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Corowa 2009.
Year of the Blitz and 30th Year Meet.

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After the heat of last year's Corowa, we held off making a go/no-go decision until such time as we had a reasonable idea from the 7 day forecasts what the weather was going to be like. This year turned out to be in a nice temperature range with sudden rain showers: not ideal, but far preferable to 43 deg C heat.
The following article is my experience of Corowa, it is by no means representative of anyone else's experience or a comprehensive record of all the vehicles that were there. A web search for pictures of Corowa 2009 will turn up quite a few sites of photo galleries.

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Jan T. (one of the organisers) told me that they had 192 ex-military (and a few current military) vehicles registered for the event. If I recall correctly, that was lunchtime Friday, so I am reasonably sure it exceeded last year's numbers, perhaps by more, once the late arrivals were in.

The Corowa locals seem to be quite matter of fact about being invaded by all these strange people and their vehicles. The event is quite obviously an income bonanza for local businesses: I suppose after 30 years it has become an accepted part of the Corowa calendar.
A great deal of behind the scenes work goes on between the organising committee, venues, caterers, and the local and state authorities. There is a formal protocol in place for any convoy events - such as the tracked vehicle run on Thursday to the farm which includes a marked escort vehicle.
The approach of the organisers is to arrange things in such a way that everyone can have some fun, without upsetting the locals and as safely as possible.


Of interest to me was the smattering of armoured vehicles present, mostly at the airport:
- Centurion Tank.
- 2 x British CVRT variants.
- 3 x Australian (Bren Gun) Carrier variants including a Mortar version reproduction.
- 1 x British Mk 2 Carrier - for sale.
- 2 x White Scout Cars (more?).
- 1 x Saracen.
- 1 x Buffalo amphibious landing vehicle.
- 1 x US Halftrack (ex-Israeli).
- 1 x Ford Lynx Scout Car.

No Ferrets or Stuart tanks this year.

As per past years, there was an informal schedule on a "come if you want" basis. Tooles' disposal warehouse was again open and many Corowa attendees took the chance to do the Alladin's Cave visit and most returned with goodies. Mainly clothing, tarps and rolls of material.

Thursday:
I had previously organised with the Tasmanian owner (Greg B.) of a recently imported CVRT Sabre light tank to have a drive of his vehicle. It took several attempts before I succeeded in having a drive on the Saturday afternoon as it seemed every time we got in the vehicle it rained, "downpour" would be the correct term for it. This included the Thursday morning armour run to a nearby farm which was only 4km from the centre of Corowa; evidently this has now become a permanent part of the Corowa event.
It was nice to get into the vehicle, don the headsets and have good clear communication with the driver. The bloke riding the turret with me (Bill R.) turned out to be quite capable as an observer/commander, so we shared the duties as needed. On enquiring where he had learnt the necessities of the job he informed me that he was a commercial helicopter pilot and that he was just using aviation protocols plus a bit of civilian AFV crewing. Likewise I learnt in aviation first before getting into AFVs.

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Myself on guard duty on the Sabre prior to departure.
Photo courtesy of Philip Hartas of Rethink Studios.

What we weren't aware of was the fact that this was actually a picnic. More about that later.

The vehicles formed up and off we went, lead by an escort vehicle, then the slowest vehicle a Universal (Bren Gun) Carrier, a CVRT Striker, us in the Sabre, then a couple of Land Rovers, a Jeep and a motor bike.

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Universal Carrier.
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.


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CVRT Striker.
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.


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CVRT Sabre.
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.

The turn out looked rather disappointing, as you can see by the 2 photos. But, Corowa is casual. As we discovered later, that was not the case.

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On the way to the farm.
Photo courtesy of Philip Hartas of Rethink Studios.


We arrived at the farm and were told that we could drive around on the tracks and to basically follow along. After about 15 minutes of this we ended up by the river and discovered we had been joined by quite a lot of people and vehicles, most of whom were setting up for lunch. On our vehicle, we had nothing other than my bottle of water: so it does pay to make sure you have the printed version of the events schedule! Luckily one of the Hummer crew took pity on me and I had a most appreciated sausage in bread. Thanks fellas!

Lesson learned: have a copy of the events schedule on you and also some snacks as you never quite know when you may become a participant.

Whilst there, the "Amphibicar" (modern civilian vehicle) came up the river and exited to join us. It along with an amphibious jeep later headed off down river. The amphibicar is notable for how quiet it is on land, it snuck up on me at the airport a day later.

Once lunch was over it was time to pack up and head back to Corowa, which was when it started raining, lots!

We got totally soaked, and being that we were in a tank and by necessity had the hatches open there was no escape from the rain, both what was coming down and what was hitting our faces due to having to stay unbuttoned (hatches open) as extra lookouts for the driver.
As you can see from the pic below, despite the rain, it was still fun. The only reason I am standing in front of the Centurion is that the bloke who was taking the picture for me was standing under cover so that he (and my camera) didn't end up soaked too.

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Myself: complete with soggy hat, clothes and boots. But it was fun!

At that point I decided the sensible thing to do was go and have a warm shower, change of clothes and boots, something more than a sausage and bread to eat: and then see what else was happening.

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Tim Scriven's Blitz Portee.


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Rear view of 2pdr Anti-tank gun. Note the slideways fitted to the truck, to mount and dismount the gun.


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Left side detail view.


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Chevy Blitz, Short wheel base, C15?


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Dodge "Carryall".


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Chevy Blitz, Long wheel base, C60?


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I know that the Americans experimented with a 6 wheel jeep,
but am not aware of any making it to Australia. Thus I am guessing this
vehicle is a replica.


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Blitz van C15?


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LVT Buffalo mobile in the water! The engine was running
really badly and it worried me that they were persevering rather than
trying to located the problem. I have never heard a radial miss and
backfire like this one.


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Buffalo out of the water. They certainly are a huge
vehicle. Note the "W" shaped integral grousers on the tracks.


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LARC (Lighter, Amphibious Re-supply Cargo) the vehicle that
replaced the Duck (DUKW) in army/navy use. The LARC was notable for the fact
that it had an aluminium hull and no suspension (balloon tyres)


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Between the airport and Corowa itself were some roadworks.
Pictured here is the usual mix of ex-military and civilian vehicles,
in this case a very neat and tidy Blitz in 2 tone camo.
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.


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An "under restoration" long wheel base Blitz. The bloke in
the fluro shirt is one of the organising committee, Hugh D.
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.


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A similar, but more complete version of the above vehicle.
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.


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A Landrover Series 2? Ambulance.
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.

Friday:
This was a dull day, for some reason everybody seemed to disappear. I intended to use the opportunity to take some photos, but got distracted with the result being that most of the photos from now on are courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill. What follows is a random selection of vehicles that looked interesting to either Phil or myself.

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To the best of my knowledge this is also a replica of an experimental vehicle
that never went into production. In this case a Blitz married to a
Universal Carrier driveline.
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.


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Chevy Blitz.
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.


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The army failed to notice the pebble hazard outside the jump shack at the airport.
somebody told me last year that this had been intended to be part of a roundabout that
never eventuated. What it does demonstrate is that even dual axle drive with dual
wheels has its limitations. We were all quite disappointed when they successfully
retrieved the bogged truck without the help of the APC.
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.


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A Ford GPW jeep.
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.


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Blitz C60?.
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.


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Tracked armour at the airport.
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.


Saturday:
The day of the town parade and flea market. The usual conundrum, to go down to the main street and watch the parade, to participate in it or to go straight to the airport and wait there. I did the latter.

There were 40 odd Blitz's in the Saturday morning parade. They ranged in condition from newly restored, such as "Swiss Chris's" vehicle (which will soon be on its way to Switzerland), through to partial/under restoration and even unrestored "as found" (but brought to roadworthy). Which goes to show that you don't have to have a mint condition restoration to be able to enjoy your vehicle.

The following pictures are of the main street parade.

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A nice example of the Aussie upgrade of the
M3 White Scout Car to an armoured command vehicle.
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.


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A standard M3 White Scout Car.
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.


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Chevy Blitz.
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.


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Bandianna Military Museum's DUKW.
A very nice example.
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.


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Amphibious jeep (SEEP).
There is probably quite a story to this one. I am told that it is owned by
Don and Iris Wilson of Mildura, it was their everyday car when they
first got married and they even took it on there honeymoon!
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.


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Amphibious jeep.
A nice example.
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.


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Chevvy Blitz.
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.


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Ford Blitz F60S?.
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.


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Chevvy Blitz.
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.


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A Haflinger - intended as a light weight and air transportable utility vehicle.
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.


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The Hummer - it is a real one!
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.


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Er, it's a truck. Maple Leaf?
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.


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Nice Studebaker 6x6.
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.


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What lurks under the cab of a Ford Blitz?. This partial
restoration reveals the normally unseen side valve V8. Nice job.
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.


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Ford Blitz F60S?.
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.


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LVT Buffalo, they really are a huge vehicle.
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.


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Chev Blitz.
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.


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LP2 (Local Pattern) Universal Carrier.
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.


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CVRT Sabre.
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.


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CVRT Striker.
Photo courtesy of Phillip Hillier of Broken Hill.


In the afternoon, after several false starts over the previous days - due to the fact it rained every time we climbed on the vehicle - I got to have a drive of Greg B's Sabre. Greg imported this vehicle roughly 2 years ago and like any of us that has done so, had lots of hurdles to overcome. Tracked vehicle importation is no fun and a lot of angst, if you are contemplating doing it, have a talk first to someone who has been through the experience. Even a wheeled vehicle importation is not for those who want a stress free life.
For those not familiar with a Sabre, it is a variant of the British CVRT light tank family, best known of which is the Scorpion with a 2 man turret and 76mm gun. The Sabre has the same body but a different turret and a 30mm gun. The difficulty in importing even a de-ac gun meant that Greg opted to get a repro gun trough and a piece of pipe to represent the gun - very convincing in appearance.
The last time I drove a CVRT was in England at the Beltring MV show in 1999, so effectively I had to start from the beginning again. After getting Greg to go over the controls and especially the location of the ignition switch it was time to get going. I had no end of trouble with the gear change pedal. In the CVRT this is under your left foot deep down in the gloom of the driver's hole. You heel down to change up the gears and toe down to change down. On a motor bike, the foot change, is not an issue, but on CVRT it is. The mechanism is so stiff and heavy that I was having to raise my foot and stab at it with the result my foot was slipping off the pedal, which made getting the next gear even more awkward as I was still trying to locate the pedal by feel when it was time to change gear again. There is also the need to time the changes with engine revs to try and minimise the typical CVRT nose dive and climb.
Whilst in England I saw one of the engineers from the Alvis team that designed the CVRT family driving a Scorpion and on the down change he had only the front 2 wheel sets on the ground! So if even the designers have problems, then I don't feel as bad. Frankly, I think it really comes down to being familiar with the vehicle and you can only get that through experience and driving it often.
There is no clutch as such on a CVRT, all gear changes are done "hot". There is a centrifugal clutch, but it is only there to allow the vehicle to move off from stationary and does not play any part in gear changes.
In total I had about 10 to 15 minutes in the driver's seat which was not long enough to get to know the vehicle and become comfortable with it. Greg had set temperature operating limits and as the engine temperature was exceeding its limit both of us were concerned. Were it my Ferret I would have just kept an eye on it, but being that it was someone else's vehicle AND with an engine with an alloy head I didn't want to risk it. I could understand him being conservative as spares are expensive and would have to come from England. So we called a halt, climbed out and let the vehicle cool down.
Personally I found the Sabre to be a struggle in the amount of time I had to drive it. As a qualitive comparison, I have had less trouble on the several occasions that I have driven a Centurion (and they are known for being a challenge when it comes to the gearbox).
The Sabre appears to be especially prone to the "2 rides in 1" effect. This is quite noticeable with my Ferret due to its short wheelbase and likewise with the Sabre. In both vehicles, the driver is located almost at the middle of the length of the vehicle. The Sabre turret crew are located at the back of the vehicle which serves to amplify any pitching.
Thus the driver can be quite happy, think that his gearchanges are okay and that the ride cross country is okay too. But the turret crew are getting bounced around and find the gearchanges quite harsh. Purely a case of how far physically you are from the centre of rotation of the vehicle. Probably the least prone to this effect in my experience is a Centurion, where the driver is right at the front and the turret crew although high, are in the middle of a long vehicle and find the ride quite docile.
I was sporting some bruises afterwards on hips and back from going over the knife's edge and some of the wash outs we encountered on the off-road course - all of which lined up with the hatch rim padding on the turret.
In summary, the Sabre drive was not what I had expected. They are not what I would term an "instinctive" vehicle, you work at it. However, I was appreciative of the chance to drive it and am glad I did so.

The movement discipline and protocols that Corowa has in place for armoured tracked vehicles are well thought out and have safety as the number 1 priority. Whilst in the airport grounds, a ground guide is a requirement. At one point the usual people were not to be found so I grabbed an ex-M113 APC commander I knew and got him to do the job. He gave us an interesting lesson in the military way of doing it - thanks Dave!

Once we had bedded down the Sabre, that was about it for me and Corowa 2009. Time to pack for the 2 day trip back to Broken Hill.

++++ Accurate Blitz model and type I.d.s would be most appreciated! ++++

My thanks to Greg B. for the Sabre experience.

 

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