The Davy Crockett
The Davy Crockett Weapon System was a smoothbore recoil-less rifle that fired a tactical nuclear explosive to a range of up to 1.25 with the M-28 version of the weapon, and later up to 2.5 miles with the M-29 version. Developed during the Cold War in the 1950s, over 2000 Davy Crocketts and their launch systems were deployed with US ground forces in West Germany and Korea from 1961 to 1971.
The weapon was notoriously inaccurate – although pinpoint accuracy was not a priority, considering its warhead. The Davy Crockett’s deadliness stemmed more from its radioactivity than from its explosive yield: its warhead produced an instantly lethal dose of radiation within a 500-foot radius, and an incapacitating and likely fatal dose within a quarter-mile radius. As such, the weapon was more of a broad area radiation dispenser than a surgical smart bomb.
In addition to the long term contamination hazard, the weapon was dangerous to its own users: there was always the risk that the firing team, and other NATO personnel in the vicinity, would themselves fall victim to radiation from their own side’s tactical nuclear warhead exploding 1.25 miles away from the point of firing (the maximum range of the M-28 atomic gun), to 2.5 miles distant (range of M-29 version).
The weapon’s greatest danger however was the fact that it was deployed at all, and deployed very low down the chain of command at that, placed under the complete control of three soldiers roaming the battlefield in a Jeep, who, in practice, would have been able to fire a nuclear weapon it at their own discretion. Shockingly, it took ten years before the Pentagon decided that it might be unwise to give a lieutenant, a sergeant, and a corporal, the discretion to fire the opening shot in what might quickly escalate into a global nuclear holocaust.
The West Germans in particular were enthusiastic about deploying the Davy Crockett with their ground forces, but were turned down by the US because the manner in which they proposed to incorporate the weapon into their defensive strategy would have made its use nearly automatic as soon as the war began. That was undesirable because it would have eliminated NATO’s option to fight without using nuclear weapons and risking an escalation from tactical nukes in the battlefield to nuclear armageddon.