10.25 G.M.T.

Moscow: 1.25 a.m., Washington: 5.25 a.m.

It has often been said that the Pentagon is not so much a building as a city. Certainly in terms of size and working population it merits that description. Like most other cities it is busier by day than by night. Except in time of crisis, few lights burn through the night. But ten minutes after General Franklin had received the message from Omaha, lights were winking on all over the vast building as key personnel, abruptly woken, began to arrive at their desks.

The organisation was sufficiently smooth, the communications system sufficiently sensitive, for the key men to be located at once. When located, they were merely given the one word which indicated a national emergency. They scrambled into their clothes, ignoring such formalities as washing and shaving. There were razors and washing facilities at the Pentagon they could use later. For now, all that mattered was to arrive at their desks fast. At that time of morning traffic was light. Even those living twenty miles out, by driving at eighty and ninety on the almost deserted highways, were able to report within fifteen minutes of the summons. Many got to their posts inside ten minutes, a few inside five. Some, of course, were already sleeping in the building.

The Joint Chiefs arrived at the War Room, half way down the central corridor, almost simultaneously. Their I.D. cards, special passes, and War Room entry permits, were scrutinized as minutely and thoroughly by the Military Police on duty outside the door as those of the more junior officers of all three services who followed them in. Nor were the elaborate security measures unnecessary. Secrets were made in other places. Here in the War Room, they were displayed. At one end of the huge, rectangular room, a dozen comfortable arm chairs were arranged in a semi-circle facing wall which sloped at an incline of about fifteen degrees towards the chairs. On it were three maps, all of them of the world, but drawn in such a way that the average person would not have realised at a first glance exactly what they were.

The map on the left was the least confusing. It showed density of populations, amount of food production per head of those populations, political allegiance, and degree of industrialization. The map on the right was concerned with naval and military dispositions. At a glance it was possible to see the trend of Russian naval traffic, and the deployment of their massive land forces.

The central map, larger than both the others together, was a view of the northern hemisphere as it might have been seen from a satellite a thousand miles above the North Pole. Here were marked in red and blue the targets in Russia and America which had been allotted a priority of one or two.

Red was for priority one targets. It indicated a target which was considered vital to either side for immediate operations, and especially for offensive operations. Priority one targets were those which must be hit within hours of the start of a war. They consisted largely of airfields, missile sites, and a few great cities. There were forty-six such targets in America, and a further fourteen–mostly SAC bases–in the rest of the free world. In Russia there were thirty-one, with three in the satellite countries and one in China.

Priority two targets were shown in blue. They were the targets which would be hit in the second phase, between twelve hours and four days after the initial attacks. They comprised communications systems, industrial complexes, cities with a population of a half million or more, defensive airfields and missile sites. There were around five hundred of them in the free world, four hundred in the Russian bloc.

The difference between red and blue, between priority one and priority two targets, had been defined by an Air Force general back in 1951. "These targets are all vital targets. They are all necessary in order to wage war. But first priority must surely' be given to those targets which enable a nation to wage immediate offensive war. Those are priority one. In the long run the other targets may enable a nation to hurt its enemy equally badly if they are spared. But not immediately, in the first few hours. They will not be spared of course, but though they must be destroyed the need to destroy them has not the same urgency as is the case with targets in the first priority. To those targets the maximum initial effort of the attacking forces must be applied. The true test is to assume that all such targets were blotted out in a sudden attack. Could the attacked nation then mount any sort of immediate counter attack? If the answer is yes, that nation contains targets which have not been given a high enough priority. Again, assume that from among the priority one targets, each single target in turn alone comes through a sudden attack undamaged. Could an immediate counter attack be launched from that target? If the answer is no, then that target has been overgraded and belongs among the priority twos, not the priority ones."

Behind the wall, which was made of a transparent material, teams of plotters were at work, drawing in with coloured
wax pencils the X points and target routes of the 843rd Wing. Every one of the targets was shown in red. And be
tween the thirty-two bombers, every red target was covered, either as a primary or secondary. Quieten had been well aware of that, when he made his decision.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff conferred for a few moments, talking in low tones. Then General Franklin was asked to explain what had happened, and give his estimate of the situation over the next two hours.

Franklin stepped up on the platform which ran the width of the wall, and stood under the central map. He was a short,' thickly built man, with a round, impassive face. He was unshaven, but his plentiful black hair was neatly brushed. He gave an impression of solid strength, and that impression was fully in accordance with his character. Without it, he could never have become SAC's commander in his fortieth year.

He said, "Gentlemen, thirty minutes ago, without any orders or authorisation, one of my base commanders sent out attack orders to a wing under his command. The wing con corned was on a simulated mission which took them to the point where, in time of war, they could have begun the first part of their attack procedure. In Strategic Air Command we call this point the X point.

"You will see plotted on the map above me, the thirty X points of the 843rd Wing. From those points the black G lines indicate the route of each individual bomber to its target. You will see that every red, that is priority one target, is included in those assigned to the wing. As of this moment, ten thirty-one Greenwich Mean Time, every bomber is between ninety and one hundred minutes flying time from its target.

"There is a particular reason why all the priority one targets have been assigned to the 843rd. It is the one SAC wing which is equipped with the new B-52K types. That means it is the one wing we feel very confident is able to fight its way through and take out all the assigned targets without exception. Until, the supersonic B-58 comes into operational use later this year, the 52.Ks are the best we've got. They are crammed with electronic devices capable of throwing off track all known Soviet guided missiles, and they carry their own air to air missiles for defense against fighters. Some of you here will already know that tests against live targets over the Gulf lead us to expect a ninety-eight per cent kill rate against attacking fighters.

"As regards offensive strength, each bomber is carrying two weapons of fifteen megaton yield. This power ensures all targets will be taken out if the bombing error does not I exceed three miles, and the majority if it does not exceed five. We do not believe it will in fact exceed one mile.

"To sum up, I consider the 843rd will reach and hit its targets. All of them, That means in something under two hours from now Soviet offensive capability will be effectively destroyed. I'll answer any questions I can."

There was a low buzz of conversation in the room, mostly from the small groups of aides and staff officers. Franklin stood impassive on the platform. His face was quite expressionless. No-one could possibly have known the thoughts that were chasing through his mind. He felt deep down that, maybe Quinten was right, that this could be the only possible solution for the free world. But he gave no outward indication of his feeling.

Navy got in the first question. Admiral Maclellan was not the typical sea dog one visualised as Chief of Naval Operations. He was slight, almost delicate in build; with a sharp featured, intelligent face. "I take it there's some technical reason you can't just recall the wing?" he asked.

Franklin said bluntly, "There is. The base commander concerned picked one of the emergency plans which envisaged a commander having to act on his own because the higher echelons had been knocked out by sudden attack. He selected a plan which requires recall orders, or any orders at all, to be preceded by a three-letter group, once the initial attack instructions have been given. Without that group, the planes cannot receive the message. To guard against possible sabotage, the letters are given to the crews by the commander personally at the briefing. He and his deputy keep the letters involved a secret between-them. In this case the deputy is along with the wing. And the commander refuses to recall the planes-Does that answer you, Admiral?"

"Certainly, Maclellan said. "Who is the base commander, by the way?"

Franklin hesitated. He looked towards the Air Force Chief of Staff, General Steele, Steele nodded. Franklin said slowly, "It was the base commander' of Sonora, Brigadier General Quinten."

There was a low murmur round the room. Several of the Air Force officers present knew Quinten, and one or two of them knew him well. Their remarks were cut short as the Army Chief of Staff, General Keppler, growled, "You mean your system's loose enough to let a thing like this happen? No safeguards against it?" His tone implied this was just the kind of thing he expected from Air Force. He was a big, burly man, a brilliant commander of armour who had come up the hard way by serving an apprenticeship as one of Patton's column commanders, and then made a name when the Korean fighting was at its most bitter. He admired the Air Force for its close support of infantry and armour in the field, and detested the whole conception of SAC. Now he glowered steadily at Franklin.

The SAC general fought down the quick surge of anger he felt rising inside him. He considered Keppler a bigot and an archaic relic, who had failed utterly to grasp the new global strategy. But this was not the time for futile bickering and argument. He said quietly, "General, no system yet dewised is proof against any and all human failings. SAC, plans were as accident proof as they could reasonably be made."

"Reasonably accident proof," Keppler said loudly. "That isn't what you put out in the press releases back in the spring of '58. When that storm blew up over your planes hauling the actual weapons over the Pole and heading towards Russia. There was supposed to be a marvellous system to prevent this sort of thing. Failsafe or something like that. What's happened to it? Did it ever exist? Or was it just something Air Force dreamed up for the benefit of the newspapers and Congress?"

"It exists." Franklin's voice was still quiet. He was not going to let Keppler goad him into dosing- his temper. "What we released to the press was entirely true. But it wasn't the entire truth. It couldn't be."

"Why not?"

"Funnily enough, because we are dedicated to the principle of retaliation rather than original aggression. We accept that we will receive the first blow. Naturally, we hope our defences will be tight enough so that blow doesn't knock us right out of the ring. But to be more realistic our plans had to take into account the possibility that first blow might be really devastating. You will concede that possibility, General.

"I will," Keppler said shortly.

"All right then, let's look at the position that might arise. Washington and Omaha gone, Communications hopelessly snarled up. No central direction left. Yet the probability is that somewhere in the U.S.A, one or possibly more of our offensive bases would survive. A base commander might well find himself the only surviving officer with an effective force. There might be no command left to which he could look for orders. His communications might be completely disrupted, and his base entirely cut off from the rest of the world.

"Obviously, in a position like that, he would have to be empowered to act on his own initiative. Plan R provided for just that situation. Now the commander at Sonora has used it. We don't know why, we only know the human element has failed us. The risk was always there but it had to be accepted' because only by its acceptance could we guarantee an aggressor would never escape retaliation so long as one of our bases, or even one of our wings, survived. We accepted a risk, and we lost out. That's all."

Keppler grunted. In spite of his feelings about SAC he was a fair man. He appreciated a situation might arise where it would be necessary to plan for a base commander being able to act independently. That way, an error away from the enemy could be prevented. But in every case like that there was an inevitable risk of an error towards the enemy. It was slight, it was infinitesimal even, but it was there. Obviously in this case a combination of circumstances had given the commander a chance to make that error. Later, he would make sure the reason that particular commander had been left in command was fully examined. The Air Force wasn't going to bury that one. But for the present it didn't matter. The error had been made, the action taken, a SAC wing committed to battle. In his opinion here was little to be decided. The action they should take now was quite clear cut.

His train of thought was interrupted by Steele's quiet voice. Steele, in his capacity of chairman of the joint chiefs for that period, put into words the conclusions which Navy and Army were reaching independently. "Gentlemen, the President and the Secretaries of State and Defence will be joining us in a few minutes. I can see only two alternatives to suggest to them. The first is we recall the 843rd. I don't know how we can, but that is one possibility. The other," he paused, and for a, few moments the room was very still. "The other," he repeated, "is to carry this action to its logical end. General Franklin has told us it is his belief
the bombers already committed to attack can effectively destroy the Russian priority one targets. What guarantee can
you give us of that, Franklin?"

Franklin looked up at Steele. "No guarantee, sir," he said. "I can only say I myself am confident my crews will get there and bomb accurately. It's early morning here, gentlemen, but in Russia it's getting on for dark, especially in the more northerly parts where most of the targets are. That's an advantage we hadn't planned on. Again, there's no reason to suppose their defences are at top line. And this particular wing is considered able to hit their targets in daylight with the defences fully alert. I won't give a guarantee because I feel in war nothing can be guaranteed. Let's just say I feel confident they'll make it. One hundred per cent."

"Seems to answer that one," Maclellan said. "So what's the next step? 'We can't recall, apparently. All right, if we're committed let's hit them good. What else have we got?"

Keppler said, "I agree. 'But isn't there any chance at all of recalling them?"

Steele shook his head slowly. "We already have operators working steadily through the three letter combinations. Trouble is, there, are about seventeen and a half thousand possible combinations. All the planes are listening out on the same wavelength, so we can't try twenty or thirty different combinations at once–it has to be one at a time. At thirty seconds for each transmission, we'd need about five days to cover them all. We've got less than an hour and a half."

"We've also," Keppler said flatly, "only five minutes or so before the President gets here. There's just one idea I've got, but I need a little more information. Maybe General Franklin can supply it." He looked round at the other chiefs.

"What say we retire for a short while, take General Franklin with us?"

"Suits me," Admiral Maclellan said.

"And' the Air'' Force," Steele broke in quickly. He wondered just what Keppler had up his sleeve. It had better be good, he thought. Because yet another six wings, fully armed, were now heading for their X points. Franklin hadn't wasted the time between the call from Omaha and the beginning of the meeting.

Back to Main Menu