A Very Quick Look at Cold War UK Civil Defence

This post have a quick look at the United Kingdoms recent historical Civil Defence arrangements.

With the papers of the so called War Book finally coming to public eye, it really makes a sense of how serious the threat was taken.

Below are the official steps to war that the British government would have used in the case of a global emergency or a war footing.

UK Transition to War  circa 1950/80


Closure of schools, colleges and universities.


Hospitals being cleared for casualties. (probably would have causalities from theatre of engagement).


Motorways closed to civilian traffic.


Normal television and radio broadcasts suspended.


Non-essential telephone lines disconnected. (e.g 7/7 attacks on London the Mobile Phone network was shut down in Central London).


Civil rights could be suspended as the result of Parliament passing an Emergency Powers Act.


Restrictions on electricity for advertising and display. Government may order sports stadiums, theatres, cinemas, art galleries and certain premises to close.


Government controls private aircraft, ferries and other shipping. Normal railway services are suspended and trains commandeered, buses and coaches requisitioned.


Absenteeism in many companies and workplaces.


Gas, electricity and water supplies disconnected. Petrol and diesel supplies rationed for Military and Civil governmental use.


Police leave cancelled.


Press reporting restrictions are imposed, along with Postal censorship.


Fire engines and ambulances are deployed outside of towns & cities.


Borders, ports and airports are closed to the public.


Noted artworks taken into storage


” 2012 update – following a freedom of information request it appears that NAWS is no longer a key player on the Civil Defence front. “the nature of the risks we face and technological developments mean that it is no longer an indispensable part of our civil protection infrastructure and robust warnings can be delivered in other ways”. In reality this is because the TV and Radio are limited in warning ability and it is an analogue system not digital (where analogue TV is now defunct and analogue radio may be in the next 5-10 years). But … it is still part of our “civil protection infrastructure”. ( credit goes to Civil Defence today for this information)”


A few chilling videos!

Protect and Survive

TV excerpt using BBC official statements in case of an attack.




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September 26, 2013 5:00 pm

The list of steps to be taken reads like a government mandate on how to cut the budget deficit.
As for the video links, I remember watching something like this many moons ago as part of some social education course.

Chris Werb
Chris Werb
September 26, 2013 5:14 pm

We also had a fairly substantial civil defence force in existence until 1968. CD heavy rescue units were used in the response to the Aberfan disaster. Here’s a nice site about one unit. Other European countries – even Eire – kept their CD forces to the present day and I think it’s a crying shame on several levels that we gave ours up. Ironically the NATO move to flexible response in 1967 had actually made CD more rather than less relevant.


The Eire Civil Defence page has some excellent galleries showing off their capabilities.


September 26, 2013 5:21 pm
September 26, 2013 7:11 pm

Crikey it may be 30 years old now but Threads is still one of the scariest bits of TV I’ve seen. The effect on the ordinary folk when the mushroom clouds pop (45 mins in) still sends shivers down the spine.

September 26, 2013 8:15 pm

I love this stuff. SO interesting. I’ve always devoured everything I can find on it.

What would be interesting would be to model the civilian reaction to the outbreak of war in 1939 because I think the reaction would have been similar for the third one. Everyone expected London to get smashed and gassed to bits with the Army trying to hold back the panicked masses with looting and death everywhere – the complete breakdown of society within London. But I don’t believe there was the panicked flight that all the WW3 TTW scenario’s had built into them. I think people would have just carried on.

Think Defence
September 26, 2013 8:20 pm
Reply to  Phil

Factor in 24×7 news media, facebook and twitter

Not sure stay calm and carry on would apply as much today

September 26, 2013 8:24 pm

I meant back then in the Cold War.

People go mental over roadkill and “mental patient” fancy dress these days,

Bloody world, what’s it coming to.

Bomb the lot of ya!

Think Defence
September 26, 2013 8:29 pm
Reply to  Phil

Ah I see, yes, think you are right. My mum and dad would have likely unscrewed the kitchen doors and built a shelter!

Anyone remember this

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
September 26, 2013 8:35 pm

Yeah we had the comic book version.

September 26, 2013 8:36 pm

God I watched that the other day on iTunes.

People raved about it. I thought it was crap. Mostly because the creepiest thing about it was the gradual intrusion of a cataclysmic event into the normal routine of life. And I worry about that shit all the time anyway so I didn’t find it very powerful.

I liked the music though!

Threads is good – Duncan Campbells Warplan UK is pretty apparent in it.

Think Defence
September 26, 2013 8:41 pm
Reply to  Phil

I found an old copy of this in my garage the other day


Blot bang rub

September 26, 2013 8:45 pm

Phil said ” I worry about that shit all the time”

I mean this sincerely, you are a complex little soul aren’t you? Signing up to be a medic and then going to war in a Third World toilet is some coping strategy. I doff my cap to you young sir.

John Hartley
John Hartley
September 26, 2013 8:59 pm

Todays equivalent of cold war civil defence, would be how to deal with 7/7, Mumbai & now Kenya shopping mall attacks.

September 26, 2013 10:04 pm

But I don’t believe there was the panicked flight that all the WW3 TTW scenario’s had built into them. I think people would have just carried on.

That’s what 7/7 was like; no panic, no rage to speak of, quite a lot of reasonable behaviour.

Mike Kenner’s @wellbright Twitter feed regularly posts some amazing documents on the various TTW plans. One of the civil servants tapped to be part of a Python/Pebble group in the early 80s was JA Chilcot, aka Sir John of Inquiry fame. Damien McBride was on the list more recently.

September 27, 2013 1:10 am

I think Threads is still after 30 years scarily on the money when it comes to portraying the likely (and deeply harrowing) reality of a full-scale nuclear exchange. It always sends a chill down my spine to watch.

September 27, 2013 2:05 am

Once soviet buckets of sunshine started popping off the civilian population was screwed.

There were too many strategic targets on our crowded little island for anything more than an iradiated rabble to survive and that not for long. Civil defence for the uk was joke.

Less do for other countried with less targets and more space. But uk was toast. My uncle in the forces at the time Always said Dont get any ideas and hope you get killed quickly in first waive.

September 27, 2013 7:32 am

@ Chally

Actually Threads is a bit too optimistic.


As I have said a couple of times here the major conurbation to my east would have received 1 x 1 megaton device delivered by ballistic missile and 2 x 500 kiloton freefall devices. The major railway town 5 miles to my north west 500 kiloton device ground burst. As probably would the well known ammunition factory 3 miles to my west. There were two major supplies bases to my south about 15 miles away or so that would have probably received attention. As would another target of interest because of >redacted< .

September 27, 2013 8:51 am

I’d suggest the most important measures where ‘Queens Order 1’ and ‘Queens Order 2’.

September 27, 2013 8:59 am


I guess the fact that Threads leaves anyone alive at all for more than a few weeks or months makes it more optimistic than the likely reality!

As others have said and you yourself nicely illustrated our island is so densely packed with juicy targets that it’s hard to imagine much having survived a full on Soviet nuclear attack, I guess maybe small communities in the Scottish highlands may have escaped some of it? Although they would obviously then have had to completely fend for themselves and deal with stuff like huge irradiated dust/ash clouds passing their way so it wouldn’t have been a rosy existence!

September 27, 2013 9:02 am


Slightly off topic but wasn’t the BAOR only expected to slow down an Eastern Bloc offensive for 2-3 days? Long enough to try and funnel the forces facing it into a bottle neck and a nuclear strike to occur? With the BAOR itself being pretty much annihilated in the process.

September 27, 2013 11:15 am

There are 64 billion neutrinos passing through your thumbnail every second – and that’s only counting the ones coming from our local star. Sleep well!

September 27, 2013 1:00 pm

@ Chally

Take the scene in the shopping street. Everybody in that street would have been blinded. There would have been no panicked running about but lots of stumbling and clutching heads while on your knees.

I don’t have children but sister now has a 18 month old. Watching the shopping street scene now makes me feel sick as in one part a mum picks up her toddler. Too unpleasant. Let’s remember the Soviets would have nuked the non-nuclear states first.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
September 27, 2013 1:31 pm


re BAOR holding for 2-3 days.

In reality, it was expected to be for a little longer – a week or thereabouts. I recall attending a presentation (naturally classified, and not knowing in detail what is / is not still classified I won’t go into any but obvious detail). There was the most amazingly complex set of logistic interactions around REFORGER (the Yanks to the rescue), UK TA mobilisation and deployment, and similar for the Belgiques, Cloggies and even the Frogs. Road, rail, airport and ferry chaos beautifully pre-planned coordination. Of course, that was on the “no notice” scenario which was the worst case: given a week or more of notice The Europeans could have mobilised completely and held a forward line further east, waiting for the US to arrive with the strike Divisions.

Meanwhile those of us forward deployed to Germany were expected to keep the Sovs bottled up using West Germany as the field of manoeuvre and holding Denmark as a flanking threat. I suspect that we’d have been pretty chewed up, but also that the GSFG and whatever Soviet Army was further south in Czechoslovakia (I did know, but can’t recall) would themselves have ground to a halt somewhere to the east of the Ruhr and down the Frankfurt – Stuttgart autobahn.

There’s an old joke, and no doubt apocryphal. At the end of the Cold War, the NATO garrison in Berlin invited the GSFG high command to a cocktail party to celebrate the end of the threat. A Soviet General was asked, “So precisely what were your plans for attacking into Berlin?“. He replied “Very simple. Two trucks and 16 men. We would have driven around the perimeter of West Berlin putting up signs saying POW Camp every 100 metres”.

Jeremy M H
September 27, 2013 1:42 pm


I too think that NATO forces would have held out far long than most expected, at least as we moved through and pas the middle of the 1980’s. By that point NATO was starting to have a real technology advantage that would have shown up on the battlefield. The biggest problem of course would have been the rate of munitions consumption but as in most wars the problems balance out on both sides. I think most vastly overestimate the ability of the Soviets to basically drive over their own bodies to achieve a breakthrough.

Trying to push through all those anti-tank missiles, tanks in defensive positions and everything else NATO had would be insanely bloody. Ivan had a lot of tanks to throw at you but the exchange rate was going to be awful on their end and that eventually impacts moral. In that terrain with the fire control that NATO tanks had there is a huge advantage to being on the defensive and concealed.

September 27, 2013 1:53 pm

The move from APC to AFV/MICV would have dented Soviet ambitions somewhat. Basically with infantry in APCs the war would have been a re-run of WW2 despite all the West’s tech. The move to cannon and 2nd generation ATGM meant a significant increase in the Western infantry’s organic firepower. Better CC coupled with delegated widely spread leadership thanks to the corps of NCOs would mean the West would be operated well inside the Soviet OODA loop. As each year passes more and more I am wondering if it wouldn’t have been the Soviets on the run.

September 27, 2013 2:06 pm


Imagine what it would have been like by the late 90s/early 2000s with air launched stand-off missiles and artillery spraying Brilliant Anti-Tank munitions, Apaches and Comanches launching masses of MMW radar guided hellfires and the battle coordinated by JSTARs collected data.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
September 27, 2013 2:21 pm

Jeremy MH, X,

I think it would have been a widely different experience for all of us, as Germany is reasonably diverse geographically. My Regiment’s initial position was in the densely wooded Harz Mountains, right on the border.

Either the Sovs would have by-passed us to the north on the open Hanoverian plain, in which case we would I think have received orders to get into position to cover the Soviet follow on echelons and call in air on them, or the Sovs might have tried to outflank the BAOR FEBA by coming through the Harz (we had some fairly desperate plans in that eventuality. Suffice it to say, massive amounts of chain-sawing down trees to block tracks and firebreaks, lots of Rapid Cratering Kits and more C4 than you could shake a stick at, and every Troop Leader spent several weeks a year with his wagon commanders mountain biking around every trail in the Harz so that we knew it like the backs of our hands).

We even had an official CONOPS called FIWAF: Fighting in Woods and Forests. Just like normal fighting, except you can’t see much, the ambush is the preferred way to introduce yourself to OPFOR, and there’s little point in calling for airstrikes, artillery or having ATGW.

September 27, 2013 2:26 pm


Your not wrong I have been told threat of wide scale MLRS deployment had a lot to do with ending the cold war.

Soviet millitary could see itd numerical advantage going up in smoke before it evrr made contact.

Jeremy M H
September 27, 2013 2:32 pm


Yeah, I think the terrain knowledge of NATO combined with the weapons would have made things really interesting by the late 1980’s. The biggest worry would have to be Soviet Artillery (presuming things stayed conventional). NATO was bringing good counter-battery weapons online but the Soviets still had a lot to chew through.

September 27, 2013 2:41 pm

RT, let me guess, lots of practice setting up abatis? Lots of material to use. :) One thing I lament these days is a lessening of the focus on these low tech improvised barriers, some of them can still be horrifyingly effective. A 10 coil concertina wire trap can still do a very good job on armoured vehicle drive wheels. Or even the old anti-tank ditch.

Think Defence
September 27, 2013 2:47 pm
Reply to  IXION

The conventional wisdom has always been the Warsaw Pact would roll through Germany on the way to the Channel without breaking sweat but as others have said, the emergence of a range of very capable anti armour systems might have allowed an alternative ending to be written.

Then of course we get into the nuclear doctrines of the opponents, all interesting stuff

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
September 27, 2013 3:16 pm


yes, lots of that sort of thing, but practice only on military training areas. For exercises, we’d use mine tape to simulate. Also high/low wire entanglements (simulated by green string), and in theory (i.e. taught, but never practiced) 5 or so cratering kits along one side of a narrow trail and underneath quite dense canopy – more difficult to bridge with a whole side of the bridge unsupported, and also difficult to launch a bridge through the branches.

Lots and lots of trip flares and clayemores would have been used, and no doubt we could have jury-rigged some smoke grenades (white phosphorus) to fire downwards onto AFVs and anything soft-skinned from branches they would be strapped to. Only takes 28V to set them off, so a slack handful of 9V batteries would have done the trick.

I once read Alan Clark’s memoirs (Tory Minister under Maggie). He describes cancelling a project for an off-route mine because it was over-budget or something. I think I’d have loved that if it came into service, but it didn’t. Actually only the same effect as a Charlie G, but you didn’t have to have a firing crew there – it would be tripwire operated.

September 27, 2013 3:55 pm

I noted this in an earlier comment on another thread but its worth repeating I think.

Last weekend I went to look at the Tank Museum’s new Tin Shed. Obviously I also did the usual routemarch round the display halls to check everything was as it should be. As I was about to leave, the tannoy announced a talk entitled “The View from the Other Side of the Iron Curtain” would start at 3:30 and last for about 45 minutes. So I went along to see what it was about. The speaker, one of the Tank Museum’s workshop mechanics, had a noticeable accent; but it was still quite unexpected when he explained he’d been a tank commander in the German Army through the 80s – the *East* German Army. So he took us to look at some of the vehicles he knew back then – all Soviet designs of course – ending with a T72 tank just like he commanded. Quite unnerving that when he talked of ‘the enemy’ he meant plucky British soldiers and their NATO colleagues, but that aside he was really enthusiastic about ‘his’ tanks and their capabilities, and he had a good sense of humour if a little German in nature, and his talk was properly interesting. So much so that the museum threw us out while he was still explaining stuff – his 45 minute talk had run on for 1 1/2 hours non-stop, not that we’d noticed, and we’d reached closing time.

A few of the specific points made (in no particular order):

All vehicles were deliberately simple, and each carried a set of spares, and each crew were trained in basic maintenance. If the vehicle broke down the crew were expected to fix it without aid, unless it was a serious breakage in which case the use of basic truck parts through the design meant the average truck garage would have a good chance of making a repair. If the crew called for assistance from Soviet equivalent of REME but it was found that the problem was of a type they should have fixed themselves, the crew faced disciplinary action.

All vehicles were designed to cross rivers. Small ones like BRDM, BTR or BMP were amphibious and would swim over, heavy vehicles like MBT were to drive on the river bottom using snorkel air feed for engine & crew. The presenter of the talk was a T-72 commander; he had driven through rivers which he said was scary the first time but after that just another manoeuvre. The intent was to have a force that could cross rivers at almost any point without waiting for bridging to be built, and to enable them to cross away from the extant bridges that would naturally be heavily defended.

All vehicles carried collective NBC filtration so the crews could operate in shirtsleeves in contaminated areas.

All vehicles were (as far as possible) fully mechanical. Old fashioned mechanically metered diesel engines, mechanically operated transmissions etc. If electronics was necessary or an advantage it was 1950s vacuum tube (valve) technology. The reason was simple – the battle-plan as all Soviet forces knew started with salvo after salvo of nuclear warheads, big and small, and each zapped out EMP on detonation and a wave of gamma rays. Semiconductor devices fail under both of these; EMP protection and nuclear hardening at the time were iffy at best, and solid state equipment would probably not survive repeated EMP/gamma ray assault. Old fashioned valve technology has no susceptibility (except protecting capacitors from over-voltage spikes) so the Soviet kit would remain as reliable in a nuclear active environment as it was in peacetime. For things like gun-laying the gunners were taught use of graticules to cover if the basic fire control failed; all guns could be mechanically aimed & fired.

The point of mentioning this here is that the past few posts have been bigging-up the NATO high tech arsenal that faced the Iron Curtain – all of it computerized and highly reliant on solid state electronics. How much faith was placed in the electronics surviving the electromagnetic onslaught? How many processors were properly gamma-ray hardened? Just how many EMP events would each computer withstand?

It strikes me, having been in the military electronics industry in the 80s, that the green boxes were not generally as robust as purported; EMP protection was generally considered but nuclear hardening? I never saw design updates for that. So I have a mental image of ranks of very impressive looking military equipment standing impotent once the mushroom clouds started to rise. Meanwhile the old-fashioned Soviet equipment that the West constantly sniggered about would carry on working just fine as the hoards of the Red Army marched and drove westward.

Jeremy M H
September 27, 2013 4:01 pm

Except that it would be utterly irrelevant as the first detonation of a nuclear device means they are flying back at Soviet troops and concentration points and then marching East and West until everyone is dead. That may well have been their battle plan. But in that case pretty much every vehicle deployed was irrelevant to the discussion and a huge waste of money.

September 27, 2013 4:02 pm

@TD: I’m sure the Warsaw Pact would have had anything but an easy time of it. But because we lacked both the capability and desire to punch back without nuclear release, we would have either ended up in a slugfest which we would have lost, or more likely just started escalating: assuming we had the stomach for it. Either way, effectively it would have been a loss :-(

September 27, 2013 4:24 pm

Jeremy – I get the general picture. But even in flight, presumably all our high tech weaponry still required their solid-state brains to control them? If the weaponry is rendered brain-dead before arrival, what confidence the intended effect would actually have completed?

As an aside, and this too has been covered in other posts, it is a constant concern that all our modern military equipment is wildly over-dependent on electronics; especially the basic stuff where use of civil technology is seen as a cost effective approach. For example, I can’t find a current diesel engine that has mechanical metering – Euro eco-law has banned them all – now they each come with a complicated, proprietary, non-EMP/Nuclear protected ECU. Mechanical transmissions all have soft electronic controllers. Almost every bit of civilian technology used in military equipment would be at severe risk of shutdown at the first EMP event, just because the modern way is to fit programmable controllers to every single thing whether necessary or not.

I can’t help thinking post Cold War the effects of a nuclear strike have been quietly ignored, an expense we no longer need to cover. A little short-sighted, perhaps.

September 27, 2013 4:47 pm

I don’t think the Warsaw pact would have necessarily won a slugfest if it came to that, they would have needed a quick victory or they would have had to start to worry about their allies who probably were not as keen to die for them.

I remember talking to the Polish lads when we went over to Poland for the first time and they pretty much said that as soon as NATO had halted the advance ( which they were confident that NATO would have ) their weapons would have been turned on the Russians, the Warsaw Pact after all was formed by nations that were more coerced conquered territories than volunteers.

But that still m

September 27, 2013 5:10 pm

Sorry was going to go on to say that, if a slugfest did begin I think it would have turned into a tactical nuke exchange and then all that would have come via escalation that would have followed.

September 27, 2013 5:47 pm

The reality was the Soviet Union felt very threatened indeed. Someone once said that a good way to understand the Soviets was to look at the world from inside the USSR and look out – they were surrounded by enemies including a number with form.

So the reality was a war would have been a war of national survival, a war of last resort when it was all going tits up for them. And you don’t launch a war of national survival unless it really, really is curtains if you don’t.

With nothing to lose they’d have committed to the war in totality – which means nuclear weapons from the get go – a full on onslaught to try and dampen down the US and NATO nukes as far as possible.

The Soviets genuinely believed we were the bad bastards. And of course they were completely right. But being logical thinkers they drew the obvious conclusion – if we were the enemy, and we considered them the enemy – at some point if we are not strong – they will strike.

So conventional warfare alone on the Central Front was not going to happen. They were never going to launch a war of conquest, only a war of defence and if things were dropping that far in the pot then it was going to be a balls out affair from the start.

Which is why what Reagan did was very, very risky. And probably completely unnecessary.

We mirror imaged a western way of war onto them, they mirror imaged their theoretical extremes of war onto us. I don’t think a limited war would have occurred to them as a potential reality. When you go to war, you go to war.

September 27, 2013 7:03 pm

The thing that did spook the Soviets was our lack of warstocks. They spent a lot of intelligence effort looking for our vast stockpiles of shells and other consumables. As we know there wasn’t much as governments that have free market economies don’t do vast stocks of “stuff”. And we would have pressed the button.

Um perhaps we should have banned the button……….? :)

dave haine
dave haine
September 27, 2013 9:43 pm

All the things i’ve ever read about the soviets, including the disinformation, convinces me the soviets have a very different war philosophy to us… There is no such thing as a limited war, and staff officers will do their sleeping after the war.

I also get the impression that the soviet high command, had no absolutely no illusions at all about their allies, thats why every warpac front or group of forces contained a core of soviet units, which were invariably key components. And of course, all the commanders of fronts were Soviet. I also think as phil does, that they would have gone nuclear fairly early.

I reckon it’d gone something like this:

Russian harvest fails for the second year running. China cancels joint exercises with Soviet Union citing operational difficulties.

-21 days: NATO report increased launches from Baikonur. Soviet fleets move out. NATO calls emergency session,

-14 days: NATO mobilises reserves. ‘Reforger’ programme enacted. UK enacts ‘White Witch’. Soviet Union mobilises reserves. Warpac troops move towards IGB (Inner German Border) and other forward positions.

-7 days: Diplomacy given a chance, disruption/ interference events all over Europe. Eastern european nationals interned. Governments enact emergency powers, NATO airforces disperse, nuclear weapons unlocked, RAF Harrier force disappears. swedish forces mobilise, airforces disperse. Swiss airforces dissappear, all NATO-aligned forces mobilise. All nuclear power stations shut down and made safe.

-12hrs: electricity communications networks disruptions, satellites from both sides attacked.

just after twilight, NATO+aligned countries Airfields, ports and communications attacked from the air. Post Office Tower brought down in explosion. Warpac Lead elements encounter first NATO forces

Just after midnight, Warpac main forces encounter NATO main forces. NATO Strike aircraft carry-out airstrikes against communications and command structures.

Dawn: British 1st armoured division ceases to exist, NATO air power begin main effort against Warpac front line. HMS Ark Royal sunk in mass attack against NATO ships in North Atlantic. Russian SSGN sunk by HMS Conquerer. USS Forrestrial out of action.

+1 day: NATO forces regrouping on defensive line 40km within west germany. German 2nd Infantry division ceases to exist, US 1st Armoured division ceases to exist.

+2 day: NATO forces regrouping on defensive line 80km within west germany. British 7th armoured division ceases to exist. Canadian 3rd infantry division ceases to exist, French 5th armoured Division ceases to exist. Soviet paratroop drop on geneva destroyed by swiss forces. GSFG losses at 60% estimated, RAF germany Losses @ 50%.

+3 day: Northern Front stopped by Scandinavian forces, GSFG losses@ 75%, polish and east german forces start to fall away.

+4 day: NATO forces begin counter offensive. French and italian forces halt warpac southern front. HMS Conquerer sinks another soviet SSGN. RAF Buccaneers in all out effort sink 30% of soviet northern fleet in mass attack co-ordinated by RAF Nimrods, losing 30% of aircraft.

+5 day NATO continue advance

+6 day British 4th armoured division cross IGB, First NATO unit to enter east Germany: Kings Royal hussars.

+7 day Polish army lays down arms, east german army lays down arms, Soviet nuclear strike on Hanover. NATO well established 60 km inside East Germany. US tomahawk strike on Furstenburg, Dresden, Jena and Halle.

+8 day USSR seeks ceasefire through UN.

September 27, 2013 10:42 pm

DH – look forward to the novel once published.

I was told once by a retired Lt.Col. from one of the tank equipped regiments (can’t recall which) that it was known and believed that the opening shots of hostilities between Soviet & NATO forces would have been nuclear. No messing about; straight for the jugular. This gem imparted after a day or so running through a ‘conventional’ Soviet invasion over the Weser and the likely NATO defence strategies that would counter the advance – “Of course in reality there wouldn’t have been NATO forces left to counter any advance because the first Soviet action would have been a barrage of nuclear missiles that would have destroyed them.” I remember even now the shock I felt then at the thought of such a thing, and how glad I was that I grew up unaware of the brutal speed that everything I knew could have been wiped out, had the Cold War gone hot.

This ‘nukes first’ strategy was also described by the ex-DDR T72 commander who gave the talk at the Tank Museum. His words when describing the EMP and NBC protection measures in the Soviet vehicles were “We all knew that war between NATO and the Soviet forces would start with nuclear weapons.”

The daft thing is, both this T72 commander and the crew of the Sovremenny class destroyer that visited the first IFOS in Portsmouth were perfectly reasonable affable people who you’d happily socialise with in a pub – they weren’t reptiles, they didn’t act like automata, they were not baby-eating monsters. Just ordinary folk who happened to be on the ‘other side’. One of the audience for the talk at the Tank Museum asked the speaker whether he was aware as one of the military on the Soviet side that he was trained and deployed to destroy the known world and that that was hideously wrong. “I was a soldier. I was ready to do what I could to protect my country and my family. It was as simple as that.”

September 27, 2013 10:53 pm


Re hidiously wrong.

Was he?

Most of the older ex soviet soldiers i have met. Were committed to socialist ideals. When challanged one said to me (and i paraphrase).

“We were the good guys fighting for the oppressed workers and peseants against the capitalist oppressors. Of course we knew our leadership was corrupt and evil but so was yours…”

He was convinced during his time in the army that there would be a war and that it would go at least tacticly nuclear.

September 27, 2013 11:11 pm

Thought this was relevant ?

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
September 27, 2013 11:20 pm

@ Dave Haine,

a couple of points to make your little vignette a touch more accurate (the publisher will want some fact checking).

No such thing in the Cold War as 7th Armoured Division. 7 Brigade yes, Division no.

I’m not sure if either side had an anti-satellite capability in the Cold War. They might have done, but it seems to be something that only in the last 10 years have the US got close to with trials, at least on public information.

The French and Italians defeating the Warsaw Pact southern flank seems a bit hopeful.

Glad that you let 4th Division cross the IGB first of all. :) Their fine divisional reconnaissance regiment (if still alive) would have been leading the way during the advance and then pursuit phases. Anyway, the King’s Royal Hussars couldn’t cross over the IGB. Firstly, they weren’t in existence during the Cold War (14/20H and RH were, however***), and secondly knowing those muppets they’d have been lost.


*** In the mid 80s – mid 90s, 14/20H were in 3 Div, and RH in 1 Div.

dave haine
dave haine
September 28, 2013 1:42 am

@all- glad you like it!

@phil- 7armoured off the top of my head- 2nd infantry division better?. The satellite thing was based on a discussion i had with a Delta airlines Ops Bloke a few years ago, over a beer, of course. (Before civvy life he’d worked in USAF Space Command). He told me that his guv’nors reckoned that the Soviets could generate a space launch every three days*, and had enough payloads to continue for three weeks at that rate. He also said the Russians had satellites that were just guidance systems, fuel tanks and thrusters…you can only come to one conclusion, can’t you.

*The US generation rate was on every two weeks, and they had five spare intel sats, and two spare launchers, at any one time.

I have to say if my memory serves, wasn’t the Warpac southern Front largely composed of bulgarian, hungarian and romanian troops, with the odd stiffening from russian units? Not quite soviet Guards units. In my head i had the Alps as being the stopping point, the italians did quite well during the first world war in the alps as i recall. With the swiss to pivot on (and having met a few swiss troops- i’m certain they would have won).

Apologies about using post amalgamation unit- mind you, i only said they were first across the IGB- i didn’t say they’d meant to be. Were they the ones that were reputed to have given their position as “from were you are- slightly to the right of the moon”?

September 28, 2013 7:07 am

@dave haine, @RT: how dare you insinuate the 14/20 KH would have been lost! Far more likely they were in search of better Gasthouses that were available in Hohne :-)

September 28, 2013 7:57 am

I’m aware of the Brit general informally visiting the Swiss in the early 80s and asking them what their 10 divisions would do if WP forces were streaming across S Germany. IIRC he got a smile and a wink.

The real issue in Germany is whether invasion would be ‘no notice’ (NATO Alert States Orange and Red, and what Ex Active Edge was about) or via the build up approach (NATO States MV, SA and GA). These all had associated measures, eg when to outload ammo, when to mobilise, QO 1 and 2 in UK’s case, various emergency regulations in Germany, and finally move to battle positions and evac of civilians from expected battle areas.

NATO nuclear release was not automatic, it would probably start Selective, with specific requests being initiated in accordance with the NWRP (classified CTSA) . However, the number of US owned weapons available to 1 (BR) Corps in unit PNL, SHA and WHA was substantial, probably considerably more that the non-strategic stocks of RN and RAF combined, although the KTage was probably less, although this is unclear because Lance was ‘dial-a-yield’ and the original 8 inch ‘build-a-yield’, IIRC MADM was also a selectable yield.

I always thought and still do re China, that authoritarian one party regimes are highly unlike to initiate major war unless they really thought with total certainty they were about to be attacked. The reason being that these regimes fear uncertainty above all and there is nothing more uncertain than the outcome of war and hence regime survival. If NATO had deployed to battle positions before a WP attack then the WP would probably have been defeated (and for the underinformed post 1960s river lines did not figure highly in UK plans). A WP standing start attack would be much more interesting, but very difficult for WP to achieve.

September 28, 2013 8:25 am

much like fantasy fleets, fantasy cold war is hard to predict a result.
for example how the use of nuclear weapons will affect the conventional war. which operations would be prioritised strategic or tactical? it is very hard to predict what would have happened. it also depends on which date you pick as the equipment changes are quite large?

September 28, 2013 8:50 am


You’re mixing up your miserly pedants. RT wrote the critique! This miserly pedant said awt!

John Gough
September 28, 2013 1:45 pm

When I was at university in the 80’s I attended a pre RCB and during the evening was chatting to a West German army officer in the mess. I asked him what would happen if the Soviets attacked, he said the BAOR would be destroyed in a glorious battle, the French would retreat to protect France and the US wouldn’t be mobilised in time. I asked him what about the West German army and he said ‘zey would slowly move forward to reunify ze fatherland’…

September 28, 2013 4:42 pm

I think Threads over-played the nuclear-winter and EMP, but still harrowing.

A rather interesting take on an alternative timeline, if anyone has time to kill and wants to read some fiction re WW3;


September 28, 2013 4:46 pm

The thing that annoys me about Threads is that everyone is so miserable after the nuclear war. Believe it or not I think it’s unrealistic. People adapt and a few years after a holocaust after things had settled down a bit I’d imagine whoever was left would do their best to cheer themselves up with some music and some stories.

dave haine
dave haine
September 28, 2013 5:18 pm

@ Phil- I most humbly beg your most diffident pardon for placing RT’s miserly words at your mighty and august door. Please forgive me and I most earnestly undertake to never, ever do it again…unless i’m taking the p**s in some way.

@ RT- I most humbly beg your most diffident pardon for attributing your august and illuminating words to a miserly pedant like Phil. Please forgive me and I most earnestly undertake to never, ever do it again…unless I’m taking the p**s in some way.

Hee hee!

September 28, 2013 5:40 pm

Does any one think that the Warsaw Pact may have disintegrated into infighting when they started to be put under pressure ?
They hated each other it was a miracle the cold war lasted so long.
It is surprising that the break up only resulted in one civil war.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
September 28, 2013 6:04 pm

@ Dave Haine,

that’s quite alright, although if it occurs again it’ll be either winter or summer punishment. Winter punishment involves 12 coloured felt markers and a squared school exercise book. Put a dot of each colour in each square, carry on until the page is filled up. Summer is simpler: cut a square metre of the lawn with a pair of nail scissors. Never did me any harm as a boy, but lessons were rapidly learned. My little darlings have between them accumulated 2 summer and one winter punishments@@@, and show no signs at all of wanting to perform the error again.

On the other hand, the Argyll and Bolton Wanderers used to get their defaulters to perform pinbull*** (the old man was an Argyll – did pinbull as a national serviceman and then dished it out a few years later as Adjutant). That really does reinforce a message. ;)

*** Take one scrotty old tin helmet, spray paint any colour you like, then you have 24 hours to scrape off the paint with a standard pin while kicking your heels in the Regimental Jail. Utterly pointless, and quite a challenge in 24 hours.

@@@ Total bloody lightweights. I think I did that each year from 8 to about 15. Challenged the old man to a boxing match as well when I was full of teenage hormones, and he fair kicked my arse.

September 28, 2013 6:57 pm

@Mr. Trousers

Re Pinbull, the things the Army invented for defaulters to do could fill a book. At one barracks I was at there were some pipes that ran exposed through the cell corridor of the guard room. In winter, when the Regimental Gestapo didn’t like to be outside more than necessary, a prisoner would be allocated a pipe or a stretch of pipe (depending how full the cells were) and required to paint it to a smooth, high-gloss finish. Then when that was done to the Provo Sgt’s satisfaction the prisoner then had to scrape off the paint and polish said pipe to an immaculate shine. On a 28 day sentence one could go through the whole process two or three times – soul destroying but it did discouraged repeat offenders.

Mind you defaulters in my day had it easy compared to what went on in the old glasshouses. My step-father made a pillock of himself in 1941 and did three months in the military prison at Heliopolis, site of the infamous Hill Drill, and was very, very law abiding for the rest of his life.

dave haine
dave haine
September 28, 2013 7:05 pm

Ha! Hours BA (Breathing Apparatus) drill…dad was a fireman, see…(he had the old stuff, based on the davis escape gear) I had to crawl about the house in this stuff until i was thirteen, then it was up and down ladders in this gear. Double extension if i was normal bad, triple if really bad. He said it served me right for being an air cadet, rather than ACF…

dave haine
dave haine
September 28, 2013 7:17 pm

As an aside, I still hold my ATC squadron record for ‘dildo’ jumps. 68 in one evening…

September 28, 2013 7:44 pm

@ david haine re jump record

I often wondered what went on during ATC parades now I know……

Chris Werb
Chris Werb
September 29, 2013 1:31 am

One effect of nuclear war that’s seldom discussed is the way normal every day survivors invariably get themselves mohican haircuts and walk around in punk rocker/biker/bondage outfits for years after nuclear exchange.

PS: On a more serious note, the cancelled british off-route mine was the LAWMINE. We actually had a French off route mine in service prior to that that was basically a huge shaped charge on a directional stand. The Americans had one that fired the old 3.5″ anti tank rocket as used in the M20 rocket launcher that preceded the Carl Gustav M2 (L14A1) in British service. I think they called it the M28.

September 29, 2013 5:35 am

@ Challenger

“Scottish highlands may have escaped some of it? ”

I always thought the only places you might have been able to survive in the UK where the Isle’s of Scilly and the Western Isles in Scotland but only if you got lucky with the wind direction staying from the SW for at least a few weeks after the attack.

Threads still scare’s the s**t out of me. When I was younger it almost seemed like someone hand nuked Jonny Briggs. Just had to hope that Ed the duck and the BBC broom cupboard survived. (as long as it was Philippa Foster and not Andy Peters) :-)

September 29, 2013 12:44 pm

What is never dealt with in all the scenarios is starvation which would inevitably follow an all out attack on the UK.

Irradiated water/ food would soon kill off all the ones dysentery typhus and cholera did not.

Imagine ANY UK major city without water and sewage functioning.

Imagine no fuel for modern agriculture – even for those bits that you could farm.

Cannibalism would have broken out in those places ‘lucky enough’ to survive.

Remember Jasper carrot reading to his audience from a 1960’s civil defence leaflet and rightly ripping into it.

The classic line from the leaflet was

‘In a forest fire the need is to protect the big trees and not the brushwood….

He then looked at the audience and said “Guess who the brushwood is…… I’m Looking at it!”

A fully resourced Medieval England could support maybe 6 million people who knew what they were doing with subsistence agriculture and rough living, in settled communities.

As one poster has already said – take a map of the UK and imaging half megaton devices dropped on all the strategic targets. I don’t give much for the Highlands chances with Holey Loch, Doonreay, Edinburgh Glasgow Stirling. That missile testing range in the Orkneys. both ends of the Caledonian canal etc get half a meg each at least.

Followed by a bit of rainfall to make sure all the sheep glow in the dark.

September 29, 2013 7:48 pm

I guess It puts a whole new meaning to the phrase scorched earth.
But the dangerous radiation has a short half life so it will be safe to live in fast enough.
Then you can rebuild like they have in japan. it is a very different after effect with a nuclear blast to a reactor melt down. far less on the long acting radio active particles.

September 29, 2013 9:08 pm

as – ref shorter half-life – glad to hear it, although everything is relative. Post Chernobyl going pop, the ‘Alienation Zone’ around the reactor site and the village of Prip’yat has been declared out of bounds for the foreseeable future: “Ukrainian officials estimate the area will not be safe for human life again for another 20,000 years.” So the use of a shorter half-life isotope is good – land might be habitable within a millennia, if we’re fortunate.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
September 29, 2013 10:58 pm

– Not entirely sure, but I believe the Chernobyl No-Go Zone is being rapidly re-occupied by large mammals – including really big dangerous things like wild boar and even wolves – I have no idea what the significance of that is in respect of the received scientific wisdom on nuclear contamination – answers on a postcard please?

Clearly what it does mean is that the animals in question can’t read big warning signs in Russian with skulls and crossbones all over them, or that they prefer radiation to human company..!

A thoughtful Gloomy

September 30, 2013 6:38 am

Gloomy, all it means is that in the future, wild boars and wolves there are going to be in the market for Viagra. :) Not that it helps genetic based sterility. Or cancer rates. Radiation can be a long term invisible killer.

September 30, 2013 7:47 am

I suppose if this sort of accident had happened in a western country like UK with all our eco-sensitivities, we would have fenced the area off to protect the nice fluffy animals – a fence several hundred miles long costs lots to install and maintain, obviously more than the Ukrainians wanted to afford. But wildlife being what it is – opportunistic – an area of wilderness in an otherwise human dominated environment must look pretty good. I suspect these bigger mammals are roundly persecuted if they stray into contact with us humans. Indeed, I heard of one perfectly affable gent who lives on the edge of the Forest of Dean who has been so wound up by the re-introduced wild boar repeatedly ploughing his manicured oft-relaid lawn up looking for roots to eat that he is ready to defend his turf with a shotgun.

Animals aren’t dumb. They learn what they can get away with and what they can’t. In many cases we the humans bring their unwelcome impacts upon ourselves by giving the animals the wrong impression. A case in point as an example: Once a year I return to a farm up where I used to live, both to pay a bit of rent and to catch up on the year’s news on the farming front. One year the conversation turned to the foxhunting ban. Bear in mind this farmer is no toff with stable and kennel, he has a modest farm on which pigs are raised. But he sees rural life with a farmer’s eye. Foxes to him are not the enemy; they can be a pest and are best tolerated at a distance but he has no issue with them trotting over his fields in the hunt for rabbit or pigeon, that’s what they’ve done for centuries. But since the ban on hunting, he has noticed they are not as wary of people as they were before – because they are no longer chased by men using baying packs of hounds and snorting horses, the fox has changed its perception of risk in coming close to humans (in rural areas). The fox then is becoming more of a pest, to the point that now some rural folk take a shot at then with 12 bore or air-rifle, often wounding the animal but not killing it. The farmer told of one regular fox that used his field as a run suddenly came through with a pronounced limp and over three or four weeks became dishevelled and gaunt and mangy as both infection and hunger because it could no longer hunt effectively. As the farmer saw it using a pack of dogs to hunt the fox – another form of dog – would a) have been entirely understandable to the fox, b) would only have caught up with the elderly or infirm fox, and c) having caught up with the fox the end would be swift and final. Winging a fox so it couldn’t look after itself gave it a long and unpleasant death. The movement to banning the hunts had at least as much to do with kicking the toff as it did with protecting fluffy animals. Since the ban, I haven’t seen anyone worrying about the wellbeing of foxes. No-one upset that they are being shot at to try and keep them away from lambs or foul. Indeed, for the most part the only news on the fox front is that people are complaining they are becoming a nuisance; a danger to children; a scourge on the streets after dark. “Something must be done!” we will hear them say. Well, oh best beloved, you brought this scourge upon yourselves. The pack has learned it has little to fear from people so why should it avoid us?

So the same happened in Prip’yat. The nasty humans went away so its a paradise for the four-legged. All that land for themselves. Except of course that we humans are killing them still, just very slowly and quietly.

September 30, 2013 9:16 am

Ah, the Mutant Wolves of Chernobyl. I’ll split the film rights with everyone, right?

September 30, 2013 9:49 am

If it’s a musical, would the wolves be the soprano section?

September 30, 2013 4:10 pm

I recall reading somewhere that the Soviets believed the west would go Nuclear early, Based on the point made earlier that nobody in the west had vast war stocks of munitions, this lead the Soviets to conclude NATO wasn’t serious about conventional defence. Obviously the short sightedness and behaviour of a typical western Government didn’t occur to them.

The other report I recall was that any Idea of a Soviet offensive died a death in 1984 after Chernobyl when it was realised how ineffective a lot of NBC kit was.
This was part of a document regarding Soviet war plans an awful lot which considered kicking off with a Nuke along the IGB and accepting something like 20% friendly casualties in the process. Chernobyl revised the figures upwards to an unacceptable level.

I apologise its a document I read in the early 90s so I cant source or cite nor really be sure of its accuracy.

Deja Vu
Deja Vu
October 1, 2013 5:23 am

Some random thoughts on the Earlier comments.

There was the Yank so terrified of the prospects of a nuclear exchange he moved his family to ….West Falkland. In 1981.

On Ex Lionheart 1984 the deployment plan got us to our war location! But in the fog of war?

My feeling was that if the Warsaw Pact planned a surprise attack, Wednesday afternoon would have been a good time.

Those Polish lorries with a spetznatz co-driver scouting his patrol’s area of operations. The one million plus Gastarbeiter expected to clog the motorways as they filled the second hand Mercedes with family and possessions and headed home.

If the Soviets had a deliberate attack planned I fully expected an abortive mobilisation, that is the Soviets do enough to get NATO to mobilise and then return to barracks, NATO demobilises, it costs a fortune, QM departments have a horrendous time squaring the accounts. Then when intelligence indicates the WP is on the move UK governments are reluctant to implement the War Book measures again. It is what the Egyptians did in ’73 and was effective.

We drew our pre-stocked unit equipment for Lionheart. Anything remotely specific to our war role was represented by a deficiency chit, common user items dating from WWII were however there in abundance.

And finally the training film that stated that the price the Germans had to pay for starting the Second World War was to have the third fought in Germany. I always liked that.