World War III (TV miniseries)

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World War III is a miniseries that aired on the NBC network television in January 1982.


The miniseries begins in 1987 with a secret Soviet invasion of Alaska. The Soviets have inserted a cold weather special operations assault force of approximately 35-40 assault troops with a track-driven armored vehicle into northern Alaska. The Soviets' goal is to seize control of a strategically located pumping station along the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and threaten massive sabotage of the pipeline. This is being done in response to America's 1980 grain embargo of the Soviet Union, just as the 1980 grain embargo was in response to the 1979 Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan. The governments of Canada, Australia, and Argentina have joined the U.S. in the embargo. This has caused severe food shortages and domestic unrest inside the Soviet Union. A small company size force of lightly armed Alaska Army National Guardsmen and Alaskan Scouts on a training exercise discovers the presence of the Soviet invaders. Colonel Jake Caffey (David Soul), U.S. Army, a combat veteran of the Vietnam War, is sent to locate one of the groups of soldiers, who have already been ambushed and killed by the Soviet assault force. Colonel Caffey takes command of the Guardsmen when his senior officer, who did not believe the news of the invading Soviet troops, is killed in the first encounter with the Soviets. Caffey notifies his chain of command by radio.

Upon learning of the situation, the U.S. President Thomas McKenna (Rock Hudson) orders Caffey's National Guard troops to be federalized and orders Caffey to do all he can to stop the Soviet troops. The President orders a media blackout on the emergency but then orders U.S. forces to be mobilized in response to the Soviet incursion, under the pretext of unscheduled training exercises. The President fears that the people of the United States will demand a declaration of war against the Russians for this attack. Fierce winter weather is preventing U.S. military units from bases and forts in southern Alaska from reinforcing Caffey's unit. Caffey deduces the Soviet assault unit's goal. He uses the few U.S. Army helicopters at his disposal to move his unit to the pumping station ahead of the Soviets.

Meanwhile in the Soviet Union, Soviet Premier Gorny (Brian Keith) has learned that the Soviet military and KGB leadership have executed this plan without his permission. He is informed of the U.S. mobilization and he orders Soviet forces to a similar posture. In Alaska, Colonel Caffey realizes that his men have an inadequate supply of ammunition, grenades and mines. He sets up a defensive perimeter around the pumping station using excess large bore sections of oil pipes and hides his men ready to ambush the Soviets when they arrive. The Soviet troops approach the pumping station unaware of the American soldiers' presence until they trigger U.S. land mines buried in the snow. The Soviets suffer casualties and withdraw away from the station but surround the buildings. The U.S. President and Soviet Premier meet secretly in Iceland to negotiate an end to the crisis. They are unable to reach an agreement and they both return to their countries but promise each other that talks will continue.

In response to continued Soviet military mobilizations the U.S. President orders the launching of U.S. B-1 and B-52 strategic bombers as well as the sortieing of all U.S. Navy Ballistic Missile submarines and surface warships to sea. He orders the U.S. bombers to stay in the air but maintain an orbit just outside Soviet airspace. Colonel Caffey and his soldiers continues to beat off the Soviet attacks on the pumping station but his soldiers are running low on ammunition for their M-16 Rifles. President McKenna contacts Caffey by radio and asks them to hold out at all costs hoping the weather will break and reinforcements can be sent to relieve the outnumbered soldiers. McKenna still holds out hope for a diplomatic solution. Premier Gorny also hopes for a negotiated settlement to the crisis, but he is killed by a car bomb in Russia that was planted by political dissidents angry over the food shortages.

The Soviet troops engage in a final all-out assault on the pumping station. Col. Caffey and his men fight to the last but they run out of ammunition. Col. Caffey is killed. An Alaskan Scout Sgt. manages to radio out a last message that their last defensive position is being overrun. President McKenna receives the news and calls the Soviet leadership to discover that Gorny is unavailable to speak with him. The Soviet leadership claim that Gorny has been felled by a severe illness but McKenna does not believe them. Both sides claim that they will withdraw to pre-crisis positions across the globe. But once the telephone conference ends McKenna tells his National Security Council that he believes that Gorny is dead and that the Soviet military will launch an all-out attack on the United States. He is correct because the Soviet leadership at that moment believes that they can launch first because U.S. Law requires that the President get congressional approval for an American nuclear attack. But President McKenna has already deduced their strategy and ordered an American all-out nuclear strike on the Soviet Union.[1]

Cold War themes[edit]

The film focuses on a number of Cold War themes, including brinksmanship, political loyalty and the mutual distrust of both sides as they attempt to resolve the issue diplomatically while escalating their military alert levels to force the other side to back down.


The cast included Rock Hudson as the President of the United States, Brian Keith as the Soviet Premier, and Cathy Lee Crosby and David Soul as American military officers as well as Liz Sheridan, Herbert Jefferson, Jr. and Michael Fairman.

Production notes[edit]

Robert L. Joseph wrote the miniseries.

Director Boris Sagal (father of actress Katey Sagal) was killed in a helicopter accident in Oregon during the early stages of production. He was replaced by David Greene.[2]

According to Rock Hudson and other sources, prior to Sagal's death, the ending of the miniseries was left open-ended so that either a sequel miniseries or a full season series could be spun off if the first miniseries was a ratings success. However, it was not, and the miniseries concludes with the President releasing US nuclear forces against the Soviets, and vice versa as the Soviets feel that the US will not abandon the grain embargo. The miniseries ends with a rather Fail-Safe-type photo montage of large groups of people across the globe in various international settings looking up to the skies as the sound effects of missiles and jets escalate in tone and volume, concluding with a shot of a sunset and a quick cut to black.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "World War III". New York Times Television. New York Times. Retrieved 22 October 2011. 
  2. ^ Kennedy, Shawn G. (1981-05-24). "Boris Sagal, 58, Movie Director, Dies After A Helicopter Accident". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-06-27. 

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