The Bovington Tank Museum is the a collection of armoured vehicles in the United Kingdom. With almost 300 vehicles on exhibition from 26 countries it is the most wide-ranging collection of tanks and armoured vehicles in the world, and includes one of two working examples of a German Tiger I tank in the world and a British World War I Mark I — the world's oldest surviving combat tank.
The collection is held at the Bovington Army camp in the county of Dorset in South West England, about 1 mile (2 km) north of the town of Wool and 12 miles (20 km) west of the major port of Poole – . The camp trains all sections of the British Army in tracked vehicle driving as well as repairing and maintaining the vehicles in its workshops. The museum is situated within the camp.
In 1916 the British War Office established the Bovington camp as a tank crew training facility. At that time the Army was introducing tanks into the First World War in an attempt to break the stagnation of trench warfare. In 1919 the tanks returned to Bovington from France. Many of them were fit only for scrap. However, a small number of the least damaged vehicles were put to one side so tank crew and designers could have an idea of the tank's early heritage. In 1923, the writer Rudyard Kipling visited Bovington and recommended a suitable museum should be set up. The collection grew greatly after the Second World War, as many Allied and captured Axis tanks were added, and in 1947 it was opened to the general public. The Tank Museum has continued to expand and today it is seen primarily as a means of educating and entertaining the general public, with the exhibition being geared in this direction. Many of the tanks are in complete working order and can be seen in action throughout summer months in special displays.
The exhibition is split into five sections: the World War I Hall, the Inter War Hall, the World War II Hall, the Tamiya Hall and the British Steel Hall. The World War I Hall contains the whole British tank development from Little Willie to the Mark VIII "Liberty", and also an example of the British Mark V, one of the few World War I tanks still in working order. Incorporated into the World War I hall is an illustration of the life of the soldier and writer T. E. Lawrence, who lived at nearby Clouds Hill cottage and served in the Tanks Corp at Bovington for a short time. The Inter War hall highlights the rapid progress made in tank design during the period leading up to World War II.
The World War II hall is the biggest section, with tanks from most nations involved in the conflict. It includes the German Tiger I tank No 131 which was captured in Tunisia in April 1943, and which was fully restored to running condition by the workshops at Bovington. It is the only Tiger I left that is capable of running under its own power. It also has the last surviving DD Tank with its canvas screen, and the only one still in working order. The Tamiya hall, sponsored by the popular scale model manufacturer, features post war Main Battle Tanks (MBT) such as the British Centurion, the American M60 and the Russian T-72. The British Steel hall highlights the Chobham armour used in the Gulf War against Iraq and plays tribute to the Centurion tank which, during its 46 year career (1945 - 1991), proved to be one of the best British tanks ever produced.
The museum may be reached by bus from the Wool railway station in Dorset. In good weather and if one has good stamina, one can walk to the museum, which is about 1.5 miles from the train station.