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America Be Watching With The Popcorn: A Sino-Soviet War TL

Foreword & Prologue
Foreword:

When people consider the closest we’ve been to nuclear war, they often think of the Cuban Missile Crisis, or Able Archer, or even the Petrov Incident. But the real contender not many talk about is the almost-nuking of China in October, 1969. The Soviet Union was potentially only hours away from launching nuclear missiles at China, before President Richard Nixon intervened and threatened to nuke the USSR (ah, the glorious Cold War), who promptly backed down. While lots of far-fetched concepts are discussed in Alternate History (say, Axis victory, which is borderline ASB), we rarely talk about the things that likely would have happened. If you were to run October 1969 in a simulator one hundred times, most would likely result in a nuclear war. I’ve been on this website for a while now, and have read lots of Alternate History scenarios even before then. I’ve noticed a lack of content coming from this POD, as opposed to Able Archer and the Cuban Missile Crises. So, I have decided to write a timeline about it. Updates will come when I have time, which could be as few as 1-2 per month as I finish my final year of middle school. Please enjoy and know that comments (and criticisms) are always welcome.

-theflyingmongoose, February 19, 2021


‘History of the Sino-Soviet War’
By Dr. James R. Kobe (2062-)
Copyright 2127 by Scholastic Press, New York, NY, USA


Prologue: The Sino-Soviet Split and More Background, 1953-1969

The Sino-Soviet split was the worsening of diplomatic relations between the two major communist powers, the Soviet Union (USSR) and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) during the time period known as the Cold War. During the mid-20th century, China and the Soviet Union were the two largest communist states in the world. Despite the opinion in the western world that all genres of communism were the same, the doctrinal divergence derived from Chinese and Soviet national interests, and from the governments’ different versions of Marxism-Leninism (the main theory of communism by the 1960s, named for Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin). Mao, the dictator of China, denounced Nikita Khrushchev’s (his soviet counterpart) emphasis on infrastructure and building development, believing it would make the people non-revolutionary and weak, while Khrushchev slammed Mao by stating that people would walk away from communism if it had nothing to offer them but revolution (which turned out to be true).

Around this time, an ideological debate between the communist parties of the USSR and China also pondered the possibility of peaceful coexistence with the capitalist West. Mao, with his ‘Constant Revolution’ ideology, proposed a more hostile and aggressive stance, while Krushchev believed peaceful co-existence was possible. Mao, for example, criticized the Soviets for not giving a stronger response (read: military action) to the U-2 plane incident. This can partially be explained by Mao’s attitude toward human life, with such quotes like ‘Even if they kill 400 million Chinese, 400 million more will still fight on’. Khrushchev, to his credit, was far more calculated when it came to these matters, and nuclear war at the time was something the USSR would come out of far worse than the United States. By the time the late 60s came around, China-USSR relations were likely worse than American-Soviet ones, but this remained unknown to most of the world. Other issues that complicated China-USSR relations were Soviet support for Tibetan rebels in the late 50s and support for India during the 1962 War (between India and China). But none of this would matter, as the tension between the two countries would quickly escalate…

China and the USSR had previously gotten along quite well, at least during the reign of Khrushchev’s predecessor, Joseph Stalin (Mao and Stalin are two the the ‘Bad Three’, 20th-century dictators who are generally considered the worst of all time). Since 1956 (when Khrushchev began a ‘De-Stalinization’ campaign), the PRC and the USSR had vastly grown apart regarding various aspects of Marxist ideology, and, by the early 1960s, when the ideological differences proved unrepairable, the Communist Party of China (CPC) denounced the Soviet version of communism as a creation of “Anti-Revolutionary Revisionist Traitors.” Prior to this event, the west had mostly perceived communism as a monolithic ideology, when in reality it was quite diverse, and as we will get into this diversity could be quite deadly.
 
Hard to see this one not involving Uncle. The Russians had hundreds of contingency war plans. A major proportion of them involved nuking North America at some point of the fighting, just because they expected Uncle would nuke them while they were embroiled in a major central conflict. Most of those scenarios were Euro-oriented, but a lot of northeast Asia ones had that same theme. And for much the same reason. The Russians assumed Uncle would jump them the moment the Russians were in "difficulties".

Also, is this not the "nutty one" where the Kremlin suggested that both the Americans and Russians jump China before she got too big for either of them to handle alone?
 
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Hard to see this one not involving Uncle. The Russians had hundreds of contingency war plans. A major proportion of them involved nuking North America at some point of the fighting, just because they expected Uncle would nuke them while they were embroiled in a major central conflict. Most of those scenarios were Euro-oriented, but a lot of northeast Asia ones had that same theme. And for much the same reason. The Russians assumed Uncle would jump them the moment the Russians were in "difficulties".

Also, is this not the "nutty one" where the Kremlin suggested that both the Americans and Russians jump China before she got too big for either of them to handle alone?
No. This will start as a limited border war which will escalate. Nukes may or may not be used.
 
Already liking this.

What do you plan as the point of divergence here? Makes sense that the Zhenbao Island incident is a good jumping off point but the tone of the passage implies that there's something... greater going on between the two powers
 
What do you plan as the point of divergence here? Makes sense that the Zhenbao Island incident is a good jumping off point but the tone of the passage implies that there's something... greater going on between the two powers
Three words.

Insurgents. Foreign. Supply.

Zhenbao will be a major incident, and will kick off a few weeks of tit-for-tat border skirmishes.
 
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It's worth noting that the Vietnam War is ongoing in 1969 and that's going to do interesting things to the United States' ability to respond to this...
 
Beginnings of the War
Chapter 2: Early Skirmishes (Early-Mid 1969)

Khrushchev and Mao both expected to go to war sometime within the next few months, but neither expected how this would come to be. For several months, Khrushchev had been arming Uighur rebels in the Xinjiang province. Because of the hit-and-run tactics used by the rebels, the Chinese didn’t know who was supplying the rebels. However, with the capture of a convoy carrying Soviet weapons coming from the direction of the border (not to mention the Russian truck drivers), the Chinese had found their culprit.

The Zhenbao Island dispute had been going on for weeks. Soviet troops were guarding the island, and on the morning of March 1, 1969, the Chinese were making plans to take it back. However, when the commanders and troops found out about the Soviet funding of rebels, they scheduled the attack a day early. At around 2:00 PM (local time), several hundred Chinese troops crossed the short river and caught the Soviets off guard. Zhenbao Island is much closer to the Chinese side then the Russian side, so the Chinese force overwhelmed the Soviets before they could send reinforcements.

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After more than three days of not doing anything, (both sides were readying their troops while diplomats basically wasted time), the Soviets attacked on March 24th: 122 mm howitzer shells (the out-of-date equipment was all they could get in such a short time) and mortar shells struck Chinese forces on the island, who had not finished their preparations for the scale of this attack. Attacks by several PT-76 Amphibious Recon Tanks and ten BTR-60 Armoured Personel Carriers (plus the always-present artillery) destroyed the defenders and the Chinese retreated across the River disorganized and defeated, but that wasn’t enough for the Soviets. The next day (with artillery and heavy guns set up on the island), they fired everything at the retreating Chinese (who were still in range as the infrastructure was terrible) and destroyed them, with help multiple Tu-16 Heavy Bombers. The entire battlerr took less than 10 hours. When China’s leader Mao Zedong heard of this disgraceful battle (after killing the commanding officers, or course) he felt he had to retaliate because backing down could make him look weak and indecisive. He wanted revenge, so he ordered the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to retake the island regardless of casualties (which is where he went wrong).

Three full PLA infantry regiments converged near the Ussuri River, but these troops didn’t go unnoticed by the Soviet MiGs that had carried out recon flights. The Chinese tried to destroy the Soviet planes with their J-2 and J-5 fighters. Almost all of the Chinese planes proved to be inferior, and the training of their pilots sub-par. So, the vast majority of the engagements resulted in the Soviet recon aircraft coming away relatively unscathed while the Chinese aircraft were flaming wrecks. The Soviets dug in, fortifying the island with sheltered artillery encampments and networks of underground communication and supply tunnels. Soviet strength on the island had grown to over 2,500 men during the multiple days it took Mao to reposition the three units, including a temporary ship dock for supply and troop reinforcements and machine gun placements dug in around the command center in case the Chinese got too close, plus additional air support, but they were still vastly outnumbered by the roughly 15,000 PLA troops that had gathered on the other side of the small river (a little over 500 feet wide at the closest point) in little over a six day’s time. The attack began on March 19, 1969, was met by a brutal all-out Soviet response which included mortars, hidden machine guns, Heavy Artillery firing shrapnel and incendiary shells, and attack aircraft. The Chinese attacked in a human wave formation with little regard for human life (mortifying even the Soviets) and over the course of two days suffered absurd losses (of the 40,000 PLA troops who participated, almost ¼ were killed and over ½ were injured) failing to take back the island, and ultimately retreating.

Mao and the rest of the Chinese government was determined to retake the island and began transporting four full division-sized units to the border region, including several tank regiments. The very strong Soviet Intelligence system, including the KGB and the Spetsnatz (benefits of being a paranoid superpower) were informed of this and the Soviets responded by preemptively attacking the Chinese convoys transporting the divisions with dozens of bombers sourced from all over the eastern Soviet Union. Out of the ~50,000 Chinese troops, the bombing easily killed or injured 10-20% of the force. Not by any means enough to prevent the Chinese from calling off the attack, but slowing them down enough so that command could send in a few thousand nearby troops for reinforcements.

Aside from that, KGB agents began secretly infiltrating the Xinjiang province and “encouraged” a revolt by Uighur rebels, giving them weapons and funds (which ended in a weird situation where Soviet agents were buying weapons from American agents). Over the course of early 1969, Uighurs began using ‘stolen Soviet and American weaponry’ to blow up supply convoys and attack guard posts and bases. While the province delved into a state of constant chaos and required more Chinese forces to police it every day, Soviet troops occupied some disputed border regions on the Kazhak SSR-Chinese border. From that position, it was easier to fund the Uighur rebels, with primary recipients of aid being ETERP (a sepratist organization). With the increased aid, more and more Chinese-sponsored groups and infrastructure were targeted, which was somewhat mitigated by a decree from Xinjiang Chairman Long Shujin that all Han Chinese colonists should return east.

The President and the rest of the federal government had been quite aware of the conflict from the start and had followed it, not really surprising given its potential to become a full-blown nuclear war. President Richard Nixon had threatened both countries against using nukes, threatening nuclear retaliation (yay cold war!) against whoever used them. He had later also told Moscow through the Soviet Embassy that he would intervene on China’s side in the case of Soviet attack, but the Zhenbao Incident made both dictators crazy.

By this point the USSR and PRC were in a proxy conflict that was very close to escalating to the most devastating war in recent memory. Over the next few months and into the summer (during which there were hundreds more skirmishes, albeit none at the level of the Zhenbao incident), the Soviet and Chinese diplomats engaged in the centuries-old practice of ‘stalling so that the military can get into position for a preemptive attack on the enemy’. By July 1969, the Chinese had over four million troops in Manchuria alone and had implemented extensive conscription, both for the frontline troops and civilian defense work. The Soviets had far less troops in the area, although they had built several large military bases and moved over one million troops over to the area and built WWI-style defense bunkers and trenches along the Ussuri river (about ⅓ of the Sino-Soviet border), and had also lugged tons of equipment across the Trans-Siberian Railway (at one point setting the record for longest train) including hundreds of tons of brand-new equipment and experimental, large (took up an entire train car) P-650 165mm Heavy Artillery Guns, which were theoretically able to launch very conventional warheads at nearly 3,500 ft/second and over 30 miles away.

Have fun.
 
He's in a President-of-Afganistan-without-American-Support-Position, but yes (although it is decreasing every day, and he is basically only a nominal leader by the current time (ITL).
Makes sense.

On another note, North Vietnam must be shitting its pants. With the aid from their communist allies drying up, I bet Nixon sees a chance to end the war quickly and decisively.

Linebacker II the North and invade Laos to cut the Ho Chi Minh trail, and the North is fucked
 
On another note, North Vietnam must be shitting its pants. With the aid from their communist allies drying up, I bet Nixon sees a chance to end the war quickly and decisively.
On the other hand, Nixon has his hands full with making sure the world doesn't blow up (although, secretly, many in the American government see this as getting rid of two annoying commie birds with one atomic-powered stone). Vietnam will have a different ending, though that shall be revealed in later chapters.
 
Who's the most likely to win? The USSR>

Also, I'm interested in seeing what the win-scenario's would be. Could we see china devolving into another war-lord period? Or will china seize Vladivostok? Or will it just result in very minor concessions on either side.
 
Who's the most likely to win? The USSR>

Also, I'm interested in seeing what the win-scenario's would be. Could we see china devolving into another war-lord period? Or will china seize Vladivostok? Or will it just result in very minor concessions on either side.
Both sides are evenly matched (conventionally). The Chinese have more men, but the USSR has more advanced technology. Nuclearly, everyone loses. An all-out nuclear war will hurt Chine more, though.
 
Both sides are evenly matched (conventionally). The Chinese have more men, but the USSR has more advanced technology. Nuclearly, everyone loses. An all-out nuclear war will hurt Chine more, though.
Given Russia's overwhelming superiority in nuclear weapons, air superiority, and shaky Chinese intelligence apparatus I almost think the Russians wipe out the entire Chinese nuclear arsenal before it even gets in the air.
 
Given Russia's overwhelming superiority in nuclear weapons, air superiority, and shaky Chinese intelligence apparatus I almost think the Russians wipe out the entire Chinese nuclear arsenal before it even gets in the air.
Well, they can't launch much of their arsenal. America has already made its displeasure known, and for every nuke detonated over China, one American military base or city survives.
 
Well, they can't launch much of their arsenal. America has already made its displeasure known, and for every nuke detonated over China, one American military base or city survives.
If the choice is an American city survives versus a Soviet one incinerated... it's an easy choice. You can build nukes faster than cities.
 
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