Saturday, October 21, 2006

A nuke in a howitzer shell

The scientists who more or less unanimously recommended against the development of the hydrogen bomb seem to have suffered from the myopia of the ordinary citizen, trying to suss out the future from the perspective of the past. What blew me away in the report were not the arguments against the 'Super', but this astonishing passage:

'The General Advisory Committee recommends ... an intensification of efforts to make atomic weapons available for tactical purposes, and to give attention to the problem of integration of bomb and carrier design in this field.' (Univ Chicago:

That was 1949. The US tested its first nuclear artillery shell in 1953, a 280 mm projectile that exploded with a force of 15 kilotons (a bit less than the Hiroshima bomb) 10 kilometers downrange. (Wiki)

Freedman notes (p.747) that in 1955, in a war game aptly titled Carte Blanche, 355 tactical nukes were 'exploded' in an effort to stop a Russian invasion, killing and wounding up to 5.2 million West Germans. And that was only NATO nukes: by 1955, the Russians either had or would soon have battlefield nukes at their disposal.

In 1963, a really practical 155 mm projectile was introduced with an explosive force of 72 tons of TNT. Then there was the Davy Crockett nuke, fired by a recoilless rifle! In all, perhaps 2,500 atomic shells were produced and 1,300 were deployed in Europe before they were withdrawn from service in 1991. Russia followed suit a year later. (Wiki)

My gut feeling is that the General Advisory Committee would have done better to recommend going ahead with the 'Super' while keeping nukes out of the hands of the field artillery.


At 10:52 AM, Blogger Ivan Zverzhanovski said...

Interestingly enough, I just heard Prof. Lawrence Freedman talk on the same topic (ok - he was talking about nuclear strategy in general) a couple of days ago. It struck me that most students in the class had no idea (judging by one question and the puzzled looks) about this.

At 11:03 AM, Blogger Dan Ford said...

I'm working up a theory (since I don't have to Present a rational discussion) that it was the sheer nuttiness of deterrence that made the whole thing possible.

At 4:09 PM, Blogger David J. Betz said...

Dan, I strongly suggest that you read Phillip Windsor, Strategic Thinking: An Introduction and Farewell. I guarantee that you will enjoy it and that it will help you in your theory. This is an extraordinarily good book. And unique for a work on strategy often humorous. Although perhaps my sense of humour is odd.

The Davy Crockett is a classic. The funny part is that the blast radius of the warhead was greater than the effective range of the weapon. Crokett died at the Alamo, right?

At 4:31 PM, Blogger Dan Ford said...

I was hoping to find a video of the Davy Crockett on YouTube, but the best I could do was the trailer of the Alamo:


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home