A Look At Some ‘Cold War Turned Hot’ Flashpoints For Writers And Gamers

When it comes to creating a ‘Cold War Turned Hot’ gaming or writing project most writers and gamers instinctively turn to a hypothetical NATO-Warsaw Pact clash in Europe during the 1980s. The decade is ripe with incidents that held the potential of transforming the Cold War into a hot war practically overnight. It is safe to say that this particular genre of World War III fiction and games will continue to rank high for years to come. As much fun and excitement as writing about or gaming a clash between NATO and Pact armies on the North German Plain is, we need to remember there are other potential flashpoints from the Cold War years that can provide valuable fodder for a novella or scenario.

Before I embarked upon the path-turned-expressway that is WWIII 1987, I spent a good deal of free time experimenting with various flashpoints from different eras of the Cold War. One such example is a short story I built around a hypothetical clash between heavy forces and elements of the US Rapid Deployment Forces (precursor to CENTCOM) in Iran circa 1982. During the research phase I learned much about the shortcomings RDF units had to contend with in those days. When I gamed out the conflict, I saw firsthand how the deficiencies would translate to real issues on the battlefield. To make a long story short, I opted not to expand the short story into a novella or beyond.

That is not to say exploring and using a non-Central Front flashpoint wouldn’t be worth the time and effort. Quite the contrary in my opinion. The history of the Cold War is filled with a great number of flashpoints and crises for writers and gamers to tackle. The three below are some of the better known historical and hypothetical examples floating around out there. I hope one or more of them will turn out to spark some interest among some of you. 😊

Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962– Aside from a NATO-WP clash in Central Europe, the Cuban Missile Crisis is probably the most familiar ‘Cold War Turned Hot’ subject for writing projects and games. A great number of novels and games have been created with the dark days of October, 1962 as their centerpiece. Some have been better than others, but the common link between nearly every game and writing title is that their plots are more concerned with the aftermath of a Cuban Missile Crisis gone hot rather then the actual conflict itself. I’ve always wanted to see a novel, or even a PC game for that matter, focused on the operational and political sides of a US invasion/air campaign against Cuba in October, 1962. I’ve toyed around with creating a few scenarios showing what US air strikes to neutralize the Soviet MRBMs might look like (Thank you, Command!). I believe a Cuban Missile Crisis project would be worth the time and effort put into it.

Berlin Crisis, 1961– In my opinion this crisis was even more dangerous than the one above. When the Berlin Wall was erected in August, 1961 it threatened to unleash a series of miscalculations on both sides that had the potential to bring about a global war. The October, 1961 standoff between US and Soviet tanks in the divided city could very well have been the first shots of a new world war. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and the focus of the Superpowers soon shifted from Europe to the Caribbean. I created a Command scenario simulating a Soviet bomber/submarine attack against the United States in response to the Berlin Crisis escalating wildly out of control. It’s still one of my favorite scenarios of all time. Mostly because I just love nuking Boston. 😊

Yom Kippur War, 1973– This is another crisis situation that almost turned hot. After Syria and Egypt attacked and caught Israel off guard, the US and Soviet Union began preparing to reinforce their forces in the region significantly, if the need arose. Troops, aircraft and ships from both sides were moving into position as the war went on with both Moscow and Washington threatening intervention if their respective client state appeared ready to go down the tubes. There are a number of possibilities for writing and gaming. A hypothetical clash between the US Sixth Fleet and Soviet 5th Eskadra in the Eastern Med at the height of the war is probably most worth exploring.

18 Replies to “A Look At Some ‘Cold War Turned Hot’ Flashpoints For Writers And Gamers”

  1. Any chance of releasing the short story re: RDF ’82? I was always fascinated by that genre. It was the vehicle for all-out nuclear war in the very good British TV movie “Threads”, which I always felt was a better depiction of the aftermath of a major nuclear war, thanks in great part to the absence, in the British version, of Steve Guttenberg. (sorry, couldn’t resist, loved him in Police Academy)….

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m going to look around for that story. I think its on one of my old laptops, never having been transferred over. If I find it, I’ll definitely post it

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Regarding the Cuban Missile Crisis, don’t forget about the nuclear torpedo that was reportedly one political officer away from being fired. There were any number of ways things could have gone sideways.

    Another flashpoint is also Berlin, but a bit earlier than the Wall. Imagine if either the Soviets tried to close the skies or the Allies tried to force land access.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Good point. The nuclear torpedo is another wild card to that crisis, showing how easily it could’ve went hot in a hurry.

      Good point #2 🙂 The Russians blockading Berlin again was a very real concern in the late 40s and 50s. airlift.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, Wayne. We would’ve taken heavy casualties and lost some cities but Russia would’ve been wiped from the face of the earth, thanks to SAC. Peace is their profession, after all 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The problem with some of the earlier WWIII scenarios is that the outcome is likely preordained.
    A Berlin Wall Crisis or Cuban Missile Crisis gone hot is bad news for Europe but given the US’s nuclear superiority in this timeframe, the West (though not necessarily NATO) is going to be the victor. Even if the US loses a number of cities from Cuban-based missiles the airstrikes don’t get, the VVS strategic bomber fleet is still completely outmatched flying into a SAGE-controlled ADC, and the number of (unreliable) Soviet ICBMs that can be launched over the poles is still quite small. Meanwhile SAC makes the rubble bounce in the Soviet Union after the US’s far larger ICBM force and nascent Polaris force work them over.
    If you set it after 1967 or so, the Soviets can effectively kill the US with ICBMs (and it’s going to go nuclear quickly given the Soviets’ superiority on the conventional battlefield in Europe) and MAD is in full effect. It’s not until the 80’s that NATO’s conventional forces have a chance of stopping the Eastern Bloc without resorting to early employment of nuclear weapons.
    You need to engineer some way of limiting the engagement (like the naval confrontation in the Med during the Yom Kippur War you posited). This isn’t to say you can’t write a good story about a full-fledged Cold War gone hot scenario in these timeframes, just that there’s no real suspense as to the final result.
    One WWIII scenario that I don’t think gets enough love is a USSR-PRC tilt in 1969. Between the US being mired in Vietnam, the simmering tensions in the Middle East post 6-Day War, and the question of how the West reacts to a full fledged war between the Communist giants, there’s a lot of fertile ground for a story.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, the formulas have to be rebalanced…or imbalanced one way or another. In a realistic way of course.

      The Sino-Soviet flare up really deserves far more recognition. It would’ve brought about at least a limited exchange between erstwhile allies who didn’t like each other very much

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Me too. NATO was at rock bottom in those post-Vietnam years. A war would’ve been very interesting to say the least. Ivan might’ve pulled it off

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Absolutely agree …. it was always unlikely that the WP would just attack NATO because they were bored or just wanted a holiday in Paris …. there would have been some sort of spark to light the tinder wood so to speak. I can recommend ‘Cold War Hot’ by Peter Tsouras for alternative Cold War scenarios. Also, there was a near crisis during Operation Able Archer in 1983 when a lack of communication almost caused a WP / NATO conflict as NATO was conducting a large-scale command post exercise.

    I used to have the SPI game ‘Sinai’ and one of the scenario variants in there was to have US and Soviet forces intervene in an Israeli-Egyptian conflict. I try and keep an eye out for Victory Games’ ‘Flashpoint Golan’ as well.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. PS. Modern War #28 has the game ‘Objective Havana: The US Invasion of Coba 1962’
      PPS. The is a novel entitled ‘Resurrection Day’ by Brendan DuBois (1999) which is entertaining, set after a post-invasion caused nuclear exchange between the USA and USSR

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Resurrection Day was a good novel. My only issue is the left bent of the author and how he just loved to portray US soldiers in a negative light. Good plot though.

        I have to look for Modern War #28. Damn shame they stopped publications. I’m pretty bummed

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I think I had that book. Was there a 1973 naval clash scenario included in that one? I’m not convinced Able Archer would’ve led to an exchange. I know a lot of people think otherwise, but I’ve never been entirely sold.

      Flashpoint Golan is hard to find. If I ever come across a copy or know of one for sale I’ll let you know

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Lots of good ideas here.

    Not much to add to the comments about Cuba because everyone seems to know that even a Soviet first strike would not have been decisive whereas our retaliation would have been massive and fatal to the USSR. What I find interesting, though, is the long-term post-crisis outcome would have been likely the same – assuming no escalation – had we invaded or not. The Soviets would have resolved never to have been caught outmanned again and likely would have started the massive arms buildup that eventually doomed their economy, the shortcomings of socialist economics notwithstanding. But between 1962 and 1989, there were years of fear and tension, and the potential for a lot of miscues so whether JFK should have struck and struck hard remains, like MacArthur’s advice in Korea, one of the big IF’s of history.

    With respect to the nuclear balance having changed decisively by 1967, in terms of numbers yes, but not entirely in terms of command systems. Norman Friedman mentioned in his book “The Cold War” that it wasn’t until 1970 or so that the Soviets had a command system sufficiently robust to function if they had taken a first strike.

    I will look to see if I still have a copy of Flashpoint Golan (I have a lot of old boardgames) and let you know if I find it.

    Liked by 1 person

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