If you're paying attention to the scenery instead of the traffic, you may notice at the top of the bluff just as the highway makes a westward turn, a rather large looking cannon.
And, if you've got some extra time, if you're feeling adventurous, if you need to stretch your legs and if the weather is nice, you can pull off the highway into Freedom Park and find out just what the dealio is with that rather large looking cannon anyway.
When you park, you'll see a park shelter with some historical information and a plaque describing one of the few US Army atomic cannons still in existence. You'll also see the beginning of a switch back trail that leads up to the top of the bluff for a close-up view of this nuclear titan.
As you make your way up the switch backs (which are currently riddled with washouts so watch your step), you'll see an artillery piece rise up out of the prairie grass in front of you.
This isn't the Atomic Cannon. It's a rather run of the mill (though still impressive) M1 155 mm Howitzer. There's another one up the hill, aimed roughly in the direction of south Junction City. The WWII-era gun was used widely by the U.S. through the Vietnam war and is still in use by some countries.
Anyhoo, follow the trail a few hundred yards to the top of the bluff, brace yourself against the ubiquitous Kansas gale and catch your breath.
You have arrived.
The M65 Atomic Cannon, affectionately called "Atomic Annie" by the grunts back in the day, stands guard against the Flint Hills prairie chickens and hawks.
Standing next to the impressive weapon you get a sense of scale that you simply can't appreciate when you drive by at 80 mph on I-70 a couple hundred feet below.
The engineers behind this beast had some serious damage in mind when they came up with the idea of building a cannon that could fire a nuclear-tipped shell over 20 miles.
Yes, 20 miles. In it's current position, that puts the recently tornado ravaged hamlet of Chapman, Kan, well within range. Or, you could point the barrel in the opposite direction and lob a radio active round right into downtown Manhattan, though I don't know why anyone would want to do that.
The M65 was conceived and built to defend Europe from those evil Soviet devils back in a time when people used the word "atomic" rather than "nuclear" (or "nookyoular" for that matter).
It was the army's largest artillery gun, and the one at Ft. Riley is the largest of the twenty M65's made during the cold war. Only eight are still around. The one at Ft. Riley is on permanent loan from The Smithsonian.
Here are a few other fun facts about Atomic Annie:
- At 47 tons, the gun was transported at a top speed of 35 mph by two tractors which brought the total weight to 83 tons. The army considered it "highly mobile" in comparison to the strategic atomic weapons of the day.
- The drivers of the vehicles communicated with each other by means of a built-in telephone system.
- The 11-inch projectile fired by the gun weighed in at 550 pounds.
- The atomic cannon first went into service in 1952, and was deactivated in 1963.
tagged: gun, artillary, cold war, Atomic Cannon, Soviet, nuclear, Fort Riley, Kansas, Howitzer, Army, Military