Balikpapan veteran tank finally ready to roll

After an aborted attempt to launch the fully restored Matilda Tank named ACE last year, the big day is nearly hear – finally!

The first invitation-only appearance of ACE will now take place at Lancer Barracks Parramatta on Sunday 5 November 2017, from 12 noon to 2pm – for invited guests, past and present Lancers, and media.

The general public will have opportunities to view the WWII tank with its engines running and tracks rolling within Lancer Barracks, as a special part of normal museum entry, at 11am and again at 2pm every Sunday from 12 November to 3 December 2017.

The restoration project has consumed more than 20,000 volunteer hours over six years of difficult restoration.

One of just three surviving Matilda tanks that plunged into the waters of the Macassar Straights on 1 July 1945 in what is to this day Australia’s largest ever armoured assault, at Balikpapan in the then Dutch East Indies, ACE is the only one now restored to working order.

And to make her even more rare and special, ACE is the only WWII tank to be returned to and restored by its original unit – a fact confirmed by the Director of the UK’s Bovington Tank Museum, one of the finest tank museums in the world, on a recent visit.

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Ian Hawthorn, an Army veteran and volunteer at the NSW Lancers Memorial Museum, said  that on its discovery in 1997 ACE was a rusting hulk, filled with compacted vegetation that had fallen from the surrounding trees, topped off with a layer of smelly water and hemmed in by small trees that had grown around the hull.

ACE was actually discovered by her own WWII driver, former chair of the Lancers Association Les Betts, in a paddock near Moss Vale.

ACE, driven by Les Betts, was the first tank off the landing craft at Balikpapan in 1945.

The restored tank will eventually be consecrated as a war memorial and will go on permanent public display at Lancer Barracks in Parramatta.

The tank will also be available for military and community events in the Sydney metropolitan region.

For information on how to support the veteran volunteers in maintaining the Lancer Association’s heritage military fleet, contact john.howells@lancers.org.au

 

Story from June 2016…

Australian Army veterans from Parramatta’s NSW Lancers Memorial Museum hope to see their project to fully restore a WWII Matilda tank realised soon – but the project has hit an unexpected speed bump.

The team had hoped, planned and announced a 9 July public unveiling – but that has been delayed unexpectedly and indefinitely because of steering and braking issues.

Ian Hawthorn, an Army veteran and volunteer at the NSW Lancers Memorial Museum, said that after more than 20,000 volunteer hours and five years of difficult restoration – and then issuing a public invitation – it was embarrassing to have to postpone the unveilling.

“We did plan on having the tank run under its own power for the first time in 70 years, next month,” Mr Hawthorn said.

“Having just asked for help with publicity for the Museum’s ACE event on 9 July, I am extremely sorry and embarrassed to say that we have had to cancel the event.

“The restoration team has just encountered a significant problem with the steering and breaking mechanisms.

“These are fixable and will be fixed and ACE will return ‘home’ eventually, but not in time for the 9 July event.

“We’ve also decided that it must be taken out of Sydney to complete more intensive proving after the problems have been fixed, further delaying its final return to Lancer Barracks.

“It will not therefore be available for the general public to view until further notice.

I really am very sorry for the inconvenience, but, I suppose problems like this have to be expected with a complex restoration such as Project ACE.

“It’s just unfortunate timing when we got so close.”

The tank, named ACE, is one of just three surviving Matilda tanks that plunged into the waters of the Macassar Straights on 1 July 1945, in what is to this day Australia’s largest ever armoured assault, at Balikpapan in the then Dutch East Indies.

This complex and expensive restoration project has been commended with a coveted National Trust Conservation Award, acknowledging the significance of Australia’s only fully restored tank that saw active service in WWII.

The former chair of the Lancers Association Les Betts first recognised the abandoned tank in a paddock near Moss Vale in 1997 where it sat for more than 50 years.

ACE was the tank he had driven in WWII and was the first tank off the landing craft at Balikpapan in 1945.

ace2Mr Hawthorn said that on discovery in 1997, ACE was a rusting hulk, filled with compacted vegetation that had fallen from surrounding trees, topped off with a layer of smelly water, and hemmed in by small trees that had grown around the hull.

“The two other Balikpapan Matildas will never be restored to full mobility, and the consensus in 1997 was that ACE never would be either,” Mr Hawthorn said.

“Fortunately, a few museum volunteers thought otherwise.”

Mr Hawthorn thought this project was probably the only Australian WWII armoured fighting vehicle that saw action in any theatre of the war to be restored to full mobility.

“Interestingly, the entire restoration has been completed by retired Digger volunteers from the NSW Lancers Memorial Museum – the museum of the regiment that mounted the Balikpapan assault in 1945.

“So, when it is finally unveiled, ACE will effectively be returning home.

“Besides the remarkable quality of the restoration, I would like to think some of your readers might like to take the opportunity to experience an Australian WWII tank in the condition in which its wartime crew would have known it.

“We believe this will be a unique experience in Australia.”

The restored tank will be consecrated as a war memorial and will eventually go on permanent public display at Lancer Barracks in Parramatta.

For information on how you can support the veteran volunteers in maintaining the Lancer Association’s heritage military fleet contact the john.howells@lancers.org.au

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Brian Hartigan

Managing Editor Contact Publishing Pty Ltd PO Box 3091 Minnamurra NSW 2533 AUSTRALIA

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