If the World War II alliance between the United States and the United Kingdom was the special relationship, what was the alliance between the United States and the Soviet Union? The especially problematic relationship? The relationship that could really have used to go to counseling? A relationship forged out of extreme crisis that later seemed like a sketchy thing? (Easily abbreviated as the sketchy relationship, of course.) My wife suggests perhaps calling it the shotgun marriage.
Maybe special fits the bill there too, in the sense of it being odd. Case in point: by August 30, 1945 — before World War II was officially over — some part of the U.S. military force (I’m not sure what branch; the Army Air Corps are a likely suspect) had already taken the time to draw up a list of good targets for atomic bombs in the USSR… and even overlaid a map of the Soviet Union with the ranges of nuclear-capable bombers, along with “first” and “second” priority targets marked on it.1
How many other war alliances end with one side explicitly plotting to nuke the heck out of the other ally? Probably not too many.
This amazing map comes from General Groves’ files, and was sent to him in September 1945 as part of a list of estimates for how many atomic bombs Curtis LeMay thought the US ought to have. I’ll talk about that another time, but here’s a hint: it was so many that even General Groves thought it was too many. Whoa.
A few things: the majority of these “dark” plots are B-29s (the same bombers that carried Fat Man and Little Boy), and they are going out of all kinds of “allied” bases (some currently in their possession, others labeled as “possible springboards”) around the USSR (Stavanger, Bremen, Foggia, Crete, Dhahran, Lahore, Okinawa, Shimushiru, Adak, and Nome). Which is an interesting way to quickly conceptualize the Cold War world from a military standpoint.
The very large, empty plots are for B-36s, which didn’t exist yet. They wouldn’t get fielded until 1949, but were already in the planning stages during the war. The actual B-36s as delivered had somewhat longer ranges (6,000 miles or so, total, if Wikipedia is to believed) than the ones estimated on here.
The target cities are a bit hard to make out (the next time I’m at NARA, I’ll try to get them to bring me the original map), but the “first priority” cities include Moscow, Sverdlovsk, Omsk, Novosibirsk, Stalinsk, Chelyabinsk, Magnitogorsk, Kazan, Molotov, and Gorki. Leningrad appears to be listed as a “second priority” target, which surprises me, but it might just be the microfilm being hard to read. All in all, it’s not the most interesting list of cities: they have literally just taken a list of the top cities in the USSR (based on population, industry, war relevance) and made those their atomic targets.
Stalin has a well-deserved reputation as a paranoid guy. But, as the old saying goes, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you.
- Citation: ”A Strategic Chart of Certain Russian and Manchurian Urban Areas [Project No. 2532],” (30 August 1945), Correspondence (“Top Secret”) of the Manhattan Engineer District, 1942-1946, microfilm publication M1109 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1980), Roll 1, Target 4, Folder 3, “Stockpile, Storage, and Military Characteristics.” The microfilm image I had of this came in two frames, a top and a bottom, and I pasted them together in Photoshop. This took a little bit of warping of the bottom image in odd ways (using Photoshop’s crazy “Puppet Warp” tool) because it didn’t quite line up with the top one due to folds in the paper and things like that. So there is a tiny bit of manipulation here, though none of it affects the content. [↩]