A Flock of Chickens and One BLUE PEACOCK

Today’s story of weaponized wildlife is about chickens.

In the early years of the Cold War, when it looked like World War III would last long enough for Soviet troops to drive NATO all the way out of West Germany, the British military considered laying stay-behind nuclear mines to disrupt the Soviets as they advanced.  With a 10 kiloton warhead, the mine would sit undisturbed beneath the ground for as many as eight days before detonating.  The project, code-named BLUE PEACOCK, seemed viable except for one small snag.  The bomb components needed to stay warm in order to function, and there was no insulation the army could guarantee for eight days in the soil.

Enter the chickens.  In 1957, physicists at the UK’s Atomic Weapons Establishment proposed wiring several chickens into the bomb-casing.  As long as the animals were properly fed and watered, the chickens’s body heat would keep the parts functioning for the necessary time.

In the end, the whole project was declared bird-brained and cancelled in early 1958.  The potential for covering West Germany with radioactive fallout and the embarrassment if the German government discovered the plan made it too risky.

Despite the setback, the basic idea of a nuclear landmine survived.  The US had portable atomic demolition munitions deployed in Europe from the 1960s to the 80s. (A 1982 scenario at the US Army’s National Training Center featured an atomic demolition munition being used to close a mountain pass behind a retreating US brigade.*)

* See Daniel P. Bolger, Dragons at War (1986), p. 183.

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