Military developments and the beginnings of the arms race.
At the end of the Second World War the United States had dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In doing so they used a new form of warfare and changed the way that superpowers would, in the future, plan to defend themselves.
The reaction of the Soviet Union to the use of Atomic Bombs was one of extreme concern. In the post war world, the US were the nations who would pose the biggest threat to the expansion of Communism and Soviet control: the Soviets needed to get their own atomic bombs. Soviet Scientists made the breakthrough in 1949, when they tested their first Atomic weapon.
As both the US and USSR began building up a stockpile of atomic bombs work was already underway on improving the technology. The Allies had seen the potential of the Nazi’s V Bombs and realised that if these could be developed into accurate medium and long range rockets that they would be the most effective way of deploying a nuclear weapon. Work began on the development of these rockets. At the same time the actual weapon itself was being developed. Whilst the devastation wreaked by the atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki was great, scientists knew that there was potential for even more destructive weapons.
The first of these new weapons was tested by the US in 1952. It was called a H-Bomb and whilst smaller in size than the bombs dropped in the Second World War, it was more than 2500 times as powerful! The Soviet Union developed and tested their own version of the H-Bomb in 1953. As well as the obvious increased potential to do harm, these bombs were also light enough to be carried by a rocket: earlier bombs needed to be dropped from aircraft.
The use of rocket propelled Nuclear warheads rapidly developed. In 1957 the US made a breakthrough. They developed the Atlas Rocket which could be fired accurately at targets up to 6000 miles away. When the Soviet Union launched their first space missions the US, fearful of the use of this technology to deploy Soviet missiles, decided to build a line of missile sites called DEW (Defense and Early Warning). At sites along DEW they placed ICBM’s (InterContinental Ballistic Missiles).
The DEW line had the capability to hit many major Soviet Cities – but not every potential significant target. To increase the capability of the nuclear weapon the US looked to the sea. They developed the Polaris Submarine which could fire intermediate range missiles. Almost impossible to detect underwater, these submarines made it possible to hit a target virtually anywhere on Earth. The first submarine of this class was the USS George Washington, launched in 1960.
By the end of the 1950’s the US and USSR had enough nuclear warheads to destroy the entire planet. A new concept in warfare emerged, that of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). In some ways this acted as a deterrent: both sides knew that if they fired a nuclear weapon in anger, it would result in their own country being destroyed. However as neither side were totally sure about the capabilities of the other it also led to further weapon development in a bid to create more powerful, faster, missiles and improved defensive mechanisms.