Tank Museum in £40,000 public appeal to save WWII Tiger Tank

By Culture24 Staff | 28 January 2010
A black and white photo of soldiers on a coast standing around a large tank

(Above) Tiger 131 is examined by troops hours after it was captured in Tunisia in 1943

The Tank Museum in Dorset has launched a £40,000 public appeal to keep a gun-toting 57-ton German tank which was considered one of the most formidable armoured vehicles in World War Two on the road.

The notorious Tiger Tank, 131, was captured by Allied troops in an explosive battle in Tunisia in 1943, having been struck by a six-pound shot after knocking out two British Churchill tanks.

Produced in 1942 to meet the German Wehrmacht's vision of a panzer towering enough to provide a psychological edge over Allied crews, the Tiger was one of only 1,354 units made, seeing action in Russia, Tunisia, Sicily and North-West Europe.

A photo of a tank parading around a stadium

The Tiger pulls the Crowds at Tankfest 2009

It boasted a lethal 88mm gun of deadly accuracy and sheet armour thick enough to deflect most Allied anti-tank weaponry at anything less than the closest range, but was hampered by its vast weight and girth during campaigns in bad conditions.

The engine had "a nasty habit of catching fire", according to its technical description, and the gearbox was liable to failure when subjected to stress.

The Museum's Tiger represented a major trophy for Western forces, who gained vital intelligence from inspecting the abandoned vehicle. King George VI and Winston Churchill both visited the tank in Tunis, and it was displayed on Horse Guards Parade in November 1944 before heading to its current Bovington home in a "somewhat sorry state".

A black and white photo of two soldiers standing in front of a tank

King George VI inspects the Tiger in Tunis shortly after it was captured in 1943

The juggernaut has travelled 77 miles in 11 hours of engine use since being restored at the Museum in 2004, but vital engineering work is needed for the popular icon to continue entertaining crowds without the risk of suffering permanent mechanical damage.

"The Tiger was never famed for its reliability, but it has been three years since it needed significant restoration," said Curator David Willey.

"Since then, the Tiger has been run at major Museum events and for standard maintenance – not bad for a 67-year-old pensioner.

A photo of the Queen looking at an enormous tank inside a museum

The Queen inspected the Tiger on her visit to The Tank Museum in June 2009

"The display of the vehicle at the Tank Museum for the last 60 years and the decision to restore the vehicle to running order, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund in 1998, has made this tank arguably the most famous in the world.

"This bid is to continue this successful work and complete the restoration of the tank by the addition of the missing fan drives, and to investigate the wear and monitor the effect of the running programme.

"The project will not only make the vehicle more complete but also give the Museum evidence as to the real effects of running such an historic tank."

The Tiger 131 appeal is hoping to seize upon the fame of the Tiger, which has been watched in action by an estimated half a million viewers on YouTube.

An online page has been set up for UK and international pledges, and fans can also send donations directly to the museum.

Watch a Tiger tank in action:

Visit the donation page to donate.

Head to the appeal homepage for footage, videos and more information on the history of the Tiger tank.