1962 nuclear weapons test

Soviets Considered Creating Artificial Islands for Nuclear Bases

In the late 1950s, the Soviet Union was at a disadvantage in the Cold War. Whereas the United States had missiles in Europe and Turkey that could reach Russia within minutes, North America was far away from Soviet bombs.

Moreover, the Soviet Union had only a few dozen long-range missiles against hundreds on the American side. As a result, the Soviets felt vulnerable to a first strike.

In May 1959, a group of Soviet military engineers proposed to remedy this imbalance by constructing twenty to 25 artificial islands in waters around the United States for nuclear bases.

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Maciej Rebisz artwork

The Art of Maciej Rebisz

Maciej Rebisz is the man behind Space That Never Was, which imagines the Space Race didn’t end. Spacecraft based on the Apollo mission that first landed men on the Moon now travel to Venus. The Soviets reached the Moon. There are crewed missions to Mars. Private space companies flourish. The people of Earth, as Rebisz puts it, have “never stopped dreaming big and aiming high.”

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Gregory Peck

Nazis Survive

Rumors that the Nazis survived the fall of the Third Reich started to circulate almost as soon as the war in Europe ended in May 1945. There were stories that Adolf Hitler had escaped to Spain or South America. Some of his top lieutenants, notably Martin Bormann, were missing.

The speculation had some basis in reality. There really were efforts to smuggle Nazis out of Europe, but not on the scale Allied intelligence feared in the aftermath of the Second World War. Nor did anyone make serious preparations for a Fourth Reich.

Don’t tell diesel- and atomicpunk authors, who tend the exaggerate this history to spin wild tales of Nazi conspiracy.

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The Odessa File

The Odessa File

Frederick Forsyth’s novels usually make for good movies. The Day of the Jackal (1973, our review here) and The Fourth Protocol (1987, review here) are among my favorite Cold War-era films. The Odessa File (1974) is not in the same league.

Not having read the novel, I can’t say if it’s the story or the adaptation. It sounds good on paper, though. The year is 1963. A West German journalist (Jon Voight) stumbles on the diary of a recently deceased survivor of the Riga Ghetto. He takes it upon himself to hunt down the SS officer who ran it. That brings him into contact with the famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal (Shmuel Rodensky) and ODESSA, a secret organization of former SS members.

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London England

A Scarier Cold War

Thought the 1950s couldn’t get any scarier? Think again. Imagine communists ruling all over Europe, the Soviet Union stretching from Finland in the northwest to Port Arthur in the southeast, Britain under the sway of “Big Brother”, America ruled by President-for-Life Douglas MacArthur, and East and West vying for influence in Africa and the Middle East.

This atompunk world is on its way to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) and, in Britain, could culminate in the events of Chris Mullin’s A Very British Coup (1982), in which civil servants, spies and business leaders conspire to bring down a left-wing government (our review of the 1988 television adaptation here).

Other inspirations include Alan Moore’s and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier (2007) and the Command & Conquer: Red Alert video games.

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The Fourth Protocol

The Fourth Protocol

Frederick Forsyth’s The Fourth Protocol (1984) was turned into a movie, starring Michael Caine and Pierce Brosnan, only three years after it was published. Given that the film largely follows the plot of the book, I’ll cover both in this review.

In the novel, it is the infamous British defector Kim Philby who helps draw up a Soviet plot to detonate a nuclear weapon in Britain and trigger a Labour victory. A left-wing government (Neil Kinnock had yet to defeat far-left Militant entryists at the time) would — the Russians hoped — withdraw the United Kingdom from NATO, kick the Americans out and give up the country’s nuclear deterrent.

To make it seem like an accident, the Soviets plan to smuggle in the nuclear weapon in stages, assemble it in Britain and detonate it near an American military base. This would violate the fictional Fourth Protocol to the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which supposedly banned the non-conventional delivery of nuclear weapons.

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1955 nuclear weapons test

World War III Without Missiles

Most World War III scenarios start with a Soviet first strike, but it were the Western Allies who first planned to use nuclear weapons in Europe to offset the Red Army’s numerical superiority.

From Britain’s Operation Unthinkable to America’s Operation Dropshot, these war planes help us imagine a land war in Europe fought only partially with atomic weapons.

When technology progressed in the 1960s — more and bigger atomic bombs, intercontinental ballistic missiles — NATO moved away from integrating nuclear weapons in its war planes. It envisaged either a conventional land war or mutually assured destruction with nothing in between.

The Soviets moved in the opposite direction. Joseph Stalin saw little use for nuclear weapons, but the West’s technological edge compelled his successors to integrate them more seriously in their offensive plans. It wasn’t until the 1980s that both sides abandoned the tactical use of nuclear weapons.

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Vincent Di Fate artwork

The Art of Vincent Di Fate

Vincent Di Fate is an American fantasy and science-fiction illustrator. He started his career in the 1960s drawing for pulp magazines and has since produced artwork for IBM, NASA and the National Geographic Society, among others.

He is also the author of some 300 articles and three books and a professor at the State University of New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology.

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Red Alert 3 concept art

Weapons of Red Alert

In Command & Conquer: Red Alert (1996), Albert Einstein travels back in time and kills Adolf Hitler. He prevents the emergence of Nazi Germany, but this clears the way for a Soviet invasion of Europe in 1946.

The Soviets are defeated, but they get their revenge three decades later in Red Alert 2 (2000) by attacking the continental United States.

In the third game (2008), it are the Soviets who travel back in time to prevent their defeat at the hand of the Allies. Their trip has unforeseen consequences as well: they inadvertently create a more powerful Japan and trigger a three-way world war.

Throughout these games we get to play with some crazy diesel- and atompunk weapons, from the Soviets’ mighty Apocalypse Tank to Tesla Troopers.

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