This segment from the Discovery Channel makes this bold claim:

[The tsar bomb] contained the equivalent of 58 million tons of TNT, or all the explosives used in World War II, multiplied by 10.

Even ignoring that the powder in bullets could be considered explosives, this still seems extreme. What source are they using for the sum of explosives used in WWII?

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    For others who didn't recognize the term, the tsar bomb was the largest nuclear bomb ever tested. It was built and tested by the Soviet Union. It was so devastating that it was only tested once, as damage extended far beyond the intended test borders. There was a larger design that was never tested, as it was believed that the crew of the bomber would have died after deploying it.
    – Brythan
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 20:13
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    Interesting side note, there was more ordnance dropped on Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos by the US in the Vietnam war than by all parties of WWII combined... and more than 1/10th of the Tsar bomb yield (>7 million tons). Consider that a typical WWII four-engined bomber (B17, B24) would usually "only" carry between 2300 and 3600 kg of bombs.
    – DevSolar
    Commented Apr 5, 2017 at 7:58
  • JFK made a similar statement 'where a singe nuclear weapon contains almost 10 times the allied air forces in ww2 : youtu.be/GnCps4GHGmY?t=3m53s
    – daniel
    Commented Sep 15, 2018 at 12:55

1 Answer 1


Well, there are a lot of statistics available regarding WW II, and the Tsar Bomb has simple math associated with it.

First, the Tsar Bomb: As a nuclear weapon, its yield is measured in megatons. 1 megaton is equal to one million tons of TNT. The Tsar bomb yield was 57 Mt.

A lot of statistics have been collected about WW II. However it doesn't seem to be collected into one place. The allies (US, England, and Russia) dropped 3.4 million Tons. I have not been able to find any specific statistics of bombing by the Axis powers, however their bombing campaigns were nowhere near as extensive as those of the allies. Just adding up the referenced Axis bombing in this Wikipedia article, it totals well below 1 megaton (heck, it's even below 100,000 tons).

Therefore, if you take a factor of 10 of 3.5 million tons (or even assume Wikipedia is off by a factor of 10 on the Axis bombing), you get about 35 Mt (or 44 Mt), which is less than 57 Mt.

I would contend that even the explosive contained in bullets and shells still wouldn't get to anywhere near the amount of a nuclear device.

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    This says 50 billion rounds of ammunition from the USA. Estimating 40 grains of propellant per round means only 100,000 tons.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 21:17
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    While your numbers seem to support the claim, you seem to conflate "this nuclear device" with "a nuclear device" there are low kiloton nuclear weapons.
    – user36688
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 22:28
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    Your link for Allied bombing totals gives no citation, explanation of methodology, or indication of peer review. Moreover, it only counts aerial bombing; is there good reason to think that other explosives used (artillery, naval guns and torpedoes, mines, tank shells, hand grenades, etc, etc) are within 10 times that total, or is that just a wild guess? Aerial bombing is surely one of the most expensive ways to deliver an explosive payload, so we might not expect it to represent a large fraction of the total. Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 0:09
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    The propellant for ammunition is not explosive. It wouldn't be a useful propellant if it was. Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 15:15
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    @daniel it is however, when used as a propellant, not packaged in such a way as to cause an explosion.
    – jwenting
    Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 6:44

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