Guest Historian David Atwell says, What if a weapons control error had triggered a Third World War in 1973? If you're interested in viewing samples of my other work why not visit David Atwell site.
In 1973, there seemed to be little choice for Israel than to exercise the nuclear option. The military situation was dire, especially on the Egyptian front. A large hole had been successfully made in the Israeli centre on the Sinai front.
The Specials by David AtwellTwo Egyptian spearheads, numbering at least two divisions each, had, not only reached the all important passes, but had crossed them & were heading towards Israel proper. The Israeli Defence Minister, Moshe Dayan, was in shock when told of the news, by his staff, at midday on 7 October. He, in turned, told Israel's Prime Minister Golda Meir, of the situation, & concluded that "It is the fall of the Third Temple" as he was in much despair.
Israel, though, was mobilising as much of its military reserve as possible. But with its defeat at the Sinai passes, Israel was running out of time. At the speed with which the Egyptians were moving, the Israeli homeland would be invaded within 24 hours. There was little time left. Furthermore, now that Egypt had room to move, it had spread its front line out thus making it more or less impossible to establish a "road-block" defence, as the Egyptians could merely drive around it & leave the defenders to be dealt with later.
The only hope seemed to lie with the Israeli Air Force, but it had taken a sever beating when it tried to intervene at the Suez Canal two days earlier. Having said that, whatever the Israeli's could fly was in the air & hitting the Egyptians as they were approaching Israel itself. All the same, the Egyptians had mobile anti-aircraft missile carriers & these kept a watchful eye on the skies. And just as importantly for the Egyptians, their own Air Force patrolled the skies, although they were seldom a match for Israeli pilots.
Even so, it still came down to time. And Israel's time was clearly running out. A decision had to be made as to what to do. As far as Dayan was concerned, if Israel did not act decisively now, all would be lost. Meir was of the same mind, although Elazar voiced his objections, but it was a government decision & not a military one. Thus Meir issued the orders to get the "Specials" ready. The Israeli Air Force was given the most important orders that it had ever carried out.
A Chapter from Hell on EarthThree hours later, four Israeli Skyhawk A-4H fighter/bomber aircraft took off from an air force base outside of Jerusalem. Their mission was a simple one, although the consequences of its success was without equal. On board each aircraft was a crude nuclear weapon, four of only 13 such weapons made for use by an aircraft. These had been built, only recently, by the Israeli defence department for use in an emergency such as this. Now they were on the way to stop the Egyptian army from invading southern Israel.
It only took a short period of time for the Israeli Skyhawks to reach their destination, but to the likes of Meir, Dayan & Elazar, it was probably the longest 30 minutes of their lives. Seconds seemed like hours, whilst minutes seemed like days. The Skyhawks went unmolested by the Egyptians, until they reached the front. Coming in low, though, gave the pilots numerous advantages, but once they entered their sudden climb it was a different story. But the pilots had to reach a high altitude, flying almost straight up, in order to "sling-shot" the nuclear weapon up & away from their aircraft if they wanted to survive.
The Egyptians never knew what hit them, nor did they understand what the four Israeli Skyhawks were attempting. It seemed to be merely an attempt to avoid being hit by missiles or some such. Each Skyhawk, however, was able to release its weapon as planed & then took off at great speed away from the battle zone. As they flew away, each nuclear weapon continued in its upward flight until gravity finally brought it back to Earth. Within two minutes the job was done. Four Egyptian divisions no longer existed. The invasion threat to Israel had vanished in four mushroom shaped clouds.
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In 1973, on this day the Soviet Union prepared to ship four nuclear tactical weapons to Egypt just in case Israel resorted to the nuclear option one more time.
Time of The Diplomats by David AtwellKissinger had just arrived in Moscow. The talks which followed, though, clearly indicated that the Russians would get involved if Israel detonated any more nuclear weapons. Brezhnev never said what this involvement would be, but it was enough for Kissinger to know that several Soviet airborne divisions had been put on alert according to US atellite imaging. Clearly the Soviets were being serious as far as Kissinger was concerned. And this he conveyed to the Israelis the next day.
A Chapter from Hell on EarthBehind Kissinger's back, however, the Soviets were already involved. This would not have surprised Kissinger much, as it was already well known that the Syrians & Egyptians were using Soviet equipment. In fact the Americans also knew that there some 5 000 Soviet advisers in Egypt whilst Kissinger was in Moscow. What the Americans did not know, until the next morning, was the fact that the Soviets were prepared to ship four nuclear tactical weapons to Egypt just in case Israel resorted to the nuclear option one more time.
Thus, in these circumstances on 10th October, Kissinger arrived in Israel to try to do a deal with the Israeli's. Meir & Dayan were keen to met with Kissinger, but they were far more interested in getting American arms & not talk peace. Having said that, if Israel could regain lost territory, whilst not firing a shot in anger, this was completely acceptable to the Israeli Prime Minister. But one event would soon put this to an end. An American satellite, passing over Cairo that morning, spotted a Soviet Air Force cargo plane at Cairo's international airport. It was not, however, the plane which caught the American's attention, but the tell-tale radiation signs of its nuclear cargo.
News spread fast at the American Defence Intelligence Agency. Actually it went too fact. Although Israel would completely deny any such allegation, unlike the Soviets, the Israelis had been able to place a handful of spies high up the American military chain of command. Thus, not long after the discovery of the Soviet nuclear payload, word was sent to Israel. Thus, whilst Kissinger & Meir was discussing peace terms, which were acceptable to both, the war was about to escalate.
Thus, as a matter of course, the Israeli military viewed their attack on Cairo airport as a military & not a political decision. And this was besides the fact that, whilst it was known that Meir & Dayan were busy negotiating with Kissinger, it was likely that the Egyptians, & above all Soviets, would never expect such a outlandish attack.
Hence, at around midday Israel time on 10th October, a whole squadron of Skyhawks, escorted by a squadron of Mirage III fighters, left their air force base & headed out towards the Mediterranean Sea. From there the twenty Israeli planes turned to a course parallel to the coastline, all the while staying at a very low altitude. They did this until they were opposite the Nile Delta, off the coast of Egypt, & then turned inland heading directly towards Cairo. The Egyptians got about half a minute warning before the Israeli's attacked. But within a minute, the Soviet cargo plane, & its important cargo, was destroyed. The Israeli Air Force had done its job well, losing only two planes in the attack. Alas the Soviet reaction would be for the worse.
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In 1973, on this day the Yom Kippur War started without any warning whatsoever. Israel was caught almost unprepared for the conflict which was unleashed by Syria & Egypt. As a result, most of the Israeli armed forces were on leave for the national holidays, or holy period depending which part of Judaism an Israeli observed, & as such the Egyptians & Syrians decided to take advantage of this fact.
Toward the Brink by David AtwellFurthermore, the Egyptians & Syrians also took advantage of the fact that the Soviets had supplied them with a huge amount of equipment all of which was brand new.
Thus, on the morning of 6 October 1973, thousands upon thousands of Arab soldiers went onto the attack. Thankfully for Israel, not everyone at command headquarters was as sedate as the political leadership. Israel's Chief of Staff, General David Elazar, had the uncanny ability to sense when something was wrong. Although there was no firm evidence known to Israel that trouble was brewing, he nonetheless felt it coming. As a result, although he could not order the mobilisation of all of Israel's armed forces, he did give the go ahead for a partial mobilisation on 5 October.
Either way, it did not matter to the Syrians or the Egyptians. Furthermore, any reinforcements Israel was mobilising would not make it to the front lines in time to help with the initial defence. As a result, Israel only had one division available to cover the Egyptian border & another to cover the Syrian border. In other words, a skeleton defence was the only obstacle that laid between the Arab armies & probable victory.
A Chapter from Hell on EarthThe fortunes of the two Arab armies would differ drastically. Syria, with a smaller force than Egypt, but just as well equipped, soon found the going extremely tough against the Israeli defenders. Having excellent ground for defence, soon hundreds of Syrian tanks, APCs & a host of other equipment was destroyed for very little gain. The Israelis had practiced long & hard at repeling such a Syrian attack, on the Golan Heights, & this practice was now paying dividends. Furthermore, the assistance of the Israeli Air Force was much appreciated & ensured that the Syrians would pay dearly for their attack.
Another aspect, as mentioned, was the terrain which the Syrians found themselves. Not only did it mean that the Israelis could take the advantage of cover, but it also limited how many tanks & or forth could attack at once. But fundamentally, it meant that the Syrian anti-aircraft systems, most notably missiles, had little chance of hitting Israeli aircraft as they used the terrain as cover & only appeared when on their final attack run. As a result, the Israeli planes were only vulnerable for a few brief seconds. And so the Israeli Air Force suffered only a handful of aircraft.
The same, however, could not be said for the Egyptian front. As on the Syrian front, the Egyptians had gained surprise. Furthermore, they employed ingenious methods in dealing with the Israeli defences. These were so impressive that the first line of Israeli defences were overrun within 30 minutes. The next point is probably just as important. The Egyptians were able to get all of their first wave, plus its support, over the Suez Canal & onto Israeli territory in record time. By the time the local Israeli division had been mobilised & gotten into position, it was already facing an Egyptian army far greater in size. Clearly, the strategy of sinking the Egyptians into the Canal, before they had crossed it, had completely failed.
The next step for the Israelis, if the Egyptians had crossed, was to counterattack with armour. This they did at once, but the Egyptians had an answer waiting. Instead of countering Israeli armour with their own, they deployed hundreds of infantry teams with anti-armour missiles. These teams were highly mobile & the terrain greatly enhanced their abilities. As such, when the Israeli armour came attacking, hundreds of missiles, & not Egyptian tanks, were there to greet the Israelis.
It did not take long, thus, for the Israelis to be in serious trouble against the Egyptians. Hence, not only had their counterattack fail miserably, but the famed Israeli Air Forces had to be called in to bomb the Egyptians back over the Canal. Alas for the Israeli pilots, the Egyptians had another surprise waiting. Instead of resorting to their own fighter jets to challenge the Israeli Air Force, once again they resorted to Soviet made missiles. This time, hundreds of anti-aircraft missiles rose from the desert floor & hit Israeli aircraft after aircraft, fore unlike the situation on the Golan Heights, there was no terrain cover for the Israeli air force to use to their advantage.
As a result of the mornings actions, the Israelis were in dire trouble in the south. The Golan Heights defences were holding, but the Meron Division in the Sinai had more or less been destroyed as had its air support. A new division, the Israeli Sasson Division, had been ordered to help the Meron Division with the defence, but it became obvious to everyone at Israel Headquarters than repelling the Egyptians at this point in time was impossible. As a result, all agreed that the Sinai Passes must be held at all costs.
Thus, after getting their orders, the remnants of the Meron Division fell back as fast as they could to the Mitla Pass, whilst the Sasson Division advanced to defend the Khatmia & Gidi Passes. The Egyptians, meanwhile, were well aware of these vital passes & had already drawn up plans to attack them, suspecting that the Israelis would defend them. This, however, would be far from an easy action, as late on 6 October, the forward elements of the Egyptian advance put in a half hearted attempt at taking them, which was repulsed with little effort.
The next morning's action, however, was a different story. Deploying four divisions, the Egyptians went onto the attack. It was massive as it was intended to be. Although the Sasson Division was fresh & at full strength, it was never enough to keep back the Egyptians. Not only did the Israelis have to face Egyptian armour & artillery, which was present in abundance, but the Egyptian Air Force also got involved with much success. After two hours of heavy fighting, the Egyptians had broken through at both the Khatmia & Gidi Passes, whilst the much depleted Meron Division managed to hold off all Egyptian attacks. But that now did not matter. The Egyptians had their breakthrough & they were heading for Israel with little in their way to stop them.
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In 1973, on this day the sonar operatives of the USS Coontz detected "whooshing" sounds coming from a Soviet Yankee Class SLBM submarine in the North Atlantic Ocean.
World War III by David AtwellThe American commander had made a mistake in weapons control, as unbeknownst to the captain, the weapon's officer had taken off all "safeties" as according with the procedures under actual DEFCON 2. Thus, although the captain of the American destroyer assumed that nothing would happen combat wise, & even though he gave a firing order, he expected the usual drill to take place. But, because of the real DEFCON 2 conditions, & not that of a drill, the Coontz actually fired.
Within seconds of the captain's order an ASROC torpedo was launched, via its rocket phase, towards the location of the Soviet nuclear submarine. Panic soon took over the crew of the Coontz as they realised that for once they had actually fired a live weapon. To make matters worse, the sonar operator told the captain that he could hear noises coming from the Yankee boat. These were of a "whooshing" sound.
Fearing that the Yankee had fired torpedos at the Coontz, its captain ordered a 180 degree turn & flank speed. As the American destroyer was doing this, however, attention on the ASROC soon gave way to far more important things. As the crew watched the water, large missile after missile started to break the surface, fired its engines, & rose high into the sky. And so 16 nuclear armed missiles were on their way to the United States.
A Chapter from Hell on EarthIt only took a matter of moments before NORAD knew something was wrong. Early warning satellites picked up the launch of 16 missiles north-east of Iceland. Knowing full well that the Soviets often had their SLBM submarines in the area, it was not hard for NORAD to know who these missiles belonged. What was more, the Coontz quickly reported their encounter with the Soviet Yankee, but deliberately left out the fact that it was they who fired first thus provoking the response. This would be dealt with later. But for the moment, as far as anyone knew, the Soviets were trying a sneak attack in order to wipe out the United States ability to retaliate.
Nixon was made aware of the situation within a minute after NORAD became aware. As a result, Nixon was quickly moved from the White House to Air Force One. From there Nixon would be able to conduct World War III. The only problem with this arrangement was that, with Nixon on the move, ten vital minutes would go by before anything important could be done. And, far more importantly, it meant that the "hot phone" between the leadership of the two countries could not be used in an attempt to really understand the other side's situation. As a result, the Soviets had no idea of what had happened in the North Atlantic only a few minutes ago.
Time was now wasting away, although not for everyone. NORAD confirmed, using secondary measures, that 16 SLBMs were heading for the United States. Yet, as far as anyone really knew, a further 595 SLBM missiles, in other words the entire Soviet SLBM force, could also be heading their way. Interestingly enough, though, NORAD staff wondered why the entire Soviet ICBM force of 1462 missiles were doing nothing out of the usual. Nonetheless Nixon, cut off from the rest of the country & Kissinger, with only information coming in from NORAD, had a dreadful decision to make. Either let the US suffer a horrible attack, on the chance that this might be an awful mistake, or retaliate with everything America had.
In the end, Nixon waited until America had five minutes before being hit. With NORAD pushing him all the way, he finally relented ordering a full retaliative strike. Within a minute, the orders went out from NORAD to bases around America & elsewhere. Not long afterwards, America's arsenal of 1 000 Minuteman ICBMs started to shoot from their silos & were heading towards the Soviet Union. Not long afterwards, 650 SLBMs likewise flew into the sky from numerous American submarines. America was going to make the Soviets pay dearly for their "sneak" attack.
As said, the leadership of the Soviet Union had no idea that their Yankee Class submarine had launched the first salvo of deadly missiles first. And, due to the fact that the ASROC torpedo of the Coontz actually hit & sank the submarine in question, meant that it never even got the chance to report the situation. As a result, the first thing that Brezhnev knew of the predicament was when the Soviet Rocket Forces commander hastily phoned Brezhnev telling him that a massive missile launch had taken place, by the United States, & that these missiles were heading towards the USSR.
Unlike Nixon, though, Brezhnev did not have to think about matters much. All he asked was for the Soviet Rocket Forces commander to confirm, without doubt, the missile attack, which he did two minutes later. For Brezhnev that was enough. Without hesitating, he gave the order for the Soviet Union to counterattack. As a result, 1 462 ICBMs & 550 SLBMs were fired at the United States within five minutes of Brezhnev orders. Not longer afterwards, Brezhnev was taken to the Russian Presidential bunker, not far from Moscow, never to be seen or heard of again.
In the meantime, everyone forgot about Israel & the reasons which caused the Nuclear War of 1973.
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© Today in Alternate History, 2013-. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.