Kiwi boys come to play at AusArmo

Te Awamutu Courier - - Driven - BY AN­DREW MCALLEY

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.

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