ON THIS DAY
30 Dec 08. The Nato allies could have wiped out the Soviet Union’s leadership in the event of nuclear war, but it would have been the final, Pyrrhic, victory as the UK would already have been reduced to ashes. The 1978 papers show that UK armed forces were hopelessly ill-equipped for an all-out attack by Soviet air and naval forces and did not even have enough soldiers available to protect nuclear targets from sabotage. In a series of reports from intelligence and military chiefs, the only positive note was the discovery, probably by US spy satellites, of three special “relocation sites”, 620km south-east of Moscow, from where the Politburo and Soviet high command would have conducted the third world war. “All these bunkered sites are believed to be vulnerable to a direct hit or very near burst,” one top secret report said. But the rest of the picture was far more gloomy. In response to a 1977 report by the joint intelligence committee on Soviet capability to attack UK targets, the chiefs of staff were forced to paint a picture of entrenched inadequacy.
The UK’s fighter defence force had only enough missiles for two, or at most, three days of fighting. Only one airfield was protected by the modern Rapier anti-aircraft missile system while the older, Bloodhound, system guarding other crucial defence sites could be reloaded only once before running out of ammunition. The RAF was outnumbered two to one by technically superior aircraft. The Royal Navy had nowhere near enough minesweepers to guarantee clearing the seas of mines around UK ports or the vital Channel link across which troops and material would pour on the outbreak of war. Soviet special forces could overwhelm available UK troops guarding vital military and political sites. The long and short of the report was that in the event that the Soviets launched an attack as the first stage of all-out war, the UK could not defend itself or the US armed forces based here. As Fred Mulley, the defence secretary, told James Callaghan, the prime minister: “Britain is a far nearer and more concentrated target than the US and is the hinge of the Alliance’s response to any major aggression.“It ought not to be left easily open to conventional attack?.?.?.?yet?.?.?.?our current capability to protect it is uncomfortably thin.” The chiefs had reported: “It is doubtful if the defences of the UK would be sufficient even against only conventional attack to prevent vital elements of Nato’s military capability being substantially damaged or destroyed. “The early loss of substantial Nato forces based in or transiting through the UK could force rapid escalation to the nuclear level and greatly reduce the time available for political resolution of the conflict.” An all-out nuclear attack, which the UK could do little to prevent, would involve 200 three-megaton warheads striking military and civilian targets around the country. The defence secretary admitted that there was no concrete proposal for Nato to protect the UK in the event of a pre-emptive attack by the Soviets.
Callaghan told Mulley in a private meeting that he considered the situation to be “a scandal”, to which Mulley could only agree. Callaghan said in a handwritten note: “Heaven help us if there is a war!” (Source: FT.com)