Tag Archives: Soviet Union

A new report shows nuclear weapons almost detonated in North Carolina in 1961

Eric Schlosser has a new book out about how close the U.S. came to blowing off it’s own eastern seaboard during the Cold War

At the height of the Cold War, the Air Force feared that the Soviet Union could launch a surprise attack on the United States and destroy all of our air bases, and we’d have no way to retaliate against the Soviets. So the Air Force came up with this idea of having about a dozen B-52 bombers airborne 24 hours a day, with nuclear weapons on board. That way, if we were attacked, those dozen planes might escape the destruction on the ground, head to the Soviet Union, and blast the Soviets with hydrogen bombs.

The planes were sort of an insurance policy. They were meant to deter the Soviets from trying a surprise attack. But this Air Force program, called the “airborne alert,” also posed some serious risks for the United States. The B-52 was designed in the late 1940s–and it wasn’t designed to be flying 24 hours a day. So the airborne alerts put enormous stress on these aircraft. It really wore out the planes and made them more likely to crash.

Nobody realized, at the time, that some design flaws in our nuclear weapons made them vulnerable to detonating in an accident. There was an illusion of safety. In the book, I explore the safety problems with our nuclear arsenal. We were putting planes that were at risk of crashing into the air over the United States with nuclear weapons that were at risk of accidentally detonating. The airborne alert was finally ended in 1968, after a B-52 crashed in Greenland with four hydrogen bombs and contaminated a stretch of the Arctic Ice with plutonium.

How close was this to detonating?

Well, for most of the Cold War, there was no code or anything that you needed to enter. All you needed to do was turn a switch or two in the cockpit to arm the bomb, and then release it. There were mechanisms on the weapon to prevent it from detonating prematurely and destroying our own planes. There were barometric switches that would operate when they sensed a change in altitude. There were timers that delayed the explosion until our planes had enough time to get away. The Goldsboro bomb that almost detonated was known as Weapon No. 1. As the plane was spinning and breaking apart, the centrifugal forces pulled a lanyard in the cockpit–and that lanyard was what a crew member would manually pull during wartime to release the bomb. This hydrogen bomb was a machine, a dumb object. It had no idea whether the lanyard was being pulled by a person or by a centrifugal force. Once the lanyard was pulled, the weapon just behaved like it was designed to.

The bomb went through all of its arming steps except for one, and a single switch prevented a full-scale nuclear detonation. That type of switch was later found to be defective. It had failed in dozens of other cases, allowing weapons to be inadvertently armed. And that safety switch could have very easily been circumvented by stray electricity in the B-52 as it was breaking apart. As Secretary of Defense McNamara said, “By the slightest margin of chance, literally the failure of two wires to cross, a nuclear explosion was averted.” That’s literally correct, a short circuit could’ve fully armed the bomb.

I interviewed McNamara before he passed away. The Goldsboro accident occurred just a few days after he took office. He wasn’t an expert in nuclear weapons; he’d been head of the Ford Motor Company. And this accident scared the hell out of him. It would have spread lethal radioactive fallout up the Eastern Seaboard–and put a real damper on all the optimism of the Kennedy administration’s New Frontier. And this wasn’t the only really serious nuclear weapons accident that the United States had. There were others that were dangerous and yet kept from view.

So yeah, try not to think about this thought by Schlosser before you go to bed.

Any country that wants nuclear weapons has to keep in mind that these weapons may pose a greater threat to yourself than to your enemies. These weapons are complicated things to possess and maintain, especially if you keep them fully assembled and ready to use. If you’re only going to put them together when you’re about to go to war, then there’s a higher level of safety. But if you keep them fully assembled, and mated to a weapons system, and ready to go, then there are limitless ways that something could go wrong.

Was Putin right?

Has the west accepted both the fall of Crimea and also the loss of Ukraine?

Although we have recently heard many fearsome statements from President Obama and the E.U. leaders, the actual sanctions (issued two and half weeks after the beginning of Crimea adventure) leave much to be desired. The “unprecedented measures” against Russia turned out to be relatively feeble prohibitions against several random and not very influential Russian officials—definitely not the primary decision-makers in the Crimea’s story. The real heroes of the occasion stayed (even symbolically) unpunished. Moreover, not only has Russia’s maintained its G8 membership, but, recently, G8 representatives have been distancing themselves from earlier statements regarding suspension of Russia’s membership. Loud talk and a small stick, indeed.

Moreover, the “acceptance” of Putin’s actions among the Western community appears to be on the rise. A Bloomberg View editorial, for example, announced that “the U.S. and EU aren’t going to fight to defend what remains of Ukraine. They aren’t bound by treaty to do so, and their interests (not to mention their electorates) argue against it.” (In fact, the U.S. has at least moral obligations to defend Ukraine under 1994 Budapest Memorandum.) Analyst John Walcott went as far as to suggest that “there is no question anymore, Ukraine (not Crimea, but Ukraine overall) is gone” on Bloomberg News this past weekend. Even the Baltics states that are often viewed as the fiercest opponents of Russia’s policies in Ukraine have shown some restraint. Yesterday, the Latvian minister of finance asked the E.U. to provide compensation to the European Union countries that will suffer economically from sanctioning Russia.

Altogether, this means that Putin is reading the situation correctly: The monopoly on violence rules the international order. There is simply no one to stop Putin from taking what he wants.

1943 Battle of Kursk video footage

The Battle of Kursk was a World War II engagement between German and Soviet forces on the Eastern Front near the city of Kursk, (450 kilometers or 280 miles southwest of Moscow) in the Soviet Union in July and August 1943. The German offensive was code named Operation Citadel (German: Unternehmen Zitadelle) and would lead to both one of the largest armored clashes, which is the battle of Prokhorovka, and the costliest single day of aerial warfare in history. The German offensive eventually provoked two soviet counteroffensives code named Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev (Russian: Полководец Румянцев) and Operation Kutuzov (Russian: Куту́зов). The battle saw the final strategic offensive the Germans were able to mount in the east, and the decisive Soviet victory gave the Red Army the strategic initiative for the rest of the war.

Vladimir Putin and Steven Seagal are working on a project

That is all you should need to know to click on this story.

Vladimir Putin has reached back to Joseph Stalin’s era for a plan to improve Russians’ physical fitness, appearing with the film actor Steven Seagal at an event aimed at promoting healthy lifestyles among young people.

In a meeting at a martial arts school on Moscow’s outskirts, Putin called for physical education rooted in a Soviet-era system.

“I think it would be quite appropriate to recall the positive experience of past decades when the so-called GTO, Ready for Labour and Defence, was in use in our country,” he said. The GTO mass physical training programme was introduced in the 1930s under Stalin.

“The revival of this system – in a new, modern format – could bring major benefits,” Putin told government officials, schoolteachers and coaches.

1983: The Brink of Apocalypse

An interesting full length documentary by Channel 4 about how close the west and the Soviet Union came to nuclear Armageddon in 1983.   Reagan’s rhetoric, $1 trillion in defense spending, Pershing II missiles, the new cruise missiles, a breakdown in Soviet detection technology (high altitude clouds set off Soviet early warning satellites), the American invasion of Grenada, a NATO communication war game, paranoia over the Nazi attack 1941 happening all over again, lack of understanding between both sides about each other (and a shortage of double agents) all brought both sides really close to nuclear war in 1983.

It mentions the SIOP which is the integrated plan for fighting a nuclear war.  In Reagan’s version, the expectation was that America would lost 150 million dead at a minimum.

The effects of Global Thermonuclear War

As written by Wm Robert Johnson

A mushroom cloud in the aftermath of a nuclear explosion.

12:00 midnight CDT 5/6 August 1988: The nuclear exchange is generally over. In the U.S. 5,800 warheads detonated totaling 3,900 mt. Soviet and NATO weapons successfully used in Europe numbered 3,300 (1,200 mt) (excluding tactical weapons). About 6,100 warheads (most of them American, but some Chinese, British, and French) exploded in the U.S.S.R. with a total yield of 1,900 mt. Mainland China (P.R.C.) received 900 (detonating) warheads (1,300 mt) from its northern neighbor. Other areas receiving at least a dozen warheads include Canada, North and South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Greenland, Puerto Rico, India, Israel, Australia, Guam, Cuba, Syria, and Egypt. Hundreds of other nuclear weapons have been used in naval combat, in troop combat in West Germany and along the U.S.S.R./P.R.C. border, and in defending the Soviet Union from nuclear attack. About 50% of the global strategic and theater nuclear arsenal has been used. About 10% was launched but did not reach a target and 30% was destroyed on the ground. Altogether, World War III has involved the detonation of 18,000 warheads with a total yield of 8,500 mt. Including tactical weapons, there were 67,000 nuclear weapons in the world a day ago; now, there are 10,000 left.

In Texas 6,400,000 have been killed (38% of its original population). Of the 10,400,000 survivors, 3,000,000 have severe injuries and 2,000,000 have lesser injuries. In the Rio Grande Valley 340,000 have been killed (49%) and 90,000 injured (13%); in Travis County over 400,000 are dead (75%). In the U.S. about 110,000,000 people have died altogether, with the 135,000,000 survivors including 30,000,000 injured. In the U.S.S.R. about 40,000,000 have been killed out of a pre-war population of 285,000,000. Mainland China has had 100,000,000 killed out of a population of 1,090,000,000. Examples of other countries: United Kingdom, 20,000,000 killed (out of 57,000,000); Denmark, 2,700,000 killed (out of 5,100,000); Australia, 3,000,000 killed (out of 16,000,000). In Mexico over 3,000,000 have been killed, mostly in cities on the border with the U.S. Throughout the world about 400,000,000 have died.

Despite reading a lot of cold war history (I am reading May Day: Eisenhower, Khrushchev and the U2 Affair now), I was stunned by the amount of nuclear warheads that existed in 1988.  67,000 nuclear weapons is mind boggling.

Today there is still over 23,000 nuclear warheads.

Status of World Nuclear Forces in 2009