The US came within seconds of starting World War 3 by dropping an atomic bomb on Russia during the height of the Cold War, according to a former Pentagon official.
The extraordinary claims suggest Russia and the West came close to all-out nuclear conflict due to a computer glitch caused by a faulty component costing just 46 cents.
Secret documents have revealed more than 1,000 accidents involving nuclear weapon by bungling American servicemen – including fires, explosions and accidentally dropped bombs that nearly cost hundreds of millions of lives in the Seventies and Eighties.
During the close-call in 1979, defence chiefs at the North American Aerospace Defence Command in Colorado were told of a major, imminent attack by Soviet forces.
Computer screens at the top-secret base filled with images showing the early stages of an attack, and they prepared to retaliate.
It was only after a thorough investigation and a check of the back-up radar that a revenge strike was called off at the last minute.
Had America reacted by sending its own nuclear warheads to the Soviet Union, a third world war would have been inevitable.
In another excruciating incident caused by America’s shoddy technology, US early warning systems detected an incoming attack from hundreds of Soviet missiles.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security adviser to US President Jimmy Carter, was woken at 2.30am to be told the worrying news.
It soon transpired the true number of Russian bombs heading for US shores was 2,200.
Brzezinski had just minutes to decide whether to launch an attack using America’s own nuclear arsenal.
Just as he was preparing to call the president, he received a call to say the incoming missile alert was a false alarm, caused by faulty computer chip costing just a few cents.
And in a separate mishap, pilots accidentally dropped a plutonium missile on North Carolina from a B-52 bomber during a routine flight in 1962.
At the time, US bombers were kept airborne 24 hours a day so the US
could respond in an instant to any developing threat.
The plane in question was carrying two hydrogen bombs when the pilot noticed there was a weight imbalance on the aircraft.
As the crew attempted to return to the airbase, the plane began to break apart, and the bomb was accidentally released.
The warhead went through all of its arming steps except for one, hitting the ground before a firing signal sent.
If that one switch had been activated, the bomb would have detonated a full-scale thermonuclear explosion on US soil.
The hair-raising accounts are detailed in a book by US author Eric Schlosser, titled ‘Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety’.
The Pentagon’s official accounts detail 32 accidents involving US nuclear warheads.
But Mr Schlosser obtained secret documents which reveal more than 1,000 accidents involving nuclear weapons between 1950 and 1968.
The release of sensitive information revealing US military blunders shows just how close the Soviet Union and the West came to conflict during the Cold War.
Escalating tensions in Ukraine and repeated incursions into restricted airspace by Russian bombers suggests the world may still be experiencing a modern-day ‘cold’ conflict.
Schlosser has warned both the US and Russia still own ageing weapons system.
America’s main nuclear bomber hasn’t been redesigned since John F Kennedy was president in the Sixties, and the main land-based missile – still in use today – should have been retired in the early Eighties.
“It’s only since the Cold War ended that we’ve been able to find out how close we came, again and again, to having our own weapons detonate by accident, or potentially be stolen, or potentially be used by people without proper authorisation,” he said.