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M29 Davy Crockett: King of the Atomic Frontier?

By Jon Guttman
1/4/2013 • MH Tools

The M29 was a radical Cold War weapon conceived to thwart a European incursion by Soviet armor. (Illustration by Gregory Proch; photo from U.S. Army)
The M29 was a radical Cold War weapon conceived to thwart a European incursion by Soviet armor. (Illustration by Gregory Proch; photo from U.S. Army)

Even as the United States and the Soviet Union stared each other down with mutually assured nuclear destruction, the U.S. Army was developing tactical nuclear weapons to cancel out Soviet armor should the latter try advancing through the Fulda Gap into West Germany. Among the weapons the Army actually deployed was a recoilless spigot gun dubbed the Davy Crockett after the Tennessee-born statesman, woodsman and Alamo martyr said to have kilt him a (perhaps Russian?) b’ar when he was only 3.

The Army developed two Davy Crockett delivery systems: the 4-inch M28 with a 1.25-mile range, and the 6.1-inch M29 with a 2.5-mile range. Each fired an M388 fission device with an M54 warhead. Requiring a three-man crew, the weapon was carried on a vehicle and could be fired directly from it or from a dismounted tripod.

The Army produced some 2,100 Davy Crocketts beginning in 1956, deploying them in Europe between 1961 and 1971. In West Germany the Army deployed M29s with heavy mortar platoons. While Cold War tactics conceived the weapon as a counter to offensive Soviet armor, it was only actually fired during back-to-back tests in July 1962. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and General Maxwell D. Taylor were among the observers at the Little Feller I test, which marked the United States’ last atmospheric detonation of a nuclear weapon. Previous test firing of M101 spotter rounds with depleted uranium revealed the weapon’s accuracy to be poor, though its yield of 10,000 rem within 500 feet of impact and a fatal dose of 600 rem within a ¼-mile radius rendered the flaw almost irrelevant.

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