Issue 34 West Point Museum Peter Suciu Join the Conversation West Point, or more formally the United States Military Academy (USMA), is known today as being one of the oldest military service academies in the world. The four-year coeducational federal service academy is also home to the oldest military museum in the country. The West Point Museum, which officially opened to the public in 1854, actually evolved from a collection of military items that were used to train candidates. Unlike many other military museums around the country, the primary mission of the West Point Museum remains to support cadet academic, military, and cultural instruction. Until the decade before the Civil War there was no museum, but the collection did exist, and it was spread out over several buildings. 1. A collection of World War I small arms, including bolt-action rifles from the combatant nations above a French Chauchat light machine gun — the first such weapon that could be truly carried by a single soldier. The weapon earned a terrible reputation, but despite this fact it influenced later firearm designs. It was only formally created as a museum in the middle of the 19th century as a way to showcase the role that the military had already played in building the country. As expected, the West Point Museum’s collection now covers nearly all aspects of military history, thus encompassing the history of the academy as well as the evolution of warfare and the development of American Armed Forces. 2. An M4 Sherman guards the entrance to the West Point Museum. Currently, the West Point Museum is open to the public daily, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day, but only a portion of the collection is on display. For cadets, all artifacts are made available for instruction, special exhibition, and research. Regular visitors will note that the museum rotates items on a regular basis, both as a way of helping preserve items and to ensure that the collection can be seen. 3. A short sword carried by the Emperor Napoleon. It was a gift from French General and later President Charles de Gaulle to General and later President Dwight D. Eisenhower for American efforts to liberate France during World War II. It had been Napoleon Bonaparte’s sword when he was First Consul of France before he crowned himself Emperor. “The collection is notable in that it isn’t displayed by era or conflict,” said Leslie D. Jensen, curator of arms and armor at the West Point Museum. “The museum has evolved since it was first used to train cadets even before the official founding of the school. The collection includes objects that date from even before the American Revolution and continue to the current global war on terror.” 4. An American World War II-era bazooka is above a German version called a panzerschreck. These were among the earliest true anti-tank rockets. Today, the West Point Museum is housed in the renovated Olmsted Hall on the grounds of the former Ladycliff College, which was founded in 1933 but closed its doors after the ’79-’80 school year. This houses the collection on display on three floors, containing more than 2,000 small arms. 1. The German MP-18 submachine gun (left) was one of the first true portable small arms. It was introduced at the end of World War I. This display also includes an Italian Beretta Model 1918, another attempt at developing a submachine gun. This includes a pair of pistols carried by George Washington and a Thompson submachine gun that was by General George S. Patton’s side during World War II. Other “war trophies” include a field marshal’s baton that belonged to Reich’s Marshal Hermann Goering. It was surrendered to the 7th Army on May 9, 1945, and is noted for having an ivory shaft that’s embossed with 20 gold eagles and 20 platinum crosses. It was presented to Goering by Adolf Hitler in August 1940 during the Battle of Britain — apparently before the German leader knew how that campaign would play out. The museum also has a gold-plated pistol that belonged to Hitler, but despite rumors it isn’t the pistol that the German dictator used to commit suicide in April of 1945. 2. Part of the West Point Museum’s collection of medium and heavy machine guns Another high-profile item is one of Napoleon’s swords, which had been on display with many of the French Emperor’s items in Paris. After the liberation of the City of Lights in 1944, it was presented by General Charles de Gaulle to American General Dwight D. Eisenhower as a show of thanks and respect. 1. An American Renault FT tank is part of the West Point Museum’s vehicle collection. It was the first tank used by the American military. “It was a way for de Gaulle to say that Eisenhower was the new Napoleon,” explained Jensen. The museum has more than 10,000 pieces of art, along with numerous models, including several that predate the founding of the museum and were used for training purposes. But what really might turn heads is the collection of arms. 2. The Thompson submachine gun that was carried by General George S. Patton during World War II. Officers didn’t typically carry shoulder weapons, but Patton was certainly no typical general. Housed in the lower level are numerous cannons and could only be called “serious firepower.” These include the French 75mm field gun that American crews used to fire the U.S. Army’s first shots of World War I 100 years ago. Other pieces include captured British, Spanish, and even Chinese cannons. The lower level of the West Point Museum also houses a few vehicles, most notably a World War I American-used Renault FT tank, while a larger World War II-era M4 Sherman E8 stands guard outside. An entire balcony level in the basement is devoted to small arms from the earliest days of firearms to modern assault weapons. The collection includes various long guns, including “wall guns” from Europe as well as a Chinese “jingal” that was used in the Boxer Rebellion to various light and submachine guns from World Wars I and II, and the Cold War. Another display is focused on anti-tank weapons, including such iconic pieces as the American bazooka, German panzerfaust, and Soviet RPG-7, as well as various anti-tank mines. The museum even houses an example of the Mk 3 series atomic bomb, the same size and configuration as the Fat Man atomic bomb carried by the Boeing B-29 Superfortress Bockscar and dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, on August 9, 1945. That is truly something few museums have on display. In addition, throughout the museum are other notable small arms, such as a Winchester rifle that was reported to have been owned by Apache leader Geronimo — which when seen side-by-side with the Springfield Trapdoor rifles of the era — quickly shows how the Apache and other Native American tribes had superior firepower to the U.S. Cavalry. The collection also includes examples of military sniper rifles from both World Wars and a very rare German FG-42 paratrooper rifle. 3. This gold-plated .32-caliber pistol was a gift from early Nazi Party member Max Kehl to Adolf Hitler. It was inscribed on the reverse, “In defiance of the Red Front and the Reaction, for the protection of our leader.” Despite some reports, this wasn’t the pistol the German dictator used to kill himself. Photo courtesy of West Point Museum Collection, United States Military Academy “Like many of the weapons that are on loan from the U.S. Army,” said Jensen. “We are very happy to be able to build our collection with the help of the U.S. military. It has allowed the collection to grow and evolve.” The West Point Museum Address 2110 New South Post Road West Point, NY 10996 Hours Daily 10:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day Admission Free Phone 845-938-3590 URL www.westpoint.army.mil/museumhome.html Explore RECOILweb:RCS Balor Pistol Optic MountIWI's Newest Negev: the NG7 in 7.62mmGive’r Frontier MittensNational Guard Birthday NEXT STEP: Download Your Free Target Pack from RECOILFor years, RECOIL magazine has treated its readers to a full-size (sometimes full color!) shooting target tucked into each big issue. Now we've compiled over 50 of our most popular targets into this one digital PDF download. 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