With an iconic T-34 tank guarding the entrance, you know where you are. The Central Museum of Armed Forces takes you through Russia’s military history, from its earliest days to modern times.
Founded soon after the Revolution, the museum moved to its present location in the north of Moscow in the 1960s. More than 20 halls are filled with thousands of items, and there is also a large outdoor display.
The exhibitions tracing the history of the Tsarist army and the Russian Civil War are currently closed for a makeover. Even without them, there is plenty to see, though. The focus is on World War II, from Soviet propaganda posters to weapons and banners captured from the Germans, the collection is a close-up of the some of the country’s most dramatic events.
One of the displays is dedicated to the 1941 Moscow parade. Stalin insisted on its being held even as the Germans closed in on the city. The troops left Red Square to head straight to the frontline. The parade had a tremendous impact on morale in Moscow. The capital never surrendered.
There are also exhibits telling the tale of the siege of Leningrad, one of the most arduous in world history. It lasted 900 days and became a major symbol of Soviet resilience.
There is also the battle of Stalingrad, which marked the turning point in the war. The city’s very name drove Hitler’s obsession with it. Seizing Stalingrad – Stalin’s City – would deal the USSR a disastrous blow. Stalin’s order to the troops was: “Not one step back.” The Soviet losses were so great that at times the life expectancy of a newly arrived soldier was less than a day.
The culmination of the World War II display is the Victory Hall, celebrating the USSR’s triumph. The collection’s most treasured object is the actual Victory Banner raised in Berlin in May 1945.
There are also personal belongings of Soviet military leaders, including Stalin’s own hat and overcoat, and various war trophies. As for post-war displays, you can see the very first Kalashnikov, the wreckage of the American U2 spy plane shot down over the Urals in 1960. On a more somber note, there is the memorial to the tragic submarine “Kursk”.
So if you want a detailed record of Russia’s military past and present, this museum will tell you the whole story.