The Imperial War Museum as an organization consists of five museums dedicated to chronicling the wars that have affected Britain and the Commonwealth. It also refers to the main museum in Lambeth Road, south London.
The other four branches of the Museum are Churchill's London bunker the Cabinet War Rooms; the warship HMS Belfast moored in the Thames nearby; the extensive Duxford aviation museum in Cambridgeshire; and a new branch in the north to be opened in 2002, on the Manchester Ship Canal at Trafford, designed by the renowned Daniel Libeskind.
The Lambeth building is the former Bethlehem Royal Hospital dating from the reign of Henry VIII. It became the war museum in 1936. The current arrangement of a large central courtyard was opened in 1989. Outside are two absolutely enormous 15-inch naval guns used in the First World War.
Inside, the main courtyard is an open space containing tanks, howitzers, miniature submarines, field ambulances, and so on; while above them hang aircraft such as Spitfires. There is a V-1, a V-2, and the casing of a Little Boy atomic bomb. One remarkable object is a German mast periscope from the First World War, extending many stories up to the top of the building, from which distant parts of London can be seen.
Further inside are series of rooms with detailed coverage of mainly twentieth century wars. Inevitably, the First and Second World Wars occupy most of it. There are almost scarily realistic 'experiences', one of the trenches in the first War, the other of the Blitz, from being pounded in an air-raid shelter to inspecting the fires and bomb damage.
Exhibitions of recent times have included the Holocaust, the Korean War, and the Spanish Civil War.
There is a good website at www.iwm.org.uk.