M65 Atomic Cannon - "Atomic Annie" - Sunset
The first atomic cannon went into service in 1952, and was deactivated in 1963. About ten to sixteen (reports vary) were sent to Germany in the mid 1950s for the 7th Army. Throughout the 1950s, the Army deployed nuclear cannons to Europe even though they were obsolete as soon as they arrived. Guarded by infantry platoons, these guns were hauled around the forests on trucks to keep the Soviets from guessing their location. Weighing 83 tons, the cannon could not be airlifted and took two tractors to move its road-bound bulk. It was a glamorous weapon to be sure, but it did not fit into the Pentomic structure of the Army, and it siphoned off precious funding that the Army desperately needed for modernization.
The 280mm gun had been criticized by the VISTA report for its cumbersome size, relative immobility, and limited range of 18 miles (insufficient to reach many of the targets VISTA recommended), and indeed the Army never pressed very hard for large numbers of 280mm guns. Ultimately nuclear equipped missiles and air deliverable weapons, not artillery, predominated in the US arsenal.
As the end of 1962 approached, the Army announced new weapons and equipment that would be ready for deployment in the near future. Perhaps most important, the development of a 6-inch atomic artillery shell that the Army could fire from its existing 155-mm. howitzers spelled the death knell for both the ponderous 280-mm atomic cannon and the inaccurate and politically sensitive Davy Crockett. Rendered obsolete by the development of more mobile rockets, the atomic cannon was withdrawn from service in the US Army by the mid-1960s.
In June 1995, a veteran testified at a personal hearing on service connection for hearing loss that he worked for three months on a nuclear or atomic cannon when he was in the service and they fired the cannon for three months, every working day and approximately three to four hours a day at five minute intervals. The veteran indicated that he was never given ear protection during service. He stated that he received medical treatment during service and was told that his hearing loss and tinnitus "would resolve themselves." The veteran further stated that he has had a "tremendous ringing in both of [his] ears" that "impairs [his] hearing" since service.
Twenty were manufactured; seven or eight appear to have survived the Cold War and are on public display today. Several of the original M65s are now civilian owned and on display. Those include one at the National Atomic Museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and one as a roadside attraction in Junction City, Kansas, near Ft. Riley.
- Army Ordnance Museum, Aberdeen, Maryland (still has the two large "prime movers" attached)
- Atomic Museum, Albuquerque, New Mexico
- Fort Sill Museum, Oklahoma
- Freedom Park, Junction City, Kansas
- Rock Island Arsenal, Memorial Field, Rock Island, Illinois
- Virginia War Memorial Museum, Newport News, Virginia
- Watervliet Arsenal, Watervliet, NY -- where they were all manufactured.
- Yuma Proving Ground, Yuma, Arizona
Lieutenant General Arthur G. Trudeau's I Corps farewell ceremony on the 03 February 1958 was the first time the Army was able to show the Honest John and the 280mm gun battalions with their atomic weapons. That was the first time they were ever shown in Korea. The Army knew the 280mm gun was coming and had a great problem getting the road system prepared. There were many bridges, and some weren't capable of taking what totalled to a 70-ton load. So the Army took the biggest tank retriever they could get and put an engineer on it and a couple of other people, loaded it with sand up to the limit, and then gave them a chart. The engineer officer in charge of roads was the one to check the road map for bridges. This went on for three or four days with just the sergeant driving it with a jeep leading him. Finally it broke down on some bridge and the officer came up to him. Nothing had been said before; he had just been told where to go. The officer came up to him and the soldier said to him, "Lieutenant, can I ask you a question?" And the lieutenant said, "Sure soldier, go ahead." And he said, "Does any Goddamn bastard know where I'm supposed to deliver this load of sand?"
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