The End of a War: Soviet Failures in WWIII
The End of a War
Soviet Failures in the Third World War
On June 12, 1988 the uneasy peace that had existed for over forty-years in Europe came to a violent end. Before dawn the forces of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact launched an attack against West Germany and the NATO Alliance. The war was not unexpected as relations between the superpowers had degraded since the January coup d’état which removed Mikhail Gorbachev. Even with the knowledge a war was likely, the NATO forces struggled to recover from the initial blow. Spetsnazs conducted attacks against NATO command and control facilities and went after senior commanders. Several important figures in the Allied command structure most notably CINCCENT General Hans-Henning von Sandrart were killed. The Soviets launched over 200 sorties sending scores of MiGs, Sukhois, and helicopters at NATO airfields, bases, and nuclear delivery systems. Nearly half a million men from the Group of Soviet Forces Germany attacked across the inner-German border (IGB) and were supported by over 4,200 tanks, 8,200 armored vehicles, and 3,600 artillery pieces plus rocket systems. Joining the Russians in battle was the Nationale Volksarmee, National People’s Army of East Germany along with Czechoslovakian and Polish divisions. Yet despite their numbers and firepower the Soviet Union failed to destroy the field forces of NATO. No Soviet tanks crossed Rhine and the sole use of nuclear weapons during the war, was done by the Soviets against their own allies. While much credit must go to the men and women of the NATO armies and navies for doing their part to defend Europe, the seeds of the Russian defeat were planted by their own leadership. This combined with their failures to win critical battles in the air and at sea, doomed the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union to failure. In the end, the Soviet Union was not so much defeated by the NATO Alliance but by its own leadership.
“If only we had obtained surprise…then we could have broken NORTHAG and rolled up CENTAG from the flanks and rear and reached the Rhine”, General Viktor Leonidov commander of the Soviet 3rd Shock Army complained to NATO intelligence officers following his command’s surrender. Many of the Soviet commanders complained that the while the Warsaw Pact was able to achieve reasonable tactical surprise, they failed to gain the all-important strategic surprise. By June 10, 1985 NATO forces in both Allied Forces North and Central were full mobilized and deployed to forward positions while the naval forces of AFSOUTH in position in the eastern and western Mediterranean. The U.S. REFORGER operation had successfully mated 90% of the soldiers flown in from four divisions the continental United States to their pre-positioned equipment in Germany. Military historians in the following years have said that to truly achieve surprise was impossible for the Soviet Union. The very structure of the two alliances, all the means of surveillance and espionage meant a ‘bolt from the blue’ was impossible for either side to achieve. The very nature of the crisis which spawned the war also made any chance of surprise by the USSR impossible.
On January 27, 1988 Moscow citizens awoke to the sounds of engines and the clanking of armored vehicles. Soldiers from the 2nd and 4th Guards Tank Divisions had received orders from the Defense Minister to declare a state of Martial Law and secure Moscow. As the T-80 main battle tanks and BMPs established roadblocks and checkpoints at various key intersections, hundreds of KGB officers made arrests. They were rounding up the strongest supporters and allies of Mikhail Gorbachev. At 9:00 AM local time, a televised address was made by Yegor Ligachev, the Secretary of Central Committee of the CPSU.. Ligachev announced that General Secretary Gorbachev had been removed from office by the request of the Central Committee. Ligachev informed the Soviet people that an Emergency Council was being formed with him, Viktor Chebrikov Chairman of the KGB, and Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov as members. He also made it clear that the liberalization of the USSR was now over, “The Party has taken these steps in order to preserve our government and remove the danger of those who which to turn our country upside down”. Ligachev had been Gorbachev’s most outspoken critic. Against the policies of perestroika and glasnost, Ligachev was approached by Chebrikov following the signing of the INF Treaty the previous September. Terrified that Gorbachev that not only destroying the Communist Party but making them vulnerable to the West as well the two men enlisted the aid of Dmitri Yazov and others; Vladimir Kryuchkov Deputy KGB Chairman, Gennady Zyuganov, Oleg Shenin, and Boris Karlovich Pugo to remove Gorbachev from power.
The coup instantly soured relations with the West. President Ronald Reagan called the coup, “A tragedy for the forces of reform and liberalization in the Soviet Union”. Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Kohl, and French President François Mitterrand all denounced the Emergency Council’s coup d’état. While NATO did not immediately increase its level of alert, the minds of the Western leadership and their populations shifted. More than one ordinary American commented to reporters they thought, ‘world just got a whole lot worse’. The coup put the entire West on a heightened sense of alert if not physically with the armed forces, but mentally. Gorbachev had been extremely popular with the NATO leaders such as British Prime Minster Margret Thatcher remarking, “I like Mr. Gorbachev, we can do business together”. His removal was seen as personal lost for President Reagan, “I’ve lost a friend this week, and so has the world”. The American Congress called for economic sanctions while the president ordered increased surveillance by the Air Force and intelligence agencies of the Soviet Union.
Warsaw Pact leaders however saw the coup by the conservative forces of the USSR as a signal to move against their own progressive elements. East German leader, Erich Honecker was particularly pleased to see the regime change in Moscow. Honecker was the first Communist Bloc leader to congratulate the Emergency Council on their consolidation of power. Having been against Gorbachev’s reforms, Honecker ordered the Stasi to begin rounding up trouble makers and increased surveillance on members of the East German government known to have views similar to Gorbachev. Across Eastern Europe over next three months, thousands are rounded up and questioned, with hundreds being detained. Unlike 1956, 1968, or 1981 this time the opposition did not dissolve following the crackdown. Violence and acts of protests rose sharply throughout the Warsaw Pact particularly in Poland and East Germany. The continuing unrest in Poland and East Germany caused the Soviet Emergency Council to order Russian forces in both countries to assist the locals with the ‘maintaining of security’. This in turn put NATO on increased alert as Russians deployed. NATO’s heads of states gathered in Belgium to discuss the continuing unrest sweeping through Eastern Europe. The meeting occurred on April 20th and allowed NATO to agree on a joint stance over the unrest. Security was increased in West Berlin and the ground work for a series of larger than planned NATO maneuvers for May was established. The goal of the NATO countries was to put the Emergency Council on notice and show the people of Eastern Europe that NATO was not turning a blind eye to them as it had in the past.
By May the situation was not working out as well as Ligachev and the others had hoped. Unrest in Eastern Europe was at unprecedented in spite of the use of armed force. Poland was teetering on anarchy as Solidarity returned and other anti-Soviet groups were created. The powerful labor and political movement was trying to organize a massive general strike against the communist government. Inside the German Democratic Republic, Honecker was seeing his citizens’ rally against him despite the threat of arrest by the Stasi or being shot by East German or Russian troops. He had become disconnected from the nation, not seeing that his people were crying out against the communist system. Honecker, in a message to Ligachev, blamed the West for encouraging the unrest. In the same letter he suggested that East Germany and the USSR do something to punish the West in response. Ligachev apparently took Honecker’s suggestion that the Communist Bloc do something seriously since shortly after the letter he called a special meeting of the Emergency Council in late April. According to junior staff of the council leaders, this is where Ligachev and the others using considered military intimidation in some from. Support for the idea was found in the KGB and military.
Defense Minister Yazov was according to sources in the Defense Ministry was unhappy with the Red Army’s mission in Germany and Poland of keeping order. The Russians troops involved were not trained for it and as a result their attempts to deal with the unrest only incited more violence. He also was encouraged by the prospect of improving the Soviet Army’s image after the events of the 1980s. The shoot down of KAL 007, the continued abysmal campaign in Afghanistan, and the embarrassment that gave Yazov his current position, the Cessna flown by Mathias Rust into Red Square, had tarnished the image of the armed forces. A successful display of Soviet military power to embarrass the West would restore the Red Army’s image and perhaps give them something that would allow for a withdrawal from Afghanistan without seeming like a defeat. Viktor Chebrikov agreed that something needed to be done to weaken the position of the NATO powers and restore order to the Warsaw Pact. Not only was there unrest in Eastern Europe, but there were increasing signs that the small taste of relaxed control by the CPSU over the people the past few years had encouraged Soviet citizens to start speaking out and protest against the Emergency Council. In Leningrad dozens of truck drivers attempted a strike in support of Solidarity only to have it broken up at the last moment by the KGB. The Baltic States saw increased acts of violence against ethnic Russians and there was dissent against the council inside the Central Committee. The council believed that NATO lacked the will to risk conflict with the Soviet Union. By flexing their military muscles the Americans and their European allies would be reminded of Soviet power and so would the people in Eastern Europe.
The Russians chose to display their military prowess first by increasing the number of long range flights by Soviet bombers. Off England, Alaska, and U.S. carrier groups in both oceans, Tu-95 Bears and Tu-16 Badgers were intercepted and escorted by U.S. and British aircraft. Next Defense Minister Yazov announced that the Warsaw Pact would be conducting its own exercises in response to the NATO war games scheduled for May. Along the IGB, East German guards increased security and cracked down on attempts to escape to the West. Shootings along the Berlin Wall and the border rose to an all-time high. The Russians also ran a war game simulating the procedures of launching their SS-20s (still in place as the Emergency Council backed out of the INF Treaty) aimed at France, Germany, and England. The Emergency Council however misjudged the NATO’s and particularly the American reaction to the military moves by the USSR. President Reagan would not be intimidated and responded in kind to Soviet moves. American submarines increased their surveillance of the Soviet naval forces, bases, and coastlines. The USN submarines would sometimes allow themselves to be detected by the Soviet ASW forces just so the Russians would know they were there. When Chancellor Helmut Kohl asked for additional troops for security, America and Britain complied by supplying several thousand additional soldiers to the NATO forces inside the FRG. France announced that it would fulfill all its obligations as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty.
Despite the opening of Kremlin records over the past decade, there is not much written information on when the Emergency Council decided to move from intimidation to conflict. Some Russian historians have suggested following the May 12th Berlin incident, in which GDR troops (under orders from Honecker) denied an American supply convoy access to Berlin. The resulting argument between the U.S. and East Germans could not be settled by the diplomats and ended in a shootout which killed nine GDR soldiers, two U.S. soldiers, and the Deputy Chief of Mission from the American Embassy. This incident which inflamed the already high tensions on both sides caused the Emergency Council seriously began looking at plans prepared by the Soviet Defense Ministry for a war with NATO. Sergo Mikoyan one of the leading Soviet historians believes the decision came much eariler following the May 5th meeting of the Emergency Council. In this meeting Mikoyan says sources close to Chebrikov told him that the KGB Chairman purposed attacking Western Europe. Mikoyan says Chebrikov saw the neutralization of NATO as the only way to suppress the dissidents across Eastern Europe once and for all. If NATO was eliminated as a political and military organization, the Russians would be free to shape Europe as they sought fit. Although it is unclear when Ligachev and the others on the Emergency Council decided themselves to go to war, the chiefs of the Soviet ground, air, and naval forces were informed that hostiles with NATO were expected within weeks on May 17th.
Marshal Nikolai Georgiyev CINC-Ground Forces was shocked when informed by Marshal Yazov of the coming war. However he was more annoyed when the objectives of the war weren’t made clear, “I was given several different strategic objectives in as many weeks. First the war was to be confined to Western Europe, than all of Europe was included, one even called for aggressive campaigning in the Pacific…the fucking council couldn’t make up their damned minds”. This confusion was felt in GSFG and soon to be Western Front commander Marshal Oleg Mironev who complained to his staff that it was Afghanistan all over again. Eventually it was decided the primary goal of the attack was the dissolution of NATO by defeating them conventionally and removing West Germany from the alliance. Efforts would be made to limit the war to Europe. Despite the establishment of clear objectives, many of the senior commanders inside GSFG and individual Russian soldiers had doubts about the coming war. The commander of 2nd Guards Army admitted to his aide, “I don’t know why we are fighting, is it to defend Russia or the men in charge?” Political Officers throughout GSFG filed multiple reports on soldiers who were less than enthused with their duties. Although the lowest ranking Soviet soldiers weren’t told till hours before the war began, many of them concluded what was going on. General William Odom in his book The Collapse of the Soviet Military spoke about this feeling through the Soviet ranks, “From the privates to officers in the Soviet armed forces, there was a sense of depression in the air. After the war began, they asked themselves (speaking these fears aloud was a possible death sentence) why they were fighting?”. The motivation to defend and avenge their homeland, which had existed in the Soviet military of the Second World War, was nowhere to be found in the Red Army of 1988. It was these feelings which lead to several mass surrenders in the last few days of war. This lack of sprit was even more pronounced in the Warsaw Pact divisions.
The Polish formations of the Western Front were particularly unmotivated to fight what one Polish divisional commander called, ‘a Russian war’. This lack of fighting spirit was displayed during the battles in Schleswig-Holstein between June 14th and 19th. As the Soviet 2nd Guards Tank Army advanced against Hamburg and towards the North Sea coast, it was followed by the Polish 2nd Army. The Poles had the job of pushing through the remaining German formations and linking up with Polish and Soviet airborne/amphibious units inside Denmark. Their attacks against the German 6th Panzergrenadier Division and Danish Jutland Division lacked as one Dane brigade commander put it, sprit. Polish troops were just one of the nationalities lacking a desire to fight inside the Warsaw Pact ranks. Romanian and Czechoslovakian units performed far poorer than Russian ones in combat. Only the East Germans and to a lesser extent the Bulgarians appeared to have performed on par with Soviet forces. The performance of the Warsaw Pact troops was merely a reflection of their home countries own moods. As the war went on the Soviets were faced with increasingly hostile populations to their rear. With their ‘Allies’ performing poorly and a growing insurgency inside the Warsaw Pact, the Russians could hardly afford the failures they suffered in the air and at sea.
As the first shots were fired on June 12th the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact nations had over 8,000 fixed wing aircraft it could call upon to fight in Europe. Soviet airpower in Poland alone amounted to 300 aircraft among them Su-24 Fencers for low level strikes and Su-27 Flanker interceptors to defend against NATO attacks. With reinforcements from the Soviet Union itself, the Supreme Command was confident they could eliminate NATO airpower and achieve air superiority above the battlefield. The Soviets however did not have the technological edge that the NATO air forces had. While the Russians had far more fighters and fighter bombers on hand, only a fraction were of the most modern fourth generation types like the MiG-29, Su-27, and Su-24. Among the Warsaw Pact itself most of the nations were at best equipped with the MiG-23 Flogger. Many squadrons in the Communist Bloc still used the 1960s era MiG-21 Fishbeds. NATO fielded a number of older fighters such as the F-100 and F-4 Phantom but many of the nations of the alliance had upgraded most of their air forces.
The F-15 Eagle had proved itself in Israeli hands as a deadly interceptor and the F-16 Falcon was in use among several NATO members. The Tornado a multi-role variable geometry wing aircraft was at the heart of the RAF’s and Luftwaffe’s fighter and strike squadrons. Even the older aircraft in the NATO inventory were a match for their Soviet equivalents. America also possessed the world’s only stealth aircraft, the F-117 Nighthawk. NATO also held a critical advantage in airborne radar. NATO could field eighteen E-3 Sentry AWACSs (this excludes American Sentries that were part reinforcements for the ATAFs) in AFCENT compared to a mere eight A-50 Mainstays (the Soviets best AWACS) that would see combat in the Western Front. Both sides shared a core of experienced senior combat pilots due to Vietnam and for the Russians, Afghanistan. However the NATO pilots had far more adaptability in their orders and combat tactics. Soviet pilots were forced to work under a strict control system which left Russian pilots with far less ability to take the initiative. The Soviets also underestimated the effort that NATO would put into attacking their airfields along with their integrated air defense network, and overestimated their ability to recover from these strikes. During the air war over Central Europe, NATO dedicated nearly half of its sorties to missions counter air, attacks on enemy airbases. Using precision weapons they destroyed fortified hangers and cratered runways. The Soviet airbases found themselves hard pressed to get their aircraft up and keep the bases operating with some of them knocked out of action for days at a time. In the skies above Germany NATO managed to achieve a 2.5 to 1 kill ratio. Across the world NATO and American forces maintained roughly a 3:1 kill ratio against the Soviet Union. Besides keeping the Soviets from gaining air superiority, NATO air forces fulfilled the critical job of going after the Warsaw Pact’s combat life lines.
NATO also was able to put pressure on the Soviet supply lines and critical infrastructure. By the end of the war few bridges were left standing in East Germany and the occupied areas of West Germany. F-111s, Tornadoes, and other aircraft used laser guided bombs and missiles to great affect against targets in low level precision attacks. The F-117s operating from bases in England and France were able to hit targets considered too dangerous for conventional aircraft. Soviet command centers, communication links, and the GDR bridges on the Polish border were all struck by the ‘Black Jets’. The Soviets found themselves hard pressed to stop attacks by the Nighthawks managing only to shoot down four F-117s during the war. Although NATO suffered a twenty percent loss rate of aircraft, the results were worth the cost in planes and more importantly men. Slowing the Soviet offensive allowed SACEUR to withdraw much of NORTHAG behind the Weser River and establish a new defense line. Damage to the GDR and Polish transportation network helped delay the arrival of the Soviet Second Echelon. If the fresh tank armies from European Russia had reached the front in time, the Weser line may have been overrun and NATO would be forced to consider using nuclear weapons to stop the Soviet breakthrough. The success of NATO airpower when combined with the victories NATO achieved at sea set the conditions for the Allied triumph in Europe.
The first Soviet strike at sea was during the build up to war. A Russian commander aboard a Kashin class guided missile destroyer of the Fifth Eskadra, known to NATO as the Soviet Mediterranean Squadron (SOVMEDRON) panicked and shot down an American snooper aircraft from the 6th Fleet on May 31st, while SOVMEDRON was exiting the Bosporus Strait. This unintentional incident further strained relations between the superpowers and reinforced NATO’s belief that war was very likely. The movement of the Fifth Eskadra was part of the larger Soviet naval strategy. For the Russians their naval goals were a combination of defensive and offensive moves across the globe. To the Soviet naval command the North Atlantic was the most critical theater of their operations. NATO’s sea lines of communication (SLOC) to Europe and Norway lay in the Atlantic and if the alliance was going to be defeated Europe needed to be isolated. If the Soviets achieved this the United States could not bring its vast reserves of men and material into play.
On the flanks, in Norway and the Mediterranean, the Soviets aimed to tie down NATO naval units and protect the Soviet Union from direct attacks by American aircraft carriers. To sever the SLOCs and defend against the USN carrier groups, the Russians would call upon their vast submarine fleet of conventional and nuclear powered boats as well as Soviet Naval Aviation’s force of Bear reconnaissance Badger, and Backfire bombers. The Soviet Northern Fleet would establish dominance in the Norwegian Sea and support a series of amphibious landings for the battle on the Northern Flank. Successes in Norway and southern Europe would also work to the Soviet Union’s advantage by drawing off NATO, particularly American Navy and Marine units from the critical battles on the Central Front. The most important defensive priorities for the Soviet Navy were the protection of their SSBN fleets, the naval installations in the Kola Peninsula, and the rear areas of the Warsaw Pact in southern Europe. Hoping the war would be over before much damage could occur in the Pacific, the Soviet Pacific Fleet would fight a defensive battle with limited offensive moves against Japan’s air defenses and U.S. CVBGs. 
As the war began the Soviets achieved early successes. Nearly thirty cargo and supply ships were lost in the North Atlantic to Russian submarine attacks in the first week. The United States lost over a dozen cruisers, destroyers, and frigates in convoy operations during this time. USN submarine losses were also heavy, with ten boats being lost in the Atlantic. Northern Fleet moved into the northern Norwegian Sea supporting amphibious landings at Andoya as heavy air attacks occurred against the RNAF’s northern bases and early warning systems. SNA bombers eliminated most of Standing Naval Force Norway (STANAVNOR). The Russians were able to score a major break when Soviet Naval Aviation critically damaged the carrier Nimitz with an air attack by multiple regiments of Tu-16 Badgers and Tu-22M Backfire bombers. In the Mediterranean SOVMEDRON combined with SNA assets from the Crimea managed to lightly damage the carrier Kennedy and sink an amphibious transport. Meanwhile submarines sunk a dozen NATO warships and cargo ships, with the most impressive Soviet SSN kill being the French carrier Foch. These achievements would be the high point of the Soviet ‘Happy Time’ in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Following the first week of war, the naval situation turned against the USSR.
There are several reasons why the Soviets lost at sea. One of the first is that NATO had long practiced the art of anti-submarine warfare. To achieve the success that they did in the North Atlantic, the Russians loss over thirty-five submarines in the first two weeks of war. In total the Russians would lose forty-one submarines in the Atlantic, Norwegian, and Barents Seas. One reason the Soviet submarine losses were so high was that they had to cross the GIUK Gap. Between Greenland, Iceland, and the United Kingdom a line of underwater hydrophones had been established by the United States that could monitor the advance of Russian submarines as they moved from the Norwegian Sea to the Atlantic. SOSUS allowed NATO to vector ASW aircraft, ships, and NATO submarines to intercept the Soviets’ subs. In order to gain as much tactical surprise as possible only a fraction of the Russian submarine force was in the North Atlantic at the time hostiles broke out. As a result nearly half of the Soviet anti-SLOC force had to cross the GIUK Gap and it is estimated nearly a third of these subs were killed or damaged trying to get through the Denmark Strait and the waters between Iceland and England. Russian SSNs, SSKs, and SSGNs found themselves unable to prevent the movement of NATO’s Strike Fleet Atlantic into the Norwegian Sea. With the powerful three carrier force approaching from the southwest and increased submarine and air attacks against their ships (causing the loss of the carrier Kiev) the Soviet Northern Fleet was forced to withdraw to the Barents Sea and under the air cover provided by land based Soviet fighters.
The failure of the Soviet Northern Fleet to prevent the movement of the three carriers resulted in a series of air attacks by SNA against the Strike Fleet. These attacks were made as the Strike Fleet moved into position to strike at the bases on the Kola Peninsula. Even when escorted by long range fighters from the Archangelsk Air Defense District, the Soviet Badger and Backfire bombers took heavy losses for little gain, sinking only two USN destroyers and a frigate. In keeping with USN doctrine Strike Fleet Atlantic moved to attack the Soviet bases and airfields around Murmansk. This forced the Northern Fleet to sortie against the Americans or see their ports and bases destroyed. In one of the most exciting and confusing naval and air actions of World War III, most of the Soviet fleet was lost to American airstrikes, submarine attacks, and missile salvos from USN cruisers and destroyers. The Strike Fleet was then able to attack the Soviet’s bases. Using precision guided weapons and cruise missiles fired from Los Angeles class SSNs, the USN was able inflict heavy damage to the Soviet facilities. The Russians managed to strike back by sinking of the USS Forrestal with an Oscar class SSGN. Other losses included an Aegis cruiser and several destroyers and frigates but the damage to the Kola had already been done.
By winning the critical battles on the Northern Flank, NATO ensured that supplies and reinforcements could move from the United States to Europe. The arrival of several convoys loaded with ammunition and equipment helped SACEUR feel comfortable enough to launch the CENTAG’s counterattack in late June. Attacking northeast into the flank of the Soviet advance, CENTAG threatened the Soviet LOCs and the security of the GDR. As the Russians reacted to this move NORTHAG launched its own offensive which crossed the Weser River. NORTHAG’s British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) cut off the Soviet divisions that had crossed the river three days earlier. With five divisions isolated on the wrong side of the river and powerful American and German forces closing from the south, Western TVD made decision to withdrawal to the Elbe River on July 2nd. Although a massive encirclement of Soviet troops failed to occur, the Russian retreat meant that NATO had succeeded and now held the initiative on the Central Front.
As they had in the Atlantic the Soviets fared badly across the world at sea. The Soviet Pacific Ocean Fleet lost half of its major surface combatants including both aircraft carriers the Minsk and Novorossiysk and a Kirov battlecruisers. Twenty-five submarines were sunk by American and Japanese ASW forces. SOVMEDRON was completely destroyed and Russian units in the Middle East and Indian Ocean were also eliminated. NATO losses were high to achieve this victory; one American carrier was destroyed with another damaged in the Atlantic. Britain lost HMS Invincible and a dozen escorts. Another carrier was knocked out of action in the Pacific and later scrapped following the war, while two more were torpedoed but still operational. The price paid by the Allied navies was a heavy but a necessary sacrifice. By triumphing at sea NATO set the stage for the counterattacks that stunted and turned back the Soviet offensive into West Germany. In causing the mighty Russian Bear to fall back and lick its wounds, NATO triggered a wave of insurrection across Eastern Europe and the USSR. The lack of popular support inside the Communist Bloc boiled over to outright rebellion.
The first to go was Poland. Disappointed at Polish performance in the war, the Warsaw Pact high command, Soviet dominated and controlled demanded that the commander of the Western Front, to get the Polish forces to do their jobs and fight. Marshal Mironev relieved a dozen senior Polish commanders in response but this did little to improve the Polish performance on the battlefield. Strong German counterattacks cracked through Polish lines and threatened the Soviet rear following the NORTHAG counteroffensive. This time however the KGB took the responsibility of dealing with the Polish officers. In a terrible similarity to the Katyn Massacre in 1940, dozens of Polish officers from generals to majors were executed. News of the crime reached the Polish armed forces and it immediately turned them against the Soviets. Polish units ceased attacking, coming up with excuses why they could not carry out their orders. Several units in Germany even took up arms against the Russians. News of the first series of reprisals and fighting between the rebellious Poles and Russian units reached Warsaw. This triggered a quick and relatively bloodless coup by the Polish armed forces. They declared their intention to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and sought out the Polish political opposition to form a new government.
As Poland rebelled the other dominoes inside the Warsaw Pact began to fall. East Germany descended into violence as thousands revolted against Eric Honecker’s government. American troops that had crossed into East Germany found that they were welcomed as liberators finding that the communist officials in town were either under custody, had fled east, or were killed. Soviet and East German troops badly needed at the front were forced to deal with the rebellion. Yet the deaths of hundreds didn’t stop the protests or acts of violence. Soviet supply trucks were ambushed and Russian soldiers came under fire. The Allied soldiers of West Berlin who had been waiting for the communist hammer to fall on them now watched in amazement as East Berlin descended into chaos. Thousands streamed across the Wall regardless of the barbed wire and mines and into West Berlin. Hungry, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and Romania all experienced the same general uprising with various degrees of violence. Nicolae Ceauşescu and his wife were killed as their home was stormed by dissident members of the Romanian Army. Even the Soviet Union itself was plagued with mass demonstrations. In the Baltic States the protests grew violent as ethnic Russians were driven from their homes and the local leadership prepared to declare their independence from the USSR. The Mujahideen launched attacks into the USSR from Afghanistan which triggered attacks against Soviet Army units in the surrounding Muslim SSRs. The Emergency Council feared that a jihadiuprising was going to occur from Black Sea to China. This combined with the military failures in Europe caused the Emergency Council to make their most foolish decision of them all.
On July 5th the third nuclear weapon ever used in warfare was denoted above Warsaw. In a panic the Emergency Council decided the only way to make Eastern Europe come back into line was through the fear of nuclear attack. The strike was carried about by the 42nd Bomber Regiment; four Su-24s delivered several gravity bombs which exploded in airbursts over Warsaw. Nearly 150,000 people were killed instantly, and the European Federation estimates that nearly 200,000 people have died from after affects since 1988. The use of nuclear weapons brought the Third World War to a dangerous new level. President Reagan was moved to E-4B NEACP plane, while NATO heads of state moved to underground bunkers. Strategic Air Command, already on a heightened state of alert, went to DEFCON-2 and launched the Looking Glass airborne command post. The president approved the launching of the USAF’s bomber fleet into the air on stand-by orders and reading of the Minuteman ICBM force. The remaining USN Ohio ballistic missile submarines sortied from their Atlantic and Pacific bases, while those at sea went to launch depth to await orders. French and British nuclear forces also went on alert and commanders in Germany were warned to prepare for tactical nuclear war. Marshal Nikolai Georgiyev was shocked by the decision which had been reached without him. He was mortified to learn that the Emergency Council was considering a second nuclear strike against NATO this time to intimidate them into negotiations. At this point Georgiyev knew he had to act before Ligachev and the rest of his council destroyed the USSR and a large portion of the world. A good friend with the commander of the 2nd Guards Tank Division, he had the division storm KGB headquarters in Moscow and secure key centers of power. At the same time a battalion from the 2nd Guards Tanks entered the military headquarters outside Moscow as Georgiyev personally shot Ligachev and Deputy KGB Chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov. Following his securing of the command center, Georgiyev learned that Chairman Chebrikov was killed escaping KGB headquarters. With the Emergency Council under guard and the KGB left headless, a new government quickly was assembled. Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin former First Secretary of the Moscow City Party Committee was one of several reformers that had been arrested by the KGB back when the coup occurred in January. Released by Georgiyev he would eventually be the voice of the temporary government of the USSR and the man to speak to the Swiss Ambassador and offer NATO a ceasefire. Following a promise to stand down the Soviet nuclear forces, the Third World War ended on July 6, 1988.
When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933 it only took only six years for him to ignite the Second World War. Yegor Ligachev and his cronies managed to start the Third World War in six months. As Hitler had made moves that guaranteed Germany’s defeat, the Soviet Union’s Emergency Council did the same. First the coup which placed them in power put the West on edge and the growing crisis in Eastern Europe made achieving surprise against NATO impossible. The USSR had no popular support for the war within the Warsaw Pact or their armed forces. When coupled with their failures to win the air and naval battle, this proved disastrous for the Soviets. Seeing that the Russians could be beaten inspired Eastern Europe to rise up and triggered the Emergency Council’s insane decision to use nuclear weapons. While Ligachev and the others may have been willing to fight a nuclear war, the senior commanders of the Red Army were not.
The collapse of the Soviet Empire following the war has led to a whole new set of security concerns for the world. Rather than the problem of the USSR and its side-effects, we now have a myriad of other security problems, regional and global. Iraq continues to threaten the rest of the Persian Gulf following its annexation of Kuwait during the war. North Korea continues to hold out as the last Stalinist nation and its unstable leadership leaves the Korean peninsula perpetually on edge. International terrorism is a constant threat with deadly bombings in Europe and America. China’s rise as an economic and now military superpower following reforms made by the CSP makes the U.S. nervous, wondering if China is a peaceful partner or future enemy. Even though the United States and its allies won World War III its lessons need to be studied, from reasons why the Allies won to why the Russians lost. If we are to prevent a future Warsaw, we need to understand the decisions and mistakes that lead to that terrible act in the first place.
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Last edited by gtrof; 02-09-2011 at 05:13 PM.