ARM: Book Review - The Honest John in Canadian Service

Book Review: =93Weapons of War=94 Series; The Honest John in Canadian
Service by John Davidson; Service Publications, Box 33071, Ottawa,
Ontario, Canada, 2011; 24 pp. with B&W photos and 1/35 scale drawings;
price CDN $9.95; ISBN 1-894581-71-4
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Advantages: good general history of both Canadian and US =93HoJo=94 units
and operations
Disadvantages: no decent models of this weapons system!
Rating: Highly Recommended
Recommendation: for all Cold War nuclear artillery fans
One thing which developed during the early 1950s was the fact that
the major armies had all decided that tactical nuclear warfare was a
viable option, and as such they began to prepare for it by developing
weapons systems to deliver them. Artillery rounds were seen as too
small to deliver effect yields (other than the massive 280mm =93Atomic
Annie=94 in the US and even larger Soviet weapons) so in order to
provide effective delivery systems the US, UK and Soviets all turned
to unguided battlefield rockets.
The weapons thus developed, primarily the Soviet =93Luna=94 series (FROG
in its earlier designation in the West) and the US Honest John, served
into the 1970s and in the case of the last FROG, the =93Luna-M=94, into
the mid 1980s.
While the prime users are well known, what is less well known is the
fact that both countries provided these systems to their European
allies with the provision that they would receive the nuclear warheads
for them if it ever came down to nuclear warfare in Europe. (Note that
neither side ever sat down to consider when =93tactical=94 nuclear warfare
would become =93strategic=94 nuclear warfare...)
As the closest ally to the US in the 1950s and 1960s, Canada was
considered part of the US nuclear =93family=94 and thus had been promised
both aerial delivery and ground delivery nuclear warheads. To this
end, the Canadian government negotiated and purchased a total of six
MGR-1 Honest John rocket launchers; four of them formed the 1st
Surface-to-Surface Missile Battery stationed in Germany, and the
remaining to the 2nd Surface-to-Surface Missile Battery, a training
unit which remained in Canada.
This nice little book covers both the basic development of the Honest
John from 1950 through its retirement from service in Canada in 1972.
(By that time the US had replaced it with the Lance guided missile).
The missile was an unguided spin-stabilized solid-fuel rocket with a
maximum combat range with the nuclear warhead of 42,650 yards (39,000
meters) and used a simplified =93dial-a-yield=94 warhead of 10, 20 or 40
kilotons. All aiming and aiming calculations were manually created at
first but later the primitive FADAC computer system was used.
The system was totally dependent on this calculations, and especially
winds both aloft and at the launch site. A dedicated weather support
vehicle was provided to the launcher sections for that purpose.
The system was based on the M386 launcher, essentially a US M139F
series five-ton truck chassis extended and modified to carry the
launcher rail at the rear of the chassis along with four stabilizing
jacks. Supporting vehicles included the M55 long-body five-ton truck
and an M62 wrecker to provide loading capability via its crane; since
the latter was a dedicated support vehicle it could not be used for
conventional wrecker service and had to be frequently tested to meet
US nuclear surety standards. The 3/4 ton wind supportvehicle carried
the AN/MPQ-6 Wind Measurement Set on a special trailer. In case of
nuclear war, a 2 =BD ton truck would accompany the section with its
nuclear warheads.
Rockets had to be maintained at 77 degrees Fahrenheit and so once
loaded an M2 heating blanket would be wrapped around the rocket body
and warhead; this provided heating in cold weather and insulation from
the sun in hot weather. It required electrical power from an onboard
3.5 kilowatt generator.
The book covers the operational history of the Honest John in
Canadian service including one misfire incident when the missile
locking pins were not released. Eventually snapping the pins, the
rocket (which expends all its fuel and thrust in about 1.8 seconds)
rolled off the launcher and rolled around merrily on the ground. No
injuries other than to pride occurred. (This is unlike a US launch
where the entire truck flew forward for some distance or the I-HAWK
launch in Crete where the entire launcher flew out to sea as the
missile was stuck to the rail by too many coats of paint!)
1st SSM Battery received authorization to wear a black scarf in honor
of the Congreve rocket gunners from the 19th Century, and it was a
point of pride with the unit.
The book also has a 1/35 scale tone painting plan in the centerfold
which shows a complete Canadian M386 vehicle with missile loaded and
Overall this is a pretty nice little read and covers both the
Canadian and general US history of the rocket.
Thanks to Clive Law for the review copy.
Cookie Sewell
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