The Cold War
After the Second World War the two groups of victors, the Western Allies and the USSR, became rivals. As they competed for influence, the post-war peace took on a decidedly frosty, unfriendly atmosphere. Our records show how the Cold War affected the lives of those experiencing it.
Winston Churchill’s ‘iron curtain’ speech
Catalogue reference: View the record FO 371/51624 in the catalogue
On 5 March 1946, Winston Churchill gave a speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, relating to the progressing division of Europe.
Churchill stated the division was because the USSR leadership, which had supposedly 'liberated’ Eastern Europe from the Nazis, was now extending the span of its own bureaucratic rule to these countries. He argued this was being done by assuming control of the repressive powers and machineries of these states, the armed forces, the police, judiciary, and interior ministries within coalition governments and thus taking de facto control of each country. As the clone parties of the Russian bureaucratic elite grew, Churchill feared these countries would be assimilated to the social structure of Russia and become puppet-states of the Kremlin.
Photograph of USSR atom bomb spy Klaus Fuchs
Catalogue reference: View the record KV 2/1245 in the catalogue
The German-born British physicist Klaus Fuchs worked on the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb during the Second World. By September 1949, at which point he was back in the UK continuing his work for the British government, MI5 suspected him of being a spy. Decryption staff at GCHQ later supplied proof.
Fuchs was arrested on 2 February 1950 and charged under the Official Secrets Act. His defence was that nuclear research should be shared. Others believed that Fuchs spied for the USSR because he was a communist and supporter of Stalin. He received a 14-year jail sentence in the UK.
It is still debated whether the information he passed to the Russians helped them later to build a hydrogen bomb. The Russians detonated their first atomic bomb on 29 August 1949. This may have discouraged the United States from using the atom bomb on North Korea.
Pamphlet advising on protection against a nuclear attack
Catalogue reference: View the record HO 338/57 in the catalogue
The Householder’s Handbook explained how to prepare a home for nuclear attack: Whitewash the house, tape windows and create a safe core in one of the rooms. It listed medicines, food, and supplies needed and explained what to do if there was a nuclear attack. Householders would be able to occupy themselves and their families in preparing for the worst.
Even before the 80’s version, Protect and Survive and the CND peace movement’s riposte – Protest and Survive, the handbook seemed remarkably naïve. A 20-megaton bomb detonated 500 feet above St Paul’s Cathedral in central London would have created a blast wave destroying or damaging buildings for up to 17 kilometres and deliver a lethal dose of radiation for nearly five kilometres.
BBC TV programmes about the effects of nuclear war
Date: 1 January 1983 and 31 December 1984
Catalogue reference: View the record HO 322/1134 in the catalogue
Threads was a docudrama on the effects of a nuclear war on the city of Sheffield and its people and the consequences of nationwide nuclear destruction. The programme was based on the research findings of scientific and academic bodies in Britain, America and Russia.
The documentary On the 8th Day was based on computer-generated images of the world used by British, US and Russian scientists to predict events eight days after a nuclear war. It presented a bleak outlook. Even if only some of the world’s 55,000 nuclear warheads detonated, the northern hemisphere would be plunged into a nuclear winter which would spread to the southern hemisphere destroying food-stocks and causing starvation.