Monday, March 16, 2015


 ICBM R-7 / P-7A (SS-6 Sapwood). USSR. Was in service in the 1961-1968.
1. The head part
2. The instrument compartment
3. Tanks oxidant
4. Tunnel pipe pipeline oxidant
5. Marching engine central unit
6. Aerodynamic wheel
7. Marching side engine block
8. The central unit
9. Side block

Above are pictures of the warhead for the first Soviet ICBM, the SS-6 "Sapwood" (official Soviet designation "R-7" or "8-K-3"). The "Sapwood" carried a heavy 10,000 lb. three-megaton warhead and on its 21 August 1957 test flight flew 4,000 miles from Kazakhstan into the western Pacific Ocean. The SS-6 was deployed in 1958 and had a range of 8,500 kilometers (5,270 statute miles).
The "Sapwood" warhead was probably first tested in Soviet test No. 47, on 6 October 1957. This test conducted at the Novaya Zemlya Test Range was a 2.9 megaton airburst. This was the largest Soviet test up to that time, and only the third Soviet test in the megaton range. Additional tests in 1958 with yields of 2.9 and 2.8 Mt (18 October 1958 and 22 October 1958 respectively) may also have been tests of this design.

Another possible escape route would have been to find a plausible way to fight a nuclear war. This became harder rather than easier with the growth of the nuclear stockpiles. So long as the numbers were small, nuclear use would result in catastrophe but not necessarily a condition from which recovery was impossible. Even up to the late 1950s Soviet leaders were suggesting that the vast size of its territory and dispersal of its population gave it a strategic advantage vis-á-vis the United States in any nuclear exchange. Soon, however, they were reminding the Chinese that nuclear weapons do not 'obey the class principle'. Chinese leader Mao Tse-tung was said to have observed that even if 300,000 Chinese were killed, there would be another 300,000 ready to continue the fight. In his memoirs Khrushchev recalled a conversation with Mao by the side of a swimming pool, in which he warned that 'with the atomic bomb, the number of troops on each side makes practically no difference to the alignment of real power and to the outcome of a war. The more troops on a side, the more bomb fodder.'

Equally important for Moscow was the reduced relevance of distance. The routes into Russia were well trodden, but invaders had always been thwarted, albeit at great cost. Long-range bombers and missiles could, however, leap over Russia's vast hinterlands. During the 1950s a network of Western air bases began to be established close to the Soviet borders from which nuclear bombs and then medium-range missiles might be delivered. Soviet leaders began to complain of encirclement. Soon it was clear that even eliminating those hostile bases could not eliminate the threat. Long-range ballistic missiles could deliver a lethal punch in minutes over many miles. It was hard to see how this punch could be resisted.


For the rest of the 1950s, encouraged by exaggerated claims from Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and some worst-case analysis from the US Air Force, there were regular claims that the Soviet Union was racing ahead in ICBM production so that a 'missile gap' was developing that would leave the United States too weak to cope with Soviet threats. Those urging a crash US effort in all areas of high technology warned of the consequences of inferiority: 'What would the Americans find if they reached the moon?' a scientist was asked during congressional hearings. 'The Russians!' he replied.
Meanwhile, in their dash to be the first with an ICBM, the Russians had built an unwieldy system that could not be deployed in numbers.

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