AFF Tank Museum

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I’ve traveled past the billboards many times, but Danville, VA’s Tank Museum closes at 4:00 PM, and I just figured it would remain one of those things that I would never find to be a convenient stop.  However, the timing for this trip was modified slightly to accommodate the hours of Averett University’s library for genealogical research, which closed at 12:30 PM.  Having completely forgotten about the museum, I found myself driving right past it.  After a spirited conversation with myself regarding my arrival in Lynchburg, I turned the car around, and I’m glad I did. 

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The above photo was taken upon entering the lobby of the museum.  It was either “just” an idea to greet customers or a unique reminder that war, at least until then, was a people story at least as much as it was about technology.   Though flawed, “Tank,” starring Brad Pitt, gave some insight into what life might be like inside one of a tank.  No, thank you.  If you’re in a tank,  you’re as much a target as a weapon.

I’m not a tank geek, and I didn’t serve in the armed forces.  I’m just an adult who, as a kid, played “army” with plastic tanks and figures, watched tons of old war movies on TBS and otherwise read DC Comics’ GI Combat , a weird “comic” about an American tank “haunted” by Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart, an ancestor of tank Sgt. Jeb Stuart. When you’re a kid, you don’t think too hard about it – you just take it for what it is.

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In keeping with the Stuart name, the crew operated a series of Light M3 Stuart Tanks, before eventually gathering pieces from others to form a jigsaw tank.  I guess that’s what makes it a “new” haunted tank, as captioned above. 

So, immediately after the soldier with the wall cut-thru, adult kids find toys for sale.  It becomes obvious that a $12 admission isn’t keeping the lights on.

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We’re talking over 300,000 square feet of museum space, housing north of 120 tanks and artillery pieces.  Note:  If you’re traveling in the summer, one way of making this affordable is not to provide air-conditioning in much of the space.  There are pedestal fans, but, in any case, it’s worth the sweat if you’re even bothering reading my summary thus far.

Following are briefer thoughts and observations.  First off… Everyone should be humored by an opportunity to use a latrine.  It’s not like you can find a communal bathroom just anywhere.  Oh.  Well, never mind.

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The below is a German Panzer IV, somehow fitting a crew of five.  In some ways, the pedigree of the exhibits are as interesting as the tanks themselves.  Apparently badly damaged in WWII, rebuilt in Czechoslovakia in the late 1940’s, given to the Syrian Army, serving as a static bunker gun sniping at Israeli outposts, this and similar Panzers generally destroyed in the 1967 War, and eventually given to the museum as a gift from Israel.   At most exhibits, there is similar information posted, and for many, there is also an audio option playable from a smart-phone app lasting a couple minutes each.

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Below is a M60 Patton, powered by a Chrysler engine. It was made from 1959 into the 1980’s, and it outperforms Russian contemporaries.

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Speaking of which, below is a Russian T34, built in 1941 to 1950 and still found in active service in other countries, which, despite the claims of the Patton, may be one of the more universally accepted "best of” tanks.

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Below is a M103 A2 Heavy Tank, and it looks that way.  By the time it was perfected, the Army and Marines no longer had a need for it.  1952-1973.

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US M47 Patton.  8 gallons of gas per mile, weighing 50 tons, and can still do 30 mph.  It cost $208k to build in 1953.

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The below is a US M37 105mm Self-Propelled Howitzer.  It looks unsightly, required a crew of seven.  They cost $40k in 1945, and few were made or remain.  Many old tanks were later used as practice targets for training exercises, and a good number of the tanks on display were donated by the military, sparing their eventual destruction.

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A Soviet T54A Iraqi Tank is shown below, made from 1947-1960.   This particular tank is believed to have been in use b the Iraqi Army and captured by the U.S.

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The tank below, a M1917 “Six Ton Special” Light Tank, was considered top secret in 1918, and the term “tank” was even considered a secret. It required a crew of two, could muster 5.5 mph.  This was the first US tank manufactured but was not developed in time for WWI. It was in service until 1931, after which they were scrapped for metal.  Only about a dozen still exist, and this one may have been used in a Laurel and Hardy movie.

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Sadly, I didn’t see a M3 Stuart Light Tank, so this M5 has to do.  The difference was twin Cadillac engines in the upgraded version.  In fact, most of the US tanks shown here included either Cadillac or Chrysler engines.  Only about a dozen of these remain.

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For anyone who thinks the Swiss are and always have been neutral… we have the STRV 74 Medium Tank.  Reputed to be the best gun designers in the world, the Swiss generally made light tanks, but had to upgrade to medium when Germany developed heavy tanks such as the Tiger 1.  This one was poorly designed and “obsolete” even by 1942, though it remained in service until the 1980’s.

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Where “staging” is provided, the museum does it pretty well.  This is a US M18 Hellcat, a “tank destroyer.”  They cost (only) $57,500, and they sacrificed armor for speed (55 mph), but had an open top turret which was disliked.

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Not pictured are many other additional tanks, artillery guns, personnel carriers and similar.   I took photos, but… enough is enough?  There are a lot of great exhibits that deserve a visit.  That said, there are other types of exhibits about the place.

Through much of the display area, walls are covered with a variety of tank photographs (with and without crews), “art,” postcards, emblems and patches, posters, pop culture exhibits, etc.  I suspect that the grandchildren of many tankers have found the museum to be the ideal repository for the hand-me-down “war stuff.”  Good idea.

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Similarly, there is a Westworld military apparel exhibit.  It didn’t do much for me, but it’s there.

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Similarly, there are rooms of rifles and similar, but they’re viewable at such a distance that they lose interest.

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The below as not explained other than an accompanying movie poster.  Is it a model from the movie? I’d guess so.  But it was a strange insertion, though it’s appropriate that it found a home somewhere.

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That said, it’s far more understandable than this sad vehicle.  $500?  Really?

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Why spend that money when below is a more historical fixer upper?  And heavily discounted, too.  No mention if shipping and handling is included…

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Whether those proceeds benefit the museum is unknown, but it was apparent that there are other sources of income.  If you’ll remember the radio controlled tank at the entrance, you’ll note that they make events for such.

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Note:  The above had running water.  I’d be curious to watch one of these events. 

Another invitation for toys you don’t own would be to observe “Flamethrower Day!” (Sept. 1).  No, you don’t get to play with them, but a video was playing showing the death of Flammable Fred and other displays, not to mention an observable gap between participants and the audience.

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If you’re curious, THIS is an article about the museum and financial struggles.  That said, there were no issues that I could see – the museum was in good condition and numerous staff or volunteers were present, either working on “things” or available to answer questions.

Should you visit, plan on several hours if you have an interest in experiencing the place at a comfortable leisure.

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