238. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Policy Planning (Smith) to Secretary of State Dulles0


  • Use of Nuclear Weapons in the Quemoy Situation

After you left the briefing on nuclear weapons on the morning of November 7,1 Mr. Reinhardt posed your question as to the utility and the consequences of the use of nuclear weapons to take out the Chinese Communist gun emplacements opposite Quemoy.

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Admiral Parker responded with an initial disclaimer, saying that his organization, the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project, did not have the necessary intelligence and other information required to discuss the use of nuclear weapons in a specific situation such as that now existing in the Taiwan Straits. After some further prodding from the State Department representatives present, Admiral Parker and particularly Dr. Shelton did make some general comments.

Dr. Shelton said that it was almost impossible to inflict any serious and lasting damage on well constructed gun emplacements by the air-burst of nuclear weapons. Surface or, more probably, subsurface bursts would be required to knock out such installations. He thought that a 25 kiloton penetrating weapon delivered by air would be the appropriate weapon to deal with the Chinese Communist gun emplacements.

Dr. Shelton and Admiral Parker further pointed out that this weapon would have to be delivered within 200 feet of the target if it were to achieve the desired effect. Because of this need for accuracy they thought it likely that an average of two weapons for each target might be required. Hence, a considerable number of 25 kiloton bombs would have to be dropped to take out all the gun emplacements opposite Quemoy.

Since subsurface bursts were contemplated, there would be heavy fallout, the lethal extent of which would be about six miles. Much of the Quemoy Island group would lie within this six-mile area, so that the weapons could be used only in meteorological conditions which insured that the fallout would occur over the mainland. There would very probably be heavy and perhaps lethal fallout over the city of Amoy. This would result from the overlapping fallout patterns of a number of weapons.

There was also some rather inconclusive discussion of the utility of one or two kiloton projectiles fired from 8-inch Howitzers on Quemoy. These could be delivered on target and would cause considerable damage to the Chinese Communist gun emplacements. The flavor of Admiral Parker’s comments was, however, that this would be a punitive rather than a destructive use of nuclear weapons. He remarked that after a few of these projectiles had been fired the Communists might lose their taste for the battle. The fallout effects from these weapons would be negligible.

At the conclusion of the meeting Admiral Parker undertook to inform General Picher, Director of the Joint Staff of the JCS, that you would like to have a report on the weapons effects, including an estimate of civilian casualties, if nuclear weapons were to be used against the Chinese Communists’ gun emplacements threatening Quemoy.

  1. Source: Department of State, PPS Files: Lot 67 D 548, China, 1957–58. Secret.
  2. Apparently the meeting described in Gerard Smith, Doubletalk: The Story of the First Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, 1980), pp. 10–11.