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
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
Who should sit next to whom at lunch
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
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
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
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
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.
Read about the Wavell
and the Wavell