Nuclear-capable cannon makes its Fort Lee debut

By U.S. ArmyDecember 7, 2017

'Atomic Annie'
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – The M65 "Atomic Annie," a 280mm nuclear-capable cannon, sits on a concrete slab at Fort Lee. The piece was delivered to the installation Nov. 29 after restoration work in Atlanta. It will serve as one of the centerpieces of the 120,000-square-foot Or... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
'Atomic Annie' makes its Fort Lee debut
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT LEE, Va. (Dec. 7, 2017) -- It could be called the "big gun sibling rivalry."

Atomic Annie -- an 85-ton, 280mm nuclear-capable cannon -- was delivered here Nov. 29, joining its equally gargantuan "sister" Anzio Annie. The pair will likely serve as the educational and historical centerpiece for the Ordnance Training Support Facility now under construction adjacent to the Lee Avenue Gate.

The Ordnance TSF -- due to be the Army's first when it is completed -- will feature a wide variety of historical weapons and other equipment that has helped to shape the Ordnance Corps over the course of its 241-year history.

Atomic Annie, the nickname for the Army's M65-series self-propelled artillery piece, was delivered here following months of restoration work. It is comprised of a T131 gun, T72 carriage and two T10 gun-lifting trucks used to transport the weapon. The weapon and its components rest in an area located a short distance from its larger German sibling.

With a range of 20 miles using a 550-pound projectile, the M65 was based on the German K5 railgun and was deployed to Germany and the Far East as a deterrent during the Cold War. Missile and rocket technology was responsible for shelving the M65 series in 1963, roughly 10 years after it was fielded, said Kevin Sullivan, curator, Ordnance Heritage and Training Center.

Several of the weapons have survived and are on display at various locations around the country, including the Virginia War Museum in Newport News.

Brig. Gen. David Wilson, Chief of Ordnance, was on hand for the weapon's installation Nov. 30, which took workers hours to complete using massive cranes. He said the M65 series -- developed at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J. -- has a rather distinguished history.

"On 25 May, 1953, at 8:30 in the morning at a Nevada test site, they fired the first nuclear atomic round through the cannon prototype that this was modeled after. It was the first and only time a nuclear weapon was ever fired from a conventional cannon," he said.

After the test, the Army manufactured 20 M65 series at Watervliet Arsenal, N.Y. and Watertown Arsenal, Mass., added Wilson.

"This is No. 1 of 20 of those (gun) tubes that rolled off the assembly line," said the general, "and it serves really as a symbol of the American might and ingenuity at the time. That's how this nation became the 'Arsenal of Democracy.' The whole country mobilized to defeat Fascism and Nazism in Europe."

President Franklin Roosevelt used the phrase 'Arsenal of Democracy' to describe the country's commitment to materially support Allied efforts in Europe prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The M65, once a weapon of mass destruction, will serve here as a prop to educate ordnance enlisted, noncommissioned officers and officers who will train at Fort Lee in the future, said Wilson.

"It's one thing to see something in a book," said Wilson, "but it's another to physically touch it and get a live visualization from it. It serves as a reinforcement, something they can visualize the depth and space of battle in those days. It will set good context for where they might potentially find themselves in the future."

The Ordnance Training Support Facility, to succeed the Ordnance Heritage and Training Center, will top off at more than 120,000 square feet when it is completed. It will function to support the Ordnance Corps' training mission through the collection, preservation, exhibition and interpretation of ordnance equipment and artifacts through educational and instructional programs.

"It is estimated that 18,000 troops will come through our training facility (on an annual basis)," said Jimmy Blankenship, director, Ordnance Training and Heritage Center. "We have the mission of training them on the history, the heritage and the evolution of weaponry with the intent of providing them an understanding of what they use today, where it came from and how we make things more efficient and safer."

Anzio and Atomic Annie -- 105 and 85 feet in length, respectively -- will likely command the most attention in the new exhibit spaces due to their size and unique histories. There are plans to move the pieces to their OTSF platforms in the spring and commence construction around them following placement.

The OTSF is scheduled for completion in December 2018.