By By VINCE LITTLE - THE BAYONET August 10, 2011
FORT BENNING, Ga. - The final shipment of Armor artifacts made it to Fort Benning last week. Sometime this decade, the U.S. Army’s National Armor and Cavalry Museum will open near the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center. But post officials said a showcase building is secondary to the organization’s main purpose.
“Museums are primarily a training and heritage facility for the Army,” said MCoE Museum Division chief Stephen Allie. “And, oh by the way, the public is invited to visit and see the artifacts. The training of Soldiers is why the Army spends money to maintain these collections.”
The Armor museum assortment was packaged with the Armor School’s relocation from Fort Knox, Ky., to the Maneuver Center of Excellence, he said. The Army has more than 60 museums worldwide connected to a unit or schoolhouse; when that branch moves, the museums and collections come along.
National Armor and Cavalry Museum director Len Dyer said 280 macro artifacts were delivered to Fort Benning. They include old German and Soviet tanks, historic military vehicles, anti-tank guns and artillery pieces. Some weigh up to 95 tons.
The last vehicle to depart Fort Knox was the “Cobra King,” an M4A3E2 Sherman “Jumbo” tank famed for being the first to reach besieged American troops defending Bastogne from the Germans’ counterattack during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, he said. It arrived Aug. 2 at the Transportation Management Pool on Main Post.
Dyer said the “Cobra King” is among about 65 “combat veterans” in the Armor and Cavalry Museum inventory.
A platoon from the 233rd Transportation Company brought the initial 11-vehicle batch here via convoy in March 2010. Landstar, a commercial heavy equipment transport operator, moved the remaining pieces by rail and truck.
Dyer, who served as an Armor officer in the Marine Corps and spent three years on Fort Knox, said his entire staff is now at Fort Benning. All the equipment and maintenance elements came down this summer.
“Our primary job is to support training of the Soldiers " Armor, Cavalry and even some Infantry guys,” he said. “We demonstrate how the vehicles functioned back in the day and show how they’ve developed over time. They need working knowledge on how they operate. Some are still out there in potential enemy hands.”
He said older Sherman and Stuart tank variations remain in use by second- and third-world countries in South America, Africa and Asia. It’s possible American Soldiers could encounter them someday in battle.
About 40 artifacts were left on display around Fort Knox as a lasting symbol of the installation’s long history with Armor. Control was transferred to the Patton Museum.
Of the 280 objects sent here, 128 vehicles are stored at the TMP, Dyer said. About 20 will be exhibited outside Armor School facilities at Harmony Church, while the two display pads on Benning Boulevard next to Access Control Point 2 feature an M4 Sherman tank from the Korean War and M1 Abrams tank restored to 24th Infantry Division Desert Storm specifications. Some smaller effects will sit in the National Infantry Museum basement until the Armor and Cavalry facility opens. The rest of the shipment is in storage at the Sand Hill railway facility, where vehicles await some restoration work. Dyer said that’s an ongoing process, and the maintenance staff completes three or four major vehicle upgrades a year.
“We try to bring it back to that original state and focus on historical accuracy,” he said.
He said the museum collection is always expanding as it stays current with what the Army uses and acquires more artifacts from different installations.
“We’re growing,” he said. “If you become stagnant, you’re letting history slip through your fingers and not doing your job.”
While museum construction is privately funded, Allie said the inventory is owned and controlled by the Army. The National Armor and Cavalry Heritage Foundation is trying to generate funding for the project here. Dyer said construction could begin in 2015 on the future National Armor and Cavalry Museum.