Imperial War Museums – England
IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM DUXFORD
Located about 50 miles north of London, England, and a 20-minute bus ride from Cambridge, this is the largest aviation museum in the world. Spread out along the perimeter of an airfield that was used heavily during WWII, a shuttle bus transports visitors from hangar to hangar.
Six large exhibit halls are dedicated to aviation, plus a Land Warfare Hall crammed full of tanks, armored vehicles and artillery. Be sure to look at the collection of missiles, a V1 flying bomb on launching ramp, civil aviation aircraft, radars, etc., on display outside the hangars.
“Airspace,” the newest addition to Duxford, tells the story of British aviation with over 30 military and civil aircraft of all eras. Hangar 2 is devoted to fighter aircraft, with many classic fighter planes that made history.
Hangar 3 houses the Naval Collection. Look for the four-man crew miniature submarines displayed, called X-Craft, and read about the courageous attack by six X-Craft on the 42,000-ton German battleship Tirpitz in a Norwegian fjord, in 1943. Hangar 4 displays aircraft used to defend the UK with a section about the Battle of Britain.
Hangar 5 is a living and working museum, the Conservation and Restoration hangar, which is one of Duxford’s most important activities. Visitors can watch the restorers at work and walk around partly- and fully-restored aircraft. Located be-hind Hangar 5 you’ll see the Battle of Britain Operations Room, which is worth a walk through to see a map plotting room used in WWII.
The American Air Museum houses a superb collection of historic American combat aircraft including such WWII classics as a B-17 Flying Fortress, a B-24 Liberator, a B-25 Mitchell bomber and a Douglas C-47 Skytrain.
The Land Warfare Hall is worth a visit all by itself. Taking up 7,000 square meters, it contains a world-class selection of more than 200 tanks, military vehicles, artillery, anti-aircraft guns and lots of well-crafted tableaux and dioramas of battle scenes, primarily WWII.
The centerpieces of the Land Warfare Hall are the Montgomery caravans. These are a trio of caravans used by Field Marshall Viscount Montgomery of Alamein in North Africa and Western Europe after the D-Day landings.
Imperial War Museum Duxford (Cambridgeshire, CB22 4QR United Kingdom; phone +44 (0) 1223 835 000 or visit http://duxford.iwm.org.uk). The museum is open daily (closed December 24-26). Admission, adults £14.95; children 16-18 £8.50; children under 16, free. Allow three to five hours.
IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM LONDON
The Imperial War Museum in Chelsea, England, is the Holy Grail of war museums for the military enthusiast. You’ll be brought to a standstill inside the front entrance. A cavernous hall several stories high, appropriately named “The Large Exhibits Hall,” is crammed with all manner of military paraphernalia: tanks, guns, submarines, warplanes, V1 and V2 rockets, mines, artillery pieces, bombs and more.
After viewing the large exhibits continue through the hall down to the lower ground floor to the First World War, Second World War and Conflicts Since 1945 galleries.
The WWII sections include the Phoney War, Blitzkrieg, Battle of Britain, Home Front 1940-45, Europe under the Na-zis, the Bomber Offensive, and North West Europe 1944-45.
The “Blitz Experience” simulates a German bombing blitz of London. Nearby visitors find what amounts to a shrine to England’s most prominent WWII leader, Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery named “Monty: Master of the Battlefield.” It’s a fitting tribute to (arguably) England’s greatest military figure. After paying homage to Monty, you can walk through “The 1940’s House” tucked away in the far corner of the ground floor. This is a memorabilia trip for those old enough to have lived in his era. It’s interesting to see the furnishings of a WWII era household.
There are plenty of WWII exhibits in the interesting Secret War Gallery to catch your interest. Film footage shows agents of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in training. All sorts of cloak-and-dagger paraphernalia excites the imaginations of children (and plenty of adults) including invisible ink, a German Enigma cipher machine, codebooks, SOE sabotage devices, secret radios, etc.
The Holocaust Exhibition is amongst the most memorable galleries ever seen in a museum. This horrific and highly emotionally charged part of WWII history is illustrated professionally and objectively, bringing home the horrors perpetuated by a nation that somehow came so far off the tracks.
A large number of artifacts including photographs, documents, newspaper, films, diaries, toys, photograph albums, storybooks and handmade mementos illustrate this sad chapter in history. The exhibits and displays on the third floor leaves most people shaken and deeply moved.
Imperial War Museum London (Lambeth Road, London SE1 6HZ United Kingdom; phone +44 (0)207 416 5320 / 5321 or visit http://london.iwm.org.uk). Open 10-6 daily (closed December 24-26). Admission is free. Allow a full day.