Tanks down the years

Rajendra Rajan visits the Cavalry Tank Museum in Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, the only museum of its kind in Asia

The museum houses about 50 exhibits of vintage armoured fighting vehicles, the oldest dating back to World War I

The museum is located adjacent to the 500-year-old Fariabagh Palace. — Photos by the writer

Museums enable people to explore various kinds of collections for inspiration, learning and enjoyment. There is no dearth of objects that museum buffs could conserve in these institutions.

The Cavalry Tank Museum of the Armoured Corps Centre and School, Ahmednagar, in Maharashtra is one such museum where historical and antique tanks, specialist vehicles, armoured cars and self-propelled guns have been exhibited.

The museum is located near the school campus amidst pristine surroundings. Conceived, planned and established in February 1993 by Maj-Gen I. N. Luthra, the then Commandant of the Armoured Corps Centre and School, the Cavalry Tank Museum boasts of being the only museum of its kind in Asia. It houses about 50 exhibits of vintage armoured fighting vehicles.

The idea to set up a tank museum was conceived in the late 1980s. But it took many years to identify an appropriate site. Meanwhile, some tanks were collected and kept in the tank garages of the nearby Automotive Regiment, a training regiment of the centre.

Finally, a site for the museum was chosen
adjacent to the 500-year-old Fariabagh Palace. The collected tanks then were shifted to this site and an outdoor museum was created there. Overhead structures were built for each exhibit and the entire area was tastefully landscaped and interspersed with lawns and gardens.

The older exhibits at the museum date back to the World War I and had seen action on the battlefields of Cambrai, Somme and Flanders. A large number of vehicles are from the World War II period. The newer exhibits were in active service during the 1965 and the 1971 Indo-Pak wars. The latest addition to the museum is Vijayanta, one of the old warhorses of the Indian Armoured Corps, which led the action in 1971.

One of the oldest exhibits is a Silver Ghost Rolls Royce Armoured Car, which entered service in 1914. The museum also includes a British Valentine Tank of World War II vintage. There is an interesting story behind this tank. It was so named because its design was approved by a British war officer on the Valentine’s Day.

Another exhibits include the Japanese Type –95 Ha-go light tank and the Ype-97 Chi-ha medium tank. The Japanese Army used these extensively during their successful march towards Imphal and Singapore. The exhibited tanks were captured by the resisting Allied forces.

There is also a range of specialist vehicles on display. One of these is the Floating Sherman (Sherman Duplex Drive) fitted with a flotation ‘skirt’ for wading across beaches. It was designed for the Allied landings at Normandy and other beach landings on various islands captured during the war. Also on display are a Sherman ‘Beach ARV’ (Armoured Recovery Vehicle, and a Churchill ‘Bridge Laying Tank’.

There is also a Grant CDL (Canal Defence Light, on exhibit, that has a unique double-turret design, which housed a powerful 13 million candlepower searchlight, to light up canal crossings on the Rhine and the Elbe during World War II. Most of the specialist vehicles were designed with specific operations in mind as is clearly evident from the nature of their design.

The museum also has a model belonging to the class of armoured cars that General Dwyer used to enter Amritsar’s Jallianwala Bagh.

In the centre of the exhibit area stands the pride of the 1971 war, the British-make Centurion Mark VII, MBT (Main Battle Tank), also called Pattonkiller and Bahadur. It had bested the more sophisticated Pakistani Patton in the Sialkot sector. This damaged M-47 Patton, with it’s hull armour gouged and the gun missing, is also on display close by. The other Pakistani displays include an M-48 and a Chafee, captured during the Battle of Asal Uttar where Pakistan’s elite 6 Armoured Division was burnt to the ground by the Patton Wreckers’ of the 3 Cavalry.

Another notable exhibit is the Stuart tank, which was taken to record heights of 12000 feet at Zojila Pass in 1948 by the Indian Army’s 7th Cavalry.

In another enclosure, stands the German Schwerer Panzer Spah Wagen Reconnaissance Vehicle, rubbing shoulders with the British Matilda. This 1934 German armoured car, donning a ‘swastik’, was a vital component of Adolf Hitler’s fleet. Once adversaries, both these vehicles saw extensive action during the North African campaign and during the armoured battles in Europe and Russia and during the Battle of EI-Alamein under the command of British Commander General Montgomery.

All exhibits still carry their distinguishing insignia, formation signs and names on the machines. These insignias speak of a special relationship that developed between man and machine while fighting together. Some of the exhibits are permanently battle scarred.

At the far end of the museum is a memory hall, which houses memorabilia of all regiments of the Armoured Corps. The oldest is from the 16th Light Cavalry, which was raised in 1776.

There is another hall, which has photographs and inscriptions of gallantry award winners, who distinguished themselves in battle and the descriptions of various battles by the formations and units of the Armoured Corps.

The exhibits at the Cavalry Tank Museum show how the evolution of the Armoured Fighting Vehicle occurred and how it has come a long way from the awkward, defect-prone, smoke-spitting behemoth and has evolved into a sophisticated computer-driven war machine, which finds no resemblance to the machines of the yesteryear.

The museum is also a testimony to the fighting spirit of tank men, bound together in a unique camaraderie with their machines. It also provides these machines a final resting place, where they stand as resplendent testimonials to the glorious legacy of the Indian Armoured Corps.