Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Bastogne Barracks - A Grand Day Out

A big hangar full of WW2 kit
Whilst there could be a danger of turning the blog into a travelogue there are some aspects of my recent Belgium trip which were too good not to share onwards to those who have an interest in this sort of thing and a trip to the Barracks in Bastogne is definitely one to share.

A Firefly guards the entrance
The first thing to point out is that Bastogne Barracks is an active Belgian Army base and you just can't wander up to the gates and have a casual scout round. Every week day there are two tours of the Barracks,  one at 10am and another at 2pm and that's it, so forward planning is required before you attend.

Yes that is a 155mm Long Tom
The tours are FREE, now for a Yarkshire resident getting summat for nowt tis reet Grand ! It was a lovely sunny morning when we went and our group consisted of 19 people which for me was just about the right number. There are marker boards around the Barracks showing the base at that location during The Battle of the Bulge.

The visit was led by a serving Belgian Soldier, our group was split 50:50 between English and French speakers and our guide did a brilliant job going through everything twice in those languages. The first part of the tour is outside covering the general history of the Barracks and the events leading up to the Bulge. After that you enter the cellars used by the 101st US Airborne during the siege and see the "NUTS" room and the Command Post.

The first part of the tour ends in a small museum littered with artifacts from the battle, we spent about an hour and 15 on this first stage. You then head out to a series of three hangars to see the collection of Military vehicles on site. Our guide changed here and the second guide didn't speak English however each vehicle  (if you didn't know what it was already) has an English language sign board.

The first hangar has a wide selection of recovery vehicles including the above M32 Sherman ARV which I had never seen in the flesh before.

Don't see one of these everyday
The second hangar is a joy to behold for lovers of WW2 vehicles, I honestly had no idea the collection was so large and varied. Straight in through the door is a ISU 122 ! Not what I expected in the Belgian Ardennes. There was an empty space next to this vehicle for a JSIII more on this latter.

The following pictures are a selection of the vehicles in hangar 2,

M4A1 Sherman 76
M22 Locust
There were a few German vehicles including the Pz IV below, along with a wide selection of Anti Tank Guns and Anti Aircraft Guns with transports and tows.

Panzer IV Ausf J 
AEC MK II Matador
From there we were led to the third hangar which is used as a Vehicle Restoration centre, we were allowed full access to the area and had a good look around the current crop of vehicles which are being worked on. 

First up was a nearly fully restored StuG,  an amazing piece of work it looked like it was just out of the show room, the engine bay was superb.

Next up was our missing JSIII in for some engine repairs, annoyingly it was fixed the next day and driving round the car park during that days tour.

The next bay was very much a work in progress, a Hetzer with its body fully restored.

Finally there was a Leopard I having some engine work done.

What a fantastic time we had at the Barracks, probably 2 and a half to 3 hours for free ! There is a rumour that the tours will stop soon due to government cut backs which would be a real shame, if they do stop I am glad I made it when I did. 

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