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The Strath Report

In March 1955, a top secret official assessment was made of whether Britain could survive a thermonuclear attack from the USSR. The assessment served as the basis of civil defense planning throughout the late 1950s and 1960s. The document was made public on 25 April 2002.

According to the document, a successful Soviet night attack on main population centers using 10 hydrogen bombs each containing a 10-megaton nuclear warhead would kill 12 million people and seriously injure or disable 4 million others. The report states, "This would mean a loss of

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nearly one-third of the population. Blast and heat would be the dominant hazard, accounting for more than nine million fatal casualties, against less than three million from radiation. Four of the 16 million casualties would be caused by a single bomb on London."

Sir William Strath authored the report and was head of the Cabinet Office Central War Plans Secretariat. He said that after the initial phase of the attack there would be a critical period in which the surviving population would be struggling "against disease, starvation and unimaginable psychological effects of nuclear bombardment." Strath's report concluded that if the population could get through the initial critical period, it would be possible for Britain to make a slow recovery despite the destruction of half of its industrial capacity. According to the report, "The standard of living of the reduced population, although substantially lower than at present, would still be well above that of the greater part of the world. The country would be left with sufficient resources for a slow recovery."

In response to Strath's report, the British military devised emergency plans that would allow them to take over control from regional and local authorities and "dispense justice through special military war zone courts." A top secret underground bunker was also built in the Cotswolds to shelter the cabinet and selected military, civil service and intelligence figures. Detailed plans to evacuate more than 15 million people from the target areas were also drawn up, but they would have taken at least nine days to implement. However, war planners could only count on a very short warning of up to one hour that Soviet bombers were on their way. If the Russians risked a low-level approach to avoid radar, the warning would be as short as three minutes.