Anonymous donor returns plaque 40 years after tank prank
An anonymous donor has reunited a West Country museum’s historic Tiger tank with an item which a young soldier stole from inside its turret 40 years ago.
An apologetic letter accompanied the mystery package when it arrived at Dorset’s Tank Museum this week.
Back in the 1960s the highly successful, but sadly now defunct, Junior Leaders Regiment was based across the road from the Tank Museum, recruiting and training school-leavers prior to their joining the regular army as non-commissioned officers.
After hours, the Tank Museum was too much of a temptation among the bored teenagers, some of whom would illicitly gain access to cause a little mischief and, if possible, acquire the odd souvenir.
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“A previous curator is said to have invented the story of ‘Herman the German‘ – a ghost who haunted the Tiger tank – in order to keep the boys away from the museum at night,” the museum’s education officer, Chris Copson said. “Herman the German has since become one of the most enduring myths associated with the Tank Museum but it evidently did not deter one young souvenir hunter, who according to the letter, ‘got into the tank as the top hatch grill had been left off’.”
The letter read: “In the late sixties I was a member of the Junior Leaders Regiment RAC and remembered obtaining an instruction plaque from inside Tiger 131. Recently whilst clearing my loft I found the plaque… I collected cap badges and memorabilia whilst I was at Bovington and I bought this off one of the lads.”
The plaque, 25cm x 20cm of embossed zinc alloy, is entitled “Bedienungsleiting fu¨r Turmabdichtung” and gives instructions for waterproofing the tank’s turret. The feared German tanks had been designed to cross water obstacles like rivers by literally driving through them, and they could be prepared in such a way as to be completely immersed in water with the addition of a long snorkel.
The letter concluded: “I hope you can reinstall this item from where it came, or at least use it to understand how the waterproofing was carried out.”
Mr Copson, who translated the plaque’s instructions, said: “The whole procedure was evidently quite long-winded and not the thing to be doing or un-doing under fire. Apparently in trials the system worked extremely well, although it is probably worth reflecting that getting it wrong once would probably be a terminal error. There is however no evidence that the deep wading system was ever used by crews in the field.”
He added: “Whoever this donor is we are extremely grateful for his thought and kindness in returning it to us and can assure him that the plaque will soon be back in its rightful place.”
The Tiger 131 tank will be back in action today, taking part in the museum’s inaugural Wartime Military Vehicle Show.