50 States... Or Less


Atomic Cannon

The most well thought out idea the military has ever had
Atomic Cannon The M65 Atomic Cannon outside the gates of the Yuma Proving Grounds. FIred a 15kt nuclear warhead only once.

In the military-industrial wet dream of the 50s, an era of outlandish defense proposals, came one of the more ridiculous weapons ever actually built, the M65 Atomic Cannon.

It’s basically a huge artillery piece that was capable of firing a 15 kiloton nuclear warhead (about the same size as the bomb dropped on hiroshima) a distance of 7(!) miles. It was fired only once, at the Nevada Test Site, just north of Las Vegas (and there is video!).

It was based on a German railroad gun (a giant cannon built into a railroad car) modified to have a huge 375 horsepower semi truck attached to either end. It then motivated itself around like a firetruck with a driver at either end. The principle behind this whole insane system was called “Shoot and Scoot”, which meant fire and then drive the whole 750hp assemblage as fast as you could away from the direction the barrel was pointing.

Atomic Cannon Blast The one and only test of the M65 Atomic Cannon at the Nevada test site in 1953.

Shoot and Scoot meant fire, and then get the hell out of there.

In some fairness this was an era before missiles were a practical way to deliver atomic warheads and so there was a need for an alternative to flying a plane overhead. However the first ballistic missiles weren’t too far behind, and this guy was basically obsolete soon after it was introduced. Amazingly though they still kept them around until 1963, well into the era of the ICBM.

These days, there are still about 8 out of the 20 of them made kicking around in museums. Which brings us to this fine example here in Yuma at the Yuma Proving Ground, where they test pretty much every non nuclear weapon made. It sits at the entrance to the base across the street from another cannon that only fired regular crappy non-atomic shells. There is also a museum inside the gates that has a number of other artillery pieces, tanks and other artifacts of the bases history.

It’s an easy trip up from Yuma and on the way you will pass the Tiny Church and the Bridge to Nowhere