M-29 Davy Crockett, the World’s Smallest Nuclear Weapon

M-388 Davy Crockett nuclear weapon mounted to a recoilless rifle on a tripod.  (Image:  US government DOD via  wikipedia/ CC0 1.0)
M-388 Davy Crockett nuclear weapon mounted to a recoilless rifle on a tripod. (Image: US government DOD via wikipedia/ CC0 1.0)

The M-28 or M-29 Davy Crockett Weapon System was a tactical nuclear recoilless gun that fired the M-388 nuclear projectile, which was deployed by the United States during the Cold War. It held the title of being the smallest nuclear weapon system ever built. It’s named after an American soldier, congressman, and folk hero, Davy Crockett.

Developed in the late 1950s, the Davy Crockett recoilless spigot gun was the U.S. answer to winning the war if it had broken out in Europe or the Korean peninsula. Its role was to take out Soviet and North Korean armor and troops.

The miniature nuke came about from the U.S.’s desire to have the most powerful weapon on the battlefield. Not only did they have the Davy Crockett at their disposal, they were also equipped with nuclear artillery rounds and Atomic Demolition Mines.

The U.S. had anticipated the need for more than 150,000 nuclear weapons should the cold war break out. There were 106,000 for tactical battlefield use, 25,000 for air defense, and another 20,000 for miscellaneous Allied uses.

This doomsday scenario was clearly a small price to pay for winning an ideological conflict, even if it meant the end of humanity.

The 120mm M28 and 155mm M29 Davy Crockett launchers could be either tripod mounted or directly mounted to a Jeep. It was operated by a three-man firing team, and launch two varieties of M388 279mm tactical nuclear projectiles.

The M388 projectiles weighed 76 lb (34.5 kg), 31 inches (78.7 cm) long, and had a diameter of 11 inches (28 cm) at its widest point. The M-388 round used a version of the W54 atomic fission warhead, and had a yield equivalent to somewhere between 10 to 20 ton.

The only adjustment feature with either versions of the Davy Crockett (M28 & M29) was the height-of-burst dial on the warhead, although the post-Davy Crockett version of the W54 nuclear device had a selectable yield feature.

The 120mm “light” iteration had a maximum range of 1.25 miles (2 km) and the 155 mm heavy version could travel 2.5 miles (4 km), with both versions having a minimum downfield range of 1,000 yards. Both guns proved to have extremely poor accuracy during testing; making the shell’s extreme radiation hazards its best effect.

The M-388 would give its victims an almost instant lethal dosage of radiation (in-excess of 10,000 rem, 100 Sv) within 500 feet (150 m), and most likely a fatal dose (around 600 rem, 6 Sv) within a quarter mile (400 m). The weapon had no abort function so when fired there was no turning back.

The production of the Davy Crockett was in full swing in 1956, with a total of 2,100 being made. The weapon itself was deployed with U.S. Army forces from 1961 to 1971, and was discontinued from U.S. Army Europe (in West Germany) in August, 1967.

Producing lethal levels of radiation up to 500 feet (150 m) away, it would have proven ferociously efficient decimate entire troop formations and heavy mechanized divisions with a single strike. However, where would we be now if it were to have been used?

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