The Cold War

The Balance of Terror

During the Cold War, the two powers waged an unbridled arms race. The state of the world was teetering on a very unstable equilibrium.

A genuine Soviet Mig-21, a French missile from the plateau d’Albion and an American atomic bomb are real-life examples of the frantic nature of the arms race in general and, more particularly, of the nuclear arms race. The “balance of terror” between the two superpowers began to take hold.

Nuclear terror

Any aggression could escalate and lead to the destruction of both sides in case of nuclear strikes.

During the Cold War, the two sides carried on a frenzied race to build and stockpile conventional and nuclear weapons, with increasingly terrifying powers of destruction. The round cinema screen on your left reminds us that the principle of nuclear deterrence was above all rooted in a reciprocal terror that had taken hold since 1945. The films on display here show how civilians and soldiers on both sides prepared themselves for a nuclear attack.

Educational films shown in schools, clips of manoeuvres in case of a nuclear attack, propaganda films … were without exception intensely frightening. Fear of the nuclear bomb had now become a deep-rooted psychosis and an unbelievable political instrument.


Weapons of the Cold War

A staircase then leads you down to the basement, in the half-light of a steel and concrete crypt, where you find the imposing silhouette of a Soviet jet-fighter: the symbolic MIG-21 which ubiquitous during the Cold War.

A staircase then leads you down to the basement, in the half-light of a steel and concrete crypt, where you find the imposing silhouette of a Soviet jet-fighter, the symbolic MIG-21 which was used widely during the Cold War. In front is an American thermonuclear bomb, sitting inert on a trolley, with a megaton’s worth of power (50 times that of Hiroshima), the very one that equipped all B-52 bombers kept in the air round-the-clock. Before leaving this troubling room, spend a moment before a third weapon, French this time, fitted into its launch silo: the nuclear warhead of a SSBSS3 thermonuclear missile, from the Albion Plateau launch site in Haute-Provence.

On 17 January 1966, a B-52 bomber of the US Air Force carrying 4 H bombs collided with its supply plane over Spain. Three of the bombs fell without exploding but contaminated a vast expanse of farmland. The fourth, destroyed at sea, would only be found after an 81-day search.


The thermonuclear bomb

The Mémorial has a copy of a Mark bomb, from the same series as those used to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

This was a plutonium bomb, a type Mark 28 H bomb. “Little Boy”, dropped over Hiroshima, was numbered “Mark 1”. “Fat Man”, which destroyed Nagasaki, was “Mark 2”. The “Mark 28” bomb therefore continued the series. Some 4,500 of them were first made in 1958, making it the most widely produced atomic bomb during the Cold War, between 1958 and 1991. This particular «Mark 28» version dates from 1962.


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