IT'S a rare part of Australia's military history, but the Australian Cruiser Mark 1 (AC1) 'Sentinel' tank looked nothing short of heroic under the big lights in Cairns.
Sentinel is one of six WWII Australian-built tanks left in existence, and after spending most of its life as a tractor and years in the US rusting in one of the world's largest private tank collections, it has come home to sit on display in the Australian Armour and Artillery Museum.
The homecoming is thanks to publisher Wargaming.net, the group behind the online multiplayer game World of Tanks.
The company is known for reaching deep into military history and rescuing or refurbishing wartime tanks and planes for museums around the world, in part due to a corporate policy of supporting education and partly because of a demand for historical accuracy coming from their player base.
"Wargaming is passionate about history," said Tracy Spaight, Director of Special Projects at Wargaming.
"We work with museums and nonprofits around the world to make sure that the vehicles of World War II are preserved for future generations. We are thus excited to bring the Sentinel tank back to Australia, where she was built, so that Australians can rediscover this piece of their country's WWII heritage."
Wargaming acquired the tank from the private collection of the late Jacques Littlefield, a well-known tank enthusiast and founder of the Military Vehicle Technology Foundation (MVTF) in the USA.
Bringing the tank home
A good deal of luck came into Wargaming's grabbing the tank, in that their Director of Militaria Relations for Wargaming America Nicholas Moran was working as a volunteer at the MVTF when the AC1 showed up.
"This tank showed up in 2006," Moran said.
"I kind of sat there in Littlefield's front lawn for about five years. Now the problem was he was getting a tank in a week and it takes more than a week to fix a tank so he had to pick and choose which ones he was going to pay attention to.
"He died suddenly. The main focus of his work up until then was the panther tank. It was repaired enough for him to drive it, he drove it, and a week later he was dead.
"So then the question was, what the devil happens to his collection?
"The rule that MVTF had was, wherever this collection goes, it must be on public display. There were offers by certain rich personnel to buy the collection, but they wanted to keep it as their personal collection.
"They finally decided what they were going to do was donate the collection to the Collings Foundation Massachusetts. They've got a great reputation for restoring and operating aircraft.
"The Collings Foundation were willing to put most of the tanks on display. The catch was that they had to build the building and they were on the other side of the continent.
"To raise the funds to do that, they had to sell a portion of the 220 pieces that Littlefield had. So, a large auction was created.
"Now before the auction started, because we had the relationship already, we'd worked with MVTF before, we were told that this was going to happen so we looked at what was on the sale list and we selected Sentinel as the vehicle we wished to purchase.
"We purchased Sentinel. We then had to figure out, how do we get it from here to there. So I started doing research on export laws.
"I now know more about tank export laws from the US than I ever thought I had to need to know.
"Okay, the population of Cairns isn't the largest in the world but what you do have is all the tourists from around the world who are going to see the Great Barrier Reef they might spend a day or two in Cairns and hey, presto, you see Sentinel and you see the heritage of the Australian Armoured Corps."
Taking control of Sentinel
Sentinel is available as a premium (paid-for) tank in Wargaming's free-to-play MMO World of Tanks.
Player reaction to the tank has been split between those keen to grab a piece of Australia's history and have a play with it and those who call Sentinel's performance broken.
Speaking on the latter group, Moran said "I generally agree with them to an extent."
"If it is in a tier 4 game as a tier 4 tank, it is actually very good. It rewards aggressive play, it's mobile, it's flexible. The problem occurs when you start going up to tier 6 and you start meeting tanks that are substantially better than yours and because it's a good general-purpose tank it doesn't have anything that it's absolutely excellent at.
"It's not a brawler, it's not a sniper, so there's nothing that you can fall back on, rely upon, at the higher tears.
"On the other hand, it actually fits in with the character of the real tank as well. By the time the real one was built in 1942, the Germans were out with tigers, which are so good they're tier 7 and the tier 4 tank will never meet it in the game, so it would have the same problem.
"If it met, say, a Japanese tank of the same era, it would actually do very well. If it met what everyone else in the world was building, the crew would be very hard pressed. So to that extent, it fits in with the character.
"Of course, people don't play the game for character. They play it for enjoyment. At which point you would probably want to be a collector, you "I really want my sentinel" in order to play it. It's still viable, I've played it at tier 6, you just want to be careful.
When asked if there any plans to tweak the tank, its cost or to shift its tier, he said "we're always reevaluating how the tank is performing, and if the doomsayers are correct that this tank is not worth it what's going to happen is it's going to be modified in the game to bring it up to an appropriate level. "
"Generally speaking, we are very reluctant to make a premium tank worse because people have paid money for it and they have the expectation that it's going to be a certain level, but we usually do not have a problem with making a premium tank better if it's necessary to do so."
The author was a guest of Wargaming.net during the event in Cairns.