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MGR-1 Honest John
MGR-1A (M31 series) "Honest John" rocket on the M386 transporter/launcher truck of the Royal Netherlands Army
TypeNuclear-capable surface-to-surface rocket
Place of originUnited States
Service history
In service1953–91
Used byBelgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, UK, and US
WarsCold War
Production history
ManufacturerDouglas Aircraft Company
No. built7000+
VariantsMGR-1A, MGR-1B, MGR-1C
Specifications (MGR-1A[2])
Mass5,820 lb (2,640 kg)
Length27 ft 3 in (8.30 m)
Diameter30 inches (760 mm)
Wingspan9 ft 1 in (2.77 m)

EngineHercules M6 solid-fueled rocket
99,000 lbf (441 kN)
PropellantDouble base solid propellant[1]
3.4–15.4 mi (5.5–24.8 km)
Flight ceiling30,000 ft (9 km)+
Maximum speed Mach 2.3

The MGR-1 Honest John rocket was the first nuclear-capable surface-to-surface rocket in the United States arsenal.[notes 1] Originally designated Artillery Rocket XM31, the first unit was tested on 29 June 1951, with the first production rounds delivered in January 1953. Its designation was changed to M31 in September 1953. The first Army units received their rockets by year's end and Honest John battalions were deployed in Europe in early 1954. Alternatively, the rocket was capable of carrying an ordinary high-explosive warhead weighing 1,500 pounds (680 kg).

History and development

Honest John test launch

Developed at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, the Honest John was a large but simple fin-stabilized, unguided artillery rocket weighing 5,820 pounds (2,640 kg) in its initial M31 nuclear-armed version. Mounted on the back of a truck, the rocket was aimed in much the same way as a cannon and then fired up an elevated ramp, igniting four small spin rockets as it cleared the end of the ramp. The M31 had a range of 15.4 miles (24.8 km) with a 20 kiloton nuclear warhead and was also capable of carrying a 1,500-pound (680 kg) conventional warhead.

"It's no secret we're in the 'missile business' to stay..." Douglas Aircraft Company ad in the California Institute of Technology 1958 yearbook

The M31 system included a truck-mounted, unguided, solid-fueled rocket transported in three separate parts. The Honest John was assembled in the field before launch, mounted on an M289 launcher, and aimed and fired in about 5 minutes. The rocket was originally outfitted with a W7 nuclear warhead, with a variable yield of up to 20 kilotons of TNT (84 TJ); in 1959, a W31 warhead with three variants was deployed with yields of 2, 10 or 30 kt (8.4, 41.8 or 125.5 TJ). There was a W31 variant of 20 kt (84 TJ) used exclusively for the Nike Hercules anti-aircraft system. The M31 had a range between 3.4 and 15.4 mi (5.5 and 24.8 km).

Early tests exhibited more scatter on target than was acceptable when carrying conventional payloads. Development of an upgraded Honest John, M50, was undertaken to improve accuracy and extend range. The size of the fins was greatly reduced to eliminate weathercocking. Increased spin was applied to restore the positive stability margin that was lost when fin size was reduced. The improved M50, with the smaller fins and more "rifling", had a maximum range of 30+ miles with a scatter on target of only 250 yards (230 m), demonstrating an accuracy approaching that of tube artillery. The Honest John was manufactured by the Douglas Aircraft Company of Santa Monica, California.[3]

Honest John warhead cutaway, showing M139 sarin bomblets (photo c. 1960)

In the 1960s, sarin nerve gas cluster munitions were also available, designed to be interchangeable for use with either the Honest John or MGM-5 Corporal. Initially the M79 (E19R1) GB cluster warhead, containing 356 M134 (E130R1) bomblets for the M31A1C Honest John. The production model was the M190 (E19R2) GB cluster warhead, containing 356 M139 (E130R2) bomblets when the M31A1C was phased out in favor of the XM50 Honest John. Under nominal conditions it had an mean area of effect of 0.9 square kilometers.[4]


The two basic versions of Honest John were:

Production and deployment

US Army launcher vehicle based on the M139D 5-ton truck

Production of the MGR-1 variants finished in 1965, with a total production run of more than 7,000 rockets. The Honest John's bulbous nose and distinctive truck-mounted launch ramp made it an easily recognized symbol of the Cold War at army bases worldwide and National Guard armories in the U.S.. Even though it was unguided and the first U.S. nuclear ballistic missile, it had a longer service life than all other U.S. ballistic missiles except the Minuteman system. The system was replaced with the MGM-52 Lance missile in 1973, but was deployed with the National Guard units in the United States as late as 1983. Conventionally armed Honest Johns remained in the arsenals of Greece, Turkey and South Korea until at least the late 1990s.

By the time the last Honest Johns were withdrawn from Europe in the late 1980s (and replaced by the unguided M-26 artillery rocket), the rocket had served with the military forces of Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark (non-nuclear), France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway (non-nuclear), South Korea, Taiwan (non-nuclear), and Turkey.[6]

Name origin

Unloading a rocket from the M329 transport trailer.

In late 1950, Major General Holger Toftoy was a colonel overseeing the development of the rocket. The project was in danger of cancellation "on the grounds that such a large unguided rocket could not possibly have had the accuracy to justify further funds."[7] On a trip to White Sands Missile Range, Toftoy met a Texan man who was prone to making unbelievable statements. Whenever anyone expressed doubt about the man's claims, he would respond, "Why, around these parts, I'm called 'Honest John!'" Because the project was being questioned, Toftoy felt that the nickname was appropriate for the rocket and suggested the name to his superiors.[7][8]

Support vehicles

Vehicles and components of the Dutch-operated Honest John rocket system. From left to right: M386 launcher based on the M139 5-ton truck, M62 wrecker/crane, M329 rocket transport trailer, M78A1 truck-mounted heating and tie-down unit and Willys M38A1 light utility truck. Prime movers in the rear.

Vehicles used with the Honest John platform:

Surviving examples

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United Kingdom

United States

Restored Honest John on M465 cart at Carolinas Aviation Museum
Honest John at Hillyard, WA


Map with former MGR-1 operators in red
West German parade in 1969
South Korean Armed Forces day in 1973

Former operators


Used in various Corps and Divisional artillery units (75, 3, 20 and 14th Artillery Battalions) from 1960 to 1978. Replaced by Lance missile.


Canada adopted the MGR-1B with the 1-kiloton W31 warhead. Four units were assigned to 1 Surface to Surface Missile Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery at Hemer, Germany under 4 CIBG. Two to four units were supplied to 2 SSM Battery at CFB Shilo in Manitoba for training. These units were formed in September 1960. 1SSM maintained very high readiness and able to deploy to firing positions quickly. Their ability to maintain camouflage kept even elite NATO special forces from locating them in exercises. 1SSM was authorized to wear the black scarf of the Congreve rocket gunners. Canada disbanded the Honest John batteries in mid-1970 without replacement.[12][13]

 South Korea
Dutch soldiers take cover and await the launch of an Honest John rocket in 1960.
 United Kingdom
 United States

See also


  1. ^ The first nuclear-authorized guided missile was the MGM-5 Corporal.
  2. ^ 90,325 lbf (401.79 kN) according to "Solid". Encyclopedia Astronautica. Mark Wade. 2019. Archived from the original on 15 August 2016. Retrieved 20 December 2019. The X-201 [...] was the forerunner of an entire family of related propulsion units that served as boosters for the Nike, Terrier, Talos, and Honest John missiles.


  1. ^ "Solid". Encyclopedia Astronautica. Mark Wade. 2019. Archived from the original on 15 August 2016. Retrieved 20 December 2019. The X-201 [...] was the forerunner of an entire family of related propulsion units that served as boosters for the Nike, Terrier, Talos, and Honest John missiles.
  2. ^ a b c "Honest John". Encyclopedia Astronautica. Mark Wade. 2003. Archived from the original on 11 October 2004. Retrieved 19 December 2019. Note: Data given by several sources show slight variations. Figures given below may therefore be inaccurate!
  3. ^ Gibson, Nuclear Weapons of the United States, pp. 177–179, 1996
  4. ^ Kirby, Reid, "The CB Battlefield Legacy", Army Chemical Review July–December 2006, pp. 25 – 29. [1]
  5. ^ Bedard, Andre (2001). "Double Base Solid Propellants". Mark Wade. Retrieved 20 December 2019. Double-base solid propellants consist mainly of fibrous nitro-cellulose and a gelatiniser, or plasticiser, such as nitro-glycerine or a similar compound (ethylene glycol dinitrate), each containing oxygen and fuel in the same compound.
  6. ^ General Dynamics, Free World Tactical Missile Systems (Pomona, CA: General Dynamics, June 1973) p.251; Jane's Weapon Systems 1987–1988 (London: Jane's, 1987) p.127.
  7. ^ a b McKenney, Janice E. (2007). The organizational history of field artillery 1775–2003. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army. p. 212. ISBN 9780160771149.
  8. ^ "Honest John". Redstone Arsenal Historical Information. U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Life Cycle Command. Archived from the original on 22 April 2022. Retrieved 31 August 2022.
  9. ^ "001". 28 September 2007. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 30 August 2017.
  10. ^ "Underwood Online--Sights". Retrieved 30 August 2017.
  11. ^ "White Sands Missile Range Missile Park". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 3 February 2016.
  12. ^ "Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery". Retrieved 4 July 2018.
  13. ^ The Honest John in Canadian Service – John Davidson, Canada's Weapons of War Series, WOW030, A5 size softback, 24 pages,ISBN 978-1-894581-71-4, Service Publications, Canada
  14. ^ "1- Les insignes des unités Honest John et des unités de soutien". Retrieved 28 August 2021.
  15. ^ "528th U.S. Army Artillery Group".


Meccano Ltd. U.K. in its Dinky Toys range produced a model of the International Harvester Honest John missile launcher under the reference 665.

1963 United States tri-service rocket designations and post-1963 undesignated rockets