TANKS, TANKS, TANKS , AND MORE TANKS
THE ORDNANCE MUSEUM AT THE ABERDEEN PROVING GROUNDS IN MARYLAND IS WORTH A VISIT
January 1, 1970
Tanks, tanks, and more tanks.
The Army Ordnance Museum at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, several miles off I-95 in Aberdeen, Maryland, bills itself as having the most complete collection of weapons in the world. Certainly nowhere else in the U.S., possibly in the world, is there such a vast array of tanks and combat vehicles from around the world in one small plot.
The vehicles are collected from every conflict in the 20th century, many with the scars of battle still visible. There are German Tigers, Panthers and Mark IVs from World War II. There are T-34s and Stalins from the Second World War and Korea and numerous post-war Soviet tanks up to more modern versions. The tank collection includes a contingent of British tanks including a Churchill and Centurian and a Firefly, an interesting British variant of the World War II Sherman, with a 17-pounder cannon. World War II Italian and Japanese tanks are included as are Iraqi tanks captured during the Persian Gulf War.
The tanks are lined up in four long rows behind the museum's main building, enabling the visitor to compare the relative sizes. The King Tiger, for example, the largest tank developed during World War II, does not appear to be that much larger than the nearby German Panthers. The difference in weight was some eight tons in favor of the Tiger. Also in comparison to the German tanks, the American Sherman does not seem to be as small as one might expect, even though the Sherman would be considered "flimsy" in comparison to the superior German armor. The appearance of equality in size between the Sherman and its German counterparts is due largely to the high profile of the Sherman.
The collection of tanks also dates back to the First World War and includes an America/British produced Mark VIII, a variant of the classic First World War British tank with its wrap-around tracks and pouch-like turrets protruding from the sides. The Mark VIII weighs 36-tons and is armed with two British 6 pounder naval guns and five American machine guns. The antique is still in operating condition.
Tanks aren't the only weapons on display. Aberdeen also is home to a vast array for artillery from all over the world. The collection also is just as remarkable for its variety. Possibly the most impressive of all the pieces is the restored 16-inch gun and mount. Until ten years ago this former coastal artillery gun was rusting in a restricted area of the Proving Ground. It was singled out for restoration by several army officers and civilian enthusiasts. Completely refurbished, the gun now is a centerpiece located at the most visible corner of the museum lot.
Not to be outdone by the 16-incher are the Leopold Railway Cannon, and the Atomic Cannon. The Leopold, also dubbed "Anzio Annie" by Allied troops in Italy during World War II, is a 14-gun used by the Germans to shell the Anzio beachhead in Italy during the 1944 campaign. It fired a 500-pound shell and was supported by 24 railcar wheels. When not firing at the enemy, the gun was rolled back into mountain tunnels, making it impossible to locate and destroy. It was captured only after the Allies broke out of the beachhead.
The Atomic Cannon was designed in the later stages of World War II as a 240MM heavy gun, but later models were 280MM and adapted to fire an atomic shell up to 18 miles.
Aberdeen also is home to a captured German V-2 rocket. But equally interesting, is the general purpose T-12 bomb that is displayed on the point of its nose just outside the museum's entrance. The bomb would weigh 43,600 pounds when armed and loaded.
The history of the T-12 resurrects a little known aspect of World War II. The T-12 was designed in 1942 as part of an intercontinental bomber program. The specific targets were German submarine pens along the north coast of France which were layered with up to 50-feet of reinforced concrete. The U.S. began the T-12 program in anticipation that Great Britain might fall to the Nazis and such a bomb would be airlifted across the Atlantic to be dropped on the sub pens.
The plane designed to carry such a huge bomb was the B-36, dubbed the Peacemaker, that flew for the USAF in the years immediately following World War II.
The indoor museum, while small, offers numerous interesting historical displays. There is a section on weapons of the Viet Cong, and a section on the development of modernprotective head gear, including displays of the evolution of the German, French, British and American helmets.
Gun enthusiasts will immerse themselves in the firearms collections. There are pistols galore and a display that presents the history of the handgun. The Ordinance museum's exhibit of rifles and carbines is one of the most comprehensive found anywhere in the world. It represents practically all the design features and technological advances in the field. In addition to standard rifles and carbines, the collection houses numerous experimental and prototypes such as the Spanish Mauser Rifle of 1892, and the British Pattern 1914 Enfield.
The museum also displays a number of prototype weapons systems and tanks that give fascinating insight into how final production models were designed and developed.
The Ordnance Museum was founded in 1918 when equipment from World War I was collected from the battlefields in Europe to be evaluated by the army. The logical place to test the equipment was at the Aberdeen Proving Ground where the visitor frequently hears the thumping of ordnance being tested somewhere on the range. The equipment was later placed in the museum.
Even today, the old equipment can have value. Weapons designers study, and sometimes develop, modern weapons systems by studying the old. The Vulcan gun is one such example. Following World War II weapons designers needed a rapid fire system for jet aircraft. The ordnance museum was able to provide information and examples of the hardware used in the original Gattling Gun that was designed during the Civil War by John Gattling. In 1902 the Gattling was coupled with an electric motor to create a more rapid-fire weapon. Tests of the Gattling at that time were successful but the project was dropped because military planners could not foresee the need for such a voluminous rate of fire. The Vulcan was developed in 1956 and is now the standard cannon in U.S. military aircraft.
The Ordnance Museum is easy to visit, located about 45 minutes north of Baltimore on Rte. I-95. Traveling north or south, the motorist exits I-95 at the Aberdeen interchange - No. 5 - and heads east. Visitors can travel through certain parts of the base and stop for lunch at the several fast food restaurants.