparts. Two days each spring are set aside for site license training which all members must undergo in order to renew or earn a site license. The training is a mix of classroom and practical and includes ground handling (the external control of a moving vehicle), site driving and interfacing with the public. The site license issued has a validity of one year and will, where appropriate specify the class of vehicle the holder can drive. Training is also given on the various workshop machines throughout the year. We also have welding kit and two fork lift trucks and these require externally recognised qualifications which members must hold before they can use the equipment. The Duxford Fire Service also provide us, periodically, with fire prevention and fire fighting training which is always well attended.
WHAT WE DO
Obviously our primary role is the restoration and maintenance of the vehicles in our and the museum’s care. Many of the vehicles in the Land Warfare Hall and the gate guards are MV wing restorations. Major projects such as the current restoration of the Centurion Mark III (as featured in the 2008 Tank Overhaul series on TV) can take years and thousands of man-hours. Other projects such as a repaint can be shorter in duration but the same level of care is taken. Then of course there is the day to day maintenance that all running vehicles require; not as easy as it seems when spare parts are all but nonexistent and the manuals few and far between or in many cases would be in Russian even if we had them! Most volunteers work on Sundays but for some this isn’t possible and we also have teams that work on Saturdays and Tuesdays.
However this isn’t all we do. Several times a year, in the warmer months we have run days where we display wheeled and tracked vehicles in the running area with an accompanying commentary by one of our members. At these events and on other occasions we give tank rides to the public in our fleet of 432 Armoured Personnel Carriers. As well as being very popular with the public this collects much needed funds for DAS coffers as does the “Tanks and Tigers” days run in conjunction with Classic Wings plus other corporate events. We also provide tank rides for serving members, veterans and their families during the Royal Anglian Regiment’s annual event at Duxford.
Vehicles are often taken off site to represent The IWM Duxford and DAS at local (and not so local) events such as the Essex Show, War and Peace etc. We man vehicles during the Friends of Duxford Open Turret evenings and during the annual schools event that the museum runs. Given the nature of the vehicles and facilities we have we are able to provide assistance to other DAS groups in areas such as heavy lifting using the AEC Militant as well as trucks and vehicles for recruiting events. On the more glamorous (?) side our vehicles, members and running area have been used in television programs such as Tank Overhaul and James May’s series on iconic machines of the 20th century as well as various commercials.
For us as a group the high point of the year is the Military Vehicle Show which the wing runs each summer in conjunction with the museum and other groups. Planning for next year starts not long after the event itself. Volunteers then work to get vehicles ready and in the final couple of weeks the pace becomes frenetic. Working areas are cleaned, signs prepared and areas roped off, traffic lanes coned, traders pitches marked, the workshop areas spruced up and vehicles tested. One of the last jobs is to extract those tanks the museum allows to be exhibited in the arena from the Land Warfare Hall and along with the vehicles already outside, moved into position.
For a MVW volunteer show day starts around 7.30am with a final briefing before everyone moves to their pre-assigned jobs. You may be a parking attendant, gate attendant or giving tanks rides in the morning and driving a truck or tank or marshalling in the arena in the afternoon. Everyone who has had the correct training gets something to do. We are mixed bunch of both sexes and all ages and still manage to raise a few eyebrows. It’s not many children who see grandma drive down the runway in a ten tonne truck, or mum putting a tank through its paces in a cloud of dust on the running area.
At 8 am we open the exhibitors’ gate and there is soon a steady stream of vehicles to be parked up. By early afternoon we have in excess of 200 military vehicles on site the majority of which take part in the annual cavalcade. For this the museum closes the airfield to air traffic for one hour and allows all the non-tracked vehicles air side where they run several circuits in front of the crowd passing up the taxiway and back down the runway. The day culminates in the vehicle display on the running area where the MVW demonstrate the agility and manoeuvrability (or lack of it!) of a collection of tanks and self propelled guns, as well as various military trucks and ancillary vehicles. With the end of the arena display the show draws to an end and exhibitors and public alike begin to stream home. For us it’s time to do the jobs we are all familiar with; washing down, sweeping up, clearing up and putting away – until next year.
With the end of the arena display the show draws to an end and exhibitors and public alike begin to stream home. For us it’s time to do the jobs we are all familiar with; washing down, sweeping up, clearing up and putting away – until next year.
The size of the fleet of vehicles we work with varies year on year but normally sits in the 35 – 50 vehicles range and these fall into four Main categories in terms of ownership :-
1. Those owned by the museum.
2. Those owned by outside organisations or individuals (and this can be anything from the Ministry of Defence to private collectors) but on loan to the museum.
3. Those owned by the members of the Military Vehicle Wing.
4. Those owned by the Military Vehicle Wing itself.
The fleet is a mix of tracked and wheeled vehicles and covers the period from the 1950’s to the late 1990’s (though some vehicles can still be seen in service around the world) and are, in the main British army and Warsaw Pact equipment. A not inconsiderable number of the latter came to the site from the Iraqi army courtesy of British Forces after the Iraq War. Vehicles that fall outside this classification are a French Army
Simca light truck, a Brazilian made Astros missile launcher and a WWII GMC truck of the type used by the US Air Force at Duxford during their occupation of the base.
One of the most remarkable looking vehicles owned by the wing is the Marksman an experimental vehicle that is the marriage of a radar controlled anti aircraft gun system with a Chieftain base.
The work horses of the group are on the tracked vehicle side are the fleet of 432 armoured personnel Carriers (two of which can be seen above) which are used to provide tank rides to the public, for driver training, as a mobile starter and for moving other vehicles of a similar or lighter weight.
On the wheeled side the work horses are the AEC Militant, used as a towing and lifting vehicle both for the wing and the wider airfield community and the Bedford MJ a truck used to fetch and carry around the airfield and on a Sunday as the all important lunch wagon taking our volunteers down to the canteen!