Winning Armageddon, Curtis LeMay and Strategic Air Command, 1948-1957

An important and insightful review of how Curtis LeMay and SAC built and maintained an effective nuclear deterrent. Naturally, any book on this subject will be contentious and provoking for some readers, but totally absorbing for others. – Most Highly Recommended

NAME: Winning Armageddon, Curtis LeMay and Strategic Air Command, 1948-
FILE: R2898
AUTHOR: Trevor Albertson
PUBLISHER: US Naval Institute Press
BINDING: hard back 
PAGES: 270
PRICE: US$ 40.00
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: Cold War, MAD, Mutually Assured Deterrent, SAC, Strategic Air 
Command, nuclear weapons, pre-emption, bombers, attrition, survival, B50, B29, 
B36, B66, B47, B52

ISBN: 978-1-68247-422-8

IMAGE: B2898.jpg
DESCRIPTION:   An important and insightful review of how Curtis LeMay 
and SAC built and maintained an effective nuclear deterrent. Naturally, any 
book on this subject will be contentious and provoking for some readers, but 
totally absorbing for others. – Most Highly Recommended

The author has provided an excellent review of how the US and its Allies came to 
depend on weapons of such power and risk to prevent a Soviet subjugation of 
Europe and the loss of the Cold War. He has also provided a comprehensive and 
insightful review of the architect of pre-emption, General Curtis LeMay. The threat 
of nuclear war did not of itself win the Cold War for the Allies. What it did very 
effectively is prevent the huge armoured formations of the Red Army rolling West 
and subjugating Europe, before moving on to world domination. The complex 
situation in 1945 is difficult to fully appreciate today without books of this quality 
about the key factors shaping the Cold War through to its ending.

In 1945, the major beneficiaries of WWII were the US and the USSR. Britain was 
exhausted after five years of bitter warfare that depleted its finances, made continued 
management of the British Empire difficult to impossible, and placed the nation 
under the control of politicians who thought their job was to manage the decline of 
a great country and who considered Stalin and the USSR a more desirable ally than 
the US. Fortunately, Britain had enough strength and patriots left to prevent the 
disbandment of its Royal Navy, Army and RAF and to continue the development 
of its own nuclear deterrent. That gave the US an additional edge against the USSR 
because it added a level of doubt for the Russian leaders. They could never be 
entirely sure what Britain might do if the Cold War heated up. The nuclear arsenal 
was large enough to cause the USSR some damage, particular against its armoured 
formations in a land war. The Russians were never sure whether, if the US held back 
on nuclear bombardment in the event of a Red Army assault on Europe, Britain 
might go it alone and use nuclear weapons against the Red Army's tanks, bringing 
pressure on the US to launch an all out nuclear strike on the USSR.

For the US there were many questions about how to use its nuclear muscle. General 
Curtis LeMay had already gained first hand experience of massive conventional 
weapons bombing of Germany and the experimental nuclear attacks on Japan. He 
knew his crews and their aircraft, but he also recognized that an effective Strategic 
Air Command needed to convert to jet bombers, train its crews to the highest levels 
and develop the strategy and tactics to deter the USSR from any large scale 
provocation that presented a real and present danger to the US.

Initially, he had piston engined bombers derived closely from WWII machines. He 
also had nuclear devices, but that these were about to go through a further revolution 
with thermonuclear devices of even greater power. He had the advantage that warning 
networks were being developed across Canada and in Britain to provide advanced 
warning of a Soviet attack on the US by nuclear armed bombers. However, that did 
still not guarantee that he could scramble his own bombers in an effective counter 
strike. The complication was that a single Russian bomber reaching  US city and 
releasing a single bomb was going to cause massive casualties on scale unknown 
to Americans. Even if the US had a larger more powerful bomber force and larger 
stockpile of weapons, it would suffer unimaginable casualties and any victory would 
be a Pyrrhic Victory.

That mean he had to develop a set of tactics that would produce further advantage to 
the point where the Soviets would believe that their best scenario was mutual 
destruction and a probability that they would be more seriously damaged than the 
US. A consequence of this effort was that the US and the USSR would be forced 
into an arms race that the US was far better resourced to win with its highly 
developed manufacturing base and the financial base that would reach a point where 
the Soviets would either go bankrupt or be forced to withdraw from the race. The 
critical period for establishing this situation would be the 1940s and 1950s.

Those agitating for nuclear disarmament claimed that LeMay was risking the 
provoking of nuclear war with his pre-emption strategy and the tactics required to 
support it. Even after the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the USSR, 
nuclear disarmers tried claiming victory as a result of their protests, but the reality 
was that the work of General LeMay and SAC, together with NATO Allies, had 
deterred the USSR from making a nuclear strike, deterred their use of overwhelming 
numbers to launch an armoured assault in Europe, and confined them to a series of 
nasty surrogate wars that could be contained.

The author has looked at all of the issues and efforts with a clarity that is rare. The 
work is easy to follow and fills the knowledge gap that many suffer from. Importantly,
he gives LeMay the recognition he deserves for his efforts to build SAC into an 
effective military weapon that held the peace.