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  #1  
Old 05-10-2006, 09:34 PM
Ranchoth Ranchoth is offline
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Did Curtis LeMay advocate nuking Russia, in 1949?

I was wondering if someone could help me out with a Cold War historical tidbit that I may or may not be remembering right.

That is, I thought I remembered hearing or reading "somewhere" that, after the USSR tested it's first A-Bomb in 1949, SAC head Curtis LeMay went to president Truman and advocated immediately attacking Russia, while we still had a nuclear advantage. (Truman, as I recall, didn't think much of the scheme.)

So...did this really happen, or am I remembering a fever dream or an urban legend or something?
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  #2  
Old 05-10-2006, 09:46 PM
gonzomax gonzomax is offline
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He said that all 177 abombs should be dropped in Russia.,hitting 70 different cities in 30 days. according to winkipedia. He pretty much wanted to bomb everybody and would have fit well in this administration.
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Old 05-10-2006, 09:52 PM
brianjedi brianjedi is offline
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"Bombs Away" LeMay advocated blowing up a lot of things, and usually with all the ordnance the U.S. military could bring to bear.
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  #4  
Old 05-10-2006, 11:35 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gonzomax
He said that all 177 abombs should be dropped in Russia.,hitting 70 different cities in 30 days. according to winkipedia. He pretty much wanted to bomb everybody and would have fit well in this administration.
gonzomax. Welcome to the boards.

In General Questions, we try to not make political comments. I know it's tough, but any help is appreciated. Try to make factual comments only.

We have other fora called Great Debates and The Pit.

samclem General Questions Moderator
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  #5  
Old 05-11-2006, 12:12 AM
Gatopescado Gatopescado is offline
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From the second-hand reports I've heard, he wanted to "put the smack-down" on them soon after the end of the second world war.

Interesting guy, LeMay. I think he had a unique perspective on history, and how his times would be viewed.
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  #6  
Old 05-11-2006, 12:19 AM
cerberus cerberus is offline
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If Sherman was the total warfare advocate for the US Civil War, then Curtis LeMay was cast in a similar vein. General LeMay advocated and executed the strategic bombing raids against Germany during WW II, and was an early advocate of a strong Air Force, in conventional terms and in nuclear terms.

His advocacy of using nukes in such a fashion wans't unique: MacArthur advocated using nukes on the Korean/Chinese border...

A basic doctrine of US post-WW II strategy in balancing the Soviet threat was the leveraging of superior Red forces with nuclear deterrent. And it took awhile for the US to deemphasize the plans involving tactical nuclear munitions.
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  #7  
Old 05-11-2006, 04:41 AM
Paul in Qatar Paul in Qatar is offline
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From my book, copyright me:

TROJAN (U.S.48) An early plan prepared by the United States Air Force for waging a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. TROJAN called for 133 bombs to hit seventy Soviet cities. This plan was later used as a basis for CHARIOTEER. Never executed. See DROPSHOT and FLEETWOOD.

DROPSHOT (U.S. 49) A 1949 American plan for war against the Soviet Union using nuclear weapons. This plan assumed such a war would begin with the forces available on 1 January, 1957; in many respects it was more an academic study than a contingency plan. The goal was to limit the spread of Soviet power beyond the Rhine. This plan was released in 1977 under the Freedom of Information Act. See TOTALITY.

FLEETWOOD (U.S. 48) A plan for an American nuclear attack on the Soviet Union prepared in response to the Berlin blockade which began in June, 1948. A variation of CHARIOTEER, this plan assumed a war would begin about 31 December 1948. The Soviet rail system was a prime target. While CHARIOTEER had many aspects of an academic study, FLEETWOOD was an actual contingency plan. Never executed.
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Old 05-11-2006, 05:01 AM
Ranchoth Ranchoth is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul in Saudi
From my book, copyright me:
"Codeword Dictionary: A Compilation of Military and Law Enforcement Codewords from 1904 to Present"?

That's you? I have that book—not two feet away from my computer! I've got it dog-eared and everything!

Small world, isn't it?
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  #9  
Old 05-11-2006, 05:26 AM
Pushkin Pushkin is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ranchoth
"Codeword Dictionary: A Compilation of Military and Law Enforcement Codewords from 1904 to Present"?

That's you? I have that book—not two feet away from my computer! I've got it dog-eared and everything!

Small world, isn't it?
Paul, IIRC you have a wiki article on the same subject?
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  #10  
Old 05-11-2006, 06:47 AM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is offline
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Weird guy, Curtis LeMay. I've heard this about his wanting to bomb Russia. He also appaently wanted to nuke Cuba during the missile crisis in 1962.

But -- and this is crucial -- in neither case did he actually do these things. He obeyed the president, and didn't try to manipulate things or exceed his authority in such a way as to precipitate his actions. Jack D. Ripper he was not.



From what Richard Rhodes has to say about him, he did an admirable job of "waking up" the crews and structure responsible for delivering the bombs, completely revamping their operations and makibng them more successful. Overall, LeMay was a definite plus.
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  #11  
Old 05-11-2006, 07:21 AM
mks57 mks57 is offline
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LeMay's plan made sense if you accepted the premise that war with the Soviet Union was inevitable. I have the impression that Patton would have been happy to keep on advancing east until he reached Moscow.
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  #12  
Old 05-11-2006, 08:07 AM
Paul in Qatar Paul in Qatar is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ranchoth
"Codeword Dictionary: A Compilation of Military and Law Enforcement Codewords from 1904 to Present"?

That's you? I have that book—not two feet away from my computer! I've got it dog-eared and everything!

Small world, isn't it?

Yeah, but I wouldn't want to paint it.

In any case, I learned a lot from that book. For example these is a difference between a million-seller and a million in your cellar. The print run was about 3,000 and we moved about 2,500 of them. It almost paid my $3,000 advance.

Gosh, that was a long time ago!
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  #13  
Old 05-11-2006, 09:42 AM
ScoobyTX ScoobyTX is offline
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Originally Posted by mks57
I have the impression that Patton would have been happy to keep on advancing east until he reached Moscow.
He might have been satisfied to stop at the Soviet border, just kicking them out of Eastern Europe. He was a scholar of military history- he knew that the Russian steppe, while it might be a great playground for armor, is no place to spend a winter (ask Napolean and Hitler about that).
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  #14  
Old 05-11-2006, 10:14 AM
Stranger On A Train Stranger On A Train is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CalMeacham
Weird guy, Curtis LeMay. I've heard this about his wanting to bomb Russia. He also appaently wanted to nuke Cuba during the missile crisis in 1962.
According to Robert McNamara, when Kennedy declared to his Cabinet that "We won...", LeMay responded with "Won hell...we lost...we should go in and...wipe 'em out today."

Quote:
Originally Posted by CalMeacham
But -- and this is crucial -- in neither case did he actually do these things. He obeyed the president, and didn't try to manipulate things or exceed his authority in such a way as to precipitate his actions. Jack D. Ripper he was not.
I think LeMay was supposed to be represented by Gen. Buck Turgidson--walking around with his binder marked "Megadeaths in Megatons" and talking about "rapidly approaching a moment of truth--not the latent homosexual/psychopath Gen. Ripper.

Quote:
Originally Posted by CalMeacham
From what Richard Rhodes has to say about him, he did an admirable job of "waking up" the crews and structure responsible for delivering the bombs, completely revamping their operations and makibng them more successful. Overall, LeMay was a definite plus.
Analogous to Hyram Rickover and his effect on the Nuclear Navy, LeMay was responsible for not only shaping docterine but also overseeing technical policy regarding safety, handling, and deployment of nuclear weapons. As with Rickover, it doesn't mean he wasn't a cast-iron son of a bitch.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mks57
LeMay's plan made sense if you accepted the premise that war with the Soviet Union was inevitable. I have the impression that Patton would have been happy to keep on advancing east until he reached Moscow.
Yes and yes. Fortunately in the former case cooler heads prevailed, though LeMay was not alone in his thinking; the Herman Kahn camp at RAND were advocating various levels of "survivable" nuclear exchange through the mid-Sixties. Kahn makes many good points in his seminal (if widely reviled) book On Thermonuclear War, and his willingness to think rationally about "the unthinkable" offered up an alterantive perspective to both the pro- and anti-nuclear camps, but on the whole, I think we're all better off for not having indulged in a nuclear exchange.

As for an extended European land war invasion into Soviet Russia, we can "what if?" that topic all day, but I'll note that such invasions have never gone well for the offensive party. A stronger line against post-war Soviet expansion might have been a better policy than slicing up the continent, but a full-on invasion would have been a disaster, especially as the US was (at that point) more concerned about a continued front in the Pacific.

Stranger
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  #15  
Old 05-11-2006, 10:33 AM
wevets wevets is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Stranger On A Train
I think LeMay was supposed to be represented by Gen. Buck Turgidson--walking around with his binder marked "Megadeaths in Megatons" and talking about "rapidly approaching a moment of truth--not the latent homosexual/psychopath Gen. Ripper.
I think you're right - Gen. Ripper was a bit too much of a 'non-linear thinker' to represent LeMay.
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  #16  
Old 05-11-2006, 10:35 AM
Sailboat Sailboat is offline
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Here is a really interesting blog entry about Japan giving LeMay a prestigious medal. Yeah, you read that right -- Japan. On, uh, December 7th -- the anniversary of Pearl Harbor.

Scroll to entry for Thursday 10 March 2005

Pretty strange.

Sailboat
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  #17  
Old 05-11-2006, 10:46 AM
Paul in Qatar Paul in Qatar is offline
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I say this with no cite, but I understand LeMay went to his grave thinking the US had lost the Cold War.

Some military men are unable to lift their eyes beyond their own sphere.
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  #18  
Old 05-11-2006, 11:10 AM
ralph124c ralph124c is offline
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Fascinating. Is there any info on the Russian war plans? Were they ever actually planning to invade Germany? From what I read, Kruschev was always bluffing-on the one hand, he made very bellicose speeches, but on the other, he was constantly worried that the U2 spy plane flights would show Russia to be weak.
Thank God we had cool heads (Eisenhower) in charge.
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  #19  
Old 05-11-2006, 11:52 AM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is offline
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I shouldn't have to point this out, but I will: when I said that LeMay wasn't Jack D. Ripper I was specifically noting that he did not attempt to set up a situation where he could nuke the enemy, as Ripper did, and as LeMay was arguably in a very good position to do. Whether he was the model Kubrick and Sothern et al. had in mind when they created their characters is irrelevant.
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Old 05-11-2006, 12:45 PM
vibrotronica vibrotronica is offline
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Well, Cal. there is the matter of LeMay's unauthorized U2 flights over Cuba during the Missile Crisis, which resulted in the loss of a plane and pilot. And didn't he also conduct highly provocative recon flights over the Soviet Union from Finland during the 1950's without authorization as well?
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Old 05-11-2006, 01:02 PM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is offline
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Quote:
Well, Cal. there is the matter of LeMay's unauthorized U2 flights over Cuba during the Missile Crisis, which resulted in the loss of a plane and pilot. And didn't he also conduct highly provocative recon flights over the Soviet Union from Finland during the 1950's without authorization as well?
to tel the truth, I don't know -- haven't heard about them. But, if true, they appear to be attempts at recon, not events designed to provoke a hostile response and to actuivelt plunge us into war, which was Ripper's action, and which LeMay seems to have avoided, even when he thought such war desirable.
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  #22  
Old 05-11-2006, 06:47 PM
bonzer bonzer is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CalMeacham
to tel the truth, I don't know -- haven't heard about them. But, if true, they appear to be attempts at recon, not events designed to provoke a hostile response and to actuivelt plunge us into war, which was Ripper's action, and which LeMay seems to have avoided, even when he thought such war desirable.
I'm not sure offhand about the 1949 story, but the idea that LeMay was using reconnaissance flights to try to provoke the Soviets into a nuclear exchange in the 1950s has become fairly well accepted as a possibility. To cite the secondary source you've already nodded towards, see Rhodes's Dark Sun (Simon & Schuster, 1995), p564-6.
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  #23  
Old 05-11-2006, 07:19 PM
ralph124c ralph124c is offline
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Didn't SAC (under Gen. Lemay) fly bombers over the Artic (close to Soviet airspace) in the 1950's? Quite a few aircrews were lost on these missions 9which were attempst to probe the Soviet air defenses). Lemay was a man who thought wars could be won by bombing. But as for being a nutbag, I think that's never ben proven.
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  #24  
Old 05-11-2006, 07:23 PM
633squadron 633squadron is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CalMeacham
Weird guy, Curtis LeMay. I've heard this about his wanting to bomb Russia. He also appaently wanted to nuke Cuba during the missile crisis in 1962.

From what Richard Rhodes has to say about him, he did an admirable job of "waking up" the crews and structure responsible for delivering the bombs
One of the most interesting characters of the 20th century, for sure. References to/caricatures of him have appeared in several movies over the years. One could argue that both Gregory Peck's General Savage in Twelve O' Clock High and Clark Gable's General Dennis in Command Decision are based on LeMay, as is Frank Lovejoy's General Hawkes in Strategic Air Command.

LeMay was not much concerned about enemy civilian casualties, either in WW II or afterwards. He took the Sherman-like attitude that war is hell, and that winning and winning quick was the only way to go.

Richard Rhodes talks about him at length in both The Making of the Atomic Bomb and Dark Sun. From those books and from other information, I conclude that LeMay was profoundly affected by the Pearl Harbor attack, the Air Forces' lack of readiness at the beginning of the war, and the high loss rate during the first months of the European strategic bombing campaign.

As a result, he was fiercely determined to have the best equipment and the most highly-trained and motivated people, and to use them first to defeat any potential threat. Rhodes quotes him repeatedly saying that the US atomic arsenal was a "wasting resource"; it accomplished nothing if it wasn't used and actually decreased in value the longer it sat while the USSR developed its own arsenal.

He apparently never realized that the threat of nuclear war would be enough to both sides from striking. He also saw wars as total victories or total defeats. That too was a very WW II attitude.

I don't excuse his attitudes at all. Thankfully he was not President during the Cuban Missile Crisis, nor was he able to convince Kennedy to attack the USSR. I just note that his bloodthirsty reputation has an explanation behind it.
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  #25  
Old 05-11-2006, 11:16 PM
Clothahump Clothahump is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cerberus
If Sherman was the total warfare advocate for the US Civil War, then Curtis LeMay was cast in a similar vein.
As was Patton. One can only wonder what the world would be like today if he had been able to sell Ike on the concept of driving straight through Berlin into Moscow.
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  #26  
Old 05-11-2006, 11:31 PM
cerberus cerberus is offline
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The sense that I get from here is that the flights were authorised. Surveillance overflights were standard practice regarding Cuba, in fact, Major Rudolph was one of a pair of USAF pilots whose Cuba overflights discovered and confirmed the Soviet missiles in the first place.

The Cold War practice of probing the other side's airspace was practiced by both sides. LeMay was not acting in an unauthorised manner. Having said that, the civilian leadership wanted enough room for plausible deniability. PD failed miserably during Eisenhower's term when Powers crashed in the USSR during a CIA overflight...
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  #27  
Old 05-12-2006, 02:56 AM
mks57 mks57 is offline
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Originally Posted by 633squadron
I don't excuse his attitudes at all. Thankfully he was not President during the Cuban Missile Crisis, nor was he able to convince Kennedy to attack the USSR. I just note that his bloodthirsty reputation has an explanation behind it.
An ex-SAC guy once told me "The Russians may not be intimidated by our President, but they are intimidated by SAC." LeMay deserves the credit for making SAC a credible deterrent. He knew that they had to be ready to execute today, on a moment's notice.
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  #28  
Old 05-12-2006, 07:33 AM
JohnT JohnT is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mks57
An ex-SAC guy once told me "The Russians may not be intimidated by our President, but they are intimidated by SAC." LeMay deserves the credit for making SAC a credible deterrent. He knew that they had to be ready to execute today, on a moment's notice.
And to prove that, when he first took over, he ordered an mock bombing raid against Dayton, Ohio... over 50% of the bombs missed their targets by over 1 mile. http://www.strategic-air-command.com...ral-Curtis.htm
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