Date:October 30, 1961;
Detonation:Airburst; Yield 50Mgt;
On October 30, 1961, Tu-95 Bear bomber guided by pilot A. E. Durnovtsev(he was made a Hero of the Soviet Union) flew towards Novaya the Zemlya Island in the
Arctic Sea. That day will forever remain in nuclear history as a day when the most powerful thermonuclear has been detonated. Tzar Bomba (King Of The Bombs) yielded 50Mgt.
Originally US estimated its yield as 58 Mgt, however resently declassified Russian materials show 50Mgt figure. Apparenly US overestimated bomb power.
Probably only first nuclear and thermonuclear bombs caused as much reaction as Tzar Bomba did. And there were reasons for that. Several events prior to bomb detonation:
- Jan. 1960 - Khrushchev's speech at the United Nations for support of "wars of national liberation". Everyone understands what does it mean - Communist intervension into third world countries.
- Jan. 1961 - John Fitzgerald Kennedy in his inauguration speech replied: "...oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty".
- June 1961 - General Secretary Krushchev assures US President Kennedy that the Soviet Union wouldn't conduct any nuclear devices if the United States would maintain the same moratorium. As the world will see soon, this was a shameless lie.
- July 10, 1961 - Nikita Khruschev meets Andrey Sakharov, the senior weapon designer by the time, and orders the development of a 100 megaton bomb. The device had to be ready by September of the same year, so that the detonation of such power would create maximum political effect.
- Aug 1961 - Soviets build the infamous Berlin Wall, dividing Berlin into two separate cities: East Berlin (communist) and West Berlin (democratic).
- Sept. 1961 - President Kennedy's letter in the LIFE magazine, advising Americans to build fallout shelters. For an entire year the fallout hysteria is raging.
As you can see Sakharov didn't have much time for development. Nevertheless, Tzar is developed in a remarkably short time, just fourteen weeks after the initiation of its design. The fully operational bomb weights 27 metric tons. Which is more than any bomber can carry at that time. Hence, the decision is made to produce Tzar's scaled down version. That was done by replacing the uranium fusion tamper (which increases the yield significantly) with one made of lead. That reduces the weight and eliminates fast fission by the fusion neutrons, hence reducing the power of the original version. A 50 megaton bomb was now ready to be detonated.
Tzar test was a parachute retarded Airburst at 4000 meter altitude. Delivery method, Tu-95 Bear strategic bomber. The explosion of the immense power significantly increased overall fission fallout in the world. It was clear that from the military standpoint, the bomb of that size was ineffective as a "City Killer", nevertheless USSR did need the bomb as an intimidating factor in the political battle with US. It was meant to create the illusion that USSR wasn't far behind from US with its nuclear armament, if not exceeding. In fact USSR had less nuclear weapons at that time. Tzar's detonation caused very negative response from the free world, but less likely that USSR cared about that, it was an act of intimidation, nothing else. Interesting fact, Tzar's the huge parachute made of nylon, disrupted Soviet nylon industry for a long time.
Ostensibly, Tzar didn't end the Cold War, nor helped to scale it down in any way. It proved that the delivery of nuclear weapons by strategic bombers, and aircraft in general was not an efficient way during wartime. It emphasize the necessity of the reliable, fast, cost effective, immediate response to nuclear attack cost effective to maintain. The result was the creation of new nuclear weapons of war. The ICBM - intercontinental ballistic missile.