The bestselling future history
494 pages. Three sections of black-and-white photos. 9 maps. Index and five appendices.
General Sir John Hackett's purpose was to alert the NATO alliance to the dangers of being unprepared, and to suggest what improvements needed to be made (chiefly by the European powers). His background in the British military (he commanded a brigade at Arnhem in WWII, and rose to eventually command the British Army of the Rhine). The Third World War, published in 1978, was written as if it was a history of a war in 1985, in which NATO narrowly defeats the Soviet Union due to timely improvements in defense levels.
With all the interest in Team Yankee and Cold War Gone Hot, I decided to get this dusty book down off the shelves and finally finish reading it. I have the 1979 paperback edition, so old there isn't even an ISBN barcode.
The first chapter – August Dawn: The First Blows – starts off with a series of combat vignettes about the early moments of the war in Europe. These are great fun to read, but the rest of the book is quite different, being written as if future historians were assessing a recently completed war. Not surprisingly, it reads like a history book, not a novel.
The book is written at a strategic level, so there is little discussion of tactical combat or weapon systems. The focus is on the fighting in central Europe, with some mention of conflict in the former Yugoslavia, the Middle East and South Africa.
The war is begun by the Soviet Union, gambling that a victory in Europe will give the regime time and resources to cope with problems at home and with their Warsaw Pact allies. The Soviets mobilize under the cover of scheduled wargames, then use the pretext of incidents in the Middle East and the former Yugoslavia to blame the Western powers for making war necessary. The Soviets' goal is to swiftly defeat NATO and occupy all of Germany, hoping through threats and diplomacy to keep France neutral.
The author then describes the course of the war, including naval and air aspects, as well as the home front.
What did he get wrong? Of course, no prediction of the future is going to be perfect. For one thing, the book assumes Iran is a staunch Western ally (the Iranian Revolution occurred in 1979, after this book was published). The book also predicts incorrectly that Egypt allies with the Soviet Union, and then strikes to incorporate the Arabian peninsula into an United Arab Republic. However, these theaters of war only provide some of the causes for the war, and are ultimately inconsequential to the major fighting in central Europe.
Wargamers will find The Third World War a useful reference for their what-if 1980s Cold War campaigns, if only to introduce them to the "big picture" in more detail than Team Yankee supplements. In fact, the original Team Yankee novel was loosely based on the war as predicted in The Third World War.
Reviewed by Editor in Chief Bill .