Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Atomic chickens come home to roost, a second time!

This fascinating article on atomic chickens appeared in Popular Mechanics Magazine just before Christmas, written by a freelance author  based in San Francisco. It was picked up by The Sun a few days ago, the Daily Mail on line yesterday, and today in the Metro on line newspaper.
But nearly 15 years ago I scooped them all ( thanks to the UK National Archives) in the South Wales Evening Post. Read on and see how below....
Britain Built a Nuclear Land Mine and Almost Used Chickens To Detonate It

Blue Peacock may have been one of the strangest inventions of the Cold War.

By Kyle Mizokami
Popular Mechanics, Dec 21, 2018


The Cold War saw numerous oddball inventions of lethal intent, but leave it to the British to slap one with a silly name. And Blue Peacock's name wasn't the end of its peculiarities.

Blue Peacock was supposed to be a nuclear land mine. It was designed to blow up on a time lag, days after U.K. forces had given ground to invading Russian troops. British engineers even considered using chickens as a crude (but theoretically effective) detonator timer.

During the Cold War, days NATO forces including those of the British Army were heavily outnumbered by their Soviet-aligned Warsaw Pact adversaries. In the event of real war, NATO forces, particularly on the North German Plain, were expected to come under intense pressure and probably would have to fall back several times as they attempted to wear down the advancing Soviet Army and its allies.

The Western allies built nuclear rockets and artillery shells meant to repel invading communist forces, but there was another, often-overlooked weapons category in play: mines. This was a category British engineers at the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment (RARDE) were ready to fill with an atomic land mine. In the YouTube video above, the channel Plainly Difficult describes the history of Blue Peacock.

Blue Peacock was designed to be buried on German soil along likely Soviet routes of advance. As the British were pushed back, the Soviet Army would advance, and probably would set up things like headquarters, supply depots, and other units directly above a buried Blue Peacock mine. Once the bomb went off, a ten-kiloton atomic explosion would made a significant dent in the Soviet invasion force.

Atomic Armageddon: Swansea was a top 20 target

by Dr David Lowry

South Wales Evening Post, April 2004


IF the catastrophe described below had ever taken place, there would be no Evening Post, indeed no Swansea, to Look Back upon….


At the start his month (April) a blood curdling exhibition opened at the National Archives (formerly The Public Records Office) at Kew in London. Called ‘Secret State,’ it unveils some of the most terrifying secrets of the Cold War.


As a son of Neath, one stunning revelation jumped to my attention from the exhibition boards displaying original Official Documents from the 1950s and 1960s: Swansea was listed as one of the 20 major cities in a Top Secret report ‘Probable Nuclear targets in the United Kingdom: Assumptions for Planning’- prepared by the Joint Intelligence Committee. (Annex A, File TNA: DEFE 4/224, dated 2nd November 1967). The JIC is a hitherto obscure body which came to public prominence during the Hutton Inquiry hearings last Summer


As a 47 year-old, born in October 1956, I have vague memories of the 1962 Cuban Missile crisis, involving the US and Soviet Union in a nuclear stand-off, when Moscow tried to secretly deploy nuclear-tipped missiles in Communist Cuba, just 90 miles south of the American mainland in Florida. It is the first time I remember being aware of nuclear weapons.


The documents displayed at the ‘Secret State’ exhibition brought the nuclear threat the planet faced in the 1950s/60s alive in a frightening fashion.

One document –the ‘Strath Report’- prepared in 1955, so secret it was not publicly released until last autumn, was the best estimate of the atomic boffins of what would have happened if Britain was attacked by the Soviet Union with just 10 Hydrogen (H-) bombs. Its conclusions, made available only to ministers in strictest confidence, detailed in graphic terms the disaster that would have befallen Britain.


Professor Peter Hennessy, the curator of ‘The Secret State’ exhibition - and author of a recent book of the same title - described the ‘Strath Report’ as the "most chilling document ever prepared for British Cabinet ministers." I agree, and would add: before or since.


The combined explosive power of these 10 H-bombs would, the ‘Strath Report’ stated, be the "equivalent of 100million tonnes of TNT explosive," going on to reveal "This would be 45 times as great as the total tonnage of bombs delivered by all the allies on Germany, Italy and occupied France throughout the whole of the last war."(ie World War II)


Twelve million people would be incinerated in the first few seconds with another four million seriously injured, even before the radiation clouds had made their poisonous way across the country.


The ‘Strath Report’ asserted "Hydrogen Bomb war would be total war in a sense not hitherto conceived. The entire nation would be in the front line…life and property would be obliterated by blast and fire on a vast scale."

Diagrams included in the exhibition demonstrate that within a 31/2 mile radius from the centre of the atomic detonation, there would be "total destruction"; within 5 miles, the city would suffer "irreparable damage"; and up to 13 miles from the so-called ground zero, the area would suffer "severe damage."

As a researcher who has studied many documents for my doctorate in nuclear decision making, one striking thing about the new exhibition is it reveals that the military advisors to the Government in the 1960s had an even more pessimistic assessment of the impact of the use of nuclear weapons than the opponents of ‘the Bomb.’

I have in my personal collection many pamphlets written by anti-nuclear activists with titles such as ‘Towards the nuclear holocaust,’ Missile Madness,’ ‘Beyond the Cold War,’ ‘The Defence of Britain,’ ‘The Invisible Event,’ and many more. None spells out the disaster we faced as clearly as the official version kept secret by successive Governments.

With over 50,000 H-bombs in the atomic arsenals of the nuclear superpowers, what is crystal clear is that had any of this obscene military power ever been used in anger, the so-called "civil defence" plans promoted by ministers would have been useless.

And yet in all this overwhelming and depressing material on destruction compiled by Professor Hennessy, there were some instances of black humour.

Scientists working on an atomic land mine - meant for deployment underground in Germany’s northern plains - realised that it could fail in winter if vital components become too cold, so they explored ways of keeping the inner workings warm. One proposal put forward consisted of filling the casing of the mine with live chickens, which would give off sufficient heat - prior to suffocating or starving to death - to keep the delicate explosive mechanism from freezing.

Despite the potential importance of chickens to the project, the mine was codenamed ‘Blue Peacock’. This story was mischievously revealed on 1st April – but it was true!

  ������������Ministry of Information poster (Hydrogen Bomb)

Document reference: INF 13/281/7


Dr David Lowry , winner of 2001 Nuclear Free Future special award ;and 1995 Freedom of Information Award.


He is currently an independent environmental policy and research consultant, based in London.

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