Volume 8, Issue 2
November 7, 2012


Welcome to the 23rd issue of "Heavy Metal" -- the newsletter of the

Virginia Museum of Military Vehicles (VMMV.) Our mission is our motto -- by working to restore armored fighting vehicles, artillery, small arms, uniforms, and accoutrements of the US military and other countries, we hope to share the legacy of the sacrifice and courage of our fighting men and women with future generations of Americans. Located in Northern Virginia, our collection has grown to over 90 vehicles, starting out with the first US tank, the M 1917 through such legendary US vehicles as the M4A1 and M4A3 Sherman , M3A1 and M5A1 Stuart , M24 Chaffee , M3A1 Half-track , M36 Jackson and M3 Lee along with a few vehicles you might not know existed -- such as a prototype of the Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) tank.

Get to know your VMMV staff & vehicles

In this section we introduce you to the people and armor of the Virginia Museum of Military Vehicles. We will chat with the VMMV staff, so that you can get to know the people who "keep 'em running" and work so hard behind the scenes. And also provide a behind-the-scenes look into the history of individual vehicles in the VMMV collection. In this, our 23rd newsletter, we will give you a behind-the-scenes peak at what it takes to put on our highly acclaimed Open House each year.

The day dawned warm as the sun rose over Aden field, dotted with dozens of armored vehicles. The staff and volunteers of VMMV gathered together and began formulating plans and discussing strategy. Is this the morning of the 2012 Open House? No, in fact it is the day after our incredible 2011 Open House…..planning for the Open House begins immediately following the preceding one.

Yes, it takes 364 days to bring our thousands of fans an incredible Open House. We work very hard to bring you a smooth-running show, it just doesn't happen overnight

A Hot Wash was held the week following our 2011 Open House as all VMMV crew discuss what went right and what we can improve upon for 2012. The first order of business is always a weather check for the week……what impact will it have on the return of our vehicles to their storage areas.

Heads are bent over pads of paper as notes are made on how the vehicles performed and whether or not any maintenance issues cropped up. Those vehicles in perfect health get batteries and are spun-up, turned around and driven to the Hangar or Pole Barn. Parking our vehicles is a very delicate process and may require 3-4 sets of eyes to ensure safety and a tight fit--in some cases we park the tanks with only one inch of space between them. Yes, our drivers and crew are that good!!!

Over the next week or so, Aden Field is slowly returned to its pastoral setting as the number of vehicles diminishes. There are always a couple of vehicles that have mechanical gremlins. Those are cataloged and then prioritized by Marc and Alan--VMMV's mechanical wizards. Our crew attacks the problems and finally the last vehicle is tucked away safe and sound.

Discussions over the next several months take place with NMAW officials, representatives of living history groups and a general plan for 2012 begins to take shape. In spring of this year, the logistics of taking care of 6000+ visitors hit high gear. Phone calls were made to local law enforcement, fire fighters, the food caterers, Cub Scouts, and the appropriate permits and paperwork were filed with government officials.

Approximately three months prior to Open House, a display and "runner" plan is outlined. VMMV staff and volunteers descend upon the sleeping armored monsters and perform basic preventive maintenance and turn the engines over to determine what might have deteriorated over the winter. A "fix-it" list is generated. This is a critical step because we must have time to order parts and repair vehicles for the Open House. Over the next month, needed major repairs--such as replacing a balky fuel pump, changing out an electrical harness, or fixing a bad starter--are accomplished.

Then with less than a month to go, VMMV crew go from vehicle to vehicle, checking the fluids levels--fuel, transmission, hydraulic, oil, brakes--and topping off when necessary. At this point, almost all vehicles purr like a kitten, but there are always a couple where a carb. might need adjusting, or bad gasoline drained. The tired arms of turning over the radial engines are a testament to the physical nature of keeping tanks running.

Two weeks out and a map begins to emerge. You didn't think we just parked our vehicles willy-nilly did you? That would make a Beltway traffic jam seem tame in comparison. No, we have to map out where our vehicles will park, where each group of living historians will be, and how much space to allocate for all the incredible displays. Truly a multi-dimensional Rubik's cube--except with 40 ton tanks.

"Here is what Aden Field looks like before the flurry of the 2012 Open House."

Now we are one week out and things are at maximum…..there is a continual flow of vehicles from storage. Generally the VMMV staff and volunteers are working in teams of two…driver and ground guide, necessary to safely extract a large tank from a parking spot barely larger than the vehicle itself.

The first stop for the vehicle is the wash rack. VMMV is very proud of the outstanding condition of our vehicles and we want them to sparkle for all our fans. So one lucky person dons safety gear along with a raincoat and takes the pressure washer to the dirt and grime that has built up over the preceding months--what emerges is a beautifully clean tank.

"After two weeks of frenzied activity, Aden Field fills with armored vehicles and living historians."

If the vehicle is going to be used for VIP or demonstration purposes during the Open House, we will add fuel at this time. Another last minute check of the oil and coolant and the vehicle is driven off to its parking space.

Mid-week the air is filled with not only the roar of the tank engines, but sound checks, as VMMV's master of communications begins to test the microphones and speaker systems. Special care is taken to ensure the cables and cords are not damaged by a tank track.

Suddenly it is Friday, the day before the 2012 Open House. Thanks to great planning and the skill of VMMV's mechanics, we are ahead of schedule and all the vehicles are in their assigned spots. But that doesn't mean the work is over.

The most important task on Friday is to supervise the delivery and placement of the Porta-Pottys. Talk about a critical planning element!!! Next, the wonderful Church group arrives with its reefer truck to begin setting up the food area.

Living historians also trickle in on Friday. They touch base with VMMV and are given their assigned history area. Folks with large displays and exhibits arrive, getting their tables and wall boards in place. Finally, about 5 pm, a calm peace descends….everything is done. For Friday.

Early on Saturday morning, long before the dew is off the grass, VMMV staff and volunteers arrive to carry out last-minute preparations. We have antennas and machine guns to mount on the vehicles, along with easels, displaying background information on each vehicle.

A driver's meeting is then called before the public arrives to go over last-minute schedule changes. Mechanics listen intently so they know where and when to be, to ensure optimum safety for the Open House and all our fans. Then, the magic moment arrives….the first visitor arrives and VMMV's 2012 Open House is now on!!!! The rest is history, captured by your memories, pictures and video. And in two days, VMMV begins the planning process all over again.

Open House Thank You

VMMV can't possibly thank all the living historians individually, there simply are too many of these incredible men and women who take time from their lives and family to enrich our Open House with their displays, equipment and passion for the units they honor. The living historians come from all walks of life and represent a multitude of units and historical era's. They truly put a "face on history," so from all the staff and volunteers at VMMV, we Thank You!!! Looking forward to renewing our partnership in 2013.

We want to thank an unsung hero of the Open House. You may have seen him with a line of VMMV crew and living historians lined up at his booth. Or saw the incredible Chili Cheese Dogs he gives out to our crew and re-enactors. We are talking about Chris M. and his posse of chefs from the Manassas and Woodbridge Hard Times Cafés and Cues. Since 2006, when Chris started donating his food and time in support of VMMV's Open House, he estimates the following has been consumed by hungry Open House workers:

2,700 hot dogs
90 pounds of cheddar cheese
240 gallons of lemonade
60 gallons of chili
24 quarts of onions
325 man-hours

Wow, truly enough food to feed a division of hungry tankers!!!

Remember, the Manassas and Woodbridge Hard Times Cafés and Cues are the official Chili places and Pool Halls of VMMV. So next time you are hungry in Manassas or Woodbridge, stop by the Hard Times Café and Cue and thank Chris for all he does to support VMMV.


From the Files of VMMV......

In this section, we will examine historical records and files on armor in World War II from the perspective of the British liaison office to the US War Department. Some of this correspondence discusses the capabilities and performance of US armor, other files are the British view of German armor, reflecting their understanding of the technical capabilities of the panzers they faced. VMMV is proud to be the custodian of these historical treasures and wishes to thank Mr. Peter Upton for donating his father's war time papers.

These files represent the actual understanding of the Allies of German armored fighting vehicles and represent a critical link between the myths and propaganda of both sides and the post-war technical exploitation. Some of the data may be incorrect or missing, represent critical intelligence that was unknown to the Allies at the time. You the reader are presented with the data in raw form to allow you to see the ground truth of Allied intelligence.

In our 12th installment, we continue our examination of documents on the German tank known as the Panzerkampfwagen VI Ausf. E or PzKw VI…more commonly known as the "Tiger." The Tiger is synonymous with the Panzer Divisions and struck fear into the heart of Allied tankers during the course of WWII. Because of the large number of documents, we will break up the PzKw VI Ausf. E file over several newsletters.

This set of wartime photographs represents a "walk-around" of the PzKw VI…illustrating the vehicle from aspects American tankers might see in combat during WWII. Regardless, anytime a Tiger Tank was encountered, it was an awesome sight. Note that in some cases, the Tiger pictured is equipped with narrow tracks (used during rail transport,) and wide tracks (used during combat to lower the tank's ground pressure.) Enjoy this treasure trove of photos.


VMMV Acronym

The lexicon of armored vehicles is filling with a bewildering amount of acronyms. And at VMMV we have a few of our own. Here we will have the VMMV word of the day so you may better understand the conversations you might overhear at the museum.

Neutral Steer….It isn't easy to turn a multi-ton tank, particularly while at speed. But the concept of neutral steer gives these behemoths the agility of a ballerina. With neutral steer, a tank literally pivots on its own axis, one track moves forward, the other track moves backward, allowing for a very tight turn, despite it size. The Tiger tank seen above did have neutral steer, whereas many of its Allied opponents did not.

Volunteers Needed

WE WANT YOU for VMMV. As Uncle Sam asked civilians to volunteer for the US Army in WWI, we too want volunteers to help "keep 'em rolling." VMMV wants men and women willing to work very hard to keep our dream alive of preserving the past for the future. VMMV volunteers are a group of dedicated patriots whose blood, sweat and hard work are what keep our vehicles rolling. If you think you have what it takes in terms of skills, passion AND dedication, we want you to contact VMMV's volunteer coordinator, Mr. Bruce Oppenhagen, at livhist@vmmv.org and he will get back to you about how you might become part of our crew.

See You at the 2013 Open House!

Michael Panchyshyn-Editor