Apocalyptic Artillery: Atomic Annie, The World's First and Only Nuclear Gun - Atlas Obscura
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Apocalyptic Artillery: Atomic Annie, The World’s First and Only Nuclear Gun

article-imageFiring of Atomic Annie in Nevada (via Wikimedia)

Plenty of potential apocalyptic horrors came out of the Cold War, but the atomic cannon is especially unsettling. The giant gun was able to fire a nuclear weapon with a range of 20 miles, detonating at once an entire enemy platoon.

article-imageAtomic Annie at Fort Sill (photograph by the author)

Luckily, it was only fired once. But you can still see the gargantuan 85 ton, 84-foot-long weapon with its 10-foot-long barrel at the Fort Sill army base in Lawton, Oklahoma. A plaque attached to a commemorative rock alongside the 280MM motorized gun and its transporters details the rise of “Atomic Annie.”

The gun was developed in the 1950s by the American government over a period of eight years, with a prototype even making its way into the  procession of President Eisenhower’s inauguration. On May 25, 1953, at 8:31 am, over 3,000 military spectators watched from 5,000 yards away as the world’s first atomic artillery round was shot across the desert rock of the Nevada Test Site.

Nine seconds later, and just over seven miles away, “the shell that could wipe out an enemy division exploded on target with a roaring violence equal to 15,000 tons of TNT,” throwing debris 500 feet, the plaque states. The “milestone in military history and in the advancement of nuclear weaponry” erupted in a “churning mass of heat and flame that surrounded the core of the atomic fireball.”

article-imageLooking up at the barrel of Atomic Annie (photograph by the author)

After the successful test, 20 of the atomic cannons were produced, each at a cost of $800,000 dollars. They were sent to Europe and Korea, but never saw action. Only eight now survive, including the only one to fire a shot: Atomic Annie at Fort Sill. As another grim side note to what could have been a weapon in the most devastating of land wars, the original Atomic Annie actually got mixed up with its backup, “Sad Sack.” When it was discovered that it was Sad Sack at Fort Sill instead of Atomic Annie, the real first atomic gun was tracked down in Germany. But in its relocation it fell off a mountain road and killed two soldiers. As for Sad Sack, it went to the Smithsonian, and since 1964 Atomic Annie has rested at Fort Sill, a reminder of the horrific potential of war.

article-imageAtomic Annie (photograph by the author)