Joe-4 Soviet H-Bomb

The successful test of RDS-1 in August of 1949 inspired the Soviet government to institute a major, high-priority program to develop the hydrogen bomb. The Soviets, who received information from Klaus Fuchs regarding the American hydrogen bomb program throughout the late 1940s, knew that thermonuclear weapons were theoretically possible. They also knew that the hydrogen bomb would have to be developed in order to counter the perceived “American threat” abroad.

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The effort to develop a thermonuclear weapon was led by Soviet physicist Andrei Sakharov, widely considered the “Father of the Soviet H-Bomb.” Starting in 1949-1950, Sakharov focused intensely on thermonuclear research. During this period he co-invented a controlled hydrogen reaction, and proposed a design for a hydrogen bomb called Sloika or “Layer Cake.” This proposed design would lead to the first successful Soviet detonation of a thermonuclear warhead (Soviet Hydrogen Bomb Program).

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On August 12, 1953 the Soviet Union detonated a thermonuclear (“hydrogen”) bomb at the Semipalatinsk test site in northern Kazakhstan. This test came a little less than a year after the United States tested its first thermonuclear device with the Mike Shot on November 1, 1952 and was a massive advance for the Soviet nuclear program in keeping pace with the United States nuclear program (Hydrogen Bomb). The detonation of Joe-4 was captured live on video which can be seen here: First Soviet Hydrogen Bomb Test 1953.

The Soviet nuclear arms program was given the highest priority by Joseph Stalin, which was a clear by-product of the Cold War. Stalin’s emphasis on the importance of the Soviet nuclear arms program would carry on and even accelerate after his death in March 1953. Before Stalin’s death there had been three nuclear tests; between August 1953 and the end of 1955 there were sixteen including three thermonuclear explosions (Hydrogen Bomb). This was a sign for how “Post Stalin Russia” would operate as the U.S. and Russia enter the Cold War. The Soviet nuclear program would continue to accelerate and expand their atomic and hydrogen bomb programs throughout the Cold War. The U.S.S.R. sought to develop bigger, more powerful bombs to make up for what they perceived to be a disadvantage in the accuracy and reliability of their nuclear delivery systems compared to that of the United States. This development of atomic and hydrogen nuclear weapons by the United States and Russia would continue post World War II, into the Cold War, and continues today as Russia and the United States battle with nuclear sanctions, treaties, and arms control agreements.



Freeze, Gregory. “Russia A History” 3rd Edition.

Video Resource:


Featured Image:

Andrei Sakharov:




3 thoughts on “Joe-4 Soviet H-Bomb

  1. During the Cold War, nuclear weapons were one of, if not, the biggest signs of power on the international stage and especially in the conflict between the US and USSR. I really liked how you examined the “father of the Soviet-H Bomb” and his scientific contributions to this program. I also enjoyed your video of the detonation. Great post.


  2. Lots of good points here, and the site is a real find! Thank you for featuring Sakharov — his experience with atomic weapons really changed his perspective on the role of the scientist and the relationship between science, the military and society — he becomes one of the most famous and effective dissidents in the late Soviet period.


  3. It’s really fascinating to see how much these two superpowers, the US and USSR relied on their scientists in the increasingly highly scientific arms race. Not only in the military but also when it came to national prestige as we see with the space race as well. I enjoyed the video, it was amazing to see the pure raw power of the thermonuclear detonation. Great post.


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