As a WWII enthusiast, there’s almost nothing better than when a WWII museum on the scale of the American Heritage Museum opens less than hour from your house. And this is a very, very large scale.
Regardless of how close (or far) you live, a visit to the American Heritage Museum is well worth however long it’ll take you to get here. The pieces in this museum are huge, beautifully restored, and rare. Some of them you won’t be able to see anywhere else in the world.
What is the American Heritage Museum?
The American Heritage Museum opened to the public in May of 2019 and is dedicated to all things military transportation. Its massive collection is housed in 65,000 square feet of space in suburban Massachusetts.
The American Heritage Museum is part of the Collings Foundation—a non-profit, educational foundation focusing on preserving and exhibiting historical transportation-related artifacts. Yes, that’s a mouthful. Let’s break it down into bite-sized chunks.
The Collings Foundation:
- Founded in 1979
- Headquartered in Stowe, Massachusetts
- Responsible for traveling air shows and WWII aircraft tours
- Huge focus on artifact restoration
The Jacques M. Littlefield Collection
In 2013, the family of Jacques M. Littlefield (a private collector) chose the Collings Foundation as the recipient of his massive collection of tanks and other military vehicles. From this monumental donation (of over 200 vehicles) came the idea for the American Heritage Museum.
Where is the American Heritage Museum?
The American Heritage Museum is located at 568 Main Street in Hudson, Massachusetts. This is just a 45-minute drive from all the WWII sites in downtown Boston and less than half an hour from Worcester.
What to see at the American Heritage Museum
While the American Heritage Museum spans all the way from World War I to current conflicts (with a little bit of Civil War thrown in there), the majority of the collection centers around World War II.
American Heritage Museum exhibits
You’ll see exhibits on:
- World War I
- World War II
- Korean War
- Vietnam War
- Cold War
- Gulf War
- 9/11 and the War on Terror
American Heritage Museum collection
In these exhibits you’ll see the museum’s collection comprised of over 80 military transportation vehicles including:
- Tanks on tanks on tanks
- Amphibious landing crafts
- Cars, trucks, motorcycles
- The remains of a German U-Boat
- Weaponry—big and small
- A handful of informative and entertaining video presentations
- And more tanks
You’ll also have the opportunity to pick up, feel, and wear historical war artifacts as well as spend some time talking to the many enthusiastic volunteers. You’ll see a variety of miscellaneous WWII artifacts and get up close to some of the war’s most significant modes of transportation and destruction.
If you have an interest in World War II transportation you absolutely must visit the American Heritage Museum. This place includes anything and everything related to wings, wheels, watercraft, and weaponry.
American Heritage Museum’s WWII sections
The WWII section of the American Heritage Museum takes up the vast majority of display space here. Within this section are sub-sections divided by critical turning points, specific topics, and the many theaters of the war.
This section utilizes a video presentation detailing the events and timeline of World War II. It includes such artifacts as the Hitler favorite Mercedes G4 staff car and a German Panzer.
Also in this section you can see both Nazi and Japanese military uniforms and weaponry and other relevant artifacts.
Arsenal of Democracy
This small section includes three American pieces: a Sherman tank, a Sherman Turret Trainer, and the front half of a 1942 Buick Super.
Heading down into the guts of the museum you’ll first encounter the section on North Africa. In this section you’ll find American and British tanks, motorcycles and armored cars, and more.
Moving on will take you into the Italian Campaign. Here you can see American and German vehicles, guns, and, my favorite, the German Schwimmwagen—a small “duck boat”-like vehicle capable of both land and water movement.
Clash of Steel
In the center of the massive WWII section is Clash of Steel. This small section is comprised only of two tanks—a Russian T-34/85 and a German Panther—but includes its very own video presentation. This video aims to showcase and compare the differences in these two tanks and how they fared in war and does a great job of it. There’s fire.
In this section you’ll find mostly German weaponry—tank destroyers, anti-tank guns, a rocket launcher, etc. However, you can also see a Russian heavy machine gun as well as the Russian T-34 tank. This is the one they call Mickey Mouse and is the only one of its kind on display in North America.
Always a favorite section of mine, the section on D-Day showcases mostly British tanks and weaponry. However, it also includes an American Higgins Boat—an actual survivor from the Normandy beach landings.
In this section you can also look inside a Cromwell I and learn about the Churchill Crocodile, a flame-throwing tank.
Battle of the Bulge
The American Heritage Museum’s section on the Battle of the Bulge includes U.S. tanks like the M4A3E2 Sherman “Jumbo” complete with battle scars, and German and American anti-tank weapons.
Crossing the Rhine
The small section on crossing the Rhine showcases U.S. and UK tanks as well as an American Hellcat tank destroyer.
Randomly placed artifact
Having no particular section of its own, the rusted remains of a German U-Boat sit among the Battle of the Bulge and the Battle for Berlin.
Battle for Berlin
As the war wages on, so does the American Heritage Museum’s collection. In this section you’ll find both a Russian tank and a Russian tank destroyer, as well as a German Messerschmitt fighter plane.
Defense of the Reich
This section has just one piece of transportation but many other pieces of war equipment. Here you’ll find anti-aircraft battery supports, guided missiles, anti-aircraft guns, and other pieces used by the Reich for defense.
As for the vehicle in this section, it’s a Sd.Kfz. 8 12-ton German personnel carrier and was actually used in the 1967 WWII film The Dirty Dozen.
In the American Heritage Museum’s section on Liberation, you can see the American armored car the M8 Greyhound.
And though this is the only vehicle in this section, you can also learn more about the Holocaust here and see some key artifacts.
In the last of the sub-sections from World War II is the section on the Pacific War. Here you’ll find American, British, and Japanese vehicles and weapons. Among them, the only known Japanese self-propelled Howitzer left in existence.
Non-WWII sections of the American Heritage Museum
If you’re interested (and since you’re already there anyway), the American Heritage Museum also has sections on:
- World War I with a feature film you watch from inside a recreated trench
- Korean War featuring a unique tiger-painted Sherman tank
- Vietnam War
- Cold War featuring a piece of the Berlin Wall
- Gulf War featuring an unbelievable Scud missile and launcher
- 9/11 and the War on Terror with a 9/11 feature film and a piece of the World Trade Center structure
American Heritage Museum Tank Driving
Probably the coolest thing the American Heritage Museum offers is the chance to drive one of their World War II tanks yourself. As a complete and total amateur.
Because of the nature of the museum, it’s totally funded by visitor admissions, donations, and private funding. Thus, they offer some pretty unique fundraising methods.
The American Heritage Museum and the Collings Foundation are big into immersive experiences as a way to better learn about history, and I can’t agree more. For years they have offered the chance to fly in real WWII planes (like the B-24 Liberator, B-25 Mitchell, TF-51D Mustang, and the TP-40N Warhawk).
Now, you can take part in the American Heritage Museum’s Tank Driving Experience Program and drive a real WWII tank. Choose from either the M24 Chaffee or the M4A3 Sherman tank.
These experiences are 100% tax deductible donations and reservations are required. Also, you should probably know how to drive a stick. Or, in my case, learn how to drive a stick from scratch with the sole purpose of eventually driving a WWII tank.
In addition to the museum and the tank driving experience, the American Heritage Museum also hosts various events throughout the year. Some of those events are:
- A handful of tank demo days: see a handful of real WWII tanks operating outside on obstacle courses
- Special speakers
- Vehicles throughout the ages: check out classic cars, antique automobiles, and more
- Battle for the Airfield: a WWII re-enactment extravaganza featuring veterans, actual operational tanks, and over 300 re-enactors. During this event you can also check out the aircraft hangar and classic car barn.
Check out the movies mentioned in this post plus a few others:
Saving Private Ryan (1998): One of the best WWII (and D-Day) movies out there. See many of the vehicles mentioned in this post such as the Flak 38 anti-aircraft gun and the Higgins Boat, among others.
The Dirty Dozen (1967): Academy Award-winning film based on the true story of a WWII unit comprised of 12 convicted murderers out on a suicide mission of mass assassination.
Fury (2014): If you’re at all into WWII tanks, you must watch this movie. What am I saying? You’ve probably already seen it. The story is about a Sherman tank and its five-member crew (led by Brad Pitt) fighting their way across Germany in 1945. And it’s incredible!
More info for visiting the American Heritage Museum
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