Early in 1977 a retired NATO general called together six of his collegues–including an admiral, an airman, an economist and a diplomat–to write a dramatized game-plan for the next world war.

A sensational international bestseller, it is a vivid, detailed, and often blood-curdling on-the-spot report from the battle fronts of a “real war”, from tank assaults to air clashes to ICBM launchings, based on an insider’s knowledge of weaponry and actual NATO and Soviet battle strategies.

NATO’s defences depended upon a complicated series of preparations for war, ranging from essentially covert tasks, such as the activation of war headquarters and communications systems, to overt measures such as the deployment of troops, aircraft and ships to their war locations, culminating finally in the commencement of hostilities. The Alliance would, therefore have had to persuade fifteen member nations (sixteen, once Spain had joined) not only to transfer assigned units to NATO operational command, but also to mobilize the reserves necessary in all countries to bring front-line units up to full wartime strength. The former could have been done with little public knowledge, but the latter would have been only too obvious.

All national armies depended to a significant degree on the mobilization of reservists to bring both combat and logistic units up to wartime strengths. This mobilization process was a national responsibility, with marked differences between nations, resulting mainly from different traditions and legal systems. For all, however, it was an extremely complex operation.

To take just one European member as an example, in the 1980s the four-division-strong 1 (BR) Corps required substantial reinforcements to bring it up to war strength. First, there were four infantry brigades in the UK which had to be sent to Germany: 19th Infantry Brigade, which reinforced the Germany-based 3 Armoured Division, and the three brigades of 2 Infantry Division (two of them from the Territorial Army) which were responsible for rear-area security. Second, there were also the headquarters and support units of 2 Infantry Division, as well as two signals brigades to provide the rear-area communications systems and an engineer brigade for airfield repair. In addition to these, 1 (BR) Corps needed a vast number of individual reservists (former regulars with a reserve liability) to bring the regular units up to strength and to serve as battle-casualty replacements.

It should be noted that the UK would concurrently have been mobilizing other elements of its wartime forces. Most important of these was the United Kingdom Mobile Force, consisting of 1st (UK) Infantry Brigade, air-force elements and a large logistic ‘tail’, all of which was entirely UK-based. This required many reservists and Territorial Army troops to bring it to its war establishment before it moved to its most likely destination, Denmark. Mobilization was also required for the forces committed to tasks within the UK, principally for ‘home defence’ (i.e. the security of the UK base).

The numbers available to meet these requirements varied over the years, but in 1987 the UK had some 160,000 reservists, while the Territorial Army comprised some 85,000 men and women, most of whom were in formed units. The procedures involved in the mobilization and reinforcement of 1 (BR) Corps were given two full-scale rehearsals, the first in Exercise Crusader in 1980, the second in Exercise Lionheart in 1984. These involved moving some 15,000 troops in forty ships, and a further 15,000 by air (5,000 in air-force aircraft, 10,000 in civil aircraft); forty-nine trains were needed, as well as some 15,000 vehicles. All this involved a vast amount of road movement and large numbers of troops passing through civil and military airports, harbours and railway stations.

In a time of international tension, the calling-up of the individuals, the mobilization of the Territorial Army (both of which required parliamentary authority), and moving them all (plus, in the case of formed units, their vehicles and equipment) to Germany and Denmark would have been an even more massive operation, and could never have been hidden from the British public, the media or the Warsaw Pact.

There were numerous choke points which would have been vulnerable to hostile action, either from direct attack by Warsaw Pact forces or from sabotage and other interference by Warsaw Pact agents or anti-war protestors. Such vulnerable points included a relatively small number of ports and airports in south-east England, and in Germany and the Low Countries.

Crossing the Channel was a problem which did not affect other European countries, but their mobilization would have been as massive in scale and equally impossible to hide. The German Bundesheer, for example, required to mobilize approximately 1 million reservists for the regular army and a further 450,000 for the territorial army, all within the space of ninety-six hours.

The United States not only had a far wider water gap to cross, but was also committed to transporting much greater numbers to reinforce both the Central Front and the northern and southern flanks. This commitment included six divisions (some 90,000 troops), most of whom would have flown to Germany, where they would have picked up pre-positioned weapons and equipment (POMCUS), and approximately sixty air squadrons, for which the aircraft would have self-deployed, with the manpower moving by air transport. All these were scheduled to arrive over a ten-day period, with regular units arriving first, followed by army and air-force reserve units, then the Air National Guard and finally the National Guard (army). Also moving to Europe, but in this case by sea, would have been three Marine Amphibious Brigades.

The US mobilization system was based on flexibility. The president had the authority to mobilize up to 200,000 reservists for a maximum of ninety days (as was done in the 1961 Berlin crisis), or, if he declared a state of national emergency, up to 1 million reservists for twenty-four months. Congress could then have confirmed the national emergency and authorized the calling-up of all reserves. All reservists were obliged to report to their mobilization centres within forty-eight hours of receiving notification, but the majority would have needed some form of training before their onward move to Europe.

It was also planned that the draft would have been restarted to generate trained men after a gap of several months, although this would inevitably have caused short-term dislocation and required a number of trained and experienced officers and NCOs to set it in motion. The National Guard and Air National Guard would also have been mobilized and deployed as formed units, and it was estimated that all National Guard divisions scheduled to move to Europe would have arrived in less than thirty days after the mobilization order had been issued.

The massive planned move to Europe would have required a large force of aircraft and ships, for which an ‘Airlift Emergency’ would have been called. This would have enabled 171 commercial aircraft to have been available within twenty-four hours and a further 268 within forty-eight hours. The problem with the ships earmarked to transport heavy equipment was that they could have taken anything up to four weeks to reach the embarkation ports, and in most cases would also have needed to offload, before they could take on the Department of Defense passengers or cargoes. US mobilization and deployment plans were regularly practised in a series of exercises: air exercises were designated ‘Reforger’ (Reinforce Germany), while sea exercises were designated ‘Ocean Safari’.

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