Like me, you’ve probably stayed awake countless nights wondering, “Did the Brits ever make plans for a nuclear landmine, powered by chickens?“
Well, dear reader, I’m here to tell you that the answer is yes. At least, according to the UK’s National Archives.
Conceived during the Cold War, the seven tonne device was the size of small truck and was designed to be buried or submerged by a British Army retreating from Soviet forces. The landmine had a plutonium core surrounded by high explosive and would have been detonated by remote control or timer, causing mass destruction and contamination over a wide area to prevent subsequent enemy occupation.
Scientists working on the project realised that the bomb could fail in winter if vital components become too cold, so they explored ways of keeping the inner workings warm. One proposal put forward consisted of filling the casing of the nuke with live chickens, who would give off sufficient heat, prior to suffocating or starving to death, to keep the delicate explosive mechanism from freezing. Despite the potential importance of chickens to the project, the mine was codenamed ‘Blue Peacock’.
“The mines were to be left buried or submerged by the British Army of the Rhine. They would then have been detonated by wire from up to five kilometres away or by an eight-day clockwork timer. If disturbed or damaged, they were primed to explode within 10 seconds,” New Scientist explains.
Each mine was expected to produce an explosive yield of 10 kilotons, about half that of the atom bomb the US dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki in 1945…
Blue Peacock was to consist of a plutonium core surrounded by a sphere of high explosives, all encased in steel. The design was based on Blue Danube, a free-fall nuclear bomb weighing several tonnes that was already in service with the Royal Air Force. But Blue Peacock, weighing over seven tonnes, would have been much more cumbersome.
The steel casing was so large that it had to be tested outdoors in a flooded gravel pit near Sevenoaks in Kent. If questions were asked, Nuclear historian David Hawkings says the army’s cover story was that it was a container for “an atomic power unit for troops in the field”. In July 1957, army leaders decided to order 10 Blue Peacock mines and to station them in Germany.
Hawkings describes their plans for deploying the weapons in the event of an imminent Soviet invasion as “somewhat theatrical”. One problem was that the mines might not work in winter if they became too cold, so the army proposed wrapping them in fibreglass pillows.
In the end, the risk from radioactive fallout would have been “unacceptable”, says Hawkings, and hiding nuclear weapons in an allied country was deemed “politically flawed”. As a result, the Ministry of Defence cancelled Blue Peacock in February 1958. (via Linkfilter and Improbable Research)