Researching World War III: Online Research


The internet is a jungle. This goes without saying. Conducting research online these days is a challenge in and of itself. Self-discipline is essential. There are dozens of potential distractions on the world wide web just waiting to ensnare an unsuspecting researcher in a web of click bait, Youtube video recommendations, and Amazon wish lists. Trust me, I’m not passing judgment. I’ve been there, done that and have the search histories, and Amazon receipts to prove it.

The internet is also a treasure trove of research material provided one knows how to go about finding it. The more specific the search terms are, the more helpful the results will be, as a general rule. There are exceptions, of course, but this rule has served me well in regards to World War III-related research. Especially when it came to exploring sub-topics, and finding more specialized information as needed.

The online archives of academic libraries, defense universities, magazines, and field-specific publications contain endless amounts of material that touched on a potential NATO-Warsaw Pact confrontation in the 1980s. Individual unit histories, personal biographical websites, history websites, and wargamer blogs also conveniently filled in many blank spaces for me. There are a host of websites out there catering to specific topics in the wargame, and alternative history genre that turned out to be particularly invaluable.

The group of sub-topics I had to research was divergent, covering a range of political, geographical, cultural, and military matters. The sources I discovered were sometimes every bit as disparate as the sub-topics themselves. Source evaluation became a time-consuming, yet indispensable practice, especially when it came to putting together accurate orders of battle (ORBAT), and tables of organization and equipment (TO&E). The data found on some websites was inaccurate or outdated. 1987 was a time when a number of USAREUR, and NATO units were undergoing equipment upgrades.  For example, some orbats indicated that in July, 1987 the US 1st Armored Division was entirely refitted with M-1 Abrams, and M-2 Bradleys while others indicated the division’s brigades were still equipped with M-60 Pattons and M-113 APCs. The only way to resolve the matter was to dig deeper, and ask questions.

Similar issues cropped up with battle doctrine and tactics. Conflicting information seemed to be the rule rather than the exception when it came to sources dealing with how NATO and the Warsaw Pact would fight a ground war in 1987. A handful of contemporary articles and sources even argue emphatically that the Soviet Union’s warplan was to use nuclear weapons right from the start of any conflict in Europe. This conclusion comes from the discovery of one Soviet warplan from the 1970s. The National Interest, a bi-monthly international affairs magazine that favors sensationalism over fact took the ball and ran with this topic. Foolishly, in my opinion.

Research papers covering a host of NATO-Warsaw Pact topics were published in large numbers by think-tanks, government agencies, and defense universities in the late ‘70s through the end of the ‘80s. RAND was probably the most prolific private organization when it came to these papers. The Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island wasn’t too far behind in numbers, and quality. NWC’s focus was, predictably, naval warfare. Its writings on US Maritime Strategy in the ‘80s really opened the door for me to explore what a war at sea would’ve looked like in 1987 and create an accurate picture.

For land warfare, the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania had every base covered from ‘80s era US Army field manuals, to papers on the US Army’s transformation, and doctrinal shifts back then, especially the move to Airland Battle 2000. A land war in Europe consumed Army thinking for most of the decade, as the writings support.

Air warfare research is a subject I’ll discuss down the line at some point. I want to keep it separate because I’m an air guy at heart 😊 I hope everyone has enjoyed this short series. Also down the line I will draw up a detailed bibliography and make it available. Now that this has been completed, let’s get back to the war. 😊

4 Replies to “Researching World War III: Online Research”

  1. “I will draw up a detailed bibliography and make it available.”
    And that’s what I’m looking forward to 🙂


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