Pretty girls, champagne and a French cafe. What more could a Russian tank crew ask for?
Those might have been the fruits of victory had the Warsaw Pact’s 1964 war plan had played out as intended. Within a week, armored columns supported by paratroopers were supposed to blitz across southern Germany, cross the Rhine River and occupy the French city of Lyon, about 250 miles southeast of Paris.
According to documents in the archives of former Communist Czechoslovakia, Czech and Soviet forces were supposed to take the southern German city of Regensburg on the first day of the offensive, known in military parlance as “D+1.”
They would then vault over the Rhine in less than a week, and reach the French city of Besancon—about 150 miles northeast of Lyon—by D+8, before pushing on to Lyon itself.
The plan called for the Czech First and Fourth Armies to strike southwest from Czechoslovakia into West Germany, in conjunction with the Soviet Eighth Guards Army on their northern flank and the Hungarians to the south. Airborne troops would seize crossings over the Neckar and Rhine Rivers.
Mapquest estimates the distance between Lyon and the Czech border city of Pilsen at 670 miles, with a driving time of 10 hours and 13 minutes. This may or may not include delays for traffic or restroom stops—and most certainly does not assume the presence of atomic landmines.
The famous German blitzkrieg through France in May 1940 astounded the world by advancing 35 miles per day. Field Marshall Erwin Rommel’s lightning pursuit of the British Eighth Army from Tobruk to El Alamein in June and July 1942 took 10 days to go 350 miles.
To meet their deadline, the East Bloc armies would have needed to double this rate of advance to some 70 miles per day, all while fighting well-trained defenders armed with advanced weapons.
It’s a military axiom that an attacker should have a three-to-one superiority over a defender in order to succeed, but Warsaw Pact planners assumed they would enjoy only parity or slight numerical superiority versus NATO in troops, tanks, mobile artillery and aircraft.
So how exactly were those tank crews supposed to reach those charming French cafes?
The answer lay in atomic explosions that would sprout from German and French soil like mushrooms after spring rain. The 1964 war plan describes the nuclear deluge that Moscow hoped would blast a path to victory.
“Altogether the operation will require the use of 131 nuclear missiles and nuclear bombs; specifically 96 missiles and 35 nuclear bombs,” the plan states. “The first nuclear strike will use 41 missiles and nuclear bombs. The immediate task will require using 29 missiles and nuclear bombs. The subsequent task could use 49 missiles and nuclear bombs. Twelve missiles and nuclear bombs should remain in the reserve of the front.”
One does not have to be a nuclear Napoleon to realize that if the Soviets were dropping nukes on NATO defenses, then NATO—or at least the Americans, British and French—would have returned the favor by using their own nukes on enemy tank columns.
Beyond the normal chaos of war that ensures no plan survives contact with the enemy, one wonders how eagerly those Czech and Russian tank crews would have advanced into a horizon boiling with nuclear fire. How would they have been reinforced and resupplied through an atomic wasteland?
Communism boasted that it was the only political ideology capable of “scientifically” analyzing war. But the 1964 war plan—along with many other combat schemes on both sides of the Iron Curtain—was madness.
Because even if those Soviet tank crews had managed to clank into Lyon, they could not have climbed out of their vehicles to savor French wine, women and song. For the wine and the women would have been radioactive … and there would been no one left to sing songs.