Alternative History
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Originally a part of the Utah Territory, Nevada was carved out as a separate territory in 1861 because of animosity between the mostly Christian residents and the Mormons who controlled the rest of the region. In 1864, despite its low population, Nevada was allowed to enter the union as the 36th US state in part to swing support behind President Abraham Lincoln in the US presidential election of that year. The early history of the state was rooted in mining, primarily of silver and gold deposits, which saw many towns, expand rapidly. The decline of mining in the early 20th Century coupled by the Great Depression took a dramatic toll on the state’s economy, helping to usher in the legalization of gambling which would have a profound effect. Gambling, and associated service industries such as hotels and entertainment, would come to account for most of the state’s economy by 1983. It would also transform the small community of Las Vegas into a massive city renowned throughout the world for its entertainment and gambling. By 1983, the city would account for more than half of the state’s population of over 800,000 people.

With the initiation of atomic weapons, the US government established the Nevada Test Site in 1951 about 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas, using the area to conduct research and development involving atomic weapons including the above ground testing of nuclear bombs. Although the last such test had been in 1962, underground testing was still ongoing. The town of Mercury, established by the US Atomic Energy Commission inside the site, was home to about 10,000 people, most scientists and workers involved in testing. Additionally, Nevada had a long relationship with the US military dating back to before World War II and was home to several military bases:

  • Nellis Air Force Base, located in North Las Vegas, was a major USAF facility. It housed a number of units including the 474th Tactical Fighter Wing, and was also home to the U.S. Air Force Tactical Fighter Weapons Center.
  • Indian Spring Air Force Auxiliary Field, located near Indian Springs, was an auxiliary air field which came under the control of the Tacticial Air Command. It was being used to train pilots in the operation of fighter aircraft including Soviet warplanes.
  • Groom Lake Air Force Facility, also known as Area 51, located on the edge of Groom Lake about 83 miles north-northwest of Las Vegas. The facility was site for the testing and development of a number of experimental weapons as well as rumored to be the storage area for a downed extraterestrial craft.
  • Fallon Naval Air Station (NAS), located near Fallon.
  • Hawthorne Army Ammunition Plant, located in Hawthorne. The largest US Army ammunition storage site in the nation, it covered over 147,000 acres and held some 2,400 bunkers.


Nevada became aware of the impending Soviet attack through radio and television reports at about 5:52 PM (PDT) on the afternoon of September 25, 1983. The initial reaction of shock, confusion, and disbelief, quickly generated into chaos and panic as thousands of tourists fought to escape the cities along with local residents. Governor Richard Hudson Bryan, who had taken office nine months earlier, was in the state capital when he received the news. Working quickly, he called for the immediate evacuation of the major cities of Las Vegas, Reno, Carson, and Fallon. Additionally, he issued a series of directives declaring a state of emergency; imposing martial law and dusk to dawn curfew for everyone not involved in emergency operations; and activating the National Guard. He ordered the National Guard and Highway Patrol to work together in maintaining order; securing the border; and assisting with evacuations. Governor Bryan's instructions were immediately sent throughout the state shortly before electricity and most communications, including computers, televisions, radios, and telephones, abruptly failed at 6:14 PM severing internal and external links.

Beginning at approximately 6:30 PM, a number of Soviet warheads began to detonate across the southern region of the state. The hardest hit region was the Las Vegas Valley, where it was later estimated at least three one megaton warheads exploded, destroying Nellis AFB; the cities of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, and Henderson; and several smaller communities. The mountain ranges ringing the valley helped to contain much of the destructive force. This, along with the massive firestorms which were generated, resulted in the total destruction of the area. Although several thousand people were able to escape via Routes 15, 93, and 95, most were trapped within the valley due to traffic jams and congestion, and as a result perished. A pilot, who escaped the North Las Vegas Airport, later described: "As I flew over the famed strip I saw nothing but chaos. Flames and smoke were billowing from some of the buildings, including the hotels. The roads were packed with cars, trucks, and buses, all filled with people trying to escape. Some vehicles had collided, others overturned, and some had even caught fire. Everywhere it seemed as if thousands of people were running every which way, unsure of where to go or what to do. Many had abandoned their vehicles and were running on foot in a frantic effort to escape. It was a terrible sight I have never forgotten all these years later."

Smaller warheads targeted other sites, including one which exploded 45 miles outside Las Vegas over Area 51 at Groom Lake. Since no communication has ever been received from the site, it is believed all personnel perished. [An SNU expedition in the late 1990s reported the area to be a small lake, with the dry lake bed having filled with water due to increased rainfall.] The town of Mercury, home to AEC scientists and personnel of the Nevada test site was also destroyed, with most of the population of 10,000 perishing. To the northwest a 550-kiloton warhead, struck the Hawthorne Army Ammunition Plant. Although a large portion of the population from the town and depot managed to flee before the strike, heading north along Route 95, at least 1000 perished when the warhead exploded over the depot. It was later determined a second device aimed at the site missed and detonated in the desert near the Excelsior Mountains.

As of Doomsday, the total population of Nevada stood at just over 800,000 people, with more than half, approximately 463,000 people, concentrated in and around the city of Las Vegas. It would later be estimated, that nearly 60% of the state’s population, or just over 500,000 people, along with approximately 10,000 tourists, perished in the initial attacks and within the week from injuries and radiation exposure. By mid October 1983, the total population, concentrated mainly in the northern part of the state, would stand at approximately 300,000.


To be continued..