Sunday, August 22, 2010
On a recent trip to Christchurch, I took the kids to visit an awesomely good tourist attraction called Tanks for Everything. These guys have a range of military vehicles including main battle tanks that you can either go for a ride in or drive yourself, depending on how much you're willing to shell out.
The people running it are safety-conscious, but only where it counts, not down to the "you can't touch anything because OSH wouldn't like it" level. The three of us were crawling about in the Centurion (ex-Australian, saw combat duty in Vietnam) when the owner calls out "I'm taking this guy for a ride in the T-55 (ex-Hungarian) - feel free to play around in here, just don't turn the turret so the gun's across my path."
I loved it as much as the kids did. Really, really wouldn't have wanted to be inside one in a combat situation though - I got into the loader's position in the Centurion, and not only was it claustrophobic, the path the breech of the gun follows when it recoils is a couple of inches from your shoulder. As well as that, the shells are stowed in every odd corner available, so you have to be trying to crouch down and pick up heavy objects while staying within the few inches clearance you've got from the gun breech. So, having found that pretty damn horrible I had a go in the T-55 - it made the Centurion seem spacious by comparison. I could just manage to get into the driver's position with the hatch open, but couldn't have closed it without removing my head - and I'm only about 5 foot 7. "Yep, Soviet tank crews were all little fellas," says the owner. "5 foot 3 was pretty typical. And their comfort wasn't a priority..."
Well worth a visit if you're in Christchurch. The staff are experienced and knowledgable about the vehicles, and much of the information you get about the difficulties of actually using them is hair-raising. It's expensive, but when you find out how much it costs to keep these things running, the price makes sense. It also explains why NZ isn't maintaining an armoured brigade.
Aboard the Centurion. Drivers seat is height-adjustable so you can drive with your head out of the hatch, for visibility. Apparently the periscopes on the hatches are so useless that drivers wouldn't close up unless absolutely forced to.
Inside the T-55's turret. F at the commander's periscope, gunner's eyepieces ahead of her, shot taken from loader's position across the gun breech.