This past weekend we had the good fortune to spend a long weekend in the Chicago area. While there we were able to check out a couple museums housing tanks and armored vehicles. This review examines the tank collection at the First Division Museum at Cantigny Park in Wheaton, Illinois. Cantigny Park opened in 1958, being the creation of newspaper magnate Robert R. McCormick who had established the Robert R. McCormick Charitable Trust and designated Cantigny as a public space for education and recreation. The park has a number of different features, including a museum dedicated to McCormick, extensive gardens, walking trails and a golf course. Also housed on the grounds is the First Division Museum and an outdoor collection of tanks, of which this review will focus on.
McCormick had served as a Colonel in the First Division in WW1, hence his interest in preserving the history of the unit. The museum is not large but is well worth the hour or so it takes to walk through the displays. Walking through the museum, the first thing encountered is a series of mannequins dressed in the various uniforms of the First Division from each major US war. This section then leads to a winding path in which the viewer progresses through each US war in chronological order. The WW1 section is the most impressive, designed to emulate the trenches of WW1, including a replica French Schneider tank.
After the WW1 section is, of course, the WWII section. This area includes some interesting displays, including various firearms, uniforms and soldier kit, as well as a few larger pieces.
One of the nicer pieces on display is this German PaK 38 anti-tank gun.
In the Battle of the Bulge part of the exhibit is this rather nicely restored M4A3E8 tank.
Another interesting item is this captured Nazi flag autographed by members of the 745th Tank Battalion, a unit that was attached to the First infantry Division for a time.
These are just some of the notable items found inside the museum. That said, tank enthusiasts will naturally be most interested in the outdoor tank park found in front of the museum. Unlike most tank museums, Cantigny Park allows people to crawl on top of the outdoor display vehicles. While this is great for those that want to get pictures from on top of the vehicles, it also means it can be rather difficult on a busy day to get pictures that do not include children crawling all over the vehicles. The vehicles are arraigned chronologically, starting with a M1917 Light tank.
Next is a M5 Stuart Light tank. Being able to crawl on top of this particular tank gives one a really good perspective on just how tall this vehicle is.
The M5 is followed by an M24 Chaffee light tank. Having this one near the M5 helps illuminate just how different these two designs are and how much of a jump forward the M24 was over the M5.
Next to the M24 is a M41A3 Walker Bulldog light tank. Again, having this two vehicle near each other allows for the viewer to make a size comparison. Viewing the M41 up close, it does not exactly look all that “light” compared to the other light tanks.
After the four light tanks, the path continues to a section with three closely related tanks, a T26E4, an M46 and an M47. The T26E4 is a particular treat since this is the only remaining copy of the 25 examples of this vehicle. The T26E4 differs from the regular M26 Pershing tank in that it has a longer and more powerful 90mm gun (T15E2) than the Pershing. The extra length of the gun is pretty obvious in these pictures.
The M46 Patton tank is noteworthy primarily for it paint scheme, a Korean War style tiger design intended to sow fear in a supposedly superstitious Chinese opponent.
Here are some pictures of the M47 Patton on display. It is worth noting that this vehicle does not have the rear track tension idler wheel typically seen on M47 tanks.
Next on the path is an M48 Patton tank named “Snoopy.” This tank is interesting in that is has the early style engine decking and is missing the commanders machine gun turret, indicative of the early M48 tanks. However, it is missing the rear track tension idler, something usually found on the early M48 tanks.
The M48 is followed by an M551A1 Sheridan light tank. One thing the pictures do not show is how on the edges of the vehicle the paint had been rubbed off exposing the shiny aluminum underneath.
After the Sheridan is an M60 tank. Not much to say about this one, M60 tanks are pretty common as monuments outside VFW and American Legion halls so this one is not quite as exciting to see as some of the others on display at Cantigny. Some of the roadwheels are sporting some significantly damaged rubber.
After the M60 is the M1 Abrams tank. This vehicle is painted desert tan although as far as we know, very few 105mm armed M1 Abrams were involved in Operation Desert Storm or the later middle east wars. These conflicts were fought with the later M1A1 and M1A2 variants. M1 tanks are not very common as monument pieces, so it certainly was fun to be able to crawl around on this one.
The outdoor display of vehicles ends in a somewhat anticlimatic manner with an M113A2 APC. It’s….an aluminum box on tracks. One thing we discovered, it’s also the most difficult of all the vehicle in the park to climb on top of.
That’s our quick review of the tank park at Cantigny. For those that plan to be in the Chicago area, it’s worth the 45 minute trip from the city. Being able to crawl on the vehicles is an added plus and will make the trip more entertaining for any children coming along. The fact that the park also contains other attractions besides tanks makes it an easier sell as a travel destination for any family members or travel companions that are not particularly interested in tanks. The park is free although there is a $10 parking fee. Pack a picnic basket and enjoy the gardens while getting to see some historic armored vehicles. After all, it’s probably one of the few chances you may get to climb aboard an M1 Abrams outside of joining the army.