February 4, 2017

World War III: "I Saw Them Chute into the Urals" by Lowell Thomas

I Saw Them Chute into the Urals
Invading UN paratroopers land by the Ural Mountains in the Soviet Union during World War III in 1953. Illustration by Birney Lettick in Collier's magazine, October 27, 1951, p. 28
In 1951, Collier's magazine published a special issue entitled "Preview of the War We Do Not Want" speculating about a hypothetical World War III and what it might look like. The war begins in 1952 and ends in 1955 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, followed by a UN occupation of Russia. Writer Robert E. Sherwood provided an extensive history of the war.

A number of other notable figures contributed fictional reports about the war and its history, including Edward R. Murrow, Hal Boyle, Walter Reuther, Marguerite Higgins, Walter Winchell, Kathryn Morgan-Ryan, Allan Nevins, Hanson W. Baldwin, Oksana Kasenkina, and Arthur Koestler.

In this article, writer and broadcaster Lowell Thomas describes a daring airborne invasion of the Soviet Union by UN paratroopers in 1953. Their mission is to destroy a Soviet stockpile of atomic weaponry, while UN air forces drop their own nuclear bombs on Soviet military targets.

From Collier's magazine, October 27, 1951, p. 29:
I Saw Them Chute into the Urals


CBS's Lowell Thomas, one of six top newsmen chosen to cover Task Force Victory—the 1953 airborne operation to destroy the Soviet A-bomb stockpile deep in the Ural Mountains—made this recording as he, and others, were flown out to safety.

Tonight, in the Ural Mountains, what remains of the airborne force of 10,000 UN troops and paratroopers who landed behind the Soviet border at dawn this morning are fighting for their lives. This must necessarily be a sketchy report. The Reds have been pouring in troops all day. Our losses are heavy. Some say 50 per cent. Others put it higher. It is much too early to tell, for the fight will rage for days. I was lucky. I was pinned down at the airfield. Otherwise I would not be recording this report now.

At the Tel Aviv air base, they had assigned me to a transport due to land the moment UN paratroopers seized the Soviet flying field. Our plane carried engineering specialists and nuclear physicists. Their job: to draw the teeth of the Soviets' last remaining A-bombs in the subterranean tunnels of the Ural Mountains a mile or two from the airfield.

I rode up front with the pilot. Captain Glen Hastings, of Elmora, Pennsylvania. Behind us, stretched out to the horizon, transports of every description hunched together. You had to queue up to get into the U.S.S.R. this morning. Our first glimpse of action over the Urals; the terrifying air battles between Red and UN jets. On the outcome, our lives depended.

When we reached the area, paratroopers and equipment were still drifting down onto the Soviet air base, which had been blasted by high air-burst A-bombing 15 minutes before. (This leaves no dangerous amount of radioactivity on the ground.) Even now, we were in the thick of the air battle.

Jets flashed through the sky at incredible speeds, ranging all the way from the stratosphere to the very treetops. Their MIGs made passes at our transports continuously. Some were able to get through our air cover. Scarcely a mile from us, I saw one MIG with guns blazing swoop down on a Fairchild Packet. The big transport broke up into chunks of wreckage as it plunged.

The landing on the rough field, which had been ripped by atomic explosions, knocked the wind out of us. We were in the midst of the most awful devastation I've ever seen. Trees and bushes up to two miles away were afire. The very ground was black—seared by the A-bombing. Thousands of Red garrison troops must have been blasted to eternity; but as we poured out of the plane, we were made painfully aware that not all of them had been killed—Red troops were counterattacking.

It was suicide; at the perimeter, our paratroopers cut them down. But they kept coming, overran and completely wiped out a company of ours, and in minutes were pushing across the field. They would have recaptured it, but for the constant arrival of new detachments of UN troops. Streaming from the transports, these reinforcements went into action. Our primary objective, the holding of the airstrip, was achieved—but for how long?

Along with the other reporters here, I was pinned down at the field. I could not get to the area of the biggest battle—at the mouth of the underground tunnels leading to the Reds' A-bomb chambers. From all reports, we suffered our greatest casualties from Soviet troops well entrenched in concrete-and-steel pillboxes protecting the entrances. Flame throwers eventually routed them.

The Reds fought to the death defending their A-bomb stockpile. Safe in their subterranean stronghold, they survived the atomic blasting and then sallied forth against our troops. These were almost wiped out, but the remnants held their ground until reinforcements came up. Our troops finally forced an entrance into the tunnels, and the nuclear physicists began their extremely sensitive work. They did it well. In this heavily protected air-convoy, we are carrying out certain fissionable material without which Stalin's A-bombs are useless.

Task Force Victory has been a complete success. The Reds will never drop another A-bomb. But we have left behind us, in that dark valley of the Urals, our troops. They are slowly being overrun by the Soviet hordes who have been arriving all day. If we can hold onto the airfield for a few days—and despite the terrible odds we hope to do that—survivors can be flown out to safety and to the unending gratitude which the free world owes them.