Tuesday, October 31, 1962 – The Last Day
12:37 AM – Orders go out to the Strategic Rocket Forces, PVO air defense, and Long-Range aviation. The attack is to commence in three hours. Soviet bombers, already at the ready, begin to take to the air, while ICBMs begin spinning up their gyroscopes and begin receiving location and targeting information.
1:32 AM – Having misinterpreted the preparation order, the Soviet commander on the northern flank of the invasion of Germany issues an order allowing for local commanders to use tactical nuclear weapons as they deem appropriate.
1:46 AM – British and Dutch forces defending the embattled city of Hamburg are vaporized as a spread of six tactical nuclear weapons is employed in a semicircle around the city. British forces respond with their own nuclear weapons to stem the resulting Soviet breakthrough. Losses on both sides are massive, and at least one detonation takes place in the city itself, causing enormous civilian casualties.
1:58 AM – A radio broadcast, reportedly by Ludwig Erhard, Vice Chancellor of West Germany, is picked up by radios across the front. The message calls for an immediate cease-fire and says that the government of West Germany will surrender unconditionally to the Soviet Union in exchange for a suspension of nuclear and chemical attacks in West German territory. The message repeats several times before suddenly cutting off. No official contact with the West German government has been made since the early hours of the Soviet attack, when Chancellor Konrad Adenauer was presumed killed in a Red Army Faction assault on his armored limousine. The broadcast is not taken seriously by either side, and fighting continues.
2:07 AM – Informed of the events near Hamburg, and informed by his military advisors of an increasing number of radar contacts near the Soviet Union, Kennedy authorizes the use of American nuclear weapons in a “forward defense” role, similar to the strategy already employed by Prime Minister McMillan.
2:12 AM – Three 10 kiloton nuclear artillery rounds land in a Soviet staging area west of Hannover, presumably fired by elements of the US V Corps. Soviet commanders on the scene respond with nuclear artillery fire of their own on the position from which the rounds were launched. These, in turn, are responded to by nuclear-tipped Corporal rockets launched by US Army forces nearby. In total, the series of stroke-counterstroke-counter-counterstroke and so forth will encompass 17 warheads in the span of 42 minutes. These all fall within 15 miles of the front.
2:17 AM – After several hours of fighting, embattled Soviet forces reach the Bin-Charlottenburg U-Bahn station in the heart of West Berlin, cutting the combined American, British, and French contingent in two. For the time being, the Soviet strategy will consist of reducing the southern, largely American half of West Berlin, while lighter forces hold the British and French brigades in place. Multiple armored columns attempt to move from the Zossen area into the central portion of the city in an effort to quarter West Berlin, but are stopped near the Papester U-Bahn station by hastily-placed mines and ferocious antitank fire.
2:34 AM – President Kennedy is once again contacted by Prime Minister McMillan, who informs him that if the situation continues to deteriorate, he will order a first-strike nuclear attack on Soviet-captured airfields in Norway and bomber bases in the Kola Peninsula. Kennedy attempts to talk McMillan out of the approach, calling it “insanely dangerous,” but is interrupted by a string of messages about the nuclear fighting in Germany. As he reads through the messages, Bobby Kennedy, who has remained with JFK in Washington, remarks, “Well, there’s only one thing left to do now, John.”
No sooner has he uttered the words when another officer enters, bringing word that a large number of Soviet bombers have been detected by radar at Thule Air Force Base in Greenland and by radar stations in Alaska. Though the aircraft have not yet crossed into Canadian or American airspace, they have continued on their headings for several minutes, and given the large number of aircraft, the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe this to be a major Soviet attack.
Silence falls in the White House’s situation room. After several moments, Kennedy orders fighters to intercept any bombers that cross the border. When clarification is requested, Kennedy furiously responds, “That means shoot the damn things down – I don’t care what you use, but those aircraft are not to reach the United States!” When asked by Gen. LeMay, Commander in Chief of the Strategic Air Command, if this means he is free to execute SIOP-63, the nuclear plan for action against the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, Kennedy hesitates. Not yet, he declares softly, clearly unsure. “I want to see what they do next,” he says over the crackling line to Omaha, where LeMay is guiding his bombers to their Fail-Safe positions.
LeMay responds heatedly, demanding that they not wait until the bombs are falling on the United States, and Kennedy fires back with harsh words of his own, saying that he will not risk nuclear war. LeMay fires back with a barb of his own – “Mister President, in case you haven’t noticed, the people of Eufala and Key West might argue differently!” The truth of the words take Kennedy aback – has he been looking so intently at the big picture that he might have been willing to sacrifice the country one small piece at a time? Quietly, he agrees to LeMay’s suggestion that should a nuclear attack take place anywhere in North America, he will be free to release the bombers to their missions.
With the issue settled, Kennedy hangs up the phone, and begins to address the next crisis in a long list of them. In Omaha, LeMay is handed an extensive list of bomber dispositions and fuel states, and with a sinking feeling, realizes that if he does not issue a go order in the next 15 minutes, nearly 20% of his bomber force will need to turn back for refueling. Many bombers have been holding at Fail-Safe for far longer than was planned, and many are now on the edge of being able to perform their missions and return to North America, let alone their staging airfields.
While one-way missions are only to be expected, 20 percent is a large proportion of the force in the air, and that will be on top of a large number of bombers that have already cycled back from Fail-Safe or are only now returning to it. Those bombers will be needed for follow-up strikes, and they cannot be thrown away, LeMay believes. Quietly, he hopes that the issue will be decided soon.
2:48 AM – A battery of Soviet surface-to-surface missiles launches an attack on a suspected NATO special weapons depot in central Germany. Six Soviet nuclear weapons devastate the area, destroying a stockpile of Corporal missile reloads. Over 60 NATO nuclear warheads are destroyed. Unfortunately for the Soviet Union, there are over 5,000 NATO-controlled nuclear warheads still in Western Europe.
The attack creates a crisis in the NATO command. British, Belgian, and Dutch commanders, with Prime Minister McMillan chiming in from an underground bunker in Wales, demand immediate action against Soviet airfields and known fixed missile positions in Eastern Europe. The threat is clear, they declare to Gen. Norstad – the Soviet Union is clearly on course to escalate the conflict, and the more nuclear weapons NATO destroys, the fewer that can be launched against Western Europe. When Norstad counters that he does not have the freedom to launch nuclear weapons without the authorization of the President, McMillan replies that Kennedy’s orders of “forward defense” cover this situation, and that by not attacking, Norstad is violating Kennedy’s orders, not following them.
Norstad attempts to find a compromise solution, but there is none. McMillan announces his intention to use Britain’s nuclear capability, with or without Norstad’s assistance – but without Norstad’s help, the effectiveness of the attack will be greatly lessened. Norstad is torn – on one hand, Kennedy’s instructions to him were to avoid widening the war whenever possible, but on the other, nuclear war has clearly broken out. He cannot risk splitting NATO in wartime. If he didn’t go along with McMillan, and the war ended tomorrow, could NATO survive America throwing England to the Soviets in its darkest hour? No, he decided. It couldn’t. Reluctantly, he agrees to McMillan’s plan, but requests some time to coordinate his forces. Communications are growing more and more difficult, thanks to Soviet attacks, telephone lines being cut, and the increased radio interference caused by the nuclear detonations. “Time,” McMillan replies, “is something we do not have much of at the moment.”
2:50 AM – In Omaha, SAC commander Gen. Curtis LeMay is facing a similar conundrum. If he does not issue the go order immediately, his bomber force will lose a substantial portion of its strength for at least three hours. On the other hand, if he does issue the go-order, it might trigger a full-scale nuclear war, not just the little one in Cuba and Germany.
After a conference call to NORAD headquarters at Cheyenne Mountain, he issues the order. The Soviet aircraft approaching Canada and Alaska have not turned back, so his decision is the obvious one. Unless a full recall is issued, his aircraft are to continue on to Russia and destroy their targets. Though they’ve used up all their loiter time, the bombers on the edge should still have enough fuel in their tanks to hit their targets and crash-land somewhere in North America – barring battle damage. And of course, if the Soviet bombers turn back, they can always be recalled. But as LeMay looks at the situation board, deep underground, that doesn’t seem likely.
2:53 AM – As the Moscow Plotters settle into bunkers across the Soviet Union, the final order is given – perhaps by all, perhaps by only some. Transmitted by landline, the men of the Strategic Rocket Force receive their final orders and prepare to launch. Due to the patchwork nature of the coup, the precise coordination of the Strategic Rocket Force is not fully imitated among Red Army-controlled launch facilities in Eastern Europe. Approximately 40 percent of the Red Army’s IRBM and MRBM facilities fail to acknowledge the initial order. Many will eventually launch at targets in Western Europe, but many more will be destroyed by the NATO counter-stroke.
2:55 AM – At missile sites in Central Asia, missile erectors raise themselves to an upright position and fire. Similarly, eight concrete missile silos blow their rocket-propelled hatches clear and fire their missiles. In total, 20 of the Soviet Union’s October 1962 total of 26 ICBMs will reach their targets. Two explode either during launch or shortly after. Three break up on reentry, due to manufacturing defects or navigation malfunctions. One will suffer a gyroscope error and will impact in north-central Montana, incinerating the village of Hays, Montana (population 486 in 1962). The other twenty will proceed to their targets, unnoticed for the first ten minutes of a scheduled 33-minute flight time.
Eight of the missiles will be SS-6 Sapwood missiles (two of the ten in service are down for maintenance and will not be available at the time of launch) launched from Baikonur and Plesetsk. Plesetsk will launch seven, and Baikonur only one, with three of the failed missiles coming from Plesetsk. Ironically, these missiles are the same ones that launched Sputnik into space.
The other twenty missiles launched will be SS-7 Saddler missiles, launched from soft (non-silo) positions. Due to the newer nature of the missiles, only three of the twenty will fail in flight, a far lower percentage than the primitive SS-6s. As they launch, curving northward from their launchers in Central Asia, they will proceed undetected, below the horizon, for nearly a third of their flight.
At T+11 minutes, they will be picked up by the Ballistic Missile Early Warning radar station at Clear, Alaska. That station will likely also be dealing with several IRBMs inbound to points in Alaska, possibly even at the station itself. A full regiment of IRBMs will launch from bases near Anadyr, in the Soviet Far East, with the goal of knocking out Alaskan air defenses and opening a hole through which Soviet bombers can pass. Despite that distraction, standing orders dictate that missiles higher above the horizon (likely to be targeted on the United States proper) have priority. A warning will be flashed to NORAD and Washington.
At T+12 minutes, they will be picked up by the third and final BMEWS at Thule, Greenland, which should detect the missiles as they cross the horizon and arc over the North Pole. Further warnings will be issued, but NORAD will already be well aware of the situation.
At T+14 minutes, they will be detected by the RAF’s Ballistic Missile Early Warning radar at Flylingdales, in the UK. That station, monitoring several hundred IRBMs in flight over Europe, may easily miss the ICBM tracks inbound to the United States and Canada. If not, they will immediately pass a warning on to NORAD, which will further the information to Washington, D.C.
President Kennedy, upon hearing the news, will want to issue a full-scale civil defense alert, but the highest level of alert – that of a Civil Defense Air Emergency – has already been issued 24 hours earlier. The attacks from Cuba have already put Americans at a higher state of alert than any government warning could provide, but the last-minute alert, issued at T+17 minutes, causes many in urban centers to begin fleeing in their automobiles at high speed towards the countryside. Kennedy himself will refuse evacuation, instead ordering that his brother be pushed onto the helicopter and escorted to Mount Weather. JFK has no desire to see what tomorrow will bring, or to live with the knowledge that he helped cause a nuclear war. Either way – a postwar impeachment, trial, and execution, or a nuclear detonation – would no doubt kill him just as dead.
At T+22, the missiles will disappear from the radar screens at the BMEWS facilities. Their radars only point in one direction, and cannot track the missiles to their ultimate targets, nor do they have the processing power to analyze where the missiles might hit. They only serve to warn, and with their jobs done, they wait to be annihilated themselves. They won’t have long to wait.
At T+29, the missiles may begin to become visible to Canadians and Americans looking skyward. The night sky will provide a brilliant backdrop to the fiery streaks of the reentry vehicles, which should shoot across the stars like meteors.
Between T+30 and T+35, all 20 will impact within the United States and Canada. It is unlikely that any will be targeted on sites in Western Europe, as these are well within the range of IRBM and MRBM launched from Eastern Europe and western Russia. Nor is it likely that the missiles will be fired at American missile silos, since these early Soviet missiles lack the accuracy to reliably knock out hardened targets. Exceptions will likely be made in the cases of Cheyenne Mountain and Offut AFB in Omaha, the headquarters of SAC, but these will likely be the only exceptions. The missiles will also not be targeted at early-warning radars or interceptor bases – no one in the world had the capability to shoot down an ICBM at the time, and the most the United States can do is watch as the missiles streak in. Theoretically, a nuclear-tipped BOMARC or Nike Zeus missile could destroy an incoming ICBM, but that would require a level of coordination with radar and computer-aided guidance not available in 1962.
In the end, likely targets include soft military bases, command posts, and major population centers. These Soviet missiles lack the accuracy for anything else. This is somewhat countered by a 3.5Mt warhead, but even a near miss will leave buried targets intact.
As Soviet targeting data is not yet available – nor will it likely ever be – I can only guess at what twenty targets will be destroyed. Still, here is a list of what I think will be targeted, how many missiles will be used on the target (where necessary) and a justification of why. Note that a tally of the missiles will reach 26. This is intentional. Six of the targets listed below will survive or receive one fewer missile.
• Washington, D.C. (3 missiles)
This is the most critical target in the United States, beyond even Cheyenne Mountain. It’s the peacetime center of the government, and the immense blow to American pride and prestige, as well as the confusion and chaos its destruction will create is immense, and will not be overlooked. One missile for the Pentagon, Capitol Hill, and the White House. It’s overkill, but the target is of great enough importance that given the inaccuracy of the Soviet missiles, three will be needed to ensure completion. End result: Lake Washington.
• Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado (2 missiles)
Wartime headquarters of NORAD, this bunker is entombed within the mountain. While it’s not likely to be destroyed, given the inaccuracy of the weapons used against it, it will likely be knocked off line by detonations close by that will rupture cables and communications, disconnecting it for some time from the defense of North America. Suspended within the mountain on enormous springs and shock absorbers, the bunker will be tossed around, and injuries and possible deaths will result. Imagine being inside an earthquake, underground. Even ground-bursting weapons – these will likely not detonate until they hit the ground, unlike weapons used against soft targets, which explode at 5,000-10,000 feet to ensure maximum destruction – should not destroy the base, as a direct hit is not likely. End result: Broken bones for those inside, massive wildfires, NORAD HQ knocked offline for several hours to several weeks.
• Offut AFB, Omaha, Nebraska (2 missiles)
This is the headquarters of the Strategic Air Command, and where Gen. Curtis LeMay, CINC-SAC, will be located during the fighting. The base and city nearby will be utterly destroyed, and the bunker below has a good chance of being knocked out as well, but little is known about it, due to the fact that it is an active command, not retired like Cheyenne Mountain. End result: Omaha and Offut destroyed, SAC HQ knocked offline for several hours to several weeks.
• Syracuse, New York
One of the three centers for the SAGE (Semi Automatic Ground Environment) system, the SAGE system is what makes NORAD work. State-of-the-art computer systems, tied in to the three early-warning radar lines and interceptor bases across Canada, as well as links to ships at sea and aircraft in the air, enable the SAGE system to vector individual fighters to individual bombers as they are detected in flight. This is a massively complicated system of coordination, roughly similar to the British sector stations during the Blitz, but far more advanced. Syracuse’s SAGE Combat Center is located above-ground, in a giant facility with a four-story video screen and half an acre of computers. End result: Syracuse destroyed, Syracuse SAGE Combat Center offline.
• North Bay, Ontario
This is the third of the three (the first being Cheyenne Mountain) main SAGE Combat Centers in North America. Located 700 feet underground, it can survive a nearby hit. However, due to the fragility of computers at the time, and the need to have near-instantaneous communication with fighter bases and radar stations across Canada, even a near-miss will be disastrous. With all three main SAGE Combat Centers destroyed or knocked off line, the backup BUIC (Back Up Interceptor Control) units will take over, but at a reduced rate of effectiveness. End result: North Bay destroyed, SAGE center crippled.
• Groton/New London, Connecticut
Groton is the headquarters of the United States’ submarine fleet, and is of critical importance in that it is a soft target that houses nuclear weapons – ballistic missile submarines. While all of these will be at sea, the destruction of the Groton/New London submarine base will destroy a large number of warheads waiting to be transferred onto submarines, will destroy the large submarine construction facility located there, the training facility located there, and possibly any submarines unable to sail away, due to drydocking or other problems. End result: New London and Groton destroyed, several submarines sunk, submarine yards destroyed, SSBN (Strategic Submarine, Ballistic, Nuclear) reloading capability reduced.
• Charleston, South Carolina
In addition to being the largest city in the state of South Carolina, Charleston was at the time home to the Charleston Navy Yard, one of the largest ports of the United States Navy, and a major home port for several ballistic missile submarines. Though all are at sea at this point in the hostilities, the destruction of Charleston will greatly reduce the effectiveness of the Atlantic Fleet and hurt the resupply efforts of any ballistic missile submarines that survive their initial attacks. In addition, Charleston has great historical value and a medium-sized shipbuilding industry. End result: Charleston destroyed, economy of South Carolina crippled, loss of Charleston Naval Base, several ships sunk.
• Norfolk, Virginia (2 missiles)
Norfolk is the largest American naval base on the East Coast. It is the home port to the vast majority of the United States’ Atlantic Fleet, and is the site of a very large shipbuilding industry located in Norfolk and nearby Newport News. At least one aircraft carrier will be in drydock at the time, and a large stockpile of naval nuclear weapons is at the base. In addition, Naval Air Station Oceana is close by, as is the Marine Amphibious base at Little Creek, Langley Air Force Base, and Yorktown Weapons Depot. End result: With one detonation on the north side of Hampton Roads, and another on the south side, both Newport News and Norfolk will be completely obliterated, as will all the naval, marine, and Air Force bases in the area. NAS Oceana, furthest to the east, will suffer heavy damage, but may not be totally destroyed, due to its distance from Norfolk. Virginia Beach will suffer light damage.
• San Diego, California
San Diego is one of the largest cities in California, and is also the home of one of the largest naval bases on the West Coast. It is the home to Miramar, training facility for pilots of the US Marine Corps, and Coronado is home to one of the two training facilities of the US Navy Seals. In addition, North Island Naval Air Station has a large contingent of aircraft. End result: A blast over the harbor will obliterate Coronado, North Island, and anything in port, as well as damaging Mischer Field at Miramar and destroying the city. Nearby Camp Pendleton is out of the blast zone, but may suffer broken windows, depending on atmospheric conditions at the time of the blast.
• Tucson, Arizona
In 1962, Tucson was still a small town, but also home to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, site of the Air Force’s “boneyard,” a storage facility for unused aircraft and a major repair facility. In addition, Tucson was also home to the 12th Strategic Aerospace Division, a combined force of missiles and bombers. Today, it’s home of the only preserved Titan Missile silo. End result: Tucson, Davis-Monthan completely destroyed. Surrounding missile silos remain intact, however, as these are scattered in the hills south of the town.
• Barksdale AFB, Bossier City, Louisiana
Bossier City is located in northwestern Louisiana, near the Texas and Arkansas borders. A suburb of Shreveport, Louisiana, it is also home to the Louisiana Army Ammunition plant. Barksdale AFB in 1962 is home to the headquarters of the Second Air Force, a major component of SAC. End result: Barksdale AFB destroyed, Shreveport in flames, 75% of the city leveled instantly, heavy primary damage to the western portions of the Louisiana Army Ammunition plant. Secondary explosions may further damage or destroy the plant.
• Ellsworth AFB, Rapid City, South Dakota
Home to the 821st Air Division, Ellsworth is today home to the B-1 bomber. In 1962, it was a major B-52 bomber base, and the Air Division included a large missile component as well. End result: Ellsworth AFB and Rapid City destroyed, missile silos intact, as these are hardened targets and are far from the base.
• Grand Forks AFB, Grand Forks, North Dakota
Home to the 319th Bomb Wing, 449th Bombardment Group, and 4133rd Strategic Wing in 1962, Grand Forks is a major bomber base. End result: Grand Forks AFB destroyed, broken windows and light damage in the town itself.
• Forbes AFB, Topeka, Kansas
Home to the 21st Air Division, Forbes AFB controls a large number of ICBMs as well as a substantial number of bombers. Topeka is also the capital of the state of Kansas, and thus center to a state government. End result: Forbes AFB destroyed, massive damage to the City of Topeka, but no damage to the missile fields to the west of the city, or to the town of Lawrence to the east.
• Fairchild AFB, Spokane, Washington
In 1962, Fairchild was the home of the 18th Strategic Aerospace Division, an umbrella organization that combined the B-52 bombers and KC-135 Stratotankers of the 92nd Bomb Wing with squadrons of Atlas ICBMs located nearby. Today, Fairchild helps Washington State achieve the distinction of having more nuclear weapons than four countries combined, thanks to the location of a nuclear reserve depot on the base. End result: Fairchild AFB destroyed, possible damage to unstable Atlas missiles, (the missiles must be kept pressurized at all times in order to provide support for the missile, or destruction of the missile will result – this caused problems when a dropped tool could rupture a fuel line and cause an explosion, due to the weak fuel tanks and lines.) Spokane west of the river destroyed, damage to the city’s eastern portion.
• Lockbourne AFB, Columbus, Ohio
Home to the 801st Air Division, Columbus is also the capital of the state of Ohio, and a large city in its own right. End result: Lockbourne AFB destroyed, southern half of Columbus in flames. Central and northern portions of the city damaged.
• New York City, New York
You shouldn’t need to ask why New York would be hit. Ideally, due to its size, it would be hit by several nuclear weapons, but I imagine that only one missile would be targeted there, simply because of its proximity to the Canadian border and thus availability to bomber attack. For the sake of argument, I’ll target the missile at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which in 1962 was still very much in operation. End result: Brooklyn, lower Manhattan destroyed, 50% of the city in flames, massive panic, damage to eastern portions of Staten Island and New Jersey. Broken windows as far north as Yonkers. Newark damaged, Statue of Liberty knocked over, Empire State Building and Chrysler Building obliterated.
• Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, in addition to being one of the most populous cities in the United States, also has great historical meaning and is home to the Philadelphia Naval Yard, again one of the largest naval bases on the East Coast of the United States in 1962. End result: Philadelphia virtually destroyed. Broken windows as far as the Delaware border, with fires raging unchecked for miles.
• Colorado Springs, Colorado
Colorado Springs is the peacetime home of NORAD, one of the major centers of the US Air Force, and is home to the US Air Force Academy. In 1962, Ent Air Force Base would likely be the primary target, as it is the center of peacetime Air Force activities. The northern portions of Fort Carson also adjoin Colorado Springs. Today, the Air Force’s Space Command is located in Colorado Springs, as is the current primary base of NORAD. End result: City of Colorado Springs destroyed, Air Force academy destroyed, Ent Air Force Base destroyed, northern portions of Fort Carson destroyed, but most portions escape damage, including the training ranges.
• Detroit, Michigan
In 1962, the American automobile industry had not yet been overtaken by foreign imports, and so Detroit was as crucial to America’s economy as any other city in the country. Nearly 90 percent of the automobiles in the United States were American-built, providing jobs for millions of people, not just in Detroit, but also in factories across the country. End result: Downtown Detroit and neighboring Windsor are destroyed. Heavy damage as far as Dearborn Heights. Dozens of factories destroyed. Production outside Detroit suffers for lack of Detroit-built parts, fueling national economic depression.
• San Francisco, California
This one isn’t so much San Francisco as it is Alameda and Oakland, but a hit on either of those two places will affect San Francisco as well. Alameda is home of the third-largest naval base on the West Coast. In addition, the Oakland Army Base and Alameda Naval Air Station are also within range of a single hit. End result: A hit on Alameda will vaporize the Oakland Army Base, Treasure Island Naval Station, Alameda supply depot, NAS Alameda, and most of downtown Alameda. The Oakland Bay Bridge will be completely destroyed, and Oakland itself will suffer major damage, as will the eastern shore of San Francisco, including the Naval Station. Damage will extend across the city. The Golden Gate Bridge will suffer moderate to light damage, but should survive with scorching. Berekley will be destroyed.
Those are the targets I feel most likely to be hit in a 26-ICBM attack. They provide a mix of Air Force and Navy targets, as well as civilian targets. Targets have been chosen to maximize the number of American nuclear weapons destroyed, as would likely be the case in a real Soviet attack. Some notable cities and targets not on the list:
• Bangor, Washington – Not a sub base until the advent of Trident submarines.
• Kings Bay, Georgia – See above.
• Boston, Mass. – Likely bomber target.
• Ottawa, Canada – Likely bomber target.
• Seattle, Washington – Likely bomber target
• Los Angeles, California – Not as big a city in 1962, lacks major military bases.
• Honolulu, Hawaii – Likely submarine target
• Chicago, Ill. – Likely bomber target
• Minot, North Dakota – Likely bomber target
• Wright-Patterson AFB – Testing facility, no combat aircraft present
• Cape Canaveral – Testing facility, no military missiles present
2:57 AM – BMEWS Flylingdales picks up a large number of missiles launched from Eastern Europe, heading west. In a panic, the Prime Minister is notified.
2:58 AM – In an instant, Prime Minister McMillan knows all is lost. Though he will likely survive from his bunker deep in the Welsh mountains, the vast majority of Britain – hell, Europe – will not. “We won’t have to fight them on the beaches this time. The war’s already over.” McMillan orders an immediate retaliatory strike against Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union with every available weapon. Across Britain, air-raid sirens blare and telephones ring as the four-minute warning is put into effect. The name will be somewhat of a misnomer – it won’t take four minutes for the Soviet missiles to reach their targets. It will take nine.
3:00 AM – Flylingdales, having calculated the trajectories of many of the missiles inbound to Britain, passes word to the Prime Minister’s bunker that the apparent targets seem to be limited to military bases only – the fact that many of these bases are near major cities is a fact known by everyone. McMillan, after a moment of hesitation, does nothing. The attack will continue as planned. V-Bombers to targets in Soviet-occupied Norway and the Kola Peninsula, and No. 77 squadron’s Thor missiles will be targeted at sites across Eastern Europe. As planned.
3:01 AM – At airfields across the United Kingdom, Valiant, Victor, and Vulcan bombers armed with American-built W-38 gravity bombs lumber down the runway and into the air. Many pilots anxiously turn their eyes skyward, half expecting to see the contrails of incoming missiles. In peacetime, the pilots took pride in their ability to reach the Soviet Union before even the bombers of the Strategic Air Command. Now, in the face of an unknown number of Soviet fighters and SAMs, that pride turns to a growing fear.
In Lincolnshire, at five RAF bases, missile launchers are thrown upright by giant hydraulic rams, and toxic rocket fuel is pumped into fifteen separate American-built Thor missiles. At the launch site, crewmen work in frenzied panic, one eye on their work, and another on the sky. By the book, it takes fifteen minutes to fire the Thor from its horizontal storage position. Driven by fear for Britain and more importantly, themselves – it will only take six. For those that make it, that is.
3:03 AM – Gen. Norstad authorizes a full NATO nuclear response to the ongoing attack and orders a full nuclear defensive posture. For many locations in West Germany, the warnings will come too late. Many units have dispersed, particularly the nuclear and chemical units, but those in close contact have not. Moreover, the sheer number of incoming warheads will negate much of both sides’ dispersal strategy.
In Italy, two squadrons of nuclear-armed Jupiter IRBMs are readied on the launchpad. From their locations north of Taranto, they can reach deep into Eastern Europe. If, of course, they can be launched in time.
3:05 AM – President Kennedy is informed of the massive European missile launch. He immediately sends authorization for Gen. Norstad to use any means necessary to ensure the security of Europe – an order more redundant than anything a President had ever given. In addition, he authorizes the execution of SIOP-63, Option B, with a hold against China – the targeting of Soviet and Warsaw Pact military and communications installations. As with the Soviet strike, the fact that many of these targets are in or near major population centers is conveniently overlooked.
In Omaha, Gen. Thomas S. Power is far too involved with the immediate actions of his SAC bombers to be worried about the targeting restrictions placed on him by Kennedy. With scarcely a word, he acknowledges Kennedy’s operations order, gives several targeting orders of his own, and orders SAC’s nuclear missiles to launch. President Kennedy’s authority is no longer needed. With the order given, Power’s main concern shifts to ensuring that none of his bombers will be shot down by NORAD’s fighters over the Arctic Ocean.
In the air, every SAC bomber not previously en route to the Soviet Union begins to wing its way towards that country. Even those that had been turned back for refueling now make 180-degree turns back towards Russia. Fuel to return to America is a luxury some of Power’s bombers cannot afford. All that matters now are the bombs dropped on target. Over 1,300 American bombers are now winging their way north, across Canada and the Arctic Ocean.
3:06 AM – Two dozen IRBM launches are detected by BMEWS at Clear Air Force Base in Alaska. Launched from far eastern Siberia, they are clearly inbound to targets in Alaska. Word is passed to NORAD and Washington, which can only stand by and wait. The dispersal of fighters has already taken place, and those not already in the air probably never will. SAC’s bombers are airborne, and it’s all over but the waiting. The only variable is how many missiles and bombers will reach their targets.
3:07 AM – BMEWS Thule detects 23 inbound Soviet ICBMs. Three will break up on reentry, but twenty will reach and destroy their targets. News of the incomings adds to the air of fatalism among the few people who remain in the White House. Despite efforts by the Secret Service to physically manhandle President Kennedy to a waiting helicopter, Kennedy refuses evacuation. He even refuses evacuation to the White House bomb shelter, instead choosing to wait out the missiles on the roof of the White House. From his viewpoint, he savors the night despite the cold temperature and the pain in his back. The streets are empty, and the only sound is the discordant wail of the air-raid sirens. Kennedy looks skyward and waits.
In Lincolnshire, the first Thor missiles begin to take fight, soaring upward on a pillar of fire. Before the last of them leave the launch rails, an enormous roar in the air signifies the arrival of several Soviet missiles. RAF Helmswell, Feltwell, and dozens of other airfields in Britain are annihilated. The scene is repeated in Western Europe and North Africa, from SAC bases in Morocco to Italy and Turkey and northward, to the unoccupied portions of Norway, as Soviet ICBMs and IRBMs reach their targets.
The attacks devastate NATO airfields and naval bases, but civilian targets – excepting those near major communications, command, and military centers – are not hit. Though the Soviet missiles have a failure rate approaching 23 percent, the sheer number of missiles ensures that every major target, including every SAC base, is hit at least once. BMEWS Flylingdales is hit by no fewer than five nuclear weapons, completely vaporizing the facility, and eliminating any chance to observe future attacks.
In West Germany, tactical nuclear weapons and chemical warheads fly with abandon, devastating both sides equally. Dispersal is little help, due to the immense number of warheads. In Berlin, fighting slows as the night sky is lit with dozens of mushroom-cloud explosions at all points of the compass. No weapons fall in Berlin itself – it appears no one was willing to risk hitting their own side.
North of Taranto, Soviet IRBMs destroy virtually all of the American and Italian Jupiter IRBMs on the launch rails. Only two of the 30 missiles manage to escape the first strike, and one will be driven off course by a detonation, landing harmlessly in Hungary. In Turkey, the third squadron of American Jupiters, the centerpiece of Kennedy’s missiles-for-missiles proposal that would have brought an end to the Cuban crisis, has long since been destroyed by conventional Soviet bombing.
3:15 AM – The first Soviet IRBMs begin to fall on Alaskan military bases. Elmendorf, Eielson, and Clear Air Force Bases are among the first targets hit, but over a dozen other targets are hit as well, victims of the 21 IRBMs that survived from the initial 24-missile launch. In the air, fighting rages as Soviet fighters and bombers clash with American fighters of the 343rd Fighter Wing.
Dozens of short-range bombers fall prey to the AIR-2 Genie nuclear rockets of the American fighters, which rack up an impressive kill total. In the end, the simple realities of fuel and ammunition bring down the Delta Darts defending Alaska. For every bomber they bring down, there are two more, launched from bases in nearby Siberia. And with their bases destroyed by Soviet IRBMs, there is no way to refuel and rearm. The vast majority of the fighters launched from Elmendorf and other airfields eventually run out of fuel and have their pilots bail out. A handful manage to reach Juneau or a Canadian airfield, but almost none are refueled in time to defend again.
Across the Bering Strait, a mirror of the Alaskan battle is being played out over Siberia as Soviet fighters clash with Alaska-based bombers. Thanks to the virtue of being based a thousand miles closer to their targets, the Alaskan bombers find themselves engaging an alerted and able Soviet defense. With no American IRBMs to soften the Soviet defenses, they go down in gruesome numbers, but not without landing a few hits of their own. Few survive to return to Alaska, and only a handful limp back to friendly bases.
3:20 AM – At missile silos across the United States, rockets blast off silo covers as SAC ICBMs take to the skies. At many silos, however, all is quiet. They represent something the Soviet Union does not have – a reserve.
It will take only 25 minutes for the first missiles to reach their targets, long before SAC bombers – which passed the fail-safe line over nearly 40 minutes previously – reach their targets.
3:22 AM – Britain’s revenge begins hitting Eastern Europe as the survivors of Britain’s 15 Thor IRBMs begin to land in the Warsaw Pact. Those that fall in East Germany are lost in the frenzy of tactical and short-range nuclear destruction. Outside of East Germany, the capitals of several Eastern European nations join the nuclear bonfire. Inside of East Germany, there is already very little left. In Berlin, scattered fighting continues, but with fewer and fewer orders coming from higher authorities on either side, and the obviousness of what has happened, no one seems willing to press home the attack.
3:25 AM – Soviet ICBMs begin to land in the United States and Canada. From New York to Washington to the West Coast, millions of people die. In the space of five minutes, more Americans die than in every American war combined. In Washington, Kennedy watches the meteor-like trails of the incoming warheads from the roof of the White House. A few streaks rise to meet them – Nike-Zeus antiaircraft missiles – before the sky brightens with one final sunrise. It’s the last thing President Kennedy will ever see.
3:29 AM – At Mount Weather, Virginia, Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson and other members of the Executive Branch are read the list of targets in a sense of gloom. When the list reaches Washington, there is a pause. “I guess that makes me next,” says the new President in his Texas drawl. Five hundred feet below the mountains of western Virginia, LBJ takes the oath of office surrounded by other members of the executive branch in the crowded confines of a rocky tunnel. He’d rather be anywhere else.
3:34 AM – Above the dark, frozen wastes of Greenland, American fighters clash with Soviet bombers intent on the destruction of Thule Air Force Base, the northernmost outpost of the Distant Early Warning radar line as well as the northernmost American fighter and bomber base in the world.
A full squadron of specially-equipped Tu-95K bombers is tasked with the destruction of the base and the adjoining BMEWS radar station, roughly 18 miles northwest. The bombers are engaged several hundred miles north of the target, and several are shot down. Unfortunately for the defenders, this leaves five bombers, which continue onward, juking and weaving. Roughly 250 miles away from the airfield, the survivors release their underwing AS-2 Kangaroo cruise missiles before they are shot down in turn. No crewmen from the downed bombers will survive the icy, dark shores of Greenland, but their loss is not in vain. Five supersonic cruise missiles streak towards Thule.
Thanks to forewarning from the intercepting fighters, Thule is ready. A score of BOMARC missiles roar into the air from the darkened base, lancing forward at a closing speed well in excess of Mach 6. Small multi-kiloton warheads explode in front of the cruise missiles, knocking them from the air or destroying them outright. Only a single missile survives. But that’s all that’s needed. The 3 Megaton warhead explodes a bare thousand feet over the base’s runways, destroying the base instantly.
The radar operators at the BMEWS radar station eighteen miles away are spared immediate death from the nuclear detonation, only to suffer a prolonged death from starvation and freezing, as the site is completely isolated from a United States with far greater problems on its hands. They will be joined by a few homeless pilots who bail out of their fuel-starved aircraft.
For the Soviet Union, it’s a costly, if successful operation. And it’s one that can’t be repeated. The 12 specially-modified bombers represent almost the entire AS-2 capable force, barring two aircraft down for maintenance. And the extraordinarily unwieldy missiles require over 20 hours to be attached, armed, fueled, and readied for launch. Soviet planners anticipate using the remaining stock as second-strike weapons for targets that escape the initial attack. Unfortunately for those involved, they will not get that chance.
3:45 AM – The first American ICBMs begin to strike targets in the Soviet Union. From Anadyr in the east to Murmansk in the west, from Moscow to Baku, Baikonur to Chelyabinsk, the Soviet Union is hit by approximately 140 warheads. Hardest hit were airfields, communications systems, command and control systems, and military bases. As with the Soviet attack, where possible, cities were avoided – where possible. Cities like Moscow, Vladivostok, Murmansk, Archangel, that housed large military bases or command facilities, were hit regardless of their civilian population. The Soviet Union had done the same.
The door is now open for the bombers of the Strategic Air Command, which have received new orders from the new President of the United States, Lyndon Johnson. Johnson also sends orders, via radio, to the American ballistic missile submarine fleet, instructing it to engage the Soviet Union where possible. The submarines’ Polaris missiles lack the accuracy to hit military targets, but Johnson does not care. What matters now is hitting back, and hitting as hard as possible.
3:47 AM – Canadian-based interceptors begin to engage Soviet bombers above the Canadian Far North. As the bombers come in at low level, the radars of the Distant Early Warning Line have difficulty locating many of the Soviet aircraft. This is further compounded by the loss of the SAGE combat centers to Soviet ICBMs. Due to that loss, fighters must be guided to their targets by the less-efficient BUIC (Back-Up Interceptor Control).
For every Tu-95 that is intercepted, another breaks through to hit the DEW radars and continue south. For every radar that is destroyed, more bombers remain undiscovered, hitting the line and winging their way south. The BUIC operators do their utmost, but as the radars go down, one by one, enormous gaps are torn in the DEW line, allowing more and more bombers through. But the damage to the Soviet bomber force was immense. Of the approximately 120 bombers sent across the Arctic Ocean, fewer than 40 survived to continue south, through Canada, where two more radar lines still lay.
4:12 AM – Nuclear fighting in Europe continues as British V-Bombers strike at Soviet-held airfields in Norway, relieving pressure on Britain from the north. Several bombers continue onward to strike targets in the Kola Peninsula, but many find that their targets are already burning, victims of American ICBMs. All eventually find some target worthy of an atomic bomb, or are shot down. The survivors turn westward, with many bomber crews bailing out over Britain, unable to find a usable airstrip on which to land. Several others land in neutral Sweden, which has fared fairly well in the fighting, and are interned.
4:20 AM – Sunrise does not come for the survivors of Berlin, nor for much of Europe. Dark clouds of ash blot out the sky over Germany, and dark rain begins to fall as water vapor coalesces around ash from hundreds of nuclear detonations. Survivors remember it as heavy, heavier than anything they can remember. Throughout the growing storms, NATO and Warsaw Pact bombers and fighters continue to clash.
With an enormous gash ripped in the front line, the aircraft can engage in combat without a fear of ground fire, and can penetrate deep into the opposition’s territory before facing enemy fire. From Germany, bomber strikes move east and west. The gap in defenses allows NATO bombers to hit Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia with ease, just as Warsaw Pact bombers can hit targets in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Britain.
In many cases, communications have broken down between what remains of higher authority and the bases launching attacks. As more and more weapons fall, the situation continues to grow worse, with greater and greater civilian casualties. Only the accelerating rate of attrition and the destruction of the remaining stockpiles of weapons and operational aircraft might provide an end to the fighting.
4:32 AM – A regiment of Soviet IRBMs near Vladivostok launch an attack against American bases in Japan and South Korea. 11 warheads will impact across the two countries, grievously wounding South Korea, which feels the impact of six weapons. American bombers based in Guam will avenge the hits by completely leveling the area around Vladivostok, which has itself already been hit by two ICBMs.
5:36 AM – The USS Sam Houston, an Ethan Allen-class ballistic missile submarine, launches its load of 16 Polaris missiles from a location in the southern Kara Sea, south of the islands of Novaya Zemlya. After firing from a depth of 10m, the submarine slips away undetected as scattered Soviet aircraft respond to the radar contacts.
The scene will be repeated five more times over the next 48 hours, as various Polaris missile submarines contribute their missiles to the firestorm engulfing the Soviet Union. Of the 80 missiles fired, 67 will successfully hit their targets. Two additional submarines will remain silent, a floating reserve to complement the missiles sitting in SAC silos. Two more commissioned ballistic missile submarines lack missiles, and one – the USS Thomas A. Edison is destroyed in the destruction of Charleston. Two uncommissioned submarines at sea survive the war, but three others still fitting out or under construction are destroyed.
Not everything goes the way of the American submarine force. The USS Abraham Lincoln is lost with all hands in an encounter with a Soviet hunter-killer submarine after firing its missiles. Additionally, the Regulus Missile-carrying submarines fail to mirror the success of their Polaris counterparts. Due to their weapons’ minimal range, their success is no greater than that of the Soviet missile submarines to which they compare. All are sunk before launching their targets, killing several hundred American sailors in the process.
6:13 AM – B-52 bombers of the Strategic Air Command, based in Spain and Morocco begin attacks on the southern flank of the Warsaw Pact. Bulgaria and Romania, as well as select targets in the Ukraine and the Caucuses. The bombers take some casualties from fighter aircraft, but none from ground fire. Because their bases have been destroyed by Soviet IRBM and bomber attacks, the crewmen of the bombers are forced to divert to remote airfields in Turkey, Greece, and Cyprus. None will make a second mission, due to a lack of weapons.
7:04 AM – The Soviet bombers that survived the DEW line begin to encounter the radars of the Mid-Canada and Pinetree defensive lines. Coming in low over the empty forests, the scattered bombers manage to evade most contact. However, once in range of the radars of the two southernmost lines – which happen to overlap – interceptors can be efficiently vectored to the incoming bombers. Of the forty survivors, twenty-five are downed by fighters guided by the radars of the Pinetree and Mid-Canada lines.
Most of the survivors manage to avoid the radars, either by using the Rocky Mountains to shield themselves, or by flying low across Baffin Bay to avoid contact. Though the immense spaces involved and the confusion caused by Soviet ICBMs hamper interception efforts, the fact that Soviet bombers have been detected by the Mid-Canada line cause interceptors to be scrambled from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
7:29 AM – The first large wave of American bombers cross the north coast of the Soviet Union. Over two hundred have been shot down over the Arctic Ocean by Soviet interceptors, but over a thousand are still in the air, storming southward towards targets scattered from one end of the Soviet Union to the other. Soviet air defense has been shattered by ICBM and submarine-launched missiles, but the surviving fragments, unguided by higher command, are still deadly.
Only the sheer number of American bombers, ironically, prevent the Soviet defenses from having greater effect. Without a central system to coordinate interception, Soviet fighters must be guided by their onboard radar or the facilities from their basing airfields. With over a thousand aircraft heading south, the otherwise strong effort of the surviving Soviet defenders is split too thin. Strikes on defending airbases further reduce the effectiveness of the Soviet defenses.
7:57 AM – Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, is hit by a Soviet submarine-launched ballistic missile, which impacts in the southwestern portion of the harbor, wrecking the city of Honolulu and many of the ships still in harbor. The brand-new USS Arizona memorial, dedicated five months previously, is completely destroyed, as is the airfield on Ford Island. The Hotel-class submarine that fired the missile would escape in the confusion.
9:19 AM – The final Soviet fighter base covering the north coast of the Soviet Union is destroyed by a bomb dropped by a B-52. In total, almost 400 American bombers have been shot down by Soviet fighters. Unfortunately for surviving citizens of the Soviet Union, this still leaves over 800 nuclear-armed bombers to range over the wide-open spaces of the country. What little opposition remains is limited to SA-2 sites near primary targets, most of which have already been destroyed by ICBM warheads.
10:33 AM – The city of Vancouver, British Columbia, is destroyed by a 5 Megaton nuclear bomb dropped by a bomber of the Long-Range Aviation Division of the Soviet Air Force. The attack is somewhat of an accident – Seattle was the primary target for the bomber, but due to repeated momentary contacts with Canadian and American fighters, the crew spends more time evading than navigating towards its target.
The attack is the first of 11 successful bombings of major North American cities by Soviet long-range bombers. Seven of the attacks, due to faulty navigation, purposeful attack, or harassment by interceptors, take place against Canadian cities. Four bombers successfully destroy American cities: Seattle, Minneapolis, Bangor, Maine; and Portland, Oregon. Two separate attempts by Soviet bombers to penetrate Chicago’s defenses are defeated by nuclear-tipped BOMARC anti-bomber missiles, which knock the low-flying aircraft into Lake Michigan with their shock waves. Two more bombers are intercepted by Canadian fighters as they attempt to make attacks against the American Northeast.
By 4:00 PM, the last Soviet bomber has been destroyed. None, excepting those that turned back before the DEW line, return to the territory of the Soviet Union. The success of the Soviet Union’s medium bombers is not shared by its long-range cousins. Fewer than ten percent of the bombers successfully complete their missions. By the end of the day, the bomber threat to North America is over.
2:32 PM – The final aircraft of the first wave of SAC bombers cross out of Soviet airspace en route to safe airfields in Canada, waypoints on the way home. Already, SAC’s second wave of aircraft is nearing Soviet Airspace, bringing several hundred Megatons of further destruction to what is left of the Soviet Union. In the words of CINCSAC Gen. Power, “We’re going to keep it up until the rubble is rubble.”
By the early afternoon of November 1, no more American bombers are being shot down over the Soviet Union – there is no one left to shoot back. Remaining SA-2 sites are abandoned en masse by soldiers fearful for their lives. The remaining active sites are destroyed by nuclear bombardment. President Johnson orders a focus on the other nations of the Warsaw Pact, and a gradual stand-down of SAC operations. There simply aren’t enough weapons left to continue at the same tempo for much longer, and equipment and crewmen are beginning to break down under the strain.