Elizabeth Waterhouse | A review of the public opinion surrounding the conviction and sentencing of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg

On 29 March 1951, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were convicted and sentenced to death for passing atomic secrets from the United States to the Soviet Union. Despite many efforts by campaigners to overturn the death sentence, the Rosenbergs were executed by electric chair on 19 June 1953, becoming the only Americans to be executed for such a crime. The Rosenberg trial and their subsequent executions caused furious debate across the world, between those who believed in their innocence and those who thought them to be guilty Continue reading

Bethany Spencer | The link between the nuclear bomb and the Black Civil Rights movement in America

Anti-nuclear activism has been well documented in historical texts, but its presence and significance within the African-American community is seldom mentioned. With opinion polls suggesting that 90% of black Americans were against the atomic bomb in 1986 – appreciably higher than the proportion of white Americans who opposed it – it is important to understand the reasons behind this anti-nuclear sentiment and the consequences of it Continue reading

Stephanie South | An account of William Penney’s report “Plutonium Weapon – General Description”, July 1947

William Penney, a British physicist who had worked on the Manhattan Project, and who was referred to as a ‘key member’ of the Los Alamos staff by General L. Groves, was asked in May 1947 to lead Britain’s nuclear weapons programme as Chief Superintendent of Armament Research (CSAR). In July of that year he published a report which would form the basis of the British project. Penney’s report, Plutonium Weapon – General Report, describes and discusses the key features of the American plutonium bomb, Fat Man, which was dropped on Nagasaki on 9 August 1945. The report outlined how Britain could reproduce such a weapon Continue reading

Joshua Ramsey | Intelligence, misperception, and Able Archer-83: how close did the world come to nuclear war in 1983?

When people recall the moment in history when the world was closest to nuclear destruction, most recollect the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. The disturbing conclusion of several Cold War historians is that leading up to the autumn of 1983, the superpowers once again met, this time obliviously, at the brink of nuclear war.

The series of events, climaxing in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO) military exercise, Able Archer-83, created a precarious international environment, exacerbating superpower tensions to breaking point Continue reading

Laura Millar | The British response to the trial and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

On 6 March 1951 Julius and Ethel Rosenberg faced trial, charged with conspiracy to commit wartime espionage. They were convicted and sentenced to death. Two years later, after two denied appeals for clemency, they were executed, making them the only people in America to be executed on the grounds of espionage.

The Rosenbergs were accused of being part of a Soviet spy ring that had infiltrated The Manhattan Project and had been passing atomic secrets onto the Soviets Continue reading

Trevor McPartland | Thermonuclear Britain: officials underground, public up top

The above illustration (Fig. 1) is the front cover of civil defence handbook issued on behalf of the British government by HMSO in 1963. It was one amongst a series of pamphlets and books that were published in the late 1950s and during the 1960s, advising the population on which measures to take in the event of a Hydrogen bomb (H-bomb) attack on Britain. This study will assess the value of Handbook No. 10. (hereafter: No. 10) as a nuclear civil defence manual Continue reading

Ryan McGahey | The MIRV and détente

In 1976, Lawrence Livermore Laboratory wrote MIRV: A Brief History of Minuteman and Multiple Reentry Vehicles, a document extensively detailing the development of multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (commonly abbreviated as MIRVs) and their many reasons for being manufactured. It was publicly released in 1997.

The concept of the MIRV was officially introduced in 1962. Major advancements in rocket propulsion, guidance and target computing, alongside nuclear material weaponisation, had made it possible to build a single ballistic missile that could carry multiple nuclear warheads Continue reading

Elliott Lynch | Analysis of CIA SNIE 11-10-84 (Special National Intelligence Estimate) ‘Implications of Recent Soviet Military-Political Activities’

The declassified top-secret document SNIE 11-10-84, produced May 1984, offers great insight into the blasé nature of United States intelligence in the early 1980s. It speaks of Soviet posturing and war-scare propaganda; an assumption is made that ‘the threat here is not immediate, but longer term’. This contrasts strongly with evidence that the Soviets were extremely concerned about the prospect of imminent nuclear war Continue reading

Theo Letts | How to lose a hydrogen bomb: the Palomares crash of 1966

On 17 January 1966, an American B-52G bomber carrying four Mk28 hydrogen bombs crashed just off the coast of Spain, near the small village of Palomares. The crash resulted from a collision with a KC-135 tanker that occurred during mid-air refuelling between the two aircraft, and of the eleven crewmembers involved in the incident, only three survived. None of the H-bombs were armed, so no nuclear explosion resulted from the air crash – however, two of the bombs conventional explosives components detonated, spreading radioactive plutonium over the surrounding area Continue reading

Thom Iddon | When Harry met Clement

During a news conference on Thursday 30 November 1950, President Harry Truman asserted that use of nuclear weapons in Korea was under “active consideration”. Following this announcement, the British Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, scheduled an emergency meeting at the White House where, on Tuesday 5 and Wednesday 6 December, he warned Truman against using the bomb. Within this analysis it is argued that British anxiety over America’s use of atomic weapons went beyond a vague concern for the humanitarian consequences of the act Continue reading