You may have heard of the “Mother of all Bombs” which the United States dropped on ISIS insurgents in Afghanistan in April 2017. But did you know that the so-called MOAB is not the most powerful weapon to have been developed by mankind? That title goes to the Tsar Bomba. The Tsar Bomba is the most powerful nuclear weapon created by man. Want to know more about this bomb which is 1,500 times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Then read on.
Between the 1940s and 1990s, The United States and The Soviet Union were trying to outdo each other in the development and stockpiling of nuclear weapons. This competition is known as the Nuclear Arms race. The Tsar Bomba was a fallout of this unhealthy competition. The then Soviet Premier, Nikita Khrushchev ordered its development in order to showcase Russia’s military capabilities and to strike fear in the hearts of the western world.
Development of the Tsar Bomba
It was developed by a team of Russian scientists headed by Yulil Khariton. Other members of the group included Victor Adamsky, Yuri Babayev, Yuri Smirnov, Yuri Trutnev and Andrei Sakharov. While conventional nuclear warheads had two stages, the Tsar Bomba had three stages. It was designed to produce a yield of 50 megatons of TNT (Trinitrotoluene). To put this in context, the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima, whose devastating effects were still being felt years after the explosion, only yielded 15 megatons of TNT.
The Tsar Bomba was also physically very large. It weighed as much as 27 tonnes and had a diameter of 2.1m (7 feet) and was 8m (27 feet) long. The Tsar Bomba was initially designed to produce a yield of 100 megatons of TNT but due to the fear that the consequences would be too devastating, the yield was stepped down to 50 megatons by replacing the Uranium in the third stage with Lead.
The Tsar Bomba acquired various nicknames over the years. They include Kuzinka Mat (Kuzka’s Mother), the big bomb, big Ivan etc. The CIA merely codenamed it JOE 111. The Tsar Bomba was not even its official name. It was the western world that christened it so. The official Soviet name was RDS-220 hydrogen bomb (code name: Ivan). It must be pointed out that the Tsar Bomba was never used in actual warfare but was detonated in a controlled test.
Where and When was it Detonated?
On the 30th of October 1961, the bomb was detonated over the Novaya Zemlya Island located in the Arctic Ocean in Northern Russia. It was conveyed to the test site by a soviet Tu-95 bomber flown by Major Andrei Durnovtsev. The plane was accompanied by a smaller Tu-16 bomber which was to film the whole action. Due to the enormous size of the bomb, certain parts of the conveying aircraft, such as the fuselage fuel tank, was removed in order for the plane to be able to carry it.
Special precautions were taken in order to give the pilots a chance of coming back from the mission alive. The planes were coated with a special military grade white paint so as to reduce the effect of the heat from the blast. Also, the plan was that the bomb would not be dropped directly by the plane but instead would be dropped 34,000ft above the ground. After it’s release, the bomb attached to a parachute, would then slowly descend to the earth. This was to give the two planes ample time to fly away from the site before the explosion. The parachute weighed a jaw-dropping 800kg.
How Strong was the Tsar Bomba Explosion?
The Tsar Bomba detonated at 11:32 Moscow time. At detonation, the bomb released 50 megatons of TNT. This was 1,500 times more powerful than the bombs that leveled both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So, to get a picture of how monstrous this bomb was, picture the devasted Hiroshima and Nagasaki and multiply it by 1,500. The explosion was also 10 times more powerful than all the weapons used during WW11 combined.
Even though the bomb detonated 4 kilometers above the ground, a 5.0 magnitude “earthquake ” still shook the earth. The shock was so strong that the fireball from the explosion was propelled back into the atmosphere rather than dropping down to the ground as envisaged by the designers. The fireball which was 8 kilometers wide nearly reached the same height as the bomber plane that dropped the bomb and could be seen by people who were 1,000 kilometers away.
The shock from the explosion also caused the bomber plane to lose altitude and drop about 3,300 ft. However, Major Andrei Durnovtsev was able to fly the aircraft to safety. The resultant mushroom cloud (plumes of thick smoke in the shape of a mushroom) from the explosion was 64 kilometers high. This is seven times taller than Mount Everest.
The effects of the explosion were equally devastating on the Island where it took place. Villages which were located about 55 kilometers away from the test site were completely leveled. The explosion also destroyed structures and windows of buildings as far away as Norway and Finland. It equally disrupted communication networks.
The Aftermath of the Test
The test was immediately condemned by the international community including The US, UK, Norway, Denmark, Sweden etc
One good thing that can be said to have come out of the Tsar Bomba was that one of the lead scientists on the project, Andrei Sakharov “converted” and began working for denuclearisation, disarmament, peace, and human rights. This made him persona non grata to the Soviet authorities. He won a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in 1975.
It must be pointed out that even though the Tsar Bomba was a monster of a bomb, it couldn’t have been effectively deployed in actual warfare. Its mammoth size made it a clumsy beast. It couldn’t be fired through a missile and carrying it on a bomber plane was akin to a suicide mission. Also, most of its destructive consequences took place in the atmosphere rather than on the ground.