BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: World: Europe
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Friday, 30 November, 2001, 18:19 GMT
The nuclear blitz that never was
Vienna city centre
The Austrian capital was to be completely destroyed
Paul Adams

Top secret files have been uncovered in Hungary revealing which European cities would have been obliterated if a nuclear war had broken out between Nato and the Warsaw Pact in the 1960s, at the height of the Cold War.

The Hungarian document describes a highest-level command exercise indistinguishable from actual war games

Vojtech Mastny
Parallel History Project
It hardly comes as a surprise that Warsaw Pact weapons were aimed at Western cities, but this is the first confirmation of specific targets to have emerged from classified planning documents.

The incredibly detailed documents from top secret Hungarian archives also suggest that Warsaw Pact members had good access to Nato's secret war plans.

And their own plans were finely tuned.

Nuclear blitz

At 7am on 23 June, 1965, Vienna is hit by two 500 kiloton devices, and completely destroyed.

A single bomb falls on Munich, obliterating the city.

The Italian cultural centres of Verona and Vicenza - both cities with important American and Nato military connections - are devastated.

Airfields, armoured divisions and barracks are also struck.

In all, thirty nuclear weapons are launched.

At the same time, Nato bombs destroy Budapest and other cities in Hungary.

It is not clear who has struck first.

Vivid reminder

It sounds like fiction, but these are precise, cold details.

Verona skyline
Verona was then the headquarters for NATO division
The documents, written by the Hungarian People's Army 1st Group Directorate, have just been published by the Parallel History Project on Nato and the Warsaw Pact, an international consortium of scholars based in Zurich.

The documents provide "vivid reminders of the menace posed by the Cold War nuclear arsenals," according to Vojtech Mastny, the project coordinator.

"The Hungarian document describes a highest-level command exercise indistinguishable from actual war games," he says.

The reference to Vienna is striking - apparently, the Warsaw Pact assumed Nato would ignore Austrian neutrality and planned accordingly.

But in the mid-1960s, the Hungarian Government was developing its relations with the West, and particularly with Austria.

"Vienna was never a military centre," says Csaba Bekes, director of the Cold War History Research Center.

"It's very hard to say what the message was."

The documents do not explain why the Italian cultural centres of Verona and Vicenza were slated for destruction.

However, Verona was, at the time, headquarters of Nato's Land Forces Southern Europe (Landsouth).

In 1965, the headquarters of the US Army's Southern European Task Force had just moved to Vicenza from Livorno.

Both cities, then, would have been regarded as prime targets by Warsaw Pact planners.

Western attack

A parallel document details the first massive nuclear strike by the "Westerners."

The Berlin Wall and watchtower
The Berlin Wall symbolized the split between East and West
Budapest and the Hungarian towns of Szekesfehervar, Miskolc and Debrecen are destroyed.

Warsaw Pact members had considered closely the consequences of Nato action and, more interestingly, and had also intercepted allied communications.

"At 03.20, radio station in Karlsruhe instructed radio station in Kaufbeuren to conduct an unlimited check on military readiness," reads one intercept.

Next to this, in a column marked "remarks on inference of message," the intercept is interpreted as "signal to 12th Pershing artillery division to move off to their launching stations."

In the absence of declassified documents from Moscow, historians are piecing together the story of the Warsaw Pact from its satellite members.

Csaba Bekes says revelations like these could provide "the driving force for the Russian authorities" to release similar material.

Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Europe stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Europe stories