By Richard H. Dick James
56 years ago, 14 January 1964, I was a PFC Demolition Specialist on Detachment A-6, Company A, 6th Special Forces Group (Airborne), at Fort Bragg NC. My A-team was one of four going through pre-deployment training for an assigned six-month mission to Ethiopia
.I received my Secret security clearance on 14 January. Shortly thereafter, during a break in pre-deployment training, I was told I’d be receiving some additional training. Being a demolition expert, I was selected to participate in atomic demolition training. It was classified secret, code named “Green Light.”Early atomic demolition munitions weighed hundreds of pounds, requiring large groups of personnel to transport and operate the weapons. They came into being because of the fear of the Soviet Union, and the desire to be capable of being a force to be reckoned with during a war with the powerful communist forces. Because of the need to have tactical nuclear weapons in such a scenario, work began in about 1954, on a more portable device.The development of the Davy Crocket atomic weapon, which could be transported on, and fired from, the back of a jeep, led to the production of a smaller atomic munition, which could be, if required, jumped (from a plane), carried and manned by one soldier.
When I was selected for training, the Army had “miniature” nuclear weapons of various yields, up to one kiloton, known as the B-54 man-portable Special Atomic Demolition Munition (SADM). It weighed almost sixty pounds and was eighteen inches long by twelve inches in diameter, designed to fit inside a rucksack, therefore more commonly known as a “backpack nuke.” Although “small,” the munition was more powerful than the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima.The premise was that the SADM team would infiltrate by land, sea, or air, behind enemy lines, plant, arm, and detonate (by timer mechanism) the nuclear device, to destroy enemy infrastructure. At that time the possible targets included Eastern Europe, as well as parts of the Middle East and Korea.Like horseshoes and hand grenades, the SADM worked on the principle that close was generally pretty good, for destructive purposes. It could only be utilized on orders from the National Command Authority (NCA).The mission for the weapon was projected, at the time, to be primarily for use behind Soviet lines when, and if, they invaded Europe. It was designed as part of what was almost comically referred to as a “limited nuclear war.” Typical targets were massive dams, large bridges, power plants, enemy headquarters, large storage facilities, and any other hard targets that could not be destroyed in any other way.Shades of Dr. Strangelove! Can you imagine making a parachute jump out of an airplane, over enemy territory, with a nuclear bomb strapped to your body? No, that idea did not come from a James Bond book, or movie.
It was a real-life scenario.In that era all atomic devices were thought by most to be too large to be carried by an individual; not so, this little gem. It was only one of several Army tactical nuclear weapons at the time, which also included atomic artillery rounds, missile and rocket-launched nuclear warheads, and an atomic recoilless rifle.My training was at Ft. Bragg, in a Special Forces building on Smoke Bomb Hill. A small single-story building was utilized for the instruction. The building was surrounded by a tall fence, with concertina wire attached along the top. There was also a barrier of concertina wire outside the fenced perimeter. At the entrance, outside the fence, was an armed guard. The armed guard had a clipboard that contained a list of those personnel who were permitted access inside the perimeter. We had to show our IDs to the guard before being allowed access.During instruction, we could take notes, but all notes had to remain in the building. No notes or printed matter dealing with the SADM could be taken out of the enclosed area. The class lasted a couple weeks and included working with mockups. Outside of the fenced compound, nothing was ever mentioned about the training, or even the existence of the device. Thankfully, there never came a time that the weapon had to be used in combat.The training included the methods that were available for infiltration into target objectives, basically by sea or parachute. The munition was very bulky, and difficult to transport. It was impossible to run with it. Besides learning how to safely transport, place, and detonate the SADM, we also went through very thorough training on the multiple safeguards in place to prevent unauthorized access or use of the weapons.It took at least two men to operate the weapon. Combinations, or codes, had to be known for each individual weapon; a requirement for operation. A combination lock was even in place to open the cover plate, to access the control panel.No one man knew all the codes needed for the arming of one weapon. That was done so that no single individual could lose his temper, and randomly detonate the weapon. In addition, no person who was unfamiliar with the proper sequence of disarming the weapon, could do so. In fact, a single mistake would detonate the munition.A requirement when placing the weapon, was that it had to be confirmed that the device could not be located by the enemy. At no time during the training did we train with, or have access to, the actual live nuclear device. Our training was done utilizing inert weapons that were excellent imitations of the real weapons, and which were placed into operation exactly as was done with the actual SADM.Although each Special Forces group had specialized Green Light teams, which were trained SADM units, ready to practice their trade at any time, I was not placed on any such team, acting as a backup instead. The specialized teams made periodic parachute jumps with the simulated munition, which was the exact size, shape, and weight of the actual weapon. Our class did not jump the device
.Although not specifically told so, everyone I have ever known that graduated from the class agreed that anyone involved in the actual detonation of the munition was certain that such a mission would be a one-way mission, with no possible return to safety. After all, considering all the dangerous variables of the mission, including flying into enemy air space, parachuting onto enemy territory, operating covertly behind enemy lines, sneaking up on the enemy target while carrying an atomic weapon, setting the detonator and timer (which was known to be somewhat unreliable), remaining close enough to the device to assure the device was not detected, and safe exfiltration was, all told, next to impossible.Although conventional military men considered the SADM mission to be a suicide mission, with no way to exfiltrate, Special Forces men always thought there was a small chance they could manage to find a way to “get the hell out of Dodge” safely.Upon completion of the course, the fact that I was trained in atomic demolitions was entered into the “Secret” part of my personnel file. The weapon wasn’t declared “obsolete” until 1989.
In 1997, some details about the weapon were finally declassified, but the operational details of the usage did not come to light until recently. The weapon, and its use, has now been totally declassified.From my Book #2, of my four-book set of SLURP SENDS! Book #1 (“SLURP SENDS! On Becoming a Green Beret Book 1”), #2 (“SLURP SENDS! Experiences of an A-Team Green Beret Book 2”), #3 (“SLURP SENDS! Experiences of a Green Beret In Vietnam Book 3”) and #4 (“SLURP SENDS! A Green Beret’s Experiences In Vietnam Book 4”) are all available on Amazon or from me.PHOTO: SADM rigged for jumping (Internet photo).SLURP SENDS!