Hi everyone! I’m Marty Mornhinweg, offensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens. A lot of you probably know me best for my time with the Detroit Lions as head coach, but I’m here today to tell you that there’s so much more to me than just that particular stretch of my life and career. Take right now! Look at Lamar Jackson! Isn’t he a player or what? I’ve had to completely re-tool Baltimore’s offence in order to suit his strengths, so I’d like to think I’ve learned something from my time with Detroit.
Something else you should know about me: I love weapons. Love ’em. Fascinating things. And for every cool thing we’ve got going for us now, there’s been hundreds that haven’t worked as intended at first. It’s a lot like football, really. Take the Wildcat offence, for example. Sure, defences know how to read it and stuff direct snaps to a running back, but I’m sure it’s going to come back into fashion again soon!
Each week over the next little while, I’d like to share with you some of my research; sure, maybe the weapons we look at don’t work now, but maybe with a little revision, they’d be back in style! The key is patience. Even if you elect to kick off in overtime, it’s bound to work at some point – damn what the numbers say.
To start things off, let’s look at an invention that was ahead of its time in the Cold War – the Davy Crockett nuclear rocket!
THE DAVY CROCKETT
Country of origin: USA
Purpose built: Cold War
Years used: 1956 – 1968
What is it? A tiny rocket tipped with a miniature W54 nuclear warhead, mounted on a recoilless gun at the top of a tripod. The W54 was designed specifically for the rocket, and the entire weapon could be deployed and used by a three-man team. These rockets were developed for usage by the US Army in both Western Europe and the Korean peninsula, in response to the growing Soviet threat in another potential global conflict. The army felt that a small, portable nuclear device could be used to create “temporarily” radioactive “kill zones”, ideally in mountain passes that served as natural transit points for enemy munitions, vehicles and personnel. The warhead weighed 51 pounds, while the entire M-388 rocket unit was about 76 pounds in total. The M-388 could be fired by either the 185-pound M28 launcher, which had a maximum range of about one-and-a-quarter miles, or, later, the 440-pound M29 launcher, which had a maximum range of about two-and-a-half miles. The launcher could be carried by armored infantry members or mounted on the back of an M-38 or M-151 armored Jeep for usage as well. The weapon was never used in a combat situation, however, and beginning in 1967, the US Army began withdrawing its systems, and it was completely retired by 1971.
Why didn’t it work? Well, uh, there are a number of key issues:
- The barrel of the gun was a smooth-bore barrel, which made firing the rockets hilariously inaccurate.
- The yield of the later warheads was an estimated 18 tons of TNT, which, while clearly not as large as those used in the ICBMs we typically think of when harkening back to nuclear testing in the Cold War, is still a shitload, especially for such a teeny-tiny warhead. As a result, not only would the explosion absolutely completely decimate the area where the rocket hit, but the wave of radiation created at the time of detonation would arguably kill any living things before stuff blew up.
- Oh, yeah. That radiation thing. It was also super-deadly for the team firing the weapon. The army’s only suggestion for the safety of the artillery crew was to try and shoot it from the back side of a hill, to provide a bit of cover, and to keep their heads down as the rocket was fired.
- If the wind was blowing in the wrong direction… it could be an even bigger suicide mission for the artillery team firing the weapon, as the wind would carry fallout back towards the launch position.
- There was no abort switch for the rocket; once the switch was flipped, there was no way to stop the rocket from detonating. Seems safe!
- Despite the weapon being deployed all over Europe, the Korean peninsula, and at American bases throughout South Pacific islands, there are only two instances of the weapon being fired with live nuclear warheads; there’s a video below of a test in the Nevada desert from July 17th, 1962 that demonstrates the weapon in action.
What could make it better?
- A remote ignition option? An abort switch?
- A portable fallout shelter for the artillery team?
- A barrel that could actually provide a semblance of accuracy?
- Mounting the rocket on a drone, which could probably provide better tactical usage opportunities?
At any rate, designing a nuclear weapon that A) provides zero protection for the personnel using it and B) places them within a fallout zone after detonation is clearly not an idea that is fully formed. Still, I’m sure that like a head coaching job for me, another opportunity for a weapon like this one is coming along soon! It just needs a couple changes and I’m sure it’ll be awesome in the future!