Friday, June 17, 2011

Tanks for the Memories...

Have I ever mentioned those strange people who dress up in 1940s gear? I work with some of them. They're very odd. We're not talking about the WWII re-enactment crowd here, the ones I know just wear civilian 1940s clothes and spend entire days on the local preserved railway line pretending that it is 1942 again. Personally, I've never seen the attraction of the forties - people were bombing us for half of the decade, whilst for the other half we were mired in austerity in the aftermath of the war. I suppose one of the attractions might be that it was one of the last eras in which the UK could claim to be victorious, defeating Nazi Germany against all odds (with more than a little help from the rest of the Empire, the US and the USSR). Had we been occupied in WWII, would we be so quick to celebrate the 1940s? Would we have people re-enacting the era? Apparently, yes. I always thought that those WWII re-enactment groups were an Anglo-American thing, so I was surprised to learn that there are similar groups in Poland, Hungary and Russia.

Disturbingly, like their UK equivalents, these East European groups seem to have a preponderance of people wanting to play the Nazis. Now, one of the problems they face is the sparsity of genuine WWII German military equipment available. Whilst there are still plenty of operational Sherman tanks and T-34s for the Allies to use, the overwhelming majority of surviving German tanks are static exhibits in museums. (Most of those 'German' tanks you see in war movies are really post war US tanks painted grey. In the 1960s they tended to favour M47s and M48s, whilst in the 1970s M24s and sometimes Russian T-34s were often pressed into service. It was only in recent years that film makers in the West have taken to building replicas of German tanks - in Russia and Yugoslavia they'd been using rebuilt T-34s and T-44s for years). But these re-enactment guys are pretty resourceful - they've started building their own tanks. I recently came across some YouTube footage of a Polish 'Panther' tank (built on a Russian T-55 chassis) being driven around a muddy field. The irony of a group of Poles driving a tank covered in swastikas through Poland seems lost on them. But they're not alone. Apparently there are faux Panther and Tiger tanks being produced in Hungary. There's already at least one T-55 based Tiger tank in the UK. All very disturbing.

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