The Cold War was a time for the entirety of Europe, who in a moments notice could become a battleground between the two biggest superpowers at the time, the USA and USSR.
The ensuing nuclear war would have changed said battleground into a radioactive wasteland.
These two superpowers weren’t the only ones with nuclear weapons, as the British and French were also ready for all out war, with their own tactics and plans in case this terrifying possibility became a reality.
The British had established themselves as one of the leading nations for wartime expertise, creating weird and wonderful technologies like the bouncing bomb, Spitfire and code breaking computers at Bletchley Park.
This worked great on the fairly conventional battlefields of WW2, but war between the USSR and the west would have been much, much uglier. Resisting a Soviet nuclear attack followed by a massive all-out advance assisted by tanks and aircraft needed new methods of defence.
The Brits began devising ways of stopping this overwhelming assault. Following in typical British fashion, some of them were rather strange indeed.
One 1950s design, named Operation Blue Peacock, used two things that are rarely said in the same sentence; chickens and nuclear bombs.
This weapon was a 7 ton nuclear landmine, designed to detonate in areas overrun by Soviet forces, causing the maximum damage possible and would “deny occupation of the area to an enemy for an appreciable time due to contamination …”. It was planned to trigger the bomb remotely via a 3 mile long wire, or after an eight day delay.
The nuclear weapon itself was based on the Blue Danube free falling nuclear bomb, a bomb that the V-bombers were intended to carry.
The housing for the weapon was pressurized and contained tilt switches to make it tamper-proof. Once armed, if anyone tried to move, open or fill it with water, it would detonate after 10 seconds.
The reliability of the arming system were of huge importance, as the bomb would be left unattended. It needed to work when needed, and not trigger at the wrong time.
The engineers working on the project realised that the device’s temperature may drop considerably during winter, as underground objects can get very cold.
The problem with this was, 1950s electronics were very delicate and needed a stable environment to work reliably. If it got too cold, the electronics within the mine could stop working, rendering it useless.
At the time this was a surprisingly hard issue to solve, as the bomb would be left unattended underground in Germany’s northern plains .
They tried wrapping it in insulation blankets, but when this failed, it was time to bring in the chickens!
The idea was that the by placing chickens inside the container, their body heat would be enough to maintain the sensitive electronics’ temperature and keep them functioning.
In the event that the mine was armed, the poor chickens faced certain death, either of starvation, or being vaporized at the centre of a 100 million degree Celsius nuclear explosion.
They were expected to live for at least eight days inside the bomb, enough time for the bombs eight day timer. Enough grain and water would be provided to sustain them for this duration.
The bombs had a yield of 12 kilotons that would create a 375 m wide crater, and a much larger area unpassable by humans due to contamination.
Initially, the British Army ordered ten ‘Blue Peacock’ mines to be placed in Germany. The cover story was that they were nuclear power units for troops in Germany.
Probably at the relief of many chickens, the order was cancelled after the production of two prototypes because of the risk of unacceptable levels of fallout. Along with this, there were many ethical and political issues with literally burying a nuclear bomb underground in another nation.
This peculiar footnote in Cold War history was only discovered in 2004, when relating documents were declassified. Fittingly, the documents were released on April 1st, prompting many to question whether it was an April Fools joke.
Tom O’Leary, head of education and interpretation at the National Archives confirmed that this was not an April Fool but had been a serious proposal, funded by the British government and developed by the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment (RARDE), following with ‘the Civil Service does no do jokes’.