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Cold Warrior Question - Who Would Have Won?

OldTanker

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Being a basic "cold warrior" (served 1970 - 2002) I have a question that I have never really been able to sort out - how would a land battle in Europe between the Warsaw Pact and NATO have played out? I've read the fictional accounts, but what I'm really looking for is some technical analysis (if that's the right term) that was done after the collapse of the Soviet Union that compared our plans and capabilities and theirs. As a related anecdote, I had the opportunity in the early '90s to discuss this issue with a West German colonel who was one of the first NATO officers into East Germany after the collapse. He just shook his head and told me "we should fire all of our intelligence staff - they totally underestimated the Soviet's capabilities and plans". I've done the usual Google search but nothing pops up (weak search skills?) and I was thinking if any group of people would be aware of what I am looking for, the Army.ca community would be them. Any ideas? Thanks.
 

Edward Campbell

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My, personal opinion is that we (NATO and especially the US) consistently overestimated Soviet and, generally, Warsaw Pact capabilities. I will make an exception in the case of the East Germans who, I believe were damned good soldiers who got 100% from their kit.

The Russian logistics tail was second rate, to be charitable. I have heard estimates of 60 to below 30% for the "runners" in a typical Russian or other than East German Motor Rifle or Tank division; fuel and ammo depots were, reportedly, often empty - due to endemic corruption; those that weren't empty didn't have access to transport.

Discipline in the Russian army appears to have been maintained using a combination of vodka and a knout.

Training, I think ranged from excellent for senior, regular officers, down to poor for junior, conscript troops.

Mind you, in the late 1960s, some of our NATO allies were nothing to write home about either.

But that's just my  :2c:
 

Loachman

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Who would have won?

The cockroaches.
 
A

aesop081

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I don't know and i'm glad we never got to find out.
 

Monsoon

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E.R. Campbell said:
Training, I think ranged from excellent for senior, regular officers, down to poor for junior, conscript troops.
Agreed. I've heard it said (from someone I gauge to be a reliable source) that the Russian Navy was never able to consistently do underway replenishments during the Cold War. The procedure isn't rocket science, but it requires a well-trained and organized deck force. As a short-service navy with a huge number of functionally illiterate conscripts, the Russians could muster themselves to carry one out for special occasions but otherwise went alongside to refuel or, as a final resort, brought the ship to be refueled alongside a tanker at a dead stop in the middle of the ocean.
 
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Now please excuse me if this is wrong, I am remembering this from my high school history, but Russia could toss people at us again and again due to their population.  I believe my history teacher said they could bury us with their bodies.
 

Journeyman

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FlyingDutchman said:
I believe my history teacher said they could bury us with their bodies.
Are you sure it wasn't an English teacher explaining "hyperbole"?  ;)


I suspect that your teacher may have been misquoting Nikita Khrushchev, who said, "Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you."

Mind you, ol' Nikki remarked subsequently, "I once said, 'We will bury you,' and I got into trouble with it. Of course we will not bury you with a shovel. Your own working class will bury you."

[/tangent]
 

Monsoon

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FlyingDutchman said:
Now please excuse me if this is wrong, I am remembering this from my high school history, but Russia could toss people at us again and again due to their population.  I believe my history teacher said they could bury us with their bodies.
If by "us" you mean "Canada" then perhaps... but the Soviet Union had a population somewhere south of the US alone, and the numbers aren't any better when you compare the Eastern Bloc to all of NATO.

Now in terms of political will, maybe. The Russians have never been shy about sending soldiers into meat grinders and might have won a war of attrition that way. But I think the position of the sides in the Cold War was such that if it ever turned into a war of attrition then NATO would have already made a losing move somewhere earlier.
 

daftandbarmy

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If you look at all the 'West' vs. 'East' type conflicts over the past years (Isreal vs. the Arabs, Desert Storm, OIF etc) it seems like we would have kicked Soviet ass.
 

BernDawg

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Caveat - I'm not, by any means, a scholar on this subject but...

I believe that NATO would have been handed their asses for the first 48-72 hours then gotten their collective crap together and formed a viable defence. As the WP forces outran their supply lines we would then be in a position to counterattack with, I believe, devastating results as we brought the full weight of our conventional munitions to bear. Now if we're talking about tactical nukes and retaliation etc. then, yes the roaches would be the ultimate victors in Europe.
 

dapaterson

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There was a US humour magazine that once in the late '80s had a chart showing "The World Championship", listing various historical conflicts between nations, taking the victors, finding conflicts between them, showing who won, and so on.

The conclusion?  With the semi-finals showing losses by the USSR and the USA, the world's greatest military showdown was still looming - a face-off between Afghanistan and Viet Nam.
 

vonGarvin

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I've gamed this potential conflict from the past using a variety of games.  Now, these are just games, and there are many variables that can affect any conflict. 

But the question is too vague to answer with a definitive "we" or "they".  So, assume two points in history where the Cold War was in danger of going "hot".

In the early 1960s, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, we neared the brink, but I do believe that had it resorted to the use of force, it would have started with the employment of nuclear weapons on a wide scale.  To say that there would have been a "winner" in that case....

The next point was in the mid 1980s, just before Gorbachev took over the reins in the USSR.  Even then, you have to make many assumptions.  But if you look at the classic "invasion of the west" by the USSR and its Warsaw Pact Allies, it really comes down to this:
How much warning does NATO have?
If the USSR launched a virtual surprise attack (eg: "Strategic Surprise"), then I do believe that the USSR would have had a field day advancing into the Federal Republic of Germany.  The employment of nuclear weapons could have been totally avoided, and given that the Soviets would be deep into the Federal Republic, I couldn't see even Reagan using nukes on them.
If the USSR had achieved only a Tactical Surprise, with some NATO build up and readiness levels increased, I would say "flip a coin".  The likelihood of nukes?  Higher.
If there were some sort of Extended build up of troops on both sides, either one side would have backed down first, or it would have turned into a high-tech version of the First World War.  In this case, I would see the employment of tactical nukes to try to break the stalemate.  (I've faced such a situation as the Warsaw pact player in such a scenario, and they make a very nice hole in the enemy lines.  The hope is that they don't retaliate with a strategic strike).

This doesn't answer the question, but in short, Nobody Knows.
 

brihard

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I think that any theory about it having had the potential to stay conventional is grounded largely in folly. Too many idiots thought that Nukes and chemicals were something that could be constrained to 'tactical' use restrained by sober, military calculus. No, I think it would quickly have escalated to strategic nuclear exchange. And the meekest - with the best exoskeletons - would have inherited the earth.
 

Muttenthaler

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In WW2, Russia was a slow, lumbering giant. When they finally got their schtick together, they were a force to be reckoned with. However, there is, and was too much corruption to make it a viable fighting force (conventionally anyway). After cutting off some of thier supply lines, which were in poor repair anyway, they would have likely surrendered.

The German officer cited earlier in this post could have been right, though. Russia has been fairly good at hiding their actions from the western world, and during the cold war, their spy network (KGB) grew to rival that of others of its time.

As support for Russia's ability to hide information, I would like to give an example from another eastern country - China. The White pyramid was not discovered until a US bomber was taking aerial photographs of the Chinese landscape, and even with visual evidence, the Chinese still denied its existence and planted trees on it and called it a "hill". They've since come clean.

But, as stated numerous times before in this thread, if nukes were used, it would be a moot point, and none of us would likely be here.
 

dogger1936

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No one. The world would have been a very scary place even if one of the major superpowers "won".  On a lighter note situation no change in Africa.
 

Edward Campbell

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As one who was, for a wee while, paid to actually think about the unthinkable and as one who has visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki and thought about what I read and saw, a nuclear war, even a strategic nuclear exchange, was, and still is, survivable, by a large share of the populations of, say, North America, Europe and China and it, nuclear war, is still, therefore, anything but unthinkable.

If we are going to see a nuclear exchange my guess is that it will come in the Middle East - my assessment being that Israel will respond to a massive attack with chemical weapons by going nuclear early and even more massively, or, even more likely, on the Indian sub-continent when the fruit loops and looney tunes take over in Pakistan, and I think they inevitably will.

slaybutcher_3.jpg



Who would have 'won' a nuclear exchange in NWE Europe in the 1960s? It depends on the Soviet strategic objective - which has never been clear to me.
 

dogger1936

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E.R. Campbell said:
As one who was, for a wee while, paid to actually think about the unthinkable and as one who has visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki and thought about what I read and saw, a nuclear war, even a strategic nuclear exchange, was, and still is, survivable, by a large share of the populations of, say, North America, Europe and China and it, nuclear war, is still, therefore, anything but unthinkable.

If we are going to see a nuclear exchange my guess is that it will come in the Middle East - my assessment being that Israel will respond to a massive attack with chemical weapons by going nuclear early and even more massively, or, even more likely, on the Indian sub-continent when the fruit loops and looney tunes take over in Pakistan, and I think they inevitably will.

slaybutcher_3.jpg



Who would have 'won' a nuclear exchange in NWE Europe in the 1960s? It depends on the Soviet strategic objective - which has never been clear to me.

It has always seemed to me keeping countries under proxy control or destabilizing them to maintain what it needed to at least match the west. I believe their whole strategic idea was to "keep up with the Jones".

I fully agree the next big conflict is going to come from a failed state directed towards Israel instead of the west due to short flight/response time. The middle east will be a bigger wasteland than it already is. Humanity will "epic fail" yet again.
 

a_majoor

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Now this might take a lot of Google Fu, but I am sure that I read that East German war plans discovered after the Fall of the Wall were based around the idea of using tactical nuclear weapons and chemicals as the opening play for WWIII. Since the East Germans did not control the nukes, it seems fairly obvious that the Soviet plan was tl lay a huge nuclear "Fire Corridor" for their forces to move through.

This of course assumes the information was accurate.

Having seen the effects of a conventional "fire corridor" during various wargames, this certainly seems like a reasonable extrapolation of Soviet military thought (and the well known Russian love for massive amounts of artillery); the question at this point is two fold:

Would the Western Strategic Direction have been actually able to advance the armies through the nuclear inferno, and

How would the West have responded?

If the Soviets had their s**t together and moved fast enough, they might have been able to race through the ruins of Germany and entered France and the Low countries before any sort of effective response could be mounted. The likelyhood of this seems rather minimal. As well, what would the point of this have been? A radioactive wasteland would not support the sort of pillage and plunder the Soviet state would have needed to pay back the cost of the war, nor would it have made holding the Eastern European part of the Empire any easier, who wants to be buffering space for radioactive fallout and toxic gas clouds?
 
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