Training Exercise "Seven Days to the River Rhine"
Part of the Cold War

A 1976 map of probable axes of attack for the Warsaw Pact forces into Western Europe
Dateat least since 1964
Result Unknown; never attempted.
Signing of the SALT II treaty.
If attempted, intended to be a Warsaw Pact victory but with heavy cost of lives
German unification under East Germany
Occupation of Austria, Denmark, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands east of River Rhine to the Warsaw Pact (if attempted)

Warsaw Pact

Communist Parties in prospective Soviet Satellites:

Communist Parties in prospective Soviet Satellites
(9-day extended plan to Lyon):


Commanders and leaders
Soviet Union Leonid Brezhnev
Soviet Union Dmitriy Ustinov
Soviet Union Nikolai Ogarkov
Soviet Union Col. Gen. Yuri Zarudin (ru)
Soviet Union Gen. Yevgeni F. Ivanovski
People's Republic of Bulgaria Todor Zhivkov
People's Republic of Bulgaria Dobri Dzhurov
Czechoslovak Socialist Republic Gustáv Husák
Czechoslovak Socialist Republic Martin Dzúr
East Germany Erich Honecker
East Germany Heinz Hoffmann
Hungarian People's Republic János Kádár
Hungarian People's Republic Lajos Czinege
Polish People's Republic Edward Gierek
Polish People's Republic Wojciech Jaruzelski
Austria Franz Muhri (de)
Belgium Louis Van Geyt
Denmark Jørgen Jensen
Netherlands Marcus Bakker
France Georges Marchais
United States Jimmy Carter
United States Harold Brown
United States David C. Jones
United Kingdom James Callaghan
(Jan–May 1979)
United Kingdom Margaret Thatcher
(May 1979–1990)
France Valery Giscard d'Estaing
France Yvon Bourges
Belgium Paul Vanden Boeynants
(Jan–Apr 1979)
Belgium Wilfried Martens
(Apr 1979–1981)
Belgium José Desmarets
Canada Pierre Trudeau
(Jan–Jun 1979)
Canada Joe Clark
(Jun 1979–1980)
Denmark Anker Jørgensen
Denmark Poul Søgaard
West Germany Helmut Schmidt
West Germany Hans Apel
Italy Giulio Andreotti
(Jan–Aug 1979)
Italy Francesco Cossiga
(Aug 1979–1980)
Italy Attilio Ruffini
Luxembourg Gaston Thorn
(Jan–Jul 1979)
Luxembourg Pierre Werner
(Jul 1979–1984)
Luxembourg Émile Krieps
Netherlands Dries van Agt
Netherlands Willem Scholten
Norway Odvar Nordli
Turkey Bülent Ecevit
(Jan–Nov 1979)
Turkey Süleyman Demirel
(Nov 1979–1980)
Austria Bruno Kreisky
Austria Otto Rösch
Casualties and losses
Would be carried out in response to a NATO first strike on Poland. Such a strike was estimated to cause 2 million immediate Polish deaths near the Vistula If carried out, heavy losses in West Germany
The Rhine is one of the most important rivers in Europe.

Seven Days to the River Rhine (Russian: «Семь дней до реки Рейн», Sem' dney do reki Reyn) was a top-secret military simulation exercise developed at least since 1964 by the Warsaw Pact. It depicted the Soviet Bloc's vision of a seven-day nuclear war between NATO and Warsaw Pact forces.[1][2][3]


This possible World War III scenario was released by Polish Defense Minister Radosław Sikorski following the Law and Justice Party's victories in the 2005 Polish elections along with thousands of Warsaw Pact documents, in order to "draw a line under [the original Polish verb "odciąć" could also be translated as "make a break from"] the country's Communist past", and "educate the Polish public about the old regime."[2][4][3] Sikorski stated that documents associated with the former regime would be declassified and published through the Institute of National Remembrance in the coming year.[2][4]

The files released included documents about "Operation Danube", the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in response to the Prague Spring.[2][3] They also included files on the 1970 Polish protests, and from the martial law era of the 1980s.[2][4][3]

The Czech Republic[5] and Hungary[6] had declassified related documents in the 1990s. The Polish government declassified some material in this period.[7][8]

Battle outline

The scenario for the war was NATO launching a nuclear attack on Polish and Czechoslovak cities in the Vistula river valley area in a first-strike scenario, which would prevent Warsaw Pact commanders from sending reinforcements to East Germany to forestall a possible NATO invasion of that country.[2][4][3] The plan expected that as many as two million Polish civilians would die in such a war and Polish operational strength would be completely destroyed.[2][4][3]

A Soviet nuclear counter-strike would be launched against West Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and North-East Italy.[2][3]

Nuclear response

Maps associated with the released plan show nuclear strikes in many NATO states, but exclude both France and the United Kingdom. There are several possibilities for this lack of strikes, the most probable being that both France and the United Kingdom are nuclear weapons states, and as such retain nuclear arsenals that could be employed in retaliation for nuclear strikes against their nations.[2][3][9][5]

The French Force de dissuasion employed a nuclear strategy known as dissuasion du faible au fort (weak-to-strong deterrence); this is considered a "counter-value" strategy, which implies that a nuclear attack on France would be responded to by a strike on Soviet-bloc cities.[2][3]

The Guardian, however, speculates that "France would have escaped attack, possibly because it is not a member of NATO's integrated structure. Britain, which has always been at the heart of NATO, would also have been spared, suggesting Moscow wanted to stop at the Rhine to avoid overstretching its forces."[2][3]

In 1966, President Charles de Gaulle withdrew France from NATO's integrated military command structure. In practical terms, while France remained a NATO member and fully participated in the political instances of the Organization, it was no longer represented on certain committees like the Nuclear Planning Group and the Defence Planning Committee. Foreign forces were removed from French territory and French forces temporarily withdrawn from NATO commands.[10] The 1st French Army, with its headquarters at Strasbourg, on the Franco-German border, was the main field headquarters controlling operations in support of NATO in West Germany, as well as defending France. Although France was not officially part of NATO's command structure, there was an understanding, formalised by regular joint exercises in West Germany, that France would go to the aid of NATO, should the Warsaw Pact attack. To that end, the Headquarters and two divisions of II (Fr) Corps were permanently stationed in West Germany, with the wartime mission of supporting NATO's US-led Central Army Group (CENTAG).[11]

There are many high-value targets in Britain (like RAF Fylingdales, RAF Mildenhall, and RAF Lakenheath) that would then have to be struck in a conventional manner in this plan, though a nuclear strike would be far more effective (and, as the plans show, a preferable option for the Soviet leadership as shown by their strikes in Western Europe). The plan also indicates that USAF fighter-bombers, primarily the long-ranged F-111 Aardvark, would be employed in nuclear strikes, and that they would launch from those British bases.[2][3]

The Soviets planned to use about 7.5 megatons of atomic weaponry in all during such a conflict.[6]

Known targets

The Austrian capital Vienna was to be hit by two 500-kiloton bombs.[6] In Italy, Vicenza, Verona, Padua, and several military bases were to be hit by single 500-kiloton bombs.[6] The Hungarian People's Army was to capture Vienna.[5]

Stuttgart, Munich, and Nuremberg in West Germany were to be destroyed by nuclear weapons and then captured by the Czechoslovaks and Hungarians.[5]

In Denmark, the first nuclear targets were Roskilde and Esbjerg. Roskilde, while having no military significance, is the second-largest city on Zealand and located close to the Danish capital Copenhagen (the distance from central Copenhagen to Roskilde is only 35 km or 22 mi). It would also be targeted for its cultural and historical significance to break the morale of the Danish population and army. Esbjerg, the fifth-largest city in the country, would be targeted for its large harbour capable of facilitating delivery of large NATO reinforcements. If there was Danish resistance after the two initial strikes, other targets would be bombed.[12]

Additional plans

The Soviet Union planned to have reached Lyon by day nine and to press on to a final position at the Pyrenees.[5] Czechoslovakia thought it to be too optimistic at the time, and some present-day Western planners believe that such a goal was unrealistic or even unattainable.[5]

In popular culture

In Jack Ryan, the Seven Days to the River Rhine is featured prominently in the third season. In the film Octopussy, Soviet General Orlov briefs the Central Committee on an amended scenario "lead(ing) to total victory in 5 days against any possible defense scenario."

See also


  1. ^ Findlay, Christopher (28 November 2005). "Poland reveals Warsaw Pact war plans". International Relations And Security Network. ETH Zurich. Archived from the original on 9 July 2021. Retrieved 23 December 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Watt, Nicholas (26 November 2005). "Poland risks Russia's wrath with Soviet nuclear attack map". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 29 April 2020. Retrieved 14 June 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Rennie, David (26 November 2005). "World War Three seen through Soviet eyes". Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 2 November 2019. Retrieved 14 June 2013.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Poland Opens Secret Warsaw Pact Files". 25 November 2005. Archived from the original on 9 June 2016. Retrieved 14 June 2013.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Samuel, Henry (20 September 2007). "Soviet plan for WW3 nuclear attack unearthed". Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 1 February 2020. Retrieved 14 June 2013.
  6. ^ a b c d Tweedie, Neil (1 December 2001). "Vienna was top of Soviet nuclear targets list". Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 2 November 2019. Retrieved 14 June 2013.
  7. ^ "Warsaw Pact War Plans". Archived from the original on 31 December 2019. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  8. ^ Lunak, Petr (2001). "Reassessing the Cold War alliances". NATO Review. Archived from the original on 24 August 2018. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  9. ^ "Moscow's blueprint resembles thriller's plot". Daily Telegraph. 26 November 2005. Archived from the original on 10 July 2019. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  10. ^ "NATO left Paris, but France did not leave NATO". Archived from the original on 31 December 2019. Retrieved 30 December 2019.
  11. ^ Davies, R Mark. "French Orders of Battle & TO&Es 1980–1989 v2.2" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 29 April 2020. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  12. ^ Niels Lillelund; Jette Elbæk Maressa (18 January 2003). "Atomplaner mod Danmark under Den Kolde Krig" [Nuclear plans against Denmark during the Cold War] (in Danish). Jyllands Posten. Archived from the original on 22 July 2019. Retrieved 18 July 2019.