The Four Horsemen: the Nuclear Apocalypse of 1962

Prologue


The Four Horsemen: the Nuclear Apocalypse of 1962

Prologue

Fortunately for a generation of post-war historians seeking to explain how World War III came about, there is a fairly abundant amount of sources available. This may seem surprising given the enormous amount of devastation inflicted by the thousands of nuclear strikes. Certainly, at the time it seemed like the end of the world and there was a massive religious revival all over the world as this seemed to be the apocalypse, with the four horsemen as harbingers of last judgement: conquest, war, famine and death. Indeed, radioactivity caused famine as tonnes of now irradiated harvests and foodstuffs had to be thrown away while irradiated rivers could no longer be used for irrigation, making some of the most important of the world’s food producing regions useless in the short term. The hunger led to outbreaks of diseases once thought of as eradicated thanks to modern medicine. In addition to this, soot ejected into the atmosphere would lead to a global cooling even worse than the 1815 Tambora eruption.

The reason for all of this information for historians is that the world didn’t end: though heavily damaged, the United States survived as a country and so did Great Britain, despite being in even worse shape. Several European countries were neutral – Austria, Finland, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland and Yugoslavia – and saw no physical damage, though they faced food shortages and a refugee crisis. Except for Cuba and Panama, Latin America also didn’t participate in the conflict and neither did Africa and Asia, though they too didn’t escape the effects of nuclear winter and enormous masses of refugees. All of these countries have partially or completely intact historical records. Though the Soviet Union was virtually destroyed, some Soviet and Eastern Bloc survivors have also contributed to the historiography of World War III in recent years.

In collective memory WW III has since come to overshadow the preceding two World Wars. Given the horrors of the First but especially the Second World War plus the interbellum years – including the battles of Verdun and Stalingrad, chemical weapons in WW I, the Gulag, the Holodomor, the Holocaust and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – this is perhaps unfair. WW I and WW II combined caused 80 million deaths. It’s understandable, however, given that the number of casualties of WW I and WW II combined amounted to less than one sixth of the number of WW III. To remedy this, some historians have chosen to treat the entire 1914-1962 timeframe as one long war with some breaks in between, as a twentieth century analogue to the Thirty Years’ War. In this view WW I destroyed the old monarchical order and replaced it with a three-way conflict between democracy, fascism and communism, reduced to democracy vs. communism when fascism was eliminated in 1945. In this view the struggle for dominance by democracy over totalitarian ideologies was completed in 1962.

Hotly disputed is the question of whether or not a conflict between the two victors of WW II was inevitable, particularly because of the blame game: if the conflict was inevitable then the West had done nothing wrong, but if not then the conflict could be the result of a misunderstanding in which the West had a part as well, making the half billion casualties in one week of the Third World War avoidable.
 
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I'm mighty interested in how not only how the middle and end of WWIII will play out but what remains of the former Soviet territories ITTL; I recall the Soviets planned to fight a nuclear war off the bat once the shooting starts until the 1970's.
 
Chapter I: Prelude to War, January 1959-October 1962.
Glad you guys like it so far. Time for an update.

Chapter I: Prelude to War, January 1959-October 1962.

The prelude of the crisis began with the success of the Cuban Revolution, resulting in the overthrowal of Fulgencio Batista and the beginnings of a communist regime led by Fidel Castro in 1959. Though initially recognizing the new regime, the US grew fearful of a domino effect in Latin America and resented nationalizations that also affected American interests. The US imposed an embargo, but it had no effect. The next step was the failed half-hearted Bay of Pigs Invasion in April 1961, launched by President John F. Kennedy using CIA-trained forces of Cuban exiles. This emboldened Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, who felt Kennedy was indecisive and weak. Khrushchev’s impression that Kennedy wouldn’t stand up to a serious challenge seemed to be confirmed during the Berlin Crisis of 1961.

A second factor was the balance of power. During his election campaign in 1960, Kennedy had promised to close the “missile gap” in which the Soviets were supposedly leading. This wasn’t true, despite Khrushchev’s boasts that his country was building missiles like sausages. In 1961, the USSR had only four intercontinental ballistic missiles; by October 1962 this number had grown to a few dozen, with 75 as the highest estimate (we now know it was barely half). The Soviets also had 700 unreliable and inaccurate medium-range ballistic missiles. The US had 170 ICBMs as well as George-Washington- and Ethan Allen-class ballistic missile submarines, nine in total, that could each launch sixteen Polaris missiles with a range of 4.600 kilometres. In terms of warheads, the Americans also had the upper hand: 27.600 warheads vs. 3.300. The US also had a lead in missile defensive capabilities, naval and air power; but the Soviets had a 2:1 advantage in conventional ground forces, more pronounced in field guns and tanks, particularly in the European theatre. This advantage meant little as the USSR and its allies were within full US missile and bomber coverage, while the former could only target Alaska and US allies while having little to strike at the continental US with. Ignoring the objections of his own ambassador in Havana that Castro would oppose the placement of Soviet missiles, Khrushchev became interested in the idea of placing intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Cuba. The reason for this was the aforementioned splendid US first strike capability.

Thirdly, Khrushchev wanted to control West Berlin, controlled by the Americans, British and French as an exclave in East Germany. The East Germans and Moscow considered West Berlin a grave threat to the German Democratic Republic and wanted to bring it into the Soviet orbit. Khrushchev made West Berlin a central battlefield of the Cold War. If the Americans did nothing about his missile deployments in Cuba, then he believed he could muscle them out of West Berlin with these missiles as a deterrent against Western countermeasures. If necessary, Khrushchev reasoned he could bargain with Kennedy, removing the missiles in exchange for West Berlin. Fourthly, recent US actions – like the embargo, the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion and its attempt to expel Cuba from the Organization of American States – were seen as the lead-up to another invasion and the missiles would neutralize this threat. Finally, the placement of missiles would level the playing field as the US had missiles in Turkey that could destroy the USSR before they’d have the chance to respond. The Soviet leadership believed Kennedy would accept the placement of the missiles as a fait accompli.

Opinions differ whether Castro was an eager proponent of the installation of nuclear missiles or, fearing he’d appear as a vassal of Moscow, was reluctantly talked into it to irritate the US and aid the socialist camp. The end result was that the missiles came. Elaborate denial and deception efforts shrouded the operation in secrecy. Specialists in missile construction arrived under the guise of machine operators, irrigation specialists and agricultural specialists in July 1962; ultimately, a total of 43.000 troops would come in. Whilst denouncing a US military exercise in the Caribbean and issuing a warning in September that an attack on Cuba or on Soviet ships would mean war, the Soviets in the same breath said they were only delivering defensive weapons to Cuba. Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin assured US Ambassador to the UN Adlai Stevenson of this.

As early as August 1962, the US suspected that the Soviets were building missile facilities. There was indirect evidence of this such as the presence of Soviet aircraft and surface-to-air missiles, which could be used to protect a missile base. With the midterm elections coming up, the issue entered domestic politics when Republican New York Senator Kenneth Keating charged the Kennedy Administration with a coverup. He received this intel from Cuban refugees through former ambassador Clare Boothe Luce. Kennedy received a pre-invasion bombing plan from Air Force General Curtis LeMay. Meanwhile, US spy flights and minor harassment from Guantanamo were the subject of continual Cuban diplomatic protests.

By mid-September, the Soviets were building nine launch sites. Six of these were for R-12 medium-range missiles. The R-12 (NATO designation: SS-4 Sandal) was a medium-range ballistic missile with an effective range of 2.000 kilometres, capable of carrying a thermonuclear warhead. It was a single-stage, road-transportable, surface-launched, storable liquid propellant fuelled missile that could deliver a megaton range nuclear weapon. The other three launch sites were for R-14 missiles (NATO designation: SS-5 Skean) with a maximum range of 4.500 kilometres. This was enough to hit most of CONUS, i.e. the continental United States.

An accidental overflight over Sakhalin Island by a U-2 spy plane resulted in a Soviet protest while a Taiwanese U-2 was shot down by Red China. For fears of another international incident, Secretary of State Dean Rusk and National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy heavily restricted further U-2 flights over Cuban airspace. When the reconnaissance missions were reauthorized on October 9th, poor weather kept the planes from flying. The US first obtained photographic evidence of the missiles on October 14th, when a U-2 flight captured images of what turned out to be an SS-4 construction site. On October 15th 1962, the CIA interpreted the pictures as missiles the next day, and so did Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara who was told by midnight.

The next morning Bundy told the President, showing him the pictures and sharing with him the CIA analysis of them. In the evening that same day, Monday October 15th, he met with his National Security Council and five other advisors and named this group the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (EXCOMM) after the fact one week later, adding Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson to it. Six approaches were considered: inaction, diplomatic pressure, offering Castro the choice of splitting with the Soviets or risk invasion, an air strike, a blockade and invasion.

A full-scale attack was particularly advocated by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who didn’t believe the Soviets would take action over an invasion of Cuba. Such a course of action was met with scepticism by Kennedy: “They, no more than we, can let these things go by without doing something. They can't, after all their statements, permit us to take out their missiles, kill a lot of Russians, and then do nothing. If they don’t take action in Cuba, they certainly will in Berlin.” Kennedy concluded that attacking Cuba by air would signal the Soviets to presume “a clear line” to conquer West Berlin. Kennedy also believed that US allies would think of the country as “trigger-happy cowboys” who lost Berlin because they could not peacefully resolve the Cuban situation.

McNamara backed up the President by pointing out that the military of a few dozen missiles on Cuba wouldn’t chance the military balance as the US had thousands of warheads. The EXCOMM agreed that the missiles would affect the political balance. Kennedy had explicitly promised the American people less than a month before the crisis that “if Cuba should possess a capacity to carry out offensive actions against the United States […] the United States would act.” Also, credibility among US allies and people would be damaged if the Soviet Union appeared to redress the strategic balance by placing missiles in Cuba.

On October 18th, Kennedy had met Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, who claimed the weapons were for defensive purposes only. Kennedy didn’t let on that he already knew of the missile build-up, partially to avoid panic among the American people. On October 19th, U-2 photos showed four operational sites. Meetings of EXCOMM continued and two remaining courses of action were considered: an airstrike or a naval blockade. While a blockade was technically an act of war under naval law, the Kennedy Administration didn’t think the Soviets would automatically respond with an attack. Furthermore, legal experts at the State Department and Justice Department concluded that a declaration of war could be avoided if another legal justification, based on the Rio Treaty for defence of the Western Hemisphere, was obtained from a resolution by a two-thirds vote from the members of the Organization of American States. Thirdly, Admiral Anderson, Chief of Naval Operations, helped the administration differentiate between a classic blockade and a quarantine.

EXCOMM was formally and retroactively created through National Security Action Memorandum 196 at 03:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time on October 22nd. At 05:00 PM the same day the President met Congressional leaders who demanded a stronger response than a mere blockade. He was going to give a speech. US Ambassador in Moscow Kohler briefed Khrushchev ahead of time and American ambassadors around the world notified non-Eastern Bloc leaders such as Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, French President Charles de Gaulle and West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. All of them were supportive, except for Macmillan who advocated appeasement.

At 07:00 PM Kennedy delivered a nationwide televised address, in which he noted: “It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union. […] To halt this offensive build-up, a strict quarantine on all offensive military equipment under shipment to Cuba is being initiated. All ships of any kind bound for Cuba, from whatever nation or port, will, if found to contain cargoes of offensive weapons, be turned back. This quarantine will be extended, if needed, to other types of cargo and carriers. We are not at this time, however, denying the necessities of life as the Soviets attempted to do in their Berlin blockade of 1948.”

The crisis deepened. Turkey proved resentful of a proposed removal of missiles there made by US diplomat George Wildman Ball, in exchange for the removal of Soviet missiles from Cuba. West Germany was supportive of confronting the Soviets, despite fears of retaliation in Berlin. Despite doubts about authenticity of the CIA’s photos in newspaper Le Monde, France was supportive as well. Pope John XXIII sent a message to the Soviet embassy in Rome to be transmitted to the Kremlin: “We beg all governments not to remain deaf to this cry of humanity. That they do all that is in their power to save peace.” In a telegram dated October 24th, Khrushchev denounced the blockade as “outright piracy” and explained the Soviet Union saw the blockade as “an act of aggression” and declared it would decline “the despotic demands of the USA.” Soviet news agency TASS broadcast this message. The next day, Soviet Ambassador to the United Nations Zorin refused to acknowledge the existence of the missiles.

On Friday October 26th 1962, the US raised the readiness level of Strategic Air Command (SAC) forces to DEFCON 2 and B-52 bombers went on continuous airborne alert while B-47s were dispersed to military and civilian airfields and readied to take off, fully equipped, within 15 minutes’ notice. One eighth of SAC's 1.436 bombers were on airborne alert, and some 145 ICBMs stood on ready alert, some of which targeted Cuba and Air Defence Command (ADC) redeployed 161 nuclear-armed interceptors to sixteen dispersal fields within nine hours, with one third maintaining 15-minute alert status. Twenty-three nuclear-armed B-52s were sent to orbit points within striking distance of the Soviet Union so that it would believe that the US was serious. On October 22nd Tactical Air Command (TAC) had 511 fighters and supporting tankers and reconnaissance aircraft ready to strike at Cuba within one hour. Meanwhile, the Soviets tried to challenge the blockade and continued to work on the missiles already on the island.

The same morning, Kennedy informed the EXCOMM that he believed only an invasion would remove the missiles from Cuba. He was persuaded to give the matter time and. He agreed and ordered the low-level flights over the island to be increased from two a day to once every two hours. At this point, the crisis appeared to be in a deadlock. The Soviets had shown no indication that they would back down and had made several comments to the opposite. The US had no reason to believe otherwise and was in the early stages of preparing for an invasion, along with a nuclear strike on the Soviet Union if it responded militarily, which was assumed. Kennedy had no intention of keeping these plans a secret; with an array of Cuban and Soviet spies always present, Khrushchev was quickly made aware of this looming danger.

This knife to the throat that prompted Khruschev to propose a compromise. He became nervous and “blinked” as he began to panic from the consequences of his own actions, resulting in communicative failures in the ongoing negotiations. The actions of the KGB station chief in Washington resulted in the mentioning of removal of the weapons in return for a US declaration that they wouldn’t invade Cuba. Through the Brazilian government, the US responded it was “unlikely to invade” if the missiles were gone. At 06:00 PM on October 26th, 02:00 AM in Moscow, a letter from Khrushchev arrived in Washington DC that was described by Robert F. Kennedy as “long and emotional.” Its contents boiled down to the same as what had been achieved by the KGB.

Castro, in the meantime, sent a telegram to the Kremlin that appeared to call for a pre-emptive nuclear strike as he was convinced an invasion was at hand. He ordered anti-aircraft weapons to fire on any US planes, on groups of two or more to be exact. The Cuban military continued to mobilize, though under orders not to fire unless fired upon first. Little did they know it wasn’t up to them whether they’d go to war against the most powerful country in the world, the United States of America. When people across the world went to bed on October 26th, anticipating a well-earned weekend after their workweek, they couldn’t know that the world as they knew it would end on Saturday October 27th 1962 and the few surrealistic days that followed. This Cold War crisis wouldn’t blow over. It would go hot.
 
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Ficboy

Banned
The Cuban Missile Crisis or World War III isn't the end of the world and Human life on Earth will still exist but politics, pop culture and life will be drastically altered to the point of the rest of the 1960s and beyond becoming unrecognizable to OTL.
 
Several European countries were neutral – Austria, Finland, Ireland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Yugoslavia – and saw no physical damage, though they faced food shortages and a refugee crisis.
Free advice, do your homework my friend Spain was not member of the NATO beacause most europeans wanted nothing whith Franco, the last supporter of the Nazis, but USA has not that problem. Ike signed an agreement in 1953 to put USA bases (not NATO) in Sapain and by 1962 that bases were first targets for the USSR with several wings of nuclear capable bombers, long runways and the biggest marine/navy airbase in western europe. So if the reds hit the button Spain is on their crosshairs for sure. Madrid with Torrejon base nearby is gone for sure. Even Franco was sure that allowing that base so near Madrid was a big mistake
 
Got to hoard those bottle caps for sure. :p

While a nuclear war in the 1980s would've sent the human race back to the Paleolithic, the 1960s are a better candidate for a 1983: Doomsday scenario, if only because there were less, and less powerful, nukes.
 
Got to hoard those bottle caps for sure. :p

While a nuclear war in the 1980s would've sent the human race back to the Paleolithic, the 1960s are a better candidate for a 1983: Doomsday scenario, if only because there were less, and less powerful, nukes.
1961 was the peak for the huge city killers in the US arsenal, and the near peak number of overall warheads.
US/Soviet parity in warhead counts was in the next decade.
What had the 1980s for what they were was the Soviets still having the big city killers, plus smaller MIRVs- thousands more than the US, while the US cut way back on overall warhead counts, and near all the big single warheads replaced by 'Dial a Yield' MIRVs
 
The main reasons the Soviets will get any blows in on CONUS at all are:

1) the handful of ICBMs (at this point I believe, all R-7 based, same platform essentially that put up Sputnik, Vostok, Voshkhod, and Soyuz--meaning they are all kerosene-oxygen burning things that have to be erected on a launch pad and cannot be fired with a push of a button, because the liquid oxygen load can only sit there in the tanks temporarily) they have in stock; many second guessers assume a very large percentage of them will either wander off target or fail to reach their programmed range at all, a certain number presumably failing to launch in various ways.

2) any assets based in Cuba itself when the balloon goes up; medium range missiles, possible bombers with bombs maybe, and OTL for sure, Castro was given custody of some "small tactical" weapons on small missiles that OTL US agencies knew nothing about, and that the Kremlin, horrified at how gung-ho Castro proved to be, yanked back after the crisis on their own initiative. I suppose those "small tactical" systems are no direct threat to the USA itself, though they could wipe out huge swathes of any invading troops the USA might send.

3) Soviet bombers which boils down to Tupolev "Bears"--this time, the NATO designation matches the name the Russians gave it, as someone from Tupolev design bureau put it, "It could only be a Bear." At first glance it might seem Bears would be easy meat for US interceptor defenses--it was/is (i believe the Russians and perhaps other former Soviet nations are still using them, and the Chinese probably still rely on a version of their own) a propeller plane, after all, lacking even the auxiliary jet engines the US B-36 was fitted with for speed and altitude surges. But of that type it is nearly the ultimate; the props are counterprops, a pair of two counterrotating propellers designed to get maximum efficiency in converting power to thrust; the power plant is a turboprop engine not a piston engine. It reaches airspeeds quite comparable with the US counterpart, the B-52, which is jet propelled, is quite large in payload and has very long range and endurance. To be sure in the '50s Soviet designers were ordered to develop supersonic jet bombers and sort of complied, but they had drawbacks; I would guess these included limited range and poor maneuverability. The Soviet bombers most likely to get through and be relevant would in fact be Bears I believe (barring any planes that might be based in Cuba but I believe OTL there were zero plans to strike at the USA by airborne bombers from Cuba, and zero warheads provided).

Also, there were a pair of exercises in the early '60s to test and war-game the US air defense system, involving all civil aircraft being grounded. In these exercises, it seems very alarming holes in the interceptor gauntlet were shown up; an aggressor squadron flying RAF Vulcans managed to evade all detection and would have been able to complete their strike missions for sure. A Vulcan is I suppose a somewhat superior plane to a Bear in many respects, notably having a lower radar detection signature and being very nimble, though I don't know how payloads or range would stack up. But the performance of the air defense network across the board was appallingly mediocre and it seems likely to me in a shooting war some fraction of Soviet bomber waves would indeed get through, to strike their targets if not to then escape. I forget if either of these two exercises were before or after the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Oh and one more thing
4) the Soviets have some kinds of missile submarines by this date deployed. Now there is an excellent chance the Western navies have got most of them tracked and can sink them before they launch their missiles. Each one carries far fewer and less reliable missiles than the Polaris class boomers. So perhaps as with the Bears, only a handful can launch their missiles and not all of these will reach their targets.

Overall then, the magnitude of total damage the USA faces is far lower than what is in store for Europe, the USSR and Japan. But I expect some toll from each of these sources, and taken together, the US will surely lose many of our largest cities as well as certain key major military bases--Cape Canaveral, Vandenberg, Norfolk. DC is a goner as is NYC since surely the Soviets will target many strikes at key targets; if some fail another will get through.
 


The Four Horsemen: the Nuclear Apocalypse of 1962

Prologue

Fortunately for a generation of post-war historians seeking to explain how World War III came about, there is a fairly abundant amount of sources available. This may seem surprising given the enormous amount of devastation inflicted by the thousands of nuclear strikes. Certainly, at the time it seemed like the end of the world and there was a massive religious revival all over the world as this seemed to be the apocalypse, with the four horsemen as harbingers of last judgement: conquest, war, famine and death. Indeed, radioactivity caused famine as tonnes of now irradiated harvests and foodstuffs had to be thrown away while irradiated rivers could no longer be used for irrigation, making some of the most important of the world’s food producing regions useless in the short term. The radiation weakened immune systems and so did the hunger, allowing epidemics to break out of diseases once thought of as eradicated thanks to modern medicine. In addition to this, soot ejected into the atmosphere would lead to a global cooling even worse than the 1815 Tambora eruption.

The reason for all of this information for historians is that the world didn’t end: though heavily damaged, the United States survived as a country and so did Great Britain, despite being in even worse shape. Several European countries were neutral – Austria, Finland, Ireland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Yugoslavia – and saw no physical damage, though they faced food shortages and a refugee crisis. Except for Cuba and Panama, Latin America also didn’t participate in the conflict and neither did Africa and Asia, though they too didn’t escape the effects of nuclear winter and enormous masses of refugees. All of these countries have partially or completely intact historical records. Though the Soviet Union was virtually destroyed, some Soviet and Eastern Bloc survivors have also contributed to the historiography of World War III in recent years.

In collective memory WW III has since come to overshadow the preceding two World Wars. Given the horrors of the First but especially the Second World War plus the interbellum years – including from the battles of Verdun and Stalingrad, chemical weapons in WW I, the Gulag, the Holodomor, the Holocaust and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – this is perhaps unfair. WW I and WW II combined caused 80 million deaths. It’s understandable, however, given that the number of casualties of WW I and WW II combined amounted to less than one sixth of the number of WW III. To remedy this, some historians have chosen to treat the entire 1914-1962 timeframe as one long war with some breaks in between, as a twentieth century analogue to the Thirty Years’ War. In this view WW I destroyed the old monarchical order and replaced it with a three-way conflict between democracy, fascism and communism, reduced to democracy vs. communism when fascism was eliminated in 1945. In this view the struggle for dominance by democracy over totalitarian ideologies was completed in 1962.

Hotly disputed is the question of whether or not a conflict between the two victors of WW II was inevitable, particularly because of the blame game: if the conflict was inevitable then the West had done nothing wrong, but if not then the conflict could be the result of a misunderstanding in which the West had a part as well, making the half billion casualties in one week of the Third World War avoidable.
I think you have a severely exaggerated estimation of the effects of radiation. Remember the conclusions of the studies following up Hiroshima survivors - you will see some increases in cancer rates amongst those receiving comparatively high doses (100mSv & upwards) but there's no evidence for impact below that, and none at all for elevated birth defects or sicknesses amongst survivor's children.

And there's no evidence at all of immune suppression unless you're talking about doses in the ARS ranges - something in the Sv range, only likely from those directly exposed to the gamma and neutron flash of an actual detonation.

Finally, I'm not convinced that a "thousands of weapons" scenario is credible for '62. The US arsenal was about 3,500, the Soviets about 500. The Soviets had literally only tens of ICBMs, and no other credible means of delivery against North America. It seems unlikely that The US would have needed to use most of it's arsenal (plus many warheads were on things like "Genie" AA missiles, or specialist depth bombs etc.).
 
The main reasons the Soviets will get any blows in on CONUS at all are:

1) the handful of ICBMs (at this point I believe, all R-7 based, same platform essentially that put up Sputnik, Vostok, Voshkhod, and Soyuz--meaning they are all kerosene-oxygen burning things that have to be erected on a launch pad and cannot be fired with a push of a button, because the liquid oxygen load can only sit there in the tanks temporarily) they have in stock; many second guessers assume a very large percentage of them will either wander off target or fail to reach their programmed range at all, a certain number presumably failing to launch in various ways.

2) any assets based in Cuba itself when the balloon goes up; medium range missiles, possible bombers with bombs maybe, and OTL for sure, Castro was given custody of some "small tactical" weapons on small missiles that OTL US agencies knew nothing about, and that the Kremlin, horrified at how gung-ho Castro proved to be, yanked back after the crisis on their own initiative. I suppose those "small tactical" systems are no direct threat to the USA itself, though they could wipe out huge swathes of any invading troops the USA might send.

3) Soviet bombers which boils down to Tupolev "Bears"--this time, the NATO designation matches the name the Russians gave it, as someone from Tupolev design bureau put it, "It could only be a Bear." At first glance it might seem Bears would be easy meat for US interceptor defenses--it was/is (i believe the Russians and perhaps other former Soviet nations are still using them, and the Chinese probably still rely on a version of their own) a propeller plane, after all, lacking even the auxiliary jet engines the US B-36 was fitted with for speed and altitude surges. But of that type it is nearly the ultimate; the props are counterprops, a pair of two counterrotating propellers designed to get maximum efficiency in converting power to thrust; the power plant is a turboprop engine not a piston engine. It reaches airspeeds quite comparable with the US counterpart, the B-52, which is jet propelled, is quite large in payload and has very long range and endurance. To be sure in the '50s Soviet designers were ordered to develop supersonic jet bombers and sort of complied, but they had drawbacks; I would guess these included limited range and poor maneuverability. The Soviet bombers most likely to get through and be relevant would in fact be Bears I believe (barring any planes that might be based in Cuba but I believe OTL there were zero plans to strike at the USA by airborne bombers from Cuba, and zero warheads provided).

Also, there were a pair of exercises in the early '60s to test and war-game the US air defense system, involving all civil aircraft being grounded. In these exercises, it seems very alarming holes in the interceptor gauntlet were shown up; an aggressor squadron flying RAF Vulcans managed to evade all detection and would have been able to complete their strike missions for sure. A Vulcan is I suppose a somewhat superior plane to a Bear in many respects, notably having a lower radar detection signature and being very nimble, though I don't know how payloads or range would stack up. But the performance of the air defense network across the board was appallingly mediocre and it seems likely to me in a shooting war some fraction of Soviet bomber waves would indeed get through, to strike their targets if not to then escape. I forget if either of these two exercises were before or after the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Oh and one more thing
4) the Soviets have some kinds of missile submarines by this date deployed. Now there is an excellent chance the Western navies have got most of them tracked and can sink them before they launch their missiles. Each one carries far fewer and less reliable missiles than the Polaris class boomers. So perhaps as with the Bears, only a handful can launch their missiles and not all of these will reach their targets.

Overall then, the magnitude of total damage the USA faces is far lower than what is in store for Europe, the USSR and Japan. But I expect some toll from each of these sources, and taken together, the US will surely lose many of our largest cities as well as certain key major military bases--Cape Canaveral, Vandenberg, Norfolk. DC is a goner as is NYC since surely the Soviets will target many strikes at key targets; if some fail another will get through.
From what I can find, the Tu-95 only entered service in 1957, so I can only assume a small proportion of the 500 or so eventually built were operational by '62 - plus this would only have been the Bear A and a few Bear B variants. The Soviets also had only minimal air refuelling capacity by that point, which means the only viable missions were over the whole - straight into NORAD radars, and with a couple of thousand miles over Canadian airspace in which to intercept them.

So, if we assume perhaps 15- 20% of the total build by that point (100 aircraft), 80% serviceability, and probably 80% attrition we're talking of perhaps 10-20 strikes on the mainland US from Soviet aircraft.

Looking at the submarine strikes in a similar vein, we'd be talking 5-10 subs in total available, each with 1-2 missiles. Those missiles were short ranged - c. 300 miles. However, the Soviet Navy was in general known for its boats spending most of their time in port - it's more credible to assume perhaps 5 boats being in a position to launch.

There's then the issue that all of the Soviet systems required a surface launch, and fuelling of the missiles while on the surface. It's reasonable to assume the USN would be patrolling heavily, so at least some would be detected and destroyed.

It's really difficult to see a situation where the US suffers massive damage - it's a different picture for Europe of course, and we have to assume the USSR would gave been utterly devastated.
 
A Vulcan is I suppose a somewhat superior plane to a Bear in many respects, notably having a lower radar detection signature and being very nimble, though I don't know how payloads or range would stack up
That's what makes them two separate aircraft: RCS, , ECM, Speed, Range and Agility .
2500 miles vs 9000 mile range for the Bear, or 3500 for the Bison is the starter
Soviet Vulcans would be able to reach Alaska and parts of Canada.
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The reason for all of this information for historians is that the world didn’t end: though heavily damaged, the United States survived as a country and so did Great Britain, despite being in even worse shape.
Feels like this line is directed at a certain hoi4 mod.

Anyways, TL seems off of to a good start. Very nice to read. Seems like the cuban missile crisis will escalate FAST.
 
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