OF COURSE it was H.G. Wells who first perfected the atomic bomb and put it to work. And not only did he put it to work, demolishing most of the world’s capital cities and destroying governments, but then he got busy and built an entirely new society. In less time than you can imagine after the last bomb fell, everybody was settling down nicely in a global socialist community under a World Republic; atomic energy, internationally controlled, was performing all the necessary jobs of production, transportation, heating, and such, and the creative energies of mankind were being applied to higher things. In 1914, when "The World Set Free" was published and no bombs of any sort had been dropped it all sounded fantastic and even funny.
Mr. Wells’s first atomic bomb dropped during the final war between the Allies and the Central European powers. Hostilities started, dramatically enough, with an air attack on the headquarters in Paris of the Allied High Command. It demolished the War Control Board, and you might have thought that would have put an and to the fighting. But not at all. What it did was to encourage the "rather brutish young aviator with the bullet head," who was in charge of the French special scientific corps, to go ahead and run the war the way he wanted to. He was pleased to have the War Control out of the way.
He slapped his second-in-command on the shoulder. "Now," he said, "there’s nothing on earth to stop us going to Berlin and giving them tit-for-tat…. Strategy and reasons of state–they’re over…. Come along, my boy, and we’ll just show these old women what we can do when they let us have our heads." …He looked at the sky and noted with satisfaction a heavy bank of clouds athwart the pallid east.
He was a young man of infinite shrewdness, and his material and airplanes were scattered all over the countryside, stuck away in barns, covered with hay, hidden in woods…. But that night he only wanted one of the machines, and it was handy and quite prepared under a tarpaulin between two ricks not a couple of miles away; he was going to Berlin with that and just one other man…. He had in his hands the black complement to all those other gifts science was urging upon unregenerate mankind, the gift of destruction, and he was an adventurous rather than a sympathetic type….
Presently the airplane, which was a model far in advance of those recently sent over Japan for it had a noiseless atomic engine, flew across Westphalia and Saxony toward Berlin. The young aviator was at the controls. His face "had something of that firm beauty which all concentrated purpose gives, and something of the happiness of an idiot child that has at last got hold of the matches."
His companion, a less imaginative type, sat with his legs spread wide over the long, coffin-shaped box which contained in its compartments the three atomic bombs, the new bombs that would continue to explode indefinitely and which no one so far had ever seen in action. Hitherto carolinum, their essential substance, had been tested only in almost infinitesimal quantities within steel chambers imbedded in lead.
It wasn’t until he had passed Potsdam and was approaching the palace and the government buildings that he was attacked by a German plane which "slanted down like a sword swung by a lazy man" and then began to shoot. The French plane had no bomb-sight, it seems, but the pilot was flying low enough to see his objectives. The bombardier was ready.
The gaunt face hardened to grimness, and with both hands [he] lifted the big atomic bomb from the box and steadied it against the side. It was a black sphere, two feet in diameter. Between its handles was a little celluloid stud, and to this he bent his head until his lips touched it…. Very quickly he bent forward, bit the stud, and hoisted the bomb over the side.
The bomb flashed blinding scarlet in mid-air and fell, a descending column of blaze eddying spirally in the midst of a whirlwind. Both the airplanes were tossed like shuttlecocks, hurled high and sideways; and the steersman…fought in great banking curves for a balance…. When he could look down again it was like looking down upon the crater of a small volcano. In the open garden before the Imperial castle a shuddering star of evil splendor spurted and poured up smoke and flame toward them like an accusation…. Suddenly the façade tottered and crumbled before the flare as sugar dissolves in water. The man stared for a moment…hoisted out another bomb and sent it down after its fellow…. Then that bomb had exploded, and steersman, thrower, and airplane were just flying rags and splinters of metal and drops of moisture in the air, and a third column of fire rushed eddying down upon the doomed buildings below….