Moments In History: October 30th, 1961

russia

Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.

 

October 30th, 1961

The “Tsar Bomba”

At 11:32 in the morning on frozen island of Novya Zemlya, the world’s largest explosive device ever tested was detonated by the Soviet Union. It was dubbed the “Tsar Bomba.” The goal was to create a bomb that would help tip the tide in the nuclear arms race with the United States. The bomb itself was truly gargantuan, weighing in at 27 metric tons and 26 feet long. It was too large to be on a missile, and any plane attempting to carry it would have to be heavily modified.

The estimates on the yield of the blast was anywhere from 50 to 150 megatons. The blast itself would eventually be measured at 57 megatons; the equivalent of the blast would be 57million tons of TNT. That makes this bomb 1500 times more powerful than the bombs used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The crew for this fateful mission were told to expect only a 50% chance of survival, as they needed to release the bomb and then fly 28 miles to get away safely from the blast radius.

The bomb exploded about 4000m near the targeted zone, and the resulting fireball was an astounding 5 miles in diameter and could be seen up to 600 miles away. The characteristic mushroom cloud rose 47 miles into the air. The results were truly terrifying; everything within 34 miles of ground zero was completely annihilated. The destructive heat from the blast could have caused third degree burns for up to 62 miles away. Windows were recorded shattering in one village nearly 560 miles away from the test site. The pilots of the bomber made it safely away but were still rocked by the tremendous shock wave that caused them to temporarily lose control of their aircraft. The shock wave was recorded by seismologists on its third consecutive pass around the earth.

The only positive result of this bomb’s nightmarish scale was the fact that only two were ever built, with this one being used for testing. The U.S and the Soviet Union realized the futility of ever carrying out such nuclear strikes on each other: it would ensure the destruction of both countries, if not the world as a whole.

Would you like to learn more about the Cold War and the proliferation of nuclear weapons and how each country sought to compete in the nuclear arms race? The Union University Library has excellent books and media on the subject in the links below:

 

 

Moments In History: October 3rd, 52 B.C.

vercingetorix

*painting by Lionel Royer

Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.

 

October 3rd, 52 B.C.

The Surrender of Vercingetorix & The Roman Conquest of Gaul

From 58 B.C to 50 B.C., Julius Caesar was carving out huge parcels of territory from the  feared Celtic Gauls of modern day France, Northern Italy, and Belgium.  Rome had been sacked earlier in its history by an invading Gallic tribe, and the Gauls had ever since been the “bogymen” of the Roman psyche. Caesar saw Gaul as a spring board to riches and greater political power; if he could do the unthinkable and conquer this vast country, not only would he become rich, but he would win the undying love and support of the people of Rome.

By 52 B.C., the stage was set for a final climatic showdown. Over the years Caesar had succeeded in subjugating various tribes one by one, picking them off or turning them against old rivals until he crushed them. This changed when a charismatic king and chieftain of the Averni tribe, Vercingetorix, united a large coalition of tribes to attempt to destroy the occupying Romans for good. Most of the Gallic tribes joined in the general revolt and their numbers swelled to over 80,000 men. Caesar rushed to the scene with as many reinforcements as he could muster; he managed to surprise the Gauls in their fortified city of Alesia. Caesar decided to besiege the settlement, hoping to starve the Gauls into surrendering. Caesar and his legions set about the herculean task of digging trenches and building a wall around the city of some 11 miles.

The Gauls, running short of food, called for more tribes to unite and attempt to revive their besieged kin. Within a short time, tens of thousands answered the call, and the Roman legions found themselves surrounded as the Gauls attacked from both sides of their fortifications. The Romans were on the breaking point, but Caesar personally rode to where his troops were most hard pressed and cheered them on as they fought for survival. The Romans persevere, and by morning the Gallic relief force and those still alive in Alesia had given up. The morning of October 3rd, 52 B.C., Vercingetorix rode down to the Roman Camp in his finest armor, stripped himself naked, and knelt before Caesar himself in surrender. This moment was the end of organized Gallic resistance to Rome.

In the coming years, Gaul would become a Roman province and would remain so for the next 500 years. Vercingetorix would be kept prisoner for the next 5 years until Caesar’s triumphant march in Rome, where he was executed in front of the crowds. The end of the Gallic Wars would go on to bring about a series of civil wars that would eventually lead to the downfall of the Roman Republic and Caesar’s own assassination. Finally the republic would be reorganized as an empire under Caesar’s nephew, Octavian.

If you would like to know more about the events surrounding the conquest of Gaul and the battle of Alesia, please follow the links bellow:

 

Moments In History: August 13th, 1961

berlin wall

 

Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.

 

 August 13th, 1961

Construction of the Berlin Wall

In the early morning hours of August 13th, 1961, East and West Berliners were awoken to the sounds of shovels digging into the streets, as well as the unwrapping of barbed wire strands and the pouring of concrete. All along the demarcation line running through the middle of Berlin, work was being undertaken in an attempt to permanently seal off the communist east from the capitalistic west.

Eastern Germany had been experiencing a “Brain Drain” since the 50’s. This was due to the flight of disillusioned young and intelligent East Germans who were emigrating to the West in hopes of political asylum, better jobs, and freedom from the communist regime.  The communist government, fearing a total collapse of their economic output, finally received the go-ahead from their Soviet counterparts. Construction began at once around the demarcation line, a fortified area running through the middle of Berlin, in order to stop the flow of people trying to escape from the communist regime.

The Eastern German government dubbed the project the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart, whereas the West Germans referred to it as The Wall of Shame.  The Berlin Wall would come to represent the starkest difference between a free and open society vs. a society bent not on keeping others out but keeping its own people locked in. The Berlin Wall would remain a barrier that hundreds of thousands of people would attempt to cross, with only a few thousand being successful enough to make it to the other side and as many as two hundred deaths in the process. It would remain until November 9th, 1989, when after twenty-eight years of separation between East and West Berlin, the Wall’s gates were flung opened. Many people became so emboldened by this that they finally began to mount the wall, and a short time later the crowds began to tear it down.

The Berlin Wall’s destruction was in part to the Soviet Union quickly losing control over the countries of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, and Hungary, who each began the deconstruction of their separating border fences. Today marks the 58th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s construction, and later this year will mark the 30th anniversary of its fall.

If you found this post interesting and would like to learn more on this topic, the Union University Library offers numerous books and films related to this subject: