Britain practiced World War III
More than 30 years ago, Britain held a top-secret exercise – simulating the outbreak of World War III. The British “Daily Mail” recently published an article disclosing the relevant situation of this exercise.
British Prime Minister Margaret ? Mrs Thatcher needed to face a final decision. On her desk was a letter from the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe requesting authorization to launch a nuclear attack beyond the Iron Curtain. Mrs Thatcher told her peers that never before had a British cabinet faced “such a stark choice”.
Yet there was no choice – as the world stared at the nuclear abyss ahead, Mrs Thatcher gave the order to execute.
These sound like fantasy stories. Everyone knows that World War III did not break out in March 1981 at all. In fact, this is a top-secret exercise held by the British Cabinet Office to prepare officials for a possible “head to war”. The top-secret program was housed in the National Archives until 2011, when it was transferred to the public archives in Kew, west London, under the 30-year automatic declassification policy. Most people never knew the program existed.
Every two years, British civil servants participate in an exercise to test Britain’s ability to deal with the outbreak of a new war. The classic in their hands is a “war guide” – a classified plan, which even includes the content of the 12 regional governors in the UK after the nuclear disaster. Looking through the document, you can feel how serious these officials are for this large-scale military exercise. They spent hours painstakingly analyzing how the war affected ordinary British families, with nearly 250 pages packed to the brim with discussions of such issues as petrol rationing, railway timetables, agricultural supplies and treatment of the wounded.
But at the heart of the exercise is a truly dire dilemma. Every British prime minister during the Cold War — from Attlee to Thatcher — knew they might one day be asked to approve a nuclear strike. What the 1981 exercise envisioned was that once war broke out, they would have no choice but to say “yes.”
War planning in Whitehall (the seat of the British government) began on March 9, 1981, when the War Transition Committee of the British Cabinet held its first meeting. Soviet troops were code-named “Orange Army” and NATO troops were code-named “Blue Army”.
The exercise assumed from the outset that the situation was heading towards war. In the Soviet Union, the aging leader Brezhnev was overthrown by a domestic coup, and the KGB hardline military government came to power.
As in World War I, the real powder keg was in the Balkans, and the Warsaw Pact troops were massed in Yugoslavia, and the borders had moved westward.
Britain and the United States sent additional troops to West Germany, while the British Home Office reported that Soviet ships were “harassing fishing boats in the North Sea and Norwegian waters.”
Inside the UK, officials reported a “worrying” atmosphere. Over the next two days, public unease ran high as the international situation deteriorated.
By the night of March 11, war seemed inevitable. Intelligence indicated a massing of troops on the Soviet-Turkish border and on the Bulgarian-Yugoslav border, while NATO sought to reinforce West Germany and Scandinavia.
Two days later, things got worse: Warsaw Pact troops invaded Yugoslavia. Sources from the Middle East say Iraq has struck eastern Turkey, while Norwegian sources say there is a massive troop buildup on its northeastern border.
However, Britain’s attention at this time was focused on “deteriorating supplies”. In many rural areas, shops have run out of coal, oil, batteries, candles and supplies of sugar and flour, while many pharmacists have run out of first aid and common medicines.
The British government has declared a state of emergency, ordering government departments to be on alert. But the Home Office reported “a runaway situation in a supermarket in Brixton” (actually there was rioting there that summer), and the first wave of looting broke out in major cities.
On the morning of March 14, there were long lines outside banks and building societies as ordinary people rushed to get their deposits back. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) suspended all weather forecasts in line with the government’s advice, and it was reported that Mrs Thatcher promised that the Irish government could agree to Irish unity in exchange for “providing temporary evacuation camps for some British nationals”.
On the night of March 15, war seemed certain. More than 20 Warsaw Pact divisions occupied Yugoslavia, and the British Ministry of Defense announced that it expected the West to be attacked “in hours, not days”.
Most newspapers now run advertisements telling people what to do in the event of a nuclear attack, while Euston and Paddington train stations are packed with terrified Londoners trying to flee the capital.
While everyone is calling for the queen to retreat to Balmoral Castle (the summer residence of Queen Elizabeth II), she decided to follow her father George VI and follow through. “The Queen has no intention of leaving the capital,” Buckingham Palace said.
At 6 a.m. on March 16, while most people were asleep, 100 Soviet bombers launched a surprise attack, hitting air defense and radar installations across Britain.
Half an hour later, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington and Defense Minister John? Nott held an emergency meeting at the prime minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street.
Lord Carrington brought more bad news: “Orange ground forces launched an all-out attack on West German, British and American garrisons from 4:30 that morning. Orange airborne troops were in Denmark on the Baltic The 4th Allied Tactical Air Base was repeatedly hit by air strikes.”
At 9 a.m., Mrs Thatcher made a radio address to the nation calling for “calm and sanity”, with Home Secretary Willie ? Whitelow went on to address the air raid sirens.
All TV and radio stations are now off the air, except for one on the government-controlled BBC. Many people have panicked. Major roads were clogged with traffic, and thousands of cars were abandoned because they ran out of gas.
Police report that 50,000 people are trying to flee Manchester for Wales and the North; another 20,000 are leaving Liverpool.
A few hours later, a huge car bomb hit the seat of British government and later exploded at London’s Green Park tube station, killing eight and injuring 35. That afternoon, the Thatcher government formally declared war on the Soviet Union, after a second round of air raids hit seven British air bases.
The next day, March 17, was one of the darkest in British history.
That morning, the War Measures Committee of the British Cabinet recommended that “major art treasures should now be removed from places like London, Edinburgh and Cardiff”. The committee also recommended that the Queen deliver a national address to boost “the morale of the British people”.
But the military superiority of the Warsaw Pact meant that “Britain’s air defenses were virtually destroyed”. In a single day, hundreds of civilians were killed by Soviet air raids, with preliminary estimates from the British Home Office at least 400 casualties in Glasgow, Plymouth, Liverpool and Devonport.
On the 18th, the penultimate day of this dreadful maneuver, the British War Cabinet met at noon.
Mrs Thatcher’s intelligence officer reported: “The defenses of the Blue Alliance held up against the Orange attack better than some had expected, but it is not clear how reassuring this situation would be if the Orange took over northern Norway How long can it last.”
There were also reports that the Soviets were using chemical weapons in Yugoslavia; possibly “the Orange Forces were using the opportunity to test these weapons, rather than using them against the Blue Forces”.
At this time, Margaret Thatcher and her key staff (mainly Home Secretary Willie Whitelow and Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington) considered using nuclear weapons for the first time. “The premature use of nuclear weapons by a blue coalition could have serious political consequences,” the cabinet minutes read. “Doing so risks losing public confidence. Subordinates exchanged views to find a way of bipartisan cooperation. But there is also reason to believe that there will be public support for decisive action by the government.” In the
end the British War Cabinet agreed: “If the defense system of the blue army alliance is facing collapse, and it cannot be dealt with by conventional methods improvement, then it is necessary for us to use nuclear weapons to restore the political balance between the Blue Army and the Orange Army.” “The decision to use nuclear weapons must be made in advance, and not wait until the Blue Army’s conventional defense system collapses.”
That night, There were more airstrikes, and tens of thousands were killed at London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports, as well as in major British cities. The next day’s war cabinet meeting brought even more dire news: the Russians were using chemical weapons in Greece, Turkey, and northern Italy, and were poised to break through in West Germany.
British defense officials warned that if NATO used nuclear weapons, the Soviet response could be “a massive retaliatory attack, using 250 to 500 bombs against Blue targets deemed valuable by the Orange”.
But the general opinion is that if the West’s conventional forces are defeated, “the use of nuclear weapons to restore the political balance would be a reasonable option”.
An intelligence agency report explained: “Soviet leaders would only agree to negotiations when they felt that the blue coalition had come to decide on the use of strategic nuclear weapons (that is, a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union).”
Mrs Thatcher said she The dilemma has been discussed confidentially with the Labor Party, which has “no objection” to a NATO strike. She said that once this worst decision was made, Britain should attack Eastern Europe instead of the Soviet Union itself, because that would be too provocative.
The world is very close to the brink of war. That night, Britain was subjected to more air raids. In Liverpool, dozens of civilians were killed and at least 100 homes destroyed. At dawn, Soviet bombers used nerve and erosive gas bombs on Scotland, Manchester and Carlisle in England.
At 9 o’clock in the morning on March 20, the British War Cabinet held its last meeting. The Red Army had now broken through the West German defenses and advanced 40 kilometers deep into the Allied defenses.
As a result, the NATO Supreme Commander requested “authorization to launch a nuclear strike on targets in the territory of the orange satellite country.” He wanted to drop 29 nuclear bombs on military bases in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria by 5 a.m. the next morning.
After all that had happened in Britain, Mrs Thatcher’s decision was inevitable.
”We tried without success all we could do without the use of nuclear weapons to stop the war,” read the minutes of the meeting
. To succumb to a powerful and malevolent invader is to take an action that will ultimately destroy civilization.”
”But this decision must be made. The War Cabinet believes that the result of succumbing to the Orange Army’s aggression is intolerable.” So Mrs. Thatcher ordered.
By this time, the exercises are over and the world is on the brink of nuclear war.
Of course, none of these things happened. This is just a war game: a bureaucratic fantasy, which is, in the end, a fantasy.
But in reading the documents, there is a real sense of how seriously Whitehall officials took the possibility of nuclear catastrophe, and a glimpse into the horrific paranoia of the Cold War.