With Russophobia being the order of the day in Washington, a look back in time at documents covering the birth of the Cold War provides us with an interesting glimpse into the military mindset that gripped America in the post-Second World War era. In the first part of this two-part posting, I will outline America’s overall plans to reduce the Soviet Union to a radioactive wasteland and in the second part, I will provide specific geographic regions that the United States was targeting for its nuclear weapon inventory.
The official end of the Second World War occurred on September 2, 1945 when representatives from Japan signed documents proclaiming the nation’s unconditional surrender. The signing of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender, which took place aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, occurred just weeks after the United States deployed an atomic bomb over the cities of Hiroshima (August 6, 1945) and Nagasaki (August 9, 1945).
Within days/weeks, on September 15, 1945, the following document was sent by Major General Lauris Norstad of the U.S. Army Air Force to Major General Leslie Groves, the Project Director of the Manhattan Project, the group responsible for developing the United States first nuclear weapons. It is important to keep in mind that the United States was the world’s sole nuclear power at the time that this document was written.
Here is the cover letter for the document which was classified as Top Secret:
Here is the page in the document which outlines the problem, the assumptions made and the facts bearing on the problem:
In the discussion section of the paper, we find this interesting comment which clearly defines the purpose of building up the American arsenal of nuclear weapons:
“It is also obvious that during this period (1945 to 1955) Russia and the United States will be the outstanding military For the purpose of this study the destruction of the Russian capability to wage war has therefore been used asa basis upon which to predicated the United States atomic bomb requirements. It is to be noted also from a geographical aspect alone, Russia is in the most favourable strategic position of any major power.”
The authors of the report compiled a list of 66 Russia cities that had major strategic importance as manufacturing centres for military materiel and production of key metals like steel, aluminum, lead, nickel and zinc as well as centres where oil is refined. The paper also notes that these 66 cities include all of Russia’s large population centres. Of these cities, a group of 15 first priority cities were selected as well as an additional 10 second priority cities. Based on the American experience in Japan, it is suggested that “…three well-placed bombs would throw a modern city of any size into chaos...” with each bomb having a four square mile destructive area with an outer bomb damage of 6000 to 7000 feet.
Here is a map which showed the targeted cities:
Here is a map from another report showing the potential flight paths and ranges that the fleet of American bombers could reach when overflying the Soviet Union, a key piece of information since at the time of the study the only method available to deliver a nuclear weapon was a conventional aircraft:
Here is the final conclusion of the report:
Let’s close with two things. First, here are scale models showing the before and after situation in Hiroshima from a display at the Hiroshima Peace Museum in Hiroshima:
As an aside, I toured the Peace Museum in 2009 and it is one of the most sobering experiences that I have had in my lifetime. As a baby boomer that lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, to see the damage that a nuclear weapon, albeit a relatively small one by Cold War standards, can do is an unforgettable experience.
Secondly, here is a listing of how both nations built up their nuclear inventory as the Cold War waxed and waned from Ploughshares showing how rapidly the nuclear buildup got out of control:
Stay tuned for part two of this posting where I will look at a detailed study from the late 1950s which provided the U.S. military with a complete listing of hundreds of Soviet targets.
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