The Cold War Nightmare: War in Europe

In the previous post one of our commentors, ewok40k, asked about late 1950’s tactics, and I replied some about where the Soviet thinking was going: Towards a war in Europe.

I thought it might be useful to step back and talk about that scenario for a bit, in order to give some background to Soviet Strategic thinking. This should not be considered anything more than an overview based upon my own readings, and the opinions of folks I served alongside and talked with in the years after I left active duty. There’s a lot out there to read and digest, and this is only a small blog post.

However…  The Soviet Union, like any nation, requires it’s military to plan for all sorts of eventualities. Although the Soviets certainly had a plan for an invasion of the United States, the possibility of such an event was incredibly remote, not just because of the distances involved, but because of the limits of military resources to actually follow through.

What the Soviets DID plan for was a war with Europe/NATO.  This would be primarily a ground war, and it favored the Soviets in a number of ways. First, the Soviet military had massive amounts of tanks, artillery, and men to throw at NATO. As Stalin observed, “quantity has a quality all it’s own”.  The Soviets were right to consider taking on Europe as doable. Most western European nations had drawn down their military forces significantly after World War II, depending upon the United States to provide a large portion of the forces required by NATO. Although it would have been bloody, a Soviet victory would have been quite possible. The reason is that most of the American support was back in the United States, and up until the late 1960’s, the majority of it would have had to deploy to Europe by sea.  It wasn’t until about 1968 that a large amount of material could be airlifted by the new C-141’s and C-5’s coming online. Even then, though, tanks, artillery, and such would still see the bulk of their forces shipped by sea, because of the magnitude that would be required.

The Soviets were well aware of this, and that is a major reason why their submarine programs developed in the manner that they did. Where the USA saw the need for two main classes: SSBN & SSN, the Soviets added SSGN’s to the mix, with only a smaller number of SSGN assets as a part of the mix.

This mix developed because the Soviets saw the need for US reinforcements to come by sea to Europe. It’s exactly what we had to do in the Gulf War and the Iraq invasion.  Thus, they developed the November class to hunt down US and Allied merchant ships headed to Europe, and followed those with the Victor class and others. Knowing that the US would sortie Carrier Battle Groups to support actions close to the European coast, as well as escorting valuable supply convoys, the Soviets added SSGN,s submarines carrying anti-ship guided missiles and, later, cruise missiles.

Soviet thinking was to evaluate the different threats, then design a response to it. Whereas American Navy thinkers designed multi-mission submarines, the Soviets had specific missions in mind with each class, and you can see that reflected in the various design concepts that developed over the years.

For American Strategic planners, the REAL threat of a Soviet invasion of Europe was not one where the Party decided to take the revolution westward by force. It was an invasion brought on outside events which forced the issue. The scenario which made the most sense went like this:

Over a number of years, climate changes had wreaked havoc on the world’s crops. It hit worse upon the Soviet Union, because Central Planning was a disaster, and even in the best of times, the Soviets needed to import corn for silage. As crops yields decreased, the United States cut back, and then stopped exports to the Soviets. The Soviets protested this, and asked why Americans couldn’t tighten their own belts just a single notch, so everyone could eat? The Americans, of course, said NO!

After much debate, the Soviets rolled over the border in massive force, driving all the way to the Rhine, then halting. The idea was to hold that area hostage, in return for food deliveries from the west. Why the Rhine? Because France was a nuclear power.  If the Soviets rolled over the Rhine, it was altogether possible that the French government would allow for the use of French tactical nuclear weapons. The government had been the soldiers and young men of the resistance who fought the Germans and remembered those days. They had no doubt how bad life under the Soviets would be. French forces would almost certainly have employed nuclear weapons had the Rhine been crossed.

Soviet bargaining power would have been enhanced by any sort of success against American efforts to supply NATO by sea.  It would have been akin to the U-Boat war against Allied convoys in WWII, but with even higher stakes. It’s not inconceivable that a Soviet submarine commander might opt to use a nuclear-tipped torpedo against an American carrier if he found himself in a tight spot.

Once the tactical nukes are lit off, it’s an easy step to the city-killers and Armageddon.

That’s a quick and dirty look at how the Americans perceived the Soviet threat, and how the Soviets saw NATO and potential war scenarios.

Tomorrow, I hope to have a post up on the last of the HEN-Class boats, the Echo I&II SSGN.

World War III In Europe


2 Responses to “The Cold War Nightmare: War in Europe”

  1. 1 ewok40k
    April 28, 2010 at 04:31

    well, from what emerged from WarPac documents recovered after 1989 Soviets planned going nuclear from the start, with hundreds of nukes hitting all over Western Europe….

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