By Jean Huon
In 1971, the French Ministry of Defense developed the Tank Information Center (Centre de Documentation des Engins Blindés or C.D.E.B.) as the idea of Major Aubry. A former resistance member, he was a volunteer in the famous 2nd Armoured Division of General LeClerc and later went to Indochina and Algeria. After a brilliant career, he was the public relations officer at the Cavalry and Armoured School in Saumur and also curator of the museum of this Military School.
With a small team (including Captain Tribusch), Col. Aubry surveyed all armoured vehicles and tanks located in military ordnance plants, shooting and testing ranges and manufacturers reserves. This was the beginning of a fantastic collection that became the Saumur Tank Museum.
With many excellent contacts with friendly and foreign armies, several hundred vehicles were collected. All could not be exhibited, but France had one of the most beautiful collections in the world. The Tank Museum presents many models, and most of them are in running order. Each year, a dynamic presentation is organized. Additionally, some of them are used for movies.
Initially located at the Clos Beaufort, near the Cavalry School, the facilities were too small and the materials were stored outside in various military plants. In 1993, the entire collection was brought together in a single place that was a former cigarette factory on 10 acres of ground with 5.6 acres being roofed over. All the buildings were restored. This then allowed most of the 800 tanks, armoured vehicles, guns and trucks to be parked inside and protected from the elements.
Two hundreds of them are exhibited in several thematic rooms. First, the visitor enters in a room where one can see French tanks of World War I: Schneider, Saint-Chamond and Renault FT 17. After that, one can examine the French material used in 1940: Panhard armoured car, AMR 35, FCM, Renault R 35 and R 39, Hotchkiss H 35 and H 39, Somua S 35, B 1 Bis, Laffly truck, etc. The next hall contains a large collection of German tanks and vehicles, from the small Kettenkrad tracked motorcycle to the colossal 70 ton Königstiger; and also various Panzers including a Bergepanther (recovery tank). The collection also has various halftracks, assault guns mounted on tanks or vehicles made from French or Czech tanks. Allied tanks are exhibited in another hall, for the Americans: M3 Lee-Grant, M3 Stuart, M4 Sherman, M10 Tank Destroyer, M26 Chaffee, M8 and M20 Greyhound armoured cars, M3 Scout Car, M3 Half-Track, M8 HMC and M29 Weasel. For the British and Canadians: Matilda, Valentine, Churchill and Sexton.
All materials developed by France from the end of World War II are in the next room: ARL 44, AMX 50, AMX 13, EBR, AMX 30, Leclerc, etc; also foreign contemporary materials; Patton, M60, Leopard, Merkava, etc.
In other rooms tank engines and gear boxes are exhibited as well as munitions. A beautiful collection of scale models is also presented. The museum also has a large repair shop because most of the tanks exhibited are in running order.
Before leaving the museum, do not forget to visit the gift shop, where there are many models and a library with many books on tanks, guns and military history.
It is located at 1043, route de Fontevrault – 49400 SAUMUR (France).
The museum is open each day:
- From January to April and October to December, from 12 noon to 5:00 p.m. (11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, Sunday and holidays).
- From May to September, from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
- In July and August, from 09:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Their website is www.museedesblindes.fr
Saumur is a beautiful small city on the border of the Loire River, an hour and forty minutes from Paris by train (TGV) or two hours by car. Besides the tank museum, it is very interesting for tourists with its beautiful castle and, of course, excellent wines.
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