The Arms Sprint



On August 29th, 1949 an explosion was watched by Lavrentii Beria and scientist Igor Kurchatov . The explosion, that of a Soviet engineered atomic bomb shocked the United States. Only four years before had the Americans revealed the results of the secret Manhattan Project. There was no way that the Soviets could have created a similar weapon so soon. In 1950, the trials of Soviet spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg,  David Greenglass, Harry Gold, and Morton Sobell began. The Soviet spy ring had given secrets of the Manhattan project to the Soviets allowing them to make themselves a nuclear power.

On August 12, 1953, just months after Stalin’s death, another massive explosion occurred watched by Kurchatov, Beria having headed the project before being removed from his post by Khrushchev and Malenkov. This explosion was 30 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. And although the U.S. had tested a more powerful hydrogen bomb a year earlier, the Soviet bomb was of the original Soviet design of scientist Andrei Sakharov and Kurchatov. Known as the “Layer-Cake Bomb” it alternated layers of uranium and nuclear material to create an explosion much like the nuclear fusion that occurs inside stars.

The Soviet bomb was smaller than the American one and the U.S. answered it with more nuclear tests eventually dropping a H-bomb from an airplane over the Pacific in 1956. The nuclear arms race was in full sprint and the two superpowers could destroy human kind in a series of attacks. For the remainder of the Cold War, and most likely human history, nuclear proliferation remained, and will remain, a supreme diplomatic importance. Khrushchev conducted international affairs in this new world order and would put the world on the the brink of annihilation in the Berlin Crisis of 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. The threat of a nuclear attack and the arms race would be defining parts of the Cold War.



Seventeen Moments in Soviet History:

PBS–Citizen Kurchatov Stalin’s Bomb Maker:

FBI–The Atom Spy Case:–This Day in History–Soviets Test “Layer-Cake Bomb”: –United States tests first hydrogen bomb –United States drops hydrogen bomb over Bikini Atoll

3 thoughts on “The Arms Sprint

  1. I think we often forget the specifics leading into and during the Arms Race and are instead focused on the overall concept. The spread of secret information was a major component leading into the “race sprint” and would be the catalyst for the US and USSR tension in the years to come. Overall, a great post!

  2. It’s still incredible to think about how the world was on the brink of world destruction every minute during this period. The buildup of nuclear arsenals and capabilities by both superpowers definitely provided the blueprint for modern day diplomacy: mutually assured destruction. Really liked the video!

  3. It’s really amazing how only a few years after the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan the size and power of these weapons had increased so drastically. Its terrifying to think that with just a handful of these bombs one could destroy entire countries so to have lived during the Cold War where nuclear war was always a possibility must have made life pretty hectic at times.

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