5 Cancelled Military Operations That Would've Changed History

Updated on January 10, 2019
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College graduate, freelance writer, cooking aficionado. Political junkie by day and screenwriter by night.

1. Operation Northwoods

Following the Cuban Missile Crisis, the U.S. government started to get worried about Fidel Castro and what he was doing in Cuba. The CIA and the military put together an operation where they would recruit loyal Communists from Miami, who they would give cash, weapons, and targets and let them run free. The military wanted to use this to show Americans that Castro wanted to attack America, and this would possibly give the US some help from their allies to invade Cuba.

President Kennedy called off the operation after reading it and ended up calling it insane. Kennedy ended up firing the Joint Chiefs of Staff over this operation, and therefore the operation died with his firing.

If this operation did get the go-ahead, an unprovoked attack by Cuba would convince international powers to support the Americans. The U.S. would then have the opportunity to attack the Communist nation. With Cuba at fault, the Soviet Union couldn't defend their ally. This operation would have led to a Cuba-America war. Cuba could have easily been defeated, and the U.S. would have even ended up avoiding the Cuban Missile Crisis.

2. Operation Tannenbaum - World War II

While Switzerland was a neutral country, they knew that Hitler could invade at any time. Switzerland ended up raising the draft age to 60 to expand their army. Hitler promised to respect their neutrality, but the Swiss grew more concerned after Hitler began invading "non-enemy" countries. Hitler even called the Swiss the mortal enemies of the new Germany.

It's unclear why this operation did not happen. Hitler was ready to invade at any time, with Germany and Italian forces surrounding the border. Switzerland was ready to fight house to house, but the operation was never launched. Some historians believe this was because the Allies were landing in North Africa. However, it was also known that every household owned at least one gun, because of the required national service for all Swiss males.

If this operation were to happen, historians believe that it would have weakened Germany. Most Germans did not want to see a neutral country be invaded, so this could have led to internal criticism.

3. Huele a Quemado - Panama Canal Zone

In 1977, Panama and the U.S. government were debating what to do with the Panama Canal Zone, which was under U.S. control. Carter agreed to give the Canal back to the Panamanian government in 1999. However, Panama General Omar Torrijos was ready to respond if the U.S. did not return the canal zone. Torijos was ready to destroy the canal.

The reason the operation did not happen was Congress approved the return of the canal to Panama, thus convincing Panama not to destroy the most valuable trade route in the world.

If this operation happened and the canal zone was destroyed, world trade would be sliced at the knees. Even worse, Carter may have lost even more to Reagan during the 1980 elections and the possibility of a US invasion into Panama.

4. Operation Vegetarian - World War II

The British army considered developing linseed cakes filled with anthrax, which they would dump onto German fields. The local Cattle would then eat them, which the Germans would then be poisoned after eating the cattle. Millions would be killed and leading to a massive food shortage.

Ironically, the reason the operation didn't happen was the U.K. ended up poisoning themselves in the process. Britain ended up contaminating part of Scotland until 1990. The U.K. military supported the operation. If this operation went off, it could have caused Germany to suffer a major food shortage. Germany may have surrendered earlier than expected.

5. Operation Downfall - World War II

Operation Downfall was planned up in case President Truman decided against dropping the atomic bombs, leaving the allies another plan to get Japan. The operation called for forces to go straight for the bottom Japanese island of Kyushu and then work their way up. Historians have estimated that 250,000 to 4 million lives could have been lost.

The operation was called off because Truman saw the estimated casualties and decided that nuking would be much easier. Japan ended up surrendering in early September. If the operation had gone off, Japan would have most likely been divided between the US, Soviet Union, and China.

© 2019 Lawrence


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