US Army Ordnance Museum, Aberdeen Proving Ground

By Frank Iannamico

Located just north of Washington, D.C. is one of the premiere military museums in the entire country, the United States Army Ordnance Museum at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

Aberdeen P.G. is located just off of interstate 95 about an hour and a half north of Washington, or if traveling from the north about an hour and a half from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. If you ever are in the area it would definitely be worth going to see.

The mission of the Ordnance museum is to collect, preserve and account for historically significant property that relates to the history of the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps and the evolution and development of American military ordnance material from the colonial period in American history to the present. In fulfilling this mission, the Ordnance Museum will assist in research and development of military ordnance, and it will support military training and education through the exhibition and interpretation of historical artifacts and instruction of military and civilian personnel.

The Ordnance Museum originally began as a place artillery pieces were sent after WWI for technical evaluation and study by weapons engineers. A staff was assigned to store and catalog all this equipment.

In 1925 Major Raymond C. Marsh was assigned to Aberdeen and took an interest in the collection. He expanded the collection to include not only artillery pieces but small arms, bombs, and armored vehicles. The collection rapidly grew, as newly acquired equipment was analyzed and studied at the proving grounds, it was then transferred to the Ordnance Museum. During the early 1940’s at the beginning of WWII when the armed forces were rapidly growing, the museum building was altered to a class room for troops. During this period the museum collection was stored outside where it rapidly deteriorated. In 1942 many of the items were scrapped.

In 1940 G. Burling Jarret joined the museum as curator until he retired in 1966. During the WWII years a tremendous amount of foreign tanks, artillery pieces and other equipment arrived at Aberdeen for evaluation by the Aberdeen engineers and staff. This equipment was then transferred to the museums collection.

In 1967 Mr. Karl Kempf became curator. During the Vietnam era the museums building was once again was remodeled for use by the Army’s Test and Evaluation Command. At that time it appeared the museum and its collection was in danger of being liquidated in order to avoid the cost of maintaining the pieces in the collection. A group of local citizens formed a foundation for the purpose of preserving the museum and its collection of historic military equipment. The museum reopened to the public in 1973. Since that time the museum staff has strived to continually update and maintain the collection.

The museum offers a 25 acre park of 260 items including tanks and artillery pieces. The items on display are mostly German, Russian, Chinese and other foreign designs. These tanks and artillery pieces were originally obtained to study, and learn from the many designs used.

Many of the items displayed are unique or one of a kind.

There are some very large pieces, such as a railroad car mounted German WWII 280 MM cannon it has a range of 31 miles and weights 231 tons. Although movable by rail it still would take a skilled crew upwards of six to ten hours to set up for firing. Due to the extreme weight of the piece the train speed was very limited, estimated to be five to ten miles per hour.

The many items on display cover a wide time period from the civil war up to a modern M1 Abrams tank and a Bradly fighting vehicle. What sets Aberdeen apart from most museums is that most of the armored vehicles and other displays are from foreign armies.

There is also an indoor museum that houses a very complete display of small arms of just about every firearm you ever heard or read about. There are also many other displays of the development of items such as, artillery shells, hand grenades, flame throwers, armor piercing ammunition, mines and many others. There are more than 8,000 total artifacts on display.

One display of particular interest is the one showing all the actual pistols used in the U.S. Army pistol evaluation to find a replacement for the 1911A1. A few of the pistols displayed are a Sig Sauer 226, a Smith and Wesson model 459, and of course the eventual winner the Beretta model 92F, later known as the M9.

There are also a few large items displayed inside the museum building. Currently displayed among others, are the last remaining Christie tank which has been restored by the museum. Also there is a very advanced WWII German V2 rocket, that fortunately was never mass produced. The indoor exhibits change from time to time. A former display featured a WWII German military motorcycle with a sidecar, and several manaquins in full German combat dress.

All the weapons displayed are arranged according to the type of weapon. There are several cases filled with submachine guns, others with rifles, and many more with belt fed weapons. Many of the weapons are one of a kind or prototypes. Where else could you find the prototype of the Andrews submachine gun using a drum of 1911 magazines? A sign inside the museum states that all the arms displayed have been rendered inoperable.

Another of the many interesting items on display is a Mark III Mod 1 16 inch number 138. This piece is the largest surviving gun used by the US Army. It was originally intended for use aboard a class of battle ship that were
never built. The Army eventually acquired the gun for coastal defense purposes.

There is a Vietnam era display that has captured enemy uniforms, booby traps, tools and weapons displayed. In addition to these items there are many photographs that accompany the displays.

The Museum also has a gift shop that sells coffee cups, dishes and other items featuring the Ordnance Corps logo of the crossed cannons and the flaming bomb. There are also military models for sale, and a lot of very interesting books about tanks, ordnance, and other military subjects.

For those who cannot visit the museum there is now a VCR video tape available entitled “The Tools of War”. The tape looks at some of the firearms and other artifacts of the museum, and also includes film footage of some of the equipment in action. The tape is hosted by the museums director Dr. Atwater who narrates the film in a refreshing down to earth and sometimes humorous style.

In 1991 the Ordnance Museum Foundation Inc. was incorporated. The purpose of the foundation is to preserve the collection for this and future generations. The museum is not allocated any funds for restoration or preservation of the items in its possession.

Many of the items on display have been stored outdoors continuously for over forty years or longer. The foundation is made up of men and women who volunteer their time to help preserve the museum collection, and to help raise funds for future museum construction and restoration projects.

The US Army Ordnance Museum is open daily from 10:00 AM until 4:45 PM daily. The museum is closed on national holidays except Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day. There is no admission charge, but donations are appreciated.

Aberdeen Proving Ground
Phone 410-278-3602/2396
The Ordnance
Museum Foundation
P.O. Box 688
Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD 21005

Copies of the video Tools of War are available for $19.95 plus $5.00 shipping from;

Ordnance Corps Association
PO Box 377
Aberdeen Proving Grounds Maryland 21005-0377
or call (410) 272-8442
Tell them you saw it in SAR...

Directions: From Interstate 95 (Kennedy Highway)
Traveling South, Exit I-95 at interchange 85, turn left onto Rt 22 and proceed 3 miles to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds Harford Military Police Gate. If you are traveling
North on I-95 you would turn right onto Route 22. The route to the grounds is very well marked.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V1N4 (January 1998)
and was posted online on November 3, 2017


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