The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Myanmar Defence Services Museum

Although not the most secluded country on the face of the Earth, the nation of Myanmar (formerly Burma) certainly ranked high on the scale of nations that usually weren’t included on the travel brochures of Southeast Asian touring agencies. Up until several years ago, that is, when the previous regime lifted a significant number of regulations limiting tourism, commerce, and development. This allowed tourists and journalists alike to visit the new capital of Nay Pi Taw, which previously had been difficult to get into without some government connections. This relaxation opened up access to the Myanmar Defence Services Museum for anyone willing to travel to Nay Pi Taw. And yes, the museum spells “Defence” with a “c” as evidence of the country’s history as part of England’s colonial empire.

Nursing students are led on a tour through the Myanmar Defense Services Museum’s displays, this portion in the Navy exhibit. Photo by Justin D.

A Naval ship cannon sits on the Navy park, facing a scaled model of a Burmese light ship.

More important than attracting tourists, this has allowed researchers interested in documenting the history of the Burmese Military (“Tatmadaw” in Burmese) to do so in a much more accurate manner. To put things in perspective, less than a decade before the country started opening up, bringing a camera into the museum was absolutely forbidden, especially for a foreigner. So, for RECOIL to enter the Myanmar Defense Services Museum and photograph the displays is no small matter.

A view of the fountain out front of the museum, in the entrance way. Photo by Justin D

The tank park, part of the Directorate of Armour outdoor exhibit. A Stuart and Sherman tank sit on display. Many of these were used against Communist rebels in the 1950s and 1960s in the north of the country.

Now, it must be stated that the country of Myanmar has had a very tumultuous and controversial history, beginning with colonial British rule prior to the Second World War and rolling into a military dictatorship that lasted more than half a century. There were numerous charges of systematic ethnic cleansing and the suppression of dissidents throughout this time period. Whatever the reader’s opinions are about the history of the country or where it’s heading today, we ask this article be viewed as an objective glance into a military shrouded in shadow for most of its existence. On that note, the Myanmar Defense Services Museum staff was especially courteous in allowing us into the museum with the express intent of photographing for publication. For that we’re especially grateful.

Medals adorn Burmese Air Force uniforms in the Air Force Hall. Similarly equipped plastic figures are placed throughout the museum to show how the uniforms look when worn.

The Myanmar Defence Services Museum is probably one of the largest military museums in the world when taking into account the amount of land and space it occupies. But in terms of its artifact collection, it’s probably on par with national museums of similarly sized countries. Outside of the actual buildings, the museum is constructed in the shape of a square, divided into four quadrants. These quadrants have outdoor collection parks dedicated to the Air Force, Navy, and a shared Directorate of Artillery and Directorate of Armour park (the fourth quadrant is empty). Each one of these collection parks is dedicated to and filled with the tools of the trade that it represents — the Air Force park is a collection of historic planes and helicopters, the shared Artillery and Armour parks contain artillery pieces, armored vehicles, and tanks, while the Navy park has large-scale models of Burmese patrol boats and fighting ships, in addition to numerous turrets and gun mounts taken off ships’ decks and placed on land. Visitors are free to walk around the parks and can examine pieces up close if they wish.

The tail section of this Myanmar Air Force Chengdu J-7 fighter/attack jet is on display after it was almost shot down by a Kachin rebel group while in action in the north. Although damaged, the pilot made it back to base where pieces of it were donated to the museum.

Myanmar defense service museum machine guns

Machine guns in the small arms exhibit. Note the Johnson LMG and Boys Anti-Tank Rifle in the background of the photo. The MG3 in the foreground is still in use by the Tatmadaw.

Between the parks are the central U-shaped museum buildings. These buildings are enormous, about half the size of any decent stadium in the United States but with a single floor and high ceilings. Each of these buildings is dedicated to the branches of the armed forces — two buildings apiece for the Air Force and Navy, while the Army has three buildings to itself. Approaching the Myanmar Defense Services Museum's entry building, you’re taken up a concrete driveway that allows you to view the enormous fountain situated in the middle of the “U” pattern of buildings. The main hallway opens up past the doors and is something out of a movie with an array of flags placed in rows, one for each of the Tatmadaw regional commands and Light Infantry Divisions. Above this are painted portraits of historic figures within Burmese history — Generals Aung San, NeWin, and Than Shwe.

Myanmar defense service museum cannons

Ancient cannons in use by Burmese forces line one of the walls of the Directorate of Artillery. Flags on the adjoining wall show the evolution of the corps’ crest with crossed cannons

Myanmar defense service museum guns

Some examples of Burmese small arms experimentation from the early 1990s. The rifle at bottom was called EMERK and is an attempt at a bullpup service rifle that never ended up being put into service.

From this main entry hall, visitors choose what they want to explore first. Branching out from the hall are open-air, marble-floored corridors leading to the different service branch halls. Within each of these buildings are active duty docents who come from the particular branch or corps represented in that display or building. The displays become much more interesting and personal with the service-specific docent staff present. If you speak Burmese, or have hired a translator, you’ll be able to converse with a Burmese sailor who might have actually worked on the ships on display.

Although the subject matter of each display and the artifacts vary widely from hall to hall, the layout is very similar in each. Marble covers the floor, while ceilings tower above visitors as they work their way through the exhibits. Items are usually laid out on boards or tables that cover certain aspects of the Tatmadaw. The majority of the displays aren’t interactive, but every display has both a Burmese and English placard that explains the items being viewed.

Myanmar defense service museum airplane

The airplane park, this view consisting of helicopters in Myanmar Air Force service.

The Myanmar Defense Services Museum has taken great strides in opening up to the world by allowing photography inside its halls, and this is certainly commendable from previous administrations. One way it could further improve its standing as a historical center is in better curating the displays. Right now, there are a vast amount of artifacts on display, but in some places the displays resemble a stack of wares or capabilities instead of an educational experience for the visitor.

As one would imagine, the gargantuan size of the museum does make it hard to see everything on display in a single day. Along with a local guide, the author spent three consecutive days exploring every hall and outdoor display. Despite this amount of time, we still weren’t able to take in every exhibit on display. The casual visitor should definitely block out a day or at least an entire afternoon to tour this museum and its large collection of displays.

MYANMAR DEFENCE SERVICES MUSEUM

Naypyitaw
Zaya Thiri Township, Theik Chaung
Telephone: 09 764964759
Hours: 9am to 4pm. Monday closed. State holidays closed.

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