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Preview – Visit – Aberdeen Proving Ground Museum

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America’s National Gun Safe … Lost for Good?

America as a nation needs its own gun safe. And by that we mean one that belongs to the military and is used to teach the next generation of fighters who will stand on the wall or deploy into far flung parts of the world.

Please don’t get me wrong. Those of us lucky enough to do so will have our private collections, and promulgate good gun sense and gun knowledge to our kith and kin, and the NRA does sterling work with its incredible National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, Virginia. But we’re talking about a true national treasure called the Army Ordnance Museum — specifically its small-arms collections.

Established just a year after the Great War in 1919 and opened to the public five years later, the U.S. Army Ordnance Museum at the Aberdeen Proving Ground was a gem of a national asset for decades, providing public access to historic ordnance — from the Anzio Annie German railway gun and priceless Japanese tanks to rare U.S. heavy artillery. More importantly to RECOIL readers, it housed a private “pattern” collection of small arms from around the world, including some incredible rarities and seminal prototypes. Unfortunately, both the museum and the pattern collection have fallen victim to BRAC, the Base Realignment and Closure Act.

Armalite AR-15 Carbon Fiber Furniture Serial Number 000007Gyrojet Pistol

In an expensive, and some would say wholly unnecessary, move, the best pieces of the open-air tank and artillery collection (more than 180 large artifacts) were moved to Fort Lee, Virginia, home of the Army Quartermaster School, while the museum itself was closed to the public…despite the fact that it was manned by the volunteer force of the Ordnance Museum Foundation. Fortunately for RECOIL, we managed to visit the museum before it closed and convinced its last director, Dr. William “Lee” Atwater — he of the white gloves and History Channel fame — to welcome us into the restricted inner sanctum.

Amongst the racks and racks of fully functioning weapons that Dr. Atwater (a U.S. Marine vet who was awarded a Purple Heart in the Vietnam conflict) showed us were pristine Sturmgewehrs that could have just been unwrapped from a drop canister in Bastogne for a German paratroop unit to use. There was, for example, a cherry ArmaLite AR-15 that features a serial number 0000007 and the funky carbon-fiber look that’s so trendy today (nothing new under the sun, right?). But if your tastes go into the more outré, there are brand-new Bren guns with Chinese markings, strange-looking “sterile” submachine guns (SMG) from the Balkans with no markings at all, Gyrojet rocket-launching “space pistols,” an 8mm Japanese bullpup subgun from WWII (ever seen one of those on, and the racy Welgun British experimental SMG.

If homegrown platforms are more your thing, the collection has several working versions of the different iterations of the Special Purpose Individual Weapons system, including the Springfield Armory’s interpretation from the 1960s that looks like something Ripley could have used in Alien.

But our favorite article of all, if just for its sheer absurdity, is the M-28 Davey Crockett nuclear recoilless rifle, placed to greet visitors as they enter the main museum. The man-portable device shot a 76-pound warhead with an atomic yield equivalent to 20 tons of TNT, producing enormous amounts of gamma and neutron radiation. However, the ballistic range was just 2 clicks (or 1¼ miles). Talk about a weapon as dangerous to the user as the enemy — something the Sar’nt Major from Monty Python would have been proud of.

Heavy Railway Gun Leopold - Anzio Annie

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