1940-1949 | Churchill's crimes | Nuclear Armageddon | Russia



Churchill shares a joke with Stalin four years earlier.
© IWM (A 20732)

[ 8 August 1947 ]

Today in 1946, over lunch at Chartwell, Winston Churchill enthusiastically answered a question from his physician Lord Moran regarding how a nuclear war might be waged against the Soviet Union.  ‘We ought not to wait until Russia is ready,’ Churchill explained, adding ‘America knows that fifty-two per cent of Russia’s motor industry is in Moscow and could be wiped out by a single bomb. It might mean wiping out three million people, but they would think nothing of that. They think more of erasing an historical building like the Kremlin.’1 Fortunately for the population of Moscow, Churchill was then Leader of the Opposition, having been forced from office in the July 1945 general election, but he again became prime minister in October 1951, authorising Britain’s first test of an atomic weapon the following year. However, by then Russia also possessed nuclear weapons raising the awkward possibility of retaliation if Churchill sought to obliterate the Russian car industry along with three million Muscovites.


Harold Wilson in 1967 –
Nationaal Archief via Wikimedia.

[ 8 August 1967 ]

On this day in 1967, the Commonwealth Minister George Thomas wrote a critical confidential memo for prime minister Harold Wilson. He warned Wilson that Shell-BP, then partly owned by the British government, ‘have much to lose if the F.M.G. (Nigeria’s Federal Military Government) do not achieve the expected victory’ against the breakaway province of Biafra, which had declared independence after Nigeria’s military dictator, Major General Yakubu ‘Jack’ Gowon, refused to allow it greater autonomy.

Ten days later George Thomas further clarified his concerns over the danger to British trade and oil interests if Biafra was to gain political and hence economic independence, explaining that  ‘we cannot expect that economic cooperation… will necessarily enable development and trade to proceed at the same level as (it) would have done in a unified Nigeria; nor can we now count on the Shell-BP oil concession being regained on the same terms as in the past if the East (meaning Biafra) and the mid-West  (a region around Benin City)  assume full control of their own economies.’2

Gowon had commenced military operations against Biafra a month earlier, and by the time the war finished in January 1970 it was to cause the death of at least one million Biafrans, mostly from starvation caused both by the conflict and a rigorous blockade on all imports into the region by the F.M.G. Even in August 1967, the British were aware that Biafra’s Igbo population had much to fear both from the conflict itself and a FMG victory, after 30,000 Igbo people had been massacred in Northern Nigeria less than a year earlier. The New York Times had reported how Igbo passengers hadbeen shot down by soldiers as they waited for flights from Kano airport.3 However, the British government had little interest in the welfare of the Igbo people. While feigning neutrality in the subsequent Biafran war, London continued to supply the FMG with huge quantities of arms and equipment, even when the conflict driven famine, one of the worst of the twentieth century, became a headline news story around the world.


  1. Winston Churchill quoted in Graham Farmelo, Churchill’s Bomb: A Hidden History of Britain’s First Nuclear Weapons Programme, Faber and Faber, London, 2014, p. 338 and J. L. Gaddis, P.H. Gordon, E.R. May and J Rosenberg (Editors) (1999),”Cold War Statesmen Confront the Bomb: Nuclear Diplomacy Since 1945,” Oxford University Press, Oxford, p. 186.
  2. Memo cited in Mark Curtis, Unpeople: Britain’s Secret Human Rights Abuses, Vintage London, 2004, p. 170.
  3. S. Elizabeth Bird and Fraser M. Ottanelli, The Asaba Massacre: Trauma, Memory and the Nigerian Civil War, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2017 p. 9.

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