6 Deadliest Cold War Weapons, Which Could Have Been Used

East vs West. Democracy vs Stalinism. The fate of the entire human species hung in the balance, and now here are the deadliest Cold War weapons used in the battle.
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War brings out the worst in everyone, especially when it comes to weapons! These are the deadliest Cold War weapons to come out of the Cold War as the United States and the Soviet Union pummelled each other for world domination.

USS George Washington

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The aircraft carrier USS George Washington, by U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Casey H. Kyhl, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Several meters below the surface, somewhere out in the Pacific Ocean and thousands of miles from civilization, there’s a rush of bubbles. Then, moments later a sleek black shape leaps out of the water. Within a second of breaking clear of the waves, the massive nuclear-tipped ballistic missile fires its rocket engine and roars into the sky. It’s shortly joined by 15 other missiles.

In minutes nuclear Armageddon will rain down across the Soviet Union, all courtesy of the world’s first nuclear ballistic missile submarine.

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It’s the late 1950s and America has a problem. The Soviet Union has not just developed their own nuclear weapons, but intelligence suggests that they are well ahead of the United States in developing long-range ballistic missile technology. This leaves American air and missile fields vulnerable to Soviet attack. To add to the US’s troubles, the Soviets have proven themselves capable aircraft designers too, with the Mig haven proven its worth even in the hands of lesser skilled pilots in the Korean War. American long-range bombers might not survive long enough to deliver their nuclear payloads on target.

But what if you could ensure the survival of your nuclear forces, and thus deter a catastrophic first-strike, by simply moving your nukes underwater?

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USS George Washington (CVN-73), by U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Ryan T. O’Connor., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Enter the USS George Washington, the first ballistic missile submarine. With a payload of 16 freedom-bringing thermonuclear ballistic missiles, the George Washington could launch devastation deep into the Soviet Union, and her stealth features made it almost impossible to detect even when just miles off a hostile coastline.

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The Soviets had actually beaten the US to the development of submarine-launched nuclear weapons, but they lacked a ballistic missile submarine with the payload of the Washington. Further, they had yet to successfully launch a missile from under the water, leaving any Soviet sub in serious danger of being destroyed as it attempted to launch its weapons from the surface. The George Washington however could fire its entire payload while completely submerged, making it the first nuclear assassin.

The George Washington was the weapon that made the Soviets tremble in fear, knowing that they could face immediate nuclear annihilation with nothing more than mere minutes warning. The next weapon on this list though was the most terrifying thing American infantrymen had faced since World War II.

AK-47

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AK-47, by spaxspore, licensed under CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s the weapon so iconic, it doesn’t need an introduction. 75 million have been built since it was first designed in 1945. It’s tough, reliable, and deadly- it’s the Soviet AK-47.

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The United States wouldn’t even know of its existence until 1953, when an as-yet unnamed CIA agent cracked the veil of Soviet secrecy to smuggle out detailed drawings of the AK-47.

The Soviet Union was hellbent on keeping this revolutionary weapon a secret, and at first, only issued it to elite military units stationed in remote areas- and even then only to experienced veterans. New recruits were absolutely quoted- forbidden to come close- end quote, to the top secret AK-47.

The weapon was an absolute game-changer, as the US would quickly come to find out. It allowed for the firing rate of a submachine gun with the range and lethality of a standard battle rifle. Able to switch between semi and automatic fire, an infantryman equipped with an AK-47 could deliver accurate long-range fire or suppress an enemy position with fully automatic fire. Despite being inaccurate at long ranges, the weapon was so good that even US Special Forces wanted it- and they went to great lengths to get it.

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M16_and_AK-47_comparison
M-16 and AK-47, by Henrickson, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The need for a new American rifle became truly apparent in Vietnam, when the US first went toe-to-toe with the AK-47, and got absolutely trounced. The M-16 was quickly produced and sent to the front lines, but the weapon suffered from a long development cycle and hordes of issues until it was finally perfected.

Meanwhile, US SpecOps units began arming themselves with captured AK-47s, impressed with the capabilities of the enemy’s own rifle over their American counterparts. As an added bonus, US Special Forces using AK-47s would often confuse enemy troops, believing they were accidentally under fire from friendly forces.

The AK-47 would end up in the hands of revolutionaries around the world, and had the US ever gone to war against the Soviet Union in the first half of the Cold War, American infantrymen would have found themselves completely outgunned on a battlefield.

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In the skies, however, the United States operated what would become known as the “largest distributor of Mig parts in the world”.

F-4 Phantom

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A U.S. Air Force F-4, by USAF, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

It was what the F-35 struggles to become today, the world’s most versatile fighter-bomber. With the capability to perform air superiority, air defense suppression, reconnaissance, interdiction, close air support, and fleet defense missions, there was little the F-4 couldn’t do, and it did all of those things extremely well.

Developed and manufactured by McDonnel Aircraft, the F-4 Phantom saw service with the US Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, and was America’s frontline fighter in the skies over Vietnam- where it would earn its nickname as the world’s leading distributor of Mig parts.

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While the Mig 21 was more maneuverable, the Phantom had greater power and a much deadlier armament, carrying up to four times the missiles of the 2-missile loadout Mig-21. Early in the war American pilot casualties were high, but this was due to a complete lack of preparation by the US military for dogfighting. The problem was solved with the creation of the Navy’s Top Gun school, and the addition of a cannon to the Phantom to supplement its missile firepower.

However, the Phantom would truly prove its worth during Operation Bolo, a bold American attempt to lure out and destroy the Vietnamese air force.

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Two F-4 Phantom II VF-301, by PPH2 BRUCE TROMBECKY, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The brainchild of American double ace Colonel Robin Olds, who had earned his chops in the deadly skies over Europe in World War II, Operation Bolo saw a flight of F-4s flying a track with the characteristics of the notoriously outperformed F-105 Thunderchief.

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Thunderchiefs were notoriously poor fighter-bombers, who were eventually pulled from active service due to their astronomic loss ratio. They were easy targets for Vietnamese pilots, and the Vietnamese were always looking for an opportunity to knock more Americans out of the sky.

As Migs accelerated to intercept what looked like a flight of clunky F-105s, they were surprised to break cloud cover and realize they were facing F-4 Phantoms. In the engagement that followed, 7 Migs would be destroyed without the loss of a single F-4, and the Vietnamese air force was effectively grounded for several months.

Had the US and Soviet Union gone to war, Soviet pilots would’ve found themselves hard pressed to deal with the heavily armed and powerful F-4 Phantom, but on the ground US forces would’ve trembled at the sight of one of the most iconic tanks ever built.

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T-55

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T-55, by Vitaly V. Kuzmin, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s believed that when drawing up plans for the defeat of Nazi Germany by overwhelming the Germans with waves of infantry, Joseph Stalin remarked, “Quantity has a quality all its own”. This would certainly prove to be the ethos of the Soviet military for the majority of the Cold War, and best represented by the most produced main battle tank in history.

Designs for what would become the T-55 were already in place during the Second World War, but as manufacture of the badly-needed T-34 was already in full swing across the country, industry could not be halted for the introduction of a new tank.

Shortly after the war however, the Soviet military began to receive the T-54 tank, which featured a larger caliber main gun, better armor, and greater cross-country performance. At the time, there was little doubt the Soviets operated the best tank in the world.

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With the likelihood of having to operate on a nuclear battlefield increasing by the day, the Soviet Union badly needed a tank that could operate in the immediate vicinity of a nuclear blast. The T-54 was found to be survivable at a minimum distance of 300 meters from the epicenter of a nuclear blast, though the crew itself could only survive if at least 700 meters away. How the Soviets figured this out exactly is probably best left unexplained.

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T-55A on the streets during Martial law in Poland, by J. Żołnierkiewicz, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A series of modifications to the T-54 led to the T-55, the Soviet Union’s first tank capable of fighting a modern nuclear conflict. Within .3 seconds of detecting gamma radiation, the tank’s NBC systems would kick into effect to protect the crew, allowing them to continue the fight even as the world burned in nuclear hellfire around them.

The T-55 was a capable, though not extraordinary tank, and even featured a notorious weak point in its thinner-than-normal rear armor, which had to be sacrificed due to the weight of additional equipment elsewhere.

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However, what made the T-55 strike fear into the hearts of American generals was the sheer numbers fielded by Warsaw Pact forces, with as many as 100,000 built since its inception.

After Soviet military observers witnessed America’s overwhelming victories in the first Gulf War, they remarked to Soviet leadership that the only way to stop a US armor advance was with nuclear weapons. However, long before this NATO knew that its only hope of stopping hordes of Soviet T-55s from sweeping across Europe was with the use of its own nuclear weapons.

The Soviets had the numbers when it came to tanks, but the British responded with a champion tank that could easily take on a dozen or more Soviet T-55s.

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Chieftain

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Chieftain Tank, by Peter Trimming from Croydon, licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

In the 1960s Britain was tasked with defending the North German plain against a potential Soviet invasion. This would mean going up against endless waves of cheap Soviet T-55s, but Britain couldn’t afford to field nearly as large a tank force as either the Soviet Union or even their American allies. The solution: build a better tank than either of the two.

The successor to the Centurion main battle tank, the British Chieftain featured a small, very angled hull design which greatly reduced its cross section versus contemporary tanks. With thicker armor than the Centurion and a more powerful engine, the Chieftain was more survivable and had greater range than its predecessor, and could withstand much more punishment than any European, American, or Soviet tank.

Its armor included an average of 60mm more protection than Soviet or American tanks, and it paid for it with a lack of maneuverability. However, when you can swap body blows with a dozen enemy tanks at a time, agility matters for little.

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With a 120mm gun vs the American 105mm gun and the Soviet 115mm gun, the Chieftain packed a punch so hard that it could cripple an enemy tank with just one hit. Many contemporaries joked that the Chieftain was in effect a fortress- not very fast, not very agile, but incredibly tough and with a deadly cannon.

While the T-55 and later models had the advantage of numbers on their side, they would’ve been hard pressed to break a unit of well-disciplined and well-trained British tankers operating Chieftain tanks. However, even these mighty tanks would have a hard go at it on a battlefield absolutely saturated with this next deadliest weapon of the Cold War.

M1938 122mm Howitzer

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122mm M-30 Howitzer, by Vitaly V. Kuzmin, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Soviet military had a simple adage: if the enemy is proving difficult to defeat, you’re simply not exploding them enough. Easy and cheap to produce, simple to learn to operate, and with devastating results on a battlefield, there’s little Soviet military planners didn’t love about their artillery, which explained why they fielded some of the largest artillery forces in history.

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With a range just south of 12,000 meters, and delivering high explosive shells at a rate of 5 rounds a minute, the 122mm Howitzer was everything a Soviet General loved about military hardware: it made fascist invaders go kablooey with incredible accuracy, and it was cheap.

Employed to great effect during the later stages of World War 2, the M1938 became the most numerous artillery piece in the Soviet military, with tens of thousands of them used to defeat the Germans at the Battle of Kursk, and 13,000 of them deployed to defend the city of Stalingrad.

Production continued after the war, with the Soviet military making liberal use of artillery in war planning. With the development of an anti-tank round, the M1938 quickly became a tank-killer, with its barrel able to be completely depressed to take on waves of advancing enemy tanks. An absolute nightmare for NATO military planners, the sheer number of howitzers employed by the Soviet Union made crushing a Soviet attack a difficult task indeed.

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