FORT LEE, Va, - After many months of travel and temporary hangout spots, the Annie sisters plunked down on a couple of raised platform beds here Aug. 8 at a location that will not only become their permanent home, but also bring them the extra attention they deserve.
Anzio Annie, one of the largest land-based artillery pieces ever built, and Atomic Annie, the nickname for the Army’s M65-series self-propelled artillery piece that could fire a 550-pound projective up to 20 miles, were meticulously crane-lifted into their positions at the soon-to-be Ordnance Training and Heritage Center facility off Shop Road, behind the Quartermaster and Army Women’s museums.
Due to the size and weight of the guns, it would not have been possible to move them into the structure after it was built, noted the team of experts providing oversight of the project. The sensible solution was to put them in display position and build around them.
“Getting to this day is a big milestone for us,” said Hunter Hatch, the contracting office representative from the Army Corps of Engineers – Norfolk District. “Aside from the metal framework of the building that has gone up over the past several weeks, this (equipment placement) is one of those things that makes the vision real. It helps you see the picture of the end result … the important purpose this structure will have.”
The cost of the build is in the neighborhood of $33 million, according to Kyle Alford, a general engineer in the Master Planning Division of Fort Lee’s Directorate of Public Works. When finished, the training facility will provide 120,214 square-feet of display, office and auditorium space. The projected completion date is April 2019.
“We’re about a quarter of the way finished,” said Hatch, while elaborating on the extensive site prep work that required a few thousand dump truck loads of fill dirt as well as the construction of 24-inch-thick, steel-rebar-supported cement slabs that would be strong enough to hold the heavy guns weighing upwards of 250 tons.
“We see the move as a milestone,” he continued, “because it was a key part of the project from day one. Today is the end result of a lot of coordination to ensure we did this in the safest manner possible, which is always the No. 1 concern, and we protected personnel and Army assets largely due to the experience and expertise of our civilian contract partners.”
Appropriately displayed in their new digs, the two Annie’s dominating presence will, no doubt, continue to garner a lot of attention. The K5-series rail gun, named for the World War II Anzio beachhead in Italy, is a German armament built in the 1930s. When captured by U.S. forces during the war, it was shipped to the United States for research.
The K5 is more than 100 feet long and weighs 218 tons when fully assembled with its 70-foot gun barrel. Twenty-five K5-series guns were produced by the Germans, and they used them throughout the European theater. “They were slow to fire, but the round was devastating,” said one expert about the artillery piece. “The K5 shells had a distinct sound, and it would create a crater large enough to swallow a Sherman Tank. It was a feared weapon.
Anzio Annie arrived here in November 2010, having been shipped from its previous home at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., the former location of the Army Ordnance School before Base Realignment and Closure ordered its relocation to Fort Lee
“This piece is a very important part of Ordnance Corps history,” an artifact expert said of the weapon, also noting that only one other K5 exists. “Ordnance is responsible for maintaining and repairing armaments, but it’s also responsible for technical intelligence. This is one example of how technical intelligence and capturing enemy equipment was important in developing U.S. equipment. A direct byproduct of this gun and its study was the atomic cannon. We definitely improved upon the technology.”
Media Atomic Annie – an 85-ton, 280mm nuclear-capable cannon – came to Fort Lee in November 2017. It is comprised of a T131 gun, T72 carriage and two T10 gun-lifting trucks used to transport the weapon. Most of the guns produced were 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. Several of the weapons have survived and are on display at various locations around the country, including the Virginia War Museum in Newport News.
Those who would like to follow the progress of the OTHC build or learn more about the artifacts in its vast collection can “like” the organization’s social media page at www.facebook.com/OrdnanceTrainingandHeritageCenter.
Editors Note: This story originally appeared in the Fort Lee Traveller, www.fortleetraveller.com. Used with permission.