Britain loves it’s military history so there are a large number of museums detailing the military past of Britain. For this Top Ten British Military Museums list we excluded aviation museums since they were featured on their own article, Top Ten UK Air Museums (Link below). We are also excluding castles as they are also to be featured in their own, upcoming article.
With so many museums to choose from it was hard to narrow it down but we’ve gave it a go. We chose our selections based on public suggestions, personnel experiences and TripAdvisor reviews with considerations given to size of the collection, historical importance, how unique the museum is and quality of exhibitions. Narrowly missing out on the Top Ten were the Royal Armouries and HMS Belfast. Both are excellent museums but felt they were just edged out by the important stories told at Ashworth and the D-Day Museum. As for the rest, here are our Top Ten British Military Museums.
10 – Ashworth Barracks
Ashworth Barrracks is a museum in Doncaster dedicated to the stories of the men who have been awaded the Victoria Cross. The Victoria Cross is Britain’s highest award and is given for gallantry in the presence of the enemy. The medal was introduced in 1856 and has been awarded 1358 times to 1355 individuals. Only 15 have been awarded since World War 2.
Although smaller than many military museums on the list and even ones that didn’t make, Ashworth Barracks deserves it’s place. It is an excellent museum which dedicates itself to telling the stories of the brave men who gained the Victoria Cross. These individual stories are told via displays containing photographs and even personal items of the recipients. It is riveting to learn about the acts of bravery carried out by men in the armed forces.
As well as the exhibitions on the Victoria Cross recipients, Ashworth Barracks contains a number of military vehicles and weapons for visitors to see. Many of these are hands on, allowing visitors to touch, hold and feel them for themselves. This is especially appealing for children who love the chance to have a hold of a machine gun or sit in a military jeep. Amongst the vehicles on display are a Humber Pig armoured truck and a Spartan APC.
Above all the staff at the museum are extremely friendly, welcoming and knowledgeable. They’re guaranteed to make your visit a memorable one. The combination of excellent exhibits, hands-on interaction, friendly staff and the importance of highlighting the stories of Victoria Cross recipients is why we have put Ashworth Barracks at 10th place. On June 23rd the museum will be hosting Armed Forces Day which will be a great day out for all the family.
To find out more visit their website: www.ashworthbarracks.co.uk
9 – D-Day Museum
The first of our Portsmouth Museums. The D-Day Museum was opened in 1984 and tells the story of Operation Overlord. Operation Overlord was the codename given to the Battle of Normandy and the D-Day landings in WW2. It was one of the most significant operations in the war. Over 156,000 Allied troops took part in the landings at five beaches.
The museum contains a large number of displays, photographs and videos to give visitors an idea of the D-Day landings, the planning that went into them and the bravery showed by the soldiers carrying out the attacks. The museum contains a number of personal artifacts donated by veterans including medals, photographs, memoirs and audio recordings of interviews.
The highlight of the museum is the Overlord Embroidery. This embroidery measures 272 feet in length and consists of 34 panels. It took five years to make and is one of the largest works of it’s kind in the world. This piece of art tells the story of the D-Day landings. It follows the story from it’s origins in 1940 to victory in Normandy in 1944. The majority of the embroidery covers the invasion of Normandy and subsequent battles. It is an extraordinary work of art and is a must see. The story told in the museum and the quality of the exhibits would make the D-Day Museum a contender for the list but the Overlord Embroidery is what secures it’s place.
The museum is currently undergoing refurbishment and will reopen in Spring 2018. For more visit their website on: http://www.ddaymuseum.co.uk
8 – Muckleburgh Military Collection
This collection of armoured vehicles and tanks is located on a former military camp at Weybourne in Norfolk. It is the UK’s largest privately owned military museum. It includes over 150 tanks, artillery pieces and other military vehicles. Many of the vehicles in the collection are still in working order. The collection includes tanks, APCs, missiles and more. A number of different countries are represented including the USA and Russia.
Highlights of the collection include a Centurion heavy tank and a Churchill tank from the Second World War. Russia is represented with a T-34 and a T-55. The missile collection is impressive, containing Rapiers, a Bristol Bloodhound and a Russian Malyutka anti-tank missile. The collection of vehicles is varied and very impressive.
The Muckleburgh Collection makes our list, not just because of it’s large collection of vehicles. But because it offers visitors to chance to ride in some and even drive a tank. This costs just £100 and is a once in a lifetime experience.
To find out more visit: http://www.muckleburgh.co.uk
7 – Chatham Historic Dockyard
The first of two naval museums on our list. Chatham Historic Dockyard is located on the site of a former naval base in Kent. There are seven main parts to this huge and excellent museum so it is easy to spend an entire day here.
The main focus of the museum are it’s three historic Navy ships. These are HMS Gannet, HMS Cavalier and HMS Ocelot. HMS Gannet is a sloop from 1878 and has a distinctive career taking part in anti-slavery patrols. HMS Cavalier is a WW2 era destroyer which served in the Middle East. The final ship is HMS Ocelot which is a submarine from the 1960s. All of these great ships are fully accessible with a range of exhibits detailing their history, role in the navy and what life was like on board.
As well as the centerpiece preserved ships, there are a number of other interesting exhibitions to see. Wooden Walls is an excellent reproduction of a 1758 working dockyard and consequently is fascinating to see. Lifeboat details the work of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. This interesting exhibition includes not only displays about the history of the RNLI and the work they do, but also contains 17 preserved RNLI vessels. The Command of the Oceans exhibit is another interesting exhibition about the importance of Chatham Dockyard. It focuses primarily on the age of sail and contains a number of important artifacts and relics. This includes timbers from HMS Namur and items recovered from the wreck of HMS Invincible.
For more visit: http://thedockyard.co.uk
6 – IWW North and London
Imperial War Museum has 5 branches. IWW Duxford (Covered in our air museums article), HMS Belfast, Churchill War Rooms, IWW North and IWW London. HMS Belfast narrowly missed out on the list and as Duxford has been covered elsewhere, this entry will include IWW North and IWW London.
IWW North is located in Manchester. The museum features a large number of interesting displays and exhibits relating to the hisory of warfare. The walls of the exhibition space are used to screen hourly video presentations called The Big Picture. These presentations use photos from IWW archives to explore themes relating to modern warfare. Inside the museum are a number of military vehicles. This includes a WW1 field gun and a U.S Marine Corps Harrier jet. Outside is an Iraqi T-55 tank captured during the Iraq War.
London contains a number of floors, each with different displays and exhibits about various aspects of warfare. These floors are centered around a large, central exhibition hall which contains a number of military vehicles. This includes a Spitfire, a V2 rocket and, interestingly, the wreckage of a car destroyed by a bomb in the Iraq War.
Both museums are full of excellent exhibits and displays. Regular talks and presentations on various items on display are held at both museums throughout the day. These talks are very interesting and engaging, presented by knowledgeable guides.
Visit: https://www.iwm.org.uk/visits/iwm-london and https://www.iwm.org.uk/visits/iwm-north
5 – Bletchley Park
Bletchley Park is one of the most important historical sites from World War 2. It was the headquarters for British codebreakers and gained fame after the facility cracked the Enigma Code. The codebreakers at the facility used their skills to penetrate German and Italian communications. It is said that the intelligence gathered at Bletchley Park shortened the war by at least two years. Historians also state that the outcome of the war wouldn’t be certain without the Bletchley Codebreakers.
Today Bletchley Park is a museum dedicated to telling the stories of the codebreakers and the important work carried out at the facility. The museum guides visitors through the story of Bletchley from it’s origins to it’s impact on the war via a number of exhibitions. These exhibitions contain a number of photographs and artifacts to bring the story of Bletchley Park to life. This makes it an excellent museum to visit.
Notable exhibits include Alan Turing’s office, Enigma machines and the Home Front Exhibition showing how people lived during the war. Huts 3 and 6 are codebreaking offices set out as they would be during the war. Stepping into these gives visitors a great sense of what it would have been like at Bletchley.
Bletchley Park is located near Milton Keynes. Visit their website to find more: https://www.bletchleypark.org.uk
4 – Eden Camp
Eden Camp occupies the site of a World War 2 prisoner-of-war camp. It was established in 1943 and used to intern captured soldiers from Germany and Italy. After the war the site was abandoned and became overgrown until the 1980s when plans were made to turn it into a museum. Much cleaning, renovation and repair was required prior to opening in 1987.
The museum features a large number of original buildings from it’s days as a prison camp. As well as giving visitors some insight into what it was like in PoW camp, the museum covers the entire period of the war and serves as a general WW2 history museum. There are 29 huts and 3 former mess halls, each with a different theme. These huts cover such topics as The Blitz, Women at War, the rise of Hitler and Bomber Command.
A unique experience is Hut Six, the Eden Camp Music Hall. This is an entertaining puppet show performing musical hits from the 1940s such as songs by Vera Lynn. All of these huts contain interesting exhibitions and photographs. It is very child-friendly, done in a way where children will enjoy exploring the camp and learning about it’s history and the war in general.
An interesting exhibit is Mess Hut Two which features displays on human torpedoes. It contains information about their history and use. Featured inside is a full-size working replica and an original Chariot torpedo. In addition to the various huts and exhibitions, the museum has an impressive collection of vehicles. This includes a Spitfire, a Russian T-34 tank and a V1 rocket.
Eden Camp makes for an excellent day out for all the family. It’s fascinating exhibits, historical heritage as a former PoW camp and most of all, the family friendly atmosphere makes it a must see attraction.
Update: On March 4th Eden Camp will be hosting it’s WW2 Living History Weekend. This special event will feature a WW2 association on the grounds bringing history to life as they portray soldiers from Britain, the USA, Russia and Germany. Visitors can get a good look at the uniforms and kit used in the war period. It is set to be a great event and a great way to learn about WW2. Find out more here: http://www.edencamp.co.uk/wwii-living-history-weekend-nww2a/
Visit their website at: http://www.edencamp.co.uk
3 – Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is located at the Royal Navy’s base in the city. The naval base is one of the largest in Europe and is the headquarters for two-thirds of the Royal Navy’s fleet. The part of the base which is open to the public is the Historic Dockyard and is full of a number of Naval themed attractions. It is the UK’s premier destination for naval history.
First of all, the dockyard is the home of HMS Victory. This is the oldest warship still in commission and has a deep and rich history. Launched in 1765, HMS Victory is best known as the flagship of Lord Nelson during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. This was one of the major engagements during the Napoleonic Wars. Today, HMS Victory has been expertly restored and sits in dry dock as a museum ship. Now owned and managed by The National Museum of the Royal Navy HMS Victory is excellent with the ship presented and laid out as it was during it’s its prime. Visitors get a great sense of just what life on HMS Victory was like when it was an active warship. There are a number of decks to visit including Nelson’s Great Cabin, Captain Hardy’s Cabin and the gun deck complete with guns.
Another important vessel you can visit is HMS Warrior 1860. This ship, launched in 1860 was the first armour-plated, iron hulled ship in the world. She was the fastest and most feared battleship of her day. She has been expertly restored to her former glory and has been a museum ship since 1987. On board, visitors can explore this historic vessel and get a feel for what life was like aboard the vessel. As with HMS Victory, Warrior is another ship in the fleet of The National Museum of the Royal Navy and the decks are set out as they were when she was an active warship.
Action Stations is an interactive attraction which is great for children. The attraction which is located in Boathouse 6 contains a number of physical challenges, interactive displays and simulators. Inside is one of the tallest indoor climbing towers in the UK and a laser quest arena designed to resemble a container ship and a pirate base. For the little ones, Sky Tykes is a rope course aimed at 2-7 year old children containing balance beams and rope bridges. There is an auditorium showing regular screenings of the action-packed short film “Command Approved” and a motion simulator allowing visitors to experience flying a Sea Harrier, storming the seas with the Royal Marines and escape from pirates in a Lynx helicopter. Finally, there is the popular Ninja Force. A 40 metre long obstacle course with jumping, climbing and balancing obstacles and so is a huge hit with kids.
The Mary Rose is an interesting museum. It tells the story of the 16th century warship, Mary Rose. Built in 1512, she served in the Royal Navy until she was sunk during the Battle of the Solent in 1545. In 1982 the wreck of the ship was raised from the seabed, an extremely difficult operation. The conserved hull of the ship is now at The Mary Rose museum along with thousands of artifacts relating to the ship. The museum tells the history of this warship and it’s eventual fate in battle. It also describes the operation to raise it from the seabed and the difficulties in doing so.
Off site, in Gosport is the Royal Navy Submarine Museum. The Portsmouth Historic Dockyard ticket includes access to this excellent museum. It covers the history of the submarine from the days of Alexander the Great to the present day. There are a number of submarines on site for visitors to view. This includes HMS Alliance and the Royal Navy’s first submarine; HMS Holland 1.
The Portsmouth Historic Dockyard ticket also includes HMS M.33 and Explosion Museum of Naval Firepower in Gosport, accessible for much of the year by a free water bus and lying in the shadow of HMS Victory is the Tudor treasure The Mary Rose. The site also includes Boathouse 4, which features a boatbuilding academy and exhibition about the small craft that supported the fleet.
In addition there are a number of temporary exhibitions and events held regularly throughout the year. These include an art exhibition by Lachlan Goudie, Silent and Secret which will detail Britain’s submarine based nuclear deterrent and the British Tattoo Art exhibition featuring 400 original artworks.
For more information see: http://www.historicdockyard.co.uk
2 – Churchill War Rooms
This London based museum is the underground complex used by the government during World War 2. The complex was one of the most important military sites in the UK during the war. After the surrender of Japan, the site was abandoned. Because of it’s historical important the government decided to preserve the bunker.
Today the site is run by the Imperial War Museum and is open to the public. Visitors can explore the entire complex learning about it’s role in WW2 and seeing how life would have been like living and working in the bunker. There are dozens of rooms to visit, each one containing exhibits presenting how it looked during the war and what it’s purpose was. The map room is the highlight because of it’s historical importance. It was here where Churchill and his advisers met to conduct the waging of war. This map room has been preserved exactly how it was on the final day of operation in 1945.
As well as the complex and exhibitions regarding it’s role during the war, the War Rooms also feature the Churchill Museum. This excellent display takes visitors on a journey through the life of Britain’s greatest Prime Minister. This award winning, interactive museum contains a number of historical items and personal effects from Churchill. Notably, it features the “Peace in our time” declaration signed by Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler. There are auditory displays which play clips from Churchill’s most famous speeches.
A visit to the Churchill War Rooms is a great day out. The excellent museum is a must-visit and is one of the most important sites in British history. Therefore it takes second place on our list.
For more, visit their website at: https://www.iwm.org.uk/visits/churchill-war-rooms
1 – Bovington Tank Museum
Our first place in the Top Ten British Military Museums is an easy choice. The Tank Museum at Bovington is one of the largest and finest museums of it’s kind in the world. It features over 300 vehicles on display representing 26 different countries. It has the world’s largest collection of tanks and the world’s third largest collection of armored vehicles. Bovington Tank Museum is a must visit.
The museum’s collection is set in 6 exhibition halls. Each has it’s own theme and each contains an impressive number of tanks and armored vehicles. First is the World War 1 Hall which details the early years of the tank’s development, the tank’s role in WW1 and the stories of the crews who served in them. The hall contains a number of preserved tanks. This includes a British Mark V which saw action in the 1918 Battle of Amiens. This particular tank is one of the few WW1 tanks still in working order. Other tanks on display include a Mark I and a French FT17.
Next is the Inter War Hall which tells the story of the end of the cavalry era and the rise of the tank. There are a number of exhibitions about the growth and further development of the tank between the wars. Vehicles on display include a Russian T-33 and the influential Vickers A1E1.
The World War 2 contains the bulk of the collection. This impressive hall features tanks and armored vehicles from almost every nation in the conflict as well as plenty of interesting information about the important role the tank played during WW2. This is the highlight of the museum and there are a number of historically significant vehicles on display. The list of tanks and vehicles on display in the WW2 hall is too long to list but here are some notable highlights. A German Jagdpanzer tank destroyer, a British Churchill VII, a Sherman M4A2 and even a rare Japanese Type 95.
The Tamiya Hall features a very interesting exhibition about modern warfare of the British army. It contains an exhibition detailing the exploits of the Afghanistan Battlegroup. There is also an exhibition about the Royal Armoured Corps. Included in the Tamiya Hall are an accessible Chieftain a Challenger 1.
The British Steel Hall is very interesting and a unique exhibition. It details the design and construction of tanks and other armored vehicles. Included is a mock up of a Centurion Tank production line. The T-55 is especially interesting as it features cut out sections so that visitors can see inside.
The final hall is The Tank Story Hall. This details the history of the tank from WW1 to the modern day and features 35 examples of history’s most important tanks. The jewel in the crown of this collection is the famous Tiger 131. This British captured this German tank during the war in Tunisia and it is the only working Tiger tank in the world. Tiger 131 featured in the 2014 WW2 movie, Fury. Other rare and important tanks on display are Little Willie (The oldest tank in the world) and a Russian T-72. Because of the large collection and excellent displays, Bovington Tank Museum takes first place on our list.
The Tank Museum is located in Bovington, Dorset. Visit their website at: http://www.tankmuseum.org/
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