December 30, 2015

World War III: "A-Bomb Mission to Moscow" by Edward R. Murrow

A-Bomb Mission to Moscow
"The bomb strikes Moscow, in retaliation for heavy attacks on UN cities. Seconds later, Kremlin (within enclosure in foreground) was swept into oblivion, Red Square (surrounding avenue) was heaped with rubble, St. Basil's Church (bulbous towers at right) was gone" (Painting by Chesley Bonestell, p. 18)
In 1951, Collier's magazine laid out an extensive history of a fictional World War III fought between the Soviet Union and an American-led international coalition from 1952 to 1955. The narrative is set in a fictional postwar 1960; the articles are written from that perspective, featuring contributions from a number of notable writers and political figures.

The issue was meant to serve as a precautionary tale. As part of this, Edward R. Murrow contributed a fictional 1953 report in which he follows a flight crew dropping a retaliatory atomic bomb on Moscow. It was similar in nature to broadcasts he made during the Korean War and World War II, including his flight over the Netherlands during Operation Market Garden in 1944. This account was meant to be much more devastating by comparison.

From Collier's magazine, October 27, 1951, p. 19:

A-Bomb Mission to Moscow

Edward R. Murrow, noted CBS commentator, flew in the B-36 which A-bombed Moscow at midnight July 22, 1953. This was his 36th combat mission; he participated in the others as a war correspondent during World War II and in Korea. Here is an extract of the memorable broadcast he made on his return from the mission over the Soviet capital.

We walked into the briefing room. No one looked at the map. The word was already around. At long last we were ready to retaliate for Washington, Detroit, New York, London—all those places which had been indiscriminately A-bombed by the Reds. This was to be a little less than 10,000 miles round trip . . . the tapes on the map led to Moscow.

The briefing officer droned on. Eighteen B-36s—nine from Limestone, Maine, and nine from Alaska . . . Navy jets, AJ-1s coming in off carriers to hit Murmansk and Leningrad about the time we crossed the coast . . . Four B-36s to have a bang at Leningrad and Gorki with conventional bombs, as a diversion . . . the job to be done by 14 B-36s . . . no formation . . . they were to come in on Moscow like spokes on a wheel . . . only two carrying A-bombs, the remainder to act as decoys and as a protective force . . . if the first one over dropped and hit, the second was to hit another target elsewhere . . . B-29 aerial tankers to meet us about 1,000 miles out . . . 30 Navy Banshee jet fighters off carriers, refueled over Finland, to provide cover . . .

When we took off, it was hot. The juke box in the officers' mess was wailing I'll see you in my dreams. Ground crews gave us "thumbs-up" as we rolled. I was thinking: This is the first mission I ever flew in a bomber without having seen what we are carrying. The security officer had said: "You got one . . . but you can't see it. Relax. If you're forced down, you don't know a thing."

The tankers met us on schedule. There were black clouds with fire in them off to the north. The fueling lines were cast off. The whole crew relaxed. The dull glow of the sun pursued us. There was nothing to do . . . radio silent . . . no talk on the intercom . . . not like a movie . . . chicken sandwiches and coffee . . . cloud formations creating castles and lakes and rivers.

•      •      •

The navigator said: "Enemy coast in 10 minutes."

The aircraft seemed to shrink. The whole crew tensed. Then the guns were tested. We were alone and looking for those Navy fighters . . . our life insurance.

Time ceased to have meaning. The sun was deserting us. And then the flak—blue and green, not red as it used to be at night over Berlin. We saw red tracers lancing the dull sky. Something started to burn and slide toward the ground. Their fighters were up, but we didn't know who was going down. It was so slow and obscenely graceful.

A blue-green searchlight grazed our side and then caught and held a Navy Banshee fighter. He put his nose down and there was a red fire flowing from his guns. Jock Mackenzie, our pilot, said casually: "The Navy has arrived." The flak had let up a bit. I kept wondering what that thing we were carrying really looked like . . .

We were at 35,000, flying level and straight. The bombardier had taken over. A burst of flak under our right wing hardly shook the huge B-36. The engineer quickly made a damage check. Our guns roared and waved for 15 seconds, as though a great riveting machine had been let loose inside the plane. Must have been a night fighter astern. The fire-control officer said calmly: "Sorry. I missed him."

We were in the bomb run . . . almost 5,000 miles from home. Our ship carried the spare to be dropped only if the first one was shot down or missed the target. The intercom said: "Bomb-bay doors are open." Jock replied: "Roger."

Another ship, about four miles away, started to burn and slide down the blue vault of the heavens. Ours, or theirs, no one knew. No one said anything. Jock looked at his watch, then down at the dirty gray clouds below. And then the words slammed into his ears. The first he had heard since crossing the enemy coast. The words were: ANGEL IS DOWN.

That meant the first plane. The first bomb had been shot down or the plane had aborted. We didn't know. It should have bombed two minutes ahead of us. Jock said: "It's up to us now."

The flak started again, as though the gunners knew we were carrying the second punch. The bombardier was looking down through the clouds. It was a radar job and very impersonal. Now it was quiet. No fighters. No flak. We were alone with only the steady voices of the engines and the not quite intelligible voice of the bombardier. Then he said, suddenly and clearly: "It's gone."

Jock took over, turned 45 degrees to port and rammed the throttles home. As we looked down through the overcast, I saw it—something that I can only describe as the flame of a gigantic blowtorch filtering through dirty yellow gauze.

We felt nothing. It was the most professional, nerveless military operation I have ever seen. Jock asked for a new course from his navigator. Then he checked his 15-man crew, told them to keep alert until we crossed the enemy coast. We were heading home.

I sat beside him part of the way back. At times he took over from the automatic pilot. Once he said: "It's nice to be going home. My wife and two children lived in Detroit. I haven’t heard from them for over a month."

I could see his knuckles turn white as he gripped the wheel when he said it. He seemed very tired and old—anything but exultant . . .