America’s Plans for War Against the Soviet Union, 1945-1950, Vol. 13, Evaluating the Air Offensive

This book 1, edited by Stephen R. Ross and David Alan Rosenberg, is an unusual book to be reviewed this web site. The book is listed as unavailable and out of print on Amazon. I obtained a copy on interlibrary loan from the “Center for Naval Analysis” in Arlington, VA. For those who might wonder why I would be interested in such an obscure book, I worked at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant in Colorado, and have been researching why the nation believed we needed such a facility to be built in the early 1950s. I had motivation to obtain the book, but I’ll warn others that the book is very large. It has in excess of 400 8 ½ X 11 pages, even though it only contains the declassified information from the original top secret report. A quick summary is that the report describes an evaluation of “War Plan OFFTACKLE,” which called for a strike with atomic bombs on 220 Soviet industrial site followed by massive conventional bombing.

I’ve read much about the negative effects on military planning created by the competition between the military services in the late 1940s. There was also a lack of cooperation between the civilian Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and the military planners. The AEC felt they were prevented by the Atomic Energy Act from revealing physical characteristics of the atomic bombs (which was crucial to determining how the weapons could be carried and delivered) or even the number of weapons in the stockpile. This report discusses the stark fact that the military didn’t have the capability to carry out the full war plan and also clearly emphasizes the even more depressing reality of the nearly complete lack of effective intelligence about the Soviet Union, its military capabilities, and its intentions. The only thing that seemed a certainty to the planners was that a World War with the Soviet Union was inevitable.  

This volume (number 13 of a 15 volume set) contains the declassified portions of a Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) document titled, “Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Strategic Air Operations. The study was requested by Secretary of Defense James Forrestal in October 1948. The assignment was originally given to the Air Force, but the Navy presented arguments over the planning assumptions (as was typical of the inter-military squabbling and complaints that were common at that time). As a result, the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group (WSEG) of the Office of the Secretary of Defense was assigned the high priority task of completing the evaluation. Army Lieutenant General John E. Hull led the evaluation performed by (interestingly) a twenty-two man civilian-military team. “The evaluation was based on projected American and Soviet capabilities as of 1 May 1950. As such, the report provides an exceptional glimpse into the operational and logistical considerations involved in executing the air offensive called for by Joint Outline Emergency War Plan ‘Offtackle’.” The results of the WSEG study were briefed to President Truman and Vice President Barkley, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the three service secretaries, and the rest of the cabinet on January 23, 1950. “The JCS noted the report’s conclusions and referred the study to the Air Force for use in correcting deficiencies in the Strategic Air Command and in reviewing operational plans.” The evaluation reported multiple deficiencies that would not allow for implementation of war plan “Offtackle.”

A letter from Hull to the JCS dated 31 July 1950 has some fascinating information. It points out that the WSEG had the advantage of being able to evaluate the performance of medium bombers in Korea to extrapolate to the war plans for an offensive against the Soviet Union. “The results of these operations in combat should prove valuable.” The letter continues, “So far planes of the heavy bomber type, B-36, have not participated in the Korean operations. It would appear that if heavy bombers could be employed in Korea valuable information would result from such operations…I suggest that consideration be given to employment of at least a Group of B-36 airplanes against suitable targets in Korea on an inter-continental non-stop mission, possibly from Alaskan bases.”

Enclosure 1 provides a listing of the civilians who were recommended to be considered to prepare the evaluation, which included some retired military people and some former members of military planning organizations. An example of the later was Donald F. Carpenter, former chairman of the Military Liaison Committee. The person recommended as Chairman was Dr. Robert L. Stearns, President, University of Colorado.

The “Statement of the Problem” is that the JCS requested the WSEG “…to evaluate the results to be expected if the current strategic air offensive plans were to be put into effect.” Aspects to be considered were air bases to be used in operations, logistical and personnel support, available bombing forces and ranges, early warning the Soviets might receive, Soviet fighter interception, outcome between fighters and U.S. bombers, bomber attrition, bombing accuracy, and damage to the targets from the bombing. The study concluded that the full OFFTACKLE plan could not be completed because of insufficient numbers of bombers and bomber attrition rates. “The atomic part alone (and not the attack with conventional weapons called for in OFFTACKLE) could be carried out provided that the Soviet air defense capability is…not substantially better than the higher level assumed…” It was estimated “…that about 70 to 85 percent of the atomic bomb carriers sortied would drop their bombs in the intended target area.” One third of the strike force “…would be expended in carrying out (release of bombs) against 80 percent of the 220 assigned targets.” The study concluded there were grave deficiencies and it was not feasible to carry out the OFFTACKLE bombing program as a whole.

The study recognized that war would be forced on the United States by expansionist moves or miscalculation of the Soviet Union and that “…war will commence at a time judged by the USSR to be the most favorable for the accomplishment of its objectives.” War plan TROJAN had called for delivery of 147 atomic bombs on 70 Soviet urban centers. OFFTACKLE had increased that to 220 atomic bombs on 104 urban centers. Most of the U.S. response would be provided by 570 medium bombers and delivered from the United Kingdom within 30 days of the onset of hostilities.

One estimate of the study is that daylight raids would produce higher losses. “In four days of massed operation, 1221 sorties would deliver 153 bombs to the correct target areas (70 percent of the intended offensive) with the loss of 222 aircraft over enemy territory and 27 damaged beyond repair, for an overall loss of 55 percent of the force available.)”  The evaluators mentioned that logistics would have difficulty in supporting the plan.

There are extensive enclosures to back up discussion and conclusions of the evaluation. The 27 page Enclosure C is titled “Enemy Fighter Defense Deployment.” Enclosure D, “Electronic Countermeasures” has 85 pages. Enclosure E, “Interception Possibilities,” (a crucial determining factor for how many attacking planes might make it to the targets and return) has 76 pages of discussion and data. Enclosure F, “Bomber Operational Capabilities,” has 83 pages. Enclosure G, “Fighter-Bomber Duel Study,” has 21 pages. Enclosure H, “Losses Due to Antiaircraft,” admits that little was known about the state of Soviet Antiaircraft equipment and technology, such as proximity fuses.  That enclosure has only 18 pages, perhaps because of the lack of knowledge about Soviet capabilities. The 62 page Enclosure K, “Logistics and Base Defenses,” concludes the report.

My conclusion from reading the book is that the lack of coordination and cooperation between the various agencies and military services is astonishing. According to this book, the military planners did not even know or understand the resources available to accomplish their war plans. The only consistent and accepted fact was that the Soviet Union presented a threat that only the U.S. arsenal could counteract.

1 Ross, Stephen R, David Alan Rosenberg, eds., America’s Plans for War Against the Soviet Union, 1945-1950, Vol. 13, Evaluating the Air Offensive, The WESG 1 Study, Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) 1952/11, 13 January 1950, Garland Publishing, Inc., New York & London, 1990

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