U.S. Nuclear Weapons Target List From The Cold War Declassified For The First Time

Illustration for article titled U.S. Nuclear Weapons Target List From The Cold War Declassified For The First Time

The National Security Archive has published what is said to be the most comprehensive and detailed list of nuclear weapons targets and applied weapons strategy that has ever been declassified. The report includes details plans for purposefully targeting civilian populations and military infrastructure for the systematic destruction of the Soviet Bloc.


It is called the Strategic Air Command Atomic Weapons Requirements Study for 1959 and was penned in 1956. The 800-plus page study identifies more than 1,100 airfields tagged for destruction, all prioritized in order of their strategic value.

This makes sense as Russia’s main nuclear delivery system at the time was its growing bomber fleet. Just as well, a similar list of over 1,200 targeted population centers is part of the document, ranging from Berlin to Beijing, with top priorities placed on Moscow and Leningrad.

Illustration for article titled U.S. Nuclear Weapons Target List From The Cold War Declassified For The First Time

The study goes on to outline proposed weapon strategies for different targets, including particular yields and detonation methods that would cause desired effects, one of which included enveloping the local population in as much fallout as possible. National Security Archive also notes that the report recommends developing a much more powerful bomb than anything in inventory at the time or today: a 60-megaton super-nuke, to be more exact. Keep in mind the most powerful nuclear weapon ever tested was Russia’s Tsar Bomb which was gauged at 50 megatons.

From the report:

Given the expansive definition of Air Power, this suggested that targets in major cities such as Moscow and Leningrad could be subjected to H-bomb attack because both were rich in air power targets. For example, according to the SAC study, the Moscow area had 12 airbases. None of them were even in the top 400 airbases on the list so they may not have been attacked immediately, but Moscow had other potentially higher priority targets: 7 Air Force storage areas, 1 Air Force military control, 1 government control (presumably Kremlin and vicinity), 4 guided missile entities (R&D, production), 5 atomic energy research centers, 11 airframe entities, 6 aircraft engine entities, 2 liquid fuel plants, and 16 liquid fuel storage areas, including refineries. Moreover Moscow had a variety of other non-air military objectives, such as an Army military headquarters, Army and Navy military storage areas, and biological warfare research centers that might have been deemed worthy of attack at the opening of the war.

Leningrad was also a prime candidate for high-yield nuclear weapons aimed at air power targets. It had 12 airbases in the vicinity, as well as such installations as: 1 air frame , 1 aircraft engine, 2 atomic energy research, 2 guided missiles, 3 liquid fuel, 1 Air Force military control, and 4 Air Force military storage areas.


The study also goes on to describe how surface-bursting high-yield nukes would be ideal compared to an air-bursting them, so that as much physical concussive damage is done and as much fallout is dispersed. Apparently the thermal effects and radiation were not quick enough as killers.

The National Security Archive has a great synopsis full of all kinds of eyebrow-raising details. Here’s the map of nuclear targets from their site:


In the end, it’s clear that this report was as much a manual of how to destroy mankind and the planet’s ability to support it, as it was a strategic study into how to execute World War III. Let’s look at that map and be thankful it never happened.

Contact the author at Tyler@jalopnik.com.

Top photo via wikicommons/public domain


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