Thursday, 31 December 2020

When did WWIII start?


Happy winter greetings from the SAM 2 crew!

Never, perhaps, in the post-war decades has the situation in the world been as explosive and, hence, more difficult and unfavourable as in the first half of the 1980's.

 Mikhail Gorbachev February 1986

It is perfectly feasible to play a WWIII wargame, of any type, predicated on any number of start dates. Which date would you choose?

According to GDW’s Team Yankee, it was 1987. Battlegroup NORTHAG says 1983. Seven Days to the Rhine aims simply at the 1980s. Interestingly, The Red Effect by Harvey Black says 1984. Are any of these dates more likely than others and does it actually matter?

For most people I imagine, it doesn’t actually matter. Pick the rules you like and use the kit you fancy. If you want to use Conquerors to blow T-10s to molten slag, the answer is to come up with a rules set that covers these vehicles and figure out as much of a narrative as you need to set the scene.

For me, I like to play a game in which both sides have a believable narrative as to why they are fighting. The “historical” start date then sets the conditions in terms of force strengths, equipment types etc. The date is key for me because I’m writing my own rules and need to have an envelope for the kit and the tactics. The rules will cover only what is necessary and I will only need to find the specific models for the game. That keeps it simple all round and stops me going off at unnecessary tangents.

Warsaw Pact hat competition, Hungary wins!

I think 1984 is probably the last date at which a genuine WWIII could have broken out in Europe, but also probably the most likely. Could it have occurred earlier? Yes, certainly. There were many periods of extreme tension, starting with the Berlin Blockade in 1948, which could have sparked a war in Europe.  However, 1984 represents the culmination of a number of developments which pushed the possibility of conflict right up the scale.

The drivers for a conflict in 1984 are, as I see them, as follows:

  • Nearly a decade of competitive developments in weaponry (attack helicopters, new generation tanks) and in operational thinking (air/land battle and operational manoeuvre groups);
  • Strategic pressures brought about by Reagan’s election in 1980 and the possibility that his Star Wars project might provide a defensive shield behind which the US could launch a first strike;
  • Increasingly large and realistic exercises by NATO and Warsaw Pact (WP) which, even if not deliberately provocative, served to give that impression;
  • Stress and instability within the Soviet leadership structure due to Brezhnev’s death in 1982 and his replacement by, first, Andropov, and second, Chernenko.

Effectively, Reagan started the war threat rolling in 1980 and cranked it up with Star Wars. Andropov, KGB Chairman in 1981, responded with a massive project to obtain early warning of a US first strike (Op. RYaN) and this response continued when he took over following Brezhnev’s demise.

Here we come, ready or not!

What pushed things to the brink of war was the 1983 NATO exercise season. Although often referred to as Able Archer 83, that exercise was only a small part of a series of exercises under Autumn Forge 83. These started in September and ran through to November 1983. Able Archer was the final component. Autumn Forge was a massive exercise involving a full test of the reinforcement plan for NATO (Reforger 83) and also extensive planning of B52 “strikes” including the transmission of nuclear codes.

From a Soviet point of view, this was a close to NATO war preparations as they had ever seen. There is the possibility. therefore, that a Soviet pre-emptive strike could have been put in place for 1984 for use if the threat of a US/NATO strike was detected. This would have a been a standing start attack into West Germany with a view to disrupting the attack on the WP but with the advantage that it would shift the Iron Curtain further west and make far more difficult for NATO in future.

All of this would, of course, totally ignore the possibility of nuclear and chemical exchanges, the scale of military and civilian casualties and the long term damage to the countries involved. Luckily for us, this did not happen, phew!

So, what does this all this hot air mean then? Deep thinking on WWIII tactical OHW (possibly called Red Effect: Tactical). More the meantime, Happy New Year!


Disgruntled Fusilier said...

You have my full and undivided attention, sir!

Peter said...

This sounds like an interesting project and I am looking forward to seeing how you progress.

Norm said...

I have seven days to the Rhine ..... but then I also have The Third World War by Sir General John Hackett and others, published by Sphere and they have it as 4th August 1985 and its hard to argue with that! :-)

Martin Rapier said...

Sounds good!

I went with 1981 for my WW3 project purely as I'm interested in the short lived Task Force organisation of BAOR. I also have a curious dislike of games which consist of invincible M1s and Challengers gunning down ranks of T64s, give me a good honest M60 or Chieftan.

I went with the war scenario postulated in "Threads" which seemed pretty plausible (conflict over Iran) for 1981.

StuRat said...

I would go with later. I'mnot European so I'm at a bitof a remove, but the speed at which everything unravelled there at the end makes me think a "use it before we lose it" scenario more likely. I don't know how accurate a picture of the economy the Soviet leadership had, but if they had determined things were about to come to a head,maybe an act of desparation might kick things off.

I realize tensions were high in 84, but that in itself might be a reason NOT to launch an attack; both sides were sure ready for something to happen.

My two pence.

Old Trousers said...

Hi all,

Thanks for your comments. Just goes to show that there is more than one way to skin a cat (if one should want to do that!).

Hi Martin,

I agree 1981 also looks like a good start date. Ty Bomba is using that for his re-run of the old Central front series. I reckon that 1984 is pretty safe to avoid super tanks. There should be only a few Challies or M1s around.

Hi Stu and Norm,

I agree, 1985 may also be a good start date, it would have been interesting if Gorbachev had not replaced Chernenko!



Anonymous said...

Don't forget that the Falkalnds War in 1982 had an effect on WP's thinking...

Duc de Gobin said...

Late addition - but very much looking forward to Red Effect Tactical (RET) - and OHW provides some serious contenders for missions along the lines of some of Hackett's stories from his two books.
Count me in for playtesting :)