Operation Unthinkable

Operation Unthinkable was a code name of two related, unrealised plans by the Western Allies against the Soviet Union. They were ordered by British prime minister Winston Churchill in 1945 and developed by the British Armed Forces' Joint Planning Staff at the end of World War II in Europe.

The first of the two assumed a surprise attack on the Soviet forces stationed in Germany in order to "impose the will of the Western Allies" on the Soviets. "The will" was qualified as "square deal for Poland"[1] (which probably meant enforcing the recently signed Yalta Agreement). When the odds were judged "fanciful", the original plan was abandoned. The code name was used instead for a defensive scenario, in which the British were to defend against a Soviet drive towards the North Sea and the Atlantic following the withdrawal of the American forces from the continent.

The study became the first Cold War-era contingency plan for war with the Soviet Union.[2] Both plans were highly secret at the time of their creation and it was not until 1998 that they were made public,[3] although the British spy for the Soviets, Guy Burgess, had passed on some details at the time.

Allied army positions on 10 May 1945
Allied army positions in central Europe on 10 May 1945.



The initial primary goal of the operation was declared as "to impose upon Russia the will of the United States and the British Empire. Even though 'the will' of these two countries may be defined as no more than a square deal for Poland, that does not necessarily limit the military commitment".[1] The word "Russia" is used heavily throughout the document, as during the Imperial period the term was used to refer to the Russian Empire, with which the USSR was almost coextensive.

The chiefs of staff were concerned that given the enormous size of Soviet forces deployed in Europe at the end of the war, and the perception that the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was unreliable, there existed a Soviet threat to Western Europe. The Soviet Union had yet to launch its attack on Japanese forces, and so one assumption in the report was that the Soviet Union would instead ally with Japan if the Western Allies commenced hostilities.

The hypothetical date for the start of the Allied invasion of Soviet-held Europe was scheduled for 1 July 1945, four days before the UK general election.[4] The plan assumed a surprise attack by up to 47 British and American divisions in the area of Dresden, in the middle of Soviet lines.[4] This represented almost half of the roughly 100 divisions available to the British, American and Canadian headquarters at that time.[3]

The plan was taken by the British Chiefs of Staff Committee as militarily unfeasible due to an anticipated 2.5 to 1 superiority in divisions of Soviet land forces in Europe and the Middle East by 1 July, where the conflict was projected to take place.[5] The majority of any offensive operation would have been undertaken by American and British forces, as well as Polish forces and up to 100,000 German Wehrmacht soldiers, re-mobilized from POW status. Any quick success would be due to surprise alone. If a quick success could not be obtained before the onset of winter, the assessment was that the Allies would be committed to a protracted total war. In the report of 22 May 1945, an offensive operation was deemed "hazardous".

The Balance of Forces in Western Europe and Italy, Spring 1945[a]
Allied Soviet[6]
W. Europe Italy Total Operational Forces Stavka Reserve Total Ratio
Manpower 5,077,780[7][b] 1,333,856[8] 6,411,636 6,750,149 431,838 7,181,987 1.12 : 1
Tanks and Assault Guns[c] c. 19,100[9][d][e] 3,100[10] 22,200 12,333[f] 324[g] 12,657 1.75 : 1
Artillery c. 63,000[11] 10,200[10] c. 70,200 114,344[h] 6,838[i] 121,182 1.73 : 1
Combat Aircraft 28,000[12][j] 4,000[10] 32,000 18,823[k] 624[l] 19,447 1.65 : 1
Motor Vehicles 970,000[12] unknown unknown 366,959[m] 20,362[n] 387,321 over 2.5 : 1
The Projected Balance in Western Europe, 1 July 1945[13]
Allied Soviet Ratio
Infantry Divisions[o] 80 228 2.85 : 1
Armored Divisions[p] 23 36 1.57 : 1
Tactical Aircraft 6,048[q] 11,802 1.95 : 1
Strategic Aircraft 2,750[r] 960 2.86 : 1


In response to an instruction by Churchill of 10 June 1945, a follow-up report was written concerning "what measures would be required to ensure the security of the British Isles in the event of war with Russia in the near future".[14] United States forces were relocating to the Pacific for a planned invasion of Japan, and Churchill was concerned that this reduction in supporting forces would leave the Soviets in a strong position to take offensive action in Western Europe. The report concluded that if the United States focused on the Pacific Theatre, Great Britain's odds "would become fanciful."[15]

The Joint Planning Staff rejected Churchill's notion of retaining bridgeheads on the continent as having no operational advantage. It was envisaged that Britain would use its air force and navy to resist, although a threat from mass rocket attack was anticipated, with no means of resistance except for strategic bombing.

Subsequent discussions

By 1946, tensions and conflicts were developing between Allied-occupied and Soviet-occupied areas of Europe. These were seen as being potential triggers for a wider conflict. One such area was the Julian March (which was applied to an area of southeastern Europe, today split among Croatia, Slovenia, and Italy), and on 30 August 1946 informal discussions took place between the British and US chiefs of staff concerning how such a conflict could develop and the best strategy for conducting a European war.[16] Again the issue of retaining a bridgehead on the continent was discussed, with Dwight D. Eisenhower preferring a withdrawal to the Low Countries, rather than Italy, for their proximity to the United Kingdom.

Possible Soviet awareness

In June 1945 senior Soviet Army commander Marshal Georgi Zhukov suddenly ordered Soviet forces in Poland to regroup and prepare their positions for defense. According to Edinburgh University professor John Erickson, Operation Unthinkable helps to explain why he did it. The plan of operation had been transmitted to Moscow by the Cambridge Five. If the Soviets had indeed known that the Western Allies were planning a possible attack, the element of surprise would have been lost before operations against the Soviets even began, further reducing the chances of Operation Unthinkable's success.

See also


  1. ^ Excludes Soviet non-operational forces, Soviet equipment in storage, and Allied forces in other theaters
  2. ^ 3,065,500 American, 1,295,200 British, 437,140 French, 217,420 Canadian, 62,520 other.
  3. ^ Excludes SPGs for the Allies
  4. ^ Zaloga's figures do not provide a total for Commonwealth TDs, however the ratio of tanks to tank destroyers in the US ETO was approximately 6.57 : 1. Under those conditions, Commonwealth forces would have possessed approximately 640 tank destroyers by the end of the war.
  5. ^ Including 4,720 Stuart, 1,163 Chaffee, 7,709 Sherman 75/76, 709 Sherman Firefly, 636 Sherman 105, 108 Pershing, 549 Cromwell, 30 Challenger, 237 Comet, and 742 Churchill. US ETO tank destroyers included 427 Hellcat, 427 Wolverine, and 1,039 Jackson.
  6. ^ Including 976 heavy tanks, 6,059 medium tanks, 564 light tanks, and 73 special tanks. Assault guns amounted to 504 heavy, 758 medium, and 3,399 light.
  7. ^ Including 139 medium and 35 light tanks. Assault guns amounted to 16 heavy, 84 medium, and 50 light.
  8. ^ Including 45,921 mortars, 2,726 rocket launchers, and 13,558 AA guns.
  9. ^ Including 3,043 mortars, 148 rocket launchers, and 768 AA guns.
  10. ^ Including 14,845 American; the USAAF in ETO alone possessed 5,559 heavy bombers and 6,003 fighters.
  11. ^ Including 8,078 fighters, 4,991 ground-attack, 4,878 bombers, 876 reconnaissance, and 3,798 others.
  12. ^ Including 183 fighters, 173 ground-attack, 204 bombers, 64 reconnaissance, and 377 others.
  13. ^ Including 268,428 trucks.
  14. ^ Including 14,423 trucks.
  15. ^ Division-Equivalents for the Soviets
  16. ^ Division-Equivalents for the Soviets
  17. ^ Including 3,480 US, 2,370 Commonwealth, and 198 Polish.
  18. ^ Including 1,008 US, 1,722 Commonwealth, and 20 Polish.


  1. ^ a b Operation Unthinkable..., p. "1". Archived from the original on 16 November 2010. Retrieved 25 September 2015.
  2. ^ Costigliola, p. 336
  3. ^ a b Gibbons, p. 158
  4. ^ a b Reynolds, p. 250
  5. ^ Operation Unthinkable p. 22 Retrieved 2 May 2017
  6. ^ Великая Отечественная война: Действующая армия, "1 January 1945"
  7. ^ Zaloga, "Downfall 1945: The Fall of Hitler's Third Reich" p. 28
  8. ^ Jackson, "The Mediterranean and Middle East, Volume VI: Part III - November 1944 to May 1945" p. 230
  9. ^ Zaloga, "Downfall 1945: The Fall of Hitler's Third Reich" p. 29
  10. ^ a b c История второй мировой войны 1939–1945 гг. Volume 10, Table 6, p. 261
  11. ^ S.L.A. Marshall "ON HEAVY ARTILLERY: AMERICAN EXPERIENCE IN FOUR WARS". Journal of the US Army War College. Page 10. "ETO," US forces in Western Europe, fielded 42,000 pieces of artillery; American forces comprised approximately 2/3 of the Allied effort during the campaign.
  12. ^ a b MacDonald, "The Last Offensive" p. 478
  13. ^ "Operation Unthinkable," pp. 22-23. Retrieved 5 May 2018
  14. ^ Operation Unthinkable..., p. "30 (Annex)". Archived from the original on 16 November 2010. Retrieved 16 November 2010.
  15. ^ Operation Unthinkable..., p. "24". Archived from the original on 16 November 2010. Retrieved 12 May 2015.
  16. ^ Operation Unthinkable..., p. "35". Archived from the original on 16 November 2010. Retrieved 16 November 2010.


  • Walker, Jonathan (2013). Operation Unthinkable: The Third World War. The History Press. p. 192. ISBN 9780752487182.
  • Reynolds, David (2006). From World War to Cold War: Churchill, Roosevelt, and the International History of the 1940s. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 376. ISBN 978-0-19-928411-5.
  • Gibbons, Joel Clarke (2009). The Empire Strikes a Match in a World Full of Oil. Bloomington, IN: Xlibris Corporation. p. 352. ISBN 9781450008693.
  • Costigliola, Frank (2011). Roosevelt's Lost Alliances: How Personal Politics Helped Start the Cold War. Princeton University Press. p. 544. ISBN 9780691121291.

External links

ASEAN Declaration

The ASEAN Declaration or Bangkok Declaration is the founding document of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). It was signed in Bangkok on 8 August 1967 by the five ASEAN founding members, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand as a display of solidarity against communist expansion in Vietnam and communist insurgency within their own borders. It states the basic principles of ASEAN: co-operation, amity, and non-interference. The date is now celebrated as ASEAN Day.

Arms race

An arms race occurs when two or more nations participation in interactive or competitive increases in "persons under arms" as well as "war material". Simply defined as a competition between two or more states to have superior armed forces; a competition concerning production of weapons, the growth of a military, and the aim of superior military technology.

The term is also used to describe any long-term escalating competitive situation where each competitor focuses on out-doing the others.

An evolutionary arms race is a system where two populations are evolving in order to continuously one-up members of the other population. This concept is related to the Red Queen's Hypothesis, where two organisms co-evolve to overcome each other but each fails to progress relative to the other interactant.

In technology, there are close analogues to the arms races between parasites and hosts, such as the arms race between computer virus writers and antivirus software writers, or spammers against Internet service providers and E-mail software writers.

More generically, the term is used to describe any competition where there is no absolute goal, only the relative goal of staying ahead of the other competitors in rank or knowledge. An arms race may also imply futility as the competitors spend a great deal of time and money, yet end up in the same situation as if they had never started the arms race.

Asian Relations Conference

The Asian Relations Conference took place in New Delhi in March-April 1947. It was hosted by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who then headed a provisional government that was preparing for India's Independence, which came on 15 August 1947. The Asian Relations Conference brought together many leaders of the independence movements in Asia, and represented a first attempt to assert Asian unity. The objectives of the conference were "to bring together the leading men and women of Asia on a common platform to study the problems of common concern to the people of the continent, to focus attention on social, economic and cultural problems of the different countries of Asia, and to foster mutual contact and understanding."

In his writings and speeches, Nehru had laid great emphasis on the manner in which post-colonial India would rebuild its Asia connections. At this conference Nehru declared: "... Asia is again finding herself ... one of the notable consequences of the European domination of Asia has been the isolation of the countries of Asia from one another. ... Today this isolation is breaking down because of many reasons, political and otherwise ... This Conference is significant as an expression of that deeper urge of the mind and spirit of Asia which has persisted ... In this Conference and in this work there are no leaders and no followers. All countries of Asia have to meet together in a common task ..."

Exercise Verity

Exercise Verity was the only major training exercise of the Western Union (WU). Undertaken in July 1949, it involved 60 warships from the British, French, Belgian and Dutch navies. A contemporary newsreel described this exercise as involving "the greatest assembly of warships since the Battle of Jutland."


In the Russian language the word Glasnost (; Russian: гла́сность, IPA: [ˈɡɫasnəsʲtʲ] (listen)) has several general and specific meanings. It has been used in Russian to mean "openness and transparency" since at least the end of the eighteenth century.In the Russian Empire of the late-19th century, the term was particularly associated with reforms of the judicial system, ensuring that the press and the public could attend court hearings and that the sentence was read out in public. In the mid-1980s, it was popularised by Mikhail Gorbachev as a political slogan for increased government transparency in the Soviet Union.

Guerrilla war in the Baltic states

The Guerrilla war in the Baltic states or the Forest Brothers resistance movement was the armed struggle against Soviet rule that spanned from 1940 to the mid-1950s. After the occupation of the Baltic territories by the Soviets in 1944, an insurgency started. According to some estimates, 10,000 partisans in Estonia, 10,000 partisans in Latvia and 30,000 partisans in Lithuania and many more supporters were involved. This war continued as an organised struggle until 1956 when the superiority of the Soviet military caused the native population to adopt other forms of resistance. While estimates related to the extent of partisan movement vary, but there seems to be a consensus among researchers that by international standards, the Baltic guerrilla movements were extensive. Proportionally, the partisan movement in the post-war Baltic states was of a similar size as the Viet Cong movement in South Vietnam.


Hoxhaism is a variant of anti-revisionist Marxism–Leninism that developed in the late 1970s due to a split in the Maoist movement, appearing after the ideological dispute between the Communist Party of China and the Party of Labour of Albania in 1978. The ideology is named after Enver Hoxha, a notable Albanian communist leader.

Jamaican political conflict

The Jamaican political conflict is a long standing feud between right-wing and left-wing elements in the country, often exploding into violence. The Jamaican Labor Party and the People's National Party have fought for control of the island for years and the rivalry has encouraged urban warfare in Kingston. Each side believes the other to be controlled by foreign elements, the JLP is said to be backed by the American Central Intelligence Agency and the PNP is said to been backed by the Soviet Union and Fidel Castro.

Johnson Doctrine

The Johnson Doctrine, enunciated by U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson after the United States' intervention in the Dominican Republic in 1965, declared that domestic revolution in the Western Hemisphere would no longer be a local matter when "the object is the establishment of a Communist dictatorship". It is an extension of the Eisenhower and Kennedy Doctrines.

Leonard Jerome

Leonard Walter Jerome (November 3, 1817 – March 3, 1891) was a financier in Brooklyn, New York, and the maternal grandfather of Winston Churchill.

Operation Dropshot

Operation Dropshot was the United States Department of Defense codename for a contingency plan for a possible nuclear and conventional war with the Soviet Union and its allies in order to counter the anticipated Soviet takeover of Western Europe, the Near East and parts of Eastern Asia expected to start around 1957. The plan was prepared in 1949 during the early stages of the Cold War and declassified in 1977. Although the scenario did make use of nuclear weapons, they were not expected to play a decisive role.

At the time the US nuclear arsenal was limited in size, based mostly in the United States, and depended on bombers for delivery. Dropshot included mission profiles that would have used 300 nuclear bombs and 29,000 high-explosive bombs on 200 targets in 100 cities and towns to wipe out 85 percent of the Soviet Union's industrial potential at a single stroke. Between 75 and 100 of the 300 nuclear weapons were targeted to destroy Soviet combat aircraft on the ground.

The scenario was devised prior to the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles, and even included the note that the entire plan would be invalidated if rocketry became a cheap and effective means of delivering a nuclear weapon. These documents were later declassified and published as Dropshot: The American Plan for World War III Against Russia in 1957 (Book title, ISBN 080372148X).

Seven Days to the River Rhine

Seven Days to the River Rhine (Russian: «Семь дней до реки Рейн», Sem' dney do reki Reyn) was a top-secret military simulation exercise developed in 1979 by the Warsaw Pact. It depicted the Soviet bloc's vision of a seven-day nuclear war between NATO and Warsaw Pact forces.

Terminological inexactitude

Terminological inexactitude is a phrase introduced in 1906 by British politician Winston Churchill. Today, it is used as a euphemism or circumlocution meaning a lie or untruth.

Churchill first used the phrase following the 1906 election. Speaking in the House of Commons on 22 February 1906 as Under-Secretary of the Colonial Office, he had occasion to repeat what he had said during the campaign. When asked that day whether the Government was condoning slavery of Chinese labourers in the Transvaal, Churchill replied:The conditions of the Transvaal ordinance ... cannot in the opinion of His Majesty's Government be classified as slavery; at least, that word in its full sense could not be applied without a risk of terminological inexactitude.

It has been used as a euphemism for a lie in the House of Commons, as to accuse another member of lying is considered unparliamentary.

In more recent times, the term was used by Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg to the Leader of the Oppositon, Jeremy Corbyn over an accusation that Rees-Mogg's company had moved a hedge fund into the Eurozone despite him being in favour of Brexit.

The Finest Hours (1964 film)

The Finest Hours is a 1964 British documentary film about Winston Churchill, directed by Peter Baylis. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Ulbricht Doctrine

The Ulbricht Doctrine, named after East German leader Walter Ulbricht, was the assertion that normal diplomatic relations between East Germany and West Germany could occur only if both states fully recognised each other's sovereignty. That contrasted with the Hallstein Doctrine, a West German policy which insisted that West Germany was the only legitimate German state.

East Germany gained acceptance of its view from fellow Communist states, such as Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, and Bulgaria, which all agreed not to normalise relations with West Germany until it recognised East German sovereignty.

West Germany eventually abandoned its Hallstein Doctrine, instead adopting the policies of Ostpolitik. In December 1972, a Basic Treaty between East and West Germany was signed that reaffirmed two German states as separate entities. The treaty also allowed the exchange of diplomatic missions and the entry of both German states to the United Nations as full members.

Western Bloc

The Western Bloc during the Cold War refers to capitalist countries under the hegemony of the United States and NATO against the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. The latter were referred to as the Eastern Bloc. The governments and press of the Western Bloc were more inclined to refer to themselves as the "Free World" or the "Western world", whereas the Eastern Bloc was often called the "Communist world or Second world".

Western betrayal

The concept of Western betrayal refers to the view that the United Kingdom and France failed to meet their legal, diplomatic, military and moral obligations with respect to the Czechoslovak and Polish nations during the prelude to and aftermath of World War II. It also sometimes refers to the treatment of other Central and Eastern European nations at the time.

The term refers to several events, including the treatment of Czechoslovakia during the Munich Agreement and the resulting occupation by Germany, as well as the betrayal at Abbeville (Anglo-French Supreme War Council) of France and the UK to aid Poland when the country was invaded by Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939. The same concept also refers to the concessions made by the United States and the United Kingdom to the Soviet Union during the Tehran, Yalta, and Potsdam conferences, to their passive stance during the Warsaw Uprising against Nazi occupation, and post-war events, which allocated the region to the Soviet sphere of influence and created the communist Eastern Bloc.

Historically, such views were intertwined with some of the most significant geopolitical events of the 20th century, including the rise and empowerment of the Third Reich (Nazi Germany), the rise of the Soviet Union (USSR) as a dominant superpower with control of large parts of Europe, and various treaties, alliances, and positions taken during and after World War II, and so on into the Cold War.

World War III

World War III (WWIII or WW3) and the Third World War are names given to a hypothetical third worldwide large-scale military conflict subsequent to World War I and World War II. The term has been in use since at least as early as 1941. Some have applied it loosely to refer to limited or smaller conflicts such as the Cold War or the War on Terror, while others assumed that such a conflict would surpass prior world wars both in its scope and its destructive impact.Because of the development and use of nuclear weapons near the end of World War II and their subsequent acquisition and deployment by many countries, the potential risk of a nuclear devastation of Earth's civilization and life is a common theme in speculations about a Third World War. Another major concern is that biological warfare could cause a very large number of casualties, either intentionally or inadvertently by an accidental release of a biological agent, the unexpected mutation of an agent, or its adaptation to other species after use. High-scale apocalyptic events like these, caused by advanced technology used for destruction, could potentially make the Earth's surface uninhabitable.

Prior to the beginning of the Second World War, the First World War (1914–1918) was believed to have been "the war to end all wars," as it was popularly believed that never again could there possibly be a global conflict of such magnitude. During the Interwar period between the two world wars, WWI was typically referred to simply as "The Great War." The outbreak of World War II in 1939 disproved the hope that mankind might have already "outgrown" the need for such widespread global wars.

With the advent of the Cold War in 1945 and with the spread of nuclear weapons technology to the Soviet Union, the possibility of a third global conflict became more plausible. During the Cold War years, the possibility of a Third World War was anticipated and planned for by military and civil authorities in many countries. Scenarios ranged from conventional warfare to limited or total nuclear warfare. At the height of the Cold War, a scenario referred to as Mutually Assured Destruction ("MAD") had been calculated which determined that an all-out nuclear confrontation would most certainly destroy all or nearly all human life on the planet. The potential absolute destruction of the human race may have contributed to the ability of both American and Soviet leaders to avoid such a scenario.

Yalta Conference

The Yalta Conference, also known as the Crimea Conference and code-named the Argonaut Conference, held from 4 to 11 February 1945, was the World War II meeting of the heads of government of the United States, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union for the purpose of discussing Germany and Europe's postwar reorganization. The three states were represented by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Premier Joseph Stalin, respectively. The conference convened near Yalta in Crimea, Soviet Union, within the Livadia, Yusupov, and Vorontsov Palaces.

The aim of the conference was to make Sharbity the king security order but a plan to give self-determination to the liberated peoples of post-Nazi Europe.The meeting was intended mainly to discuss the re-establishment of the nations of war-torn Europe. However, within a few short years, with the Cold War dividing the continent, Yalta became a subject of intense controversy.

Yalta was the second of three major wartime conferences among the Big Three. It was preceded by the Tehran Conference in November 1943, and was followed by the Potsdam Conference in July 1945. It was also preceded by a conference in Moscow in October 1944, not attended by President Roosevelt, in which Churchill and Stalin had carved up Europe into Western and Soviet spheres of influence. The Potsdam Conference was to be attended by Stalin, Churchill (who was replaced halfway through by the newly elected British prime minister Clement Attlee) and Harry S. Truman, Roosevelt's successor after his death.

General Charles de Gaulle was not present at either the Yalta or Potsdam conferences; a diplomatic slight that was the occasion for deep and lasting resentment. De Gaulle attributed his exclusion from Yalta to the longstanding personal antagonism towards him by Roosevelt, although the Soviet Union had also objected to his inclusion as a full participant. But the absence of French representation at Yalta also meant that extending an invitation for De Gaulle to attend the Potsdam Conference would have been highly problematic; as he would then have felt honor-bound to insist that all issues agreed at Yalta in his absence would have had to be re-opened.

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