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Operation Unthinkable: Wikis


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Operation Unthinkable was a British plan to attack the Soviet Union. The creation of the plan was ordered by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and developed by the British Armed Forces' Joint Planning Staff at the end of World War II.


Offensive operations

The initial primary goal of the operation was declared as follows: "to impose upon Russia the will of the United States and the British Empire. Even though `the will' of these two countries may be defined as no more than a square deal for Poland, that does not necessarily limit the military commitment" [1] (The word "Russia" is used heavily throughout the document, although at the time Russia as a political entity had been replaced by the Soviet Union.)

The Chiefs of Staff were concerned that given the enormous size of Soviet forces deployed in Europe at the end of the war, and the perception that the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was unreliable, there existed a Soviet threat to Western Europe. The Soviet Union had yet to launch its attack on Japan, and so one assumption in the report was that the Soviet Union would instead ally itself to Japan if hostilities commenced with the Western Allies.

Churchill stated within the briefing documents for Unthinkable that it was a "precautionary study" of what he hoped was a "purely hypothetical contingency".[2] For their part, the planners wanted to commit as little material as possible to paper. The plan was rejected by the British Chiefs of Staff Committee as militarily unfeasible due to a greater than two to one superiority in Soviet land forces in the Europe and Middle East areas where the conflict was projected to take place.

In the report of 22 May 1945 an offensive operation was deemed "hazardous". Any quick success would be due to surprise alone. If a quick success could not be obtained before the onset of winter the assessment was that the Allies would be committed to a total war which would be protracted. If United States forces were not involved, the odds became "fanciful".

The majority of any offensive operation would have consisted of American and British forces, but it also contemplated the use of Polish forces and up to 100,000 surrendered German soldiers.

Defensive operations

In response to an instruction by Churchill of 10 June 1945 a follow up report was written concerning "what measures would be required to ensure the security of the British Isles in the event of war with Russia in the near future".[3] United States forces were relocating to the Pacific Theatre to prepare for the invasion of Japan, and Churchill was concerned that the draw down would leave the Soviets in a strong position to take offensive action in Western Europe.

The Joint Planning Staff rejected Churchill's notion of retaining bridgeheads on the continent as having no operational advantage. It was envisaged that Britain would use her air force and navy to resist, although a threat from mass rocket attack was anticipated, with no means of resistance except for strategic bombing.

Subsequent discussions

By 1946 tensions and conflicts were developing between Western and Communist areas of Europe. These were seen as being potential triggers for a wider conflict. One such area was the Julian March, and on 30 August 1946 informal discussions took place between the British and American Chiefs of Staff concerning how such a conflict could develop and the best strategy for conducting a European war.[4] Again the issue of retaining a bridgehead on the continent was discussed, with Dwight D. Eisenhower preferring a withdrawal to the Low Countries, rather than Italy, for their proximity to the United Kingdom.


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