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Cold War

Return of civil defence

With the end of the Second World War, civil defence measures were rapidly run down. The advent of the Cold War, however, put civil defence back on the agenda. At first the advent of nuclear weapons did not render civil defence measures irrelevant - during the 1950s it was assumed that after an exchange of nuclear weapons there would be a period of conventional warfare ('broken backed' warfare), which would need industrial support. Civil defence would therefore still play a part in protecting the civil population, transport capabilities and industrial capacity.

The Cabinet faced a number of problems regarding civil defence during the early 1950s. One of the greatest concerns was alarming the public, so, to help prevent alarm, the Cabinet decided to forgo any major increase in spending on civil defence as part of the rearmament programme that followed the Korean War. The other significant problem was manpower. The Home Secretary reported in both 1952 and 1953 that despite (or because of) the voluntary nature of civil defence organisation, it was seriously below the authorised peacetime strengths.

The hydrogen bomb

The advent of the hydrogen bomb in the mid 1950s and the worsening economic situation only made civil defence measures harder to achieve. The explosive power of the hydrogen bomb and the resulting public disquiet once again caused the government to announce civil defence measures. Despite financial crises putting government spending under the spotlight (including civil defence spending), interest continued into the 1960s, and evacuation, or 'dispersal', was discussed in 1962. In the 1960s the government faced increasing financial pressure and assessed that a need for civil defence to preserve the government during nuclear attack was purely speculative, and no longer saw it as a priority.