The H Word: Soviet Russia’s Hydrogen Bomb

Official Soviet Peace Rally Source: USA-USSR Society for Cultural Relations: Soviet Politics and the Aesthetics of the Communist State. 200.

Official Soviet Peace Rally
Source: USA-USSR Society for Cultural Relations: Soviet Politics and the Aesthetics of the Communist State. 200.

In 1953, the USSR set off their first hydrogen bomb at the Semipalatinsk test site in Kazakhstan. This “super-bomb” was determined to surpass the power of their atomic bomb, which they had detonated four years prior. The hydrogen bomb explosion was “many times greater than that of the atom bomb” and the project was headed by two Russian physicists: Igor Kurchatov and Andrei Sakharov, who designed the bomb based on an image of a “layer cake.”

At the time of the test-explosion, Russia was the sole owner of any plans regarding a hydrogen bomb. Previously, through espionage work in the United States, they managed to gather atomic bomb plans. The United States did not manage to create their own hydrogen bomb until the following year.

US Newspaper headline, responding to the Soviet H-Bomb tests. (Source: The Detroit Free Press)

US Newspaper headline, responding to the Soviet H-Bomb tests. (Source: The Detroit Free Press)

Following the tests of the hydrogen bomb, Russia then tested multiple new versions of the atomic bomb. Through similar research, the soviets also attempted to continue work on producing efficient forms of atomic energy to use towards “peaceful progress.” While working on the hydrogen bomb, however, the United States feared that they would “lose the world to Russia.” Essentially, we would lose the arms race.

Although things looked to be in Russia’s favor, Russian chairman of the Council of Ministers Georgii Malenkov feared the growing global tensions due to the creation of the hydrogen bomb. He stated in a 1954 speech that the growing danger of “a new world war, which with modern weapons means the end of world civilization.” This pretty much destroyed his political career, as many other leaders believed this would cause fear and discontent amongst the Russian people.

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Siegelbaum, Lewis. “1954: Hydrogen Bomb.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. Web. 24 Oct 2014. <http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1954bomb&Year=1954>.

The Current Digest of the Russian Press: http://dlib.eastview.com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu:8080/browse/doc/13833946 (GOVERNMENT ANNOUNCEMENT OF TEST OF A HYDROGEN BOMB IN THE SOVIET UNION)

The Current Digest of the Russian Press: http://dlib.eastview.com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu:8080/browse/doc/13834143 (TASS REPORT ON TESTS OF NEW TYPES OF ATOMIC BOMBS IN THE SOVIET UNION)

By, W.L. (1950, Jan 2Smilie: 8). BUILD NEW BOMB, DR. UREY DEMANDS. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from http://ezproxy.lib.vt.edu:8080/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/111542345?accountid=14826

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7 Responses to The H Word: Soviet Russia’s Hydrogen Bomb

  1. The hydrogen bomb really showed the extent to which the Soviet Union was willing to go to match and exceed the capabilities of the west. It is pretty obvious when comparing the state of their economy and abilities of production to that of their military expenditures and the desire to create nuclear arms and a space program. The post from last week’s blogs about the abysmal state of the Soviet auto industry makes this self evident. It was pretty impressive that the Soviets were able to design an H bomb with very little espionage and western reproduction models. Not bad for a regime that only has 4 kinds of vehicles in production at the time.

  2. I like how Dan’s comment contextualizes the narrative you built from the articles in the New York Times, Pravda and Izvestiia. The announcements about H-bomb testing seem so terse – they belie the significance of these new weapons.

  3. Nice post on the Hydrogen Bomb. Good job pointing out how the USSR’s development of the Hydrogen Bomb affects the arms race during the Cold War. The fact the Soviets took the U.S.’s plans from the Manhattan project to build the hydrogen bomb also shows the Cold War tensions that existed during the time.

  4. Yet again, the Russians and the Americans arguing over who’s got the better toys. Its almost like capitalism. Two countries competing to create more destructive devices cheaper and more efficiently. It really looked like they were putting the world destruction bus into overdrive.

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  7. Nice post on the Hydrogen Bomb. Good job pointing out how the USSR’s development of the Hydrogen Bomb affects the arms race during the Cold War.

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