The US Army Only Fired One Nuclear Artillery Shell From Their “Atomic Annie” Cannon, And This Is What It Looked Like


An image of May 25, 1953, test firing of an M65 atomic cannon.National Nuclear Security Administration

  • The US military fired a nuclear weapon from its atomic cannon for the first and last time 69 years ago.

  • The cannon, originally named “Able Annie”, was later renamed “Atomic Annie”.

  • During the test on May 25, 1953, the gun fired a nuclear shell which triggered a 15 kiloton explosion.

  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US military successfully tested an atomic cannon exactly 69 years ago on Tuesday. It was the first and only time the U.S. military fired a nuclear weapon from one of the big guns, according to the military.

During the Cold War, the US military developed many ways to unleash nuclear destruction on an enemy, including a towed artillery piece built in the early 1950s that could fire a nuclear shell with as much explosive power than the atomic bomb that devastated Hiroshima less than a decade earlier.

The Army’s M65 280mm Motorized Heavy Gun, the largest mobile artillery piece ever built by the United States, was based on Nazi Germany’s Krupp K5 heavy railroad gun, a devastating weapon indirect fire. .”

The M65 "Atomic Annie"  a 280mm nuclear-capable cannon, sitting on a concrete slab at Fort Lee

An M65 cannon.The American army

Weighing around 85 tons, the M65 gun required two transport trucks to move. In 1953 the United States Army moved two of these guns by rail from Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to a test site in Nevada, where Army personnel used one of the two guns to fire a nuclear artillery shell in the only live fire test of the weapon’s atomic capabilities.

On May 25, 1953, just months after an M65 cannon made its very public debut during President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s inaugural paradeArmy crews used a cannon named “Able Annie”, one of only 20 M65 cannons ever made, to fire a nuclear shell.

The atomic cannon test, named Grable, was the 10th in the Operation Upshot-Knothole series of nuclear weapons tests, but the only one involving nuclear artillery. The cannon, which cost $800,000, worked as expected.

About 19 seconds after the shell was fired at 8:31 a.m., it exploded just under 8 miles to a low burst height of about 520 feet.

“The shell that could have wiped out an enemy division exploded on target with roaring violence equal to 15,000 tons of TNT,” says a Fort Sill historical marker.

With this shot, “Able Annie” became “Atomic Annie”. Although the name applies to a single gun, it has been used to refer to M65 guns in general.

The other M65 cannon that was present for testing in Nevada but never fired was a backup cannon codenamed “Sad Sack”, a weapon that had a rather uneventful history compared to the Atomic Annie.

Upon completion of testing, Sad Sack was to be sent to an operational unit for overseas deployment while Atomic Annie was to return to Fort Sill, but during the transportation process the two guns were accidentally swapped.

This error was not discovered for 10 years. Soldiers preparing the big gun for an event marking the 10th anniversary of the Grable test at Fort Sill realized that the serial numbers did not match that of Atomic Annie, most of which were unknown at the time.

"Atomic Annie"  at Fort Lee

An M65 cannon.The American army

When the military tried to find Atomic Annie, who was briefly renamed “AWOL Annie” during the search, it was a bit difficult because the atomic artillery pieces had been deployed across Europe and Asia. , and their specific locations were classified to the point that only a limited number of people knew exactly where they were.

The legendary atomic cannon was eventually found in Germany and recovered. He returned to Fort Sill in 1964 and Sad Sack was given to the Smithsonian, according to the Army.

Due to the rapid pace of nuclear weapons development during the Cold War, M65 guns like the Atomic Annie were obsolete within a decade of their initial fielding. The M65, which was deployed to carry out a devastating nuclear strike behind enemy lines, was withdrawn from service in 1963, just 10 years after the first and only firing.

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