In the wake of the success of Combat Dealers and the impact of Fury, Mark Barnes spends a day with Axis Track Services and chats with Bruce Crompton about his passion for military history.
We had been trying to organise a visit to Axis Track Services ever since my colleague Jack was introduced to Bruce Crompton at Tankfest back in June.
For whatever reason it proved impossible to get done through all the bright weather we’ve enjoyed here in England and it was on a grey day earlier this month when I set off on the road to deepest Suffolk. Happily the rain held off, save for the occasional bout of drizzle that didn’t amount to much.
The Crompton Collection. This impressive space is crammed with vehicles, weapons, equipment and memorabilia.
I was met by Bruce’s son Max and shown round the collection and workshop where the team were busy working on an Sd.Kfz 251. I am pleased to say there was time for a tea break and I had a chance to look at the quality of the work the lads achieve. Although some of them appear in episodes of Combat Dealers it is perhaps a little difficult for the show to impart just how much work goes into restorations but this place has not built an enviable reputation for nothing as the vehicles on display and endorsements on the company website show.
Probably the year’s biggest event in our military world has been the release of Fury and a number of vehicles and weapons appearing in the film came from the Crompton collection. I first met Max during hectic days at this year’s War & Peace Revival where growing anticipation for Fury was helped along by the display of two unique vehicles from the film, the Sherman and Tiger replicas built on the chassis of a pair of Alvis Stormers. A short walk into a field at the company base revealed them and a number of other props waiting whatever fate is planned for them. It would be nice to think the two movie ‘tanks’ will survive as seen because they are effectively a piece of history in themselves.
Job done: The Fury ‘Sherman’ replica resting in the autumnal Suffolk sunshine.
The ‘Sherman’ has a large camera platform fitted on the front, while the ‘Tiger’ was used for the dramatic tank battle scene. The much discussed use of the genuine Tiger 131 from the Tank Museum at Bovington involved the old brute performing circuits while it was filmed from a multitude of angles. The makers then used technology to superimpose the moving wheels on to the replica vehicle to create the scene in the film. The attention to detail on the hull and turret to make the two vehicles a match for the real thing is really impressive and even after sitting out in the English weather the ‘Sherman’ still looked the part albeit without the clutter festooned on the tank we see on screen. The barrel was a bit battered, but the name Fury was still very clear.
Just next to the tarpaulin covered ‘Tiger’ was the GMC truck seen loaded with corpses in a grizzly scene from the film. While this sounds a bit grim it is always interesting to see the props we can associate with specific scenes. A tour round the main collection revealed a number of vehicles from well-known war films, including the Kettenkrad seen wobbling round a corner in Saving Private Ryan and there was plenty more to look at.
The Saving Private Ryan Kettenkrad takes its place in the collection.
Another aspect of the collection illustrated Bruce’s strong interest in the Battle of the Bulge. The famous picture of Waffen SS troops conferring by a road sign to Malmedy during the battle is recreated with a Schwimmwagen and suitably dressed manikins. Across the way a workshop scene was crammed with details of tools and equipment. Elsewhere a number of artillery pieces had all been restored to a superb standard and serve to illustrate the diversity of the collection. If I have to pick a favourite it would be the stunning Sd.Kfz 7 cargo body half-track. I have loved German half-tracks since my earliest days building model kits and it is no coincidence that the classic Airfix example is the one that kick started my passion for them. Seeing the real thing here towing a 88mm is something very special even if the vehicle isn’t the more familiar prime mover variant – to my mind the best looking MV of World War II. I had seen the pair during their appearance at Beltring some years ago but it was nice to get a closer look without the mud!
The Battle of the Bulge – from monochrome to manikins. This is an evocative reconstruction of the classic photograph.
Aside from all the other things they have on this has been a busy year for Bruce and the team and there doesn’t appear to be the prospect of things slowing down much in 2015. Combat Dealers has been a great success and Bruce is destined to enjoy a gruelling sixty-five day shooting schedule for the second series early next year. The programme is great fun and it’s easy to see why it has become addictive viewing.
This engineering scene incorporates a huge amount of individual pieces of militaria.
A chat with Bruce reveals his huge passion for just about all things military and aside from his abiding interest in German WW2 kit he is also a devotee of the Great War and the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879 made famous in the movie Zulu, a perennial favourite in my house. With such varied interests it must be difficult to keep focused at times, but having spent many years in the business he certainly seems to manage it.
The collection’s Jagpanzer 38T Hetzer sits in front of the superb Sd.Kfz 7 and 88mm gun combo.
The problem with my visit was having too much to look at, whether it was film props, relics of colonial wars or stunning restorations such as Bruce’s own
Jagdpanzer 38T Hetzer or the example his team are restoring for a museum in Australia. The prospect of seeing the two complete tank destroyers side by side is something to relish and we hope to bring you coverage of this in the not too distant future. Bruce’s Hetzer was the tenth built by Skoda and the restoration project is another early model. The Australia bound vehicle’s gun has yet to be fitted so I was able to see the amazing job done on the interior. It had been converted to be a G13 used in the Swiss after World War II but has been returned to the original German specification.
The immaculate Hetzer restoration awaits the fitting of the main armament. This gave us the opportunity to fully appreciate the incredible standard of work on the interior. This tank destroyer will be on its way to Australia once work is complete.
This had been a memorable visit for me and I felt quite content as I headed back to sunny Southend. I really enjoyed chatting with Bruce and Max and getting attention from a pair of friendly bulldogs. The collection is amazing and it is great that so much of it is often seen at events. Bruce clearly doesn’t believe in hiding it all away and remarked that he sees himself being a more like a custodian so it can be enjoyed in the future. He views Combat Dealers as a way of presenting our military world in a positive light and made a point of adding that people who collect cap badges and small items of militaria are just as important as those operating armoured vehicles in the grand scheme of things. You cannot argue with such a positive minded philosophy.
A final look at the collection.
I would like to thank Bruce, Max and the team at Axis Track Services for a great day. Make sure you visit the excellent website www.axistrackservices.com where you can see ‘History is Violent’ from the original painting by Nicholas Trudgian. It is available as a print and is one of a series depicting exhibits from the Tank Museum at Bovington.
Words and pictures by Mark Barnes. Copyright 2014. All Rights Reserved.