By John Adam
Staff Writer

Posted Dec 1, 2017 at 4:55 PM
Updated Dec 3, 2017 at 2:41 PM

A piece of ordnance history has found a new home at Fort Lee, as “Atomic Annie,” an M65 Cannon built in the 1950s, was delivered to the base on Thursday.

FORT LEE — An iconic piece of military ordnance history just settled into its new home at Fort Lee.

The piece of ordnance is a special M65 cannon from the early 1950s, which is notorious for being one of the first guns of its kind that could fire an atomic round. Because of this distinction, the gun is named “Atomic Annie.”

“This is an important piece of history,” said Brig. Gen. David Wilson. “It serves really as a symbol of the American might and ingenuity that existed at the time. America was the arsenal of democracy that defeated the Nazis and Fascists in Europe.”

Weighing approximately 86.5 tons with a length of about 85 ft., Atomic Annie could fire a 550-pound projectile approximately 20 miles.

It was tested at the Nevada Proving Ground in May of 1953, where a 15 kiloton W-9 warhead was fired seven miles, representing the only atomic projectile that was ever fired by the M65 gun series.

Though immensely powerful, the M65 was difficult to transport given its size, and could not travel at more than five miles per hour. The M65 was retired for good in 1963.

“The Army saw it as a good deterrent against the nuclear capabilities of Russia, but it became obsolete as rockets and missiles became more advanced,” said Kevin Sullivan, the Museum Curator for the Ordnance Training Support facility.

Only 20 of the M65s were made, and only three survive to this day.

Coincidentally, the M65 was modeled after a German K5 railroad gun, which was dubbed “Anzio Annie,” after it was captured in Anzio, Italy from the Germans in 1944. Anzio Annie has been on display at Fort Lee for several years now.

“The development of this gun started in 1944,” said James Blankenship, the Director of the Ordnance Training and Heritage Center. “The Army was looking for a heavy, long range artillery gun, so they came up with the M65.”

Both Anzio Annie and Atomic Annie will be housed at the new Ordnance Training Support Facility, which is currently being built. Because of the size of both weapons, they will have to be placed in the building during construction before a roof is put on.

“Having those two pieces is a good bookend for one piece of technology being used to help develop another one,” said Sullivan.

Special crews were overseeing the unloading of Atomic Annie on Thursday morning, using cranes to unload the gun from the truck it had been transported on.

Blankenship noted that the gun, which was being transported from Alabama, had to be taken apart and specially transported along a special route due to its immense weight. The gun also had to go through some intense restoration to get it prepared for proper display.

“I’m happy that it’s been restored and is going to find a home,” said Sullivan. “It was on display outside for the longest time, where weather causes damage, so getting it inside a building is going to help preserve the life of it.”

Given that only three of the M65s have survived since it was retired, the Fort Lee Ordnance Training Support Facility will be a fitting place for an iconic piece of ordnance history.

“Having such an important piece of ordnance history come home to the ordnance 

branch itself is a major event,” said Sullivan. “It’s going to be one of the highlights of the Training Support Center.”

Fort Lee officials are hoping both Atomic Annie and Anzio Annie can serve as real-life examples for the soldiers who will be trained at the new facility once it opens next year.

“It’s one thing to see something in a book,” said Wilson. “It’s another thing to actually physically touch it, and get real life visualization from it. They can visually see the depth and space of battle in those days.”

•John Adam may be reached at jadam@progress-index.com or 804-722-5172.