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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Papers: Britain Feared Soviet Attack

LONDON -- The 1950s government of Winston Churchill feared that a Soviet Union nuclear attack would wipe out a third of Britain's population and threaten the country's survival, according to once-secret documents unsealed late last week.

The government report, released by the Public Records Office after the requisite four decades of secrecy, warned that any Soviet attack using hydrogen bombs would be "total war in a sense not hitherto conceived."

"The entire nation would be in the front line," it said.

The report was commissioned in December 1954 by defense officials in Churchill's government worried about how to protect Britons from a possible thermonuclear attack.

The report, by a committee headed by Sir William Strath, estimated that the Soviet Union could unleash a number of 10-megaton bombs on Britain, each containing the equivalent of 10 million tons of TNT. By comparison, the U.S. atom bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, contained the equivalent of 20,000 tons of TNT.

"If no preparations of any kind had been made in advance, a successful attack on the main centers of population in this country with 10 hydrogen bombs would, we estimate, kill about 12 million people and seriously injure or disable 4 million others -- a total of about 16 million," Strath's report said. "Casualties on such a scale would be intolerable; they would mean the loss of nearly one-third of the population."

In addition, Strath said, "a further 13 million people -- many of them suffering from radiation sickness, would be pinned down in their houses or shelters for at least a week."

Strath said in the event of an attack, the military may have to be put in charge of law and order in parts of the country.

The government responded to the report by implementing a "Home Defense" plan estimated to initially cost the equivalent of $920 million today. Some $555 million of that was for stockpiling food, shelter, fuel, transportation and medical supplies.