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Defence

The Tank Museum helps keep Ukrainian armoured vehicles on track

The Tank Museum at Bovington in Dorset has been playing a role in Ukraine’s war with Russia – by digging out old manuals and parts for Cold War era vehicles.

Above: T72 British made track.
Courtesy The Tank Museum

Both Ukraine and Russia are using ageing tanks that are suffering damage in the current fighting, often driving over mines and losing their tracks. As part of the UK Government’s support to Ukraine, companies have been asked to assist with replacement parts and upgrades to vehicles – and this included replacement tracks.

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However, the technical specifications have been hard to source and the Ukrainians are understandably busy. So when asked to support the project, David Willey, curator of the award-winning museum, looked in the extensive archive and found manuals and drawings for the tanks being used by President Zelenskyy’s forces.

These have helped Cook Defence Systems re-engineer new tracks, some of which have just arrived in Ukraine and will help the country’s army keep fighting.

With the war more than two years old there is a requirement to keep as much hardware as they can on the battlefield. The MTLB, BMP1 and T72 armoured vehicles were originally in service when Ukraine was part of the USSR and it is these that are back in action.

Mr Willey said: “When we were asked to help we immediately went and looked for anything that might be of assistance.

“UK’s defence companies are very keen to assist but in some cases the people from the Cold War era are no longer around and the knowledge has gone in some areas.

“Details such as the angles, pitch and tension required for the new tracks were sought and our archive was able to provide them.

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“We also found examples of the actual items required such as T72 tracks and pins from one of the vehicles in the collection. The new parts could then be made accurately, some for the very first time in the UK.

“Part of the museum’s role is to help retain corporate memory and it’s surprising how many issues for defence contractors, designers and of course the actual soldiers, come back again and again.

“We also have Ukrainian soldiers training here at Bovington and they visit the museum and just as with the current British Army, the collection is used for training.

“This goes back to the beginnings of the museum which was created as a teaching collection for the first Tank Corps soldiers at the end of the First World War.

“It has been an honour to play a small part in helping our allies in their war against an aggressor.

“And there are many other ongoing projects with UK companies and organisations that are all doing their bit too.”

Cook Defence Systems, headquartered in Sheffield, can trace its history as the manufacturer of tracks for British armoured fighting vehicles back to 1941. It develops and makes a range of tracks, including those for the Challenger 2 tank.

Major challenges to the project remained even after the museum’s plans were provided. These included the development of new steel alloys to match the original Russian specifications and re-designing forged and welded components as castings to suit the new manufacturing process.

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