The True Story of Chicken-Powered Nuclear Landmines

chicken powered nuclear landmines

The history of the Cold War is replete with technological marvels that were the fruit of the arms race. There are also some stunning examples of inventions that really make you stop and scratch your head, wondering what they were thinking. Close to the top of that list would have to be the chicken-powered nuclear landmine.

The epicenter of Cold War tension in the 1950s was in the divided nation once known as Germany. West Germany, under the influence of the United States, Great Britain, and France, came into direct contact with Soviet-dominated East Germany. The best military minds spent a significant portion of their days planning for how to respond to a Soviet invasion through East Germany into its neighbor to the west.

To address this problem, scientists in the United Kingdom came up with Operation Blue Peacock in 1957. This top-secret engineering program developed a nuclear landmine that could be buried along the border between West and East Germany. In the event of a Soviet invasion, the massive device could destroy any advancing force. The Operation Peacock landmines would produce a 10-kiloton explosion, creating a crater 375 feet wide.

chicken powered nuclear landmines
Operation Blue Peacock: the casing and internal components of the nuclear landmine.

There was one big problem with Operation Blue Peacock, however. Since it had to be buried deep underground, it could become too cold for the detonator to work properly. After scratching their heads about this, British nuclear physicists found their solution: chickens. By putting chickens inside the casing of the bomb, scientists could ensure that the birds’ body heat would provide sufficient warmth to keep the triggering mechanism in good working order. A supply of feed not only would keep the chickens alive, but it would distract them from pecking at the sensitive wiring of the nuclear device.

Having solved the heating problem, only two obstacles remained. First of all, best estimates gave the chickens a life expectancy of about one week inside the bomb. Once the chickens expired, the device would again be susceptible to becoming inoperable because of cold temperatures. The other problem was the realization that if any of the landmines were needed to stop an invading force, the resulting fallout throughout West Germany would be just as bad as if the Soviets had simply attacked the country with nuclear bombs.

By 1958, after the production of only two prototypes, Operation Blue Peacock was abandoned. Future generations can only speculate how many lives — human and poultry — were spared as a result of this decision.

Read more fun facts about technology.

Read more fun facts about the Cold War.