Monday, January 29, 2018

How the United States Planned to Bomb the Soviet Union into Submission Part 1

With Russophobia being the order of the day in Washington, a look back in time at documents covering the birth of the Cold War provides us with an interesting glimpse into the military mindset that gripped America in the post-Second World War era.  In the first part of this two-part posting, I will outline America's overall plans to reduce the Soviet Union to a radioactive wasteland and in the second part, I will provide specific geographic regions that the United States was targeting for its nuclear weapon inventory.

The official end of the Second World War occurred on September 2, 1945 when representatives from Japan signed documents proclaiming the nation's unconditional surrender.  The signing of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender, which took place aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, occurred  just weeks after the United States deployed an atomic bomb over the cities of Hiroshima (August 6, 1945) and Nagasaki (August 9, 1945).

Within days/weeks, on September 15, 1945, the following document was sent by Major General Lauris Norstad of the U.S. Army Air Force to Major General Leslie Groves, the Project Director of the Manhattan Project, the group responsible for developing the United States first nuclear weapons.  It is important to keep in mind that the United States was the world's sole nuclear power at the time that this document was written.

Here is the cover letter for the document which was classified as Top Secret:

You will note that the document was "...directed toward establishing an official Army Air Force's view as to the number of atomic bombs which should be available in order to insure our national security."

Here is the page in the document which outlines the problem, the assumptions made and the facts bearing on the problem:

For the purposes of the study, the writer assumes that the United States will be willing to conduct offensive (not defensive) operations against any other world power or combination of powers.    The author also goes on to note that the purpose of the atomic bomb stocks would be to "...destroy the enemy's will and capacity to resist..." and that "...the United States would be desirous of immediately crippling the ability of the enemy to wage war...".  Bombs would be delivered by conventional aircraft for the period between 1945 and 1955, the period of time for which the study was designed.

In the discussion section of the paper, we find this interesting comment which clearly defines the purpose of building up the American arsenal of nuclear weapons:

"It is also obvious that during this period (1945 to 1955) Russia and the United States will be the outstanding military  For the purpose of this study the destruction of the Russian capability to wage war has therefore been used asa basis upon which to predicated the United States atomic bomb requirements.  It is to be noted also from a geographical aspect alone, Russia is in the most favourable strategic position of any major power."

The authors of the report compiled a list of 66 Russia cities that had major  strategic importance as manufacturing centres for military materiel and production of key metals like steel, aluminum, lead, nickel and zinc as well as centres where oil is refined.  The paper also notes that these 66 cities include all of Russia's large population centres.  Of these cities, a group of 15 first priority cities were selected as well as an additional 10 second priority cities.  Based on the American experience in Japan, it is suggested that "...three well-placed bombs would throw a modern city of any size into chaos..." with each bomb having a four square mile destructive area with an outer bomb damage of 6000 to 7000 feet.

Here is a map which showed the targeted cities:

Here is a map from another report showing the potential flight paths and ranges that the fleet of American bombers could reach when overflying the Soviet Union, a key piece of information since at the time of the study the only method available to deliver a nuclear weapon was a conventional aircraft:

Here is the final conclusion of the report:

The author of the report suggested that the United States would require between 123 and 466 nuclear weapons to render the Soviet Union defenseless.  It is important to note that sole purpose of "M-Day", the day in which the United States would be "desirous of immediately crippling the ability of the enemy to wage war", was to launch a first-strike attack against the Soviet Union and completely destroy its ability to mount a significant military response of any kind.

Let's close with two things.  First, here are scale models showing the before and after situation in Hiroshima from a display at the Hiroshima Peace Museum in Hiroshima:

As an aside, I toured the Peace Museum in 2009 and it is one of the most sobering experiences that I have had in my lifetime.  As a baby boomer that lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, to see the damage that a nuclear weapon, albeit a relatively small one by Cold War standards, can do is an unforgettable experience.

Secondly, here is a listing of how both nations built up their nuclear inventory as the Cold War waxed and waned from Ploughshares showing how rapidly the nuclear buildup got out of control:

It is interesting to see that, only two short weeks after the official end of the Second World War, the United States had already decided that one of their key allies (albeit a Communist one) in the fight against the Japanese and Germans was going to be their next target since it was projected that Russia would stand in the way of America's ultimate destiny as the sole global superpower.  Using nuclear weapons to bomb the Soviet Union back into the Stone Age was seen as the best solution to the growing "Communist problem" facing the United States.

Stay tuned for part two of this posting where I will look at a detailed study from the late 1950s which provided the U.S. military with a complete listing of hundreds of Soviet targets.

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