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Attention historians of the Cold War: Call us at (800) ULTIMAX to order a copy of our history of the Soviet nuclear establishment in Russian-language on double CD-ROM. This product is unique in the West; no other like it exists. Hundreds of rare archival photos, drawings, and diagrams, hours of exciting film clips and bomb tests, over a thousand pages of text with biographies, maps and tech specs. Only US$53.45 including shipping & handling in the USA.

29 August 1949--29 August 1999

Kurchatov and Beria 2K

The Physicist and the Chekist: 50 Years after the Red Bomb

This timeline was presented in conjunction with a talk I gave to the Friends of Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, on August 29, 1999. I have reorganized the items into 4 parallel tracks, to better illustrate the interplay among history, politics, the space race, nuclear energy, and even literature, as so ably done by Richard Rhodes in his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Making of the Atomic Bomb. Dates in bold face pertain directly to Soviet nuclear history; plaintext items are provided for political, technical, and historical context.

Nuke/Science Events in the West World History, Politics, Literature The Space Race The Red Bomb
1835 deTocqueville predicts bipolar future in Democracy in America
1881 Nikolai Kibalchich assassinates Alexander II with bomb of own design, invents manned space rocket 4 days before execution
1895 Roentgen discovers X-rays
1896 Becquerel discovers radioactivity
1897 Thomson discovers the electron; proves divisibility of atoms
1898 Wein discovers the proton
1898 Curies discover Polonium and Radium
1899 Rutherford traces alpha and beta particles
1900 Becquerel shows beta particle is electron
1902 Rutherford & Soddy show radioactivity is transmutation
1905 Einstein publishes theory of relativity

1905 first Russian Revolution
January 1903 Igor Vassil'evich Kurchatov born in southern Urals
1910 Soddy discovers isotopes
1911 Rutherford & Soddy discover atomic nucleus
1913 Bohr's atom

1913 H.G. Wells writes The World Set Free
1911 Vernadskii organizes expedition to Central Asia to scout for uranium ore
28Jul1914 First World War begins
(aka Great War, War to End All Wars)
08-15Mar1917 second Russian Revolution; Czar abdicates
16Apr1917 Germans give Lenin a train ride; Bolsheviks break with Mensheviks 0210 07Nov17 third Russian Revolution; Bolsheviks seize Winter Palace
03Mar1918 Bolsheviks conclude separate peace, Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
11Nov1918 Armistice signed, WWI ends

1919 Rutherford observes first artificial transmutation; Aston invents mass spectrograph
1919-1940 "Men from Mars" go West (von Kármán, de Hevesy, Polanyi, Szilard, Wigner, von Neumann, Teller)
Korolev, Goddard, Oberth read Tsiolkovsky

1919-1936 Soviet scientists fully participate in int'l physics; peak is `33 All-Union conference on nuclear physics
January 1921 Ioffe founds Physicotechnical Institute in Petrograd
January 1922 Vernadskii founds Radium Institute in Petrograd
1930 Lawrence invents the cyclotron
1932 Chadwick discovers the neutron; Cockcroft & Walton transmute with 'atom smasher'; Anderson discovers positron; Urey discovers deuterium
1934 Joliot-Curies discover artificial radioactivity
1935 Fermi introduces neutron moderators
1936 Bohr propounds liquid drop model
01Sep33 Szilard, an avid s-f reader, crosses a street in London

December 1938 Hahn and Strassman split the uranium atom. Meitner figures out eka-barium was barium, calculates energy, nephew Frisch coins "fission".
1937-38 the Stalin's purges aka Great Terror
23Aug39 secret treaty penned by Molotov and von Ribbentrop
02Sep39 WWII begins

summer 1940 "the dog that didn't bark" (Allied nuclear research goes underground due to possible Nazi bomb)
spring 1940 Petrzhak & Flerov discover spontaneous fission
07Mar40 Zel'dovich & Khariton 3rd paper about both kinds of chain reaction
12Jul40 possible first warning of military potential to Soviet govt. by Vernadskii
March 1941 Seaborg makes & discovers plutonium
21Oct1941 Oppie propose cyclotron death ray to defend targets against A-bomb
0753 07Dec1941 Pearl Harbor; United States actively enters WWII
early 1942 Fermi suggests fission ignition of thermonuclear reaction to Teller
June 1942 Manhattan Project begins
02Dec42 first artificial reactor on Earth (Fermi's CP-1) achieves criticality

05-6Jun42 Battle of Midway
23Aug42-2Feb43 "Wehrmacht enters Asia";
Battle of Stalingrad
13 June 1942 first V-2 tested at Peenemunde 02Apr42 Flerov's "cry in the wilderness"; realizes US nuclear literature has dried up
22Oct42- Mar43 Stalin informed of true Nazi bomb status; Soviet nuclear research resumed; Kurchatov put in charge; The Beard begins to direct espionage; uranium diverted from silver mines
1944-45 Bohr lobbies to head off US/USSR arms race 0200 25Sep44 first Soviet cyclotron starts to make eka-osmium
October 1944 Kurchatov's brother isolates Pu via other method
February 1945 "Big Three" meet at Yalta
April 1945 Riehl's plant at Oranienburg is bombed twice
12Apr45 FDR dies; Truman briefed on Manhattan Project
08May45 Germany surrenders; war in Europe ends
0530 16Jul45 Trinity test at Alamogordo, New Mexico (~20 kt)
24Jul45 Truman hints "unusual weapon" to Stalin at Potsdam
0815 06Aug45 Little Boy destroys Hiroshima (~15±3 kt)
1102 09Aug45 Fat Man destroys Nagasaki (22±2 kt)
02Sep45 Japan signs surrender; end of war in Pacific
19Oct45 George Orwell coins term "cold war" in London? Tribune.

20Aug45 Stalin decrees crash program; Beria put in charge of "Operation Borodino"
06Nov45 Molotov announces new Five Year Plan inc. "atomic energy" (also radar, rockets, jets)
01Jul1946 Operation CROSSROADS tests at Bikini Atoll destroys test fleet 05Mar46 Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech in Fulton, Missouri
05Jul1946 French engineer and fashion designer unveil scandalous bathing suit made of just 4 triangles of fabric
25Jan46 Stalin assures Kurchatov "cost is no object"
late 1946 Zel'dovich, Khariton, et al propose Super
1400 25Dec46 first Soviet graphite reactor achieves criticality (4 years after CP-1)
12Mar47 Truman Doctrine
05Jun47 Marshall mentions Plan
July 1947 "Mr. X" formulates containment For.Aff. 25, no.4
25Nov47 Malenkov rips off Orwell (quoting term "cold war") to Italian communist

late 1947 Stalin meets w/ Kurchatov, Korolev, Voronov & Nedelin; Tikhonravov develops packet rocket concept & already thinking of satellite
24Jun48-nnMay49 Berlin blockade/airlift 13Mar1948 Fuchs passes dwg of advanced Super design to Beria's agent in London, based on Fuchs-vonNeumann idea pre '46 Los Alamos Conference
early Jun1948 USSR Council of Ministers approves Kurchatov's Super proposal after Fuchs
2000 10Jun48 first Soviet Pu production reactor starts up
September 1948 Sakharov's First Idea (layer cake)
November 1948 the Second Idea (Ginzburg's LiD dry mix)

03Sep49 B-29 detects fallout east of Kamchatka
23Sep49 Truman announces Soviet atomic bomb to world
04Apr49 NATO founded
01Oct49 Chinese Communists win civil war
1949 campaign against "cosmopolitanism" begins
0700 29Aug49 Molniya Pervaya ("First Lightning" - first Soviet plutonium implosion device at Semipalatinsk, ~20 kt)
27Jan50 Fuchs admits espionage to MI5
31Jan50 Truman publicly orders research on Super
09Feb50 McCarthy begins witch hunt
10Mar50 Truman secretly orders production as well as testing of Teller's imaginary Super
07Apr50 NSC 68 concludes surprise attack possible in 5 years
25Jun50 DPRK invades South; Soviet ambassador to UN misses important meeting; Stalin keeps Malik away from next meeting on 27th, too
19Oct50 Chicoms cross the Yalu River
late January 1951 Teller-Ulam invent staged radiation implosion; reveals no upper limit to thermonuclear weapons exists ~03Oct1951 "Joe 2", Semipalatinsk? airburst, high kiloton?
~22Oct1951 "Joe 3", Semipalatinsk? airburst, 40 kt
0714 01Nov52 world's first thermonuclear device, Mike, erases Elugelab Island (10.4 Mt) November 1952 "Doctors' Plot"
early 1953 Eisenhower announces "New Look"
19Jun53 Rosenbergs executed
08Dec53 Eisenhower proposes "Atoms for Peace" to UN
03Mar53 Stalin dies at 73
26Jun53 Beria arrested; new Politburo discovers Soviet H-bomb program
ddDec53 Beria shot in prison cell
March-April 1953 R-5 & R-11 (aka SCUD) tested
November 1953 Politburo authorizes Korolev to work on R-7
Malenkov announces breaking US H-bomb monopoly to Supreme Soviet
12Aug53 "Joe 4", first Soviet boosted fission/fusion bomb (single-stage usilennaya, aka layer cake, 400 kt)
November 1953 Sakharov writes specs for 2nd generation weapons;

01Mar54 dry thermonuclear weapon runs away during CASTLE BRAVO (15 Mt) test; Japanese fishermen irradiated
01Jan54 Dulles address to CFR on massive retaliation spring 1954 Sakharov's Third Idea
01Apr54 Malyshev, Kurchatov, et al article "Dangers of Atomic War" suppressed
26Jun54 first Soviet power reactor goes on line at Obninsk

18-23Jul55 Eisenhower proposes "Open Skies" in Geneva
January 1955 Khrushchev drives Malenkov from office February 1955 Marshal Rotmistrov advocates preemptive strategy
22Nov55 Soviets test true two-stage bomb (binarnaya ~1.6 Mt)

20Jul1956 Teller predicts 1 Mt in 1 foot, 600 pounds for Polaris; "make bomb smaller, not missile bigger"; became the very dirty W-47
February 1956 Khrushchev attacks Stalin at XXth Party Congress; renounces Stalinist inevitability-of-war thesis
1956 Soviet troops enter Hungary
20Feb56 Operation "Baikal", world's only full-up test of nuclear-tipped ballistic missile
25Apr56 Kurchatov delivers fusion lecture at Harwell, England

1930Z 04Oct57 Sputnik
August 1957 R-7 success, throws dummy H-bomb to Kamchatka
nnJun1958 Bethe predicts technology near limit of weapon cleanness
22Aug1958 Eisenhower announces tests will end after Hardtack series
31Oct1958 US ceases testing
Soviets fix vulnerability in warheads, Bethe & Rabi's midcourse predetonation ABM scheme becomes impossible
early Apr1958 Soviets announce indefinite suspension of nuclear testing
1959 1000 day moratorium
13Feb1960 French violate moratorium with first atomic test
04Nov1960 Rabi and Bethe denounce neutron bomb
01May1960 Francis Gary Powers shootdown
midOct1960 Khrushchev boasts at UN
07Feb60 Kurchatov dies on park bench at 57
24Oct1960 Nedelin killed in R-16 test

15Sep1961 US resumes testing; blames Soviets
12Apr61 Gagarin takes his ride
25May61 Kennedy launches Space Race at Rice

01Sep1961 Soviets resume testing; blame French
31Oct61 largest manmade explosion in history (detuned 3-stage airburst, 57 Mt) at Novaya Zemlya
15-28 October 1962 13 days that shook the world
1964 Brezhnev deposes Khrushchev
January 1966 Korolev dies on operating table
April 1968 Sakharov's samizdat "Reflections on Progress..."
1969 02:56 UTC 21Jul1969 Neil Armstrong takes a small step, 1-1/2 years ahead of schedule
1970s 21:33:24 UTC 17Dec1972 last man walks on the Moon
23Sep1992 last American nuclear test (1030 total)
24Sep1996 USA signs CTBT (Senate hasn't ratified yet
Aug1990 failed putsch
Christmas Day 1991 Soviet Union dissolves itself;
Communist parties outlawed
24Oct1990 last Soviet nuclear test (715 total)
2000 30Jun2000 Russian Federation ratifies CTBT

Evolution of the secret police from the Petrine era to the present: oprichnina --> Preobrazhensky Prikaz --> Okhrana --> ChKA (cheh-kah-ah, hence "Chekist") --> OGPU --> NKVD --> MVD --> MGB + MVD--> KGB (therefore "gaybist") --> FSB


2. Craig, Paul, and Jungerman, John, Nuclear Arms Race: Technology and Society, (McGraw-Hill, 1986).

3. various, “chapter-article” in The Effects of Nuclear Weapons, 3rd Edition, edited by Samual Glasstone and Philip J. Dolan, (U. S. Department of Defense and Energy Research Development Administration, Washington D.C.: 1977), pp. ??:?-?.

4. Holloway, David, Stalin and the Bomb, (Yale UP, 1994)

5. Arnold Kramish, The Griffin, (life of Paul Rosbaud) (Houghton-Mifflin, Boston, 1986)

6. Ministerstsvo Rossiskoi Federatsii po Atomnoi Energii (Minatom), Rossiya Atomnaya: Yaderniye Shchit, (Compact Book Publishers, Moscow, 1998)

7. Soichi Oya, Japan's Longest Day, (Kodansha Int'l, Tokyo, 1988)

8. Rhodes, Richard, Making of the Atomic Bomb, The, (Simon & Schuster, 1986)

9. ibid., Dark Sun, (Simon & Schuster, 1995)

10. Seaborg, Glenn T., Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Test Ban, (UnivCalifPress, 1981)

11. Seitz, Frederick & Riehl, Nikolaus, Stalin's Captive: Nikolaus Riehl and the Soviet Race for the Bomb, (Amer Chem Soc, 1996)

12. Solzhenitsyn, Alexander, The Gulag Archipelago, (?,?)

13. Zaloga, Steven, Target America, (?, ?)

14. various, Citizen Kurchatov (film), (PBS, 1995)

15. various, Operation Epsilon: The Farm Hall Transcripts, (UC Berkeley press, 1993)

16. various, TRW Space Data, (Thompson Ramo & Wooldridge, circa 1991)

de Tocqueville, Comte Alexis, Democracy in America (1835)

Chapter 21. Future Prospects of the United States
“There are at the present time two great nations in the world, which started from different points, but seem to tend towards the same end. I allude to the Russians and the Americans. Both of them have grown up unnoticed; and whilst the attention of mankind was directed elsewhere, they have suddenly placed themselves in the front rank among the nations, and the world learned their existence and their greatness at almost the same time.
“All other nations seem to have nearly reached their natural limits, and they have only to maintain their power; but these are still in the act of growth. All the others have stopped, or continue to advance with extreme difficulty; these alone are proceeding with ease and celerity along a path to which no limits can be perceived. The American struggles against the obstacles which nature opposes to him; the adversaries of the Russian are men. The former combats the wilderness and savage life; the latter, civilization with all its arms. The conquests of the American are therefore gained by the ploughshare; those of the Russian by the sword. The Anglo-American relies upon personal interest to accomplish his ends, and gives free scope to the unguided strength and common sense of the people; the Russian centres all the authority of society in a single arm. The principal instrument of the former is freedom; of the latter, servitude. Their starting-out point is different, and their courses are not the same; yet each of them seems marked out by the will of Heaven to sway the destinies of half the globe.”

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