The Nucliad - A 1983 Nuclear Apocalypse timeline

The Great Oops
The Great Oops

September 26th, a bit after midnight Moscow time, a Soviet missile detection system on the outside of the city malfunctioned, showing that apparently that us had launched a massive missile attack [1]. The system automatically reported that to officials in Moscow. There were concerns on how exactly accurate the Oko detection system was, but tensions had been high recently between the US and the USSR. If Soviet leadership had been calmer and more sensible that day they would've realized that it was a false alarm, but their response was disorganized, panicked and rushed. By the time they realized their mistake it was too late to stop, the Americans were going to retaliate no matter what.

It was 12:18 am on the 26th in Moscow and 4:18 pm on the 25th in Washington when the first missiles launched.

It was 4:30 pm when NORAD first detected the missiles.

It was 4:31 pm when US president Ronald Reagan was informed of the news.

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Ronald Reagan speaking with Samuel Doe, leader of Liberia, a few seconds before being informed that the Soviet Union had launched a nuclear attack on the U.S. [2]

Reagan was in New York for a UN meeting the next day but also had spoken with several foreign leaders on the 25th as well. When the President was alerted of the news he was talking with the leader of Liberia, Samuel Doe, at Waldorf Astoria, the hotel where he was staying at. Abruptly a member of the Secret Service alerted him and he got up immediately, to the confusion of Doe.

Reagan was reluctant about leaving so abruptly, worried that NORAD's systems might have had a technical error. That cost him three valuable minutes.

It was 4:34 pm when Reagan got on board Air Force One. While flying, he cracked open "the biscuit" and gave the order to launch back at the Soviet Union in retaliation.

It was 4:38 when a nuclear bomb hit the city of New York. Reagan's plane, still near the city, was blown away by the blast, and knocked out of the sky. It fell, landing in flames somewhere in suburban New Jersey.

The last president of the United States was dead. [3]

Luckily, for situations like this, the American government has a line of succession, a descending list of people who will take charge if the president dies. Slight issue though, most of the line of succession was in Washington at the time.

The first strikes hit New York and Washington, but in the following minutes other large cities like Chicago and Los Angeles alongside the most important military bases. In the following hours everything from minor military bases to large towns across the country were destroyed.

So who survived? Well lets run down the list.

Vice President George H. W. Bush was in Washington at the time. A few days earlier he was in Vienna and could've survived, but he had returned to America on the 22nd. Like Reagan the government officials in Washington failed to evacuate in time.

Speaker of the House Tip O'Neal was also killed. Congress was in session so he was in Washington when the bombs fell.

President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Storm Thurmond, was in a similar situation.

Secretary of State George Shultz was with Reagan on his trip to New York and died alongside him.

Secretary of the Treasury Donald Reagan was in Washington too and died.

Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, was in China for a diplomatic mission. He died when a nuke hit Beijing 30 minutes after it hit Washington. While he was asleep for part of it (it was around 5 am in China), Weinberger was technically Acting President during that half hour. [4]

Attorney General William Smith was in Washington and died.

Secretary of the Interior James Watt was the only person in the line of succession who survived the first attacks. Four days before had started controversy when during a meeting with a coal leasing panel he'd said to them "I have a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple. And we have talent." Already a controversial figure, there were calls for his resignation because of the comments. A few hours before the bombs fell, his spokesman told Journalists that Watt was at home today and he had no plans to resign. [4] The exact comments that could've caused his resignation if the bombs hadn't fallen would lead to him becoming Acting President.

Watt, having taken the day off, decided to drive out of the city with his wife to take his mind off of politics. He was headed to a beach along the Chesapeake Bay when the first bombs fell. While by midnight almost everything from a 50 mile radius around D.C would be destroyed, the first strikes only hit major targets. So Watt was able to be picked up by the Airforce and flown to Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center in Virginia.

With all the people above (and below) him in the line of succession dead, he declared himself acting president and was recognized by the state governments that were starting to restore themselves.

A week later, he left Mount Weather and landed at Midland International Air & Space Port, a few miles from the surviving city of Odessa, Texas.

Why didn't Watt stay longer in the safety of Mount Weather? Well, while the base was meant to be able to survive a nuclear attack, it was partially damaged. Also, it's difficult to run a country from a bunker surrounded by radiation. Some wanted to try to repair the facility and stay longer, but Watt was adamant that for the United States to survive they couldn't rule from a bunker.

Thirty-Eight years after building the first Nuclear Weapons, the United States had been destroyed by them, and now Watt was left to rebuild it.

His rule would last 23 days.


[1] The POD, OTL the radar detected five missiles.

[2] Because there was a UN meeting the next day, quite a few world leaders were in New York and were killed. Not just Liberia, but also the King of Morocco, the President of Lebanon, and UN General Secretary.

[3] The warlord controlling the town of Lakeview, Oregon claims that actually, he is Reagan and he wasn't in the plane. He claims he instead travelled to Oregon via a secret tunnel crossing the U.S. Most people consider him to be insane but to be fair Fake-Reagan does look a lot like Real-Reagan.

[4] I wasn't sure about it but I decided to have the Soviets preemptively attack China as well because the United States and China were somewhat allied at this point and China itself has nukes.

[5] You could not imagine how difficult it was to track down the locations of everyone on the day the bombs fell. For some (like Reagan) I knew exactly where they were. For others I knew where they were a few days before or after and extrapolated from there. And a few I just gave up trying and said "they'd probably be in Washington and die." For Watt in particular, the part about his spokesman saying he was home is true, but I couldn't find out where he lived. Because I wanted at least someone to survive, I decided to make up the story about him going to the beach. As far as I know what he was up to that day is unknown. I would ask him but he died this May.
 
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This is a timeline that I've worked on and off on for a while, it's gone through several different versions and restarts since 2020.

I think this is the 6th version of it. The timeline will mostly focus on America but I'd like to cover other regions at some point.
 
Ugh, a Petrov "incident" that starts WWIII is such an overused, tired trope. It's also quite overblown too. There were many close calls during the Cold War, but this isn't one of them. Oko (the system that malfunctioned) was only a part of the Soviet early warning network. It did not have the authority to automatically launch missiles. In fact, Perimeter, the only such system which could automatically issue launch orders, only did so upon triggering seismic, radiation. and light sensors. Additionally, higher command had to be offline for Perimeter to be activated.

Links to a timeline of events.
 
Ugh, a Petrov "incident" that starts WWIII is such an overused, tired trope. It's also quite overblown too. There were many close calls during the Cold War, but this isn't one of them. Oko (the system that malfunctioned) was only a part of the Soviet early warning network. It did not have the authority to automatically launch missiles. In fact, Perimeter, the only such system which could automatically issue launch orders, only did so upon triggering seismic, radiation. and light sensors. Additionally, higher command had to be offline for Perimeter to be activated.

Links to a timeline of events.

Agree. This is not really most likely way to begin WW3 and bit overused anyway. Able Archer would be more plausible to begin WW3.

And I have too seen reports which state that Petrov Incident is pretty exaggerated. Just some radar malfunction wouldn't begin WW3. Even if he would had not decided that it is just some malfunction, higher officers would had soon realised that it is not actual attack.

Actually do we even know whether there was more of such incidents?
 
Ugh, a Petrov "incident" that starts WWIII is such an overused, tired trope.
Oh is it? I've read only one or two nuclear alternate histories so I wouldn't know.

But I specifically chose the Stanislav Petrov incident because if it escalated into nuclear war it would've been a surprise attack and the American president would have less of a chance of evacuating safely. Division on who's the rightful leader of the US is going to be a major part of this timeline.

I will say though that the timeline isn't really focused on the war specifically and more it's aftermath for the U.S.
 
I mostly lurk here but am not familiar with all the Petrov TLs. I did find this particular one to be clever and well-written and so I for one would love to see where it goes.
 
Australia would basically be spared. The only real targets that it had were Pine Gap and Nurrangar near Woomera. Both were early warning down stations for DSP satellites which watched the fUSSR and the PRC. Basically when I did a Nuclear Warfighting Course at ADFA as part of my Master's Course, we had a seminar with Dr. Des Ball from the ANU just before he was sucked into the Pentagon warfighting factory. He was Australia's leading expert on Nuclear Strategy. When a student asked him if Australia was much of a target, he paused, thought about it, and replied that Pine Gap and Nurrangar were likely targets but apart from that, the fUSSR knew that it's missiles were unreliable and were going to dedicate them primarily to their main targets in Western Europe and the USA. They would have little to spare for the Southern Hemisphere. Australia is simply too big and it's cities too dispersed for nuclear strikes to be particularly effective.
 
The Petrov POD is impossible.
His radar screen said one thing. What about other radars, later secondary confirmation from more warning systems? Hell, political intelligence too would have been MORE of a factor than one radar image of a few missiles showing an implausible, weird tiny attack.
Both sides had multiple, independent warning systems of technical and intelligence means.
It's nonsense to suggest anything would come of Petrov.
 
The Petrov POD is impossible.
His radar screen said one thing. What about other radars, later secondary confirmation from more warning systems? Hell, political intelligence too would have been MORE of a factor than one radar image of a few missiles showing an implausible, weird tiny attack.
Both sides had multiple, independent warning systems of technical and intelligence means.
It's nonsense to suggest anything would come of Petrov.
I have to agree. A better POD would've been launching the missiles over Able Archer.
 
(Initial) Targets
Working on the next chapter, but in the meantime...

Initial Nuclear Targets in the U.S
image (4).png

Notes:
- This was based off of FEMA's nuclear target maps, note that most places targeted have a military base, if you're wondering how some small town was hit while a city survived, it was likely because the small one had a military base of some kind. Also targets survived by being missed or shot down.
- Blast Radius varies depending on the target, the red circles aren't exact.
- Also they're ovals because of the projection they're circles on a globe.
- This does not include secondary strikes.
- Canadian targets aren't final.
 
Also I altered the start of the first chapter slightly to make it maybe more realistic? I don't know, but the timeline isn't focused on the Petrov Incident so I'm going to continue on.
 
The Petrov POD is overused, yes. But OP gets a pass for having used it to try and track the locations of everyone in the US leadership as to figure out who would be POTUS after it.
 
Working on the next chapter, but in the meantime...

Initial Nuclear Targets in the U.S
View attachment 874710
Notes:
- This was based off of FEMA's nuclear target maps, note that most places targeted have a military base, if you're wondering how some small town was hit while a city survived, it was likely because the small one had a military base of some kind. Also targets survived by being missed or shot down.
- Blast Radius varies depending on the target, the red circles aren't exact.
- Also they're ovals because of the projection they're circles on a globe.
- This does not include secondary strikes.
- Canadian targets aren't final.
Welp, I'm dead as fuck ITTL (FYI, I was born near Seattle in November '83).
 
Welp, I'm dead as fuck ITTL (FYI, I was born near Seattle in November '83).
Well, not everyone in the red circles is automatically dead, in more suburban areas or wherever is on the outer parts of the blast radius there's up to a 75% chance of survival. At least during the initial attack, many of the survivors end up refugees and end up dying still.
 
Well, not everyone in the red circles is automatically dead, in more suburban areas or wherever is on the outer parts of the blast radius there's up to a 75% chance of survival. At least during the initial attack, many of the survivors end up refugees and end up dying still.
Fair enough, but considering the radiation and fallout, not to mention the privations of roving gangs of rapacious cannibal survivors, I'd have been lucky to make it out of the 20th Century.
 
First Great Crisis
First Great Crisis

The term “First Great Crisis'' wasn't used until after it ended. It was first coined in 2002 during the start of the Second Great Crisis. While it was happening it didn’t have a single name, called “The War” “The Apocalypse” “The Dying” “The End Times” by different groups.

It was caused by several thousand nuclear weapons being detonated across North America, Europe, Siberia and China, and in some areas of Oceania and South America. At ground zero, there was a 0% survival rate, but further out from the blast radius of the bombs there was an increasing survival rate, reaching 75% towards the outside. This meant that in cities some of the suburban population was able to survive and fled into the countryside. However, even after surviving initially many of these refugees ended up dying, as the governments couldn’t feed their populations.

The issue was, the ecosystem was severely damaged in several ways. The aftermath of the attacks caused firestorms, leading to massive amounts of soot entering the atmosphere. The soot limited the sunlight and heat hitting the Earth, causing a period of cooling known as Nuclear Twilight [1]. Of course, it wasn’t an apocalyptic decades long winter. It lasted for a bit over a year, and combined with radiation led to a year of failed harvest.

[1] What Nuclear Winter was originally called. It's important to note that nuclear winter was only starting to be considered an idea at this time and there wasn’t much research on it

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The twilight caused crop failures in much of the Northern Hemisphere.

Radiation was also a major concern, but less so. The fact was radiation killed slowly. It caused cancer, birth defects, and in most cases didn’t kill you immediately. Of course there were exceptions, but generally starvation killed quicker than radiation. Even still, it's important to note that because of radiation acid rain fell from the sky, bodies of water everywhere were contaminated. Fishing communities suffered from mercury poisoning issues but again, starving would’ve killed them faster. The ozone layer was also weakened by the war which increased cancer cases even more.

With surviving governments in chaos and unable to feed their population, the refugees were often rejected. Political instability was widespread in nuked countries. In some cases surviving governments were overthrown by refugees from cities that they refused to feed, in other cases they fractured as local governments focused on feeding their region, outsiders be damned. Other times they were forced out en masse, other times they became an underclass in exchange for being let in.

New or previously minor religious movements and ideologies grew massively in the face of complete chaos. The worst part for the surviving governments was that the nukes weren’t over. Surviving nuclear submarines fired at centres of government remnants, destabilising things further. Of course the nuclear powers knew about these secondary strikes, they were launching their own secondary strikes against their enemies. They tried to spread out their leadership but that often was at odds with an organised response. In some areas, the national government survived, being recognized by surviving local governments but having limited power.

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Children of the Atom graffiti somewhere in the ruins of the bay area. [2]

[2] I've been told that a lot of the stuff in this world reminds people of the Fallout games, and while looking for images I learned that the Children of the Atom is also a thing in it. I haven't played Fallout though.

Outside of the nuked countries things were better, but still not ideal. There was still a spike of cancer cases and failed harvests, but governments weren’t in chaos and were able to deal with the crisis better. In some places like South Africa and India, the twilight worsened divisions that had already existed in the country and caused civil wars. Dictatorships were common as leaders took emergency powers during the crisis and never gave them up.

Generally, it sucked.

But still, it wasn’t the complete collapse of civilization. Places like Brazil and Australia emerged as the new great powers. Even in the countries nuked, authorities survived the nuclear twilight in regions with stable food sources or good leadership. The most brutal warlords collapsed into themselves and those that survived tried to put on a veneer of legitimacy. The largest factions restored order on the worse-off areas, defeating small warlords and bandits. In some cases they were supported by governments of neutral nations who wanted to expand their influence. Local regions grew into their own distinct cultures. Slowly but surely, allied local governments began to unify under the name and symbolism of the old dead nations. While many of the old powers would never reunify, the world began to recover from the First Great Crisis.
At least, until the Second Great Crisis.

But that’s quite a general summary, so let's look at the specifics, at least in America.
 
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