The Central Armed Forces Museum (Russian: Центральный музей Вооруженных сил) is Russia’s largest military history museum boasting a collection of over 800,000 exhibits. It’s worth a visit if you like old weapons, military uniforms, decorations and insignia, but don’t be surprised to see almost no interactive or multimedia installations here. Most rooms are quite academic, with glass cases, carpet runners and exhibits kept out of the visitors’ reach. Very few things change here and now, as in the past, the bust of the leader of the proletariat revolution, Vladimir Lenin, seems to welcome visitors going upstairs to the second floor. There are, however, several interactive rooms highly popular with visitors, where you can pick up real weapons.
This 5,000-square-meter museum has 24 rooms dedicated to the history of the Russian army from the 16th to the 21st century. Exhibits are arranged in chronological order: the history of the Russian Army and Navy before 1917 (Rooms 1 to 3); the Red Army during the Civil War and foreign military intervention (Rooms 4 to 6); the Red Army and Navy on guard for the USSR (Rooms 7 and 8); Russian Armed Forces in World War II (Rooms 9 to 18); Soviet Armed Forces in the post-war period (Rooms 19 to 21) and the creation and development of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (Rooms 22 and 23). Room 24 is reserved for temporary exhibitions. Over 150 samples of Soviet and Russian military hardware are on display just outside the museum, from artillery weapons dating back to the Russian Civil War of 1918-1921 to the latest ballistic missiles.
Highly valuable exhibits are on display here, such as the real turret of a tank blown up in the Battle of Stalingrad, the authentic fragment of a wall of one of the Brest Fortress’s dungeons with a carved inscription that reads ‘I am dying, but I do not surrender. Farewell, Fatherland!’, a flagstone from the Reichstag showing autographs left by Soviet soldiers, as well as Marshall I. Chernyakhovsky’s overcoat, pierced by a splinter.
One of the museum’s key strengths is an in-depth presentation of Russian military history and the military history of countries which fought with or against Russia. For instance, the room dedicated to World War I displays Russian military decorations alongside with Hungarian, English, French and German ones. Another room focuses on the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944 and the history of the Normandie-Niemen fighter squadron. Incidentally, the exhibition is centred around soldier ammunition, military leaders and heroes, rather than common soldiers.
The museum’s central focus is on World War II, with ten rooms dedicated just to this war. With its strong emphasis on military operations, fronts and generals, the exhibition is somewhat lacking when it comes to displaying the human dimension of wartime. The only exception are the photographs of S. I. Petrova, a woman from Leningrad, that show what one year of siege can do to a human being.
The exhibition culminates with the Victory Room (Room 18), displaying trampled German banners alongside the victorious Soviet ones. In the centre of the room is the exact replica of the red banner that soldiers M. Yegorov and M. Kantaria mounted over the Reichstag in May 1945. The original is kept in a special capsule hidden in the museum’s underground storage-room. In Room 18, you can view a film showing the Moscow Victory Parade of 1945.
Four rooms are devoted to Russian military history in the post-war period. This includes nuclear bomb development, participation in local conflicts (Vietnam, Korea, Egypt, Algeria, Syria, Angola, Afghanistan and Chechnya). Another exhibition focuses on the present-day Russian army. The upgraded Rooms 19 to 21 feature modern installations and use of sound effects and theatrical elements.
The Museum has its own book repository. The library of the Central Armed Forces Museum has been expanding since 1946, turning into a military academic library in 2007. There are over 110,000 books on the shelves and in storage, as well as other print publications, including autographed books and gifts from the personal libraries of military leaders and statesmen. Of special interest is the unique collection of books from Rodina, the Russian-American cultural and educational society, featuring books on military branches, the air force and the navy. The collection boasts works by A. Denikin, P. Bogdanovich, N. Golovin and other well-known personalities. These are authentic historical records of military history and construction as well as of the Russian Army and war philosophy.
Excursions and other services
The museum holds special days on Victory Day (9 May), the International Museum Day (18 May) and Children’s Day (1 June). On these days, visitors can go on a tour, meet veterans, attend a concert and try food cooked in a mobile kitchen trailer. Traditionally, the museum commemorates various joyful and tragic events and holds open classes dedicated to memorable dates in Russian military history, such as the liberation of cities, major military operations and victories. An entrance ticket is required to participate in a class; participants meet by the excursions office.
Children attending elementary school are offered a tour entitled ‘The Great Patriotic War (World War II)’, an interactive class on ‘Weapons of Victory’ and a combined class titled ‘The War Knows No Kids’. In the museum’s classroom, young visitors learn how weapons from WWII were created and used, and they are generally fascinated to hold the legendary 3-line rifle M1891 and the Nagant M1895 revolver. When the excursion is over, visitors become spectators; the local cinema plays a film about children’s feats at war. Students in Grades 5 to 8 can attend another interactive activity, ‘Soldiers listening to songs of wartime’, dedicated to famous military songs and to the impressive stories of their creation. Senior high school students can attend a variety of lectures and go on a military hardware tour (May to September).
On the first floor of the museum is Ekh, dorogi, a restaurant serving dishes popular during WWII. Waiters dressed in uniforms will offer you navy-style macaroni, buckwheat with canned meat, ukha (fish soup) and borsch. Modern pop singers perform Soviet songs dating to World War II. Here, visitors will be able to delve into the atmosphere of everyday life in wartime and to purchase military hardware mockups, miniatures, books and souvenirs in the museum shop.
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