April 3, 2022

How Churchill Saw an Attack Unfolding in 1952

Seventy years ago this month, Prime Minister Winston Churchill wrote Minister of Defence Lord Alexander considering a hypothetical attack by the Soviet Union on the Suez Canal. In a personal minute from 3 April 1952, Churchill explained the only way he saw this ever happening and placed the idea in its proper perspective.

I do not understand how and when the anticipated Russian threat against the Middle East would eventuate. Obviously there would be a global War and no part of it can be considered except in relation to the whole. The Soviet armies would in 1952 and 1953 move swiftly forward to the ocean, subjugating the capitals of Western Europe.

This process might take a month or six weeks. There would no doubt be certain citadels like Switzerland or bridgeheads from which the evacuation of the United Nations troops might be possible. But nothing would stop the general roll forward of the overwhelming mass of the Soviet Armies.

However at the same time the United States atomic bombing attack would fall upon the Soviet regime. This ought to paralyze all communications between their advancing armies and the central Government, except wireless messages. In addition there would be the effects explained to me at length at the Pentagon [in January] of the application of the programme of atomic assault on the industries, communications, oilfields, etc., of Soviet Russia.

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After these two processes had presented themselves fully we should (if still surviving) be able to take a new view. I do not see where the “anticipated Russian invasion of the Middle East,” and presumably Northern Africa, comes in. If Soviet Russia is shattered as an organic military force in the first three months of the War she will certainly not be in a position to cross the Sinai Peninsula and play about in the Western Desert. The whole proportion of events in the Middle East is petty compared to the terrible decisions which would be reached at the outbreak of the War.

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