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M65 Atomic Cannon: rare photographs from wartime archives

M65 Atomic Cannon: rare photographs from wartime archives

David Doyle
ARRSE Rating
4 Mushroom Heads
At the end of the 1940s, the USA wanted an artillery piece that could deliver an atomic warhead. The M65, a 280mm cannon, was developed that could throw a W-9 15 kiloton nuclear warhead or a conventional 275kg high explosive warhead 20 miles. The first version was completed in 1951 and on 24th May 1953, the only nuclear round ever to be shot from this type of gun was fired. By 1955 there were a number of M65 gun battalions in Europe and in Korea.

The size of the guns made them a go-to choice for fire power demonstrations although the guns proved to be maintenance-heavy and their size and mass made road-transportation difficult. As a result of these problems, and their relatively short range (when firing a 15 kiloton round, you presumably want to fling it down range as far away from you as possible) meant that the gun was augmented by the Honest John rocket, and a year later by an 8 inch nuclear shell that could be fired from a rather more common calibre gun system.

The single nuclear shot was known as 'Shot Grable': it proved the utility of using a low yield warhead at low altitude, in fact it proved more effective than higher yield warheads at high altitude or ground level.

Although possibly a little niche, this book certainly delivers in spades (if you can forgive a Gunner's pun...). The photos are certainly exhaustive, covering every aspect of the gun and its transport system. Actually the transport system (possibly a little sadly if being introspective) is almost as fascinating as the gun itself. The gun's size and mass (the gun carriage was almost 30m long and weighed 75 tons) meant that a novel transport system was needed. Tank transporters were adapted and developed until a twin gun tractor system was finally arrived at, with a 16 ton, 10m truck at each end of the platform carrying the gun.

David Doyle, a military vehicle enthusiast, has come up trumps with a complete record of the M65; I found the book fascinating and will certainly be making my way to see 'Atomic Annie' (all M65 cannon had their own nicknames and 'Atomic Annie' was the gun that fired 'Shot Grable') next time I am in Fort Sill.

Available at for £13.18 in paperback or £9.20 on Kindle, an excellent choice of birthday present for the Gunner nerd in your life!
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