Sunday, August 22, 2010

Product endorsement

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.


James said...

War monger! How do you sleep with your death fantasys rolling about in your sick right wing head etc etc....

No doubt you were imagining yourself rolling throght Gaza dealing out justice IDF style!


Anonymous said...

Tom Hunter said...

I took my 13 year old son to this back at Easter, as a slight detour from our drive South to the Warbirds of Wanaka event.

I also kept it a complete surprise so he was very impressed. We rode the Centurion. I would also have loved to have had a go at driving the thing but the guy escorting us could not do that with Tim also in the tank (love the way he just lies on the hull beside the customers as he tells them how to drive).

What struck me was that riding the tank was more like being in a small boat, pitching up and down, rather than the bone-shaking trip I had imagined. I was also amazed at how easily the turret swung around. But bloody cramped indeed.

New engine every 20-25,000 miles I think, and costing $50,000??? Tracks every 5000km and costing $15,000??? I think that's what he told me.

From memory the young English guy showing all this off has a Masters in Biology?? Definitely one of those "how did you end up here" questions.

Definitely recommend it to everyone.

Adolf Fiinkensein said...

Milt, just for a moment try and imagine what it must have been like at Kursk when some thousands of these things' recent predecessors were destroyed, along with the poor bastards who were inside them.

No thanks.

But hell yeah. I'd love to give one of them a run. Are you actually able to fire a blank round?

Psycho Milt said...

What struck me was that riding the tank was more like being in a small boat, pitching up and down, rather than the bone-shaking trip I had imagined.

Yes, it was actually a pretty comfortable ride - I guess having that many wheels in use irons out the bumps. Also, you're right about the maintenance costs - when you think about having dozens of armoured divisions in action it's mind-boggling.

Adolf: no firing, just driving (plus car-crushing if you want). I actually found the APCs worse than the tanks for thinking about actually being inside one in combat - it was claustrophobic enough in there with 8 of us just in street clothes and with the hatch open. The thought of 8 of you in there with all your kit and weaponry, closed up and having to sit there waiting while being showered with hot cartridge cases from the gun turret and knowing the armour's only good against small arms, it's not a pleasant thought really...

Murray said...

It aint that comfortable when your periscope suddenly goes dark from teh dirt raining down on it because you've managed to get into the artillery impact zone.

I recomend it as a cure for constipation though.

and EVERYTHING you see insidie those things has been scientifically placed to strike the human body at key points of their body.

Flashman said...

Centurion = amazing piece of kit - one of the best tanks ever produced. Yes - it's srange, cramped and slightly scary to be in a tank for the first time but you soon find it a homely and comfortable place. You know your job and trust your crewmates to do theirs and you all get on in a solid team. And the gun can post 'em into a letterbox a mile away!