French impound German tank heading for Tankfest at Bovington

Near capacity crowds at Bovington in Dorset made the Tank Museum’s Tankfest 2023 the biggest and best yet – even if French border control did its best to spoil the party by stopping the star exhibit at Dunkirk.

One of only three Nashorn tanks in the world – and the only one in working order – had been scheduled to make its UK debut at the show, which drew a total of 24,000 visitors over three days between Friday 23rd and Sunday 25th June 2023.


The 24-tonne Nashorn tank was stopped at Dunkirk for missing paperwork


The WWII Nazi tank hunter was due to make its UK debut at Bovington

Three weeks to resolve missing paperwork

The vehicle, a Nazi tank hunter of World War Two which had been rebuilt by Dutch engineers from parts found for sale in Russia, was driven to Dunkirk for a ferry crossing to Dover ahead of its much anticipated appearance in Purbeck.

But following Brexit, the paperwork needed to take both tracked vehicles and dangerous goods between the UK and mainland Europe includes increased numbers of documents.

It is believed that the tank came under the umbrella of farm and agricultural vehicles which needed quarantine papers it did not have.

French port controllers at first held the 24 tonne vehicle and refused it a booked space on the ferry due to ‘missing paperwork’, then told the drivers it would take three weeks to resolve the matter and turned the tank away.

Despite the missing Nashorn, there was still a huge number of tanks running at the event

“Disappointed we were not able to display the Nashorn”

A spokesperson for the Nashorn restoration group said:

“We were all disappointed that we were not able to display the Nashorn in the UK on this occasion, but we do want to thank Tankfest organisers for their hospitality and kindness.

“Due to circumstances beyond the control of either the Friends of the Nashorn or the Tank Museum, our vehicle was prevented from crossing the channel at Dunkirk, but we do hope to come back with the tank in 2024.”

The Nashorn, valued at somewhere between £5 million and £10 million, had to be transported back to the Netherlands from Dunkirk, the port where 330,000 allied troops escaped from the advancing Nazi army in May 1940.

It led Tankfest visitor Jim David to comment on Facebook that at least it was ‘historically accurate’ that the Channel had previously stopped German armour.


Military re-enactments proved popular at Tankfest 2023

For the first time, Tank TV showed the action on a huge outdoor screen

Red Arrows made a flypast, though a Battle of Britain flight had to be cancelled

Red Arrows made a flypast, though a Battle of Britain flight had to be cancelled

An unparalleled line up of historic and modern tanks

Tankfest 2023, presented by the World of Tanks, welcomed visitors over the three days from as far away as Japan and Australia to experience the world’s best historic moving armoured vehicle display.

The Tank Museum’s visitor experience manager Rosanna Dean said:

“We are constantly innovating the Tankfest programme to give visitors a fresh experience every year. This year we introduced Tank TV so tank fans could watch the arena action on big screens and a viewing area dedicated to photography enthusiasts.

“It is very sad that the Nashorn was unable to make it to Bovington, but we still showcased an unparalleled line up of historic and modern running tanks from the museum’s collection.

“There was also guest armour, including a Centaur tank which made its Bovington debut, and the British Army in a display that was specially created by our curator David Willey to celebrate the Tank Museum’s 100th birthday.

“Visitors on Friday were also able to enjoy a visit from the RAF Red Arrows, who thrilled the crowds with a diamond formation flypast, although a larger flypast from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight scheduled for Sunday was cancelled due to an engine fault, which was a great pity.”

The British Army’s current tank of choice, the Challenger II, was put through its paces at Tankfest

The British Matilda II tank was used through World War II and is still in running order today

History of tanks from Little Willie to Challenger II

Visitors to Tankfest were able to explore the Tank Museum collection itself, including a new exhibition for summer 2023, which presents the tank as a cultural icon through TV, media, models, games, and film.

With over 300 tanks from 26 nations, the Tank Museum has the most historically significant collection of fighting armour in the world ranging from the world’s first ever tank, Little Willie, through to the British Army’s current main battle tank, Challenger II.

Ten major exhibitions that tell the story of armoured warfare spanning over 100 years of history have been updated for the museum’s own centenary celebrations.


The Duke of Kent visits the new Royal Armoured Corps Memorial Room


During a tour of the museum, the Royal visitor was shown a Centurion tank

New memorial room opened by HRH Duke of Kent

There was also a chance to see the museum’s new memorial room, which commemorates the sacrifice of almost 13,000 Royal Armoured Corps soldiers who have died in service since the Corps was founded in 1939.

His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent had officially opened the memorial and unveiled a plaque to mark the museum’s centenary on Wednesday 7th June 2023.

The Duke of Kent, who is the patron of both The Tank Museum and the RAC Memorial Trust, was reunited with a Centurion tank, a vehicle he served in during his 20-year service in the Royal Scots Greys.


The Duke met families of veterans, including Sally Muldowney whose father is honoured in the memorial

Further information

  • Stay up to date with the latest Tank Museum news at its website

Watch video from Tankfest 2023

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