National Military History Center
Last updated 26 Jan 13
Once upon a time, there was a museum near Arlon, Belgium that housed one of the largest collections of allied and axis armored fighting vehicles and support vehicles in the world. And why not? At the end of the war, it was relatively easy to scour the countryside and/or the storage facilities of the various military garrisons to pull together such a collection. Thus the Victory Memorial Museum was born and this museum housed over 140 military vehicles, 50 motorcycles and 279 uniforms from 11 different nations. As with many such museums, location and economy took its toll and the museum closed.
Enter Dean V. Kruse. For those of you who deal with collectible (one-scale) automobiles, this name should sound familiar as does the annual pilgrimage to Auburn, Indiana to the largest collectible car auctions on the planet. The Kruse Auction Park was so successful that eBay bought the operation from Dean to launch eBay Motors and after a few years, sold it back to Dean after it neglected the 'live' auction community in favor of the online community.
In early 2000, in the midst of the eBay transactions, Kruse purchased the entire collection from the closed Belgium museum. On September 4, 2000, the groundbreaking ceremony was held for the new 192,000 square foot National Military History Center that would house the former Belgian collection on a site that was directly across I-69 from the Auction Park. The museum complex opened in early 2003, with the WWII Victory Museum housed in the south wing of the complex, with an impressive automotive museum housed in the north wing.
In its new home in Indiana, the Victory collection still honors those who fought to free Europe and with an emphasis on Indiana (Hoosier) veterans. Even with approximately 75,000 square feet of space, you are immediately struck with the sheer volume of the collection and how the staff has managed to 'cram' the lot inside. It is my understanding that in the coming months, portions of the collection will be put into storage while the remaining exhibits are spread out more and put into dioramas to highlight the uniforms and other materials on display, providing the periodic visitor something different to see.
If you are looking for German or Allied tanks, you'll need to take a trip out to Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland. On the other hand, if you're looking for tank destroyers, armored fighting vehicles, halftracks, support trucks, staff cars, motorcycles and more from eleven different countries, including an LVT-3 amphibian, then this is the place to be. You will not find examples of some of these vehicles anywhere and the remainder not together in one museum anywhere else!
The museum is located a little over two hours drive up I-69 from Indianapolis, and about three hours drive from either Chicago or Detroit. You'll need at least half a day to tour the museum complex, and if you're an AFV modeler with a camera, you'd better make that a day and bring loads of film! For this article, I shot over 400 photos including photo walkarounds of 18 vehicles. You can follow my tour of some of these selected vehicles at our online armor reference library and tour the armor/AFV section.
In the meantime, click on a photo to see a larger image: