“Today, the East Bloc war plan stands as just one of history’s many hypothetical military campaigns that were mapped out but never brought to fruition. Here are some others.”
THE SOVIET UNION’S LARGEST AND MOST IMPORTANT OIL REFINERY is destroyed in a devastating terrorist attack by Islamic fundamentalists. Fearing a decade-long energy shortage, a desperate Politburo orders the Red Army grab the vast oil fields of the Persian Gulf. But before launching its invasion of the Middle East, the Kremlin sets out to eliminate NATO as a threat with a massive and overwhelming surprise assault on West Germany. Warsaw Pact tanks and troops pour through the Fulda Gap while Russian submarines and bombers prowl the North Atlantic decimating shipping traffic between Europe and North America.
Such was the premise of the late Tom Clancy’s best-selling 1986 Cold War thriller, Red Storm Rising. The novel presented just one of the many nightmare scenarios that kept western military planners awake nights for nearly 40 years. Interestingly, such fears were not entirely baseless.
In 2005, the government of Poland declassified a treasure trove of Cold War-era documents that included a top-secret war plan from 1979 that was to be used in the event of hostilities between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. The strategy, known as “Seven Days to the Rhine”, envisioned a Soviet-led mechanized thrust into Western Europe. According to the papers, Moscow fully expected NATO to resort to tactical nuclear weapons to stem the communist advance. Bombs were expected to fall on Pact troop concentrations throughout Eastern Europe. Poland would have likely suffered the brunt of the strikes, sustaining as many as 2 million civilian casualties as a result. The Kremlin planned retaliate in kind against NATO bases in Stuttgart, Munich, Nuremberg, Verona, as well as targets in Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark. Yet even with the nukes, Soviet commanders still planned to be across the Rhine within a week and deep within France by the ninth day of hostilities. 
Although the strategy may have looked good on paper, it was not without its critics. Many Pact insiders considered the scheme too ambitious by half. Fortunately, the “Seven Days” blueprint was never put to the test. Today, the East Bloc war plan stands as just one of history’s many hypothetical military campaigns that were mapped out but never brought to fruition. Here are some others:
Bonaparte’s “Sea Lion”
In 1803, Napoleon was determined to invade the British Isles. For two years, the future emperor marshaled 200,000 troops and an armada of assault craft along the northern coast of France. The success of his Armée de l’Angleterre or “Army of England” hinged on the French fleet being able to drive the Royal Navy from the sea-lanes separating the two nations, even if just for an afternoon. “Let us be masters of the [English] Channel for six hours,” said Napoleon “And we are masters of the world.”  Sadly for the Corsican conqueror, it just wasn’t meant to be – Britain’s naval supremacy was unwavering. Napoleon even briefly contemplated launching an airborne assault on England by way of massive troop-carrying balloons and rumours spread throughout the United Kingdom of French invasion tunnels being dug beneath the sea between Calais and Dover. Ultimately, Bonaparte abandoned his plans and marched his army into Central Europe instead.
The Kaiser Takes Manhattan
Germany’s Wilhelm II had long harboured a deep hatred for the United States. Not only did the emperor consider American-style capitalism decadent and immoral, Washington’s ever-expanding influence in the Pacific threatened the German ruler’s own growing imperial ambitions. In 1889, the two burgeoning superpowers even risked war over control of the Samoan Islands. Recognizing that a clash with America was coming, in 1897, the Kaiser instructed his general staff to come up with a series of strategies for a possible German attack on the continental United States. The plans called for naval bombardments of Boston and New York City by a fleet of 60 warships, as well as attacks on military shipyards at Norfolk, Virginia and Portsmouth, Maine. These would be followed by a full-on invasion of the eastern seaboard using as many 100,000 German troops.  Wilhelm suspected that a swift “shock and awe”-style campaign, along with the capture of America’s largest cities would paralyze the United States, allowing Berlin to swoop in and grab territories in the Pacific and even the Caribbean. The plans went through three separate revisions over the next four years — the steady growth of the U.S. Navy made it necessary to update the strategy repeatedly. Eventually, the American fleet became so powerful, the entire scheme had to be shelved. Researchers rediscovered the documents in 2002.
Stalin Breaks the Ice
On June 22, 1941, nearly 3 million German troops charged into the Soviet Union along a 3,000-kilometre (2,000 mile) front. It was the largest invasion in history. Yet according to one Soviet-era historian and intelligence expert, had Adolf Hitler not attacked Russia, it’s almost certain that Joseph Stalin would have launched his own surprise assault on the Third Reich, possibly within three weeks. The planned communist invasion, which remained classified for decades, was codenamed “Icebreaker”. In his 1987 book on the Soviet plan, Vladimir Rezun argues that the Kremlin was preparing to launch a snap assault on Nazi territory as early as July 6, 1941. The Cold War spy-turned-defector points to evidence that in the weeks leading up to Operation Barbarossa, the Soviet dictator had ordered the mobilization of more than 18 million reservists and had put the Red Army on an offensive war footing, even distributing maps of Germany to units being gathered along the western border. Rezun, who writes under the pseudonym Viktor Suvorov, posits that a thrust west was all but inevitable; Moscow desperately needed a war of conquest in order to stave off revolutionary malaise in the U.S.S.R. In fact, the reason the Soviet military performed so poorly in the opening weeks of the Nazi invasion, he argues, is that the Red Army wasn’t deployed for defence. Many have discounted Rezun’s assertions on the grounds that distributing maps alone does not constitute an invasion plan (where is there evidence of huge stockpiles of supplies, ammunition and fuel that would be needed for an invasion of the Reich?). Yet his theory persists in some quarters.
The Confederacy Looks South
While most in the South considered the Civil War to be a high-minded struggle against bald-faced Yankee aggression, some within the rebellion pressed for the CSA to launch its own campaign of conquest against Latin America. In fact, according to the magazine Mental Floss, the Southern constitution specifically made provisions for such expansion. One pre-war, pro-Slavery society known as the Knights of the Golden Circle even proposed annexing Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean and adding the new territories to a pan-hemispheric confederation. Others in Richmond eyed Brazil for inclusion in the Confederacy following a Southern victory.  Rebel agents were even dispatched to the region in 1861 to foment dissent. The rebellion collapsed before any such plans could be put in motion.
Switzerland: 1; Hilter: 0
Adolf Hitler had few nice things to say about the Swiss. In fact, he once referred to the country as “a pimple on the face of Europe”.  Not surprisingly, as early as 1940, the Nazi dictator charged the OKW to prepare for an assault on the famously neutral state once the subjugation of France was complete. The plan was dubbed Operation Tannenbaum. Of the 100 divisions the Nazi dictator allocated to Case Yellow, as many as a fifth were earmarked for a follow-on blitzkrieg of Switzerland. Hitler called on Mussolini to allocate a further 15 divisions to the proposed onslaught. But the Swiss leadership in Bern had no intention of giving up their country without a fight. Early in the war, a full half-million men were mobilized while three whole army corps were rushed to Switzerland’s northern frontier. The remaining troops were positioned in the National Redoubt – a network of impregnable mountaintop fortifications in the Alps that had been under construction since the the late 19th Century. Following France’s surrender in June of 1940, Hitler ordered his military to mass along Switzerland’s border, but stopped short of green lighting an invasion. Other fronts soon took priority and Tannenbaum was put on ice.
America Sees Red
Barely a decade after helping the United Kingdom defeat the Central Powers during World War One, American military commanders were working up contingencies for a possible future war against the British Empire. War Plan Red, devised in 1930, made provisions for American forces to strike at the nearest Anglo target – Canada. A 20th Century reboot of the U.S. invasion plan of the War of 1812, Red imagined a massive three pronged assault across the Niagara and St. Lawrence rivers to seize Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City. The strategy also called for an amphibious assault on Nova Scotia and surges into the Canadian prairies and the Pacific Northwest. The idea was to deprive Britain of territories in North America that Washington feared could be used as a launching pad for an invasion of the United States. The top-secret plan went through multiple edits throughout the 1930s but was buried after the outbreak of World War Two. A related strategy, dubbed Red-Orange anticipated a two front war between the combined forces of Britain and Japan, while other variations gamed out assaults on British-controlled India, Australia, Ireland and the United Kingdom itself. The plans became something of a curiosity when they were finally declassified in 1974.
Our Target for Tonight
It took Great Britain nearly two and a half months to dislodge the Argentine army from the Falkland Islands in 1982. Following the liberation of its far-flung territory, London feared the military regime in Buenos Ares might mount a second, even larger foray against the disputed islands before England could further bolster defenses there. In the weeks immediately after Operation Corporate, the RAF began planning for low-level, nighttime retaliatory Vulcan bomber strikes against targets deep inside Argentina itself in the event hostilities resumed. After rehearsing the missions for weeks in both Scotland and Labrador, Canada, eight of the massive warplanes were positioned on Ascension Island in the South Atlantic to carry out the bombing campaign if necessary. Fortunately, the right-wing junta that ruled the South American nation collapsed later that year and tensions eased. Details of the preparations were finally made public in 2012 and generated much media coverage in both the United Kingdom and (not surprisingly) Argentina.
Other Invasions That Never Were
• In the weeks following VE Day, Churchill drew up plans to expel the Red Army from Eastern Europe using British, American, Polish and (amazingly) even surrendered German soldiers.
• Rome, Spain, France and Germany all had plans to conquer Ireland, read about them here.
• The United States was famously readying its forces to mount an epic invasion of the Japanese home islands in 1945 and 1946. The invasion, dubbed Operation Downfall, dwarfed the Normandy Invasion and would have been the largest military operation in recorded history.
(Originally published in MilitaryHistoryNow.com on Aug. 7, 2014)