Although the Cold War was a period of political warfare and not much actual war took place, you would be amazed at how many nuclear bombs have been tested during this era. The Cold War itself was psychological warfare where people would show off their military muscle by putting it to the test, but never actually using it as intended. It is true that if a nuclear war was to break out during the Cold War period, it would have meant the end of the world or at least a prolonged apocalypse as seen in the novels of Metro.
The Tsar Bomba was the biggest nuclear bomb produced to date and the biggest volume of explosive material ever detonated in history. In 2020 the Russian government decided to declassify the footage as well as all the information regarding this nuclear weapon. The footage itself is frightening, to say the least, but when looking at the numbers that are when you truly understand the power of this nuclear bomb.
During the 1950s the United States was really demonstrating their military capabilities with a great selection of nuclear arsenal which was the result of all the research that had gone into the Manhattan Project. The Soviet Union was worried as they began this Cold War with nothing to show when it came to nuclear power. Since 1955 the most brilliant minds within the Soviet Union specialized in nuclear chemistry have worked to come up with the biggest bomb the world has ever seen.
Many smaller projects such as the creation of a super-heavy ballistic missile N-1 have helped with the development of the Tsar Bomba, but stabilizing the nuclear material used to create such bombs was difficult at the time due to the lack of knowledge within the Soviet Union. Although the U.S. had many strives within nuclear weaponry with the Manhattan Project from World War II, they chose to not share all the data with the Soviet Union, just in case a War between them would start.
The specific product for Tsar Bomba is also known as the alphanumerical designation AN602 started in 1956. By 1958 the first prototype was finished named Product 202 and developed with the help of Andrei Sakharov, one of the greatest Soviet nuclear physicists to ever live. Although the Central Committee of the Communist Party of The Soviet Union was happy with the progress thus far, they wanted a nuclear weapon that would reach the power of 150 megatons of TNT.
In order to understand the power of each nuclear weapon, nuclear physicists measured the power of nuclear weapons by equivalent explosion power of TNT. The demands of the Communist government were extremely high and they have been told numerous times that The test of a 150 megaton nuclear device would produce an extremely high level of radioactive contamination.
The declassified footage that was released also contained a small part of the production and assembly process that was preparing the bomb for testing in 1961. If you are interested to see it here is a video that is in Russian but there are English subtitles available.
Some people still to this day do not quite understand the capabilities of nuclear weapons from the Cold War era, especially the Tsar Bomba, and why it is considered even to this day the biggest bomb to have been created by humankind. In order to understand let’s have a look at Hiroshima and Nagasaki as many people have spoken about it and there is a lot of photos of the devastation provoked by those two nuclear bombs from World War II.
The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima was named Little Boy and it had the power of 15,000 tons of TNT. The explosion wiped out everything in a 5 square miles radius and caused over 140,000 deaths. The bomb dropped on Nagasaki was named Fat Man and it was more powerful at 20,000 tons of TNT.
The Tsar Bomba came in at 57,000,000 tons of TNT, which is ten times more than all the explosives detonated within World War II. The Bomb was finished in 1961 and it was followed to be tested somewhere in October of 1961. In order to prepare the United States for what was to come, Nikita Khrushchev (Leader of the Soviet Union at the time) told American politicians about the bomb and its explosive potential as well as about an estimated testing day. The New York Times even published an article about it on September 8th, 1961.
What followed was a way to best detonate the bomb, as this was a three-stage nuclear bomb it required steady hands for it to be detonated, and especially time, this wasn’t just about dropping it but timing it well. The chosen aircraft for this was a Tupolev Tu-95, one of the best bombers that the Soviet Union had at the time. This specific model was chosen because it was able to fit the bomb and carry such a heavy load whilst housing the crew needed to detonate the bomb.
This is the list of people that were responsible for the testing of the Tsar Bomba, they had to ensure that everything would go smooth in order to impress the Americans and hopefully scare them.
- Test Pilot — Major Andrey Egorovich Durnovtsev
- Lead navigator of tests — Major Ivan Nikiforovich Kleshch
- Second pilot — Captain Mikhail Konstantinovich Kondratenko
- Navigator-operator of the radar — Lieutenant Anatoly Sergeevich Bobikov
- Radar operator — Captain Alexander Filippovich Prokopenko
- Flight engineer — Captain Grigory Mikhailovich Yevtushenko
- Radio operator — Lieutenant Mikhail Petrovich Mashkin
- Gunner-radio operator — Captain Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Snetkov
- Gunner-radio operator — Corporal Vasily Yakovlevich Bolotov
- Leading test pilot — Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Fyodorovich Martynenko
- Second pilot — Senior Lieutenant Vladimir Ivanovich Mukhanov
- Leading navigator — Major Semyon Artemievich Grigoryuk
- Navigator-operator of the radar — Major Vasily Timofeevich Muzlanov
- Gunner-radio operator — Senior Sergeant Mikhail Emelyanovich Shumilov
The bomb was to be detonated over Novaya Zemlya Island in the Russian Arctic Sea, a secluded part of the Soviet Union that isn’t inhabited even today. The whole process of preparing for the detonation including the detonation itself was filmed in order to show the Americans what the Soviets were truly capable of. On the 30th of October 1961, the Tu-95 loaded with the Tsar Bomb, and the crew took off from a military airfield located on the Kola Peninsula.
The bomb was dropped from an altitude of 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) and a parachute was deployed to help control where the bomb would drop and detonate. At 11:32 Moscow Time, the bomb detonated, creating a nuclear mushroom cloud that reached a height of 30 kilometers (19 miles), then spread outward, reaching a maximum diameter of 95 kilometers (59 miles).
When the world heard about this they were truly frightened, especially the Americans. This made the Cold War reach it’s highest tensions and also the factor that persuaded the American Military to produce as many nuclear weapons as possible, thus enforcing the Arms Race.
I cannot even describe the sort of damage this bomb had the capability to provoke, but thank God they stopped at 57 megatons of TNT and that the bomb was detonated just for the sake of testing it.