In this video youtube narrator says that:

"During Cold War Soviet Union considered American battle-group such a dire threat that they predicted the only way to defend against them would be by use of tactical nuclear weapons <...>"

So my questions would be:

  • Is that really a thing? Did the Soviet Union fear these battle-groups so much, that atomic bombs weren't off limits?
  • Let's say they did use one against one of the groups. Would that mean full-blown atomic war or neither side would want to push this further (one would come to mind) because of MAD? Since this wouldn't be a full-scale attack, it could easily be pulled off, because of many incidents, that involved one side seeing, that other launched few missiles towards them.

Yes, second question might or is categorized as "What If" question, but I don't think I read/heard anyone mentioning about the particular scenario and the repercussion of it.

  • 2
    Is there a reason you're questioning the existing narrative? This is a pretty basic recapitulation of the cold war.
    – MCW
    Commented Nov 25, 2018 at 0:11
  • I think perhaps your question needs clarification. Your title asks about using nukes against aircraft battle groups, but it's really hard to see how that could be effective.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Nov 25, 2018 at 5:03
  • @jamesqf Possible nuclear attacks would be by torpedo, suicide sub, missile, or long-range aircraft. I've read of using ballistic missiles against carrier groups, but I don't know how the targeting would work. Commented Nov 26, 2018 at 18:31
  • @David Thornley: Please explain how torpedos or suicide subs would be effective against aircraft. The thing about aircraft is that they're generally flying up in the air, and at quite high speeds compared to subs & torpedos. If you really meant aircraft CARRIER battle groups, then you need to edit your question and the title to say so.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Nov 27, 2018 at 2:40

3 Answers 3


Soviet submarines were certainly armed with nuclear torpedoes during the Cold War.

A very well-known example was the submarine B-59 during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

During the blockade, units of the US Navy detected the submarine and deployed depth charges in an attempt to force the submarine to the surface for positive identification. Although the depth charges were of a type used for training, and so contained very little charge, the crew of the submarine believed they were under attack, and considered firing a T-5 nuclear torpedo:

T5 Torpedo

Fortunately, the senior officers aboard the submarine B-59, were only authorised to launch the torpedo if they all agreed to do so unanimously. The First Officer on the submarine was Vasili Arkhipov

Vasili Arkhipov

He refused to approve the order, and nuclear war was averted.

So, to answer your specific questions,

  • Yes, the Soviet Union was prepared to use atomic weapons against the US Navy.
  • The policy of Mutually Assured Destruction would - in theory - have meant that any such attack should have led to full-scale nuclear war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Whether it actually would have done so in practice is, of course, something that - thankfully - we will never know.
  • 1
    Yes, I know this story, but I am looking for something else, maybe a doctrine or something.
    – Gintas
    Commented Nov 24, 2018 at 23:43

According to this and similar documents, Soviets did have a doctrine for tactical/theatre use of naval nuclear weapons. Goals were in order of importance:

  • protection of own SSNBs from enemy submarines

  • attack on enemy SSBNs

  • attack on enemy strike groups(carrier groups) armed with nuclear weapons

  • attack on facilities supporting SSBNs and other strategic vessels

First two goals are pretty straight-forward. SSBNs were primary weapons for second strike on both sides. Protection own and destroying opponent's was utmost imperative if situation deteriorate close to all-out nuclear war. Soviet ASW means were considered inferior to Western at that time, therefore liberal usage of nuclear ASW weapons (torpedoes , rocket-torpedoes etc ...) could by brute force compensate for unprecise detection.

As for carrier groups, Soviet doctrine called for nuclear strikes against them only when those groups themselves presented nuclear threat. This was particularly true latter in Cold War when Soviet Naval Aviation and Soviet SSGNs had means to attack them from long range with conventional weapons. Considering geography and composition of forces, it is highly unlikely that USN would risk carrier groups for nuclear attacks, because they no longer had advantage of being out of range of enemy.

Note that in late 50's and early 60's (Cuban missile crisis) when had doctrines that envisioned use of nuclear weapons more freely . This is because ICBMs only started to be introduced at that time, MAD was not completely implemented, and effects of full blown nuclear war were not entirely comprehended (nuclear war could be "won") . A that time, Soviet sub could potentially have authorization to launch nuclear weapons preemptively in case of war, or suspicion of war.


Not a bomb, but a missile. The plane-mounted Kh-22 was explicitly designed to carry a nuclear warhead, as an answer to American carrier groups. Without a nuke their performance leaves something to be desired.

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