The Armoured Vehicle Archive Centre was created by the Ministry of Defence in 1965. The aim was to gather together, to preserve, restore and display in a single Tank Museum everything tank related, whether French or foreign, and being of historical, technological and educational interest. In practice, this means that the collection expands as new exhibition halls become ready and it is all realised with funding from local regional authorities (The Loire Region, Maine and Loire County, the City of Saumur).
The collection includes mementos from the Battle of Berry-au-Bac, from General Estienne, the “Father of the French Tank” whose name has been lent to the Tank Museum, and from Major Bossut, one of the first officers to be killed in action whilst commanding a Tank Unit.
In 2008, the Museum celebrated its thirtieth birthday!
It is a living museum: first and foremost because the collection is growing year on year and, secondly, because exhibits are used in public events to give real, live displays.
Currently, the “General Estienne Museum” welcomes 45,000 visitors annually. Once the entire site has been fitted out to modern museum standards, it will be able to accommodate 70,000 visitors annually. Visits are linked to a permanent exhibition around which two itineraries, one historic and the other technical, intersect at “theatres of convergence”. These are important points of intersection where History has relied upon Technology and Technology has influenced History. Each year, two temporary themed exhibitions will emphasise a particular historical or technological aspect of the use of armoured vehicles.
Now housed in a vast building especially adapted to its use and continually evolving so as to welcome an ever increasing public, the Tank Museum has become much more than a simple depot for a collection of military vehicles. It has realised its true vocation as a Centre of History and Memory.