This article is about World War III found in the series The Hot War. For other versions of World War III, see Third World War (disambiguation).

World War III
Timeline The Hot War
Date 23 January 1951 - Summer 1952
Location Global
USA48star.jpg United States

Britain.jpg United Kingdom
Franceflag.jpg France
ModernGermanyFlag.png West Germany
Austria.jpg Austria
Italy.jpg Italy
Belgium.jpg Belgium
Netherlandsflag.jpg The Netherlands
Dominion Canada.jpg Canada
ROKFlag.png South Korea

Soviet.jpg Soviet Union

PRCflag.png People's Republic of China
EastGermanyFlag.png East Germany
CommunistHungaryFlag.png Hungary
RepublicPolandFlag.png Poland
CommunistRomaniaFlag.png Romania
CommunistBulgariaFlag.png Bulgaria
Czech.jpg Czechoslovakia
DPRKflag.png North Korea

Commanders and leaders
USA48star.jpg Harry Truman

Britain.jpg Clement Attlee
Franceflag.jpg Vincent Auriol
Franceflag.jpg Charles de Gaulle
ModernGermanyFlag.png Konrad Adenauer
Belgium.jpg Joseph Pholien
Netherlandsflag.jpg Willem Drees
ROKFlag.png Syngman Rhee

Soviet.jpg Joseph Stalin

Soviet.jpg Lavrenty Beria
Soviet.jpg Vyacheslav Molotov
PRCflag.png Mao Tse-Tung
CommunistHungaryFlag.png Matyas Rakosi
RepublicPolandFlag.png Boleslaw Bierut
Czech.jpg Klement Gottwald
DPRKflag.png Kim Il-Sung

World War III was a war between the United States and its allies in NATO, and the Soviet Union and its satellites. While the war had its roots in the Korean War, which began in June 1950, the immediate trigger for direct conflict between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. came in January 1951.

Prelude: The Korean War and China (November 1950-January 1951)[]

Arguably, the first step towards World War III came in June 1950, when North Korea invaded South Korea. While North Korean forces managed to drive far into South Korean territory in its initial surprise attack, UN forces, under the command of U.S. general Douglas MacArthur, had succeeded in pushing the North Koreans back, and had even driven up towards the Chinese border.[1]

However, the next tentative step towards a global war came in November 1950, when, despite a number of hints that were effectively ignored by MacArthur, Chinese troops crossed the Yalu River and came to Kim Il-sung's aid. In late November and into December, the Chinese forces thoroughly destroyed three divisions of American forces between the Chosin Reservoir and Hungnam, the worst defeat American forces had seen since the Battle of Bataan during World War II.[2]

On December 18, 1950, U.S. President Harry Truman flew to Honolulu to meet with General MacArthur. While MacArthur didn't quite admit he'd been wrong when he'd assured Truman that the Chinese would not intervene, he did acknowledge that they were attacking and would continue to mass along the Yalu River until China itself was attacked. When Truman pointed out that B-29s weren't doing as well during this war as they had during World War II, MacArthur suggested atomic weapons might make the difference if they were used on cities in Manchuria to disrupt the Chinese supply line.

While Truman was concerned Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union would retaliate against U.S. allies should the U.S. bomb Manchuria, MacArthur dismissed these concerns, incorrectly arguing that the USSR did not have sufficient atomic weapons to do so. He also argued that U.S. atomic weapons could be used in the case of a Soviet invasion of West Germany. Despite his misgivings, Truman agreed to the use of atomic weapons. Truman admitted that if the three divisions in North Korea has been successfully evacuated from Hungnam, he would not have considered the atomic option.[3]

In January 1951, pits were delivered to Korea and installed in all weapons already present.[4] A few weeks later, Truman transferred the final decision making to MacArthur, authorizing the general to use the atom bombs if, in MacArthur's view, their use was the only way to improve the situation. The situation had certainly worsened, as the Chinese had relentlessly marched south throughout December and into January, recapturing Seoul, the South Korean capital.[5] In the meantime, U.S. aerial reconnaissance showed that the Soviets were moving fighters and bombers onto airstrips in southeastern Siberia.[6]

Atomic Bombings and the Soviet Mobilization (January-February, 1951)[]

The decision finally came a few weeks later. On January 23, 1951, the U.S. dropped several bombs on strategic points in Manchuria.[7] Within hours, Truman appeared before the country explaining the action and his reasons for approving it. He also emphasized that Soviet territory had not been attacked.[8] Despite his assurances that the US had no quarrel with the USSR, Joseph Stalin retaliated on behalf of his ally, China, and ordered six atomic attacks against U.S. allies staged from Pechenga[9]: Aberdeen and Norwich in the United Kingdom; Nancy and Rouen in France, and; Augsburg and Bremen in West Germany.[10] The Soviet army headed west to the border of the Allied occupation zone as the bombs were landing in Europe, as did the armies of its allies: Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Czechoslovakia.[11]

The attacks on Britain and France effectively triggered the NATO treaty. British Prime Minister Clement Attlee and French President Vincent Auriol immediately demanded the U.S. respond. So did West Germany, but as that country wasn't in NATO, Truman felt comfortable ignoring them.[12] Truman consulted with Secretary of Defense George Marshall. While neither were enthusiastic about attacking the Soviets again, Truman decided that destroying Pechenga was the least terrible option, as it might mollify Britain and France, and was sufficiently isolated from more populous Soviet territory that Stalin might not feel compelled to respond. On the other hand, Truman ignoring the European attacks might end NATO altogether and send Europe into an alliance with Stalin. At Marshall's suggestion, Truman had the planes fly out of the UK and France. He also ordered Alaska put on alert, as it was similar to Pechenga, and would be a likely target if Stalin did retaliate.[13]

The U.S. destroyed Pechenga on February 4. Despite Truman's order for precautions, the Soviets destroyed Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska on February 7.[14]

European Theater[]

Ground War in Europe and Continued Atomic Bombings (February 1951)[]

In response, on February 15, Truman authorized atomic attacks against Russia's satellites, destroying Zywiec in Poland, Szekesfehervar in Hungary, and Ceske Budejovice in Czechoslovakia in an effort to disrupt several transportation hubs.[15] Two days later, the Soviet Union invaded Western Europe, and World War III was now past the point of no return.[16]

The Soviets, using their numerical superiority, made substantial gains in West Germany, Austria and northeastern Italy, despite huge casualties inflicted on them by Allied forces.[17] In response, on February 24, U.S. launched bombing raids with non-atomic explosives against various targets within the USSR and its allied countries, including Warsaw and Krakow in Poland, Prague and Bratislava in Czechoslovakia, and Budapest in Hungary, and the Soviet cities of Leningrad and Vladivostok, as well as Minsk in Byelorussian SSR and Rovno in the Ukranian SSR. Allegedly, the Leningrad attack (a night raid) killed several children playing in a park for which Stalin promised retribution.[18]

As February wound down, NATO was faced with a catastrophe. Truman realized that the U.S. probably didn't have the manpower to stop the Russians, even with Britain and France contributing. He was already regretting the decision to bomb Manchuria, especially as the only solution he and Secretary of Defense Marshall could see to remedy the disparity in manpower was the use of more atom bombs.[19] Further hobbling the U.S. and its allies was West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer's plea to Truman to refrain from using atom bombs in West German territory, lest the U.S. lose West Germany as an ally.  Truman asceded to Adenauer's, despite Marshall's misgivings. Instead, Truman decided to use bombs in East Germany and in Russia's satellites with the goal of slowing down the Soviet supply line. He even hoped that the attacks might prompt the governments of the various satellites to reconsider their alliance with Russia, or to prompt the citizens of those states to rebel against their communist governments.[20]

Truman further decided not to attack capital cities, but instead smaller towns that had important rail lines. Marshall prepared a list for Truman's approval.[21]

The Soviet Attack on North America and the Global Response (March, 1951)[]

While the atomic attacks did disrupt Soviet supply lines and slow down the drive west, they did not cause any uprisings.[22] They also resulted in the most audacious attacks from the Soviets to date. On the night of March 1-2, Soviet Tu-4s, painted to look like the American B-29s (in violation of the Geneva Conventions) they'd been reverse engineered from, dropped several atomic bombs on the American west, including the cities of Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Salt Lake City and Denver.[23] The Soviets also atom-bombed Bangor, Maine and a location in Newfoundland.[24] Bombers meant for Spokane and Las Vegas were successfully downed by the U.S.[25] Moreover, only one bomber crew actually made it back to the Soviet Union,[26] with the rest having to land on nearby air fields and surrender[27], and others having to bail out near the cities they'd just bombed and being subjected to civilian vengeance (also in violation of the Geneva Conventions).[28]

In response, the U.S. destroyed a number of Soviet ports on March 4, including Vladivostok, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Magadan, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky and Provideniya.[29] (a successful if costly attack for the U.S.), as well as Kiev,[30]. In the following weeks, the U.S. also dropped atomic bombs on several other Soviet cities, including Minsk, Leningrad[31] and Moscow itself. The three atomic bombs that struck Moscow destroyed the Kremlin and the Lubyanka, killing a several commissars and generals.[32] However, Stalin survived the attack, and transferred the government to Kuibishev.[33][34]

By the end of March Allied forces were in constant retreat in Germany, as the Soviets pressed west.[35]

Soviet Gains in Europe (April-June 1951)[]

In April, the Soviet Union attacked several airfields in the U.K. with conventional explosives, including USAF barracks at Sculthorpe. While the attacks killed several and did a fair amount of damage, compared with an atomic bomb, the attacks were perceived as comparative nuisances.[36] However, days later, the Soviets inflicted another atomic attack on the U.S. and the U.K. when it placed an atom bomb in each of two separate freighters, and detonated those bombs in the Panama Canal and the Suez Canal. These attacks helped hamstring NATO's logistics.[37] At the end of the month, the USSR struck another blow against NATO by dropping an atomic bomb on Bordeaux, France, which had been a major shipping hub for the U.S.[38] They also succeeded in taking Milan, Italy on April 30.[39]

In May, the U.S. was able to destroy Khabarovsk and Blagoveshchensk, two key Soviet cities on the Trans-Siberian railroad; the attacks were designed to hamper Soviet aid to its allies in Korea.[40] However, at the close of the month, the Soviets had taken Dortmund, in the heart of the German Ruhr.[41] In June, the Soviets inflicted another blow on beleaguered France when it dropped an atomic bomb on the center of Paris.[42] Several surviving officials established a Committee of National Salvation, and asked Charles de Gaulle to become its head.[43] De Gaulle's first task was to contact Truman for aid, including medical supplies and experts in treating radiation sickness. While de Gaulle and Truman had shared a deep antipathy from the closing days of World War II, Truman realized that de Gaulle could forge a separate peace with the USSR, and so did everything he could to meet de Gaulle's requests.[44]

U.S. Bombings of West Germany and the Soviet Retreat (July, 1951-May, 1952)[]

By July 1951, Soviet forces had crossed most of West Germany and were approaching the borders with the Netherlands and Luxembourg. They also held Austria and the Po Valley in Italy. President Truman did believe any of these countries would stay in the war if the Russians continued their advances.[45] In a desperate move, Truman authorized the use atom bombs on the Soviet forward positions in West Germany, disregarding Konrad Adenauer's plea that no bombs be used.[46]

Within days, U.S. bombers deployed bombs all across West Germany. Wesel, Hörstel, and a host of other towns were destroyed. The attacks destroyed most of the Soviet forward positions, forcing the survivors to retreat back east.[47] Truman and once again offered Joseph Stalin the status quo ante bellum, with all communist forces in Europe and Korea pulling back to their pre-war borders. Stalin declined.[48]

While NATO were advancing for the first time since the beginning of the ground war, Stalin still had a sufficient atomic arsenal to respond. In short order, the Soviets attacked Pusan and Chongju in South Korea in August,[49] and then destroyed the U.S. airbase in Sculthorpe, U.K. (an attack which also destroyed the nearby town of Fakenham) in September.[50] Worst of all was the attack on Antwerp a few weeks later.[51] The Soviet Union also scored a minor propaganda victory when President Truman announced he was not running for re-election in 1952.

Nonetheless, throughout the remainder of 1951, NATO forces continued their frantic drive east to regain territory. In short order, NATO troops retook Lippstadt,[52] Marsberg,[53] and Warberg.[54] Only in Warberg did NATO see anything like actual Soviet resistance. Further north, the town of Paderborn became a NATO stronghold,[55] as the Soviets made repeated and costly attempts to take the town.[56] Once the Soviet drive halted, U.S. troops attempted their own advance, but soon came to grief against the now-dug in Red Army.[57]

As the year wound down, the Soviets were faced with problems in their sphere of influence. In the fall, a coup in Czechoslovakia managed to seize Bratislava. The Soviet air force bombed the city with conventional ordinance, but it was not enough to completely put down the uprising.[58] Moreover, Slovakia's restiveness spread to northern Hungary.[59]

While Paderborn was proving to be a disaster for the Soviets, and certain of its allies were becoming unreliable, the Soviet Union was able to gain further momentum in Italy, although that front remained a backwater, as Soviet generals were much more interested in using it as a southern road into France. In March 1952, the Soviets made their way into Bologna, although the Italian military denied that the Soviets actually controlled the town.[60] In the rest of Europe, the Soviets were reduced nuisance raids using Ilyushin II-28s (reporting name "Beagle").[61]

The Soviet Attack on the U.S. East Coast and the Climax of the War (May, 1952)[]

In May 1952, Stalin ordered one last desperate gamble. After months of practice, the Soviet Air Force had perfected a technique of mid-air refueling of the Tu-4s. Still seething after the destruction of Moscow, Stalin ordered several Tu-4s to attack the U.S. cities of Washington, DC, New York City, Boston, and Philadelphia. U.S. experts had not counted on this, and the cities were completely vulnerable.[62] While Philadelphia was spared by luck,[63] the other three were totally destroyed.[64] President Truman had been at a political function in Buffalo, and so was spared the two bombs that landed between the White House and the Capitol. However, most of the Federal government was killed. Truman's wife Bess and his daughter Margaret were among the dead.[65]

Truman did his best to gather up the surviving members of the government, and remained publicly defiant.[66] He immediately ordered atomic attacks on Murmansk, Arkhangelsk and Odessa.[67] Almost concurrently, a nationalist uprising erupted in Poland. The Soviet Union pulled a whole division away from Paderborn to try to put the rebellion down.[68]

Long Reach: the Hydrogen Bomb and the Death of Stalin (June, 1952)[]

Throughout May and June, 1952, Truman assembled a skeleton government, and ordered Operation: Long Reach, the operation to track down and kill Stalin with the the new hydrogen bomb, which had been successfully tested on Eniwetok in the South Pacific.[69] After some weeks of fruitless searching, U.S. intelligence officials confirmed that Stalin was in Omsk. Truman ordered the H-bomb be deployed against Omsk, realizing that, even if Stalin escaped, the attack could prove decisive.[70] The operation was successful on all counts, and Stalin was killed.[71]

Stalin's death did not bring an immediate end to the war: Lavrenty Beria seized the reins of power and pledged to fight on.[72] Similarly, Mao Tse-Tung promised that the forces of revolution would be victorious.[73] Nonetheless, Truman offered a return to the status quo ante bellum.[74] Within a few days, however, elements within the Soviet government, represented by Ivan Turginov, contacted Richard Cunningham Patterson Jr., the American ambassador to Switzerland, about Truman's offer for a return to the status quo antebellum. Patterson relayed this information to Truman, and also confirmed that Beria's position was unstable.[75] Beria was too unpopular to stay in power;[76] he was removed a from power and replaced by Vyacheslav Molotov.[77] A general ceasefire began in Europe.[78] In July, 1952, Truman, British PM Clement Attlee and interim French leader Charles de Gaulle met with Molotov at Versailles.[79]

The Treaty of Versailles of 1952[]

At the first meeting, Molotov confirmed that so long as the U.S. would stay out of Soviet affairs, the Soviets would no longer fight the U.S. Truman in turn demanded that the Soviets not deploy atomic weapons against these satellites, including the Baltic states. The western powers had not recognized their annexation, so De Gaulle and Attlee both backed Truman's position. Grudgingly, Molotov agreed.

Next, Truman touched on the Asian front, proposing that Chinese and North Korean troops leave South Korea lest the U.S. deploy more a-bombs. Here, Molotov balked, as he had no control over Mao. Instead, he took the same tact Truman just had, agreeing to stop supplying Mao, but only if the U.S. stopped dropping a-bombs on China and North Korea. Truman saw no other choice, and agreed to Molotov's terms. All parties hoped that this Treaty of Versailles would prove more successful than its 1919 namesake.[80]

Korean Theater[]

Ironically, once the war in Europe began, the Korean theater became a lower priority for the U.S. and the Soviets, although Chinese and North Korean troops continued to press south, with the Korean War looking more and more like World War I.[81] Nonetheless, the U.S. military was able to deliver a regiment's worth of Pershing tanks in advance of an attack near Chongju. The battle proved to be a success for the UN.[82] Another engagement in April saw UN forces hold back a column of T-34s until air support could do enough damage to force a retreat.[83]

In April 1951, the United States launched a substantial bombing raid against Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, in an effort to kill Kim Il-sung The attack used conventional explosives, rather than atomic weapons. Kim survived, as Pyongyang was heavily defended. Nonetheless, the attack did a fair amount of damage.[84] However, that very same night, communist forces were able to bomb and disable a U.S. air strip near Pusan.[85]

After those events, the war quieted down, with both sides blaring propaganda at each other over loudspeakers, with Red troops actually surrendering every so often, thanks in part to a message created by a psy-ops colonel named Linebarger, which used the Chinese words for "love" and "virtue" and "humanity", which when taken together also sounded like the English words for "I surrender", allowing the Reds to surrender without losing face.[86]

The month of May saw the snow melt, and an increase in shelling attacks from the Chinese. NATO's efforts were hobbled by the long logistics chain between Korea and the U.S. after the attacks on the U.S. west coast, and the Panama and Suez Canals.[87] While many hoped that the U.S. atomic attacks on Khabarovsk and Blagoveshchensk would slow down supply lines to the Chinese and North Korean armies, others had doubts.[88]

The lines stalemated south of Chongju, with the Americans and the Chinese intermittently taking shots at one another throughout June and July, 1951.[89] This was broken when the Soviets dropped atom bombs on Pusan and Chongju in South Korea in August,[90] Chinese and North Korean troops poured through the hole the Soviet's had created,[91] driving UN troops south to Kaeryong,[92] where their stubborn resistance stabilized the lines once gain.[93]

However, within weeks, the situation had sufficiently deteriorated such that the U.S. Army recruited South Korean soldiers to fill things out. U.S. troops who'd seen how badly the South Koreans had done at the outset of the war in 1950 were not impressed. The fact that many of the South Korean officers used a model of discipline patterned on one the Japanese had used was further cause for alarm.[94] In short order, the South Koreans demonstrated that they'd learned a great deal since the war began and proved themselves in combat.[95] Tensions did flair up between U.S. troops and their South Korean counterparts over ROK methods of discipline.[96]

While the line had stabilized again with the arrival of winter,[97] with the spring thaw, the Reds advanced and successfully took Kaeryeong in April, 1952, and UN forces set up a new line just south of the town.[98] UN propaganda played up the role of the new hydrogen bomb in Stalin's death, and intimated that it could be used against the Chinese. Mao and his allies were defiant,[99] and kept fighting even after Treaty of Versailles ended the war in Europe. UN forces began increased pressure in Korea, with B-47s now picking up where the B-29s had left off.[100]

Despite Mao's public defiance, NATO attacks on North Korean and Chinese infrastructure began taking a toll. In August, 1952, the Chinese government approached the government of Yugoslavia to open up talks with the U.S. While Marshal Tito was a "deviationist" in Mao's eyes, Yugoslavia was one of the handful of countries to maintain relations with both the U.S. and the P.R.C.

Chinese Foreign Minister Chou En-Lai proposed a return to the status quo ante bellum in Asia if the U.S. ended its bombing campaign against China. Chou further promised that North Korea would withdraw its forces north of the 38th Parallel. Yugoslavian Foreign Minister Edvard Kardelj met with President Truman in Philadelphia with Chou's proposal. Satisfied that Kim would withdraw, Truman accepted Chou's plan, and the war officially ended on all fronts.[101]


  1. Bombs Away, see, e.g., pg. 7, ebook.
  2. Ibid., pg. 5, ebook.
  3. Ibid., pgs. 5-9.
  4. Ibid., pg. 25.
  5. Ibid., pg. 38.
  6. Ibid., pgs. 40-41.
  7. Ibid., pgs. 55-61.
  8. Ibid., pgs. 58-61.
  9. Ibid., pg. 86.
  10. Ibid., pgs. 64-65, 70.
  11. Ibid, pg. 67.
  12. Ibid., pg. 86.
  13. Ibid., pgs. 87-90.
  14. Ibid., pg. 93.
  15. Ibid., pg. 104.
  16. Ibid., pgs. 110-118.
  17. Ibid., pg. 134.
  18. Ibid., pgs. 120-121.
  19. Ibid., pgs. 133-134.
  20. Ibid., pgs. 135-137.
  21. Ibid., pg. 138.
  22. Ibid., pg. 138-140.
  23. Ibid. pgs. 141-150.
  24. Ibid., pg. 159.
  25. Ibid. pg. 165.
  26. Ibid., pgs. 214-215.
  27. Ibid., pgs. 164-165.
  28. Ibid., pgs. 171-172.
  29. Ibid., pg. 165.
  30. Ibid., pg. 162.
  31. Ibid. pg. 183.
  32. Ibid. pg. 178.
  33. Ibid., pg. 214.
  34. Ibid. pgs. 178-179.
  35. Ibid., pgs. 192-196.
  36. Ibid., pgs. 278-280.
  37. Ibid., pgs. 291-294.
  38. Ibid., pgs. 309-311.
  39. Ibid., pg. 329.
  40. Ibid., pgs. 372-376.
  41. Ibid., pg. 394.
  42. Ibid., pgs. 427-430.
  43. Fallout, pg. 5.
  44. Ibid., pgs. 6-7.
  45. Ibid., loc. 1611-1641, e-book
  46. Ibid., loc. 1641-1688.
  47. Ibid. loc. 1751-1886.
  48. Ibid, loc. 1917.
  49. Ibid., loc. 2152-2213.
  50. Ibid., loc. 2428-2487.
  51. Ibid., loc. 3094-3167.
  52. Ibid., loc. 3506.
  53. Ibid., loc. 4745-4768.
  54. Ibid., loc. 5446-5505.
  55. Ibid.,loc. 3766-3778
  56. Ibid., loc. 3766-3778, loc. 5083-5095.
  57. Ibid., loc. 6199-6257.
  58. Ibid., loc. 3646-3718.
  59. Ibid., loc. 4194-4267.
  60. Ibid., loc. 5535.
  61. Ibid.
  62. Ibid., loc. 6541-6615.
  63. Ibid., loc. 6810.
  64. Ibid. 6620-6692.
  65. Ibid. 6620-6692.
  66. Ibid. loc. 6797.
  67. Ibid., loc. 6953.
  68. Ibid., loc. 7116-7176.
  69. Ibid., pg. 69-71.
  70. Ibid., pg. 72.
  71. Ibid., pgs. 73-78, ebook.
  72. Ibid., pgs. 79-80.
  73. Ibid., pg. 86.
  74. Ibid., pg. 91.
  75. Ibid., pgs. 101-102.
  76. Ibid., pgs. 103-105.
  77. Ibid., pg. 118-119.
  78. Ibid.pgs. 123-124.
  79. Ibid., pg. 153.
  80. Ibid., pgs. 155-157.
  81. Ibid.
  82. Ibid., pg. 204-205.
  83. Bombs Away, pgs. 273-277, ebook.
  84. Ibid., pgs. 283-287.
  85. Ibid., pgs. 286-287.
  86. Ibid., pgs. 311-315.
  87. Ibid., pgs. 357-360.
  88. Ibid., pg. 382.
  89. Fallout, loc. 197-268.
  90. Ibid., loc. 2152-2213.
  91. Ibid., loc. 2302.
  92. Ibid., loc. 2503.
  93. Ibid., loc. 2562.
  94. Ibid., loc. 3371-3422.
  95. Ibid., loc. 3434-3446.
  96. Ibid, loc. 4408-4482.
  97. Ibid., loc. 5157-5231.
  98. Ibid., loc. 5535.
  99. Armistice, pgs. 85-88.
  100. Ibid., pg. 163.
  101. Ibid., pgs 277-280, ebook.