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On the Highway with Nukes


From John R. Marshall in 2005:
3rd Bn, 36th Infantry, 3AD

In 1965 I was assigned to a convoy of five vehicles from the Davy Crocket Section of 3rd Bn, 36th Infantry at Ayers Kaserne to head to Munster, Germany, about 50 miles away. The mission was to move two Davy Crocket nuclear warheads (or "rounds") from the Army nuclear storage facility at Munster to a smaller facility near Koeppern, which was only about 10 miles from Ayers and in the 3AD's sector. The convoy consisted of a jeep and four 3/4-ton trucks. In addition to several officers, and drivers & assistant drivers, there were about 15 armed infantry guards.

On the way, our communications vehicle - a 3/4-ton truck - managed to snag its antenna on an overhead train-crossing wire. That permanently knocked out its radios, and that disrupted the trip, but we did eventually all make it to Munster. An identical convoy from the Davy Crocket Section of 2nd Bn, 36th Inf, from Ayers was also there to pick up their two nuclear warheads.

Since our convoy was without communications (which was a violation of nuclear transport procedures), aside from a limited, low-power jeep radio, the convoys were combined into a single convoy of 10 vehicles for the trip to Koeppern. In was late afternoon, and rush-hour civilian traffic was picking up along the ordinary 2-lane rural highway we were traveling on.

The two warheads of each Section were being carried in two 3/4-ton trucks marked simply "explosives" (two warheads per truck). It was probably a good idea not to have "nuclear bomb" signs. Each warhead (and some related electronic gear) was stored in its own 55 gal. drum.

About halfway between Munster and Koeppern, the truck carrying the two 2/36 Inf warheads broke down. The entire convoy then pulled off to the side of the road. The infantry guards immediately dismounted, and, with rifles in hand, fanned out on all sides. But most split up to completely block civilian traffic that was coming from both directions.

The was a frantic effort to repair the broken-down truck, but without success. Meanwhile, time was passing, and traffic was really getting backed up, and civilian tempers were flaring. At some point, two German Police cars arrived, although I don't recall what exactly they did. In any case, there appeared to be no choice but to transfer the two warheads into one of the other trucks, with the idea of getting the heck out of there.

But somehow, before this was done, an order came from somewhere - probably over the radio - to open up the roadblocks immediately and allow traffic to go through. So what followed was this bizarre scene (or bizarre to those of us who knew the true situation) of two nuclear warheads being transferred between trucks as civilian traffic passed no more than six feet away.

When the transfer was complete, the guards remounted the vehicles, and the convoy continued its trek, with civilian traffic ahead and behind, and passing us from the opposite direction. The broken-down truck was left behind with two soldiers. Eventually seeing the storage site at Koeppern was a welcome relief. The sun was about to go down and night-traveling with nukes was probably not a good idea.

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