On August 24, 1955 around noon, the citizens of Augsburg were astonished to see a remarkable military carriage moving at a speed of 20 km through the city: it was a nuclear ordnance - whose multiple existence served as a deterrence during the Cold War - rescued after an accident near Schongau. Its development reached back as far as to the German K5-Railway Ordnance ‘Leopold’ of WW II. Merely between 1951 and 1953, twenty units were built. In 1958, 7th U.S. Army in Germany had six battalions that were equipped with 36 units of said nuclear ordnance. None of these, however, were stationed in Augsburg.
The M65 “Atomic Annie”, as it was called within the military, would, in case of an emergency due to an attack of the Warsaw Pact, have had to stop the transgression of the Iron Curtain also with nuclear weapons (Eisenhower Doctrine). Although the gigantic ordnance with a barrel diameter of 280 mm was more or less Top Secret, the Americans sometimes definitely allowed public appearances. This convincingly demonstrated their self-confidence in regard to their military strength. At that time, the M65 was the only U.S. ordnance that was capable to fire conventional as well as nuclear projectiles. The explosive force was around 15,000 tons TNT. The Soviets answered with a self-propelled 40-cm ordnance, screen name “Kondensator”. Thus, the arms race spiral was in full swing.
The ordnance with an over all length of 26 meters, weight 85 tons (gun with carriage 42.5 tons), was propelled by two vehicles and needed a crew of nine soldiers plus an officer. A retinue of all kinds of support vehicles was required too. The estimated working life of the 13- meter, 19 tons, gun barrel was 300 rounds, which would have lead to a nuclear inferno in Germany if nuclear warheads had been utilized. The then 4.2 million DM weapon was “only” able to hit its target accurately at a range of no more than 32 kilometers and would have caused a radioactive contaminated theatre of operations in the Federal Republic of Germany. The only nuclear test-shot of such a weapon - with a range of 11 kilometers - took place in the Nevada desert on May 25, 1953.
Left: The Nevada shot in May 1953. Right: A nuclear ordnance museum piece in the United States (Photo: Aberdeen Ordnance Museum).
But back to Augsburg. The return transportation on Haunstetter Straße/Rotes Tor via Schaezlerstraße, Wertachbrücke, and Donauwörther Straße to the Autobahn access West that was sighted on August 24, 1954, raised certain doubts about the stability of the Wertachbrücke. Therefore it was decided to completely clear the bridge for the crossing. “Good roads, firm bridges and vast curves” were the maxim for trips of that colossal ordnance. Nevertheless, many pictures of that time show how casual and warlike these requirements were often defined. Neither narrow town roads and their curves nor unfit ground were spared. Low ground pressure due to special tires made an employment even in open fields possible.
A second visit at Augsburg with even two nuclear ordnances took place on the Reese sports field within autumn maneuvers on Saturday afternoon, September 26, 1954. During the halftime of an American football game, such a ordnance was demonstratively put into position on the sports field within only four and a half minutes. Removal took only a little longer. The official changeover time was 27 minutes. Both nuclear ordnances were then parked for four weeks at Flak Kaserne, kicking up fuss and apprehension in the public.
Left: An "Atomic Annie" passing trough Aichach. Right: Stopover of two nuclear ordnance at the Autobahn Service Area Augsburg East, 1955. (Photos: H. Wohlmuth).
On November 4, 1954, an “Atomic Annie” was present in Augsburg at least for the third time, namely on the “Open Day” at Sheridan Kaserne. This was intended to enhance the festivities of the 156th birthday of the 11th Infantry Regiment, 5th Infantry Division, then stationed in Augsburg, with public appeal. The public display of such a weapon of deterrence might also have helped the reassurance of the local nationals, who realized anew the escalation of the east-west conflict – only ten years after the end of WW II. The presence of the two nuclear ordnances (up front at Flak Kaserne) was impressive and critically commented in a long article about military politics in regard to the situation of the world by Lutz Goebel in the Schwäbische Landeszeitung (now Augsburger Allgemeine). He then did not write only about the several times of passing through Augsburg, which can not quite comprehended today, but also that it would be a paradox, if such destructive weapons should guarantee peace. Indeed, the then Bundeskanzler Konrad Adenauer demanded to have nuclear weapons under his control in order to call a halt to the communist threat and to create a sound military image for the just founded Bundeswehr.
Left: M65 presentation at Sheridan Kaserne, November 1954 (Photo: Archives, Amerika in Augsburg e.V.). Right: A hoist had to be used as feeding device for the six-foot projectiles.
On July 8, 1955 another nuclear ordnance crashed during a transport at kilometer 27.2 of the Autobahn Munich – Augsburg. The trailer left the road near Odelzhausen, fell off a small embankment and caught fire due to leaking fuel. The fire could be extinguished by stopping drivers, while some of the soldiers in the trucks were penned in. After the total Autobahn closure and the arrival of numerous ambulances and fire engines, the place of the accident was closed off from curious passers-by. Photographing was strictly prohibited, and the crashed vehicle was even covered with camouflage nettings. The embarrassment caused by the incident was more than obvious to the concerned, and apparently there were similar accidents in Germany, which, however, did not become public knowledge. At least the possibility of an addition of nuclear ammunition as part of these transports can be (almost) ruled out.
In December 1963 the last artillery units that were equipped with the M65 nuclear ordnance were decommissioned. The age of missile systems was beginning as well as Kennedy’s “Flexible Response”, i.e. flexible warfare with nuclear and/or with (a priority of) conventional arms. Eleven years later, four Honest John Battlefield Support Missile units were stationed also at Augsburg’s Sheridan Kaserne. But that is another chapter of the Cold War history.
Sources: Schwäbische Landeszeitung
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