Foundations in Tactical Nuclear Warfare, 1945-1953

Document Type


Publication Date



This article examines the early development of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps tactical nuclear arsenal in order to fill a historiographical gap in the literature surrounding tactical atomic weapons. The Eisenhower era New Look national security policy is commonly the departure point for discussing the origins of the late 1950s era Pentomic Army. The scholarship, though not entirely ignoring the 1945-53 period, clearly emphasizes the New Look and post 1953 developments in explaining the Pentagon's embrace of tactical nuclear weapons and doctrine. Additionally, the discussion often revolves around issues of inter-service rivalries, and budget quarrels as the driving factors that brought the Army to equip itself with nuclear weapons. The archival evidence belies this interpretation. The fielding of tactical nuclear arsenals in the Army and Marine Corps during the 1950s was a highly likely outcome of the Desert Rock series of nuclear test exercises and maneuvers, simulated atomic maneuver exercises, weapons development, and doctrinal thinking from 1945-1953. I argue these foundations in tactical nuclear war demonstrate that absent Eisenhower's New Look policy, and even during a hypothetical President Adlai Stevenson administration, the U.S. armed forces would have gone forward with plans for fighting battlefield nuclear war in the 1950s and beyond.

This document is currently not available here.