There are all sorts of unusual wikipedia articles out there. Every Saturday we bring to you some of the more outlandish and obscure for your delectation…
Dubbed the chicken-powered nuclear bomb by the press, Blue Peacock was a British nuclear weapon project of the 1950s.
The goal of the project was to install a number of 10-kiloton nuclear mines underground on the North German Plain and, in the event of Soviet invasion from the east, detonate them by wire or an eight-day timer to:
…not only destroy facilities and installations over a large area, but…deny occupation of the area to an enemy for an appreciable time due to contamination…
The design was based on the free falling Blue Danube bomb, but each Blue Peacock device weighed a massive 7.2 tons. The steel casing was so large that it couldn’t be tested in secrecy indoors and instead had to be tested in a flooded gravel pit near Sevenoaks in Kent.
In July 1957 the British Army ordered ten Blue Peacocks for use in Germany, under the cover story that they were atomic power units for troops in the field. In the end, though, the MoD cancelled the project in February 1958. It was judged that the risks posed by the nuclear fallout and the political aspects of preparing for destruction and contamination of allied territory were simply too high to justify.
Regarding the ‘chicken-powered’ aspect: During winter buried metal objects can get very cold, and it was considered possible that the mine would not have worked after some days underground. Various methods to get around this were studied, such as wrapping the bombs in insulating blankets. One particularly remarkable proposal suggested that live chickens should be included in the mechanism. The chickens would be sealed inside the casing, with a supply of food and water; and would remain alive for a week or so. The body heat given off by the chickens would, it seems, have been sufficient to keep all the relevant components at a working temperature. This proposal was sufficiently outlandish that it was taken as an April Fool’s Day joke when the Blue Peacock file was declassified on April 1, 2004. Tom O’Leary, head of education and interpretation at the National Archives, replied to the media that, “It does seem like an April Fool but it most certainly is not. The Civil Service does not do jokes.”