BRITISH MUSEUMS RECALL ERA OF BOMBERS AND THE BLITZ.
There's no need to try and fool Londoners that war is somehow glamorous.
While American homes and neighborhoods were safe havens during both world wars, residents of the British capital were the frequent targets of their enemies. In the first world war, it was zeppelins that rained down destruction. Just 25 years later, bombers and the notorious V-1 and V-2 rockets pummeled the city of 10 million with terror.
No wonder, then, that the main British war museums focus more than their American counterparts on the human dimension of war, the toll taken on the fighting men and those at home.
A first-time trip to London isn't really complete without taking the time to remember the sacrifices this city made, particularly in the early, dark days of World War II.
It makes a subsequent visit to St. Paul's Cathedral - which almost supernaturally survived the Blitz - all that more moving.
It makes Buckingham Palace - which was bombed along with far less majestic places like the East End - all that more human. And it makes the Parliament - where Winston Churchill thundered his defiance of Hitler, even as the capital was running out of foodstuffs - more a shrine to democratic ideals.
In brief, here are some of the war museums in and around London. All are terrific places for kids, who will appreciate the machinery and perhaps learn something about the human cost of war:
Imperial War Museum, on Lambeth Road east of the Thames; open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; admission, about $6 for adults: Set in a building as impressive as its name, this museum chronicles the history of all the nation's armed forces. Inside the grand central display area, dozens of planes, tanks and other military weaponry are on display. But perhaps the one that caught my eye most was a midget submarine used by the Italians. Dropped off by a mother sub, the one-man vehicle would sneak under enemy ships, attach an explosive device and (with luck) scoot away before the bomb exploded.
The main gallery is impressive; a huge V-2 rocket gives an idea of the terror Londoners must have felt when those predecessors to intercontinental missiles came crashing down in their communities. Field Marshal Montgomery's tank is here, as is Norman Schwarzkopf's field uniform - two desert commanders, separated by a half-century but facing many of the same challenges.
Galleries spotlight World War I and World War II, from the battlefield and home-front perspective. Another pays homage to the men and women who have won the Victoria Cross and George Cross, Britain's two highest medals for valor.
Throughout, the personal side of warfare is explained. A special gallery brings the sights and sounds - even the smells - of World War I trench warfare to life. Another focuses on jungle warfare during World War II; another, on life during the Blitz, when for 53 consecutive nights, Londoners endured the pummeling of Luftwaffe destruction.
National Army Museum, on Royal Hospital Road south of Buckingham Palace; open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily; admission is free. With a pair of big 5.5-inch guns flanking the entrance, it's impossible not to know this is a war-related facility.
The museum traces the history of Britain's army from early times to the present, with an emphasis on the 18th century through World War II.
Exhibits include ``The Right to Serve,'' a celebration of women in the royal land forces, and ``Cut, Thrust & Dagger,'' which displays two centuries of army swords. One fun display: the skeleton of Marengo, Napoleon's favorite horse and the one who was with the French leader at Waterloo.
Royal Air Force Museum, on Grahame Park Way in north London; open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily; admission charge. Want to fly a Tornado in a simulator? Or learn what takeoff in a Harrier jet feels like? This is the place for you. The history of the Royal Air Force, which dates back to World War I, is on display.
A large map room reveals one of the great secrets of the Second World War: Britain's advancements over Germany in radar helped plotters anticipate Luftwaffe planes before they ever made the coast, helping the RAF retain control of the skies. That control was the only thing that kept Hitler from launching his proposed invasion of the British isles. The human cost of war isn't neglected here, either. The ``Battle of Britain Experience'' brings the dogfights and the heroism of British anti-aircraft crews to life.
Duxford Airfield, near Cambridge about 50 miles north of London; open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily; admission charge. A famous RAF base has 140 aircraft on display, from a Spitfire to a Concorde. Hangars, control towers and support facilities have been restored to their World War II appearance. In summer, air shows occur frequently.
HMS Belfast, off Tooley Street in London; open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily; admission charge. Launched in 1938, the Belfast played a major role in sinking the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst. It later supported the Normandy landings. Painted in camouflage, guides now assist visitors interpreting the lives of sailors who served aboard her during World War II.
Cabinet War Rooms, on King Charles Street in London; open 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily; admission charge. Visit the underground complex where Churchill directed the Allied War effort and kept in contact with Franklin Roosevelt. Churchill's bedroom, map room, Cabinet room and more than a dozen others have been restored to their 1940 look.
Portsmouth Naval Base, about 75 miles southwest of London; open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily; no charge to wander around the dockyard area; separate charges to visit each ship. Visit Lord Nelson's HMS Victory, which led the British fleet in the historic Battle of Trafalgar. The salvaged Mary Rose, Henry VIII's favorite warship, which sunk before the monarch's eyes, is being restored and is on display, as is the 1860 ironclad HMS Warrior.
Portsmouth's role as a British naval base began in 1194 when King Richard ordered a dockyard. It continues today as a working navy facility, although working areas are off-limits to tourists for security reasons. In 1944, Portsmouth was the staging area for the Normandy invasion.
Photo: HMS Warrior, the first ironclad in the Royal Navy, is just one of the historic ships on display in Portsmouth, England.
Knight-Ridder Tribune Photo Service
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Nov 17, 1996|
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