Project Peacock: How the British Wanted to Heat WWII Mines

Thinkstock / Thinkstock

Dan Lewis runs the popular daily newsletter Now I Know ("Learn Something New Every Day, By Email"). To subscribe to his daily email, click here.

The end of World War II was marked by the Americans dropping two atomic bombs on Japan, which teed off a nuclear arms race which would last through most of the century.  As nuclear weaponry was a new technology, the drive to innovate and experiment was enormous. But perhaps no experiment was as ridiculous as a British nuclear bomb project nicknamed the Blue Peacock.

The strategy of the Blue Peacock was somewhat reasonable: Use nuclear weapons as defensive measures by lining parts of Germany with nuclear mines. In the event of Soviet invasion, the mines would be detonated, wiping out the invading army and creating a barrier of contamination, preventing future armies from similarly invading via the same route.

But there was a problem. Keeping the mines viable once underground, especially in winter, required that they be kept warm. The British Army first considered using blankets until a better idea emerged: chickens.

By sealing chickens—live chickens, that is—in the bomb mechanism, surrounded with a wire casing to prevent them from pecking at the wires (really), the British forces realized they could produce enough heat—body heat, specifically—to keep the bomb viable. The heat would abate, however, in roughly a week’s time, as the chickens could reasonably only be given enough feed and water to survive about that long.   And when the chickens died, their body heat went with them.

While other alternative heating schemes were considered, all would be rendered moot. The British Army planned to implement the Peacocks by telling the Germans (their allies) that the bombs were actually power generators used to support British soldiers in Germany. The likely political fallout from this ruse (to say the least) was the primary reason the Blue Peacocks were never deployed.

To subscribe to Dan's daily email Now I Know, click here. You can also follow him on Twitter.