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Honest John — a rocket with a wallop

5 December 2012

Honest John — a rocket with a wallop

The hot end of the MGR-1 Honest John rocket at the Armed Forces Military Museum — photo by Joseph May

Early in the heady and scary days of the Cold War atomic weapons were considered by NATO as a force equalizer against the numerical superiority of Russian and Eastern Bloc opponents — especially with regard to closing off the Fulda Gap — a likely invasion from East Germany (at the time) to West Germany (also at the time). Hence the U.S. Armed Forces first nuclear rocket weapon system launched from the surface against surface targets was developed.

Profile view of the Honest John, which best shows the distinctive bulbous nose of the weapon, on an M465 launch/transport trailer — photo by Joseph May

The MGR-1 Honest John rocket was one of the delivery systems for nuclear warheads, beginning service in 1953 with about 7000 manufactured. The Honest John was a free flight, solid fueled, spin stabilized surface-to-surface rocket with an unenviable accuracy. Lack of accuracy was made up for with a large nuclear warhead, the W31, with yields varying from 2–30 kilotons/8.4–30 KJ.

Another view of the characteristic nose, note the electrical receptacles within the  recessed area — photo by Joseph May

The literal pointy end of the Honest John rocket — photo by Joseph May

Launching could occur from a truck mounted system or from a trailer mounted system. There were two versions of the Honest John built with the second of which smaller and longer ranged — the MGR-1A and MGR-1B, with ranges of 15.4 miles/24.6km and 31.2 miles/ 49.2km, respectively. Additional warheads were also utilized — notably a 1500 pound/682kg high explosive or one with many M139 Sarin nerve agent bomblets. The Honest John last deployment was in 1985, never used in combat, and served in several NATO armed forces.

Rockets are made to burn, but the Honest John could be fired only within a specific ambient temperature range and the military saw fit, somehow, to remind trained nuclear weapon crews of it. Apparently no fighting in winter for this Honest John! — photo by Joseph May

The Honest John in the images of this post are of the MGR-1B on a M465 launch/transport trailer — it can can be viewed at the Armed Forces Military Museum, located in Largo FL.

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