The Atomic Mortar.

Fort Campbell Museum has the Atomic Mortar

One of the acknowledged worst weapons in military history is now on permanent display at the Fort Campbell Don F. Pratt Museum in Clarksville, Tennessee. The XM-29 Davy Crockett, a.k.a. the "atomic mortar," was discovered tucked away in Alabama's Anniston Army Depot. Over 600 Davy Crocketts were made, but only one other example is known to have survived.

The Davy Crockett was designed to give the Army something to do on the "nuclear battlefield" of the early 1960s. No bigger than a large bazooka, it fired a pint-sized half-kiloton neutron bomb -- an early version of a "dirty bomb" -- designed not to melt a city but to poison an area and kill a lot of people.

"It was going to save us money because we wouldn't have to fight the evil Soviets everywhere," explained John O'Brien, the installation historian at the Pratt Museum. "The Soviets are coming through the pass, you irradiate the pass with the Davy Crockett, the Soviets have to back up and find another way around."

There were, however, problems in the transition from theory to practice. The atomic mortar was generally conceded to be "very inaccurate." Its range was at times limited to 2000 meters, while the bursting range of its warhead was 2,500 meters. "That didn't make the crew very happy," O'Brien noted. Most unsettling of all, he said, was that it put atomic bombs in the hands of hundreds of teenaged draftees. "A crew of four guys running around on the battlefield could initiate World War III."

The Davy Crockett was quietly retired in 1964, and its inventory was just as quietly obliterated over the years. You weren't supposed to know about the atomic mortar, but thanks to the Pratt Museum, now you will.

We've always applauded the Pratt Museum for displaying Hitler's calling card bowl, and historian O'Brien told us that the Museum has expanded its World War II offerings in recent years. "Grandpa dies and all this stuff that he's been hiding in the attic filters out," was how he put it. Among the Museum's new exhibits are schnapps glasses from Hitler's "Eagle's Nest" and a gold goblet that belonged to Hermann Goering. Also in the collection, but not yet displayed, are a pair of earmuffs made by an ex-GI for his daughter out of pieces of Eva Braun's mink bedspread.

"We don't want to be known as a Nazi junk museum," O'Brien told us, explaining his hesitancy to display the earmuffs. But we feel that any place brave enough to display an atomic mortar will come around on the mink 'muffs as well.


Don F. Pratt Memorial Museum

Just south of the Kentucky border. I-24 exit 86 in Kentucky. South on US Hwy 41/41A for four miles. Enter Fort Campbell through the main gate (Gate 4). Stop at the visitors center for a visitor's vehicle registration certificate. Continue on Screaming Eagle Blvd/26th St., through two stop lights, to the 3-way stop sign at the corner of 26th and Tennessee Ave. Make a right onto Tennessee, and then a left into the Museum's parking lot. The museum is a large brown metal building with Don F. Pratt Memorial Museum painted on the front, Building 5702.
Closed for renovations; to reopen June 2017. (Call to verify)

October 23, 2017

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