General Articles


There IS a defense against the Bomb, claims this writer, and it's time we did something about it

WALLACE GOFORTH October 15 1947
General Articles


There IS a defense against the Bomb, claims this writer, and it's time we did something about it

WALLACE GOFORTH October 15 1947


There IS a defense against the Bomb, claims this writer, and it's time we did something about it


IF YOU are among the 27% of Canadians who live in cities of over 50,000 people, or in smaller but equally vital atomic targets, then these words are written especially for you. But even if you are fortunate enough to be living on the farm, or in an ordinary small town or village, they will greatly concern your future, even though they do not directly affect the safety of your life.

You have never seen an atomic bomb; 3^ou hope you never will. You have heard about five such bombs—exploded in New Mexico, Japan and near a remote South Sea island called Bikini. You know that only two of these bombs actually brought death and destruction to great cities.

Now one great nation is making atomic bombs as fast as it can and half a dozen other nations are trying to find out how to make them. Meanwhile the politicians are struggling to find some method of preventing this deadly menace from being let loose on the world.

What does all this mean to the average Canadian? What can we or should we do about the menace of the bomb?

In my view, until all nations permanently renounce force and violence in any form as a means for settling their differences and disputes, we in Canada cannot afford to ignore defense against the atom bomb until the danger of its use is imminent. If we allow the years to roll by with only a chosen few in the armed services, in government and in scientific laboratories—like those at Chalk River— to think and plan our safety, then we will be too late to do anything about it.

Even if four out of five—or nine out of 10— enemy aircraft loaded with atomic bombs were

intercepted and destroyed before they could reach their targets, it would only require 25 such aircraft out of 250 to break through and drop their superlethal eggs over a selection of Canadian cities. The enemy’s objective would t hen be attained, as far as this country is concerned.

The only province left untouched by this potential attacking wave of the future would be Prince Edward Island. The Maritime cities of Halifax, Sydney-Glace Bay and Saint John would be destroyed. So would Quebec City, Shipshaw, Arvida, and Shawinigan Falls. Montreal and Toronto are too large for complete destruction by a single bomb but their vital central areas would be gutted. Ottawa and Hull would become blackened ruins, with one air-burst bomb dropped over Confederation Square; so would Hamilton, London, Windsor, Kitchener-Waterloo, Copper Cliff-Sudbury, Fort William-Port Arthur, and Chippewa.

Winnipeg would be hit rather harder than any other Canadian city. It lies round and flat. Most of its homes are frame structures. Most of its roofs are shingles. It has the Continued on pope (Hi

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If Atomic War Comes . . .

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lowest winter temperatures and humidity of any great Canadian city. Apart from the 40,000 dead and 60,000 injured it would suffer from an atomic bomb, there would be another 200,000 or more homeless to care for, probably in midwinter.

Saskatchewan would suffer the destruction of Regina and Saskatoon. Alberta could write off Edmonton and Calgary. British Columbia would see Victoria and Trail destroyed and Vancouver would have its central industrial, commercial and port area flattened.

This terrible summary of damage leaves out a few possible targets, depending on the direction of our growth in population and industry between now and 1962.

Target No. 1— The Soo

We have not yet mentioned the most likely target of all—Sault Ste. Marie. The cluster of United States and Canadian canals and locks there forms the most vital linchpin of our whole North American industrial system. Through these canals pass 80% of the iron ore used by the steel industry of the continent. Apart from the mere question of economy, it would be physically impossible for Canadian and American railways to take over the burden of this additional traffic which amounts to some 70 million tons each year. Any aggressive power would probably rate the Soo Canals higher on its target list than Washington, New York, Chicago, Detroit or Pittsburgh. An air-burst atomic bomb would not achieve the enemy’s object in this case, except to level initially the Canadian and American Soos and the close defenses of the locks. Destruction of the locks themselves could only be attained by a surface or penetrating-burst atomic bomb, or by something like a tight pattern of “tall boys” (22,000pound high-explosive bombs). This special form of attack might equally well be employed against other small but vital targets like Chippewa, Shipshaw, Arvida, Trail and Copper Cliff.

Let us now review the total damage which this great enemy wave of atomic attack could cause to Canada, if pressed home relentlessly. Of our 20 largest cities 17 would be virtually destroyed and three (Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver) would suffer appalling damage which would take years to repair. Our largest electric power plans and metallurgie industries would cease to produce. The death toll would be about 700,000—seven times greater than the combined losses of Canada in battle dead during World Wars I and 11. Another 750,000 would be seriously injured. A further 650,000 at least would be rendered homeless.

It needs little imagination to realize just what this colossal bill of damage would mean to Canada if we do not hing to prevent it. Our machinery of government would cease to exist for all practical purposes. Our great focal points of industry, banking, finance and higher education would largely be laid waste. Our main ports and railway marshalling centres could no longer function. Such hospital facilities as remained would be faced with 50 times —or 100 times—their capacity to cope with emergency cases. Canada would no longer be an influential “middle” power or a source of strength to associated nations in a free world fighting for its life. The bleeding remnant of this Dominion would be set back economically and socially to the equivalent of its position at Confederation 80 years

ago-—but without the strong shield then provided by nineteenth century Britain.

Moreover, this great pattern of disaster could be crowded into a few weeks, days, or even hours, depending upon the degree of skill achieved by our armed forces in the use of early warning devices and in their powers of active interception.

This then is the terrible danger against which we must devise, over the next 10 to 15 years, a workable system of civil defense. Can it be done?

I believe it can!

There Is a Defense

Before we go into ways and means let us clear up any doubts you may have, first that Canada could ever be subjected to such an attack as described above; or secondly that we have no hope of defending ourselves effectively against such an onslaught.

When the Chief of the Canadian General Staff, Lieutenant - General Charles Foulkes, recently stated that the prospect of any major attack on this continent was “sheer nonsense,” he was referring properly to a war which might occur within the next 10 or 12 years. Such a war might well be blundered into by the pressures and counterpressures of the great powers in their present, uneasy zones of contact— somewhere in Europe, or in the Near, Middle or Far East. This hypothetical “early” war would be fought mainly with conventional weapons because no power other than the United States would then possess sufficient numbers of atomic bombs, globe-girdling bomber aircraft or supersonic interceptors to use these and other new weapons decisively.

We may well assume that the warmaking technology of any potential aggressor will lag several years behind that of the United States. It would be dangerous folly to assume that this time lag in technology will be greater than 10 or 12 years. By its weight of “know-how” the United States could, if it wished, mobilize all the requisite new weapons for long-range atomic war by 1950. There is ample evidence that at least one great power in the old world is doing its very best to close the technological gap which now separates its science and industry from that of the United States.

That power would not attack this continent in force until it had accumulated enough atomic bombs (about 500), very long-range bombers (about 2,500 with radius of at least 3,000 miles) and other auxiliary weapons. “Enough” means sufficient to possess a heavy odds-on chance of destroying or crip pling North American industry ana defensive power in a brief surprise stroke.

If anyone believes that this power could not—or would not—achieve this objective by 1962 under present conditions, he is placing undue faith in Santa Claus.

Now let us examine the argument, all too frequently encountered, that there is no effective defense against this new form of attack.

The atomic bomb is a very special weapon with exceptional limitations. It cannot now—or in the foreseeable future—be made less powerful or materially more powerful than the plutonium bomb used at Nagasaki. Some authorities estimate that improved methods of bomb construction would increase its power 20%, but there is no evidence that this has been done. But such a small increase would not greatly alter defense calculations.

The bomb is mainly an antipersonnel weapon and achieves its maximum casualty-producing effect when de-

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»tonated 500 to 2,000 feet above the centre of a large city. Only against vita! pin-point targets could it be used »more effectively in a ground or penetrating-burst role. It is exceedingly 'costly to produce and the fissionable material of which it is formed is not 'commonly found in economically attractive quantities.

The actual process of production is itself one of the most complex of all 'modern industry.

Moreover there is one hopeful feature of this fissionable material from which »the atomic bomb is made. It is beginning to be applied to the production •of special forms of power for industry »and transportation. Its byproducts are ■ already becoming of special service to medical and metallurgical research. By 1967 there is a distinct probability that •this fissionable material will become of 'such great value to the world’s economy that even the most power-hungry »aggressor would be discouraged or even prevented from diverting it to weapons.

Our problem therefore is safely to bridge the gap between about 1960 or 1962 and 1967 or 1970. It is only a five-to-ten-year period of terrible danger that we have to consider and prepare «against.

Technique For A-Day

Let us examine what we would have to expect should atomic war come to Canada.

The kind of bomb which would be most commonly used would be the airburst type dropped from a long-range »bomber to explode 500 to 2,000 feet above the target. Its pattern of damage is well known. 1 here is an 'inner circle, some half a mile in diameter, in which 90' , deaths would occur, and all surface structures -even those of reinforced concrete would be demolished or st ructurally damaged. There is an outer circle about five miles in diameter, which represents the extreme limit of damage to lighter structures and nonlethal, injuries to personnel. Deaths, injuries and structural damage occur in diminishing degree between the inner and outer circles.

Take a map of your city and select your own central aiming point. It will be accurate enough. Then allow for a normal bomber’s error ol half a mile from that point. This will increase your danger area to six miles in diameter even though the actual pattern of damage would only l>e five miles wide.

To destroy small but vital targets on land, such as the Soo locks, the enemy bombers would drop penetrating atomic lombs designed to dig deep into the narth l>efore exploding. A deep bomb ,’ould leave a crater about 1,000 feet vide and 300 feet deep; bursts closer to or right on the surface would snake wider but shallower craters. These craters would have “lips dangerously radioactive for months or years. Although few would die beyond these lips a large area would have to be Cleared of people and kept clear until the gamma count came down.

A third form of attack would be the water-burst. Test Baker at Bikini gives a fairly clear idea of what might happen to Canadian cities which adjoin a large and deep body of water. The bomb might be dropped from a ship at a selected point in the harbor, in darkness or fog, and with a delayed action fuse. It is much more likely thatsuch a bomb would be dropped by low flying enemy aircraft a few seconds before the underwater explosion occurs. Tvpical points where this method might conceivably be used (only the first two are regarded as serious possibilities) are:

(a) Halifax harbor, 400 yards ofT the Canadian National terminal docks;

(b) Vancouver harbor, half a mile due north of the Canadian Pacific wharves;

(c) In the St. Lawrence River, midway between the Quebec City and Levis ferry terminals;

(d) In the middle of the Toronto or Hamilton harbors.

The results would vary greatly with the depth of water, t he configuration of the harbor bottom, the wind direction and with the pattern of the city affected. The blast would splash many millions of gallons of “hot” radioactive water over surrounding land. Ships remaining afloat in the harbor area would be unusable from contamination for a period of months or even years, depending on their distance from the blast. A sector of the city along the harbor front closest to the explosion would be too radioactive for occupation up to a year or longer.

A radioactive mist would blanket a much larger area, which would need to be evacuated temporarily, but probably for not more than a few weeks. Structural damage would be very small compared to the results of an air-burst or ground-burst atomic bomb. Casualties can only be vaguely estimated since there are no Hiroshimas or Nagasakis to match the results of Test Baker.

A fair guess for Vancouver under present conditions would be that not more than 8,000 persons would die and

20.000 would be injured (mainly cases of radiation sickness) by a water-burst atomic bomb, as compared with

35.000 dead and 60,000 injured from an air-burst bomb. Casualties in Halifax might he somewhat greater, owing to its smaller size and the slope of the city from the citadel toward the harbor.

The only compensating advantage to an enemy in such a water-burst attack would lie in the long period of radioactive contamination for the vital harbor installations. An air-burst atomic bomb wreaks its greater radioactive havoc in a split second but leaves little or no lingering danger from “gamma” contamination. While its victims may take up to 28 days to die, the fatal absorption is almost instantaneous.

Smuggled Bombs?

Against most North American cities the atomic bombs would be borne to their targets by aircraft flying at

30.000 feet or more. For first-class targets like the Soo locks they might he carried in at treetnp height in suicide attacks. Coastal cities might well be bombarded with atomicbomb-carrying missiles of the VI or V2 types launched from ship or submarine.

Theoretically it would he feasible for an aggressor to infiltrate her 500 atomic bombs bv covert means into an equivalent number of target centres throughout the free world and to detonate them all at a prearranged moment. In practice this would he most unsatisfactory. Premature detection of a single bomb in even one foreign centre would immediately alert all threatened countries. One can well imagine the feverish search that would occur in 499 cities. The precious material largely would be found and disarmed before it could be used. The aggressor’s gamble on world conquest would be irreparably lost.

It is possible to predict fairly closely the season, day and hour at which an atomic attack might be launched against. Canadian and other cities. The greatest cluster of key targets in the world lies within the highly industrialized area of the northeastern and north-central United States, and in contiguous Canadian territory. The

majority of such targets come within the Eastern Time Zone.

Since the atomic bomb is mainly effective against persons, the general staff of an enemy nation would wish to fix upon an hour when there is the greatest concentration of people in downtown offices, shopping centres, factories and schools. The hour of 3 P.M. Eastern Standard Time, on an ordinary business and school day, would seem to fit this requirement. The danger hour would vary in other time zones only by their differences from the Eastern Zone; i.e. Halifax at •1 P.M.; Winnipeg at 2 P.M.; Regina and Edmonton at 1 P.M.; Vancouver at noon.

The date selected for attack might be:

(a) about 10 days before Christmas, when downtown shopping crowds are dense, schools are still in attendance and cold weather is likely, or

(b) around January 21, when temperature and humidity are lowest, fires most easily kindled by the bomb, and the difficulty of caring for the injured and homeless would be at its annual peak,or

(c) assuming an attack synchronized with such a key target as the Soo locks, some working day in mid-April, just as navigation begins to open, and when raw material stock piles are low.

All these details about the atomic bomb spell one strategic fact, namely that this danger, however great it may be, can be calculated and measured within narrow limits. In the whole history of war it has been the unknown and unmeasured factor of surprise which has tended to dominate the battlefield. Against any known and measured danger, science and the art of arms have always found some defensive antidote. The atomic bomb is a known and measurable danger. We have 10 to 15 years to find the answer to it. One would be unreasonably pessimistic to believe that no such defensive antidote can he found and applied in time.

Three Lines of Defense

Let us now examine the ways and means for protecting Canada against this weapon. Our first line of defense is obviously diplomacy. It can be assumed that our able staff in External Affairs, our missions abroad, our representatives in the United Nations —and especially on the U.N. Atomic Energy Commission—are doing, and will continue to do, their inspired best t o eliminate the frictions and differences which bring war closer. They may even find some formula whereby ideological differences can gradually be resolved, and the world can live peaceably and prosperously. There is no evidence however that we are1 even as close to this formula as we seemed to be in 1945.

Our second line of defense is scientific research. It is a matter of life and death that we retain and consolidate the present scientific initiative and technological supremacy enjoyed by the free nations, and especially by those on the North American continent. Without this technical initiative we may indeed be destroyed or enslaved within the next generation. Just so long as we retain this technical initiative and no longer will we be able to defend ourselves against any form and scale of attack which may he hurled against us. The more we can hold, and even increase, our present lead in science and technology, the less will he risk of war with or without atomic weapons.

It is the utmost folly to talk about declaring a holiday in scientific research even if it were possible to do so. 'The scientists added greatly to the hazards of war by perfecting the atomic bomb.

Only they can divert this discovery from danger to the peaceful benefit of mankind, by developing the full economic uses of fissionable materials. If there were any way of advancing the present estimate of a fairly general application of atomic power to industry and transport by 1957 instead of 1967, the whole fearful problem of defending ourselves against this mighty weapon, fluring the middle future, would largely disappear.

What the Services Could Do

Our third line of defense is the armed forces. If we starve them into a condition of ceremonial impotence as we did from 1919 to 1939 we will only be inviting disaster. We are not here concerned with the other social and strategic benefits of a strong navy, army and air force, which General H. D. G. Crerar has already outlined in his recent article in Maclean’s, “War Is a Prospect Canada Must Pace.” The armed forces should be regarded in this study solely from their value as an aid to civil defense of our Canadian cities and vital targets.

Only the navy and the coastal command of the RGAF can guard our maritime cities against attack by supersonic guided missiles with atomic warheads launched from enemy vessels.

Only the army, with its radar, early warning posts, and defensive guidedmissile and artillery sites, can provide the proper combination of far-flung initial recognition of enemy approach and of close defense to our cities.

Only the air force can bear the main and decisive load of interception during the long gauntlet which enemy bombers must run before they reach their targets. The armed forces have many other tasks, but these are the vital needs for ensuring the reasonable safety of our home base, without which all other forms of combat are meaningless.

If it were feasible, which it is not,

! for our armed forces to concentrate solely on these defensive roles, and to he equipped with the best devices of American and Canadian science and engineering, it might he theoretically possible to leave with them the whole problem of defense. Their screen might then become so impregnable that no enemy bomber could penetrate it to drop its atomic egg over a Canadian city. In practice this hope could never be realized. It is, however, possible that a degree of efficiency could be attained whereby no potential aggressor would ever wish to attack this continent. Since his store of atomic bombs will always be limited he must make good on his first overwhelming surprise attack. He dare not fail to reach any large proportion of his targets. The nemesis of our counterattack is waiting for him if he fails.

Must We Live Like Moles?

Now we come to the fourth line of defense: the passive civil defense of our cities themselves. How can we mitigate the toll of disaster if and when one of these weapons strikes home on Ottawa or Toronto, Montreal or Winnipeg, Halifax or Vancouver?

We can write off some of the more imaginative methods as wholly uneconomical and impracticable. We do not need to rebuild our cities as underground rabbit warrens. Some of our more vital Government services may have to go underground, just as such services did in Britain during the last war. Subway systems for Montreal and Toronto, apart from their relief of traffic congestion, would provide natural emergency shelters for large sectors of the population in these cities.

Decentralization of our cities into a

host of widely separated small towns is another dream that sounds attractive but has no basis in common sense. Decentralization must, if at all, take place naturally and economically. We will need to retain the advantages of concentration, diversification and division of labor which most of our cities now provide. It would, however, seem possible to decentralize new and replaced units of industry and essential services into suburban communities far enough away from the lethal centres and well separated from each other. Improved forms of rapid transit would encourage this. Economic benefits of such decentralization would probably be greater than from further congestion in the central areas of large cities.

Then there is the problem of blastresistant structures. Brick, brick veneer and frame buildings are all dangerously vulnerable to atomic bombs up to a radius of two and a half miles from the target centre. Concrete structures, however, stand up well beyond—and sometimes even within—a quarter-mile radius.

No easy and economical protection against gamma radiation has yet been developed. Depth of concrete (about three feet in the central zone) is as effective a shield as any against lethal absorption of radiation. Architects and engineers have a real opportunity for applying existing knowledge to the economical design of blast-resistant buildings, which would also reduce the danger from gamma rays and neutrons.

It is probable that as we approach the danger period fire and even life insurance rates, combined with modified building bylaws in the threatened municipalities, will help materially to encourage a partial hut natural decentralization and strengthening of structures.

All of these passive defense suggestions, thus far, are indirect and are aimed more at the protection of property than of life and limb.

What we really need, starting now, is to build a far-reaching ARB organization, well beyond anything we dreamed of in 1944, and at least as efficient as the Home Security organization maintained in Britain during t he last war. 11 this is left as a responsibility of the Dominion Government alone, it is seriously doubted whether we could achieve the desired organization in time for it to be of any use in an emergency. Even municipal governments with their short tenures of office are unlikely to think and plan 10 or 12 years ahead unless impelled to do so by an enlightened and educated public opinion. The main impetus for an ARB organization in Canada should come—and can only come soon—if it is adopted as their own objective by the service clubs, women’s institutes, chambers of commerce, churches and other public-spirited associations and agencies who know their own city and are already devoted to the welfare of its people.

Duties for the ARP

What would such an ARB plan involve? Here are a few suggestions, but each community could add others equally useful:

(a) Arrange for underground concrete shelters to be built gradually on a 10-year program.

( b) Encourage every hospital and other essential service to keep a roster of emergency reserve staff, over and above its regular turnover needs, and to call them out on occasional brief tours of duty even if only for one day a year.

(c) Set uj) the usual ARP warden system by districts, with assistants,

alternates, and supervisors; rehearse them at least once or twice a year.

(d) Using the warden system as a basis, devise complete plans for emergency evacuation of nonessential persons; details down to ticketing of children, assembly points, means of transport and routes will all need to be worked out before the danger period comes.

(e) Study billeting and rationing plans for evacuated groups in surrounding small towns and villages.

(f) Install warning sirens and link up your ARP alerting staff with the nearest headquarters of the armed services, and with local police and fire departments.

(g) Rehearse the whole organization, first by districts and finally for the whole community, at least annually after 1955; meanwhile there is a challenging task of teaching the members of your ARP organization their duties; apart from normal ARP training they should know the characteristics of the new weapons, the methods of identifying radiation densities, together with an elementary grasp of their physiological effects.

Does all of this mean that we have to surrender our cherished personal freedom and submit to increasing regimentation? Are we condemned by the logic of self-preservation to face a greater and greater bureaucracy of control which

interferes with the privacy and independence which we prize?

If we leave this whole intricate system of defense to be imposed on us by some paternal government then indeed will our freedom become restricted and our privacy invaded.

If, however, we work through voluntary institutions we can have as great, or greater, chance of survival without undue government interference as Britain did from air raids and V-weapons in World War II. The maximum figures of casualties which we reviewed earlier could be cut to a small fraction by proper precautions. Best of all, we would confront a potential attacker with so unprofitable a target for her atomic aggression that she would be far less likely to contemplate a war seriously at all.

Canada would set an example to other nations, even as the Swiss have done in Europe for centuries, that freedom and strength—a love of peace and a capacity to stand up and fight—can both be combined in an enlightened state.

We can say with Lord Acton in his lectures on the “History of Liberty,” 70 years ago at Cambridge:

“It is better to be the citizen of a humble commonwealth in the Alps (or of our wider Commonwealth) than a subject of the superb autocracy that overshadows half of Asia and Europe.”