Mapping World War III: Soviet Global Invasion Routes
By Irvin . Apr 5th, 2008 . 4:30 PM PDT
Here we have a fascinating collection of strategic conceptual maps taken from a 1987 Department of Defense study, which examined the expected land and sea invasion routes for the Soviet Union in her primary operational theaters. Collectively the maps represents a staggering vision of armed global conflict that would have far outstripped even the most ambitious imperial wars of the Achaemenids, the Mongols, the Romans and Nazi Germany combined.
Visually, the Cold War was in many ways typified by maps of this sort. And it might have been the last period (at least for our lifetimes), where interstate warfare could be anticipated and expressed in such grand and expansive geo-strategic terms. Even with their large armies, powerful economies and ambitious national characters, it’s hard to imagine a comparable vision for world war driven by the armies of the three likely predominant powers of the 21st century: China, India and the United States.
As a note, the acronym “TVD” which appears on each of these maps stands for “Teatr Voennykh Deistvii,” which was the Russian military term for a continental operational theater. During the Cold War the Soviet Union generally identified eight TVDs on her immediate borders (Atlantic, Arctic, Northwestern, Western, Southwestern, Southern, Far East, Pacific). All of these are covered in one way or another by these maps.
The Conquest of Western Europe:
This map is a really a picture in macro-scale of the epic tank battle for the plains of Germany, that entire generations of Western and Soviet officers built careers around planning and preparing for. In the history of human civilization, the Soviet Western TVD invasion was probably the most researched, contemplated, and gamed out battle that was never actually to take place. Fifty years of voluminous strategic studies were compiled by both sides on this very subject, as both sides searched for advantages in a truly enormous field chess game.
In 1987 there were 30 forward deployed Soviet divisions in Eastern Europe to spearhead this assault, with a further 94 in Western Russia to rapidly reinforce it. Such was the fear and planning that went into this imagined future battle, that in the West, the mere act of reinforcing the spearhead was considered to be an overt prelude to war. Many unnerving international crises were generated by both illusions and realities of this feared reinforcement.
Those fears were not unwarranted. Had those “initial operational directions” the map depicts ever been marched on with actual Russian boots, this would easily have been the most spectacular mechanized battle in history. Even dwarfing the titanic armor fights of World War II…and perhaps representing the last hurrah for the world as we knew it. As we shall see, NATO faces graver trouble on other fronts below.
The Invasion of China and the Fall of Japan:
For scale and strategy, this is one of the most compelling maps of the collection. It shows the USSR striking deep into Manchuria –China’s vulnerable industrial heartland– and simultaneously attacking her wide-open western flank in the remote Xinjiang frontier. Japan in turn is taken by amphibious assault from Sakhalin Oblast, and US territory is directly invaded across the narrow Bering Strait, which would doubtlessly haven drawn away American Pacific forces to defend her state (and North America). American forces which would otherwise be needed to mount a hasty defense of largely demilitarized Japan. An inevitable trade of rooks, perhaps.
Northwestern Europe Invasion:
Directionally, this is a reversal of the German Weseruebung plan, which conquered the region by amphibious hops up the coast of Norway, coupled with a northward land attack up through her mountain-and-valley interior. Here the USSR attacks from the north and drives south down the Scandinavian Peninsula. Probably a more effective approach. Finland is cut apart by two attack vectors, the turning pivot strike intended for Sweden and Norway, and a direct assault from Russia into central Finland. The Gulf of Bothnia would doubtlessly become a scene of tight and intense naval action between NATO and the Soviet Baltic Fleet. Control of the Gulf would be decisive for any occupation of Finland, which as the map shows, is geographically vital for Soviet supply routes in their deeper march into Scandinavia.
For Her Own Place in the Sun:
The West’s foreign energy supplies are seized as the USSR thrusts into the old Persian Empire, due south into Iran by course of the passes in her southern republics of Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. An attack on Eastern Turkey opens a second NATO front and provides passage to Iraq and the Persian Gulf. It seems that fierce little Israel may simply be bypassed for the easier pickings of Jordan, in the eventual march on the Arabian Peninsula. Cut off from aid from a now preoccupied United States, it might be a sound way of dealing with the Israelis.
In the course of this attack, Russia would finally achieve her epic historical dream on an incredible level: the permanent acquisition of warm water ports. The ancient strategic vision of the Tsars has come to pass before our eyes in this map.
Encircling and Breaking NATO:
This is the key auxiliary attack that could win World War III and with it, NATO is definitely in trouble. A third front is opened as the Soviet Union –likely heavily supplemented with Warsaw Pact allies from her eastern and southeastern allied states– launches an ambitious wheeling pincer attack through Greece, into populous Asia Minor.
If combined with the Southern TVD invasion of Turkey seen above, this could have been brilliantly devastating to NATO and closed off the Eastern Mediterranean for some time. Note that functionally independent Yugoslavia is attacked as an enemy, in order to condition a shocking split attack into south-central Europe. This would isolate Italy behind the Alps and take neutralist Austria. But the worst trouble is that as the epic tank battle for Germany rages in the Western TVD, this underside flanking strike could have spelled doom for the defense of Western Europe. With NATO forces retreating out of Germany to evade encirclement the war moves to France and the combined Soviet Western and Southwestern invasion forces can potentially push through to the Atlantic coast. Perhaps correcting Hitler’s error of failing to immediately attack the United Kingdom (as the Western TVD map suggests). America might suddenly stand alone.
Had everything managed to remain conventional to this point, it is here we see the point at which the survival of civilization as we know it hangs in the balance. The temptation on the American president would be enormous to start wiping out these gargantuan Soviet armies with the equally vast American nuclear arsenal. Equally, the temptation on the Soviet leadership would be substantial to trade queens with her great adversary, through counterforce first strike on American nuclear forces. Were the US to strike tactically against the Soviet invasion force, escalation to countervalue strikes (against economic and population centers), was Soviet retaliatory doctrine itself, and the entire war would enter a new phase of global mass murder, as the Americans inevitably retaliate when their cities are vaporized by Russian rocketry.
In the post-nuclear novel and movie, this is the point at which World War III ends and we are all reduced to wearing bearskins and roaming around stateless post-technological deserts. But the reality was probably a substantially worse world. If anything, disaster and mass murder tends to increase the authority of the state over populations, not collapse it. Was the power of the Nazi state more or less complete when her cities were smoldering ruins? In such situations people are rendered completely dependent on even a damaged state, when all other sources of power have been disrupted or destroyed…and in our scenario here, these are states which would not be inclined to give up the war having already lost so much. As the pre-war nuclear stockpiles are expended (mostly canceling each other out, rather than falling on cities), much of the population of both the United States and the Soviet Union would survive. Particularly if the build-up was a conventional escalation, allowing for the inevitable panic evacuation of dense urban areas.
Therefore if you want a true retrofuturist nightmare-scape, imagine a nuclear World War III, but one in which after the horrendous nuclear exchange is largely over, you haven’t the saving grace of a desolate but free world and the end of the war. Imagine suffering a nuclear attack and yet the war going on…in a newly mass mobilized and utterly militarized and depopulating society….potentially for years, even decades. That was probably the real nightmare we escaped, now that these maps have thankfully become lost visions in a vanished dream of global war.
Categories: Archived . East Bloc . Graphic Design . History . Maps . Military . Nuclear Weapons . Strategy . USSR
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