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15 Times The United States And Russia Almost Went To War

15 Times The United States And Russia Almost Went To War

While it’s difficult to establish the exact chronological parameters of the Cold War, the term given to the long period of heightened tension and occasional active aggression pitting the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and its communist (or so-called communist dictatorships) cohorts against the United States of America and its allies, most historians accept that the conflict commenced in 1947 and ended in 1991. The year 1947 saw America officially state its goal of containing Soviet expansion via enforcement of the Truman Doctrine, while 1991 saw the final crack up of the Soviet Union. Tensions existed well before 1947, but were largely obscured by WWII. And of course tensions between America and its allies and Russia, the de facto scion of shattered the USSR, are hardly over.

For the purposes of this article, please accept the premise that current tension between Russia and America is hardly a new, post-1991 development, but rather a continuation of the decades of struggle to which the countries have long been accustomed. Thus, I’ll be referring to the USSR and to Russia, though I’ll be sure not to use the names interchangeably; the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the Russian Federation — the official name of Russia — are not the same nation, but their history is inextricable and said history begat modern strife.

15. The 1979 NORAD Nuclear Glitch

Via: Our Strange Planet

On November 9th, 1979, for a few brief, horrifying moments, the American military and intelligence communities were firmly convinced that the Soviet Union had launched a  massive attack using multiple intercontinental ballistic missiles. This unprovoked, inbound assault was sure to kill millions of Americans, and in response the counterattack would eradicate many more people back in the USSR. The catch was that no such attack ever happened save for in a simulation developed for training purposes. On that fateful day, a hapless worker at the NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Headquarters) mistakenly inserted a tape containing the training exercise into the computer system. Caught unprepared for a simulated attack, the military community briefly thought a real attack was underway and began to scramble aircraft and ready missiles for a counterstrike.

14. The End of WWII

Via: Fallout Wiki

In the closing days of combat in the Western Theatre of World War II, Soviet troops were the first to enter Berlin, the capital city of the crumbling Third Reich. The USSR would occupy a portion of Berlin and much of the fractured nation of Germany (split into West and East Germany) for the next four and a half decades. (They also occupied Poland, Ukraine, Georgia….) In the Eastern Theatre of operations, AKA the Pacific, the allies were keen to prevent the Soviets from occupying as much ground as possible. Many historians and military analysts speculate that when the United States dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki only days after the August 6th blast at Hiroshima, it was not only to convince the Japanese Empire to surrender but also to demonstrate to the Soviets that America was fully in control of nuclear weapons technology. The message may have been stating that if further movement into the vacuum created by the fall of Japan led to combat between the former allies, it could involve devastating consequences.

13. The November Coincidence of 1956

Via: Pinterest

On November 5th, 1956, absolutely nothing that should have precipitated active conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union happened. But through a series of coincidental events, for a little while it seemed as if the Soviets had commenced a coordinated attack against the West. Why? Because at roughly the same time, a British bomber crashed due to mechanical issues but was initially thought to have been shot down, a huge formation of geese flying over Turkey was misinterpreted by radar as a squad of enemy fighters, and legitimate but unexpected maneuvers by Soviet ships in the Black Sea and by planes over Syria all seemed to have taken place in concert, thus pointing to attack. In fact the ship maneuvers were just an exercise and the aircraft over Syria were an escort for the country’s president. The accidental crash of the British plane was just that, and the geese were completely non-weaponized.

12. Korean Escalation

Via: Smithsonian

The Korean War was the first of several so-called Proxy Wars fought between America and/or American allies against countries allied with (or at least supported by) the USSR. During the conflict China gave much support to the North Koreans, and American pilots often described seeing the blue eyes and pale hair of the men flying enemy planes, but officially the combatants on the other side of the battle lines were soldiers from what would become the DPRK. During the three year conflict, the American military briefly considered the idea of using a series of nuclear strikes to devastate North Korean troops and to cut off Chinese support, which was bolstering North Korea with troops and supplies. General MacArthur, a hero of WWII, was adamant that nuclear weapons would bring the war to a swift close. But President Truman felt it would escalate the conflict far too greatly, almost surely commencing a hot war between the US and the Soviets, the other main backer of the North Korean forces.

11. An Accidental Overflight

Via: History

The Cuban Missile Crisis lasted from October 16th to October 28th, 1962. We’ll talk about that later; just remember the dates for now. On what should have been a routine surveillance flight over the neutral territory of the North Pole, pilot Charles Maultsby was briefly thrown off course when the Northern Lights obscured his view of the stars he was using to navigate. He inadvertently flew off course and entered Soviet airspace. To enemy radar, Maultsby’s U-2 looked much like a nuclear bomber. The incident took place on October 27th, 1962; due to the heightened tensions caused by the aforementioned Cuban Missile Crisis, the Soviets readily scrambled fighters and directed them toward the plane, fully intending to shoot it down. Fortunately Maultsby managed to exit USSR airspace before being intercepted.

10. The Solar Flare Confusion of 1967

Via: Wikipedia

The high tech equipment deployed in the defense of the United States gives us the edge over our adversaries, but reliance on technology can also at times lead to confusion and potential calamity. One such case came after a solar flare led to a coronal mass ejection, the energy of which reached earth on May 23rd, 1967. The wave of charged particles washing over the planet interfered with radar signals used by the American military and for a time the issue was interpreted as intentional Soviet jamming, surely preceding an attack. American atomic bombers were put on high alert and were ready to strike before the incident was determined to be scientific as opposed to Soviet in nature.

9. A Soviet Sub Almost Goes Ballistic

Via: Historix

In yet another incident that took place during the elevated tensions of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, a Soviet submarine came close to firing a nuclear weapon at an American ship. The United States destroyer USS Beale had dropped a series of non-armed depth charges near the submerged Soviet submarine B-59 in an attempt to force the sub to surface and make sure it complied with the US blockade of Cuba. The Americans had no intention of sinking the submarine, but its captain had no way of knowing this. Thus he ordered a nuclear-armed torpedo readied for use against the destroyer. His junior officers beseeched him to seek clear orders from Moscow, which he eventually did. The orders did not involve a nuclear attack.

8. Cloudy Confusion

Via: CDC Lifestyle

While we likely don’t know of many times when the Soviet military mistakenly thought their nation was under attack, we do have reports of a few such incidents. On September 26th, 1983, for example, a Soviet satellite misinterpreted the reflection of sunlight bouncing off a cluster of clouds as ICBMs in flight toward Russia. One lone officer, a Lt. Colonel named Stanislav Petrov, was convinced the defense system was giving a false report and defied protocol by reporting the alarm as false instead of risking a misled retaliation that could have needlessly killed untold numbers of people.

7. The War Game That Almost Became a Real War

Via: Newsnish

So-called war games are large scale joint exercises in which various branches of militaries from various nations work together to practice the types of maneuvers and tactics they would use in the event of an actual conflict breaking out. In late 1983, a huge war game almost led to actual war, though the United States and its NATO allies didn’t know it at the time. In the autumn of ’83, the US sent nearly 20,000 troops to Europe to commence maneuvers with their allies. The exercises had been announced to the global community, but the buildup looked so much like the preparation for an actual invasion, many Soviets thought the war games might be cover for an actual attack. Thus they readied their own troops and equipment and were fully poised for a real fight.

6. Secret Soldiers in Vietnam

Via: Military Analysis

America deployed hundreds of thousands of soldiers to Vietnam during the 1960s and 70s. That was never a secret. But the fact that the USSR deployed a few thousand military personnel to Vietnam was a secret, and it was one that, if revealed during the years of the Vietnam War, might have led to direct aggression between the USA and the USSR. We knew well that much of the equipment used by NVA and Viet Cong forces was manufactured in the Soviet Union, but it only came out that many weapons systems used against America and its allies were actively operated by Soviets, including many devastating surface-to-air missile systems.

5. Syrian Stalemate(s)

Via: YouTube

Though each has the stated primary aim of combatting global terrorism, the United States and Russia are in a much more complex mess due to their roles in the ongoing Syrian conflict. America wants peace with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad out of power; Russia wants to quash terrorist activity while keeping its ally al-Assad in power. Thus every time America has supported a rebel group fighting the Syrian government or has directly attacked the regime (such as with cruise missile strikes) we are fighting Russia’s ally. This Cold War-era setup has led to occasional blackouts in communication between Russian and American military personnel, which may well lead to exchanges of fire on the ground or in the air or to accidental aerial collisions that could dramatically escalate.

4. A Skirmish at Sea

Via: Wikipedia

In February of 1988, in the closing years of the Cold War conflict, an actual incident involving military personnel and machinery took place in the Black Sea. Two American warships were sailing within the twelve mile nautical boundary that the USSR claimed extended beyond their territory in an effort to assert the three mile boundary the US recognized. Two Soviet frigates approached the US ships and warned them away, but the Americans persisted in approaching closer to shore. The Soviet ships rammed the American vessels and then launched helicopters which hovered above the US ships, preventing their own aircraft from taking to the sky. After an hour or so, the largely undamaged American ships departed and tempers cooled.

3. The Ukrainian Invasion

Via: BBC

When Russian aggression against Ukraine commenced in 2014, by all accounts America should have gotten involved. Ukraine is an ally, and its sovereign territory was invaded and occupied. Though the Russians maintain that the military actions that took place in Crimea and along the eastern border of Ukraine were undertaken by locals who rose up of their own volition, it’s painfully obvious that the forces involved were Russian soldiers without their standard uniforms, and that they were operating at the behest of Moscow. America and the West has responded with sanctions, anger, and hand-wringing, though frankly action was warranted to protect an allied nation.

2. The Berlin Airlift

Via: Wikipedia

In June of 1948, the Soviet Union shut down all terrestrial access to the city of Berlin, which was the capital of Western Germany and occupied jointly by Soviet and allied forces despite the city’s location well inside the borders of the new nation of East Germany. When Soviet forces blocked roads, railways, and canal routes, they left tends of thousands of residents of West Berlin without access to food, fuel, and other supplies needed to live. The air forces of America, Britain, France, Canada, and several other nations banded together to commence the Berlin Airlift, an effort that saw more than 200,000 flights over the next year deliver millions of pounds of food and supplies. The Soviets harassed the airlift aircraft hundreds of times, but never turned to attack.

1. The Cuban Missile Crisis

Via: History

For almost two weeks in October of 1962, the world was on the brink of a nuclear conflict. Or at least that’s certainly how it felt when Americans learned that their Soviet adversaries had covertly installed ballistic missile launch facilities on the island of Cuba, which sits just a scant 90 miles south of the state of Florida. The intermediate range missiles deployed to the Caribbean island could have reached many points around America, potentially killing millions with their atomic warheads. President Kennedy and the American military considered a number of responses, which included air strikes or even a full-scale invasion of Cuba, but in the end a temporary blockade of the island and secret negotiations between the USA and USSR led to the removal of the missiles and a reduction in tensions.

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