By Bernie Breighner
One of the most unique military history museums is located in a small town that found itself between the advancing allied army and German troops defending the homeland. The museum is the Mussee National D’Histore Militare in Diekirch, Luxembourg. The town of Diekirch is located approximately 35 km north of Luxembourg City. The unimposing exterior of the museum belies the military treasures that are contained inside. The museum is mostly dedicated to World War II and specifically the battles that were fought in the winter of 1944/45. The museum also serves as the military history museum of the country Luxemburg from the early 1900’s to the present. The museum is home to one of the most dramatic and complete collections of World War II small arms and equipment.
The museum’s collection was initially obtained from battlefield pick-ups after World War Two. A small group of local residents formed an organization dedicated to preserving the history of battles that were fought in the area. This group eventually became the Diekirch Historical Society. The museum was opened to the public in September 1984 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the liberation of Luxembourg and the Battle of the Bulge. The museum’s building was a former beer brewery and has over 2200 meters of display area.
The main display area contains a small assortment of tanks, large caliber weapons, wheeled and tracked vehicles of both German and American origin. All of the display vehicles have been restored with attention to detail and authenticity. On the German side there is a 2 cm (20mm) four barreled Flakviering German anti aircraft gun in perfect condition. Next to the Flakviering there is a Jagdpanzer model 38(t). An American M-3A1 Halftrack sits in one corner bristling with two 1919A-4 machine guns on flex mounts and a M-2 “ Ma Deuce’ on the ring turret. Of particular interest was a mint condition M-55 Quad .50 Caliber Anti Aircraft trailer being towed by a 3/4 ton Dodge 4×4. The M-55 sported a red and white shark’s mouth on the front shroud, most assuredly a GI field modification. One very interesting exhibit in the main hall was on the German V-3 program.
The V-3 was designed to be part of Hitler’s V- Series of weapons. There has been very little written on the existence or the operational use of the V-3. According to the documents located at the museum, The German V-3 was a high-pressure rail gun. The weapon system was to be deployed along steep hillsides where circular sections of tubing would be assembled to make an extremely long barrel. Once the V-3 was constructed on incline it would be an immobile weapon. The overall length would vary due to site conditions and the barrel length could be several hundred feet long. The V-3 would be able to fire a small caliber projectile over great distances. According to the display, there was at least one known attack using the V-3. The attack was only mildly successful and minimal damage was done. The program never really got out of its experimental stage as the war ended. The American army captured the only known prototype. The V-3 was sent to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland for test and evaluation. The V-3 was presumably tested and the weapon was destroyed. Interestingly, Dr. Gerald Bull revived this concept as he designed several rail guns in the 1960’s for the US Army and was in the process of building the “Super Gun” for the Iraqi’s in the late 1980’s before the project was discovered by British authorities.
As you leave the main display area you are face to face with three German Volksgrenadiers in full battle dress. The soldiers represent some of the units that took part in the German offensive in the Ardennes. All are wearing authentic German World War II issue clothing ranging from snow parkas to camouflage smocks. One of the soldiers is armed with a Russian PPSh 41, another has an MP 44 and the last has a G-43 with a grenade launcher. This display is only the beginning of what will become a seemingly endless display of weapons and equipment and life-size dioramas depicting troops engaged in battle.
One of the first stops is the weapons collection room. As you enter, the archway over the door has the rusted relics of an M-1 rifle, Kar 43 and an MP-44 standing guard over the collection. Once inside you are overwhelmed by the enormous collection of weapons, ammo and armaments that are on display. The first case contains a complete assortment of German weapons used in WW II. There are three variations of the German Strumgeweher. The MP-43, MP-43-1 and the MP-44 with accessories such as the magazine loading tool and MP 44 leather magazine pouches. A Third Production model FG-42 (G) in excellent condition is also on display. The collection includes virtually all of the German sub machine guns used in WW II. The examples include the MP 38, MP 40, Erma EMP, Austrian made Steyr Solothurn MP 34(O) model, Bergman MP 35 and a Schmeisser MP28II. Italian submachine guns are present in a Beretta Model 38A and a Beretta Model 38/42 that was favored by some German units. The museum unfortunately did not have examples of the German STEN copy, the MP 3008 or the very crudely manufactured Erma EMP 44. German battle rifles include most variations of the Geweher 98, 98A and 98K in both standard and sniper variants. The semi automatic Kar 43 and G43 sniper variant as well as the G 41 are present. The best part of this display is the assortment and variations of German machine guns.
Literally every square inch on the bottom of the display case is occupied by a machine gun or associated accessories. A well worn MG 08 and its cousin the MG 08/15 are present. Several MG 34’s and the revolutionary MG 42 machine guns are on display. As you go through the museum there are probably at least 10 more examples of each the MG 34/MG 42. A Czech ZB -30 that does not have German acceptance markings fills the front of the case. The ZB-30 does have a rather unusual feature, the magazine of the weapon has two magazines seam welded together to increase capacity. The ZB-30 was known in German nomenclature as the Maschinengeweher (30) t and was the only true light machine used by the Germans during the war. Another weapon of Czech origin is the ZB 37 (Model 37) Heavy Machine Gun in 7.92mm. The ZB 37 was used mostly as vehicle armament due to its size and weight. Other captured/nationalized non-German manufactured weapons include the French model 1924 M29 Chatterrault, an 8mm Madsen 08 as well as the Austrian Schwarzlose. A rare weapon in the case was a German Rhienmetall MG 131/13 in 13mm that was used in aircraft and pressed into service as a ground machine gun late in the war. The MG 13 and MG 15 are also present; both are outfitted with bipods and stocks for use as a ground machine gun. A twin MG 81 machine gun designed for the Luftwaffe to protect bombers from attacking fighters is hidden among the machine guns lining the floor. The MG 81, a modified MG 34 adopted for the air role is not complete as it is missing the front spider site. The main differences between the MG 81 and MG 34 was that the MG 81 was capable of automatic fire only and had a higher rate of fire. The rate of fire for the MG 81 is between 1000-2000 rounds per minute (RPM) compared to 800-900 RPM for the MG 34. Almost unnoticed are a collection of pistols ranging from P-08 Lugers, Broomhandles, P-38’s, Polish Radom, various CZ pistols and a Browning High Power. A German designed Model 39 Grenade Launcher in 30 mm is displayed along with an assortment of 30-mm grenades designed for its use. Some of the interesting weapons were ones that had been captured in previous battles and were pressed into service late into the war. The museum has on display several Soviet PPSh 41 that were converted to fire 9mm. The conversion involved replacing the barrel with one chambered for 9mm, modifying the magazine well to accept MP 38/40 magazines and reworking the bolt assembly. Another is the Tokarev M 1940 semi automatic rifle.
The museum has a very impressive display of German anti tank weapons. The massive Mauser designed 13 mm Model 1918 “TankGewher” anti tank rifle with a variety of rounds. This rifle is an upscale copy of the Mauser Gewher 98 bolt action rifle that has a weight of 38 pounds. The cartridge was first developed during World War One as a direct result of the introduction of Tanks into the modern battlefield. The 13mm round, which has an actual diameter of 12.7 mm was capable of penetrating 1/2 inch of armor. John M. Browning used this round as a prototype in developing the .50 BMG cartridge that is the worldwide standard today. One of the most amazing sites was seeing factory new boxes containing Model 30 Panzerfausts. Both models of the Panzerfaust, the Model 30 and the Model 30 Klein (small) are displayed in their original German shipping crates. The room has an extensive display of German mines designed for anti personnel and anti tank uses. The entire ordinance collection was liberated after the war by the original members. Even more incredible was that the members deactivated almost all of the ordinance on display. They eventually sought the help of the Luxembourg Military EOD experts. As one views this vast assortment of small arms used by the Germans in WW II, it illustrates the difficult task of trying to supply all of the various caliber’s of ammunition and spare parts needed to keep these weapons working under combat conditions
This concept is easily visualized as you look at the case containing American small arms of WW II. The US collection takes only one quarter of the space as the German collection! The display includes the 1903 Springfield, M-1917 Enfield, M-1 Garand, M-1 carbine and the M1A1 carbine folding stock version. The M 3 and M3A1 sub machine guns, Thompson M1 A1 are represented as well as the Browning 1918 A-2. The case has 3 Browning M-2 Heavy machine guns on display. One is an aircraft version AN M-2 and the other two are ground versions on M 63 tripods. The Browning 1919A-4 and 1919A-6 are also included. The rest of the room has a tremendous collection of ordnance ranging from the 9mm Luger cartridge to a 500 pound US General Purpose Bomb. The room could be a reference library for any EOD team working with WW II ordinance.
After leaving the weapons collection room, the museum journey will now take you through snap shots of the war in the winter of 1944/45. These snap shots are in the form of life sized dioramas depicting soldiers at war. The largest of these displays depicts elements of the Fifth US Army making a night crossing of the river Sauer into Germany on January 18,1945. The Platoon sized scene has US soldiers dragging aluminum boats in deep snow to the river’s edge. The depiction puts you at the rear of the column as they advance into a dark snowy horizon. Each of the soldiers are wearing white snow smocks and are carrying a variety of weapons from the Browning 1919A-4 to the M-1 Rifle. Nothing has been left to imagination. The scene has been recreated to give the viewer a very accurate depiction of the event.
Another scene shows tired German troops settling down to an evening meal. A German meal wagon is providing the troops with hot food. The troops are huddled along the sides of a destroyed building, trying to find a warm and comfortable spot. One soldier who stands only feet away from the edge of the display is cleaning an MG 34. The soldier has broken down the weapon on a table and is busily cleaning the receiver in his hand. The scene has amazing detail from the German mailbag to the spilled food down the side of the meal wagon. Several other scenes depict a German MG 42 machine gun nest, a US mortar crew using a building as firing position, German PAK 40 cannon with crew and German 8 cm mortar crew. One diorama has a German communication NCO maintaining listening watch inside of a farmhouse serving as a command post. Several German soldiers have sought refuge in the house. Inside the house there are fine examples of the MP 44 series and the MG 42. At each display there are literally hundreds of artifacts that have been assembled to provide realism and authenticity.
Some of the more interesting exhibits include a bicycle that has been modified to carry two Model 30 Panzerfaust. The bike has a specially made bracket that fits over the front tire that allows the two Panzerfaust to be cradled on either side. Another is a rusted out Browning AN M2 aircraft machine gun that is hanging on a hallway that was found in a farmers field years later. If you look closely into the action you can see a rusted link and .50 shell still inside. There are so many details that have been included to create realism. If you look into the chamber of a Thompson M-1 being held by a serviceman accepting the surrender of a German, it holds a .45 ACP round.
s you travel through the museum’s passageways, you are constantly presented with a balanced perspective of the war. The goal of the museum is to provide an objective historical view from all parties that were involved. Some of the most visually moving parts of the museum are located on the stairwells and small spaces along the walls. The museum has obtained uncensored pictures depicting the aftermath of battle from both sides. These scenes of death and destruction complete the picture of what it was like to be in combat in the Ardennes.
The museum has the top two floors dedicated to the Luxembourg Military. These displays are virtually a history of military firearms from the Maxim to the M-60. Some of the more notable firearms was a 4” barreled P14 or P-17 and an even shorter barreled Mauser 98K that was used by the resistance forces against the Germans occupiers. One display depicts an M-40 recoilless cannon mounted on the back of a US jeep. Other displays depict a US made 105 Howitzer and gun crew and a TOW launcher and crew waiting in a snowstorm for their next prey. There is a display of modern weapons including MAG 58, Dutch service FN FAL, UZI fixed and folding stock models, French GIAT MAS and a British L1 A1. A very nice Bren CDN that was manufactured for the Chinese in 7.92mm by Ingliss of Canada is included in a display of Korean War weapons. There are several Lewis guns presented; one is the WW I Lewis in .303 British and the other is a Lewis K machine gun from WW II in .303. The Luxembourg Military component is small compared to its European neighbors, but the displays paint a proud and active role in worldwide operations.
This museum is small in size, but has one of the best collections of military weapons. What really sets this museum apart are the numerous dioramas depicting soldiers at war. These displays are the heart of the collection and every effort has been made to keep them authentic and historically accurate. The town of Diekirch is an approximately 3-hour drive from Frankfurt, Germany. The address 10 Balmeral Rue, Diekirch, Luxembourg. The museum is open daily from 1000-1800 April 1 to Nov 1 and from 1400-1800 from November 2 to March 31. The website address is www.luxembourg.co.uk/NMMH/.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V5N10 (July 2002)|