United States Government Releases Documents Regarding the Cold War and its Fighting Tactics


Just recently, the National Security Archive released some of the United States’ documents on the Cold War Nuclear Target List.  Generally, information such as this would never be voluntarily released for public view. The name of the document is called Strategic Air Command Atomic Weapons Requirements Study for 1959.

These just-released documents delve into the United States’ nuclear weapons strategies during the Cold War.  They were put together during 1956 by the Strategic Air Command.  The entire document is about 800 pages long, and lists the cities that would be targeted for complete destruction.  While some of the cities on the list were surprises, others were not.  It’s not surprising to see Moscow and Leningrad, but there were other cities on the list as well, including some in China, Poland and Germany.

The documents reveal that along with the Soviet population centers themselves, the army had planned on striking industries and factories they thought would be needed to make weapons, machine tools, and even medicines for the wounded.  Other areas the army was planning on taking out were dams, airports, power grids, and railroad yards – basically, anything that the Soviets needed to be successful in the war.

A university claimed that this Cold War list is one of the most detailed and comprehensive lists regarding nuclear targets ever to be released.  The researchers there believe that this could be the first Cold War document of this type ever released.

While it may be extremely detailed, it also proves to be a serious documentation of what could have been a very deadly war. Along with targets and nuclear bombing tactics, it reveals the probable results of such warfare on Soviet citizens being doused with high levels of radioactive chemicals.

The U.S. already knew that Russia’s nuclear delivery system was building a massive a bomber fleet. The document included an outline for the weapon strategies, different targets, and what kind of detonation methods that would work best for such an area.  Another important part in the document suggests that the type of bomb that was made during the Cold War was one of the most powerful bombs of all time.

It was a 60-megaton super-nuke; one that beat out Russia’s most powerful nuclear weapon, the Soviet’s Tsar Bomb, which was about 50 megatons.  The U.S. bomb was built for ultimate destruction; the documentation discusses how the bomb would have surface-bursting, high-yield nukes.  This type of bomb would cause as much physical damage possible, even before factoring in the thermal effects and radiation.

One researcher suggests that although both sides were preparing for the worst, it was not sure whether or not they would come close to actually using the nuclear weapons.  The researcher said that the documents on both the United States’ side and the Soviet side state only that they were preparing and competing with each other; not necessarily that they expected the war would come.

Competing by building the weapons was better than competing by using them.  If either, or even both, weapons were used, it would have proved to cause so much destruction it is even terrible to think of what could have come out of nuclear warfare.

The major concern from the release of these documents is that at the time it was seen as necessary for both countries to become potential participants in irrational destruction. If those weapons had been used there would have been a terrible outcome for thousands, perhaps millions of people.


Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE