One member of the NATO leadership openly advocated for their use. West Germany Defense Minister Franz Josef Strauss claimed deploying the M-28 and M-29 nuclear weapons on the bridges linking West Germany with East Germany would be the ultimate deterrent and would cut down on the need for mass artillery batteries.
Not only that, even if the use of the Davy Crockett did not immediately start a nuclear World War III, the resulting explosion was at a high risk of zapping the operating crew with lethal radiation as well as blowing dozens if not hundreds of the enemy out of existence. Fire more than one and an entire battlefield could become a confused radioactive hellscape that was indiscriminate in who it killed.
Today, we rarely fear the threat of nuclear annihilation because we have some faith that our leaders have enough sense not to use The Bomb. In the 1960s, that decision was not in their hands but in the hands of privates in the trenches.
When you get down to the level of an individual soldier the risk of error goes up massively. Orders can get misinterpreted, orders can get passed down wrong, orders can be cut off. The confusion and terror of battle could cause someone to fire a nuke without proper authorization. These nukes could be fired by a single person. Nuclear war could have come down to an accident, an itchy trigger finger or poor judgement from a low level officer.
Not only was this weapon an inherent and almost certain lethal risk to the soldiers tasked with operating them, they were also a sure fire way to start a thermonuclear war. Putting the spark for the potential annihilation of all humanity into the hands of common soldiers was a terrifying prospect. And that has nothing to do with the soldier’s themselves.
Despite the inherent danger to using such an inaccurate nuclear weapon, the United States manufactured around 2,100 units of the Davy Crockett Weapons System. This was not a weapon system that sat in a warehouse as an item for potential use, NATO forces deployed to the field with these weapons in the 1960s.
In fact, it was shown that lethal radiation could extend out a quarter mile from the point of detonation. That means with the use of the M-28, you only had a mile of wiggle room to play with when launching a nuclear warhead in order to not damage friendly troops.
They were appealing to commanders on the ground due to their maneuverability and firepower. The M-29 could be mounted to a Jeep or APC and moved rapidly across the battlefield and be capable of launching a nuclear warhead.
The point of impact was hard to predict and hard to control. The launch system for the warhead itself just was not accurate enough to warrant the use of nuclear weapons. For conventional warheads such as mortars, inaccuracy poses more of a headache than a major SNAFU. Being inaccurate with a 80 gigajoule nuke is much scarier.
It also did not come with a kill switch or abort function. If the warhead was fired, it would detonate. There was no going back from a mistake and no room for error. The only option the warhead gave to the operator was to choose at which height it exploded at. There was no way to deactivate it mid-flight and no way to fire a round which was not primed to detonate.
Even under the most generous situations, the use of the Davy Crockett would be extremely risky to friendly forces. In the unpredictable environment of a live modern battlefield, the risk goes up even further.
Adding another level of danger to the already scary prospect of hand launching a nuclear warhead from the tactical level was the fact that the Davy Crockett rifle was horribly inaccurate.
Most NATO commanders were squeamish about deploying nuclear weapons at such a granular level. The risk of human error was simply too great to put these weapons in the hands of people on the ground. Yet, they did.
The only reason to ever need to use such a weapon would be in the face of overwhelming ground forces that were threatening to overrun important NATO positions in Europe. The idea was to launch Davy Crockett at advancing Red Army positions in order to stall them or halt their advance in order to open an avenue for a ceasefire.
- he agreement comprises two settlements -- one totaling $842.4 million for 702 plaintiffs and a second totaling $9.2 million for eight plaintiffs --