If you're anything like me, you probably spent a lot of the 80s imagining what would happen if the big NATO-Warsaw Pact war in Central Europe came along. It's still hard for me to believe sometimes that the whole showdown just faded away without a shot fired.
Back in Reagan's day, everybody was dreaming about High Noon at the Fulda Gap, and reading what-if novels like The Third World War, by a British general, John Hackett, or Clancy's Red Storm Rising...
After the Soviets went out of business, I thought we'd get some really solid info on what the Warsaw Pact forces had planned, especially what their nuke and irregular forces (SpetzNaz teams) had in mind in the way of first strike and sabotage. Probably "we" did, meaning the intel community. But whatever they got, they didn't pass along much of it to us civilians out there.
Nor has there been much interest in the press, where the Cold War has largely disappeared down the media hole, while we get inundated with Nazi-era stuff constantly.
A reader adds:
You can say that again (and again). When Clancy's novel Hunt for Red October came out in 1990, Time magazine headlined it with this: "The Last Cold War Movie?" I'm still waiting for the headline, "The Last Nazi Heavy Movie?" If I didn't know better, I'd think there was something political to all of that, but of course I know better.
Back to Gary Brecher:
Well, a reader named Dima Sverin just sent me a (translated) interview with ex-Soviet general Matvey Burlakov, the last commander of the Soviet Southern and Western Forces, HQ'd in Hungary. Burlakov was a "Colonel-General," a very, very high rank, and in this interview with a Russian newspaper he pretty much spills all, as far as I can tell...
The first thing you notice about Burlakov's interview is how much the Soviets relied on tanks. When he talks about the war, the way it could've happened, he talks tanks: "The height of the Cold War was the early 1980s. All they [the Soviet leaders] had to do was give the signal and everything would have gone off. Everything was battle-ready. The shells were in the tanks. They just had to be loaded and fired."...
But I'm inclined to believe the old general when he says the Soviet tank armies would've kicked ass. The NATO forces were in a hopeless deployment: jammed into West Germany, an indefensible strip of heavily-populated territory. No strategic depth available, meaning the advantage was with whoever struck first. Once the population realized the Russians were coming, every Beemer and Merc in Germany would have hit the roads, those same roads our tanks were supposed to use. In that chaos, the Bundeswehr would have dissolved into a bunch of terrified locals looking for their families.
Burlakov is not too respectful, to put it mildly, about the West German military: "We had a sea of tanks on the [Soviet] Western Group. Three tank armies! And what did the [West] Germans have? The [German] workweek ends Friday and then you wouldn't find anyone, not a minister or a soldier. Just guards. By the time they realized what was happening, we would have burned up their tanks and looted their armories."
There you see it again, that obsession with tanks. The conventional wisdom right now is that the MBT's day is ending, but luckily we never saw what would happen if those three tank armies had poured through the Fulda Gap on some fine Sunday morning. (You definitely get the feeling that the plan involved attacking on a weekend, don't you?) With Soviet soldiers at the controls, and Soviet air support limiting USAF missions, a T-72 would have been a totally different machine from the Arab-crewed junkers littering the Middle East.
Of course it all depended on striking first. So would the Soviet Army have sucker-punched us? Burlakov says, "Of course! What else? Wait for them to strike us?"
The journalist asks again, like just to make sure: "We [the Soviets] would have struck first?" and the General says again, "Of course!"
And he makes it real clear that he's not just talking about conventional first strikes. The interviewer says, "But [Soviet] Foreign Minister Gromyko said that the USSR would not use nuclear weapons first!"
I love Burlakov's answer: "He said one thing and we [the Soviet staff] thought another. We are the ones responsible for wars." [More]