vrijdag 27 januari 2017
On May 8, 1945, as people everywhere celebrated the end of World War II, one gloomy figure was planning to start World War III. The ink had barely dried on Germany’s surrender document when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill asked his War Cabinet to draw up a plan to invade the Soviet Union.
The gobsmacked generals were asked to devise means to “impose upon Russia the will of the United States and the British Empire”. Churchill assured them the invasion would be led by the United States and supported by the defeated German Army.
Churchill’s belligerence was due to several factors. In Winston’s War, Max Hastings writes Churchill’s satisfaction at seeing the downfall of the Nazis was “almost entirely overshadowed” by Russian victories in Eastern Europe.
By 1945, the USSR was vastly stronger and Britain a lot weaker than Churchill had anticipated. As he remarked at the Yalta Conference in February 1945: “On one hand the big Russian bear, on the other the great American elephant, and between them the poor little British donkey.”
Secondly, Churchill’s stance against the Soviets hardened after he came to know about the success of the American atomic bomb programme. According to Alan Brooke, Britain’s Chief of Army Staff, Churchill told him at the Potsdam Conference in July 1945: “We can tell the Russians if they insist on doing this or that, well we can just blot out Moscow, then Stalingrad, then Kiev, then Sevastopol.”
Finally, following Moscow’s barring of British representatives from Prague, Vienna and Berlin, as well as Stalin’s decision to paint Poland red, the British leader’s misery magnified.
Thinking the Unthinkable
Asked to prepare for war just days after the end of the bloodiest conflict in history, the British generals thought the Prime Minister had really lost it. Brooke wrote in his diary: “Winston gives me the feeling of already longing for another war.”
The generals drew up a plan, appropriately codenamed Operation Unthinkable (full report "Operation Unthinkable: 'Russia: Threat to Western Civilization,'" British War Cabinet, Joint Planning Staff), which proposed Western forces attack the Soviets on a front extending from Hamburg in the north to Trieste in the south.
The War Cabinet listed out the total allied strength in Europe on July 1, 1945: 64 American divisions, 35 British and Dominion divisions, 4 Polish divisions, and 10 German divisions. The German divisions were purely imaginary because after the mauling they received from the Russians, the surviving soldiers were in no hurry to fight. At most, the allies would have mustered 103 divisions, including 23 armoured ones.
Against this force were arrayed 264 Soviet divisions, including 36 armored. Moscow commanded 6.5 million troops – a 2:1 advantage – on the German border alone. Overall, it had 11 million men and women in uniform.
In aircraft, the Allied Tactical Air Forces in North West Europe and the Mediterranean consisted of 6,714 fighter planes and 2464 bombers. The Soviets had 9380 fighter aircraft and 3380 bombers.
A battle map that show the final positions of the allied and Soviet armies at the end of World War II
Sizing up Russia
As the Germans had discovered, war against Russia was certainly not a walk in the park. The War Cabinet stated: “The Russian Army has developed a capable and experienced High Command. The army is exceedingly tough, lives and moves on a lighter scale of maintenance than any Western army, and employs bold tactics based largely on disregard for losses in attaining its objective.
“Equipment has improved rapidly throughout the war and is now good. Enough is known of its development to say that it is certainly not inferior to that of the great powers.
“The facility the Russian have shown in the development and improvement of existing weapons and equipment and in their mass production has been very striking. There are known instances of the Germans copying basic features of Russian armament.”
The assessment, signed by the Chief of Army Staff on June 9, 1945, concluded: “It would be beyond our power to win a quick but limited success and we would be committed to a protracted war against heavy odds. These odds, moreover, would become fanciful if the Americans grew weary and indifferent and began to be drawn away by the magnet of the Pacific war.”
Operation Lusty and Air Superiority
Operation LUSTY (LUftwaffe Secret TechnologY) was the United States Army Air Forces operation to capture and evaluate German aeronautical technology and scientific advances. Using captured German jets and blueprints, the Americans and British improved their own jet aircraft and made rockets. Had Unthinkable been launched, American and British jet fighters such as the American P-80 and the British Meteors along with German jet fighters coming out of the revitalised factories would easily win air superiority over Soviet air space, as even their most modern aircrafts, the Yak-3s and La-9s would be outclassed. With air superiority, American and British heavy bombers would be able to devastate supply lines and fighter-bombers would be able to strike Soviet positions at will. Without the British sale of the Rolls-Royce Nene jet engine to the Soviets, they would be hard pressed to make their own jet engine and would be unable to recover their airspace.
Ground Forces and Equipment
Now, maintaining air superiority is good and all, but it won’t matter if your line still gets smashed, so let’s compare the Soviet and Allied materiel they would’ve had.
In terms of small arms such as machine guns and rifles, the Allied and Soviet armies would be pretty evenly matched. But if the Allies fully revive German industry and adopt their designs, they would be able to use advanced German weapons such as the Sturmgewehr 44s, which would tip the odds in this category in favour of the Allies.
Tanks are harder to compare since they had different doctrines, but purely in terms of armament and armour, the Soviets would beat the Allies in this category, at least at first. IS-2s and IS-3s would outclass their lighter Allied designs, such as Shermans and Cromwells, but as the war drags on, they would be able to field counters such as Pershings, T-32s and Britain’s Challengers. In addition to American and British designs, with Germany’s revitalised industry, they can also use German late-war designs such as Tiger IIs and Panthers to fight the Russians. Though in the future, the Soviets would also be able to use better tanks like the T-54s and the IS-4s, so in the end, both sides’ tank forces would be equally matched.
While Soviet and Allied commanders are both good, the Soviets would probably have the upper hand due to their willingness to take large casualties to accomplish goals. The Allied command would probably be less willing. That said, the Allies have many great generals at their disposal, and with resurrected German formations, they can also gain the experience of German field marshals like Guderian and Manstein on optimal ways to fight the Russians.
The Soviets would also have a harder time supplying their troops, as their supply route goes from Russia to Poland to East Germany, while the British and American can supply their troops from Britain to France to West Germany, which in comparison, has better infrastructure. In addition, the Soviet supply line would also be bombed by Allied bombers, making it even harder for the troops.
Even so, in terms of equipment and forces, both sides are around equally matched. Still, someone has to make the equipment for the troops to fight with.
The Home Front
By the end of WW2, Great Britain was heavily exhausted and it would be hard to get the British to fight the Soviets. So Churchill would need to find a way to bolster the people’s resolve. But even so, the British by themselves wouldn’t be able to make enough equipment to fight and will have to rely on the American war machine. Americans, after knowing the horrors of the Red Army and what they did to civilian populations would be willing to support the industrial effort.
For the Russians, however, the production of goods will be a harder thing, as in the latter part of WW2, they were supplied by American Land-Lease goods. Now that they were at war, industrial goods to help manage factories, foodstuffs, trucks and other vehicles would be cut off, meaning that the Soviets would have to make all of those.
In addition, though the Russian industry was at that point past the Ural Mountains, heavy strategic bombers such as B-29s can fly from air bases in occupied Japan to to bomb them.
Though with enough sticks and propaganda, the Soviet war machine will still crank on, but the Americans would probably outproduce them. In addition, he American’s craftsmanship and quality would be better than the Soviets’.
Here’s the big one, the atomic bombs. By the start of Unthinkable, America could already make atomic bombs and the Soviets knew this after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but they don’t have atomic weaponry yet, so they’ll be at a disadvantage. Remember, Allied airpower would be able to defeat the Soviet Air Force and so delivering the bombs wouldn’t be much of an issue, especially considering that B-29s perform well at high altitudes, so the Soviets would be hard pressed to catch them. Long range F-82s would be able to escort the bombers. Depending on how many atomic bombs America can make, they could completely destroy key Russian cities like Moscow and Kiev. If leaders like Stalin dead, the Soviets would need to find new leaders just as ruthless and just as efficient as Stalin was, or they will have to go to the bargaining table with the Allies.
So who would win and what would the result be? It would be a grueling, uphill battle for the Allies, especially because they’d have to go into East Germany then Poland and then into Russia to make them surrender. The casualties on both sides would be heavy,but in my opinion, the Allies would probably win against Soviet Union, despite the numerical disadvantage. Even if they can’t force the Soviets to agree to every decision, they would be able to accomplish some of their war aims. Nevertheless, despite the victory, Europe would be in ruins and the United Kingdom on the verge of bankruptcy. America would, like in our timeline, help rebuild Europe and finance it.
What if 'Operation Unthinkable' Happened (YouTube)