Let’s face it… a gun that shoots a nuclear shell = AWESOME.

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The M65 280mm “atomic cannon” was an early 1950′s weapon designed for a single purpose: to lob 15 kiloton nuclear shells at invading Soviet forces in Germany. It was kind of a doomed concept… it was a massive piece of equipment that, while technically mobile, would in practice have been a largely fixed emplacement. Range was good by cannon standards, but terrible by “bomb carried by an airplane” standards, which is why it went away in only a few years.

It fired a live nuclear shell a grand total of once, the Upshot-Knothole-Grable test of May 25, 1953, producing some of the most impressive and iconic images from the nuclear weapons race. The shell was a gun-type bomb, similar in concept to the Little Boy bomb. This was used because the bomb was narrower in diameter than an equivalent implosion device (importance since it had to fit in an 11-inch diameter cannon shell), but it resulted in a lower performing explosive than if it were an implosion device.

Drawing of a smaller gun-type nuclear artillery shell via, of all things, Greenpeace. Apparently they got their mitts on a British nuclear weapon manual some time back, and decided that the thing to do to help prevent nuclear proliferation was to post bits of it online. Thanks!

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This image from the Los Alamos National Lab webpage may technically not be all that impressive, but the appearance of apparently normal “stuff,” namely the power pole, lines and transformers, gives the image a creepy vibe often missing from shots of nuclear explosions.

This page HERE has a number of good photos of the cannon and its tractors, as well as selling a good PDF of AutoCAD layout drawings of the beast.

  • B Lewis

    Pulling the lanyard on that thing must have been inhumanly gratifying…

    • publiusr

      Just the thing to punt on-board the larger Orion concepts. Now on a lower gravity body like the moon, its range would be enhanced.

  • Michel Van

    the US army deployed the M65 atlong the frontier to east Germany
    But most of them at “Fulda Gap” in Hesse,
    and the Crews had there problems to get M56 gun true little contorted cottage.
    they got the Gun true but with allot of damage to germans house and buildings…

    here some picture about M56 in Germany:
    http://sbiii.com/ordatpix.html
    http://sbiii.com/ordatcan.html#atomcann

  • Jason

    Those warheads look to be just the right size for Orion pulse units…

    • Anonymous

      Right size, wrong weight & efficiency.

  • gormanao

    One of my nerdy best junk store scores was a solvent plunger can stenciled “Atomic Projectile Tool Kit” at an industrial surplus place in Rock Island, Ill.

    • Anonymous

      I think I know the place. “Riverview Surplus,” down by the river, a few miles down the road from John Deere? Not surprising they would have had that… the Rock Island Arsenal was big into nukes back in the day. They have one of the atomic cannons on display, and ran development of the Davy Crockett. You tool could’ve come from either of those.

      I was there just a few months ago. Not much in the way of military surplus, sadly. But then, nobody does, anymore. I remember as a kid going into “Army-Navy” stores and finding bazookas and LAWs and such hanging on the wall, old guns, bits of cannons, cannon shells, spent rockets… sigh.

      • gormanao

        It might have been- all I remember is a big warehouse/Morton building space with a lot of random stuff, a lot of it probably from local DRMO auctions. It was at least 15 years ago too…

  • Nick P.

    That diagram of the weapon internals is very, VERY, interesting.

    Little Boy as I recall fired a U235 bullet into a stationary target. This looks like it has two projectiles fired into the center of the weapon and another cylindrical bit of U235 around the impact point surrounded by explosives.

    So the the two bullets fire, smack each other, squish the neutron initiator while concurrently a ring of explosives compresses more U235 into the whole shebang.

    I can not even begin to imagine how difficult it would be to design a weapon such that all of that crap happens at the right time and in the right order.

    —–

    This all reminds of an impractical superweapon idea I had once, the gist of it was a large battle ship mounting cannons this size with shell auto-loaders and a magazine full of hundreds or thousands of nuclear shells like this.

    Find a country you don’t like and just sail up and down the coast raining down nuclear death in rapid fire mode.

    Four turrets, three cannons per turret, lets say it takes two minutes to reload each individual cannon. That works out to a shell every 10 seconds or so.

    Hail to the King baby…

    • Anonymous

      > Little Boy as I recall fired a U235 bullet into a stationary target.

      Sorta. Apparently it didn’t fire a U bullet *into* a large uranium target… it fired a hollow uranium cylinder *around* a stationary plug.

      > just sail up and down the coast

      So long as the nation *has* a coast, and meaningful targets within range. Cannons have dismally short range compared to even modest missiles.

      • Nick P.

        > Apparently it didn’t fire a U bullet *into* a large uranium target… it fired a hollow uranium cylinder *around* a stationary plug.

        Well, yes. I meant bullet strictly in the sense of it being the thing shot at another without reference to the ‘gender’ of either or.

        > So long as the nation *has* a coast, and meaningful targets within range. Cannons have dismally short range compared to even modest missiles.

        Granted, but that still leaves many many targets.

  • Tim Kyger

    And don’t forget: The Revologram SSP reissued The Atomic Cannon model just last year. I’ve got my own Atomic Cannon. Yea!

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