Visit To The Armoured Corps Museum Latrun – Israel

Written by Alan Whitney, Volunteer Warden

3rd August 2015

Having been interested in the wars and armoured battles that took place in the Middle East, one of the places I have always wanted to visit was the Armoured Corps Memorial and Museum at Latrun in Israel.  Many of the books I have read featured photographs of the exhibits that were in their collection, so when the opportunity came, myself and fellow volunteer wardens, Ryan Clark and Steve Dugdale jumped at the chance.

Flights and rooms were booked and with a word from Mr David Willey our visit was made official.  But as we were to learn, Latrun is more than just a museum.

We were greeted by a true gentleman, Mr Maor Levy, Library and Information Centre Manager, (also an Ex-7th Armoured Division Merkava II tank commander), who made us feel so welcome.  With the help of Private Nurit Englmaier, a 19 year old serving member of the IDF and official photographer, Sgt. Shani Peretz, we set off for our guided tour.

The setting for Latrun is truly magnificent. Built by the British as a police fortress outpost that overlooks the surrounding terrain and controlling the main road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  Whoever held Latrun controlled the movements of a country.  Even though the Israelis had fought and won the war of independence it would take another 19 years and many lives before Latrun would be captured from the Jordanians and the whole of Israel to be united.

Latrun is a National Memorial to the Israeli nation as the Cenotaph is to our nation, especially to her armoured corps.  The silver metalled wall of remembrance, bearing the names of almost 5 thousand lives lost in the wars from 1948 to the present, is the main focus of the site, surrounded by the magnificent collection of armoured vehicles.

To a small country that has been involved in so many conflicts in it’s short history, the great loss of lives inevitably touches all families and generations.

The vehicles in the museum are divided into the following sections:

1. The Merkava MBT I – IV

2. Armour of the IDF

3. Looted AFVs

4. AFV Collection

5. APCs, Engineer and Mobile Artillery

As well as Yom Kippur and a salute to the Allied Armies of WWII.

The Merkava MBT I – IV
Seeing this revolutionary tank close-up was one of the highlights of our visit.  Developed in the mid 1970s the Merkava is unique in having the whole front of the vehicle occupied by the engine, transmission, cooling system and fuel tanks.  This gives the utmost protection to the crew.  At the rear of the hull is a compartment which can be used to carry additional ammunition or accompanying infantrymen, vital when fighting in built up areas.  As our friend Maor told us, ‘It’s not necessarily the best tank in the world, but it’s the best tank in this environment’!  The debate continues...

Armour of the IDF
The vehicles that have served the Israeli Army from 1948  to the present.  From the armour-plated trucks, one of the two Cromwell tanks ‘donated’ by sympathetic British troops, (we were even shown the log book with the words ‘this book must remain with the vehicle at all times’ printed on the cover).  Shermans, M4 (known to the Israelis as the M1), M50 and M51 Super Sherman, Centurions, Centurion sho’t Kal, M48 and M60 Magach to name but a few.

Looted AFVs
What a collection!  All the armour, captured by the IDF in the many battles it has fought.  Maor said, he loved the mix of camouflaged colours of the different nations.  The light sand of the Egyptian T34/85, T54, T55, ISU152, IS3, (as Maor said,‘that’s a sexy tank’)!  The green Syrian Panzer IV, Stug III and T62, to the sand and brown camo of the Jordanian M47 plus so many more. 

APC, Engineer and Mobile Artillery
One of the fascinating factors of the IDF is their ingenious adaption of obsolete vehicles to fill the support roll, vital to any mobile force.  Sherman Hulls converted to bridging tanks, APCs, Command and Wounded Evacuation carriers.  In this collection was a nice surprise to me.  Part of the massive roller/floating bridge that was assembled and towed across the Sini Desert in one piece by several tanks to cross the Suez Canal to cut off the Egyptians in the 1973 Yom Kippur war.  Still showing the signs of battle and bearing the weight of a couple of M3 halftracks and an M48. 

Many of the exhibits show signs of combat.  Maor said, he wished he had the funds to restore many of the vehicles but for me and my colleagues it brought home the ferocity of battle fought over this stunning land.  A stretcher, full of holes, still fixed to the mud guard of an M48, brings home the struggle and sacrifice made by their crews.

As the day came to a close, we exchanged gifts with our new friends who had made us feel so welcome.  It was a long way to go but definitely worth the trip.  I would say to anyone interested in the Middle East to make the trip to Latrun.  Not just to see the magnificent collection of AFVs but to experience the pride of a nation.  I quote: ‘This site was created by the willpower, devotion and contribution of the people of the Armoured Corps.  In honour of our loved ones, the fallen, who served in the Armoured Corps’.