Tsar Bomba - King of the bombs

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On October 30, 1961, Soviet pilot A. E. Durnovtsev guides his Tu-95 Bomber towards the Arctic Sea above Novaya Zemlya Island. This day will make atomic history as a statement of intimidation by the Soviet Union in those tense days now known as The Cold War.

The bomber is carrying a secret cargo that will soon make the world view Russia as a serious nuclear threat to the survival of mankind. For on this day a nuclear weapon rides into history as the largest thermonuclear bomb ever constructed and detonated named, Tsar Bomba (King of the Bombs).

The events of the Cold War leading up to Tsar puts a strain on world peace as the U.S. and Soviet Union play a deadly game of military and political "cat and mouse".

  • Jan. 1960 - Khrushchev's speech at the United Nations for support of "wars of national liberation" is viewed as a Communist intervention into third world countries.
  • Jan. 1961 - JFK's inauguration speech responds to Khrushchev's declaration to "...oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty".
  • April 1961 - A CIA-backed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs fails and makes the United States appear weak in military strength.

kruschev kennedy The events of the Cold War leading up to Tsar puts a strain on world peace as the U.S. and Soviet Union play a deadly game of military and political.

On July 10, 1961 Nikita Khrushchev meets with Sakharov, and directs him to develop a 100 megaton bomb ready for a test series in order to create maximum political impact.

  • Aug 1961 - The Berlin Wall is erected by the Soviets dividing Berlin into two separate cities: East Berlin (communist) and West Berlin (democratic).
  • Sept 1961 - President Kennedy's letter in the September issue of LIFE advises Americans to build fallout shelters. For an entire year, the American public is obsessed with "fallout shelter mania".

Tsar Bomba was developed in a remarkably short time, just fourteen weeks after the initiation of its design. It weighted in at 27 metric tons!

Due to concerns about the amount of fallout that could occur with a 100 megaton test, the Soviets produced a scaled-down version of the original is produced by replacing the uranium fusion tamper (which amplifies the reaction) with one made of lead in order to eliminate fast fission by the fusion neutrons, hence reducing the power of the original version. A 50 megaton bomb was now ready to be detonated.

The test method for Tsar was a Parachute Retarded Airburst dropped from a bomber at an altitude of 4000-meters.

October 23, 1961, the Soviet Union unexpectedly explodes Tsar Bomba and startles the world, ending the nuclear testing moratorium between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Some interesting facts regarding Tsar Bomba:

  1. A bomb this size is virtually useless militarily.
  2. If detonated at full scale the yield of 100 megatons (100Mt--equal to one hundred million tons of TNT), the explosive force of this bomb would have been approximately 6,500 times the 15-16 kiloton bomb detonated at Hiroshima. It would have increased the world's total fission fallout since the invention of the atomic bomb by 25%.
  3. The fabrication of the massive parachute disrupted the Soviet nylon hosiery industry. Commercial impact unknown.
  4. Bomber pilot A. E. Durnovtsev was made a Hero of the Soviet Union.

Tsar was not the "end to all" in the days of the Cold War. It proved that the delivery of nuclear weapons by long-range aircraft was inefficient in the time war. An immediate response to a nuclear attack was needed, something that was fast, reliable and cost-effective to maintain. The resulting solution was the creation of a new nuclear weapon delivery system, the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

In October 1962, exactly one year from the Tsar Bomba detonation, another chapter in atomic history began as the United States stood on the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis.