The Camel, the tank and the crane
The end of March saw the arrival of two of IWM’s most iconic First World War objects – the Mark V Male tank and Sopwith Camel aircraft.
This installation represented a significant milestone in the Transforming London project – the tank and the aircraft are the last two large objects to be installed in the new First World War galleries ahead of our reopening in the summer.
Both objects were previously on display in our main atrium but they will now form a centrepiece display in the new First World War Galleries.
The Sopwith Camel was delivered and installed first of all. Other than a full structural survey and a new suspension system – how the cables are attached to the aircraft – the aircraft came back to the building relatively unchanged. The Camel is lightweight and reasonably straightforward to assemble – no Swedish Allen keys, luckily – so we were able to deliver, build and suspend in a few days.
The installation of the tank, however, ended a journey that had started nearly a year and a half earlier…
The decant of the Mk V and its transfer to IWM Duxford allowed the conservation team to fully survey and assess the condition of the tank in a way that had not been possible when on display at IWM London. Several structural cracks were discovered, and there was significant corrosion damage on the bottom of the body of the tank. The tracks were also discovered to be damaged and needed repair.
So a team of 4 conservators, led by Geoff Cousins, started a year long project to stabilise, conserve and prepare the tank for redisplay. It proved to be the most time-consuming conservation project of the Transforming London project, with over 5 person years devoted to the conservation.
Alongside this work we had started to plan both the installation and display of the tank. In the new galleries Mk V will be displayed at an angle, as if it is cresting the edge of a trench. Because of the age of the tank, IWM engaged with three structural engineering companies to design and build the frame that would safely display the object for a long time. The frame, which was also used to transport and allow the tank to be lifted into position, spreads the 23-ton weight of the tank safely.
The size and weight of the tank meant that we had to lift the tank into the rear yard. Luckily this operation took place on a sunny morning with very little wind. The lift, although dramatic, lasted no more than half an hour. After this, the 48-ton crane was sent away and the remaining movement and positioning of the tank and frame was undertaken using manual jacks and winches over a 3 day period. The team very much earned their bacon sandwiches on those days!
The tank is now safely on its frame, in position with the Sopwith Camel in the First World War Galleries.
Our work now turns to the final installation of some of the large objects we installed into our new atrium before Christmas. It’s been a long road but the end is in sight, and we can’t wait for you to see the Mark V tank and Sopwith Camel in all their glory when we re-open on 19 July.