Mapping the Soviet Invasion of Western Europe

1987 American Defense Department map of a speculative Soviet invasion of Western Europe
1987 American Defense Department map of a speculative Soviet invasion of Western Europe (TechConex)

As late as 1987, two years before the Berlin Wall fell, the United States seriously considered the possibility that the Soviet Union might start World War III.

This Defense Department map shows the broad outline of a two-pronged Soviet attack on Western Europe. Planners expected one army to march across the Northern European Plain into the Low Countries and another to dive across Bavaria into France and the Iberian Peninsula.

At the time, the Soviets had thirty forward-deployed divisions in Eastern European to spearhead an invasion force with another 94 in Western Russia. NATO was outnumbered and counted on the threat of massive nuclear retaliation to deter the Reds.

Atomic weapons played a different role in Warsaw Pact planning. Far from a last resort, they were envisaged as something like big artillery pieces that could clear the way for a ground invasion. Read more

Countries That Almost Existed

The world could soon add two new countries. In Catalonia and Kurdistan, referendums have been held to secede from Spain and Iraq, respectively.

Neither would be universally recognized. Spain doesn’t even recognize a Catalan right to self-determination. Iran, Iraq and Turkey all oppose Kurdish statehood.

International recognition is often a stumbling block for would-be states. Consider the likes of Kosovo, Somaliland, South Ossetia and Transnistria.

Others don’t even get to that point. Here is a selection of countries that remained on the drawing board. Read more

The Impossible Partition of India

Map of the partition of India from Life magazine, August 18, 1947
Map of the partition of India from Life magazine, August 18, 1947

Seventy years ago this week British India was split in two, creating the nations of India and Pakistan, which have been at each other’s throats since.

The partition was carried out a little-known British civil servant, Cyril Radcliffe. A lawyer by training, Radcliffe was given the impossible task of dividing the subcontinent into Hindu- and Muslim-majority states. Read more

The Octopus in Political Cartoons

Octopuses are a popular trope in political art. They came in vogue in the 1870s, when Frederick W. Rose depicted Russia as a giant octopus lording over Eastern Europe. The sea monster was quickly given to Germany when it posed a bigger threat to peace in Europe. During the early Cold War, it was Russia’s turn again. The octopus was the perfect metaphor for spreading communism.

Here is a selection of the best and worst tentacled sea creatures. Read more

Atlantropa: The German Plan to Drain the Mediterranean

Map of proposed dams in the Strait of Gibraltar. From Herman Soergel, Lowering the Mediterranean, Irrigating the Sahara. Panropa Project (1929)
Map of proposed dams in the Strait of Gibraltar. From Herman Soergel, Lowering the Mediterranean, Irrigating the Sahara. Panropa Project (1929)

Discerning viewers of Amazon’s alternate-history drama The Man in the High Castle may have noticed when one of the characters made a passing reference to a German plan to drain the Mediterranean.

It sounds like just the sort of thing a megalomanic Third Reich would do, but they actually didn’t. The Nazis weren’t interested in the plan, but it was real. Read more

What If Germany and Japan Had Won World War II?

Map of the German and Japanese Empires seen in Amazon's The Man in the High Castle (2016)
Map of the German and Japanese Empires seen in Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle (2016)

What would the map look like if the Axis powers had won the Second World War? The new season of The Man in the High Castle, which premiered on Amazon last week, gives us one possible answer.

Based on the 1963 alternate-history novel by Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle takes place in a world where Nazi Germany controls much of the Atlantic world and Imperial Japan has conquered the Pacific. Read more

Niemals Oder-Neisse: The Border Germany Refused to Accept for 45 Years

1980 Christian Democratic Union poster about "the open German question"
1980 Christian Democratic Union poster about “the open German question” (ACDP)

After World War II, the Allied powers ceded the German lands east of the Order and Lusatian Neisse rivers to Poland — creating a border dispute that would last all through the Cold War. Read more