In April 2012 we announced plans to transform IWM London and create a long-lasting legacy for the First World War, in time for the centenary of 2014 – 2018.

Our transformation took two years and involved the relocation of our large objects and the restoration of hundreds of artefacts from our collections. We re-opened on 19 July 2014 and revealed our transformed atrium and new displays covering themes from British conflict from 1914 to present.

Here we take you behind the scenes and show you how we went about transforming our museum.

April 2012: Planning the transformation

We announced the transformation of IWM London in April 2012. The museum last saw major investment in the 1980s.
We announced the transformation of IWM London in April 2012. The museum last saw major investment in the 1980s.

The challenge: how do you show the complexity of conflict in one relatively small space?

We decided to try and show a selection of objects from across the museum’s collection that would not just represent the collections by type but also by what they were designed for, their use, abuse, and survival. We wanted to show the familiar alongside the strange, the pristine alongside the damaged.

Our plans included new, larger First World War Galleries and a completely transformed atrium featuring objects chosen for their rich and vivid stories. The plans also aimed to tell the stories of conflict chronologically floor-by-floor, from the First World War to the Second World War through to current conflicts such as Afghanistan.

©Image supplied by Fosters + Partner

July 2012: Assessing the large objects

A member of the conservation team working on a large object

The Conservation team had to assess the condition of 40 large objects in preparation for moving them out of the building during the transformation period. For each object the team checked the condition of the structure, metalwork and paint work, and made recommendations so it could be safely moved out of the building. Sometimes repairs had to be made or parts secured before an object could be moved.  Some objects hadn't been moved for 20 years.

The team needed to inspect each object carefully, including crawling underneath the objects if necessary – getting a unique view that most people will never see.

September 2012: Moving Matilda II

Before construction work could begin,  the objects had to be moved out of the main building. The plan for moving, sorting and returning the objects was two years in the making and involved 40 people. In total 5,500 objects were moved, and unfortunately it wasn't as simple as taking them all out through the front door!

This video shows the removal of the Infantry Tank Mark II, known as Matilda II. The museum floor had to be emptied of all vehicles and objects before any of the aircraft could be lowered and removed, so getting the timings right was essential.

This video contains sound of the Infantry Tank Mark II being transported and the sound of the removal of vehicles and museum objects. 

November 2012: The Sopwith Camel leaves the building

This time-lapse video shows how we moved the Sopwith Camel out of the museum. First it needed to be lowered slowly and safely to the ground. It was then dismantled in preparation for transport to IWM Duxford, where it underwent conservation.

Please note: This video contains instrumental sound only.

November 2012: The V2 rocket comes down to earth

The V2 rocket had stood, vertically, in the Large Exhibitions Gallery since 1989. It took over three nights for the Transforming team to prepare, lower and move this 15-metre-long object. The rocket had to be lifted in the air by a crane in order to lower it to the floor. It was then placed in a purpose-built-cradle for transportation to IWM Duxford.

Sound simple? Take a look at the time-lapse video to see how it was done.

This video contains sound of the V2 rocket being taken down and of the removal equipment, such as cranes and cradle for transportation.  

January 2013: The museum closes and the transformation begins

Closing the museum allowed the most disruptive period of building work to take place without any danger to our collections or our visitors. This time-lapse video shows the beginnings of the most dramatic work on the new atrium space.

Please note: This video contains instrumental sound only.

October 2013: The large objects return to the galleries

From October, the large objects began to return to the museum after almost a year in storage or at the conservation hanger at IWM Duxford. They were installed in the galleries overnight, which was essential as the lift used to move the objects back into the building formed part of the museum floor.

In this video you can see the story of one of our objects – the Spitfire – as it travels out of the museum, up to IWM Duxford and then back to the newly transformed IWM London.


“My name is Andy Robinson. I’m a conservator here at Imperial War Museums airfield and large conservation department at Duxford. The Spitfire is an iconic aeroplane of World War Two, everybody knows the Spitfire. And this aircraft is a very significant historic aeroplane in its own right. This aeroplane flew most significantly during the Battle of Britain. I believe it flew upwards of sort of fifty-odd missions. It’s in a very original untouched condition. I believe it’s one of only three Spitfires left out of the survivors which have still got their original wartime paint on. Once it was on the ground we jacked and trestled the aeroplane so it was secure, removed the wings, removed the propeller and then it was loaded onto a lorry and brought to Duxford. It has undergone a deep clean and we have rectified some of the faults. A few bits were missing, the nav lights were all, the nav light glasses were all smashed on the wingtips and the tail, so we’ve managed to locate, acquire some more of those to replace the broken ones but on the whole, the aircraft is what it is. It’s got scratches and it’s got, you know, flecks of paint missing because that’s how it was when it came out of service.”


December 2013: The installation of the V2 rocket

One of the most dramatic objects in the museum, the V2 rocket returned to the building and was installed in the new atrium. Installing the rocket was a feat of engineering.  It had to be positioned off the ground, as if it was taking off, while ensuring it fit under the atrium's new ceiling.

The planning for the installation took almost a year, but as you can see from this time-lapse video all the hard work paid off!

This video contains sound of the V2 rocket being installed and of the associated installation equipment, such as cranes. 

March 2014: The homecoming of the Sopwith Camel

The Sopwith Camel had previously been on display in the museum's atrium but was now to be installed in the new First World War Galleries. The aircraft's lightweight structure made the re-assembly process easy and straightforward. Not all installations were so easy!

Watch this video to see the Sopwith Camel being installed in the new First World War Galleries.

Please note: This video contains instrumental sound only.

March 2014: The Mark V Tank enters the First World War Galleries

The Mark V Tank was more complicated than the Sopwith Camel. The tank needed a lot of restoration, and it proved to be the most time-consuming conservation project of the Transforming IWM London plan. In the First World War Galleries the tank is displayed at an angle, so a frame was needed to safely display the object. Lifting the tank into the museum took half an hour,and positioning it in the gallery took three days.

This time-lapse video captures the whole process.

Please note: This video contains instrumental sound only.

19 July 2014: Come on in, we’re open!

On Saturday 19 July we re-opened our doors to queues of excited visitors. Since then we've seen record numbers of visitors – an average of 8,000 a day. It's great to see so much enthusiasm for our new musuem and we hope to welcome many more visitors through our doors. Come and see our new museum for yourself – find out more about what's on and how to pay us a visit.

Please note: This video contains instrumental sound only.

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