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M65 Atomic Cannon - "Atomic Annie" - Service

By the end of June 1954, five battalions of the atomic artillery had arrived in Europe and were becoming more firmly established as essential components of any proposed defense in Western Europe. Assigned to the 42d Field Artillery Group at Baumholder and placed under Seventh Army control, these battalions were the 59th, located at Pirmasens, the 264th at Bad Kreuznach, the 265th Field Artillery Battalion at Baumholder, the 867th at Kaiserslautern, and the 868th at Baumholder. In its annual training guidance, the U.S. Army, Europe, directed the Seventh Army to employ them throughout division, corps, and army-level maneuvers.

The 280-mm. cannon battalions dragged their big guns all over Germany as they participated in field exercises from division- to NATO-level maneuvers. As a result of this training, the Seventh Army developed standard operating procedures that integrated atomic fire support into its battle doctrine. Artillerymen and engineers learned, for example, to address some of the complications the new weapons entailed. Engineers, in particular, had to conduct a route reconnaissance prior to their movement of the big guns to ensure that bridges and roadways along a route could bear the weight. In many cases, they had to avoid small villages because their corners were too tight to negotiate without damaging property.

John C. Gazlay, an infantryman with the 13th Armored Infantry Battalion, remembered that, when traveling down the narrow, high-crowned roads in Germany, the lead tractor would travel on the right side of the road, while the rear tractor traveled on the left. This arrangement would present a frightening sight for oncoming traffic, which had to take to the shoulders to allow the moving roadblock to proceed.

By the end of 1954, USAREUR and the Seventh Army were well on their way toward developing an operational doctrine based on the use of atomic weapons. Much, however, remained to be done. The 280-mm. guns remained the only atomic capable weapons system under Army control. A July inspection by a team from the Office of the Chief of Army Field Forces noted continued deficiencies in procedures for employing aerial-delivered atomic weapons in support of ground combat operations. The observers noted that these shortcomings stemmed from an absence of a jointly accepted doctrine between the Army and Air Force to determine the number of weapons to be allocated to ground support and the types of targets to be attacked.

US European Command contingency plans directed USAREUR to provide atomic-capable artillery units with accompanying logistical elements to designated NATO forces and to assign staff to allied headquarters to assist in planning for the battlefield employment of atomic weapons. Seventh Army units had already tested plans to allocate two battalions of 280-mm. cannons to British forces in the Northern Army Group as part of Exercise Battle Royal in 1954.

Atomic artillery units participated in almost every major field-training exercise, from division-size to NATO maneuvers. Although it was difficult to fire even conventional rounds from the huge, 280-mm. guns due to a lack of suitable firing ranges, Seventh Army technicians constructed a pyrotechnic device that simulated an atomic explosion for use in field training.

Despite the growing interest in atomic warfare, up until early 1955, USAREUR had only six 280-mm. cannon battalions, each with three two-gun batteries, to provide all of its organic atomic fire support. Moreover, the guns themselves were controversial. Critics pointed to the difficulty in transporting them through European villages and along narrow roads and bridges. American newspapers published articles and showed pictures of guns that had skidded off roads and gotten stuck in ditches. Artillerymen defended the performance of their weapons and praised their performance but nonetheless conceded that more agile systems were needed.

As a further upgrade to the flexibility of its atomic arsenal, USAREUR received word in May 1955 that the Army had developed an atomic shell for its 8-inch howitzer. At thirty-five tons, the artillery piece was less than half the weight of the more cumbersome 280-mm. cannon. The 8-inch guns could fire a shell out to a range of almost twenty miles and were already deployed to Europe in substantial numbers. Although none of the new projectiles reached Europe by the end of the year, and the 280-mm. cannons remained the mainstay of the Seventh Armys atomic arsenal, it was clear that the command was expanding its options as it prepared for an atomic conflict.

The extensive use of the 280-mm. guns throughout the training exercises also revealed serious shortcomings in the commands ability to keep them in service. Maintenance of the guns and their transporters proved to be a chronic and difficult problem. Due to the rotation of trained personnel and the absence of a formal training program for specialists in both the artillery and supporting ordnance battalions, many units lacked the qualified mechanics needed to keep the equipment running.

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 17-05-2019 17:22:44 ZULU