True Story No13

 

Bang you're dead! (soon)

A long time ago now I was helping to write a specification for some communications equipment, which might one day be used by the Army. We had drawn up much detailed information and now we were doing the A-level stuff. In those days there was the cold war and we were told that there were nasty people out there who wished to do us harm if only they got the chance. In particular they may drop bombs on us and all manner of horrible things may result.

Our equipment would be used in the front line and may be subjected to especially nasty things like battlefield tactical nuclear weapons. These took the form of atomic artillery shells and the like, that could do all sorts of damage. First there was blast which would knock over a communications vehicle and which, if strong enough, would probably write it off. The effects of blast had been calculated and we knew what to expect.

Another effect was EMP, the dreaded Electro Magnetic Pulse which was supposed to cause untold damage to our electrical bits and pieces. Then, in no particular order, there was the flash, the heating effect, and of course the streams of atomic particles such as neutrons which did nasty things to humans.

Anyway we went off to see some clever people who were going to tell us all we needed to know so that we might sensibly specify our communications equipment. Once specified, someone could design it, then eventually it would be manufactured and supplied to the Army, who hopefully would never need to prove that our specification was right.

We weren't alone that day. Two other Companies had also been asked to work something out as well. The Company with the best proposal, or the cheapest, depending on who was in charge at the time the decision had to be made, would get the job.

As our boss thought we were the best, and he was always thinking about strategy, our group sat in the centre of the front row of seats of the lecture theatre.

Our boss was always thinking about things like that.

Who should sit next to whom at lunch time.

Who to invite out and how much scotch to ply him with etc.

The group from a second Company sat right at the back and of course, as is the way with people, the third sat right in the middle.

The capacity of the theatre was probably about 1000.

Each group had about eight members so the place was pretty empty.

The chap who was giving the talk arrived.

He had lots of view foils which his colleague put in a projector when he waved his hand. He also kept rushing up to the blackboard and scribbling furiously to highlight anything he thought needing clarification.

After a few minutes of virtually incomprehensible stuff he asked for questions.

There was complete silence.

The boss leaned forward and looked at me and kept nodding, then he leaned across and poked my shoulder.

As it was my job to write this particular chapter in our proposal, I searched with difficulty, for something intelligent-sounding to say.

I put up my hand and asked an innocuous question.

There was more uncomfortable silence, then the chap at the board said it was an interesting question.

My friend Pat, who was my immediate boss, and used to work in Brooklands College doing weird "psychological" Management Training Courses, and not that technical, and who was always joking, suddenly said in a loud, sincere sounding voice, "Allan's a nuclear scientist".

I thought the chap would just laugh, but he didn't.

He probably thought my question must be very meaningful and deeper than he'd imagined and started writing loads of difficult equations on the board and looking round and asking me if I agreed.

I was dead embarrassed so I kept nodding and saying yes.

When I didn't quite hear what he said and looked puzzled the chap left the board and came over and stood in front of me.

He must have thought he'd got out of his depth or said something controversial from one nuclear scientist to another, and kept asking me hard questions to which I kept agreeing.

Anyway after about ten minutes of incomprehensible nuclearspeak, during which time nobody else in the lecture theatre could possibly have heard anything, he looked happy enough and went back to the view foils.

When the lecture was over he thanked me for my contribution and I felt obliged to say something.

I looked at my notes.

Something hadn't seemed to add up.

The lethal neutron dose was…. and the graph that showed our vehicle not quite falling over from the blast, correlated with another graph that gave the neutron density at that distance.

The dose was at least 100 times higher.

I pointed this out and the chap said, as if it should have been dead obvious to anyone with half a brain, that the soldiers would last at least half an hour before they keeled over and that was quite long enough to do whatever they needed to do with our radios.

The main thing, he said was that our radios survived, forget about the soldiers.

When I wrote the specification I added a few inches of polythene between the inner and outer skin of the vehicle because I think that helps to absorb the neutrons.

Maybe the soldiers would last an extra quarter of an hour or so?

Did anyone ever tell them I wonder.

When we submitted our complete proposal, not just the nuclear hardening bit, it stood the best part of 3 feet high. The second Company (at the back) supplied two thickish volumes and rumour has it the third, a few sheets of A4. And yes we did win and we did build the communications vehicles, but thankfully they only ever got used in exercises.

 

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