Totskoye Nuclear Exercise

Maxim Serebriakov
February 27, 2019

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: This image shows the location of the Orenburg Oblast, were the Totskoye exercise took place. [2] (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

After the conclusion of the Second World War, the United States and the Soviet Union were the two political superpowers that dominated the world. The stark ideological differences between the two states lead to many heated political and economic disagreements. As a consequence of these clashes, both nations believed in the potential for the outbreak of another war World War Three. As a result, both nations trained for the potential war. One of such training exercises was conducted by the Soviet Union and called the Totskoye nuclear exercise. Similar plans were conducted by the United States Department of Defense, such as Operation Dropshot. [1]

The Military Exercise

The Totskoye military exercise was a training exercise conducted by the Soviet army in 1954. The event was conducted in the Totskoye ground in the Orenburg Oblast (shown in Figure 1), which is located in the southern region of Russia. [2] The significance of this event was that this military exercise was the first of its kind to utilize nuclear weaponry in preparation for a nuclear war. In fact, the military exercise greatly emphasized the use of nuclear technology as a means to break through the oppositions defense. The location of the military base was specifically chosen because the lay of the region is very similar to that of Western Europe, which Georgy Zhukov (the army general responsible for the training) believed was the most likely location for the beginning of the Third World War. [3]

The military training was conducted with the detonation of the nuclear explosion to see its effects on war weaponry, animals, and the already prepared defense set up, which simulated the set up of an opposing force. Another factor that should be considered was the possibility that the Soviet military also wanted to investigate the effects of radiation poisoning during war. This claim, however, is apocryphal, as many of the participants in the events were not followed up with. [4]


The training consisted of approximately 45,000 soldiers and 10,000 citizens of from local regions. [2] One of the largest consequences of this military training were the numerous cases of cancer, birth defects, child mortality, hematologic disease, and chromosomal abnormalities due to the poor measures that were taken by the Soviet authorities in informing the participants about the methods for defending against excessive amounts of radiation. Another consequence of this military event is that it highlighted the appearance of a new format for war (nuclear war) and a new concept of mutually assured destruction. [4] Even though the consequence of both of the previous notions are quite grave, the gravity is exactly the deterrence needed to avoid the beginning of another World War. [1] With this in mind, it is no surprise that in 1949 Albert Einstein stated: "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.

© Maxim Serebriakov. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] S. Zaloga, Target America: The Soviet Union and the Strategic Arms Race (Presidio Press, 1993).

[2] M. Simons, "Soviet Atom Test Used Thousands As Guinea Pigs, Archives Show," New York Times, 7 Nov 93.

[3] P. L. Podvig, ed., Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces (MIT Press, 2004).

[4] D. Holloway, Stalin and the Bomb: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy, 1939-1956 (Yale University Press, 1996).