Leaders & Controversies

Transcript: Source5

British civil defence poster on the hydrogen bomb and what to do in a nuclear explosion, not dated
(Catalogue ref: INF 13/281 f.7)

The Hydrogen Bomb


The hydrogen bomb’s power is reckoned in millions of tons of high explosive; its searing fireball, white and blinding, is as hot as the sun’s interior. It can gouge out a crater in the earth a mile wide and up to 200 feet deep; and its dust can cause death or sickness hundreds of miles away if proper precautions are not taken. The menace is threefold, for the hydrogen bomb strikes with heat, blast and deadly radiation.

HEAT from the fireball, a mile-and-a-half across, instantly vaporizes anything it touches before it soars into the upper skies. Fiercest during the first ten seconds, its rays can burn exposed skin or set fire to houses as far away as 10 to 15 miles. They can still be felt at 50 miles.

BLAST surges outwards at the speed of sound, accompanied by a hurricane wind. It enters doors and windows, causing buildings to “explode”. It tilts or overthrows walls in its path. An overhead burst crushes roofs through their supporting walls. The worst danger is that people might be struck by flying wreckage, or hurled to the ground or against walls or other objects. Light damage from an air burst could be found as far as 20 to 25 miles from the centre of the explosion, and windows would be broken even farther away.

RADIATION The rising fireball sucks up and contaminates debris and dust and this is carried downwind to drift slowly back to earth as “fall-out”. There it continues to give out dangerous radiation. Radiation is particularly dangerous because it cannot be felt or smelled, tasted, heard or seen. It can be detected and measured only with sensitive instruments. Even if you kept all the fall-out dust off you, you might still be injured, if you stayed in the open, by radiation from fall-out many yards away.

[Map of Britain]

This diagram illustrates the fall-out pattern from an H-bomb supposedly dropped on the north-west coast, with the wind blowing from a general westerly direction. The diagram does not mean that everyone in the shaded areas would die or become sick. The essential thing would be for people in the affected areas to stay under cover when told to do so.

[Diagram showing H-bomb exploding next to a city]

Total destruction 3 ½ miles
Irreparable damage 5 miles
Severe to moderate damage 13 miles
Light damage 20/25 miles

What YOU could do

Simple precautions which you and your family could take against heat, blast and radiation could save your lives. Heat and blast are familiar from the last war. Radiation is new, and only a thick shield of metal, masonry, earth or other heavy matter will protect you against it. Used to the best advantage, an ordinary house with 9-inch brick walls should reduce the danger from radiation to one twentieth. Here are some things you could do if war looked likely:

Site a refuge in basement or cellar, or in the ground floor room with the fewest outside walls. Thicken the walls with sandbags or even heavy furniture. Block the windows. Equip the refuge with essentials, including chairs and couches, books and a battery-run radio. Store an ample supply of food and water.

Alternatively, dig an outside trench, cover it with a strong roof, pile two or three feet of earth on top. Equip it like an indoor shelter if possible. A trench may be less comfortable than an indoor shelter but there is no risk from collapsing upper floors and walls. Whether in trench or indoors, obey radio instructions. Because of fall-out you might have to remain two or more days under cover.

It is the contents of a house which catch fire, and not the bricks and mortar. So keep out as much of the heat flash as possible. Remove curtains, furniture and anything inflammable from windows and doorways. Whitewash the window-panes. This will block most of the heat, which will be largely over before the blast catches up to shatter the glass.


Join the Civil Defence Corps or the Auxiliary Fire Service. They will teach you how to help yourself and others if war should come.

Apply to your local council offices

[Image of mushroom cloud]

This photograph shows Britain’s nuclear test explosion at Christmas Island on 15 May, 1957. The soaring mushroom, now well developed, has pierced the local natural cloud.

What CIVIL DEFENCE can do!

There is no absolute safeguard against an H-bomb attack. Nothing could stop wide-spread casualties and devastation. But life would go on. It would be disrupted and distorted, with many familiar services lacking or severely cut, but that would not mean an end to everything – not by any means. Millions of people would survive to carry on. How many, and how far they succeeded, would largely depend on their knowledge of what to do as a nation and as individuals before and after the bombs struck.

Civil Defence, the part-time, volunteer Fourth Arm of our defence services, is being trained to act in an H-bomb emergency. Established throughout Britain, its members would spring to action in the stricken areas. Civil Defence is organised and trained to allay panic, aid the injured, trapped and homeless, and help to establish order and maintain the nation’s life.

The Civil Defence Corps and its allied services each have specialised jobs as well as general duties.


Controls operations, provides scientific intelligence, establishes “fall-out” danger zones, arranges communications.


Provides the men, cool-headed and resourceful, who are the link between civil defence and the public and direct the other services where they are most needed.


Using specialist equipment, frees people trapped under wreckage or in shattered buildings. Duties may range from demolition work to providing first aid.


Houses, feeds and cares for the homeless and hungry.


gives first aid, gets the casualties to the ambulances, and takes them to hospital.

The Fire, Police, Nursing and other allied Services, with their normal duties doubled by an emergency, link with the Civil Defence Corps in carrying out the plan for survival.

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