Good Fun With Knothole-Grable

US Department of Energy image from the Grable shot.

Having enjoyed numerous evenings of relatively undisturbed sleep during the several months I’ve been writing a novel about pus-spewing dead things that want to eat my face, I decided this just wouldn’t do.

I thought, “Hey, let’s talk about nuclear war!”

Disgusted by the Reagan-era neutron-bomb-apologism of the one post-nuke survival book available at my local library, I turned to my favorite sleep-killer, Wikipedia, where I’ve often cured my insomnia by purging myself of any desire to ever close my eyes again.

It was there that I ran across the fascinating article on nuclear artillery, a concept whose time has surely passed, right? Wrong; while nuclear cannon shells are a thing of the past in the US arsenal — having been replaced by tactical ballistic missiles and cruise missiles — nuclear-tipped cannon-shell payloads are rumored to be part of the North Korean nuclear program.

This seems unlikely to me, given what I know about North Korean nukes — that is to say, that the North Korean military has very few of them, has spent a lot of energy getting its missiles to work, which would make a nuclear cannon shell pretty pointless. Also, the term “nuclear artillery” applies not only to cannon, but also to the same sort of tactical missiles that fill the same role today in most militaries that cannons (which the Navy, adorably, calls “guns”) used to.

But why split hairs? North Korea has nukes, not to mention the fourth-largest army in the world. Let’s send those Reds some Christmas love, shall we? In case I’m not around to blog tomorrow, somebody going to Heaven be sure to tell Ike “Thanks” for ending the Korean War. We all really appreciate it.

And on that note, let us consider the first U.S. test of a nuclear-tipped cannon shell, the Grable shot as part of the 11-blast Upshot-Knothole series at the Nevada Test Site from March through June of 1953, almost exactly the time UN (primarily US) and Korean and Chinese troops were fighting the last major engagement of the war, the Battle of Pork Chop Hill, over land of no strategic value.

Fired from an 11-inch gun, the Grable warhead was one of only two gun-type fission weapons ever detonated — the first being Little Boy, which was dropped on Hiroshima. Other US weapons are implosion-type weapons, which put the nuclear material inside a sphere of precisely-timed explosive charges.

If you like to see things go boom, you just can’t beat the 15-kiloton blast at 0:31. And if you worry about things going boom, this should probably improve your sleep almost as much as it did mine.

Isn’t it pretty?

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