Northern Ireland Imagines a Nuclear Attack


The Belfast Telegraph reports that Northern Ireland Civil Servants drew up a dossier that details what would be expected if a nuclear bomb was dropped by the Soviet Union. Officials believe that people would left wandering the streets, aimlessly and confused, starving and hostile. They picture homes would be decimated, government would cease and life would be completely altered—naturally.

This is the depiction of a world that is close to destruction. Belfast would lay in rubble while its citizens have left their homes and sought refuge in neighboring towns. Though the world is used to living under the constant threat of nuclear attacks, files that were once classified now show that nuclear conflicts during 1983 could have been a reality.

United States President, Ronald Reagan, described the Soviet Union as an “evil empire” and had deployed medium range nuclear missiles to Europe to begin the ‘Star Wars’ project.

As the threat continued to grow, officials put together a thorough (albeit fictional) account of the lead-up and the after math of an attack the Soviet Union would have against Northern Ireland.

The paper which was marked ‘restricted’, suggests: “The following narrative is entirely fictional. It is not intended and should not be taken as a realistic description of how events might develop. It is designed solely for the purpose of creating a setting in which plans and procedures might be formulated and tested.”

The detailed paper begins the conflict on April 1982 and it goes on to describe the growing tension in Europe. The Soviet bloc would mobilize on the border with Finland. Romania would also be a participant and would be constructing a strict military regime.

The relations between nations would continue to become more strained and by mid-August there would be infrequent outbreaks of an impromptu war. There would be several military sites in the UK that would be hit. Fears of a nuclear war would linger in the air and people would begin to evacuate the major cities; including Belfast.

“This was disorganized and gave rise to traffic problems, lawlessness and instances of panic,” the briefing paper states.

The disastrous attack would finally come on September 6th and 7th. The UK would suffer more than 50 nuclear attacks and two of them would land on Northern Ireland. The bombs would hit Belfast and Derry. Gusts of wind would carry the fallout from Belfast across to Holywood, Carrickfergus and Whitehead. The fallout from Derry would most likely spread to Portstewart, Coleraine, Ballymoney, and Limavady.

The paper also goes on to say that the morning after the nuclear attacks an aerial reconnaissance would photograph the damage. The officials envision Belfast being completely destroyed and there would be massive flooding in the harbor estate. Fires in Holywood would be rampant.

The officials also suggest that there would be situation reports arriving from neighboring towns.

“The local population in Lisburn and Hillsborough is more or less intact but has no cooking facilities. Privately held food supplies are nearing exhaustion,” the dossier adds.

“Reports indicate there is more severe damage at Dunmurry. There is a large refugee population from Belfast – probably as much as 25,000.

“Many of these people have physical injuries, others are starving and hostile. The RUC is experiencing harassment in Lisburn town centre.”

Since Belfast would lay in ruins, refugees would gather in Bangor.

“Large numbers are assembling in the town centre. Many are clearly ill (radiation sickness?). There is anger, disorientation and outbreaks of violence.”

Luckily, the dossier was not needed; although it is evident that the civil servants spent a lot of time imagining the very worst.

Evette Champion

Evette Champion is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE