Following the end of World War II, having defeated their mutual enemy, the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union began to cool. Until the peace treaty was signed (1947), consultations had been held regularly. In its wake, however, the relationship turned bitter. Although the U.S. possessed nuclear weapons, the Soviet Union enjoyed a numerical advantage in terms of fighting men in Europe. In the event of war, since the Americans planned to use their atomic arsenal on the Soviet home front, the Soviets divided their country into air defense zones, focused their defenses on Moscow and readied a plan to deploy troops to defend strategic targets. It is important to highlight that over time the Americans were able to greatly grow the size of their atomic arsenal, and although initially they could deliver their payload only by airplane, by the 1950’s, breakthroughs in rocket technology – in which former German engineers had played a significant role – had ushered in a new era.
In the first phase of a hypothetical war, the Soviets anticipated gaining superiority in the air, followed by deployment of land forces. At the same time, both sides wanted to initiate the first strike against the enemy. In 1954, the Americans came up with a plan to simultaneously attack the Soviet Union from multiple U.S. bases and bomb its most important facilities. The anticipated death toll would have topped sixty million. In order to successfully defend against such an attack and to coordinate a counterstrike, the Soviets modernized their bombers, missiles and navy, which included submarines. Furthermore, the study of the impact of nuclear weapons was given priority in the Soviet Union and its allied countries.
NATO was considered as the main enemy by the Soviets until 1949, after which Yugoslavia was also looked upon with suspicion. The development of “World War III” attack plans began that year, while the structuring of the armed forces took on greater emphasis. At the start of the 1950’s, the Soviets assumed that Yugoslavia would either singly execute a “provocation” against Hungary or attack Hungary with the assistance of Italy as part of a larger war. They believed that Hungary would be used as a springboard from which to attack the Soviet Union, while Soviet units stationed in Austria would be cut off from reinforcements by an attack from the south, which would be followed by an invasion of Czechoslovakia also from the south. The Soviets were thus most weary of an attack from the south, while also worrying about an attack from the west, anticipating an enemy advance along the Vienna–Budapest line in the Danube Valley, while from the south, along the Lake Balaton–Lake Velence line. The latter would have ensured a smaller and tighter channel, while the mountainous terrain and Danube River would have made the attack more difficult. They also anticipated an advance along the Villach–Radkersburg–Zalaegerszeg–Várpalota line from the southwest and along the Banja Luka–Szigetvár–Káloz line from the south, at which time American and British troops would also engage. Along the latter line, the Soviets feared that Hungary would be cut into two as part of an attack originating from the Danube River–Tisza River region of the country. Moreover, this area lacked natural barriers in the event of an attack initiated from the Baranya Triangle to occupy Transdanubia, which would have been assisted by enemy forces pouring in from the west. In that particular case, the Soviets planned to counter by sending the Romanian Army into the rear of the enemy.
by Dávid Kiss
Photograph: Soviet troops march in front of the American Embassy on Szabadság Square on May 1st, 1945, on which day the memorial to the Red Army was unveiled. (Source: Fortepan)