UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


I can no longer sit back and allow
Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination,
Communist subversion, and the International Communist conspiracy to
sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.
General Jack Ripper
Dr. Strangelove 1963

Planning World War III in Europe

If the deterrent aspect of containment failed, an invasion of Western Europe would represent a desperate effort by the Soviet Union to break out of containment - whatever the precipitating cause in various scenarios: opportunism vis-a-vis Yugoslavia as in Hackett's Third World War: a need for Gulf oil as in Clancy's Red Storm Rising: or internal troubles in the Soviet Union or Eastern bloc. It would signify Moscow's failure to undermine containment through diplomacy, intimidation, or ideological example. However, it would also represent a determination by the Kremlin that the "correlation of forces" favored the Soviet Union, and that containment could be broken by military action.

Soviet conventional superiority on the continent had posed a problem for NATO planners since the inception of the alliance. Moscow's conventional strength was largely countered by U.S. superiority in strategic and tactical nuclear weaponry. By the late 1970s, the Soviet Union had caught up with the U.S. in numbers and sophistication of both strategic and tactical weapons.

Map Germany Map Germany Map Germany Map Germany

Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov, upon becoming chief of the General Staff, was tasked with developing a credible strategy for defeating NATO with conventional forces alone, which could transform the balance of power in Europe by making the West Europeans doubt that the United States would be able to protect them. General Andrian Danilevich, probably the most talented Soviet strategist of the Cold War era, did the bulk of the work. The results were encapsulated into a three-volume, top secret “directive” on The Strategy of Deep Operations (Global and Theater) that would guide Soviet military operations in time of war. The key innovation was the concept of fighting an integrated air and land battle over a vastly greater area than ever before.

A few people in Washington soon had a good idea of this new strategy, thanks mainly to Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski, a Polish officer working on the war plans of the Warsaw Pact, and a CIA agent. Internal CIA documents described him as a "reliable source who has excellent access in the Polish Ministry of Defense ... " and his reporting noted he was "an extremlly sensitive source and, therefore, recipients should hold this report very closely".

The central concept was a high-speed offensive launched from under the cover of military exercises in East Germany and Czechoslovakia. Simultaneously, 2,000 aircraft would attack all of NATO’s nuclear weapons facilities and seek to pin down NATO aircraft for 48 hours. This latter task was gaining importance because NATO aircraft were soon expected to be carrying “assault breaker” munitions that would be far more effective than conventional bombs against Soviet armored forces.

Meanwhile, a massive offensive, involving two million troops, would begin along a front stretching from northern Norway to eastern Turkey. To suppress NATO defenses, strengthened with nearly 50,000 modern antitank guided missiles, Soviet forces would subject them to an unprecedented artillery and aerial bombardment. The term for it in Russian suggested that it would be of nuclear intensity.

The main task of the operational maneuver groups [OMGs] was to penetrate deep into West Germany to disrupt the command and control of NATO forces and to seize the remaining nuclear stores, airfields, and key logistic points. Special Forces airlifted behind NATO lines would help them in these tasks. Other OMGs would encircle the main NATO units, but do so much faster than Soviet forces could have done in the seventies. The intent was for Soviet forces to reach the Channel in less than 20 days and without using nuclear weapons.

By the 1980s, as the Soviet Union's strategic, theater, and tactical nuclear capabilities had grown to the point that they had largely neutralized the U.S. advantage in these areas, the Soviets put increasing emphasis on a NATO-Warsaw Pact war fought entirely at the conventional level. Because the Soviets enjoyed a decided edge in conventional capabilities, the U.S. and its NATO allies would be forced to decide whether to use nuclear weapons. The idea of using nuclear weapons would raise the specter of a Europe and perhaps an America devastated beyond recovery. If the Soviet Union can put NATO in the position of having to decide on suicide or defeat, NATO might well accept defeat.

From 4 to 12 September 1981, on the plains of the western Soviet Union, General Ogarkov gave NATO a glimpse of his new strategy in Zapad-’81, probably the largest armored Soviet military exercise since 1945. A key element in Ogarkov’s strategy was the new fast moving armored “operational maneuver groups,” or OMGs. Mobile artillery and engineers with river-crossing equipment accompanied them to facilitate their advance.

In Exercise ZAPAD-81 the Soviets also used air assault forces as a diversion designed to draw enemy reserves away from the main effort. The primary theater warfare role of airborne units is to support the rapid advance of a large combined arms force deep into the enemy's operational or operational-strategic depth. Airborne units may be used in conjunction with an operational maneuver group (OMG) during offensive operations The OMG is a combined arms formation employed in army-and front-level offensive operations to raid deep into the enemy's rear area. The Soviets conducted their military exercise ZAPAD-81 to test "new concepts of military science and art." During these exercises, airborne units were used extensively in support of an operational maneuver group.

There was a demonstration of a two-sided battle cxercise consisted of two armored divisions in which over 600 T-72 tanks participated as well as hundreds of other infantry transport vehicles. The BMP-2 was first seen in April 1981 with Soviet forces in Afghanistan. It also appeared in the Zapad-81 exercise in the Soviet Union in September 1981. T-80 tanks were not shown in the exercise. During ZAPAD-81 there was a sea landing of an entire mechanized division as well as a demonstration by a regiment of brigade of marines. Also observed was a drop of an airborne division which operated on the axis of the operational maneuver group of the 1st Belorussian Front.

The U.S. Government publicly charged the Soviet Union with violations of its political commitments under the Helsinki Final Act is confirmed concerning the provisions of the Act that require pre-notification and other information concerning exercises exceeding 25,000 troops. The major Warsaw Pact maneuver (Zapad-81), exceeding the 25,000 troop limit, was conducted in 1981 at a time great pressure was being put on Poland, and the Soviet Union did not provide the prenotification or other information required.

Since 1981, the Soviets observed provisions of the Helsinki Final Act in letter, but rarely in spirit. The Soviet Union had a very restrictive interpretation of its obligations under the Helsinki Final Act, and Soviet implementation of voluntary confidence-building measures had been the exception rather than the rule. The Soviets had notified all exercises requiring notification (i.e., those of 25,000 troops or over) , but failed to make voluntary notifications (i.e., those numbering fewer than 25,000 troops). In their notifications, they have provided only the bare minimum of information. They also observed only minimally the voluntary provisions providing that observers be invited to exercises, having invited observers to only fifty percent of notified activities.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 01-05-2019 18:50:54 ZULU