ABLE ARCHER 83: Timeline of a Third World War in 1983

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My rules for a Alternative History of World War III
Writing an alternative history of an hypothetical World War III is a very difficult task, mainly because there is an over-production of fictions, models an hypothesis on what it could have been. Every historian or alt-historian has his own precise idea on how it could unfold. For this reason, I prefer to set some basic rules for this Alternative Timeline before writing it, useful for any further debate on this board.
1. Historical context: I chose the Able Archer Crisis of 1983 because it is increasingly recognized by historians as one of the three most dangerous moments of the Cold War (along with the Berlin Crisis of 1948 and the Cuban Missiles Crisis of 1962). While the other two crisis went “public” immediately, the Able Archer one is still a mystery. Were we really close to war or not? Increasing evidence suggests that we were. But there is still a window open for alt-history imagination.
2. Inspiration: I will try to free my mind from any fictional account produced in the 80s, both from the more pessimistic scenarios of nuclear-end-of-the-World (like “Threads”, “When the Wind Blows” and many others) and the overly optimistic scenarios of all-conventional-theatre-war (like Hackett’s “Third World War” and Clancy’s “Red Storm Rising”). I would try to rely on real planning of both sides, given that many key documents are declassified. Where there are no declassified war plans, there are still many writings on doctrine and oral history that could fill the gap.
3. Rationality: I know that a plan is the first victim in war. It could die in the first hour of conflict. After that first hour, I assume that both sides are relatively rational, because both showed restrain during the entire era of the Cold War. Even if war resulted from miscalculation (like in this case), their rationality could persist also during a conflict. I presume that nobody wanted to destroy the World, but “simply” win the war.
4. Technology: I would use only existing military technology already deployed in 1983, but I assume that, in case of war, both sides could try to deploy also new tested (although not yet deployed) systems and use existing or old technologies in new and “creative” manners.
Given those rules… happy reading!
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Historical Background: the hottest years of the Cold War

The so called “detente” between Soviet Union and United States simply fell apart in December 1979. Since 1976, Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces began to deploy the new SS-20 system. The new missiles could hit accurately, with three MIRVed warheads each, all the NATO bases in Europe and all the Us targets in the Asia-Pacific region, without posing a threat to the Us territory.
The Soviet strategists, basically, intended the new system as an upgrade of previous SS-4 and SS-5 missiles, which could reach all the NATO targets in Central and Westrn Europe, but not the peripheral bases in Turkey, Spain, Portugal, Iceland and Greenland. The new SS-20s could reach all those remote bases and put the entire depth of NATO forces inside the Soviet nuclear offensive weapons range.
The SS-20s were the perfect weapons to fight and win a limited nuclear war in Europe, because they could destroy any NATO target in Central Europe with pinpoint accuracy (limiting collateral damages, which could be dangerous also for advancing WP troops), deter any massive retaliation from France and UK, or from the US remote bases in Iceland, Spain, Portugal and Turkey, deny the arrival and concentration of US forces in any European harbor, deny side operations in the enlarged Middle East, destroy or deter US operations in Japan and South Korea.
Western governments understood immediately the importance of the new weapons and they also considered the deployment of SS-20s as a political tool aimed at the “decoupling” of NATO: if Europe is menaced and Usa are not, they thought, American and European interests could diverge. In case of theatre nuclear war in Europe (NATO’s strategists thought), Usa could have been tempted to not intervene. Thus the necessity to retaliate to the deployment of SS-20s with the deployment of new US theatre nuclear weapons, in order to reestablish the balance of nuclear forces in Europe.
The decision to deploy the new missiles, the Pershing2 (medium range ballistic missiles) in Germany and the Gryphon (land based cruise missiles) in UK, Italy and the Netherlands, came in mid-December 1979. The deployment should not be immediate, nor inevitable. It was linked to the result of a new round of negotiations with Ussr on intermediate nuclear forces (INF). Basically the NATO proposal was: retire the SS-20s and we’ll not deploy the Pershings and Gryphons. Earlier that month, unrelated to the deployment decision, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan to replace its recalcitrant communist regime with a more faithful one. A military move which was met with outrage all over the West and in the Islamic world and prompted new sanctions by the Carter’s administration in Usa.
These two events, Western reaction to Afghanistan and Western reaction to SS-20s, provoked an escalation of ideological paranoia in Soviet leadership. Until early ’79, the Soviet leadership (dominated by the old general secretary Leonid Brezhnev, but especially by the KGB’s president Yuri Andropov) was relatively optimistic. Soviet-style socialism was spreading all over the World, not only in African countries (where Soviets intervened in, at least, three cases: Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia), but also in the courtyard of Usa (Nicaragua and El Salvador, later the island of Grenada). Western leftism was widespread all over Europe and United States, especially after Vietnam. The overall correlation of forces (military, economic and political) favored the Soviet Union. The world was secure for Moscow, a war was not only not necessary, but even damages for the Soviet cause. But after 1979, the harsh reaction of the West, the election of anti-communist leaders such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and the first symptoms of weakness of the Soviet Communist system (the rise of Solidarnosc in Poland, boosted by a Polish Pope, unrest in Afghanistan, the reforms in China and the strengthening of its military power, economic stagnation in Ussr), signaled a shift of correlation of forces from East to West. “If we are weak and they’re getting stronger, they will soon attack us”, was the mainstream thinking in the military and political circles. In an orthodox Marxist-Leninist view, the East-West conflict was inevitable, détente was only temporary. The shift of the correlation of forces could signal the approaching of the final conflict. A Western surprise attack became a boogeyman for the KGB and the GRU (the military secret service). In 1981, under Andropov and Breznev’s orders, they launched the combined Operation RYAN, aimed at collecting signals of an impending NATO’s nuclear surprise attack on Soviet Union. The Operation RYAN was not an aseptic collection of proofs, but it was more a self-fulfilling prophecy. The KGB was quite sure about the NATO intention to attack, it didn’t know “when” and “how” it will push the button, but the “if” is not considered. Every “suspect” sign in political, military and economic life in the Western countries was signaled, by the Soviet agents, as a checkmark of an impending attack. In case the RYAN matrix is full of checkmarks, the Soviet Union should have to preempt an imminent Western attack. Both KGB and GRU had to discover the preparations of a Western nuclear attack, six days (at least) before it could be launched. A six-days window of opportunity was considered large enough for a preemptive attack in Europe. When Andropov succeeded Breznev, early in 1982, he boosted the Operation RYAN.
Through 1982 and early 1983, retaliating the Soviet-sponsored military coup in Poland and the war in Afghanistan, Us Navy and Air Force conducted a series of dangerous maneuvers close to Soviet borders. Those “Psyops” (psychological operations) succeeded in scaring Soviet military commands, exposing their liabilities. In July 1982, the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces conducted their largest exercise, the “Seven Hours Nuclear War”, which tested SLBMs, theatre nuclear forces, ICBMs, ABM missiles and all the space systems in a simulated “launch on warning” situation. In Spring 1983, in the European Theatre of Operations, the Warsaw Pact ground forces conducted the “Soyuz 83” maneuver. Viktor Kulikov (Warsaw Pact commander in chief) stated, after the exercise: “The future war will be fought without compromises, until the complete defeat of the enemy, with all necessary means, including the uncontrollable escalation of strategic nuclear forces”.
On March 23rd 1983, Ronald Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative, a new plan for a future comprehensive ballistic missile defense of Us and Allies. Few days after, a little nuclear bomb was detonated in Nevada: the Cabra Event was about to test a new promising ABM weapon, a nuclear pumped X-ray laser. The KGB didn’t know how advanced was that program, but it estimated that, if deployed, it could have shot down the 98% of Soviet ICBMs. The Soviet military leadership and the intelligence community were scared: Usa were probably preparing a first strike, they thought, and the SDI would have stopped an eventual Soviet retaliation. The Operation RYAN was boosted again.
And then, a civilian Korean Boeing mistakenly violated the Soviet airspace, over the Kamchatka peninsula…
When the Soviet SU-15 of major Osipovic shot down the civilian airliner KAL 007, over the Sakhalin Peninsula, nobody really know what is happening. Soviet air defense radars discovered and tracked an “intruder”, maybe an American spy plane. Major Osipovic could see it was a civilian airliner, but he didn’t question his commanders about their orders. The crew of the Korean airliner didn’t know they were flying over one of the Soviet Union most secret locations and didn’t see any warning sign.

When Ronald Reagan publicly condemn the Soviet crime and published all the transcripts of the conversations between Osipovic and his direct superiors (intercepted by Japanese SIGINT), the KGB and the Soviet ruling élite began to think to a Us conspiracy. They thought Reagan was “psychologically preparing the Americans for war”. They thought that even the KAL007 was part of the conspiracy, a blatant provocation, a civilian airplane “deliberately sent” over Soviet air defenses in order to create a scandal. Basically, the KGB was believing in its own propaganda. And added a lot of checkmarks on the RYAN matrix, when the Reagan administration condemned Ussr at the UN General Assembly opted for new unilateral sanctions against Soviet Union.

Even more important, from a military point of view: the Madrid negotiations for INF broke down, paving the way for an early NATO deployment of Gryphons and Pershing2s in Uk, Italy and Germany. The deployment was officially scheduled for the end of November. Gryphons could be launched secretly and could ride undetected over Soviet defenses. Pershing2s were very accurate ballistic missiles and, if launched from Western Germany, could reach Moscow in just 6-8 minutes (KGB’s estimates). Both were the perfect weapons for a decapitating surprise attack on Soviet Union. After the news about their imminent deployment, inside the Soviet military commands began to prevail a basic thinking: if war is inevitable and it could be imminent, it’s better to preempt NATO before the deployment than after. Pershing2, in particular, could further reduce the window of opportunities, not only for a preemptive assault, but even for the basic relocation of Soviet leadership and main commands.

Amid all this tension, on September 26th a Soviet OKO (“eye”) surveillance satellite, mistakenly signaled the launch of five US ICBMs against Soviet Union. Only a coldblooded Soviet officer, colonel Stanislav Petrov, prevent the transmission of a general alarm to the high command. That avoid a very dangerous chain of events, considering that the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces were always on a “launch on warning” posture. This little episode weakened the sense of security of the Soviet General Staff. In case of surprise nuclear strike, Soviet Union could be unprepared.

Another important checkmark in the RYAN matrix was added when the Solidarnosc leader Lech Walesa won the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel was announced on October 5th and was “part of the psychological Western campaign aimed at preparing the people for the imminent war”.

Few days later, in Rangoon, the South Korean president was almost killed in a terrorist attack. All the Us and South Korean garrisons were strengthened and security measures tightened. Other checkmarks for the operation RYAN.

On October 15th, the Us president Ronald Reagan, British premier Margaret Thatcher and the German chancellor Helmut Kohl, confirmed to NATO their participation for the incoming command post exercises ABLE ARCHER 83. This was another huge checkmark for RYAN agents: the participation of main Western leaders to a nuclear release exercise could be a cover for a real attack.

On October 22nd, large peace demonstrations took place all over Europe: millions of people marched against the deployment of the new Us missiles. While the KGB political line claimed success, the GRU and the KGB’s RYAN agents hold a slightly different view: if so many Western political leaders endorsed the protests, maybe they “knew” something about an impending attack and were “really scared”. Another checkmark for RYAN.

On October 23rd, the Marine and the French airborne barracks in Beirut, Lebanon (where Western forces are present as peacekeepers), were destroyed by a twin suicide attack. KGB didn’t know the author of the terrorist attack, but RYAN agents signaled only the increasing security measures around the Us basis all over the world. Another checkmark for RYAN.

October 25th, Us forces launched a surprise attack against Grenada’s communist regime. Andropov and Moscow’s ruling élite were scared by the Us deception: until the real attack took place, everything was concealed and Washington had always denied any intention to invade Grenada. Even the allies were not informed and the British government (the communist Grenada was still part of the Commonwealth) protested vigorously with a series of encrypted messages. Soviet intelligence tried to intercept all the messages from London to Washington DC but didn’t succeed to decrypt them. It could be a new code used for secret consultations before a nuclear war. Another checkmark for RYAN.

On October 31st, the Soviet submarine K-135 (a Victor3 class attack submarine) snagged the Us frigate McCloy’s towed sonar array cable, off the Bermuda islands. Damaged by its own action, the K-135 was towed to Cienfuegos, Cuba, for repairs. For RYAN agents, this little incident could mean that Us ASW units had intensified their activities against Soviet attack submarines, in order to protect Us ballistic missiles submarines. Another checkmark for RYAN

November 1st: Soviets proposed a non-aggression pact with China; in Europe, first components of Pershing 2 batteries began to arrive in Germany, while trucks and mobile launchers for Gryphons began to be assembled in Greenham Common, Uk. A Pentagon officer, William Fiorentino, testified before the Us Congress about the ongoing deployment of Pershing 2 and revealed that all the first 13 missiles were already in Germany, stockpiled in Frankfurt. Caspar Weinberger denied the news, but the media, especially in Germany, boosted the declarations; the German magazine Stern, in particular, dedicated large sections to a possible secret advanced deployment of the missiles; the KGB came to the idea that a secret missile deployment plan in Europe (a mirror image of the Soviet Anadyr Plan for Cuban missiles) was already almost completed.

I remember us discussing this. My only real view is the SU will launch either everything or if restricted to Europe then on both UK and France. The French forces can be knocked out by surprise and the British are vulnerable if Thatchers in Turnstile - if its hit their retaliation is weakened.
The Final Countdown

On November 2nd, the RYAN matrix was almost full when NATO launched its command post exercise, the ABLE ARCHER 83. In the first day of the maneuver, the NATO command and control centers, especially the main command post of Casteau (Belgium), began to simulate the breakdown of negotiation and the preliminary orders for a conventional war in Europe. Both GRU and KGB were put on highest alert.

On November 3rd, NATO command and control centers began to simulate the preliminary phases of a conventional war in Europe, with an hypothetical Soviet invasion of Norway, Germany and the Balkans. They simulated a DEFCON-4 alert for nuclear forces. The nature of the exercise was very realistic. Codes used to encrypt the messages were different from those used for the previous exercises, radio silences were adopted, all the civilian channels of communication were cleared. Those are all symptoms for a surprise nuclear attack, from a KGB and GRU point of view. GRU residents in Europe transmitted the alert to the Soviet high command, which ordered a precautionary partial mobilization of conventional and nuclear forces in Europe and Soviet Union. Sleepy cells of Spetnatz were activated all over Europe by GRU. Many other Spetnatz began to cross the borders of NATO countries disguised as athletes, tourists and students. Arms caches and explosives were planted by GRU agents in secret locations, close to NATO bases.

November 4th: while NATO was continuing its command post exercise at a DEFCON-4 level of alert, the Warsaw Pact forces began their partial mobilization. All the Frontal Aviation units in East Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia were put on heightened alert and armed. The ground forces secretly move to their combat stations. Some of the North Fleet and Baltic Fleet surface unites took the see, while the ballistic missile submarines took their positions in Northern and Eastern “bastions”, protected by ASW surface units. Typhoon class ballistic missile submarines head to the Arctic. In Soviet Union, the Strategic Rocket Forces began to prepare ICBMs for a possible launch; escalation in Lebanon: Amal militias hit the Israeli command center in Tiro and Israel air force retaliated against Islamic positions in the Chouf mountains; Us Sixth Fleet in Eastern Mediterranean was reinforced; KGB was persuaded that the “provocation” in Lebanon and the deployment of other nuclear armed naval units in the Mediterranean were all part of the plot for a surprise nuclear strike

November 5th: NATO command and control centers simulated a Soviet use of chemical weapons and a breakthrough of NATO lines in Europe, then simulated a DEFCON-3 level of alert as a retaliation for nuclear forces. The KGB estimated a 7 to 10 days (which means: from November 12th to November 15th) countdown for nuclear war and diffused this information to all its residents in Europe, asking for confirmations; mobile launchers components began to arrive also in the Sigonella air base, Sicily, Italy. In Moscow, during the first celebration day for Red October; in front of a crowded Plenum, in the Kremlin, Central Committee Secretary Grigorij Romanov declared that Soviet Union “will not stay idle” in front of the deployment of the new missiles in Western Europe; in Lebanon, the Syrian army and fractions of Olp dissidents besieged Arafat main base in Tripoli, Israel menaced to intervene deep in Lebanon and the US fleet closed in; from a Soviet point of view, those events are all parts of NATO’s preparations for a strike from the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.

November 6th: while NATO was continuing its exercise at a DEFCON-3 level of alert, in Brussels the German spy Reiner Rupp dismissed the KGB’s concern for Western war preparation. He told Moscow that there was no mobilization of NATO’s nuclear forces. Asked again about the participation of Western leaders to the exercise, he confirmed the news. The KGB considered important only this last part of the report: top level politicians participating to an “exercise” means impending nuclear attack disguised as an exercise. The lack of mobilization of nuclear forces means only that they could be mobilized quickly on November 12th (the last day of the exercise) or immediately after. Escalation in the Gulf: heavy barrages of Iraqi Scud missiles against the Iranian cities close to the Shatt al Arab region; US didn’t exclude the option of a naval intervention to protect the oil traffic in the Gulf, in case of further escalations. Moscow reply stating that US “will pay consequences” in case of a naval deployment in the Gulf. China turned-down the Soviet propasals for a non-aggression pact

November 7th: Red October celebrations in Moscow. Andropov was absent, due to his illness, but all the rest of political leadership (mostly unaware of the KGB’s and military alert) participated regularly to the parade. No leaves were conceded to troops at all levels and preliminary mobilization moves continued. Hidden from US satellite’s eyes, the Moscow ABM system was loaded. In the meantime, in the Middle East, both Israel and Syria began a partial mobilization of their forces, while the fratricide struggle between Syrians and OLP continues in Lebanon

November 8th: NATO simulated a DEFCON-2 level of alert when the commanders “in the field” asked for the nuclear release. The KGB Central command sent a urgent message (“molnya”) to all its residencies in NATO countries, asking for confirmations. A request for nuclear release could be followed by real preparations for a nuclear strike. All the residencies in European capitals denied ongoing real war preparations: nuclear systems were not at all deployed. But they confirmed a heightened alert in all US military bases (because of the Beirut bombing). And the participation of all top Western leaders to the exercise was confirmed by local KGB agents: as scheduled, they would be relocated to secret and safe shelters, where they could simulate a complete nuclear release procedure. That part of maneuver would take place early in the next morning, on November 12th. The KGB confirmed all its fears and considered the Operation RYAN accomplished. War is now certain and could start in the next four to six days.
Fatal decisions

November 8th, 6PM: KGB’s president Chebrikov and his director of foreign espionage Krjuchkov show all the results of the Operation RYAN to the Secretary General Yuri Andropov, in the Central Clinical Hospital in Moscow; the Secretary General is strongly shocked by the news and believes that the moment is come for the last confrontation; he decides to share the alarm with the State Defense Committee (GKO), the élite section of the Politbjuro who could take decisions about starting and managing a war.

November 8th, 8PM: extraordinary meeting of the GKO in the Kremlin. Despite his illness, also Yuri Andropov attends the event; Foreign Minister Andrej Gromyko strongly opposes a preemptive attack against NATO and dismissed a danger of an enemy surprise nuclear strike; NATO countries, he argues, has no intentions to strike first and the evidence provided by KGB and GRU is too weak. But Gromyko is only a minority voice, because all the other GKO’s members, beginning with Andropov, strongly believe in an imminent NATO’s attack. There is no certainty on the date of the enemy’s attack. But Andropov insists that Warsaw Pact forces have to take action immediately, at before the Western leaders could take cover in their shelters. Ustinov opposes a nuclear preemptive attack, stressing the point that the Soviet Union has no first-strike disarming capability and could lose at least 80 million people and the 65% of its industrial capability in case of US retaliation. Ustinov agrees with a conventional military option. A complete surprise could be achieved. NATO needed, at least, four to seven days to complete its preparations for a nuclear first strike (no nuclear weapon system is still deployed, nor cities are evacuated) then it could be prevented with conventional means. NATO conventional forces needed at least 2 days to be put on war footing, while Soviet forces in Europe are already mobilized and ready to attack. A bold advance in Central Europe is possible and could eliminate the main source of danger, disrupt the enemy plans for nuclear war and buy time for Soviet preparations for a possible nuclear escalation. Once the river Rhine is reached (during the sixth or seventh day of operations, according to the military plans) it could be possible to reach a peace agreement from a position of strength. Gromyko opposes the military option at all and insists that all diplomatic emergency channels (including the hot line) have to be used before any irreversible military action. But the majority of the GKO voted against his line. Any communication with the enemy could indeed uncover Soviet war preparations and precipitate a NATO first strike. “The most important and risky decision since the Red Revolution in 1917” is thus taken. Andropov gives Marshall Nikolai Ogarkov (commander in chief of Soviet Armed Forces) the authorization to launch a preemptive attack. All necessary orders are dispatched to the all branches of the armed forces
November 8th, 10 PM: all the residencies in Europe, Usa, Canada and Japan, receive the combat order and KGB agents go into the wilderness; embassies receive the full alert order and begin to destroy all their documents and contact the Soviet citizens abroad, giving them the instructions on how to take cover; Spetnatz units already infiltrated in Europe, Usa and Canada, unearth their prepositioned weapons caches

November 8th, 11 PM: all air assault units are put on war footing, rush on their air strips, waiting to be taken by a large fleet of An-22 Antonov and civil Aeroflot planes; the Northern, Black Sea Marine Brigades and the Pacific Marine Division are put on war footing and embarked in their naval units; submarines receive the order to attack US missile submarines; thanks to the Walker family spy ring (which provided the Soviets all the codes of US Navy’s communications), the Soviet attack submarines receive data on their estimated position, speed and route of the enemy boats.

November 8th, 12 PM: deserters or “suspect” elements in KGB and GRU abroad are secretly killed by death squads of GRU. Only few agents, although, manage to alert Western intelligence services, but all indications of an impending Soviet attack are dismissed as nonrealistic, because, despite some disturbing movements are spotted on the Eastern side of the Iron Courtain, NATO’s intelligence never spotted a huge mobilization, which is seen as a necessary and preliminary preparation for a large war in Europe.


Lets hope that for the sake of the planet that this is at least a non nuclear war to begin with or it will be over very quickly but will mean the end of civilisation as we know it. In the 80s the Soviets had significantly closed the tech gap between the two sides and this was the closest they would be to being able to fight on an even footing.

Great stuff, love how you're ratcheting up the tension.
The "Red Dawn"

November 9th, 4 AM: a Spetnatz commando kills the German chancellor Helmut Kohl, bombing his car while he was on the way to his nuclear shelter in the Ahr Valley, near Bonn; KGB counter-information agencies send to all the German newspapers a false claim by the Rote Armee Fraktion; the Soviet Northern Fleet leaves the Kola Peninsula and the units already at sea head to Northern Norway
November 9th, 5 AM: a Spetnatz unit sabotages the power plants of London, creating a vast blackout; another Spetnatz commando tries to exploit the confusion created by the blackout, to kill the premier Margaret Thatcher; although, the British MI-5 is already well aware of the danger (in 1981 a GRU defector gave the MI-5 all the plans for an assassination attempt) and alerts all the security forces just in time to prevent a terrorist attack; meanwhile, in Washington DC, the vice-president George W.H. Bush and the Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger helicopters, heading to the Alternate National Military Command Center, in Pennsylvania, are shot down by a Spetnatz commando armed with shoulder anti-aircraft missiles; Spetnatz could not find the Reagan’s helicopter, because the president has already left Washington for his scheduled Asia trip (and the KGB didn’t know that); all NATO forces are alerted; Soviet air assault units take off from their bases; Soviet marine units take the sea in the Kola Peninsula, Kamchatka and Crimean Peninsula; Polish and East German units take the sea in the Baltic; all the Warsaw Pacts units receive the order to move. Spetnatz commando units already infiltrated in Trade Unions, sabotages dozens of electric power plants, disrupting the energy distribution all over Europe; other Spetnatz commandos, already infiltrated in the peace movement, launch a successful surprise attack against the bases of Comiso and Sigonella (in Italy), Greenham Common (in England) and Schwaebishes Gmund (West Germany), where the Gryphon and Pershing2 missiles are supposed to be stocked; other Spetnatz commando units attack various traits of the NATO pipelines in Benelux and Germany. Rep-Osnatz units begin to jam NATO radars and radio transmissions; NATO nuclear forces goes suddenly to DEFCON-2, the US B-52 begin to disperse, along with all the FB-111 in Europe; submarines receive the order to take the sea immediately; nuclear warheads are withdrawn from their fortified igloos and dispersed to war time locations in Germany, closer to their weapon systems; anti-aircraft batteries and interceptor squadrons are put on high alert.

November 9th, 6AM: the Warsaw Pact Frontal Aviation launch a massive air strike against NATO bases and command centers in Northern Italy, Germany, Denmark, Norway Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg. The effects of this first attack is devastating, but also the Soviet and WP losses are huge, mainly due to NATO’s new F-15 and F-16 interceptors already up in the air and the massive launch of Nike Hercules anti-aircraft missiles already alerted

Meanwhile, Sierra and Alpha Soviet attack submarines sink the USS Ohio and four US Lafayette class submarines in North Atlantic. In the Western Pacific, three Soviet Charlie guided missiles submarines sink the USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier.

News of a sudden Soviet attack in Europe and about the assassination of the vice-president, the secretary of defense and “other allied leaders” comes as a bombshell to the ears of Ronald Reagan, still on board of his Air Force One, flying over the Pacific Ocean. Once it is sure that no nuclear weapons are employed by the enemy (not yet), Reagan bars the nuclear option and authorizes only conventional retaliations.

November 9th 6:30AM: the Soviet Bear H and Backfire bombers of the Long Range Aviation launch barrages of conventional cruise missiles (both conventional and chemicals with VX agent) against the more remote air and naval bases of Turkey, Southern Italy, Spain, Portugal, UK, Iceland, Greenland and Alaska. When all those missiles impacted on their targets, inflicting huge damages, SACEUR (Supreme Allied Command in Europe) and SACLANT (Supreme Allied Command in the Atlantic) could immediately verify that no nuclear bursts are registered. The UK naval command in Northwood asked the authorization for launch of Polaris missiles against Moscow. Fearing an all-out nuclear war and realizing that no nukes are actually landing on UK, Margaret Thatcher deny the permission.

November 9th 7 AM: the Soviet first air raid in Central Europe is followed by a second wave of bombings against all the targets spared or not enough damaged. In the second wave, SU-24 Fencers drop chemical bombs (VX persistent agents) on all targets. The wave of air strikes is mainly successful, but losses are, again, heavy on the Warsaw Pact side. Having had enough time to disperse its air forces, NATO’s interceptor wings and anti-aircraft batteries inflict huge losses to Soviet bombers and their fighter escorts.

November 9th, 8 AM: the Northern Fleet Marine Brigade and the 76th air assault division, land at Bodo, in Northern Norway, covered by many Northern Fleet ships; the Polish marine and airborne units (the “blue berets” and the “red berets”) land in the Danish islands, covered by the Soviet Baltic Fleet; the Black Fleet Marine Brigade lands in European Turkey, close to Istanbul; in Denmark and Turkey, NATO reactions are weak, because of the previous strikes and the nearly complete surprise of the Soviet assault; only in Northern Norway the Soviets are stopped by the heavily fortified coastal defenses; air assault units are airdropped behind the NATO lines: the 7th air assault division in Denmark, elements of the 106th air assault division on all the strategic bridges on the river Elbe; elements of the 102nd air assault division are airdropped on the Brenner and Tarvisio Passes, between Italy and Austria; in Berlin, the 1st and 2nd DDR armored regiments launch a surprise attack on NATO forces and suppress easily their defenses in Grunewald and Kaiserdamme Brucke.

Greece and France are deliberately excluded by the Soviet attack. French president François Mitterrand, honors the Alliance duties and declare war to Soviet Union and all its Warsaw Pact allies. But in Greece, the prime minister Andreas Papandreou, heavily pressed by the Soviet ambassador Andropov (son of the Secretary General) opts for “armed neutrality” and quits NATO.

To be continued...
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Reagan will be implacable after the assassination of the Vice President. I do not see him giving into any Soviet demands and for all intents and purposes the nuclear countdown has started. There is no way Regan will accept anything now but total surrender by the Soviets.

I think Reagan would have been willing to use the absolute highest level of conventional force to stop the Soviet invasion, and probably authorised the use of chemical weapons too (as the Sovs had already started using them) but he would not want to risk provoking a nuclear strike against America. He was the US President, his first duty was to his own people. Even if nuclear warfare starts in Europe, Reagan still has every reason to try and keep things from escalating further, provided the Reds don't launch a nuclear attack against US territory. It sounds cold-blooded, but at the end of the day allies are expendable.

If any Western country is going to be the first to use nukes, I think France would be the most likely candidate, as they're most directly threatened by the Soviet Army. The US isn't threatened with invasion at all and Britain has a fair chance of holding out even if the whole of continental Europe is occupied, but France has no natural border. If the Sovs are smart, they'll refrain from using nukes themselves and do everything they possibly can to convince the French that they don't plan on going any further than the Rhine. Of course it's a bit hard to convince someone of your honest intentions when you've just launched a sneak attack.
Didn't the French have a secret policy of launching successively larger waves of nuclear strikes as the Soviets advanced deeper into Germany?

The French policy was to launch if the Soviets reached the Rhine/French border. If case of purely conventionnal conflict this could however change to a degree

The sabotage of the London power stations won't have a massive effect, since said power stations were small and progressively run down by 1983. The British grid will be able to cope with their loss.
Even then sabotaging a power station without explosives is not as easy as it seems because safety systems are everywhere. Blowing up the generators is the easiest way to go there, it can be done without explosives but if someone plays with the hydrogen in the generators, it will be noticed very quickly.

If the war remains conventionnal, I can see the frontline stabilising in Rhineland and the Rhine/Scheldt estuaries. France will mobilise 2 millions men during the coming weeks and months and a lot of NATO nations will do the same.

If the war goes nuclear and the story starts tipping into Mad Max - Threads - The Day after. Be aware that I will pounce hard and shred anything I find implausible or illogical.
Yes, for what I know, the French would have launched their Pluton tactical missiles in case of Soviet advance in Germany... after a political and military consultation with Bonn, of course. In case of invasion of France, Paris could release all its Force de Frappe.
About the sabotage of power plants: the GRU plans of sabotage in London included many options for terrorist actions (from power plants to chem weapons into the Tube), but they were not intended as the main purpose. They are intended as a diversion, to create confusion and distract as many security as possible from the main target: the British premier. Thus, it is not important if London is in the dark or not: it's just chaos creation.
Six Days to Survive (Ground Operations in Europe, November 9th-14th)

In the North-Western theatre of operations, the Soviet 76th air assault division is isolated and encircled in Bodo, because the Northern Marine Brigade is stopped and repulsed by the Norwegian coastal defenses. Although, the Soviet paratroopers are able to stop any Norwegian counterattack, especially because of the air and artillery support provided by the Soviet Northern Fleet. Meanwhile, the Norwegian Northern Division is attacked frontally in Kirkenes by the 45th, 69th and 77th Soviet infantry divisions, while other two mechanized divisions, the 64th and 111th begin a wide encircling maneuver Southward, violating the neutrality of Finland. Finnish government, led by Kalevi Sorsa orders his troops not to intervene and let the Soviet pass. In just three days, the two mechanized divisions are able to reach the Norwegian Northern division’s rears in Tromso, while other three mechanized divisions of the Leningrad Military District “peacefully” occupy the Southern Finland. The Norwegians are forced to abandon all the Finnmark and part of the North just to prevent their encirclement. The US NALMEB (Norway Air Land Marine Expeditionary Brigade), the British Parachute Regiment and the ACE Mobile Force, begin their deployment in Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim, protected by the British Home Fleet.

In Western theatre of operations, dozens of SCUD and FROG missiles, with chemical warheads (Sarin non-persistent agent) are launched against NATO forward defenses in Germany, then the ground troops advance through secure gaps between static defenses and nuclear mines mapped during the GRU’s “Operation Snowfall”. Spetnatz units are airdropped close to NATO nuclear storages, begin to ambush the convoys carrying nuclear warheads and to capture and deactivate nuclear mined sites.

The Soviet Second Army, advances quickly through the Elbe river (already secured by airborne troops), overcomes the weak defenses of the Dutch Corps (completely taken by surprise) and penetrates in Denmark, while the Soviet Twentieth Army is engaging the German First Corps and the Soviet Third “Shock” Army attacks frontally the positions taken by the British First Corps. Denmark, assaulted by sea, air and land, falls in just three days. Its entire army receives the order to disperse and go into the wilderness, engaging a resistance war along with other NATO’s Stay Behind units. Queen Margrethe II is exited by British Sas and manages to escape by submarine (protected by the British Fleet). She establishes a Denmark government in exile in Washington DC. The Twentieth and the Third Soviet Armies establishes and consolidates a bridgehead on the West bank of river Elbe, overcomes the German First Corps, repulses the British First Corps and occupy the cities of Hamburg and Hannover. But the two invading armies are stopped along the Weser river by a reorganized and reinforced British First Corps (which is joined by fresh troops from UK), by remnants of the German Third Corps and the Belgian First.

In Central Germany, the Soviet Eight Army tries to reach quickly Frankfurt, but it is slowed by numerous German pockets of resistance, static defenses and air raids in choke points. The US Fifth Corps quickly reorganizes itself behind a barrage of conventional and chemical artillery shells. By the end of the first week, the Soviet offensive run out of steam in this sector.

In Southern Germany, the Soviet Fourth Army overcomes the defenses of German Second Corps and forces the US Seventh Corps to retreat. After a first bold advance to Nuremberg and Munich, runs out of fuel and ammos, because of the devastation of its rears and has to halt its advance. The Boehmerwald is an area full of bottlenecks which are promptly blocked by the Allied air strikes.

In the South-Western theatre of operations, the Soviet Ninth Army invades Austria, violating its neutrality. Taken by surprise, Vienna falls immediately (and all the government is taken prisoner), then the little Austrian army is overcome in three days. Meanwhile, along the Alps, the Soviet paratroopers are quickly encircled by the Italian Alpine troops, both in Brenner and in Tarvisio passes. When the main force of the Ninth Army arrives in Tarvisio, in the second day of war and in Brenner Pass, in the third day, the entire Italian Army begin to retreat behind the Piave river, preventing its encirclement. GRU begins an assassination campaign against key Italian politicians in Rome. The premier Bettino Craxi, the Defense Minister Giovanni Spadolini and Francesco Cossiga (the key man for Stay Behind) are killed by GRU agents infiltrated in the security services.

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The War over Europe (air operations in Europe, November 9th-14th)

Over the battlefields of continental Europe, Soviet air force keeps a complete air dominance, due to its strong numerical superiority, for the losses suffered by NATO air forces during the first hours of attack and for the incapacitation of nearly all the air bases by chemical VX persistent agent, which requires days of decontamination operations. Given their superiority, Soviets can conduct continuous air strikes against NATO troops with both SU-25 ground attack aircrafts and MI-24 attack helicopters. Although, air raids against more distant targets, like the NATO air bases in France, UK, Spain, Portugal, Iceland, Greenland and Alaska mostly fails because of strong resistance opposed by NATO interceptors (F-15s and F-16s prove to be very effective) and various lines of anti-aircraft missile batteries (Nike Hercules for high altitude bombers, Rapiers and Hawks for mid and low altitude aircrafts). Nike Hercules, in particular, prove to be also an effective ABM weapon, shooting down many Soviet SCUD and FROG missiles. In battlefields also, mobile batteries of Rapiers and Hawks, as well as shoulder missiles such as Stingers, exact a high price on helicopters and ground attack aircrafts.
On the other side, NATO air forces are able to conduct short range air strikes against Soviet rears, with US A-10 anti-tank aircrafts and British Harriers already dispersed and easily deployable in German highways. Their attacks are really effective in bottlenecks areas such as the Fulda Gap and the Boehmerwald. Any attempted long range air strike against Warsaw Pact bases is interdicted by enemy’s interceptors, mainly MIG-27 Floggers and also the new MIG-29 Fulcrum. Only the stealth F-117s prove effective for long range deep strikes: based in Iceland, since the second day of war, the 4450th Tactical Group conducts several successful night raids against Warsaw Pact bridges on Oder, Neisse, Vistula and Danube rivers, air bases, ammo storages and gas reserves of the Warsaw Pact forces. An airlift for the US Third Corps personnel and light equipment is established since the first day of operations in Europe. Given the dense presence of Soviet interceptors over Central Europe and the chemical contamination of all main bases, the C-130 and G-5 Galaxy cargo planes of NATO have to land only by night on selected and prepared highways, in North German plain, Belgium and the Netherlands.
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