Atomic “Annie” Cannon and its after effects – Actual Footage And Photos Inside

Photo: Mark Pellegrini / CC BY-SA 2.5

World War II saw an extensive improvement of technology in various fields. All types of battlefields presented new kind of weapons, vehicles, and doctrines. Some were combined.

The war effort continually sought more effective firepower, and in 1945 the world shuddered when the first atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

With the use of the new atomic weapons, the deadliest conflict in human history ended. However, it wasn’t the end of atomic warfare and new developments in delivery systems for these immensely destructive bombs were even ramped up. With tensions between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union, the Cold War had begun.

The U.S. no longer held a monopoly on atomic technology. The secret was out. Every major player in the world sought to possess it in its arsenal. In 1947, the United States had 13 nuclear bombs, two years later the USSR became the second country and within a decade several others would follow.

M65 atomic cannon “Annie”
M65 atomic cannon “Annie”

The delivery systems also had to be improved. Without air superiority over enemy territory, the nuclear bombs were very risky and less of a deterrent, therefore artillery was quickly designed to bolster U.S. nuclear capabilities. The first project to fire an atomic charge with artillery was designed in 1944, but there was no technology to make it small enough to fit into a shell.

In early 1950’s, this changed as the designs of atomic guns were back on the desk. The plans were based on the German rail gun, K5 280mm, and the first 240mm shells wielding 15 kilotonnes of power were put into testing. After three years of development, the first atomic cannon was ready for tests.

Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson and designated Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Arthur W. Radford observing history’s first atomic artillery shell explosion.
Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson and designated Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Arthur W. Radford observing history’s first atomic artillery shell explosion.

On May 25, 1953 at the Nevada Test Site, “Annie” had a chance to prove show her potential. The Operation, named Upshot-Knothole” allowed “Annie’s” performance to be witnessed by many high-ranking US officials and over 20,000 soldiers took part.

The trial conducted 11 test shots. It was the first atomic use of the M65 cannon, and it would prove to be the last one. The results were thrilling and were widely documented. Below is actual footage of the 10th test code named “Grable” and its after effects following its 7-mile long shot.

The test was a huge success, and the US Army ordered another twenty M65 cannons. Their total cost was over 16 million US dollars. One “Annie” weighed over 74 tonnes and the total weight came to over 83 tonnes with a carriage. The effective firing range was limited to approximately 20 miles (30km), which required close proximity to potential enemies.

They were first deployed in Germany and Korea as a part of the nuclear arms race, but were never used. For security, they were often moved around to avoid enemy detection and targeting. These weapons worked as a military deterrent in Europe and Asia for over ten years.

In 1963, US military developed a smaller 8-inch (203mm) gun, the M110. It was easier to transport and maintain and the M65 were subsequently withdrawn from service.

Eight of these weapons survive today and are on display in several museums. In the US Army Artillery Museum near Fort Sill Oklahoma, the original “Atomic Annie” that fired “Garble” shot is preserved. Other models of the nuclear behemoth can be seen at the US Army Ordnance Museum near the Aberdeen Testing Grounds in Maryland, the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque, Freedom Park in Kansas, the Rock Island Arsenal, in Illinois, the Watervliet Arsenal Museum in New York, and the Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona. The original prototype can be found in the Virginia War Museum.

More photos

Atomic Annie deployed in West Germany
Atomic Annie deployed in West Germany

 

View from the front prime mover of the 280-mm M65. The barrel is in the transport position.
View from the front prime mover of the 280-mm M65. The barrel is in the transport position.

 

M65 nicknamed “War Eagle”, West Germany
M65 nicknamed “War Eagle”, West Germany

 

The weapon when assembled is 84 long, 10 feet wide. Eight flat cars were required to transport the components. Nellis Air Force Base, 1953.
The weapon when assembled is 84 long, 10 feet wide. Eight flat cars were required to transport the components. Nellis Air Force Base, 1953.

 

Freedom Park, Junction City, Kansas overlooking Fort Riley. Photo: olekinderhook / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Freedom Park, Junction City, Kansas overlooking Fort Riley. Photo: olekinderhook / CC-BY-SA 3.0

 

M65 Atomic canon at the United States Army Ordnance Museum, Aberdeen, Maryland.
M65 Atomic canon at the United States Army Ordnance Museum, Aberdeen, Maryland.

 

Atomic Cannon at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History. Photo: byteboy / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Atomic Cannon at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History. Photo: byteboy / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Prototype at the Virginia War Museum
Prototype at the Virginia War Museum

 

The recently restored original “Atomic Annie” and it’s two transport vehicles located near the Fort Sill Artillery Museum, Oklahoma. Photo: duggar11 / Flickr / CC-BY-SA 2.0
The recently restored original “Atomic Annie” and it’s two transport vehicles located near the Fort Sill Artillery Museum, Oklahoma. Photo: duggar11 / Flickr / CC-BY-SA 2.0

 

T10 Heavy Artillery Transporter
T10 Heavy Artillery Transporter

 

 

The US military got out of the nuclear artillery shell business in 1991 at the end of the Cold War. The final 155mm and 203mm shells were dismantled in 2004.
The US military got out of the nuclear artillery shell business in 1991 at the end of the Cold War. The final 155mm and 203mm shells were dismantled in 2004.

 

Transport Vehicles
Transport Vehicles

 

Pulled from the front lines, some of these guns were torched and scrapped overseas rather than returned to the U.S.
Pulled from the front lines, some of these guns were torched and scrapped overseas rather than returned to the U.S.

 

The test remains the only nuclear artillery shell ever actually fired in the U.S. nuclear weapons test program.
The test remains the only nuclear artillery shell ever actually fired in the U.S. nuclear weapons test program.

 

The Atomic Annie weighed over 78 tonnes.
The Atomic Annie weighed over 78 tonnes.

 

PlaidBaron CC BY-SA 3.0
PlaidBaron CC BY-SA 3.0