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Altogether, under one scenario contained in a joint Soviet-Hungarian planning document, the Warsaw Pact would unleash 7.5 megatons of nuclear weapons on Western targets in the opening days of a war.
This was not altogether different from the United States and its NATO allies. Indeed, the British Nuclear Deterrent Study Group concluded that Britain alone intended to drop around 40 nuclear bombs on the Soviet Union in the event of war.
The United States would greatly surpass that number, of course. America’s nuclear war plans are organized under the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP), which was first created in 1960. Although the SIOP is a tightly guarded secret, some information on the earliest SIOPs has been declassified. These show that, early on in the Cold War , “A full nuclear SIOP strike launched on a preemptive basis would have delivered over 3,200 nuclear weapons to 1,060 targets in the Soviet Union, China, and allied countries in Asia and Europe.” Under the plan, the United States would not distinguish between Communist nations that were at war with the United States and ones that were not (sorry, China).
What made the Soviet Union’s warfighting doctrine so different from NATO’s is that Moscow believed nuclear weapons would only be one part of the fighting, and not even necessarily the decisive factor. For the United States and its allies, the use of massive amounts of nuclear weapons was more or less the extent of the fighting, given the extensive destruction it would cause.
By contrast, the documents released by the former Warsaw states reveal that the Soviet Union believed that nuclear weapons would be used to shape the overall battlefield. The traditional metrics of warfighting—namely, defeating the enemy’s forces and occupying his territory— would determine the outcome of the war.
As one Czech scholar, Petr Lunak, explains, “Contrary to the U.S. doctrine of massive retaliation, the Soviet bloc's response would have made use not only of nuclear weapons, but, in view of Soviet conventional superiority, also of conventional weapons. This massive retaliation, in the Soviet view, did not make planning beyond it irrelevant. Contrary to Western planners of the time, Soviet strategists assumed that their massive strike would only create the conditions for winning the war by the classic method of seizing enemy territory.”
He further elaborates: “In the thinking of the Czechoslovak and probably of the Soviet military headquarters of the time, nuclear weapons would determine the speed of war but not its entire character. Since nuclear arms considerably shortened the stages of war, according to the Eastern logic, it became necessary to try to gain the decisive initiative with a powerful strike against enemy forces, making use of the moment of surprise.”
Thus, along with the liberal use of nuclear weapons, the Soviet Union and its Warsaw allies planned to launch a massive blitzkrieg aimed at taking over most of Western Europe. The goal was to break through NATO’s frontlines, and “advance swiftly into the depth of his defense and move into operational space.” In order to achieve these rapid initial successes, the Soviet Union aimed to achieve a troop advantage of 5:1 or 6:1 along the main points of attack.
The objectives of the campaigns differed depending on the front. For example, after the nuclear exchange, the Czechoslovak Army was supposed to pierce through NATO frontlines and quickly seize Nuremberg, Stuttgart and Munich, all of which were part of West Germany at the time. By the ninth day of the conflict the Czechoslovak Army, perhaps with some Soviet backing, was supposed to conquer Lyons in southern France. After that, Soviet reinforcements would push on to Pyrenees, the mountain ranges that form the border between Spain and France.
Simultaneously with these operations, Polish and Soviet troops were supposed to conquer most of the northern portion of the continent. Specifically, they intended to invade West Germany, Denmark, The Netherlands and Belgium. Securing these areas was crucial in order to prevent the United States, Canada and Great Britain from landing reinforcements for NATO on the northern part of the continent. As such, they hoped to have secured Denmark within a week and reach the Atlantic coast within 14 days of the start of the fighting.
This plan was obviously highly ambitious, and many military observers strongly doubt that the Warsaw Pact militaries even had the necessary motorized vehicles to pull off such a quick invasion throughout much of the Cold War.
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.”