Engine sound recording at the Musee des Blindes in Saumur
With the assistance of the Musee des Blindes in Saumur

As you probably already know, the Musee des Blindes (tank museum) in Saumur was established as the military equipment museum of the French army armored force and for this reason, the staff, including the curator, is composed of former military personnel. The Saumur Tank Museum owns a magnificent collection of vehicles. Around 100 of them are exhibited, but actually, the collection includes over 700 vehicles and firearms turning this collection into one of the most prominent in the world.

Weather Incertitude

Despite some worries concerning the weather during our arrival, the sun was shinning on the next morning and we were then able to start our duty. This time, recording was of a different sort. We did not intend to record the sound of the vehicle itself rather our task was only to record the King Tiger tank's Maybach engine sound. The King Tiger from Saumur Tank Museum is the only one still kept in working condition in the world. With great impatience, we arrived at the museum at its opening at 9 o'clock in morning. When we entered the building, we were warmly welcomed by the curator, Colonel Olmer, and passed in front of a French Renault Tank. Renault was the first tank manufacturer in the world to produce a turret revolving type tank. It was now time to move to the next building which, was the German vehicles exposition hall, where we found the King Tiger and the Tiger I. We were told that to make the King Tiger workable, 5 chassis were needed to obtain necessary parts. This showed the great passion the Saumur Tank Museum's staff to restore these tanks.

Usually, when we go to museums to record tank sound, their size and their strong appearance never fail to inspire awe in us. But this time, with the King Tiger just in front of us, we just felt worried. The reason was that prior to leaving Japan, we received a letter in which Colonel Olmer was warning us that "the King Tiger is an old lady that sometimes can't hear what she is told" so there was no guarantee of engine start. We then realized that this was a foreseeable circumstance. His tank was about half a century old. But, as we had come a long way from Japan, we wanted to avoid saying to our colleagues that were waiting at the company's head office that we failed.Colonel Olmer with mechanics But, the unique "raw" sound of the Tiger is not something which can be procured so simply, and amateurs as we were, we had to make many recording rehearsals in order to fulfill our mission on that particular day. Moreover, since special arrangements were made by the army, a truly rare advantage, we felt that we could not miss this chance. We were also extrememly grateful to the three veteran mechanics who maintained the tank and who were at our disposal thanks to the Colonel.

The Beast comes back to life

We immediately set up the digital audio equipment and video camera, which had been brought carefully from Japan and waited for the engine-starting signal. First it was started with the electric motor starter. The large-sized battery, which served as a starter power source was placed on a cart aside the tank and was connected. For fire prevention and safety the battery was not loaded inside the tank. The engine start time was shorter than that of an automobile. The 700hp V-12 gasoline engine coughed a little bit and then sputtered into life.

Although the engine was not considered muffled at the time of its use, we didn't feel that it was loud either. The sound was completely different from the smooth sound of today's electric motors and was boorish. Simply because it doesn't start frequently, the smoke emission was considerable. The exhausts fumes didn't rise only from exhaust pipes but also from engine compartment louvers. As this time it was not planned to run the tank, it was started in the hangar resulting in a heavy fog around us. Batteries on the cart In these conditions the sound was superb and echoed fortuitously inside the hall. Then, we asked the mechanics in charge of the operations to increase engine rpm. When we were kids, we always dreamt about the models we built and today, we were standing there with the actual tank in front of us and its engine had been started just for us. For this reason, in spite of work, this was quite the sentimental moment. We thanked the Colonel by saying "tres bien" (well done) just after the engine started for the first time (eventhough we didn't speak French).

Recording time limit was getting close. The next task was to record the crank starting procedure. This method consists in making the flywheel inside the engine turn with the crank. Its rotary mass will then make the engine start. Two mechanics started to turn the crank, which seemed to be quite heavy. When the flywheel rotation speed became sufficient, link with the crank was released and the driver tried to start simultaneously. The crank starting sound was very different from the electric motor starting because of the characteristically laborious flywheel groaning sound. This sound can be likened to that of a starting jet fighter fan.

Unfortunately, this crank start didn't work. 3 more attempts were made but the engine still didn't want to start. Our strong mechanics started to get out of breath and they had to have a break before taking up this challenge again. Crank starting On the fourth attempt, even though we began to think that it would be useless, the engine was revived at last. During WWII, one wonders if the batteries would become so weak during bitterly cold winters that they had to depend on the crank mechanism to start the engine. Maybe, the mild summer was responsible for this smooth engine start. Standing early in the morning in this hall that features a concrete floor and no heater, you get chilled to the bone but usually, the temperature rarely goes under zero. Anyway, the temperature on this mild summer day was 16 degrees. After recording the manual starting sound, the King Tiger returned to its slumber.

The beat of the Maybach engine

Recording engine sound This is a bit of digression, but when the engine was running, we were able to see some flames coming out of the exhaust pipes. When you see this, you can easily understand why flash hiding devices were fitted on the late war German tanks. During night operations on the battlefield, this can be easily spotted and would make the King Tiger an easy target. I think that the recording process only took 20 minutes, but the memory of this great moment will last forever.

*Sound recorded in February 2000

1/16 R/C Tiger I web page |1/16 R/C King Tiger web page