In 1978 the novel, The Third World War: August 1985 was published. Written by Gen. Sir John Hackett, the novel presented the notion of a hot war erupting between the Warsaw Pact and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the summer of 1985. Hackett describes a massive air campaign launched by both sides in the early hours of the conflict. While the war was entirely speculation, the strategies presented in the novel were doctrinally accurate. Luckily, a hot war never erupted between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. During the Cold War though, there was a series of aerial engagements between NATO and Warsaw Pact aircraft.
With the end of World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union emerged as the new global superpowers. In 1949, the United States and its western European allies formed NATO. In response to the formation of NATO, the Soviet Union established a collective defense treaty among its satellite states in Eastern Europe, collectively known as the Warsaw Pact in 1955. One of the first recorded engagements between NATO and Warsaw Pact forces occurred over the Bering Strait on 22 June 1955. A US P2V-5 Neptune was flying a patrol mission from Kodiak Island when it was engaged by two Soviet MiG-15 aircraft. The Neptune crash landed on St. Lawrence Island after one of its engines had been set on fire. The crew survived the crash, but 10 of the 11 crew members suffered injuries as a result of the engagement.
On 24 January 1964, while on a training mission, an American T-39 Sabreliner was shot down by Soviet fighters over East Germany killing all three American crewmen. A few months later a US RB-66 Destroyer was also shot down over East Germany by Soviet fighters after straying outside of the Berlin air corridors. The crew of the aircraft was able to parachute to safety, but were captured and released several days later. On 13 September 1987 a Soviet Su-27P intercepted a Norwegian P-3B Orion over the Barents Sea. The two aircraft collided, but both were able to make is safely back to their bases. The pilot of the Su-27 was later awarded the Order of the Red Star, and the Soviet Union officially apologized to Norway over the incident.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Cold War came to an end. Many former Warsaw Pact nations have joined NATO in recent years, with many Soviet-era aircraft operating alongside planes they were designed to fight during the Cold War.
Look for more information regarding the history of NATO and Warsaw Pact airpower in the future Modern War issue #23 with the article “Air Forces of NATO and the Warsaw Pact” and join the conversation on Facebook!