Norfolk was nearly nuked

The Special Relationship between the UK and US: forged in the white heat of the world wars and the years following, right?

Or: England used as far-enough-away prep area for terrifyingly unstable early nuclear weapons. Some partnership!

If I ever had any doubt that this relationship was always, ultimately, carried out on the United States’ terms, then Eric Schlosser’s really excellent near-miss saga Command and Control put them to bed.

In the course of charting the development of the American nuclear capability (and the systems of control that grew up alongside), Schlosser covers this mindblowing episode:

In 1947 the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project decided that the final assembly of Mark 3 bombs must always occur outside the United States. The reliability of the weapon’s electronic, mechanical, and explosive components was unknown, and [Norris] Bradbury [director of the Los Alamos atomic bomb factory] thought that a crash during takeoff would pose “a very serious potential hazard to a large area in the vicinity.”

An area like, say, Norfolk:

The Mark 3 was considered too dangerous to be flown, fully assembled, over American soil. But no safety restrictions were imposed on flights of the bomb over Great Britain. Atomic bomb-making facilities were secretly constructed at two Royal Air Force bases, in Sculthorpe and Lakenheath.

Before attacking the Soviets, American B-29s would leave the United States with partially assembled Mark 3s and land at the British bases. Plutonium cores would be inserted into the weapons there, and then the B-29s would head for their Soviet targets. If one of the B-29s crashed during takeoff [as they had a tendency to so do] the RAF base, as well as neighbouring towns, might be obliterated.

Anticipating that possibility, the U.S. Air Force explored sites in the countryside of Norfolk and Suffolk where atomic bombs could be hidden, so that “if one blew, the others would survive.”


One Response to Norfolk was nearly nuked

  1. jkmhoffman2014 says:

    Reblogged this on jkmhoffman.

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