|The Third World War: The Untold Story|
First edition cover
|Author||Sir John Hackett|
|Publisher||Sidgwick & Jackson|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||446 pp (first edition, hardback)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-283-98863-0 (first edition, hardback)|
|Dewey Decimal||355.4/8 19|
|LC Classification||U313 .H33 1982b|
|Preceded by||The Third World War: August 1985|
The Third World War: The Untold Story is a novel by Sir John Hackett of a fictional third world war between NATO and Warsaw Pact forces breaking out in 1985, written in the style of a non-fictional historical account. The book was published in 1982 by Macmillan in New York and Sidgwick & Jackson in London.
By the mid-1980s the Soviet Politburo comes to the consensus that the country's economy is stagnating and its military may not retain superiority over the West for much longer. It would therefore be in the interests to the Soviet Union to invade Western Europe with a short, sharp blow, and then sue for peace from a position of strength. The Politburo deliberates two options involving a sudden barrage of nuclear weapons against Western targets, but realizing the risk of nuclear war they decide to opt for a third strategy involving conventional forces.
The catalyst for conflict comes in July 1985, when an American Marine unit intervenes against a Soviet incursion into Yugoslavia. In response the Warsaw Pact mobilizes and subsequently launches a full scale invasion of Western Europe on the 4th of August 1985 (the anniversary of the start of the First World War). Soviet forces thrust through West Germany towards the Rhine, and also land forces in northern Norway and Turkey. Attacks are also carried out using long range strategic bombing, naval forces and even killer satellites in space.
The Soviet juggernaut quickly loses steam. Stiff resistance by NATO, aided by France and Sweden, eventually foils the Soviet invasion, and Warsaw Pact forces get no further West than the German town of Krefeld in the Ruhr by around August 15. From this point onwards the capacity of the Soviet Union to wage war is dangerously undermined by desertion of some of its demoralized allies, internal dissent at home and its own forces mutinying. Outside Europe the Americans bomb Cuba, the Chinese invade Vietnam and overthrow its government, Egypt overthrows Libya, Japan seizes the Kurile islands, and the Soviet Navy and merchant fleet is permanently neutralized.
One of the most realistic and acclaimed chapters of the book is the USSR's intervention in Scandinavia and namely the battle of Sweden. Norway's invasion is incomplete at this point and the Soviet forces run the risk of failing to conquer southern Norway due to imminent Allied reinforcements coming by sea from the USA. Hence the USSR tries to coerce Sweden into allowing the bulk of the Soviet northern aviation to cross Swedish airspace on its way to Norway (the objective being the resupply of Soviet forces and the bombing of Allied targets in southern Norway). The Swedes refuse after intense diplomatic and tactical bullying from the Soviet Union, and decide to resist. In the ensuing air battle the Soviet air force - making use of its high service ceiling fighter-bombers - utterly wipes the Royal Swedish Air Force out of the skies of Sweden but suffers itself too many losses for its attack on what is left of Norway to be decisive.
To prove to the world that they are still a force to be reckoned with, the Soviets launch and detonate a nuclear missile over the English city of Birmingham. The West retaliates by incinerating Minsk, which accelerates the collapse of Soviet control in its satellite states. A coup led by Ukrainian nationalists overthrows the Russian politburo, and the threat to the West by Soviet Union is finally ended.
In The Untold Story a separate chapter is devoted to an alternative, more pessimistic scenario, written in the form of radio transcripts and newspaper editorials. NATO forces are unable to defend West Germany, and after the Netherlands falls the West sues for peace. Despite not being occupied, Britain is forced to accept a set of conditions which allows the Soviet Union to effectively control its military, economy and political institutions. This chapter is not included in the Macmillan edition.
Hackett had two objectives in mind—to demonstrate the necessity for Western Europe to have a strong and co-ordinated conventional military, and to suggest that it could be plausible that nuclear weapons may not be used in the next world war. Indeed, the (limited) use of atomic warfare comes as a result of one side's conventional forces becoming weak and vulnerable.
Some reviewers at time, such as Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of the New York Times, thought that Sir John Hackett's scenario was too optimistic. Western forces do not suffer any critical setbacks caused by poor decisions or bad luck.  The effects of the third world war and enlightened policies leads to many proxy conflicts being neatly resolved, from Ireland to Venezuela to Palestine. Stylistically the book was also criticized by Lehmann-Haupt for being too dry and swift in illustrating major incidents in the story.
The book is an update to his 1978 novel The Third World War, August 1985. The book was written with the hindsight of knowing about more recent geopolitical and technological developments. Hackett wove in more contemporary themes including the rise of Solidarity in Poland, the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese War and the proposed militarization of space. He avoided highlighting or rewriting events from his previous book that were unlikely to eventuate, such as Egypt co-operating with the Soviet Union or Iran fighting as an ally of the United States. Unlike the earlier novel The Untold Story elaborates more on Soviet planning and doctrine, with narrated accounts from their soldiers and generals alike about the experience of battle and the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union.