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Ambiguity and DeterrenceBritish Nuclear Strategy 1945-1964$

John Baylis

Print publication date: 1995

Print ISBN-13: 9780198280125

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198280125.001.0001

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(p.390) Appendix 1 The Influence of the Atomic Bomb on War

(p.390) Appendix 1 The Influence of the Atomic Bomb on War

Ambiguity and Deterrence
Oxford University Press

ADM 1/117259

2 September 1945

The following remarks are forwarded by Plans Division in accordance with your TSD 4821/45 dated 21 August.

  1. 2. The first obvious fact is that it is not possible properly to consider the effects of atomic energy on war without the necessary scientific data, since the whole matter seems largely to hinge upon the question whether:—

    ‘The introduction of atomic explosives open up an era of destruction on a scale never before considered feasible, or is it merely an intensive development of the existing concept of war, which science may render controllable by local defence and counter-action’.

  2. 3. Before any conclusions can be reached, we shall require answers to the following questions:—

    1. (a) What are the limits of its destructive power?

    2. (b) Will it be possible to control production of the bomb, or will any country be able to make it, possibly in secrecy?

    3. (c) Is there any potential counter measure other than counter-bombing?

    4. (d) What production effort is necessary, expressed in terms of labour and ground space, as compared with existing methods such as the ‘block-busting’ bombs?

    5. (e) Will the atomic bomb remain a weapon which can only be produced in relatively small quantities and in consequence its use reserved for a few vital targets; or will it ultimately be capable of being produced in large numbers and employed in the majority of weapons, such as anti-aircraft weapons, sea and land artillery, ships’ rockets, etc.

  3. 4. Until the Anderson Committee presents its report there is, therefore, a danger of reaching tentative conclusions based on false premises.

  4. 5. The following thoughts, however, follow from assumptions that:—


    1. (a) the bomb could be produced by a major power at the rate of, say, 50 a year;

    2. (b) it could be produced in secrecy.

  5. 6. At present, the United Kingdom remains as the capital of the Empire and the prime centre of its cohesion, defence policy and production. The United Kingdom is small and overcrowded, on the edge of a disturbed continent over which, though we may find allies, there certainly does not exist that political one-ness with ourselves (such as exists among the States of North America), which would enable us to achieve ‘defence in depth’.

  6. 7. Thus, if there is no change in the human heart, and the hope for a system of world security becomes ineffective, it would be possible for a nation, with a large productive potential and an almost unlimited land mass, to collect over a period of, say, ten years of ‘peace’, 500 atomic bombs.

  7. 8. On a fine Sunday morning or in the middle of a Sunday night, and with no warning whatever, it would be possible for 50 aircraft carrying 50 atomic bombs (l/10th of total stocks), to arrive simultaneously over England and drop these bombs roughly as follows:—

    • 10 over London

    • 3 over the Clyde

    • 3 over the Mersey

    • 2 on Belfast,

    the remainder being evenly distributed round the naval bases and other ports and productive centres of England.

  8. 9. This would leave a wide margin of available bomb power to be distributed on existing British Empire bases situated in such places as Malta, Alexandria, Bombay, Singapore, Gibraltar, Hong Kong etc.

  9. 10. Though it might be possible to arrange for Defence measures such as the readiness of radar or interceptor fighters to combat such a situation if the explosive was delivered by aircraft, no such counter can be foreseen for a similarly unheralded attack by atomic explosive discharged in rockets at a range of, perhaps, 1500–2000 miles.

  10. 11. Thus, over night the main base of the British Empire could be rendered ineffective from the war making point of view and the survival of the ‘British Empire idea’ would then hang upon the ability of the Dominions (and the United States of America) to bring forth a greater counter blow with rapidity.

  11. 12. To mitigate the results of such an attack as this on the capacity of the Empire to make war against the aggressor, both the machine for the higher direction of the war and the factories to (p.392) produce the munitions would have to be so dispersed throughout the Commonwealth that the obliteration of one Dominion, or even of the Mother Country herself, would produce the least possible dislocation of the war potential of the whole. Such a desirable state of affairs could only be achieved by an Imperial Defence Policy far more co-operative, more unanimous and more virile than that which obtains at the present time.

  12. 13. The practical difficulties in the way of dispersal, are, however, very real. Population trends depend primarily upon natural economic factors and are most difficult to influence unless State Control became so absolute that it were able to order the removal of whole industries and populations from their exisiting sites.

  13. 14. Thus, though a policy of dispersal throughout the Dominions should be encouraged to the maximum, it is unlikely that it will of itself provide the answer which we are seeking.

  14. 15. It follows, therefore, that in addition to Empire wide dispersal of war potential, and the necessity for a reinforced Imperial policy, there is also a pressing need to re-examine our Island defences in the light of the new discovery.

  15. 16. As previously stated, the United Kingdom base is not capable of defence in depth, as we are unable to rely on continental allies, and neither have we the money or the manpower to achieve it.

  16. 17. We therefore come back to the need for further examination of the realities and possibilities of the actual measures which can be taken to minimise the effects of the atomic bomb, and whether ‘going underground’ will be of any avail.

  17. 18. It is evident that the roles of the three Services as at present understood will undergo a profound change, and that ‘atomic warfare’ must first be examined as a whole before conclusions as to its effects upon the sea, land, air and production services can be measured or assessed.

  18. 19. So far in history, the appearance of a new weapon has always been followed by suitable counter-measures. The likelihood of this occurring in the case of atomic missiles is not yet known. It is apparent, however, that there are many steps which require investigation, both in Imperial and national affairs which, if adopted, may result in increased cohesion within the Empire itself and also in the laying of this bogey.

  19. 20. With such thoughts as these, it becomes increasingly obvious that the greatest hope for our children and grandchildren lies in the enlightenment of man’s nature and an appreciation of the issues involved rather than in developing the material means of mutual destruction.