Articles

7 times the US almost stumbled into war with Russia

In light of current events in places like the Ukraine and Syria, the risk of America and Russia fighting a proxy war or even a real war is growing. Here are seven other times when U.S. troops lined up opposite Russian troops:


1. Russian and Americans shot each other in Korea

Photo: National Museum of the US Air Force

In the Korean War, U.S. pilots were officially flying against Chinese and Korean pilots, but they knew Soviets were in the mix. In 1952, the number of Soviet personnel in Korea had climbed to 26,000 counting both pilots and air defense soldiers.

Both sides hid the fact that the Soviets were involved so that neither country was forced into a larger war. American forces didn't report hearing Russian voices on signal intercepts between Soviet fighters while the Russians put Chinese markings and uniforms on all of their forces.

2. Russian anti-aircraft experts shot down U.S. planes in Vietnam

Like in North Korea, Russia wanted to affect the outcome of a war America was in but they didn't want to accidentally create a new world war. So, they originally claimed that no Soviet troops were present, then said some military experts were sent, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 they finally admitted they had deployed 3,000 troops to stop American air raids. 13 Russian soldiers were killed by American bombers.

3. The Cuban missile crisis almost went hot multiple times

Photo: US Navy

During the Cuban missile crisis, both sides had generals looking for an excuse to wage a conventional or nuclear war. The 12th day of the crisis was probably the worst, with four separate incidents nearly providing the spark. On Oct. 27, 1962, a low-level reconnaissance flight was fired upon by Cuban forces. Later that same day, a U-2 pilot taking high-altitude radiation samples near the Arctic accidentally wandered into Russian airspace and was nearly shot down. A Russian sub was struck with depth charges by the Navy destroyer USS Beale. Then, U-2 pilot Maj. Rudolf Anderson Jr. was shot down and killed over Cuba.

Rudolf's death may have been what ended the conflict. With the situation clearly deteriorating, both Kennedy and Khrushchev voiced concern that war was becoming unavoidable. Robert Kennedy was sent to the Soviet embassy to speak with the ambassador and they brokered the deal that ended the conflict.

4. Tanks faced off in Berlin

Photo: US Army

After East German officials tried to block Western diplomats' access to East Berlin multiple times, Gen. Lucius Clay dispatched 10 tanks and three armored vehicles to the main crossing point for U.S. diplomats, Checkpoint Charlie. The Soviets responded by sending their armored forces to the checkpoint and the tanks stared each other down for 16 hours. Neither side was willing to fight a full-scale war for Berlin, so Moscow and Washington opened backdoor channels to end the standoff.

5. Nuclear false alarms nearly caused real war four times

Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Bryan Niegel

In four separate incidents in the Cold War, nuclear war almost began due to technical glitches and false alarms. First in 1979 and then in 1980, U.S. computers showed a Soviet missile attack due to technical glitches. The third incident was in Sep. 1983 when a Soviet satellite read sunlight reflected off clouds as American missile launches. The fourth incident took place in 1995 when a Norwegian scientific rocket launch appeared similar to a nuclear missile on Russian radar.

6. A NATO war game nearly turned into the real thing

Photo: US Army

Able Archer 83 was a NATO exercise in Nov. 1983 to train for a conventional war and nuclear with the Soviet Union. With 19,000 U.S. troops participating, the exercise was so large that the Soviet Union was worried that it was a cover for a real attack. They were especially sensitive since it came on the heels of the Sep. 1983 false alarm from above. The Soviet Union put its own troops on high alert, kept jets ready to take off, and readied their nuclear arsenal. Luckily, there were no incidents during the exercise and it ended peacefully Nov. 11.

7. The Soviet Navy rammed U.S. ships in the Black Sea

In 1988, two U.S. Navy ships tested the Soviet Union's territorial waters by sailing into contested territory. The Soviet Union claimed 12 miles from their coast while the U.S. only recognized 3 miles. Two Soviet Navy vessels responded by ramming the U.S. ships. To prevent American helicopters from lifting off, two Soviet helicopters hovered over them during the incident. All four ships were damaged and the U.S. ships departed the area after an hour.

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