WASHINGTON (NNS) -- From the flintlock to the most modern automatic weapons, the Naval Historical Center (NHC) documents and maintains a collection representing over 200 years of Navy firearms.
And this collection is the basis for a feature article in the Oct. 2003 "Small Arms Review" magazine by Robert Bruce titled, "Behind the Vault Door, The Naval Historical Center's Weapons Collection."
Because firearms have been such an integral part of the Navy's history, their preservation is an imperative concern for the NHC.
"The purpose for the NHC's armory collection is a material reminder of the operational, technical and social aspects that firearms have made in naval history," said Mark Wertheimer, armory supervisor and acting head of the NHC's Curator Branch.
"The armory has been established since the late 1950s and consists of over 1,100 firearms," Wertheimer added.
The earliest firearm is a French naval pistol from the 1770s that was used during the American Revolution, and the most modern is a Russian sniper rifle that was captured in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom.
The smallest items in the collection are shotgun rounds with tiny arrow-shaped steel flechette used by Navy SEALs (SEa, Air, Land) in the Vietnam War. The Kodak Camera Company surprisingly designed the largest artifact in the collection, the massive Kodak Mark 1 Mod 0 60mm mortar developed for the Marine Corps in World War II.
Another extraordinary part of the collection is the Navy's first Gatling gun. This is the only survivor out of a group of 12 or 13 "test articles" manufactured by Dr. Richard Jordan Gatling and tested by the Navy from 1862-1863.
Many of the weapons would be familiar to retired and veteran Sailors: The bolt-action M1903 Springfield rifle used by the Navy from just after the turn of the century until the 1940s (with some still in use with ceremonial units today); the World War I era U.S. Navy marked version of the famous Colt M1911 .45-caliber automatic pistol; and the Browning Automatic Rifle or "BAR", wheeled by actor Steve McQueen's Sailor character Jake Holman in the final scenes of the movie "The Sand Pebbles."
Foreign weapons are also important items in the armory. Examples of captured enemy weapons, such as the World War II standard Japanese bolt-action Arisaka rifle and the Vietnam-era AK-47 assault rifle, can be found in the racks.
Others were obtained by the Navy in order to "match up" in tests against American weapons. An example is a Russian 1839 musket that was part of the U.S. Navy's developmental program for the Plymouth Rifle of 1858.
"We maintain contact with three main sources: the Navy, foreign governments and private donations," said Wertheimer. The "operational community," including SEALs, Special Boats Units, ships and aviation community also assists with identifying firearms.
The NHC is expecting more precision rifles, sniper and marksmanship team weapons in the future. And they are always hoping for weapons that have seen interesting and unique service.
Virtually all the firearms in the collection are donated free of charge. "NHC itself rarely buys anything except 'high interest' items," Wertheimer continued. "The biggest gaps in the collection are from the 19th century to the cartridge era; those prior to 1860 are few and far between, because nobody held on to them at the time."
Though not as complete as Wertheimer would like, this incredible collection of old firearms still serves an importance purpose. "This priceless collection is still serving its country in a sense by being a piece of evidence that can be studied and analyzed," he stressed.
For related news, visit the Naval Historical Center Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/navhist.