Dated November 1966, the papers expose the shocking realities of a World War 3 situation playing out following the tensions brought on by the Cuban Missile Crisis four years earlier. One letter, from the Minister of RAF, to the British Foreign Office, requests permission to pick up “four unserviceable Red Beard gauntlet assemblies containing radioactive material in the Far East”. Red Beard was the first British tactical nuclear weapon carried by V bombers of the Royal Air Force (RAF) and developed under Operational Requirement 1127 in 1961.
However, the proposal discusses how there could be some issues on the way back to the UK, due to refuelling.
One letter seen by Express.co.uk reads: “We need to change four unserviceable Red Beard gauntlet assemblies containing radioactive material in the Far East.
“The proposed method is to fly out new assemblies by a Transport Command Britannia aircraft which can then carry the unserviceable items on the return journey.
“Space on the aircraft would be used to carry other nuclear weapon components which do not contain high explosive or fissile material.
The RAF feared dropping a bomb on Iran
The Cuban Missile Crisis took place in 1962
The only risk arrises if the aircraft were to crash and catch fire
“The movements are planned to take place in the period November 28 to December 2, 1966.”
The letter goes on to explain why Turkey and Iran could be under threat during the journey.
It adds: “The aircraft would follow the all sea route to Akrotiri staging at Luqa to refuel, therefore flying the northern CENTO route over Turkey and Iran to Masirah, then via gan to Tengah.
“The only risk arises if the aircraft were to crash and catch fire.
“The limited extent of this risk is as outlined in my minute of June 23, 1966, on a similar movement.
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The world came close to nuclear war
“The return flight would follow the same route.
“I should be glad to know that you and the Commonwealth Secretary, to whom I am copying this minute, see no obligation to this flight.”
George Thomson, who was serving as part of Harold Wilson’s cabinet at the time, gave the all-clear but said it would be the last of its kind.
He wrote back: “Thank you for your minute of October 21, I agree to the movement of the Red Beard nuclear weapon components to the Far East and the return of the unserviceable items as you propose.
‘Whilst I appreciate that there is little risk of the of an accident whilst the aircraft is in transit over Turkey or Iran, the consequences of such an accident could be extremely serious.
Tensions were high between the US and Soviet UNion
The RAF succeeded in recoveing the nuclear weapon
“I hope, therefore, tht every effort will be made to ensure that this will be the last occasion on which we will use the Eastabout route for this purpose.
“I propose to warn Her Majesty’s Ambassadors at Ankara and Tehran and to prepare instructions for urgent transmission to them on the action twhich that are to tak ein the event of anything going wrong.
“I am sending copies of this minute to the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Defence and the Commonwealth Secretary.”
Thankfully, no bombs were dropped during the mission and so World War 3 did not erupt.
The Cold War tensions would last for more than 40 years until a change in Soviet mindset under Mikhail Gorbachev culminated in the fall of the Berlin Wall.
However, the eighth and last leader revealed in 2006 his real thoughts on what caused the fall of communism in Eastern Europe.
He said: “The nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl, even more than my launch of Perestroika, was perhaps the real cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union five years later.”
The Chernobyl disaster was a devastating nuclear accident that occurred at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant near the city of Pripyat, Ukraine, on April 25, 1986.
It is considered the worst nuclear disaster in history and is one of only two nuclear energy disasters rated at seven – the maximum severity – on the International Nuclear Event Scale, the other being the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan.
World War 3 flashpoints
Initially, after the Chernobyl disaster, Mr Gorbachev and the Communist Party downplayed the incident both domestically and on the world stage, calling it a minor event that “requires no special measures to protect the population”.
Moscow’s handling of the disaster went on to expose the reality of human error within the Soviet system and introduced doubt and questions of competence directed at the Kremlin not seen since before World War 2.
Mr Gorbachev was unable to recover and as questions mounted so did the pressure, until eventually the regime collapsed and the Berlin Wall coming down will forever be seen as the moment symbolising the Soviet Union’s demise.
However, these comments suggest that Chernobyl was the real turning point in Soviet history and the disaster arguably made the wall coming down an inevitability.