The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans

Khalid Elhassan - January 16, 2020

Wars are shaped not only by what is done, but also by what is not. Many plans are contemplated that could have been carried out, but for one reason or another, they were not implemented. Sometimes, it is a good thing that a particular plan was shelved. Either because the plan would have failed, or because it would have worked, but in so doing would have produced horrific results. Following are forty things about fascinating military plans that were contemplated, but that were not carried out.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
A V-1 in flight. The Slaughen Archives

40. The Nazis Wanted to Attack the Big Apple With Rockets Launched From U-boats

Nazi scientists had an alarming tendency to think outside the box and come up with lethal technological innovations. More alarming yet was their ability to quickly transform their sinister brainstorms into practical designs, then rush them through production and get them into the hands of the German military. Fortunately, Hitler’s scientists fell short when it came to WWII’s greatest technological innovation of all: the A-bomb.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
A V-2 launch. Aero Flap

That was good news, because the technological innovations that Nazi scientists actually came up with gave Germany’s enemies more than enough to worry about. They included the Vergeltungswaffe (“Vengeance Weapons”), such as the V-1 Flying Bomb, the world’s first cruise missile, and the V-2, the first ballistic missile. They struck fear into the hearts of the civilian populations they were deployed against. Vengeance weapons terrorized and killed thousands of Londoners, and if German military planners had had their way, they would have done the same to New Yorkers.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
A test launch at Peenemunde. Uncube Magazine

39. The Brothers Who Dreamt Up the Idea of Missile Submarines

During WWII, missiles had relatively short ranges, and their reach was limited to a few dozen miles at most from launch sites on land in German-controlled territory. That left most of the territory of Germany’s enemies beyond the reach of German missiles. In 1941, a plan was conceived to bring more enemy territory within reach of the Third Reich’s rockets, by marrying rockets to U-boats.

It was the brainchild of brothers Friedrich Steinhoff, commander of U-511, a Type IXC U-boat, and his brother, Dr. Erich Steinhoff, who was working at the secret rocket research program at Peenemunde. Equipping a U-boat with rockets would transform the submersibles into mobile launch platforms. With the high seas as their highways, U-boats could take German missiles to just about anywhere in the world – or at least anywhere in the world that lay within a few dozen miles of a sea coast.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
Mounting a rocket rack on a U-boat deck. Weapons and Warfare

38. The First Rocket U-Boat

In the summer of 1942, the Steinhoff brothers secured authorization to try out their idea of launching rockets from submarines. Accordingly, a rack for 30 cm rocket launchers was mounted on the upper deck of the U-511. Testing was successful, and the U-511 was able to launch its rockets both from the surface, and when submerged up to a depth of 40 feet.

However, the German navy envisioned the rockets as an anti ship weapon, and in that capacity, they were useless because they lacked an accurate guidance system. The idea was revived in 1943, with the advent of the V-1 Flying Bomb. Mounting a V-1 and launcher on a U-boat would allow the Flying Bomb to strike targets at a significantly greater range than its 150 mile radius from land-based sites. Inter-service rivalry sank the proposal, however: the V-1 was a Luftwaffe project, and Germany’s airmen were reluctant to share with the navy.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
A V-2 in a towed submersible barge. Wikimedia

37. Targeting the United States

Lack of cooperation from the Luftwaffe delayed the marriage of U-boats and V-1s. However, consideration was also given in 1943 to firing V-2 rockets from U-boats, particularly to target American cities. In 1943, American bombers were showing up in ever growing numbers to bomb German cities, so the Germans were itching for a means to retaliate against American cities.

However, the V-2 was too big to mount in any U-boat then in service. So a submersible vessel to transport and launch the V-2 was designed. Known as the Prufstand XII (“Test Stand XII”), the V-2 submersible transport displaced about 500 tons, and would get towed by a U-boat – the forward motion keeping the container submerged – to within range of its target. Three Prufstands were ordered in December of 1944. The target: New York City.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
The Prufstand XII launch system. Pintrest

36. Hitting New York With V-2s

The Nazis planned to use Type XXI U-boats to tow three Prufstand XIIs, each carrying a V-2 rocket, across the Atlantic to within range of New York. The submersible transports, which also carried a reserve of diesel fuel to supply the towing U-boat en route, would get set up upon arrival at the launch site.

The container’s ballast tanks would get flooded, bringing the Prufstand and the V-2 within to a vertical position. The rocket’s guidance system would then be set, and aimed at the Big Apple. When all was ready, the V-2 would be remotely launched from within the U-boat. Leaving its container, the rocket would soar to the edge of space, before plunging down upon NYC with a ton of high explosives contained within its nose-mounted warhead.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
A life raft carrying survivors of a sunken U-boat, surrounded by American warships. Wikimedia

35. Operation Teardrop

In late 1944, Allied intelligence learned of the German plan to attack American cities – particularly New York City – with submarine-launched missiles. So they prepared Operation Teardrop, a US Navy operation to sink U-boats approaching the Eastern Seaboard, that were believed to be armed with missiles. Two large anti-submarine task forces were set up, and in April, 1945, Operation Teardrop was executed when word arrived that several U-boats had left Norway, bound for North America.

Of seven U-boats that approached the United States, five were sunk, and the survivors were abusively interrogated for any information about the plan to launch missiles. As it turned out, the U-boats had not been fitted out with missile-launching equipment, and the plan to attack American cities with rockets had not yet been ordered. The war ended before the Germans got around to making an attempt to carry it out.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
American soldiers fighting their way into a German city in 1945. Wikimedia

34. The Clock Runs Out on the Nazis

Of the three Prufstand XII rocket containers ordered in late 1944, only one was actually delivered. Luckily, by the time this particular Nazi scheme went into high gear, time in general was running out on the entire Nazi project. By late 1944, the Third Reich was crumbling under heavy blows from enemies advancing upon from east and west.

That was particularly fortunate for the Big Apple, considering just how badly Hitler and his goons wanted to reach out and touch it. Visiting devastation upon NYC would have been both a psychological blow and a propaganda coup, as a highly visible demonstration of Germany’s ability to bring the war to US soil.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
An Ursel U-boat. Weapons and Warfare

33. The Germans Drew the Blueprints For Modern Ballistic Missile Submarines

The Nazis put a lot of thought into how to reach out and wreck the Big Apple. In addition to the Prufstand, the ad-hoc submersible V-2 transport, the Germans had also been busy with plans for a dedicated ballistic missile U-boat that could carry multiple rockets and launch them at inland targets.

Separately, in a project codenamed Ursel, the Germans had figured out a guidance system that allowed the targeting of surface ships with rockets fired from submerged U-boats. The rockets, however, were still under development when the war ended. After the war, both the US and Soviet navies drew on Project Ursel to develop ballistic missile submarines in the 1950s.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
Napoleon distributing the first Legion of Honor to his soldiers near Boulogne in 1804. Wikimedia

32. L’Empereur’s Invasion of England

Hitler’s threatened invasion in 1940 is probably what first comes to mind when people picture a continental tyrant threatening Britain. However, a century earlier, Britain had faced an even greater invasion threat from another menacing tyrant: the Emperor of France. Between 1803 to 1805, Napoleon Bonaparte assembled and trained an army of 200,000 men near Boulogne, named the “Army of England” for its intended purpose of invading and conquering that country.

A large flotilla of barges was constructed to ferry it across the English Channel when the moment arrived. Control of the English Channel during the crossing was a prerequisite for launching the invasion – as Napoleon put it: “Let us be masters of the English Channel for six hours, and we shall be masters of the world“. However, that was no easy task, given the British Royal Navy’s superiority over Napoleon’s fleet of French and allied Spanish warships.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
Inspecting the troops of the Army of England in 1804. Wikimedia

31. Controlling the English Channel

Across the narrow waters separating it from its target, Napoleon drilled, trained, and the Army of England to a fine edge. In the meantime, his admirals tried to figure out how to seize temporary control over the English Channel to secure a safe crossing. The Franco-Spanish navy was divided into two main contingents, penned in and blockaded by two powerful Royal Navy fleets in Toulon and Brest. A third British fleet guarded the English Channel.

The Royal Navy’s confidence was such that the First Lord of the Admiralty commented in response to invasion fears that: “I do not say they cannot come – I say they cannot come by sea“. Napoleon’s admirals had to break out of their blockade in Toulon and Brest, and combine the newly freed fleets. Then they had to defeat the British Channel fleet, or at least keep it away from a stretch of the English Channel long enough for the invasion force to cross the waters to England.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
A fanciful cartoon depicting Napoleon’s proposed invasion of England, using balloons, ships, and a tunnel beneath the English Channel. Journal of Art in Society

30. The Elaborate Plan to Juke the British Navy Out of Position

To achieve temporary local superiority in the English Channel, an elaborate plan was hatched for the Franco-Spanish fleets in Brest and Toulon to slip past the British blockade, then sail to the West Indies. There, they were to elude the pursuing British and ditch them somewhere in the Caribbean, then link up and unite forces near Martinique. That done, the newly united Franco-Spanish fleet, whose combined strength should now be greater than that of the British fleet guarding England, would sail back to Europe.

There, Napoleon’s navy would establish temporary naval superiority over the English Channel, long enough to safely transport his army to England. It was an ambitious plan. The kind that Napoleon liked, with rapid movements that trick a superior enemy into a reaction that leaves his forces dispersed, providing an opportunity for a sudden concentration against an isolated portion of the enemy’s forces.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
An engagement during the British Royal Navy’s blockade of the French port of Toulon. Royal Museums Greenwich

29. Plans on Paper vs Plans in Practice

Unfortunately for Napoleon, the kinds of elaborate maneuvers for juking the British Royal Navy out of position were easier done on land than on sea. On land, a general could estimate marching times over known distances, with enough accuracy to concentrate at an opportune time and place. It was not the same at sea during the age of sail, because the vagaries of wind and weather made it difficult to time a concentration of fleets with precision.

The French Toulon fleet broke out of its blockade in March, 1805, eluded the British fleet commanded by Horatio Nelson, and raced to the Caribbean. There, it managed to lose and ditch the pursuing Nelson, then sailed to the rendezvous off Martinique to linkup with the Brest fleet. However, it was stood up: the other fleet failed to breakout and was still blockaded in Brest. So the Toulon fleet sailed back to Europe.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
1805 Battle Off Cape Finisterre – a French defeat that convinced Napoleon to abandon his plans for invading England. Royal Museums Greenwich

28. The Collapse of Napoleon’s Plan to Invade England

Upon its return to European waters, the French Toulon fleet was defeated off Spain in the Battle of Cape Finisterre in July, 1805. The survivors fled to Cadiz, where they were blockaded. With the plan to control the English Channel in tatters, Napoleon gave up on the invasion of England.

In August, 1805, he renamed the finely trained Army of England the Grande Armee, and marched it from the Channel coast to Central Europe to fight the Austrians and Russians. Two months later, the Franco-Spanish fleet was defeated decisively at the Battle of Trafalgar, but by then the army that had trained for years to invade England was fighting in Central Europe, hundreds of miles from the English Channel.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
Operation Hush. Wikimedia

27. The British Plan to Outflank the Western Front in WWI

World War I began with plenty of movement and maneuver, but after a few months, things on the Western Front stagnated into gridlock as exhausted armies dug in where they stood. By the end of 1914, millions of soldiers faced enemies across no-man’s land, hunkered in trenches that stretched for hundreds of miles from the Swiss border to the English Channel. Direct attacks on entrenched opponents typically resulted in advances of a few hundred yards, or a few miles at most. They produced little more than mutual attrition, with attackers suffering significantly higher casualties commensurate with their greater exposure in the open to concentrated machine gun and artillery fire as they traversed no-man’s land.

In 1917, the British planned Operation Hush, to take advantage of Allied naval supremacy, cemented by the Royal Navy’s strategic victory in the Battle of Jutland the previous year. It aimed to outflank the Germans with an amphibious landing on the Belgian coast, behind the German trenches’ northern terminal on the English Channel.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
North end of the Western Front at Nieuwpoort in 1917. Imperial War Museum

26. The Hush Hush Operation Hush

The horrors of trench warfare in the stretch near the coast targeted for Operation Hush were exacerbated by marshy ground that reduced the area to a sea of mud. The British planned to first attack the German trenches with a normal ground assault across the area’s flooded no-man’s land. Then, once a sufficient advance had been made, such that a breakthrough out of the muddy region and into the dry land beyond was attainable, the British would land a force on the coast behind the enemy trenches. The amphibiously landed forced would then wheel right, and attack the rear of the Germans resisting the initial attack from Ypres.

Pinched front and rear, the Germans defenses would crumble, and the British would advance over them to link with the amphibious force on dry land. With the muddy region which had made advance so difficult now behind them, and open dry land ahead, the British would have better prospects for future operations.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
Australians making their way over the muddy terrain during the Third Battle of Ypres. Wikimedia

25. Cancelling Operation Hush

Unfortunately for the British planners of Operation Hush, the Germans grew suspicious and launched a spoiling attack in July, 1917, that pushed the British back. When the main British attack finally came, in the Third Battle of Ypres in October of that year, it had to make an even greater advance than the planners of Operation Hush had envisioned.

First, the British had to recapture the ground taken by the Germans in July. Then, they had to continue on until they got close enough to the beaches where Operation Hush’s amphibious force were supposed to land. The British failed to advance far enough to come within striking distance of a linkup with an amphibious force landed behind German lines, so Operation Hush was cancelled.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
Hitler touring a recently conquered Paris in June of 1940. Pintrest

24. The Nazi Invasion of Switzerland

When France surrendered to the Nazis in June of 1940, Switzerland ended up completely surrounded by Axis controlled territory. A major aim of the irredentist Nazis was to gather all ethnic Germans into a single country, and that included the German speaking Swiss. They were not as eager for such a union, however. Hitler was appalled that the German-speaking Swiss felt stronger attachment to their French and Italian speaking countrymen, than they did to Germans.

The Fuhrer opined that: “Switzerland possessed the most disgusting and miserable people“, and that the Swiss were “a misbegotten branch of our Volk‘. He considered democratic Switzerland an anachronism, and ordered plans drawn for its conquest and absorption into the Third Reich.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
Operation Tannenbaum. Automatic Ballpoint

23. Operation Tannenbaum

The result was Operation Tannenbaum. It envisioned a two stage conquest with 21 German divisions – a force later deemed excessive and downsized to 11 – plus 15 Italian divisions. It would begin with attacks from Austria, southern Germany, and occupied France, assisted by paratroops dropped behind Swiss lines. The aim was to overrun the lower-lying parts of Switzerland, where most of the population and economic activity was located.

To the south, Italians were to mount holding operations. Once the important parts of Switzerland were conquered, follow up attacks were to be made against Swiss army remnants in the “National Redoubt” – a fortified zone in Switzerland’s mountainous south.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
A revised Operation Tannenbaum. Automatic Ballpoint

22. Tannenbaum’s Odds of Success

Operation Tannenbaum would probably have succeeded. Much has been made of Switzerland’s mountainous terrain, and the Swiss army planned to take advantage of their topography by retreating into the mountainous part of their country.

However, the overwhelming majority of the Swiss did not live high up in the mountains, but in the lower parts of the country, in valleys and foothills that were readily accessible to attacking Germans. Cutoff up in the mountains, one can only guess how long the Swiss forces in the National Redoubt might have been able to offer sustained resistance.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
Swiss border patrol in the Alps during WWII. Wikimedia

21. Could the Swiss Have Held off the Germans?

The Swiss could have turned to widespread partisan and guerrilla warfare. However, other Western European countries were occupied by the Nazis, without their citizens exhibiting much willingness to risk the massive reprisals the Nazis were eager to visit upon restive conquered subjects. The Nazis did not treat Western Europe as atrociously as they did the Eastern European Slavs. Western Europeans thus never felt that their backs were to the wall, or that they had nothing to lose.

Certainly not to the same extent as did, e.g.; the Soviets or Yugoslavs, whose fierce and widespread partisan resistance had no equivalent in Western Europe. It is unlikely that the Germans would have treated the Swiss with anything approaching the monstrousness that triggered widespread resistance in the East. Considering that they viewed the Swiss as fellow Germans to be incorporated into their Reich, the Nazis would probably have treated Switzerland even better than they did other Western Europeans.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
Swiss soldiers during WWII. War History Online

20. Switzerland Was Spared Because Its Neutrality Was Useful to the Germans

Fortunately, Hitler never got around to issuing the orders for Operation Tannebaum to proceed. While the Fuhrer would have been emotionally gratified by an invasion and conquest of Switzerland, there was no immediate need to do so.

The Swiss had no aggressive designs on the Third Reich, and surrounded on all sides by Axis territory, there was no security threat of an Allied occupation of Switzerland as a base from which to attack Germany. Switzerland also had no resources that were not readily available to the Germans via trade. Moreover, the Swiss banking system, combined with Swiss neutrality, made the country a convenient center for currency exchange and other international financial transactions.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
Churchill, FDR, and Stalin at the Yalta Conference in 1945. Encyclopedia Britannica

19. Churchill’s Plan to Attack the Soviets At the End of WWII

As the war in Europe drew to a close in the spring of 1945, Winston Churchill was growing increasingly exasperated by Soviet intransigence regarding Eastern Europe, which Stalin clearly aimed to turn into a Soviet empire. Britain had gone to war in order to defend Polish independence, but at war’s end Stalin was riding roughshod over the Poles.

The Soviet dictator insisted on keeping the third of Poland he had annexed in 1939 in cooperation with the Germans, reducing the Poles to Soviet clients, and extinguishing their freedom and independence. Churchill saw it as a matter touching British honor, so he ordered his generals to draw up plans to attack the Soviets as soon as Germany surrendered. The Prime Minister had nebulous aims of pushing the Red Army back to the USSR’s borders, or at least force Stalin to treat Poland fairly.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
Army positions in May of 1945. Wikimedia

18. Operation Unthinkable

Churchill’s generals presented him with Operation Unthinkable, whose title indicates what they thought of the Prime Minister’s idea. Two versions were offered, one offensive, the other defensive. The offensive envisaged a surprise attack on the soviets in July, 1945, intended to force Stalin to give Poland a “fair deal”. The defensive envisaged a British defense of Western Europe after America withdrew from the continent.

The Soviets had 10 million men available in the summer of 1945. They outnumbered the British and Americans in Europe 4:1 in men, and 2:1 in tanks – and superior tanks at that. The Allies had an advantage in the air, but even that was subject to challenge, as the Red Air Force by 1945 had formidable fighter and ground attack arms.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
Size of the Soviet military during WWII. Quora

17. The Red Army Was Formidable in 1945

As WWII drew to a close, the Soviet military was no longer the hapless rabble it had been in 1941 when the Germans invaded. By 1945, the Red Army had become a veteran and battle-hardened force, that had won bigger campaigns against significantly greater opposition than the Allies had faced.

In a nutshell, Churchill’s generals concluded that it would be ill advised to take on the Soviets. Far from being a pushover, the Red Army when plans were drawn for Operation Unthinkable was dangerous, vicious, and very big. If war broke out, Churchill was advised, it was more likely to end with the Red Army conquering all of continental Europe, rather than getting chased back to the USSR.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
Report from Churchill’s generals to the Prime Minister on the odds of Operation Unthinkable. UK National Archives

16. Churchill Quits Thinking About the Unthinkable

Churchill’s generals greatest argument against taking on the Red Army was to point out that, on her own, Britain stood no chance against the Soviets. The US had no incentive to attack them – especially not over Poland and Eastern Europe. Standing up for Poland might have been a point of honor for Churchill, but few in the British government, and fewer still in that of the US, thought Poland or Eastern Europe were worth an even greater war against the Soviet Union than the one they had just concluded against Germany.

Unlike Britain, America had never guaranteed Poland’s territorial integrity, nor had it entered WWII in order to defend Polish sovereignty. Presented with the preceding, Churchill grudgingly let the matter drop, and Operation Unthinkable was archived.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
Douglas MacArthur at the Inchon Landings. Smithsonian Magazine

15. Douglas MacArthur’s Plans to Nuke China

In September of 1950, Douglas MacArthur changed the character of the Korean War with a successful amphibious landing at Inchon. It led to the collapse of North Korea’s invasion of South Korea. MacArthur vigorously – as things turned out, too vigorously – pursued the routed enemy northward up the Korean Peninsula. Despite repeated warnings, MacArthur blithely dismissed mounting evidence that China would directly intervene in the war if his forces approached the Sino-Korean border. He insisted that the Chinese would do nothing.

MacArthur was wrong. Soon after his forces reached the Yalu River marking the border with China, the Chinese began pouring across in the hundreds of thousands, successfully evading detection. They struck in November, 1950, surprising MacArthur and catching him completely off guard. Within weeks, the Chinese had defeated and pushed his demoralized forces out of North Korea and back across the border into South Korea.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
President Truman and General MacArthur. Harry S. Truman Library

14. MacArthur’s Histrionics

With his judgment proven catastrophically wrong, and his forces chased down the Korean Peninsula by the Chinese faster than they had raced up in pursuit of the North Koreans, a humiliated MacArthur reacted with histrionics. He demanded that China be nuked. MacArthur’s plan was to drop up to 50 atomic bombs in Manchuria on Chinese cities, military concentrations, and communication centers. He sought to seal off the Korean Peninsula from China with a radioactive belt across Manchuria, stretching from the Sea of Japan to the Yellow Sea.

President Truman, whom MacArthur had assured only weeks earlier that China would do nothing if his forces marched up to its border, balked. Truman was especially wary of MacArthur’s further confident assurances that the Soviets would do nothing if America dropped dozens of nukes on their Chinese ally. When MacArthur publicly contradicted Truman, he was ordered to clear any further statements on the subject with the State Department first. MacArthur violated those orders, and again challenged Truman publicly on the use of atomic weapons. Truman fired him.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
American troops in South Vietnam. USA Today

13. The American Invasion of North Vietnam

America’s biggest problem during the Vietnam War was North Vietnamese infiltration into South Vietnam, and support for the insurgency there. So plans were made to take out North Vietnam with a direct invasion. As described by Harry G. Summers in On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War, the plan was reminiscent of the Normandy invasion.

It called for landing an airborne division to the north and west of Hanoi to block off the approaches to the Hanoi-Haiphong region. That would be accompanied by a seaborne invasion, with three divisions landed on beaches in the Haiphong area. The Haiphong force would then drive on to Hanoi, and linkup up with the airborne troops there.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
NVA engineers erecting a bridge on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Imgur

12. The Strategic Aim Behind Invading North Vietnam

American planners figured that by capturing and securing the Hanoi-Haiphong area, outside support for North Vietnam would be drastically curtailed. By extension, so would the support for the communist forces in South Vietnam. The two major railroads linking North Vietnam to China would be severed, the country’s main seaport would be in American hands, and the lines of communications to the South would be interdicted.

Starved of Chinese and Soviet arms, munitions, and supplies, and cutoff from a steady infusion of North Vietnamese manpower, planners expected that organized armed resistance in South Vietnam would wane and collapse. While the plan stood a high chance of success against the North Vietnamese, it was deemed too dangerous because China would likely join the fray.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
North Vietnamese convoy on the Ho Chi Minh trail en route to South Vietnam. Thing Link

11. Concerns About Chinese Intervention Kept the US From Invading North Vietnam

The plans for invading North Vietnam were drawn only fifteen years after the Korean War. In that conflict, US and allied forces had pursued the routed North Koreans all the way to the Chinese border, based on the mistaken belief that China would do nothing. That led to the unpleasant surprise of the Chinese jumping in and pushing American forces all the way back to South Korea.

If China directly joined the Vietnam War in response to an American invasion of North Vietnam, things could easily escalate from there into WWIII, with the Soviets getting dragged in. Unlike the situation during the Korean War, the US no longer held an overwhelming nuclear superiority: by the second half of the 1960s, the Soviets possessed thousands of nuclear warheads and the means of delivering them to targets in the US. American interests in Vietnam were deemed not worth the risk, and thus the planned invasion of Hanoi-Haiphong was shelved.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
Julius Caesar. Wikidata

10. Julius Caesar Wanted to Replicate Alexander the Great’s Eastern Conquests

Julius Caesar was a huge fan of Alexander the Great. Early in his career, Caesar wept when he saw a statue of the Macedonian conqueror. Upon being asked why, he replied that Alexander had conquered the world by the time he was 30, while he, Caesar, had passed that age and done nothing of note.

One of Caesar’s grandest ambitions was to conquer the east just like his idol, so after consolidating his power in Rome, he prepared to invade Parthia in 44 BC. It was to be a massive endeavor with the largest force he had ever led: 16 legions and 10,000 cavalry, in addition to support troops. As a preliminary, he planned to first invade and conquer the kingdom of Dacia, roughly modern Romania, which he calculated could be accomplished by the end of 44 BC. The following spring, he would move on to Parthia.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
According to Plutarch, Julius Caesar wanted to first conquer Dacia, then Parthia, before moving against the Scythians. Wikimedia

9. Could Caesar Have Conquered Parthia?

Parthia was no pushover. In 53 BC, a Parthian cavalry force of 10,000 all but annihilated a bigger Roman army of roughly 50,000, led by Caesar’s fellow Triumvir, Crassus. In 38 BC, Mark Antony invaded Parthia with an even larger force than that which Caesar had planned to use, numbering over 100,000 legionaries, 24,000 auxiliaries, and 10,000 cavalry. He met with disaster.

However, neither Crassus nor Mark Antony were in Caesar’s league as generals, while Caesar was an all time military great. And Parthia was vulnerable to a Roman army led by a gifted general. In the 2nd century AD, the emperor Trajan did what Caesar had planned, conquering Dacia, then invading and defeating Parthia, seizing its capital city of Ctesiphon, annexing Mesopotamia, and dictating a highly favorable peace treaty. Caesar might have done the same in the 40s BC, but he never got the opportunity: he was assassinated three days before he was to leave Rome for the Parthian campaign.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
Alexander the Great. Wikimedia

8. Alexander the Great’s Plans to Conquer the West

Philip II of Macedon’s lifelong ambition was to conquer Persia, but he was assassinated before he could try. It was left to his son, Alexander the Great, to accomplish his father’s dream. Alexander conquered the Persian Empire, then pushed beyond through Central Asia and into India, before his soldiers finally had enough and refused to march any further.

Thwarted from further conquests in the east, Alexander began planning to conquer the west. Reportedly, the travels of the pioneering Greek geographer Pytheas, in the 4th century BC, were actually a scouting trip and spying mission on behalf of Alexander.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
Rome, in red, in the days of Alexander the Great. Quora

7. How Would Alexander Have Conquered the West?

Ancient sources disagree on the details. Some contend that Alexander planned to march westwards from Macedonia to Ilyricum, thence into Italy, before continuing on to Gaul and Hispania. Others claim that he had a more ambitious plan to circumnavigate the Mediterranean by land, marching west from Egypt to conquer Libya, Carthage, Numidia, and Mauretania. He then planned to cross the narrows near the Pillars of Hercules to invade Hispania, then Gaul, before turning east to conquer Italy, and finally back to Macedon. Either route, Italy, and the small but rising Roman Republic therein, were on Alexander’s agenda.

If Alexander had invaded Italy, he probably would have won, and in the process perhaps extinguished the Roman Republic when it was still in its cradle. In addition to being one of history’s greatest conquerors, Alexander had in the elite Macedonian phalanx and Companion Cavalry the world’s best infantry and cavalry at the time. Rome back then was simply not in Alexander the Great’s league (see map above).

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
A phalanx. Pintrest

6. Alexander’s Macedon Was Significantly More Powerful Than Contemporary Rome

Roman legions bested the Macedonian phalanx in the 2nd century BC’s battles of Cynoscephalae and Pydna. However, in the 4th century BC, the Roman legion had not yet evolved into the ancient world’s best military unit. In Alexander’s day, the legion was still a spear-based force, a mixture of Greek and Samnite influences, more akin to the traditional phalanx of Sparta, albeit more flexible, than it was to the 2nd century sword-based legions that conquered Macedonia.

Two generations after Alexander, the Macedonian-type phalanx proved superior to the Roman legions during the war against Pyrrhus, a competent general but not Alexander’s equal. Fortunately for Rome, it never had to confront Alexander, for he died in Babylon in 323 BC, before he got around to launching his campaign to conquer the west.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
The proposed Silbervogel. False Steps

5. The Nazi Plot to Wreck New York With Radioactive Sand

In what turned out to be one of his worst decisions, Hitler inexplicably declared war against America on December 11th, 1941. It did not take long after the US was thus brought into the war in Europe for American heavy bombers to join the RAF in raining devastation upon the Third Reich.

The Germans wanted to return the favor, but aside from lacking aerial superiority to go on the offensive, the US homeland, all the way across the Atlantic Ocean from Nazi-occupied Europe, was too far away. So German scientists set about trying to solve that problem, and one of their proposed solutions was to render New York City uninhabitable by sprinkling radioactive sand all over the Big Apple.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
Silbervogel. Pintrest

4. Flying Over the Atlantic in a Silver Bird

To reach America, German scientist Eugen Sanger proposed a Racketenflugzeug – a rocket airplane. Known as Silbervogel, or Silver Bird, the proposed aircraft was to be propelled at 1200 miles per hour off railroad tracks from a rocket powered sled, then fly to a height of 90 miles. There, at the edge of space, the Silbervogel would use a series of roller-coaster-like “skips”, entering and exiting the upper atmosphere en route to the Big Apple.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
Silbervogel launch ramp. Papercraft Square

Upon reaching its destination, the Silbervogel would detonate a bomb packed with radioactive sand, to devastate New York City with a radiation cloud. It sounds cartoonish, straight out of one of those old time comics, but the theory was actually sound, and it just might have worked. Luckily for NYC, the Nazis were defeated before either the space plane or the villainous plan became a reality.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
President Kennedy and Curtis LeMay. Politico

3. The 1962 American Invasion of Cuba

In 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Pentagon strongly urged John F. Kennedy to invade Cuba in order to remove Soviet nuclear missiles from the island. The Joint Chiefs of Staff were in unanimous agreement that a full-scale invasion was the only solution. They presented the Presidents with two versions: Oplan 316 for a full invasion, and Oplan 312 for aerial strikes to take out the missiles, followed by an invasion if necessary.

The hawks, led by Air Force general Curtis LeMay, had a clear preference for Oplan 316. They contended that there was no guarantee that air strikes alone would take out all the missiles, or that one or more of the missiles would not be fired at the US. Fortunately for everybody then and now, JFK had the moral backbone to resist getting railroaded into a military solution, and managed to solve the crisis without an invasion.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
Soviet tactical nuclear warheads used in the 1960s, with a yield of up to 10 kilotons, and a range of up to 32 kilometers. Nuclear Weapon Archive

2. The Expected Butcher’s Bill

The Pentagon’s planners expected 18,500 American casualties in the first ten days of an invasion of Cuba, assuming no nuclear explosions. However, unbeknownst to planners, the Soviet forces in Cuba had tactical nuclear weapons, and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had preauthorized the local Soviet commander to use them at his discretion if he deemed it necessary. As the crisis intensified, Khrushchev withdrew release authority and forbade their use without his express permission. However, whether the modified orders would have been followed, is debatable.

In practice, tactical nukes were dispersed throughout Cuba to various Soviet units, physically controlled by officers as low down the chain of command as captains. Soviet forces had drilled in the use of those weapons as part of their defensive plan. In the heat of battle, the custodians of those weapons would have been under intense pressure as they were subjected to overwhelming US aerial strikes, naval bombardment, and ground attacks.

The Nazi Scheme to Bombard New York City With Rockets and Other Unfinished Military Plans
Kennedy and Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Eniclopedia Historia

1. The World Dodges a Bullet

If JFK had accepted the Pentagon’s advice and invaded Cuba, the results could have been horrific. It is not difficult to envision a desperate local Soviet commander in such a scenario, perhaps cutoff from communications with higher authority, resorting to the tactical nukes at hand to save his command, or at least ensure that its demise did not come cheap. The Red Army, with victory in WWII only 17 years in its past, did not lack military pride or an ethos of defiance unto death.

If the Soviets had used nukes in Cuba, the US intended an overwhelming nuclear response. Things could easily have escalated from there to a full blown nuclear exchange that would have devastated both countries and Europe, irradiated the Northern Hemisphere, and set humanity back centuries. Fortunately, JFK resisted the pressure from his generals and admirals, and relying on diplomacy, back channels, and blockade, successfully diffused the crisis without triggering WWIII.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Automatic Ballpoint – Operation Tannenbaum

Battles of the Ancients – How Close Was Alexander the Great to Conquering Southern Italy?

Bentley, Matthew A. – Spaceplanes: From Airport to Spaceport (2009)

Blair, Clay Jr. – Hitler’s U-Boat War: The Hunters, 1939-1942 (1996)

Blair, Clay Jr. – Hitler’s U-Boat War: The Hunted, 1942-1945 (1998)

Imperial War Museum – The Operation Hush

Keegan, John – Intelligence in War: Knowledge of the Enemy From Napoleon to Al-Qaeda (2003)

Manchester, William – American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur, 1880-1964 (1978)

Miller, David – U-Boats (2000)

National Archives, UK – Operation Unthinkable

National Security Archive – Pentagon Expected 18,500 Casualties in Cuba Invasion of 1962, But if Nukes Launched, “Heavy Losses” Expected

Plutarch – Parallel Lives: Caesar

Summers, Harry G. – On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War (1995)

U-Boat Aces – Rocket U-Boat Program

Wikipedia – Napoleon’s Planned Invasion of the United Kingdom

Wikipedia – Operation Tannenbaum

Wikipedia – Operation Teardrop

Wikipedia – Rocket U-boat