Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
I recently gained access to a declassified ‘Top Secret’ paper detailing the probable nuclear targets for the Soviet Union in the United Kingdom. The 1972 assessment is chilling reading. As a kid, I fretted over a nuclear war especially after watching the movie ‘The War Game’. And yet nothing can prepare you for what these papers stated may happen.
The Soviet approach called for an ‘overkill’ strike with an overwhelming crippling attack. Submarine's start the onslaught, giving little warning. A salvo of land-based ballistic missiles follows.
The British planners anticipated an initial strike of 150 nuclear warheads on UK targets. These are a mix of airburst and ground attacks in the range of two to five megatons. Before this hell rains down, a series of high-yield airburst in the upper atmosphere knocks out all communications and unshielded electronic kit. The national grid fails. Telephone systems stop, as would water pumping. Hospitals grind to a halt, factories shut-down, and food distribution ends.
In the modern context, all the computers that run our daily existence go down in an instant. You can’t move, access money or do anything. Suddenly you are back in the dark ages, without the skill-set for that time. Meanwhile, if they’d had a warning, most of the government are deep underground
Military targets face an onslaught of multiple ground bursts aimed at taking out underground structures. Meanwhile, all primary and secondary urban centres could expect airbursts in the two to five megatons range.
Using the data in the report and this modelling tool, I’ve assessed the impact on my 1972 location. At that time I lived on the north-eastern side of Hull. What I didn’t realise is number of missiles heading my way.
The tool asks users to choose the target, megatonnage and whether the blast takes place at the surface or in the air. A surface blast aims at bunkers below ground, and the radiation fallout is more significant. An explosion in the air affects a larger geographic area.
Some 25 km to the east of my 1972 home is Patrington, a quiet market town on the plain of Holderness. It's low rural country that hides a secret. Buried deep under the fertile fields is the RAF’s primary underground radar facility. Designated RAF Bempton, the planners, expected this to get hit in the first wave with at least two ground bursts in the two to five megaton range. Modelling a hit by Soviet SS 4 missile with a yield of 2.4 megatons, the devastation is as follows.
With a sparse population, the initial death toll is an estimated 8,900, although 68,200 would sustain life-threatening injuries. The blast would reach the eastern edge of Hull 20 km away smashing windows and bring down weaker structures. Adjacent villages burst into flames.
A hit on Patrington would ignite fires in the massive petrochemical facilities at Immingham and Saltend. Without the power to pump water, these fires burn unchecked.
Ground bursts produce more fallout as the debris goes skyward. With the prevailing west wind, this drifts out over the North Sea towards Holland.
Simultaneously Hull receives an airburst over the docks. Again assuming an SS 4 missile with a 2.4 megaton warhead, then 213,800 die instantly, and 121,300 sustain serious injuries. The city centre and its surroundings are flattened, while the damage reaches as far as Beverley.
Other potential targets in the vicinity are York, RAF Leconfield near Beverley and RAF Staxton Wold above Bridlington. Even if you survived the initial explosions, the winds carry radiation from targets to the west. Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Liverpool are all on the list.
Further south, London is a special target. The horror visited on the capital is beyond words. At least three air-bursts and four ground-bursts ignite everything from Basildon to Slough. Calculating the damage is dependent on many variables. These include the height of weapon detonation, time of day and weather.
Yet, it’s safe to say that at least four million Londoners perish in the initial fireballs. Another six million will die within days from burns, impact injuries and lack of primary medical care.
Hospitals, schools, homes, police stations - all gone. The very architecture of our current existence smashed and burned. We’re back to the bottom of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. The scramble for food and water will consume us. Besides the physical injuries, the psychological impact is unfathomable.
We revert to base instincts, stripping away the veneer of humanity and civilisation. I recall Mr Howes my English teacher at junior school asserting he’d want to go in the first flash. At the time I didn’t comprehend his sentiment. Now I embrace it.
The scenario envisaged in the paper sees a complete collapse of UK's infrastructure. It heralds deprivations on a massive scale for decades. Those incinerated are the lucky ones. Survivors hang on to a subsistence existence in a highly irradiated environment. The Royal United Services Institute asserts the result of nuclear war would be so devastating that there is no way of facilitating a humanitarian response. In short, it’s back to the dark ages.
It didn't happen, but the threat is still there. If it happens, the survivors will envy the dead. Have a nice day.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.