The biggest and potentially most consequential gun to ever be part of America’s arsenal has to be the M65 280mm Motorized Heavy Gun-more popularly known as the Atomic Cannon. It was a massive 11-inch (280mm) howitzer with a 38 foot barrel. The gun was so heavy that it had to be moved on a special carriage with an M249 truck engine and cab to haul the front and an M250 truck engine and cab to haul the rear end. According to GlobalSecurity.org, “the drivers of the vehicles communicated with each other by means of a built-in telephone system.” The length of the entire weapon system was 85-feet long and the entire system weighed 83 tons. As a mobile tactical nuclear weapon system, the idea was for the crew of 22 to position the M65 gun, shoot, and scoot.
Of course, an atomic cannon wouldn’t be atomic without a nuclear payload. According to theatomiccannon.com, the Atomic Cannon was designed to fire a W-9 nuclear projectile to a listed range of twenty miles although some veterans have claimed that the range was thirty-five miles. The warhead was a 15 kiloton device that was intended to destroy large armored formations.
While troops fired training shots using conventional ammunition on a regular basis, the Atomic Cannon was only used to fire a nuclear warhead once for test purposes. In 1953, at a desolate test range called Frenchman’s Flat, the M65 fired a 15 kiloton warhead at a target 20 miles away. The test shot delivered a weapon with a yield similar to that of the atomic bomb used on Hiroshima. The gun that fired that famous shot was dubbed “Atomic Annie.”
According to 3ad.com, 20 cannons were built and about 16 pairs of the truck cabs. The M65 Atomic Gun was deployed to Western Europe and Okinawa in the Pacific. While the warhead would have caused devastating collateral damage, the Atomic Gun was an important deterrent against the Soviet Union in Europe and China in Korea during the early years of the Cold War. The M65 served from 1953 to 1963.
If you are up for a road trip, you can still see an Atomic Cannon. According to Roadside America, you can find examples of the Atomic Cannon on display in Yuma, Arizona; Rock Island, Illinois; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Fort Sill, Oklahoma; Newport News, Virginia; and Watervliet, New York. Roadside America provides directions to each surviving cannon. According to the Army, the Atomic Annie that fired the nuclear shot is located at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
“Atomic Cannon” 3AD.com
“The Atomic Cannon,” theatomiccannon.com
“Atomic Cannon – Junction City, Kansas” Roadside America.com
“M65 Atomic Cannon” GlobalSecurity.org
Crawley, Jeff. “Atomic Annie on the Move” Army.mil, September 16, 2010