Test Of Greatness: Britain’s Struggle for the Atom Bomb

Original TitleTest of Greatness: Britain's Struggle for the Atom Bomb
AuthorBrian Cathcart
Edition LanguageEnglish
Year of Publication1994

In the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Clement Attlee realized at once that the nature of security and strength in the world had changed irrevocably.

He ordered a superhuman effort to make Britain a nuclear power.

He ordered a superhuman effort to make Britain a nuclear power.

Although Britain had been a junior partner in the Manhattan Project which had produced the American bombs, no British scientist had more than partial knowledge of the complex physics involved. 

The war over, the Americans cut off all help. 

At a time of daunting economic difficulty and amid the growing tension of the Cold War, the project hurriedly took shape behind a cloak of almost paranoid secrecy and in an atmosphere of constant stringency and shortage.

Brian Cathcart’s book ranges over politics, diplomacy, espionage and science, but above all it tells the story of the brilliant young scientist William Penney, his team and their struggle. 

The men who worked behind the security fences at Aldermaston have been allowed to speak. 

The tales include fearsome risks, vast resourcefulness, bureaucratic obstruction, naval intransigence and a measure of black humour. The veil is also lifted on the extraordinary contribution of Klaus Fuchs, the Soviet spy. 

Finally the high drama of the test itself, conducted off the coast of Australia after a naval operation which came close to total fiasco, is recounted in gripping detail.

Test of Greatness draws on what at the time the book was published were newly declassified documents. Cathcart also speaks uses primary sources, such as the words of the participants, illustrating and illuminating in vivid, human terms a secret but crucial chapter of post-war British history.

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