The following is a booklet issued to members of the Civil Defence Corps and the British emergency services to inform them of the advice that would be given to the general public in times of heightened tension with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. While it outlines the advice the government would give at such a time it was not intended for general public use.
This booklet was kept in use until the mid-1980s when it was replaced with an updated version that had more detail on the effects of nuclear fallout but retained the same basic advice. How effective these measures would have actually been is debatable. The cynical historian would argue that advice such as this had more to do with making the public feel like they could do something to protect themselves should nuclear war break out rather than genuinely useful advice.
In 1980, the UK government conducted an Exercise codenamed Square Leg which looked in to the effects of what they deemed was a realistic nuclear attack on the British mainland. They estimated that the country would sustain an attack with the destructive power in the region of 205 megatons. This would see almost 53% of the UK population – 29 million people – killed in the first few hours with another 19 million people dying in the following days from injuries and radiation.
The trouble with these figures is that Square Leg was heavily criticised as being – if you can believe it – optimistic and conservative. Critics argued that the UK was so densely populated with many strategic and military targets packed closely together that the Soviet Union would have allocated many more weapons to Britain than the government had estimated.
This reinforces the key point of nuclear weapons in that they are so frightening that they prevent a war rather than be a tool for war. We can only hope that the powers-that-be continue to remember that point.