Nearly two decades before the onset of World War I, Kaiser Wilhelm II set his imperialistic sights on the Americas. But to establish a presence there, Germany would have to put the U.S. in its place. To that end, it devised not one, but three plans to attack and invade America. Here's how history could have unfolded very differently.
The plans for Imperial Germany's invasion of the United States only came to light after the documents were found in 2002 at the German military archives in Freiburg. It was a remarkable and disturbing discovery, one which demonstrated the extent to which the Kaiser was willing to exert Germany's presence onto the world — an urge that would continue well into the 20th century with the invasion of France in 1914 and the rise of Hitler's Third Reich.
Late to the Show
Germany was a latecomer to the world scene by the time the 19th century came to a close. The country only came into existence in 1871 when its various provinces were unified at the conclusion of the Franco-Prussian War. At the time, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck adopted a policy of Realpolitik. It was a practical means to position Germany as a mediator of European affairs. But it was a policy that wasn't meant to last; soon after Kaiser Wilhelm II took over, the young nation became feverishly nationalistic, adopting the militarily aggressive and opportunistic Weltpolitik as way to expand the German Empire into a world power.
As noted by German Foreign Secretary Bernhard von Bulow in a statement to the Reichstag in 1897, "[In] one word: We wish to throw no one into the shade, but we demand our own place in the sun." Indeed, the upstart nation was jealous at the success of its rivals, namely Britain, France, and the United States.
German colonies prior to the onset of World War I. Compared to Britain and France, a drop in the bucket. Credit: Creative Commons.
As for the USA, it had adopted the Monroe Doctrine some 50 years earlier — a policy aimed at curbing European colonial ambitions in North, Central, and South America.
It was the combination of these two foreign policies that nearly led to a cataclysmic conflagration along the Eastern seaboard of the U.S. at the dawn of the 20th century. The Kaiser, intent on defying the Monroe Doctrine, had plans to set up a major naval Caribbean base in Cuba or Puerto Rico. From there, Germany could have access to South America, Central America, and the Panama Canal, which it planned on taking over once complete. Germany was clearly thinking big; it wanted nothing less than unhindered access to the Pacific Ocean.
But to achieve these goals, Germany would have to deal with the United States. To that end, Kaiser Wilhelm II had his military thinkers sketch out plans to attack and invade the American mainland. The intent was never to take over the U.S., but rather to force the country's leaders to bargain from a weak position.
Plan I: Attack and Blockade
Germany's first plan, which was devised by Naval Lieutenant Eberhard von Mantey in 1898, was a scheme to attack U.S. naval power on its east coast in order to gain easy access to a planned German naval base in the Caribbean.
The scheme would have seen a great German fleet to sail across the Atlantic to engage and defeat the U.S. Navy's Atlantic Fleet in a major battle. In addition, German naval artillery attacks were to be directed on the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, the Newport News Shipbuilding center, and other naval resources in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. Lieutenant von Mantey believed this was the "most sensitive point" of American defenses, and once reduced, would have allowed the Germans to establish a naval blockade. At that point a German negotiating team would have been sent in armed with with the Kaiser's demands.
But this plan was never meant to be. Germany simply didn't have the required ships. What's more, the start of the Spanish-American War resulted in increased American activity in the Caribbean, along with the establishment of a (soon-to-be) independent Cuba under American economic influence.
Plan II: Land Invasion
If the first plan wasn't ambitious enough, the Kaiser's second plan certainly made up for it. The Kaiser had von Mantey revise the scheme in 1899 — but this time he had to provision for a two-pronged land invasion of New York City and Boston. The unprecedented invasion would have required 60 warships and a massive supply chain of at least 60 cargo and troopships carrying 75,000 tons of coal, 100,000 soldiers, and a large amount of artillery. The invasion force would have required 25 days to cross the Atlantic.
Here's how it would have unfolded: After a major naval battle to acquire superiority over American ships, German troops — armed with artillery — were to make an amphibious landing at Cape Cod. These grounds units would then advance to Boston and fire shells into the city. For its attack on New York, German troops were to land on the island of Sandy Hook, New Jersey, while warships pounded away at harbor fortifications, including Fort Hamilton and Fort Tompkins. Following this, the warships would advance to shell Manhattan and other areas of New York in an effort to induce panic among civilians. It would have been absolute pandemonium.
Image: The remains of Fort Tompkins in New York.
Alfred von Schlieffen, the author of the famous World War I plan that bore his name, refused to believe that such a plan would work. It would take a lot more, he argued, to take a city like New York, a metropolis that boasted some 3 million people.
By 1900, the Kaiser realized that an invasion force launched from Germany was unfeasible. He once again set his sights on a land base in Cuba from which such an invasion could be launched.
From 1902 to 1903, German planners, including naval staff officer Wilhelm Büchsel, made minor changes to their tactics. But this time they took global politics into consideration. Seeking to gain a political advantage, they sought to establish a naval base in Culebra, Puerto Rico from where they could threaten the Panama Canal.
At the same time, however, Germany did not waiver from its initial strategy of seeking to immobilize the United States. As von Mantey noted in his diary, the "East Coast is the heart of the United States and this is where she is most vulnerable. New York will panic at the prospect of bombardment. By hitting her here we can force America to negotiate."
A Different Course of History
But world events would preclude Germany from ever embarking on such schemes. An invasion of the United States would have only been feasible if two conditions were met: (1) the absence of a major conflict in Europe and (2) an unprepared United States. By the first decade of the 20th century, these variables were withering away.
First, with the advent of the Entente Cordiale by Britain and France and the subsequent shifting of power in Europe, Germany suddenly had other things to worry about. Now best-buddies, Britain and France could shift their forces elsewhere — much to the chagrin of the Kaiser. Compounding this was Germany's inability to leapfrog ahead of Britain in the naval arms race of the time.
Meanwhile, the United States began to assert itself in its part of the world. The Venezuela Crisis of 1902-03 demonstrated that the U.S. was willing to use its naval strength to impose its viewpoint on the world — a crisis that led to President Theodore Roosevelt's "Roosevelt Corollary" to the Monroe Doctrine, a policy whereby the U.S. made its intentions clear to intervene in conflicts between European and Latin American countries (a policy that positioned the U.S. as a "police power" — the reverberations of which are still being felt today).
What Could Have Been
Despite the seriousness of the Kaiser's planning, it's doubtful his scheme would have worked under any incarnation. As noted, the Imperial German Navy was ill-equipped to pull off such a stunt, even if did manage to establish a base in the Caribbean. What's more, incursions into the region would have put America on red alert, so a surprise attack would have been unlikely. In fact, the American navy would have likely confronted German forces before any kind of troop build-up could occur on Cuba, Puerto Rico, or elsewhere (the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 most certainly comes to mind).
Additionally, had Germany launched its attack on New York City and Boston, it's unlikely that Theodore Roosevelt would have been forced into a negotiating position; he would have likely refrained from speaking softly, while brandishing his proverbial big stick. With German forces 4,000 miles from home, and with the mass of the United States ready to defend itself, such an incursion would have been easily repulsed.
As of mid-2014, the authors estimate that there are approximately 16,300 nuclear weapons located at some 98 sites in 14 countries. Roughly 10,000 of these weapons are in military arsenals; the remaining weapons are retired and awaiting dismantlement. Approximately 4,000 are operationally available, and some 1,800 are on high alert and ready for use on short notice. The largest concentrations of nuclear weapons reside in Russia and the United States, which possess 93 percent of the total global inventory. The United States today stores nuclear weapons at 18 sites, including 12 sites in 11 states in the United States and another six sites in five European countries. There is considerable uncertainty about the number of Russian nuclear weapons storage sites, but the authors estimate that Russia today stores nuclear weapons permanently at 40 domestic locations.
As of mid-2014, we estimate that there are approximately 16,300 nuclear weapons located at some 97 sites in 14 countries. Roughly 10,000 of these weapons are in military arsenals; the remaining weapons are retired and awaiting dismantlement. Approximately 4,000 are operationally available, and some 1,800 are on high alert and ready for use on short notice (see Table 1).
By far the largest concentrations of nuclear weapons reside in Russia and the United States, which possess 93 percent of the total global inventory (Kristensen and Norris, 2013a). In addition to the seven other countries with nuclear weapon stockpiles (Britain, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea), five non-nuclear NATO allies (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey) host about 180 US nuclear bombs at six air bases. (For a listing of all the sites worldwide, see Table 2; it includes sites where there is reason to believe that nuclear weapons are deployed or stored.)1
The United States today stores nuclear weapons at 18 sites, including 12 sites in 11 states in the United States and another six sites in five European countries.2 At the end of the Cold War, the United States maintained thousands of nuclear weapons outside of its borders on land and on the high seas.3
Since our previous estimate in 2009, the United States has further consolidated its nuclear weapons into fewer sites. Most significant is the apparent termination of nuclear weapons storage at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, which only a decade ago contained one of the world’s largest concentrations of nuclear weapons. Similarly, nuclear weapons have been removed from Barksdale Air Force Base, one of three remaining heavy bomber bases,4 and from all tactical fighter-bomber bases in the continental United States. All Air Force nuclear warheads are now stored at five locations: three intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) bases (F. E. Warren, Malmstrom, Minot), two bomber bases (Minot, Whiteman), and one central storage facility, Kirtland Underground Munitions Storage Complex (KUMSC).
The last naval non-strategic nuclear weapon system—the Tomahawk land-attack cruise missile (TLAM/N)—was eliminated in 2012. The weapons were stored at the Strategic Weapons Facilities at Bangor in Washington and at Kings Bay in Georgia, the only two remaining naval nuclear weapons storage sites.
The United States is the only nuclear-armed state that deploys nuclear weapons in other countries. Approximately 180 non-strategic nuclear bombs are stored in underground vaults beneath 87 aircraft shelters at six bases in five European countries (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey) for delivery by US and NATO fighter-bombers.
There is considerable uncertainty about the number of Russian nuclear weapons storage sites, for several reasons. First, the Russian government provides almost no information about its nuclear warhead storage program. Second, Western governments say very little about what they know.5 Moreover, estimates vary on what constitutes a “storage site;” some count each fenced storage bunker as a site, even though there may be several individually fenced bunkers within a larger storage complex.
We count each storage complex as one site or storage location and estimate that Russia today stores nuclear weapons permanently at 40 domestic locations. This is a slight reduction from our 2009 estimate, but a significant reduction from the 100 sites in the late-1990s, 250 sites in the mid-1990s, and 500 sites in 1991.6
Although the Russian government provides almost no public information about its nuclear weapons storage program, it has occasionally made declarations. For example, at the 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, Russia declared that “the total number of nuclear weapons storage facilities has been reduced fourfold” since 1991 (Russian Federation, 2010a: 8). At the same event, the Russian delegation distributed a publication stating that “[a]ll Russian non-strategic nuclear weapons are concentrated in centralized storage bases exclusively ob [sic] the national territory” (Russian Federation, 2010b: 14). Moreover, twice a year under the terms of New START, the Kremlin hands over a detailed list of its strategic force deployments to the US government. Unfortunately, the list is secret.7
There is also uncertainty about the status of many nuclear weapon systems, including what constitutes “non-strategic” weapons. For example, medium-range Tu-22M3 Backfire bombers are sometimes described by Russians as more than tactical, but they are not considered strategic in arms control agreements signed by Russia. Consequently, this notebook considers the Tu-22M3 and all other weapons not covered by New START to be non-strategic and to be covered by the Russian declarations that all non-strategic nuclear warheads have been placed in central storage.
Russian permanent nuclear weapon storage locations fall into three main categories: operational warheads at Strategic Rocket Force, navy and air force bases; non-strategic and reserve/retired warheads at national-level storage sites; and warheads at assembly/disassembly factories.8
The storage locations for operational warheads include 11 ICBM fields and garrisons, two nuclear submarine bases, and two heavy bomber bases.9 The national-level storage sites include 12 separate storage sites, although the status of a few of these is unclear. The warhead production complexes also have warhead storage facilities.
London and Paris have reduced the size of their arsenals and limited where their weapons are deployed. Britain only has one type of nuclear weapon, the Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). The missiles and associated warheads are located at two facilities in Scotland, although warheads are also serviced at two factories southwest of London.10
France has retained two types of nuclear weapons: SLBMs at a submarine base in Bretagne and air-to-surface missiles for land- and carrier-based aircraft. France also has a warhead production and maintenance complex at Valduc. We estimate the French warheads to be at six locations.11
Researching Chinese nuclear weapons storage is difficult given the almost complete official secrecy that surrounds China’s nuclear forces. Moreover, as is the case with other nuclear-armed states, Western governments say very little about what they know.12
Even so, important new information has become available from other sources since our previous estimate was made in 2009. This includes more satellite images on Google Earth that allow the public to monitor developments of Chinese forces. Moreover, a number of publications by Mark Stokes at the Project 2049 Institute have made invaluable new information and analysis available to the public.
One of Stokes’s reports describes China’s central underground nuclear weapons storage site near Baoji in the western part of Shaanxi province in central China (Stokes, 2010). China’s use of underground facilities to conceal and protect military equipment and provide leadership and civil defense shelters has been reported for many years but gained new attention in 2011 due to a Georgetown University study (Karber, 2011).
We cautiously estimate that China may have nuclear warheads at 12 facilities. Nearly all of China’s 250 nuclear warheads are concentrated in the central nuclear weapons storage site, known as 22 Base. The Second Artillery missiles intended to deliver these warheads are dispersed across China at approximately 25 brigade bases organized under six Base Headquarters. Each of these Base Headquarters probably has a small number of nuclear warheads in regional storage sites.
The navy has two bases with nuclear-capable missile submarines, each of which might have an adjacent warhead storage facility. The Air Force has a couple of intermediate-range bomber bases that might have a secondary nuclear mission. China has also started deploying ground-launched cruise missiles that US Air Force intelligence characterizes as nuclear-capable.13
China has a small number of warhead design, production, and maintenance facilities, presumably with a small number of warheads present.
Islamabad is quantitatively and qualitatively increasing its arsenal and deploying weapons at more sites, yet the locations are difficult to pinpoint. For example, no reliable public information exists on where Pakistan produces or stores its nuclear weapons. Thus, we have used commercial satellite images, expert studies, and local news reports and articles to make the assumption that nuclear weapons are likely to be at, or near, wherever nuclear-capable weapon systems are deployed. Based on this work, we cautiously estimate that Pakistan stores nuclear weapons at seven locations.
Pakistan has a rapidly expanding nuclear arsenal of 100 to 120 warheads and an increasing portfolio of delivery systems.14 Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are not believed to be fully operational under normal circumstances. We have found no credible information that identifies permanent nuclear weapons storage locations, but there are a few clues.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Congress in 2009 that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons “are widely dispersed in the country.” She said the weapons “are not at a central location” but that Pakistan has “adopted a policy of dispersing their nuclear weapons and facilities” (Clinton, 2009). Senior US officials subsequently said that most of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal was south of Islamabad.15 One of our suspected sites is the Masroor depot near Karachi.
Former President Pervez Musharraf reportedly told Seymour Hersh of The New Yorkerthat Pakistan had constructed a huge tunnel system for the transport and storage of nuclear weapons. “The tunnels are so deep that a nuclear attack will not touch them,” he said, adding that it was impossible to monitor the movements of nuclear components by satellite (Hersh, 2009). One potential underground facility is near Tarbala in northern Pakistan.
As with Pakistan, we have found little reliable information that indicates where India’s nuclear warheads are stored. Based on available unclassified sources and satellite imagery, we cautiously estimate that India stores nuclear weapons at five locations.
India is thought to keep its nuclear warheads and bombs in central storage locations rather than on bases with operational forces. Yet India is putting the final touches to its first nuclear submarine, to be able to deploy a secure second strike capability. One of the key questions is whether India will begin to deploy nuclear weapons on its subs under normal circumstances. Although not yet on our list (because it is not complete), the first submarine base is under construction near Rambilli in Andhra Pradesh on the Indian east coast.16
Israel is a wild card because of the opacity of its nuclear weapons program. Like other nuclear-armed states, however, Israel has been modernizing its nuclear arsenal and probably also its storage facilities. Israel’s nuclear weapons are not believed to be fully operational under normal circumstances, but are estimated to include 80 to 85 warheads.17 We estimate that Israel might store nuclear warheads at five locations.
Although North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests, we are not aware of credible public information that North Korea has weaponized its nuclear weapons capability, much less where those weapons would be stored. We also take note that a 2013 US Air Force intelligence report did not list any of North Korea’s ballistic or cruise missiles as nuclear-capable (US Air Force, 2013).