The Soviet plan to send tanks down the Mancunian Way: Russia’s blueprint for invading Greater Manchester

The current invasion of Ukraine by Russia with its appalling loss of life and destruction of cities seems steeped in another era. From the end of the Second World War until 1991 a Cold War, existed between the US and the Soviet Union and their respective allies, in the Eastern and Western Blocs.

In the late 1940s Eastern European countries became satellites of the Soviet Union – including East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and Romania. The US and the West responded with the creation of NATO in 1949. In 1961 the Soviet’s built the Berlin Wall – a symbol of the Cold War.

In October and November 1962 the world had held its breath as President John F Kennedy and Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev jousted over the Cuban Missile Crisis. It put the US and Russia on the brink of nuclear war. It was avoided when Kennedy instead of agreeing with military hawks who had urged him to approve a strike on the island, chose another way.

The Soviets had agreed to construct ballistic missile sites on Cuban soil as a deterrent to any future invasion after a failed US-backed attack by Cuban exiles in 1961 opposed to Fidel Castro’s revolutionary regime. A tense situation was diffused when the Soviets agreed to dismantle the sites, and the US pledged not to invade Cuba. Secretly the US also agreed to remove its ballistic missiles from Turkey.

But during the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, the Cold War continued to manifest itself with the Korean and the Vietnam Wars, fueled by US and Soviet military involvement; the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, and of Afghanistan in 1979. It would not end until 1991 when the Soviet Union’s power and influence diminished and its Communism regime imploded.

A Soviet map showing Salford docks and Manchester. It was created at the height of the Cold War in the 1970s to assist Red Army tank commanders if there was an invasion of Manchester.

But at the height of the Cold War Russia’s military strategists had gone as far as preparing for a potential invasion of the UK. This included drawing up maps so tanks knew which routes to take – including along Washway Road, Sale, and Bury New Road.

Precise maps included routes for tanks to take in orange. They also used color codes to describe targets – black for industrial sites, purple for public buildings and green for military sites. One map shows Ramsbottom, Bury and Bolton, while another shows orange tank routes coming off the M62, and going right down Bury New Road.

The maps, drawn up from a mix of official maps, spy planes, satellites, road maps and on-the-ground spies, were bought on the open market after they were declassified at the end of the Cold War.

Soviet map drawn up during the Cold War in the 1970s in preparation for invasion of Manchester and surrounding towns

One map, from 1974, shows how the Soviet Union planned to invade Manchester. It was made for Red army tank commanders who needed to know which roads were wide enough for them to roll into the city centre.

The Russians would have headed down Sale’s Washway Road, on to the Mancunian Way and along Princess Road. The map dating was one of 80 in an exhibition at Manchester University’s John Rylands Library during a reception in 2009 for the Royal Geographical Society’s annual conference.

Soviet mapmakers added `secret’ information left off Ordnance Survey maps at the time, such as Strangeways Prison and the Risley Moss nuclear research site.

At the 2009 exhibition, Manchester University geography lecturer and curator Chris Perkins said: “This and other maps shows the roads, familiar to many Mancunians, which the Soviets felt were wide enough to carry tanks – including Washway Road, the Mancunian Way, and Princess Road.

Soviet Map dating from 1974 with routes for tanks in orange in the event of an invasion.

“They even used Russian versions of place names for areas such as Urmston, Salford and Stretford. It’s quite unnerving, as the map, and their intelligence, is only 35 years old. It’s incredible how detailed their information was. After declassification by the Russians at the end of the Cold War, these maps became available on the international market.”

The Russians went to extraordinary lengths to make sure their troops would have had the most up-to-date information, a practice, no doubt replicated by NATO on Russian cities.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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