M65 atomic cannon
|M65 atomic cannon|
Surviving 240mm prototype at the Virginia War Museum
|Place of origin||United States|
|Weight||83.3 tons (gun and carriage)|
|Length||84 feet (26 m)|
|Width||16.1 feet (4.9 m)|
|Height||12.2 feet (3.7 m)|
|Effective firing range||approximately 20 miles (30 km)|
The M65 atomic cannon, often called "Atomic Annie", was a towed artillery piece built by the United States and capable of firing a nuclear device. It was developed in the early 1950s, at the beginning of the Cold War, and fielded, by 1953, in Europe and South Korea.
Picatinny Arsenal was tasked to create a nuclear capable artillery piece in 1949. Robert Schwartz, the engineer who created the preliminary designs, essentially scaled up the 240mm shell (then the maximum in the arsenal) and used the German K5 railroad gun as a point of departure for the carriage. (The name "Atomic Annie" likely derives from the nickname "Anzio Annie" given to a German K5 gun which was employed against the American landings in Italy.) The design was approved by the Pentagon, largely through the intervention of Samuel Feltman, chief of the ballistics section of the ordnance department's research and development division. A three-year developmental effort followed. The project proceeded quickly enough to produce a demonstration model to participate in Dwight Eisenhower's inaugural parade in January 1953.
The cannon was transported by two specially designed tractors, both capable of independent steering in the manner of some extra-long fire engines. Each of the tractors was rated at 375 hp, and the somewhat awkward combination could achieve speeds of 35 miles an hour and negotiate right angle turns on 28 ft wide, paved or packed roads. The artillery piece could be unlimbered in 15 minutes, then returned to traveling configuration in another 15 minutes.
On May 25, 1953 at 8:30am, the atomic cannon was tested at the Nevada Test Site (specifically Frenchman Flat) as part of the Upshot-Knothole series of nuclear tests. The test — codenamed "Grable" — was attended by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Arthur W. Radford and Secretary of Defense Charles Erwin Wilson; it resulted in the successful detonation of a 15 kt shell (W9 warhead) at a range of seven miles. This was the first and only nuclear shell to be fired from a cannon  (the Little Feller 1 test shot of an M388 used a Davy Crockett weapon system which was a recoilless smooth bore gun firing the warhead mounted on the end of a spigot inserted in the barrel of the weapon.)
After the successful test, there were at least 20 of the cannons manufactured at Watervliet and Watertown Arsenals, at a cost of $800,000 each. They were deployed overseas to Europe and Korea, often continuously shifted around to avoid being detected and targeted by opposing forces. Due to the size of the apparatus, their limited range, the development of nuclear shells compatible with existing artillery pieces (the W48 for the 155mm and the W33 for the 203mm), and the development of rocket and missile based nuclear artillery, the M65 was effectively obsolete soon after it was deployed. However, it remained a prestige weapon and was not retired until 1963.
Of the twenty M65s produced, at least seven survive on display, plus the 240mm prototype. Most no longer have their "prime movers".
- U.S. Army Artillery Museum, Fort Sill, Oklahoma (This is the original "Atomic Annie" that fired the live nuclear shot. It was restored in 2010 and is now displayed with prime movers replacing those that were lost in an accident when the cannon was retrieved from Germany by the museum in 1964.)
- United States Army Ordnance Museum, Aberdeen, Maryland (still has the two large "prime movers" attached)
- National Museum of Nuclear Science & History, Albuquerque, New Mexico (has two prime movers)
- Freedom Park, Junction City, Kansas, overlooking Fort Riley
- Rock Island Arsenal, Memorial Field, Rock Island, Illinois
- Virginia War Museum, Newport News, Virginia, 240mm prototype
- Watervliet Arsenal Museum, Watervliet Arsenal, Watervliet, New York, where they were all manufactured
- Yuma Proving Ground, Yuma, Arizona
An M65 atomic cannon at Aberdeen Proving Ground
1958 deployment in Korea (film)
- "280mm Atomic Annie Artillery". OliveDrab.com. Retrieved 2008-10-11.
- "M65 Atomic Cannon". GlobalSecurity.org. Retrieved 2008-10-11.
- Tucker, Todd. Atomic America: How a Deadly Explosion and a Feared Admiral Changed the Course of Nuclear History. Simon and Schuster, 2009. ISBN 1-4165-4433-X. p.92
- "Historic Fort Sill Cannon to Receive Restoration".
- "Atomic Annie on the Move".
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to M65 Atomic Annie.|
- Video of Grable Test on YouTube
- The short film Big Picture: Fire Power: Artillery is available for free download at the Internet Archive
- The short film The 280 mm Gun at the Nevada Proving Ground (1953) is available for free download at the Internet Archive