Russia's Old Plan for Crushing NATO in War Involved Lots of Nuclear Weapons (And Death)
Petr Lunak goes further in dismissing the plan as a “fairy tale.” Beyond being ambitious in its objectives, the plan is downright crazy because it envisions the Soviet and Warsaw Pact soldiers fighting in territory that had just been destroyed by massive nuclear attacks. These areas would have been highly radioactive. As Lunak points out, “They (the Soviets) really planned to send ground troops out in the field and have them fight for a few days until they died from radiation.”
World War II was the most destructive war in human history. Consider that, a conservative estimate of World War II fatalities is 60 million people, or roughly 3 percent of the world’s population at the time.
Yet, to an even greater extent than World War I, the outcome of World War II seemed to merely plant the seeds for another great power conflict. The battlelines were drawn when the Soviet Union created an Iron Curtain stretching across most of Central and Eastern Europe, while the United States led an alliance system throughout the western half of the continent.
For the next four and a half decades, military officers in the United States and the Soviet Union would create and tinker with plans to fight a NATO-Warsaw Pact war. For the United States, this meant seeking in vain to offset the Soviet Union’s numerical advantages without resorting to nuclear weapons early in a conflict.
Although successive U.S. administrations came into office vowing to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in America’s military doctrine, this proved impossible before the Reagan administration, when the revolution in precision-guided weaponry offered Washington a way to defeat the Soviet military juggernaut.
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Although the Soviet Union’s specific war plans, like America’s, remains classified, historians have been able to more or less ascertain how the Soviet army would have fought by using archives released by former Warsaw Pact member states like Poland and Czechoslovakia.
These reveal that, while Stalin was alive and through the 1950s, the Warsaw Pact maintained an almost entirely defensive posture aimed at protecting member states from a Western invasion. Likely reflecting America’s massive nuclear superiority at the time, these war plans did not envision the use of nuclear weapons in any capacity.
It was only after Stalin died, and specifically in the 1960s, that the Soviet Union designed new war plans. These were decidedly offensive nature and envisioned a blitzkrieg-type assault that allowed the Warsaw Pact to conquer most of Western Europe in a matter of days. It amazingly sought to integrate the liberal use of nuclear weapons with the Warsaw Pact’s formidable conventional military might.
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Specifically, the Soviet war planners (rightly) anticipated that the United States and its allies would resort to the massive use of nuclear weapons early in the conflict. As a result, they hoped to preempt their use in order to protect Soviet and Warsaw Pact territory.
Regardless, nuclear weapons were a central part of the Soviet Union’s strategy to conquer all of Western Europe. As War Is Boring has pointed out, on the Northern front alone, “Warsaw Pact plans called for 189 nuclear weapons: 177 missiles and 12 bombs ranging in yield from five kilotons—roughly a quarter the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima—to 500 kilotons.” Additional nuclear weapons would have been used in the Central and Southern fronts as well.
The larger nuclear weapons would be used to destroy major cities in Western Europe, including Hamburg, Bonn, Munich and Hannover in West Germany; Rotterdam, Utrecht and Amsterdam in the Netherlands; and Antwerp and Brussels in Belgium.
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No fewer than two nuclear weapons would have been used to destroy Copenhagen, and five nuclear weapons in total would have been unleashed on Denmark as well. A number of Italian cities would be targeted as well.
Even Austria, which was a neutral country in the Cold War, would not be spared from atomic destruction. Soviet war plans called for dropping two 500 kiloton nuclear weapons on Vienna.