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"World War III 1985: The 30 Day War?" Topic

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Tgunner24 Dec 2017 6:40 p.m. PST

I've heard it said that WWIII with NATO fighting the Warsaw Pact would have been a 30 day war. That it would have either gone nuclear or the armies would have ground to a halt 30 days after the war broke out.

Barring nukes, I have to wonder about that.

Everyone thought that WWI would have ended "before the leaves fell" or at least by Christmas. But that wasn't the case.

WWI petered out by December 1914 as both sides in the west were spent. Their armies were worn out and their supplies were exhausted. As the war in the West sputtered along as both sides re equipped, raised new forces, and rested.

As 1914 turned into 1915 the war dragged on as both the Allies and Central Powers were able to carry out limited offenses against each other. By 1916, massive offensives, like Verdun and the Somme, became possible as industries came online and waves of fresh trainees arrived at the front.

Twilight 2000 envisioned this as WWIII turned into a years long affair that was still sputtering on by the year 2000.

Could this be the case in 1985? Could the war gone on longer as both sides regrouped and raised new forces? Or was Tom Clancy and John Hackett correct when the supposed that "the next war in Europe" had only a very limited shelf life?

paulgenna24 Dec 2017 6:58 p.m. PST

Yes, I could see it lasting more than 30 days but NATO would have been pressed to use nukes by then if they were pushed back enough. The USSR had the advantage on numbers and stockpiles of equipment but if NATO could have held them in areas then I could see it lasting more than 30 days.

Personal logo The Nigerian Lead Minister Supporting Member of TMP24 Dec 2017 7:01 p.m. PST

I recall a few official wargames we ran back in the service, at about 30 days everyone is completely out of munitions and the war grinds down. Modern war uses up ammo, weapons systems and manpower at a fantastic rate.

28mm Fanatik24 Dec 2017 7:38 p.m. PST

The speed and lethality of modern weapons would suggest that the war would be won or lost in a short period of time. WWIII would be an all-out affair, not a "limited" and controlled war of attrition.

Timbo W25 Dec 2017 2:51 a.m. PST

Maybe if the soviets had "won" and NATO retreated to uk?

cosmicbank25 Dec 2017 4:20 a.m. PST

I always thought it would go Nuke fast.

Personal logo Herkybird Supporting Member of TMP25 Dec 2017 6:11 a.m. PST

It was this very uncertainty that (thankfully) kept the peace in Europe.


Phil Hall25 Dec 2017 6:51 a.m. PST

I recall reading that the Soviets planned to use nukes from the very beginning of the war. The NATO belief was that the war MIGHT turn nuclear so it would seem that NATO would suffer a surprise nuke attack at the get-go. The war might not last a day.

Legion 425 Dec 2017 10:03 a.m. PST

Modern war uses up ammo, weapons systems and manpower at a fantastic rate.
If WMDs were not used, it would be a matter of, IMO, "treasure used up faster than "blood" … Modern conventional warfare just costs too much $$$$/money

RudyNelson25 Dec 2017 3:57 p.m. PST

Back in the 1980s, I worked logistics and both Divisional and Corps staff. Reinforcing logistics had material arriving mostly between the 31 to 60 day time frame. This is even with the US policy of pre-positioned supply and equipment dumps.
The key will be whether there is a pre-combat build up or a west turn move by Warsaw Pact units during a planned maneuver.
The transfer projected timeline included forcing civilian planes into service for transferring troops. Equipment was a major delay. In 1979, instead of using pre-positioned equipment, our brigade, 2nd Brigade 1st Cavalry, we shipped the vehicles and Conexes of suppliesmost arrived in 45 days but at least one ship arrived 54 days later. There was also another five day delay as every battery was dead as a doornail due to so long at sea.

So no the war will not be over in 30 days since the USA army will not be deployed within that time frame.
I have seen the numbers back then, a big planning factor was the number of planes and ships expected to be sunk or shot down during transit. Upper estimates were no less than crippling for some units. To say the least under strength and ad how units were expected.

Cacique Caribe Inactive Member25 Dec 2017 3:57 p.m. PST

I always thought 30 minutes, tops. :)

YouTube link


lincolnlog26 Dec 2017 2:28 a.m. PST

The Soviets wouldn't have crossed the border for giggles. Therefore the use of WMDs become counter productive. If you destroy the area you are trying to obtain, then why are you trying to obtain it? I was under the impression that the most likely objective would the Ruhr Industrial basin.

So, I think before you can factor in the probability of WMD use, you have to know the situation that led to armed conflict in the first place. One would like to believe that cooler heads and sanity would have won out over nationalistic ambitions. Being the winner of WWIII if there is no world left is a broken trophy.

Even the US, using tactical nukes in West Germany, other than escalation, there is also the issue of long lasting contamination. Same with persistent chemical agents, I'm positive non-persistent agents would have been used prolifically by the Soviets.

I do believe a conventional WWIII was possible. The threat of MAD as a relentless referee. And you know nuclear forces would be on alert for the duration.

Also, don't forget the US had Reforger equipment in POMCUS sites in Cetral Europe. Equipment being shipped from the states would not be used by any units of the 3rd, 5th or 7th Corps. The troops would be flown to France and Germany and bused to their pre-positioned equipment sets. 5th and 7th Corps were already 75% on station. In the 7th Corps we would've just needed the 2 stateside brigades from the 1st Infantry Division(mech). So the equipment sitting on ships, would have arrived 4 or 5 weeks later. Maybe the war would have been over by then and maybe not. Maybe your National Guard units get that equipment.

Legion 426 Dec 2017 6:50 a.m. PST

POMCUS would have certainly made a difference … but I'm sure many of those sites were targeted by some of the WP air assets, etc. Of course those location, like other "critical"/key US/NATO sites, positions, assets, etc. would be very closely guard by ADA/AAA. Plus ground units to stop a Skorzeny at the Bulge and 5th Columnists type attacks.

But I'm sure the whole WWIII staying conventional would still be a bloody and possibly a "short" event. But if one runs out of ammo, etc., rifles, etc., can always be used as clubs, etc. Which could happen after the use of WMDs as well … Einstein said something about WMDs and WWIII, and the next war being fought with sticks & stones, etc., …

lincolnlog26 Dec 2017 10:50 p.m. PST

Hopefully, our intel community would have been on the ball, and the POMCUS sites would have been cleared 2 weeks before hostilities began.

mckrok27 Dec 2017 7:55 a.m. PST

In 1985, I was a young American Soldier in Germany serving in a nuclear capable artillery unit (8") mostly working with the nukes. Like everyone else, I can only speculate how things would have played out, but I am absolutely certain it would have been very ugly and am grateful the conflict never happened.


Legion 427 Dec 2017 7:59 a.m. PST

Hopefully, our intel community would have been on the ball
Yes, that is very true, but as we know, sometimes Intel is not always correct, sadly. History is full of that type of thing. E.g. The Germans surprised the Allies in their offensive in the winter of '44. And the Chinese having a million man force that infiltrated across the Yalu in the winter of '50.

I am absolutely certain it would have been very ugly and am grateful the conflict never happened.
Amen to that …

ScottS27 Dec 2017 8:48 a.m. PST

I recall a few official wargames we ran back in the service, at about 30 days everyone is completely out of munitions and the war grinds down.

Then what? I don't think everyone would have just stopped fighting…

Cacique Caribe Inactive Member27 Dec 2017 9:08 a.m. PST

Is that the point when the nukes would be dropped, perhaps?

I know there are many people who came later that say there was never a Cold War sense of doom among the population. Well, I can tell you that in every US locationI lived or visited in my youth, except for the Caribbean (PR, USVI), the smart/informed kids all had that sense of doom. That sooner or later there would be some sort of nuclear exchange.

Either that or I just attracted a lot of smart but depressed people. :)



Legion 427 Dec 2017 4:22 p.m. PST

I don't think everyone would have just stopped fighting…
Probably not, as noted, there is always a lot of sticks & stones around …

Eumerin Inactive Member27 Dec 2017 9:56 p.m. PST

Then what? I don't think everyone would have just stopped fighting…

The lines would have stabilized, and both sides likely would have dug in until they could bring up fresh supplies.

Of course, when that might have been would be anyone's guess. Someone over at the BF forums asserted that there weren't enough Dragon missiles in the total US inventory to justify any one individual being able to use the weapon in more than one battle. A platoon would use up their missiles in their first battle, and any resupplies would be battlefield salvage. I don't know if things were really that bad. But it does put an interesting perspective on things.

Legion 428 Dec 2017 7:21 a.m. PST

As I said, sticks and stones are always available, wink

Tgunner28 Dec 2017 10:39 a.m. PST

I barely get to use the Dragon. It's so short ranged and immobile… given my limited experience with them I would run out of main gun rounds and TOW missiles before I would run short of Dragons! Ditto for M72 LAWs.

Legion 428 Dec 2017 1:08 p.m. PST

We talked about Dragons on this thread too. TMP link

Every Squad had one Tracker. The missile is expendable, once fired the tube is discarded/destroyed. And the Tracker mounted on another missile. And it can be mounted on the M113 or man packed and fire from either. Range = 1000m.

IMO a lot of ammo of all types would probably be used up in the first 30 day or so. Whoever can resupply first could certainly have the "edge" … And that does not only include just ammo, but fuel/POL, spare parts, Med supplies, water, food, etc.

lincolnlog28 Dec 2017 11:40 p.m. PST

Before Javelin went into service, they produced an Improved Dragon with 1500 meter range. 10 seconds flight time to 1000 meters, 15 seconds to 1500, a lot of time to hold that tracker steady and for the enemy vehicle to react.

Legion 429 Dec 2017 8:01 a.m. PST

I did not know that, thanks ! thumbs up If I understand it correctly the Javelin is still a better weapon. It's max range is 1500m ? We just gave a bunch of Javelins to the Ukraine BTW …

28mm Fanatik29 Dec 2017 9:27 a.m. PST

Because the Dragon is wire-guided and rather slow, it leaves the firer vulnerable. Not a popular portable AT weapon I'm afraid.

Legion 429 Dec 2017 2:19 p.m. PST

Yes, you can see the missile in flight. We were not real "happy" with it for a number of reasons. But it was again, about being better than nothing. We talk more about the M47 Dragon on that thread I posted above …

Tac Error01 Jan 2018 4:45 p.m. PST

I'll throw in a a comment from the Soviet perspective. During the 1980s, the Soviets believed that a fully-prepared NATO defense in Germany, with all units fully deployed in their defensive positions, and with significant operational reserves (think the U.S. III Corps in the NORTHAG area fully prepared to act as the army group reserve) would present a considerable obstacle against generating the tempo needed to army and front-level maneuver in short order (thus, it would only come after a prolonged attritional engagement), and NATO would have excellent nuclear targets if they decided to escalate. They believed that 30 days was the approximate time that it took for NATO to deploy to full readiness in Central Europe.

Hence lies the importance that the Soviets achieve surprise under any offensive war scenario. They had to gain a time jump over NATO in mobilizing forces. Several Soviet subject matter specials like Charles Dick and Chris Donnelly at the old Soviet Studies Research Centre at RMA Sandhurst believed that the Soviets would only attack if they achieved a significant level of surprise.

lincolnlog02 Jan 2018 6:15 a.m. PST


I believe the max range of Javelin is 2000 meters.

lincolnlog02 Jan 2018 6:22 a.m. PST

@TAC Error

With modern satellite imagery, Sig-Int, Hum-Int (especially defections), etc, surprise was not probable. Both sides gathered a lot of intel just from the Military Laison Missions in East and West Germany. We always watched for those SMLM license plates when convoying and in the field.

Legion 402 Jan 2018 8:15 a.m. PST

Thanks lincolnlog ! We were just getting the AT4 a year or 2 before I ETS'd … old fart 2000m is a very good improvement over 1000 or 1500m. And from what I understand the Javelin is much better than the M47 and AT4 …

Tac Error02 Jan 2018 11:03 a.m. PST


Richard Armstrong addressed that concern in the following posts:


For more information, see Dick, C. J., 'Catching NATO Unawares: Soviet Army Surprise and Deception Techniques', International Defence Review, January 1986.

catavar02 Jan 2018 11:16 a.m. PST

Interesting topic. I've recently played an alt-history cold war board game that lasts about 30 days and the military units are supplied up to that point. Moving or attacking "disrupts" units (supply?). I felt like I was gaming WWI which surprised me.

lincolnlog03 Jan 2018 11:43 p.m. PST

As TAC Error said the main event would not have been the Hof or Fulda Gaps, but rather the Northern German Plains. Warsaw pact would have been forced to attack through Fulda and Hof to prevent NATO from counterattacking by the same routes.

Read Ralph Peters "The Red Army" great book with an unhappy ending for NATO. But the war was lost in the NORTHAG area.

The Javelin is fire and forget, and supposedly has at least two attack profiles. This makes it very effective against even the most modern of armor. The weapon worked very well in 2003.

Legion 404 Jan 2018 7:23 a.m. PST

Ralph Peters is one of my favorite former military members I like to listen to/read in the media. IIRC, a former Army MI LTC. He is very realistic and pragmatic. Not PC, etc. …

Thanks again, for that intel lincolnlog … Sounds like the Javelin was many magnitudes better than the M47 …

Pyrate Captain04 Apr 2018 5:23 p.m. PST

At the time strategic thinkers put the limit of command and control to something like 36 minutes.

Legion 405 Apr 2018 4:52 a.m. PST

And it might come down to a "knife fight" at small organization levels. With limited guidance just killing any one in the wrong uniform or has the wrong insignia on a AFV, etc., is a good "tactic" …

In the absence of orders, go find something and kill it.
Erwin Rommel

Virginia Tory05 Apr 2018 6:44 a.m. PST

At one point I recall reading NATO only had about 14-20 days of spares/etc on hand. I suspect it was changing by the 80s, though.

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