Tankball: Paintball Grows Up

It looks like a typical battle scene -- tanks charging, overhead artillery fire, missiles exploding; so why, suddenly, are soldiers coming out of the tanks smiling and laughing as if they are having the time of their lives?

Well, it's not exactly Iraq or Afghanistan. It's Leicestershire, England, and the battlefield is Southfields Farm, the new Mecca for war games.

Southfields is the birthplace of tankball -- paintball taken to a whole new level. People come from all around the world to race around in tanks, launch paint-filled missiles and, in turn, avoid a tank round of green or red splattering ammunition.

The adventure started 16 years ago with Stuart Garner, a local farmer who looked for an alternative way for his farm to make money. He decided to begin paintballing on his 250-acre piece of land, and then the idea grew and grew.

It took Garner a long time to find an engineer willing and able to adapt the military equipment he had gathered. Now, he offers punters seven tanks, several missile launchers and a variety of Armored Personnel Carriers, all specially modified to use paint as ammunition.

All the equipment is ex-military and some of it was even used during the Gulf War and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Using real decommissioned military equipment adds an extra element of excitement for those looking for the thrill of combat

Joe Harris had the time of his life. His uncle took him there for his 21st birthday. "It was sometimes overwhelming because it's very dark inside the tank and you can clearly hear the hits," Harris says.

And it gets messy. It can even get rough, and above all, it gets bloody -- with colored paint. At the end of the battle, the tank with the least paint ends up the winner. Harris and his uncle managed to win the battle. "It was fantastic!" Harris says.

Each game re-enacts a real battle like D-Day or the Bay of Pigs invasion. Some parts of the farm transport you to a Vietnamese village as if you were part of a jungle patrol. The participants are divided into two armies, each of which has a tank with a crew of three plus an instructor who is usually ex-military.

The first task teams undergo is to learn how to drive a tank with the hatch open and then with the hatch closed. Next, is firing practice. The gunner does the aiming with two handles, one for raising or lowering the barrel, the other for spinning the turret. Meanwhile, the loader has to stuff a ping pong ball (of paint, of course) into the breach, seal it, charge the air and press the fire button.

During the battle, the driver must maneuver the tank to a set of different positions, while using the periscope with the hatch closed, past the cattle and sheep that still roam the farm, apparently unperturbed by the enactments going on around them. "They're used to it now," says Garner.