Sheng Li (gmachine1729) wrote,
Sheng Li

Why America was not capable of using nuclear weapons against USSR in 1945-1950

Originally published at 狗和留美者不得入内. You can comment here or there.

To be honest, I don’t think America could have conquered USSR with some atomic bombs between 1945-1950. The bombs were heavy and costly to assemble, and there were very few bombers and pilots able to deliver them. In 1947 there were only 13 of them, in 1950 no more than 300. Detailed paper about the US nuclear stockpile from 1945-1950, along the development and testing background. Rosenberg, David Alan (1982). U.S. nuclear stockpile, 1945 to 1950. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 38(5), 25–30. doi:10.1080/00963402.1982.11455736

And despite Ivy Mike in November 1952, America only had an air deliverable hydrogen bomb in 1956. In contrast, the Soviet had one in 1955 and a sloika one in 1953. Now I’m fully convinced that Soviets won the hydrogen bomb race despite starting with the atomic bomb 4 years later than America. Are people really so sure that there at least half a dozen people at Los Alamos more talented than any of the Soviet bomb-makers? I honestly do not see any reason to believe that the combination of von Neumann, Teller, Feynman, Oppenheimer, Bethe, Alvarez, Fermi were more talented than Kolmogorov, Zeldovich, Sakharov, Kurchatov, Skobeltsyn, Landau, Ginzburg, and other Soviets less famous in the West. America had much more resources at its disposable… it’s shocking how many more nuclear tests America had to conduct to reach the same level as the Soviets did in nuclear weapons. America also visibly lost the race for ICBMs, rockets, and satellites; Sputnik was way heavier than the first American satellite about half a year later, not to mention that by then, the Soviets had already launched a second one.

Seeing the comment I’m replying to right now

brought me to look up the details. To my great surprise, PRC’s first atomic bomb in October 1964 was a uranium implosion device that weighed only 1550 kg. In comparison, America’s bombs in 1949 were still over 4500 kg. Based on this, PRC’s 1964 bomb was actually at the level of America’s atomic bomb in around 1954. I’m curious about the weight of PRC’s first hydrogen bomb, which was air dropped in June 1967. America’s first air dropped hydrogen bomb, Operation Redwing – Cherokee in 1956 was 3115 kg. PRC only started to building bomber aircraft with a Soviet license in 1959. It’s certainly possible that in 1967, their best bomber could not carry a hydrogen bomb heavier than 3000 kg. There is that the B-29 project cost much more than the Manhattan Project and that PRC was in general much more behind in aircraft industry (which is more difficult than nukes) to begin with.

This only increases my opinion of those Chinese physicists in the nuclear program. The following are especially notable, and I don’t see any reason to believe they are less talented than those top guys at Los Alamos.

  • Zhou Guangzhao (did seminal work in USSR, member of US National Academy of Sciences)
  • Wang Ganchang (Lise Meitner’s student, led a team that discovered a new particle in USSR, during WWII proposed idea for detecting neutrino, it’s said that as a graduate student, he proposed the experiment that detected neutrons but was not given permission by his advisor to carry it out)
  • Guo Yonghuai (Caltech aerodynamics PhD, former Cornell professor, did mechanics work for the bombs)
  • Peng Huanwu (student of Max Born, did first rate work on cosmic rays)
  • Yu Min (never went abroad until he retired, figured out hydrogen bomb extremely quickly)

American science and technology really is overrated. In theoretical physics 1930s on, the Japanese were pretty close to Americans, in spite of the obvious material disadvantages. I don’t see any reason to claim that those top theorists at Los Alamos were more talented than Yukawa, Tomonaga, Nambu, Nishijima, Sakata, etc. Japan produced world class pure mathematicians and theoretical physicists before America did. Influenced by Martyanov as well, I’ve concluded that if the USSR had not sent a 1 million man army in Manchuria, which the Japanese developed into an industrial powerhouse, in August 1945, it would have a taken a while before Japan actually surrendered; the American atomic bombs were limited, and after learning of them, the Japanese would have certainly poured all in to strengthen anti-aircraft warfare to preserve the Japanese homeland at all costs. America actually explicitly asked the Soviets to defeat the Japanese in Manchuria, not wanting to expend too much against Japan. In terms of land warfare, the Soviets were visibly superior to the Anglos, with better tanks, AK-47, better training; if not for the atomic bombs, the Soviets could have conquered most of continental Europe.

What’s interesting is that there were actually two Chinese graduate students involved in two of the early American Nobel prizes in physics (there were only 4 up through 1936). Much of the Compton effect was actually verified by Wu Youxun, who published a series of papers for experiments verifying it. Chung-Yao Chao was the first to perform an experiment releasing positrons, wherein he noticed the anomalously high scattering cross section but could not make definite conclusions as for the cause. Anderson was his classmate and basically did a natural follow up experiment a few years later that rigorously verified the positron.

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