Saturday, March 05, 2005

 

The United States Army Ordnance Museum.

Took a day trip out with my buddy Angus and a few others to see the United States Army Ordnance Museum at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, north of Baltimore.

I've wanted to go there for some time, and for the most part, I wasn't disappointed. If you live in this area, and you like tanks, I recommend stopping by to visit. It's free, and it's easy to get on the base (especially so if you have a government-issued I.D.).

The museum consists of a modest exhibit building holding a gallery filled with service rifles, handguns, machine guns, and other military weaponry from the early 20th Century to today. Some items on exhibit are quite impressive. The coolest thing for me-- an avid reader of World War II Eastern Front histories-- was seeing an actual German Goliath remote-controlled mini-tank, which was used, with little success, to breach minefields during World War II.

However, the real stars of the museum are the tanks and artillery arrayed out on the field adjacent to the museum.



A plethora of armored vehicles from World War I, II and today are lined up for anyone to walk up to and touch (no climbing on or inside, alas). They've got plenty of American, British, German, Soviet, Italian, and Japanese vehicles, along with a few other surprises. Lots of cool stuff for a junkie like me.

Among the most impressive pieces of the collection are the protoype XM-1 Abrams, an M-2 Bradley (never having seen one up close, I'm surprised at how big they are in person), and German Tiger, Panther and Jagdtiger tanks. Also, they have a 280-mm atomic cannon, a 16-inch coastal defense gun (you can see it at the center bottom of the picture above), as well as one of the two "Anzio Annie" German railcar guns.

Off the museum grounds but still on the base there were a number of additional armored vehicles, including an Iraqi BRDM-2 and BMP-2 captured during the 1991 war, as well as the most surprising piece, an MBT-70 prototype, which in the 1970's was intended to be the tank common to the United States and West Germany (before they each went their separate ways, the U.S. to the M-1 Abrams and the West Germans to the Leopard 2 series of tanks).


Sweet.

Sadly, the museum is obviously underfunded and undermanned. The fact that these pieces are kept out in the open year-round means they're all exposed to the elements. Many of them-- I'd say most-- are in an egregious state of rust and decay. Given the rarity of many of the pieces, especially the German vehicles of World War II, it's a real shame. The museum has plans to build garages to house the collection, but from all reports they've been planning to do so for a very long time, with no luck.

In the near-term, aside from pieces withdrawn for restoration, many of the vehicles were missing their descriptive plaques. The curators said it was because new, more descriptive plaques were being prepared, but for today that meant a lot of vehicles got unidentified. I may be a tank junkie, but it's tough for even me to tell the difference between the wide variety of German assault guns and tank destroyers (Is that a Hetzer? What model Stug is that?). And when it comes to early Italian and Japanese armored vehicles, forget it.

I hope the museum can raise enough funds to properly restore and display their collection because it certainly has a fascinating assortment of armored vehicles.

If you get a chance, go check it out. Lots of nifty stuff there.

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