Kiwi boys come to play at AusArmo
Visiting the north of Queensland to see out the winter, a group of Waikato ex-servicemen found heavy metal’s not about boguns and ballads, it’s more to do with diesel and dust at AusArmourFest 2018.
Opening in September 2014, hosts — the Australian Armoured and Artillery Museum — have over 150 armoured vehicles and artillery on display and each Fathers’ Day weekend visitors get an opportunity for a more hands on approach.
For a price, AusArmourFest patrons can ride in a tank or other military vehicle along a figure eight cross country track under a brilliant Queensland sun.
Tanks on offer included a NATO Leopard L1A5 tank while its main Soviet adversary, a former Czech T72, offered some Cold War balance.
A M110 self-propelled Howitzer could be ridden alongside probably the rarest vehicle, a Second World War German ‘Hetzer,’ tank destroyer.
Cold War era Fox and Saladin armoured cars graced the racetrack along with a Vietnam War Centurion tank and M113 Fire Support Vehicle.
Having studied Soviet armoured tactics since the 80s, former Waikato Mounted Rifles Sergeant Major, Mike Cato, said he had no regrets choosing a ride in the T72 over other options.
“The fact the T72 is able to be ridden shows how much the world has moved on since the Cold War. I mean, it was this beast that was built to surge through the Fulda Gap and conquer Europe.
“On top of 44.5 tonnes of Soviet steel with its V-84 618kW engine putting out about 840 hp, it certainly felt strange to be not wearing a helmet, gloves and boots.” Mike reflected that the T72 didn’t miss a beat in the heat, unlike the pasty white New Zealand visitors who needed a constant topping up of fluids in the heat of the day.
For Cambridge ex armoured crewman Kevin Simmonds and I, while the T72 had a certain barroom brawler appeal, we were drawn to the style and elegance of a German big cat, the Leopard.
Designed utilising lessons learned from the Second World War, the first Leopard tanks were produced in the mid-1960s utilizing firepower and speed over heavy armour.
The version on offer, a Leopard Mk1a5 was built on the chassis of over 1200 earlier models. Rolled out in the 90s they sported a new turret, main armament of a L7A3/52 105 mm (4.13 in) rifled gun, enhanced imagery and gun stabilisation and storage of ammunition moved from the driver’s side of the turret to the rear.
It is a later model than the Leopard tanks formerly used in the Australian Army.
I’d fallen in love with the Leopard seeing them firing on NATO ranges near Munster in the early 2000s and had wanted to ride in one ever since.
But it was ‘that’ video on You Tube demonstrating its independent torsion bar suspension enabling a full pint of beer to be balanced on its barrel while traversing an assault course that convinced me this was the one.
With a weight of just over 42 tonnes its speed of 65km/ h is impressive.
Having ridden our own museum’s 65 tonne Chieftain and 23 tonne Walker Bulldog tanks I’d suffered the inevitable ‘rib tickling’ on take-off and thought I knew what to expect.
I couldn’t have been more wrong; the start and subsequent ride was so smooth I had to pinch myself and all too soon the ride was over, checking under my shirt to find no bruising I reflected just how amazing the original Porsche prototype design was.
To sum up the experience I’d say it was a purr-fect big boys toys weekend.