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The 20th Century "what if" of all "what if's"?

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Initial post: Feb 20, 2013, 9:35:12 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 20, 2013, 10:00:57 AM PST
Well, not really. But, what if ---

The Soviets just kept going? Took a breather and then in late '45 rolled west?

How would it have all shook out? My sense is that the US would win, but would they?

In 1945, the Soviets had over 11 million battle hardened soldiers in the Red Army and over 100 tank divisions. Pretty formidable. Huge tactical air force.

By the same token, in 1945, the US had at its disposal some 8 million GI's, 3.3 million squidlies, and about 400,000 jarheads. How many were forward deployed to Europe, I think about 2.5 million plus another 400,000 in the UK. How does it shake out.

Numbers, USSR.

Experience, roughly the same.

Combat fatigue, probably worse in the USSR.

Air power, I am forced to say the USAAF.

Armored forces, more agile and reactive, US. Sheer hitting power and tough vehicles, USSR.

Secure rear area, margin US

Logistics, US, increasing over time.

Geographical position, in the West? East, likely US, in the South? US with deep USSR vulnerability in the Balkans and the 'stans, real coin toss

Allies, USSR, likely none. US, UK, probably France, and the real wild card, 2 million battle hardened and experienced German soldiers who nearly took the Soviets down ... all by themselves (I have no idea how this shakes out)

A-bomb, the US has it, but only a few, the Russian will have it. The limitation, the US may not have the capacity to get it to any place the USSR is likely to care about

The deal breaker, logistics ...

I see it as the USSR getting no more than 100 km into France and a US roll back perhaps to the USSR frontier. Then total exhaustion kicks in.

How do you see it?

Please, civil.

There are going to be some good comments here and it is likely to have been done already at some point but, what say you?

Posted on Feb 20, 2013, 9:48:30 AM PST
Interesting...I'll have to think on this awhile...

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 20, 2013, 10:46:06 AM PST
John M. Lane says:
The Red Army in 1945 was a bit like an armed migration. It moved west with Lend Lease trucks operated by the Lend Lease fuel and spare parts.

I think the US had the clear edge and could have stopped the Red Army. The Western Allies controlled the air and had the atomic bomb. With Japan's surrender, the US could have invaded the Soviet East and forced them to fight on two fronts without any Lend Lease assistance. Truman was a committed anti-Communist and wouldn't have backed down from Stalin, in my opinion.

Posted on Feb 20, 2013, 1:12:42 PM PST
Eric Preston says:
If they kept going with troops instead of intimidation . . . you have to remember that all accounts have Truman as being very pleased and confident in his decision to use The Bomb on Japan, and even the B-17 had a range of 2,000 miles (B-29, The Enola Gay, had one of 3,250 miles), plenty of range to hit Moscow or many other places in Russia from France, so looking at an expensive, in both financial and life and limb, extended war with a once alley, he probably would not have been slow in ordering a drop on Russia, and probably a military target this time. Ironically, the only thing that would have probably stopped him would be if he thought they had one too.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 20, 2013, 1:35:06 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 20, 2013, 7:40:22 PM PST
Hi John

"The Red Army in 1945 was a bit like an armed migration."

With all due respect, that is not even remotely correct.

"It moved west with Lend Lease trucks"

Yep, bunches of them. But they had been making their own for quite awhile by then.

"Lend Lease fuel and spare parts."

I would say that the major contribution made by the US was not fuel, but high octane aircraft fuel used to max out engine performance. Such was not critical but rather an important luxury. Fuel production was not a serious problem for the USSR. The real problem, just like the US, getting it to the front. A problem whose solution was somewhat easier for the Soviets. Spare parts being something of an issue for the Russia's US made products, not for Russian weapons.

Having said that, I think the USSR faced some serious operational constraints.

As to the remained of your points they were addressed above. No one has a "clear edge" when they are outnumbered 5:1. These weren't the stumbling clods of 1941. These guys had pretty much got it together and by '45 were a serious, even frightening, force to be reckoned with. I think they would have had no difficulty whatsoever inflicting two million casualties on the US forces in the space of a year.

As for invading the East ... and then? It is a "so what" proposition. A bunch of frozen steppe is relatively worthless. There is 5.1 million square miles of nothing before the US troops can even get to something worth taking. Then they must survive a Siberian winter. I think that one is a non-starter from the word go. Far more useful may be a move north through Turkey.

I think the US could push it to a stalemate but it would cost and incredible number of casualties. Unheard of in the American experience. I do not believe that the atomic bomb would have proved much utility. It was not a question of Truman backing down, but rather getting off the mat after the USSR ran him over. But I really do wonder how it would play out.

I think you might enjoy "Colossus Reborn" and "When Titans Clashed", there are many others. But, the traditional view of the Red Army in the west is pretty far from the truth. The Red Army was no one that you would want to mess with.

I think it would be a very close thing. I think that the longer it lasted, the better it looks for the US, but it would take time --- and blood, lots of blood.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 20, 2013, 1:48:36 PM PST

I have no idea where you got a range of 2000 miles for a B-17, maybe one way, completely empty with a two hundred mph tail wind and a loooong glide down and a $h!#load of prayers. In other words they can't hit anything of value in even western Russia with these.

As for the B-29, long way in contested airspace to reach anything of value and they ain't got many of them. And the B-29 won't be flying 3000 miles with an atomic weapon aboard. I think 1600 miles is about the max that could be expected over uncontested airspace. I suspect they can't make it.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 20, 2013, 1:56:40 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 20, 2013, 1:59:02 PM PST
Eric Preston says:
I was going by multiple online sources, but just for comparison...
Tinain to Hiroshima is 1567 miles (flight of the Enola Gay)
Paris to Moscow is 1557 miles

P.S. If you have a reliable source for operational radius and payloads for WWII era bombers I would be interested in seeing it.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 20, 2013, 2:30:04 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 20, 2013, 7:42:08 PM PST
Ola Eric

I am aware that tinian is about 1600 from Japan. In totally uncontested airspace. It ain't going to be that way in Europe.

As for reliable info, I have a number of sources, but they are not in my hands as we speak. But since I am a pilot I have some interesting ones. As for B-17 try: (B-17F/G Manual (One Piece))

This is what a pilot in WWII might use.

But in rough terms, a B-17, running at 2300 rpm, at standard fuel flow and mixture, carrying 6000 of bombs and 17000 lbs (around 2800 gallons) high octane fuel (something like 100 LL) with no cargo, flying at 15,000 feet, at 250 mph true air speed, with no allowance for warm up, take off, climb, and descent, has a range of about 800 miles ... presuming you drop the bombs at the 800 mile mark.

I'll get back to you on the B-29 when I have time to check the specs. Try Werrell's "Blankets of Fire". Good treatment of the plane and its operations.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 20, 2013, 2:49:29 PM PST
Clog says:
What are Stalin's war aims that he didn't achieve at Yalta or Potsdam?

Why is he heading west?

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 20, 2013, 3:26:23 PM PST
John M. Lane says:
If you insist on clouding the issue with a bunch of facts, IGS, I suppose I'll have to re-think my position especially about the Red Army's capabilities in 1945. You're just bound and determined to take all the fun out of this, aren't you?

Posted on Feb 20, 2013, 3:29:47 PM PST
I've got a decent source of WW II aircraft performance statistics:
"B-17 Flying Fortress," by H.P. Willmott (whom I believe to be well-respected in aviation history circles). He quotes a normal bombload for the later B-17G of '"4,000 lbs" at a normal range of "1,300 or 2,200 miles." I can't find it right at the moment, but I know I've read soemwhere that the B-17 had to go down to a 2,600 lb.bombload to hit the longer targets in Germany. I don't know how much the A-bombs weighed but if I remember right, I saw a statistic once on them and was amazed how heavy they were. Thus, the questions: 1) Could the B-17 lift an A-bomb, and 2) if it could, would it have the range to carry it anywhere?

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 20, 2013, 3:44:52 PM PST

"What are Stalin's war aims that he didn't achieve at Yalta or Potsdam?"

Complete expansion and conquest of Germany, complete conquest of Austria, expansion of communism into a larger portion of the West. Remember, Stalin had accomplished his goal of Communism in one country and sought to expand, hence the move into East Europe. His reason for not? Exhaustion, need to end the war, and the US Army. But, yes, he had reasons.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 20, 2013, 3:52:45 PM PST
R. Largess says:
France and Italy had large communist movements that had barely failed to dominate the wartime resistance in both countries and thought their historical moment had come. Why not put them in power? But I am sure that a few years later Stalin was regretting his missed opportunity. In 1945 Truman said "Stalin is a fine man who wants to do the right thing." Henry Wallace and Sec. of War Henry Stimson publicly were urging that the secrets of the atomic bomb should be turned over to Russia. In "The Winning Weapon; the Atomic Bomb in the Cold War 1945-1950" Gregg Herken quotes David Lilienthal, head of the Atomic Energy Commission: "Actually we had one bomb that was probably operable when I first went off to Los Alamos (in Jan. 1947)...the politically significant thing was that there were really no bombs in a military sense...not only that, we were without people, that was the really significant thing...You can hardly exaggerate the unreadiness of US military men at that time."

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 20, 2013, 4:19:11 PM PST
Clog says:
Well, if this is a discussion about comparative strengths of the armies and respective demobilization levels, I'm out of my league.

My understanding of his foreign policy is that it was a hybrid of old imperial Russian maxims of establishing buffer zones on the one hand and Lenin's ideas on the other hand - world revolution and peaceful co-existence.

I suppose they felt the West had been sufficiently weakened to allow the societies to fall to communism by political or subversive means rather than military ones.

Starting another war after losing upwards of 20m citizens would be a hard sell especially since there could be no prospect of turning up in both London and Washington to raise the red banner over the seats of government. It would be a very open-ended commitment.

And his respect for the bomb would be a deterrent against such a course of action.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 20, 2013, 4:32:57 PM PST
Clog says:
Well, it's always about the constellation of capabilities and intentions in these scenarios.

It's likely that a surprise first strike would've met with considerable success, but then he has to think about the response of the West when he's occupying vast hostile areas with a strained war economy and facing the prospect of seasoned troops. The downside if it goes wrong could be devastating.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 20, 2013, 4:58:34 PM PST

I think that the A-bombs were outside a B-17's capacity. If it could have taken off with it (it was about 5 tons), which was a possibility, getting to altitude, out of the question. It took 25 minutes to get the altitude as it was with a regular bomb load. And going anywhere, forget it. It was the B-29 or nothing. But we did have lots of B-29's.

Posted on Feb 20, 2013, 5:15:17 PM PST
Yog-Sothoth says:
IGS: "It was the B-29 or nothing. But we did have lots of B-29's."

We had a liitle over 100 Consolidated B-32's (sort of a "super-B24"). It had flight characteristics similar to the B-29 - a slightly higher cruise speed, slightly longer range, but lower ceiling. Bomb load was the same (20K lb).

Only one squadron operated the B-32, (389th Bombardment Squadron) in the summer of 1945.

Posted on Feb 20, 2013, 6:16:04 PM PST

From what I understand, the B-32's reliability was so poor that the thought of putting atomic weapons in one --- leaves one with concerns.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 20, 2013, 6:45:47 PM PST
The Soviets would have kept going if it wasn't for the Americans getting the atomic bomb, Beria's son wrote about this in his book, the plan was all set for the Red Army to conquer Italy and France but then the atomic bomb stopped this.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 20, 2013, 8:11:35 PM PST
Eric Preston says:
Thanks, IGS.

Outside of bomb design advancements, which could be very possible, if we are to go with what was used around that time, the 'little boy' was approx 9k - 10k lbs, well outside of the B-17's design.

The B-29 however could and obviously did pull it off. How many we had was becoming not as important as we were developing the B-52, and the B-50 (glorified B-29) was going into production.

If I've learned anything from studying WWII is that if something was possible to do, the US military or Great Britain would try it, especially if they thought it would end a war.

If you look at the players along with the tools and lay of the land, a nuclear strike would be inevitable.

Which brings up another interesting scenario. If we did bomb Russia, and ousted communism, would other players have been more willing to use them later on. If the US and Great Britain were the only super powers left, would there have been a fallout between us as we jokey for power, or would we have been able to get along enough to usher in a time of peace. We never would have had the Korean War or Vietnam conflict, the cold war at all. Would communism have gotten a stronger foothold throughout the world without the Red Menace and fascist regimes that led to McCarthyism? One thing is for sure, the music wouldn't have been as good.

Lots of what ifs...

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 20, 2013, 9:07:04 PM PST

I am sure the B-29 could do it. The contested airspace is what concerns me. This isn't the kind of weapons that you can just "lose" in enemy territory.

I am absolutely certain that the US would use it. No question.

I don't think the B-52 came online until after the Korean War, So it wouldn't be ready until the dusts settled. But as an extraneous matter ... they are still using those things. I wasn't even born when most of those airframes were made. That is a real tribute to US aeronautical engineering.

As for the lowering of the threshold, that is a really good point. Had we used them to take down the USSR, does that permanently lower the nuclear threshold. I have no idea, but I bet you are right. If the USSR goes down, is there ever a Mao or Red China? And yeah the music would have been just as good. But we would have lost some of the Russians: Mosolov, Popov, Shostakovich (a favorite), but we'd still have Elvis, the Stones, the Beach Boys, the Dead, Black Sabbath, and Springsteen ... and another favorite, the Ramones

It would have been hell from my great grand parents generation ... but it would have saved 40 years of Cold War.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 20, 2013, 9:15:24 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 20, 2013, 9:18:08 PM PST
Eric Preston says:
IGS: "... and another favorite, the Ramones..."
I'll respond to the rest tomorrow, but this of now piqued my interest. Without the cold war and 'Vietnam' would there have been a punk movement in the UK to influence The Ramones? Or was that the other way around?

Posted on Feb 21, 2013, 3:02:53 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 21, 2013, 4:15:26 AM PST
The scenario is quite unlikely.

As a start let's not forget that the Russians had already been to Paris during the Napoleonic wars and that did not really translate into palatable material gains.

But as someone already pointed out the huge losses already suffered by 1945 (from which, one might argue, the USSR never really recovered) made any continuation war unlikely.

The USSR had done all it could to ensure it was not seen as the agressor in its war with Germany (that included quite restricting orders to the armed forces in summer 41 even after Germany launched its attack on the USSR).

Stalin and co were quite aware that a lost war usually meant deep trouble for whatever regime was in place.

1905: war lost against Japan = first attempted revolution

1917: extreme war fatigue against Germany = bolshevik revolution
(and coincidentally later on - just 2 years after the USSR admited its defeat in Afghanistan, it collapsed and the regime was changed).

Thus a war against the US/UK would have to be "defensive" (just as the war againt Germany had been) otherwise any significant reverse would spell the end of the regime in place.

Posted on Feb 21, 2013, 6:52:22 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 21, 2013, 6:52:52 AM PST
vivazappa says:
What if Truman had taken out "To-kay-o" first?
Would that have ended the war with one A bomb not two, or would it have just pi$$ed them off more and the war would have continued?

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 21, 2013, 7:19:06 AM PST
LoL alas, another Ramones afficionado, "punk movement in the UK to influence The Ramones? ", I would rather say it's the other way around, the US "punk" movement actually went there (reverse invasion). I really don't tend to think or it as punk but rather demented garage band "music", but it is terrific.
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