Totskoye nuclear exercise
The Totskoye nuclear exercise was a military exercise undertaken by the Soviet army to explore defensive and offensive warfare during nuclear war. The exercise, under the code name "Snowball", involved an aerial detonation of RDS-4 nuclear bomb as powerful as the two bombs used in the American nuclear strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. The stated goal of the operation was military training for breaking through heavily fortified defensive lines of a military opponent using nuclear weapons. An army of 45,000 soldiers marched through the area around the epicenter soon after the nuclear blast. The exercise was conducted on September 14, 1954, under the command of Marshal Georgy Zhukov to the north of Totskoye village in Orenburg Oblast, Russia, in the South Ural Military District.
In mid-September 1954, nuclear bombing tests were performed in Totskoye range during the training exercise Snezhok (Snowball or Light Snow) with some 45,000 people, all Soviet soldiers and officers  who were exposed to radiation from a bomb twice as powerful as the one dropped on Hiroshima nine years earlier. The exercise was commanded by the Marshal of the Soviet Union, Georgy Zhukov. At 9:33 a.m. on 14 September 1954, a Soviet Tu-4 bomber dropped a 40-kilotonne (170 TJ) atomic weapon - RDS-4 bomb - from 8,000 metres (26,000 ft). The bomb exploded 350 metres (1,150 ft) above Totskoye range, 13 kilometres (8 mi) from Totskoye.
During the exercise more than 45,000 were deliberately exposed to radiation. It involved the 270th Rifle Division, 320 planes, 600 tanks and 600 armored personnel carriers. The soldiers were instructed that there would be a regular military exercise featuring a mock nuclear explosion and that it would be filmed. The military personnel were not issued any protective gear. Deputy Defense Minister Georgy Zhukov witnessed the blast from an underground nuclear bunker. The planes were ordered to bomb the explosion site five minutes after the blast, and three hours later (after the demarcation of the radioactive zone) the armored vehicles were ordered to practice the taking of a hostile area after a nuclear attack.
The residents of selected villages (Bogdanovka and Fedorovka) that were situated around 6 km (4 mi) from the epicenter of the future explosion were offered temporary evacuation outside the 50 km (31 mi) radius. Most of the local population was never warned, however.
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Joseph Stalin expressed his belief that nuclear weapons could only be used behind enemy lines–against cities or factories–but were useless on the battlefield. Georgy Malenkov, a close advisor to Stalin, expressed his opinion that a nuclear war could not be won by any of its participants.
Malenkov had made many enemies during Stalin's time in power. These included Marshal Georgy Zhukov, whom Malenkov had accused of disloyalty in order to appease Stalin's worries about Zhukov's political ambitions, especially after he invited General Dwight D. Eisenhower to visit the Soviet Union after the war. Zhukov was demoted and sent to Odessa where he soon suffered a heart attack and was no longer considered a threat.
When Stalin died in 1953, Malenkov took control of the party apparatus. This led to continued infighting among the other claimants to the position, especially the "anti-stalinites". Totskoye was, to some degree, an attempt to make Malenkov and Stalin look foolish by demonstrating that nuclear weapons could be used on the battlefield, and thus that they could play a part in a winnable nuclear war.
As Malenkov fell from favour, Zhukov, Minister of Defence Nikolai Bulganin and head of the Central Committee Nikita Khrushchev plotted a coup d'état, expelling him from the Politburo in 1957, and from the party as a whole in 1961. Khrushchev became the General Secretary while Malenkov retained the largely ceremonial position of Premier. In 1955 Khrushchev removed Malenkov from the position of Premier, giving that title to Bulganin, and Zhukov took over the position of Minister of Defence.
Thousands who are believed to have sought help in local hospitals would later be surprised to find that their medical cards, containing their histories of sickness, had disappeared from the regional hospital. That fact was confirmed by a former soldier who participated in the exercise, Alexey Petrovich Vavilov, in his interview with the television news broadcasting program Podrobnosti (Telechannel INTER) more than 50 years later.
Over half a century later, this matter is still under strict control of the federal government. The local law enforcement personnel continue to harass the journalists who try to obtain footage from the range. The exercise became widely known only in 1993. Even the soldiers who participated in the exercise did not know that they had taken part. The government congratulated the local population for their heroism in providing the nuclear shield for their Motherland.
September 14 is considered in Russia a day of creation of the state's nuclear shield.
- Totskyoe exercise. Measures of safety (Russian) by Sergei Markov
- Viktor Suvorov, Shadow of Victory (Тень победы), Donetsk, 2003, ISBN 966-696-022-2, pages 353-375. The challenges official record of Georgy Zhukov as a flawless military leader. The chapter about Totskoye nuclear exercise is mostly based on open publications in Russian press, such as Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star), an official newspaper of Russian Ministry of Defense, and Literaturnaya Gazeta
- "Fifty five years ago Zhokov tested nuclear weapons on people (Russian) This link provides old video records of the actual nuclear exercise." (in Russian). podrobnosti.ua. 2009-09-20. Retrieved 2011-03-05.
- "Fifty years ago USSR accomplished the operation "Snowball": forty three thousand Soviet soldiers died. (Russian)" (in Russian). newsru.com. 2004-09-14. Retrieved 2011-03-05.
- Dietrich Tissen. "Nuclear Test in Totskoye in 1954". Retrieved 2007-01-10.
- "Human Nuclear Experiments". NuclearFiles.org. Retrieved 2007-01-10.
- V.I. Feskov et al., "The Soviet Army in the Cold War 1945–90", Tomsk, 2004, p. 94
- Paul Goble (2014-09-15). "60 Years Ago, Moscow Tested a Nuclear Weapon on Its Own Citizens". The Interpreter Magazine. Retrieved 2014-12-14.
- "Nuclear Testing in the USSR. Volume 2. Soviet Nuclear Testing Technologies. Environmental Effects. Safety Provisions. Nuclear Test Sites", Begell-House, Inc., New York, 1998
- A.A. Romanyukha, E.A. Ignatiev, D.V. Ivanov and A.G. Vasilyev, "The Distance Effect on the Individual Exposures Evaluated from the Soviet Nuclear Bomb Test in 1954 at Totskoye Test Site in 1954", Radiation Protection Dosimetry 86:53-58 (1999) online abstract
- Генерал-лейтенант С.А. Зеленцов. Тоцкое войсковое учение (научно-публицистическая монография) [Totskoye Military Exercise] (in Russian). Retrieved 2011-03-05.
- Wm. Robert Johnston (2005-05-05). "Totsk nuclear test, 1954". Retrieved 2011-03-05.
- In the zone of nuclear blast (Russian) by General of Aviation Ostroumov
- Truth about the testing site of death (Russian), a publication by Moskovskii Komsomolets