BRITAIN'S BOMB

'We must keep a 'bloody Union Jack on top of the bomb'. Ernest Bevin 

A few days after the dropping of the atom bomb on Japan in August 1945 the new British Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, sent a top-secret memo to Cabinet colleagues on the Atomic Energy Committee. Attlee believed that to remain a great power, Britain needed to possess the ultimate weapon. Deterrence, he argued, was the only protection for London, and Britain therefore needed the ability to destroy the the enemy’s big cities.

The decision for Britain to develop its own atom bomb was taken at a secret Cabinet committee in 1946 and kept from most cabinet ministers.

Britain's first atom bomb had been designed and built in exceptionally difficult circumstances. In 1946, despite the fact that many British scientists helped the United States to develop the atom bomb, the US now refused to share any further atomic information, leaving Britain to develop the bomb alone.

The Reuters correspondent in the small port of Onslow, 85 miles away, saw a brilliant flash followed by the appearance of a grey cloud. After a few minutes the cloud was a mile wide. Four minutes after the explosion there came a report like a thunderclap and a pressure wave that rattled the windows.

Now-disused entrance to 'secret' government bunker

Churchill reported to the House of Commons on October 23rd that everything had gone according to plan and there had been no casualties. He congratulated the Labour Party on its part in a historic episode and added that `as an old parliamentarian I was rather astonished that something well over £100 million could be disbursed without Parliament being made aware of it.'
In November 1953 the first British atomic bomb - the huge 'Blue Danube'- was delivered to the Royal Air Force.

In 1954 Churchill and his ministers decided that Britain should go to the next stage in the nuclear arms race - designing and building the awesome hydrogen bomb, which could produce yields over 1000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb.
Since then each generation of politicians has come up with a rationale explaining why Britain has to remain a nuclear power - even when Britain could not keep up with the technology and became dependent (once atomic collaboration was restored in 1958) on US kit and knowledge.
In 1947 Ernest Bevin felt the need to keep a 'bloody Union Jack on top of the bomb' (out of pride and mistrust of the USA) and so it is today, even though there is still less rationale for having nuclear weapons and they are making the world an ever more dangerous place.

Trident is a major escalation in Britain's nuclear war fighting capability. Trident is technologically much more advanced than the former Polaris. Its missiles are faster, have a longer range, are more accurate and can hit more targets than Polaris.

1970s 1980-90s 1995 onwards
Submarine Polaris Polaris/Chevaline Trident
Number 4 4 4
Warheads 48 32 48
Targeting capability 16 16 48
Range 2500 miles 2500 miles 4600 miles

The Government claims that it has reduced the total "explosive power" of its nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War, but this has been largely achieved by replacing older, higher yield warheads such as Polaris with the lower yield, but more flexible, Trident warheads which can hit more targets. The technology required to launch Trident is totally dependent upon the US.

See: nuclear sites in britain | against the bomb| crossing the ness


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