TODAY is the 65th anniversary of the first explosion of a hydrogen bomb. It took place on the tiny island of Elugelab in the Enewetak Atoll in the Pacific Islands.

The testing of the world’s first thermonuclear device took place at 07.15am local time on November 1, 1952. You can see it on YouTube.

Nothing would ever be the same again.


DON’T bother looking for it on a map. It’s not there, and has not been since that fateful morning.

For Elugelab was destroyed in the explosion – literally removed from the face of the Earth.

Very few people even remember its name, for unlike the other atoll used by the Americans for their H-bomb tests, no one named a two-piece swimsuit after Elugelab or Enewetak.


BECAUSE they could, and because the Soviet Union was also developing its own thermonuclear weaponry. Since the dropping of the atomic bombs – nuclear fission weapons – on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945, the whole world knew of the destructive power of atomic weaponry, and the next stage in the arms race was to successfully construct and explode a thermonuclear weapon, a hydrogen bomb, whose destructive power would be many hundred times more powerful than the first two A-bombs.

The USA was determined to be first, not least because the Soviets had exploded their own atomic bomb in September 1949, and in that Cold War era, there was no- one in American politics seriously willing to propose that the race to develop the H-bomb should stop.

There was no-one in the USSR able to stand up to Stalin, who poured vast amounts of roubles into the development of the Soviet H-bomb and was very, very upset when the USA made it first.

Actually that’s not quite true about lack of opponents. For in America, no less a personage than Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the A-bomb and the scientist most often credited with America being able to be the first to use atomic weapons, pleaded with the authorities to stop the tests as they would only ignite an arms race.

The President at that time, Harry S Truman, ignored the calls from Oppenheimer and others and decided that the H-bomb should be built and tested. It would do the unpopular Truman no good, as he did not even get past the primaries in the 1952 election, but the process of exploding the H-bomb was set in train by him and he was still in power and approved the process in late October 1952.


VERY little, not least because on October 3, the UK’s first nuclear weapon, a plutonium bomb, was detonated in the Monte Bello islands off Western Australia. Britain was now the world’s third nuclear power.

There was also the Korean War going on, and the Chinese were on the offensive, so there was no chance of the USA or UK breaking the political “special relationship”, though that did not extend to the Americans sharing the H-bomb technology with Britain – that nuclear “special relationship” had ended in 1946.

The real determining factor was American political insistence on beating the Soviets to possession of what everyone knew would be the largest weapon in existence by some distance.


AFTER some 11,500 American forcevs and civilian personnel swiftly constructed the necessary connections between the atoll’s 20-mile circle of islands, work began on observation and testing posts for Operation Ivy Mike, the codename for the first explosion.

It was not a “bomb” as we understand it. Instead, the 82-ton device was built on the Elugelab site, looking more like a giant trailer than anything.

The actual exploding part inside the building was codenamed “Sausage”, and what a banger it proved to be. Built around a plutonium “spark plug”, uranium and deuterium provided the fuel for the thermonuclear reaction.

Once ignited at a few seconds before 7.15am, in fractions of a second the fireball had spread outwards for two miles, and the mushroom cloud soared up 50,000 feet in less than 90 seconds. Eventually it would reach 135,000 ft and spread out for 100 miles.

Elugelab was replaced by a crater more than a mile in diameter and more than 160 feet deep.

Inside the fireball, the heat was so intense – hotter than the Sun – that two new synthetic elements were created, as discovered by scientists. They were called – with no irony intended – einsteinium and fermium after Albert Einstein and Enrico Fermi whose theories helped create the nuclear age.


ENTIRELY predictable. A few days later General Dwight D Eisenhower won the US election and endorsed the development of an actual H-bomb. Stalin never lived to see a Soviet H-bomb – he died months before the first Russian test in August 1953 – but he had put in place the USSR’s own race for thermonuclear superiority.

Britain exploded its first H-bomb in 1957. By the end of the first decade of the 21st-century, nine countries had possession of thermonuclear weapons, with North Korea the latest.

None of the nine has used one in anger. Yet.