First Strike (1979 film)

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First Strike
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
Producer(s) United States Air Force
Original network NBC
Original release 1979

First Strike is a 1979 film created by KRON-TV and Chronicle Publishing Company under the broadcast division name "Chronicle Broadcasting Company" in partnership with the United States Department of Defense and the RAND Corporation that discusses the United States armed forces strategy for dealing with nuclear warfare. The film became far better known when various clips were edited into the 1983 TV film The Day After.

Plot summary[edit]

The film is divided into two main segments. The first section of the film is a dramatization of a sneak attack by Soviet Union nuclear weapons against the United States. The premise of the attack is based on Soviet nuclear submarines approaching the United States west coast undetected and launching a barrage of missiles at ICBM silos and B-52 bomber bases, while other Soviet forces manage to destroy a number of U.S. ballistic missile submarines at sea. In the film, by the time Strategic Air Command realizes what is happening, over 80% of U.S. strategic forces have been destroyed and the President of the United States is forced to surrender to the Soviet Union. American casualties are stated to be eight million dead - this "low" number is due to the Soviet attack hitting military bases instead of cities.

The second portion of the film is a series of interviews where analysts discuss American security and the ability of the Soviet military to attack with little to no warning.


Since its original release, the scenario in the film has come to be seen as extremely unrealistic by military theorists. The main flaw in the documentary has been stated that the Soviet Navy would not have been able to deploy its submarine fleet and approach the United States coast undetected: Soviet submarine technology of the 1970s could not have breached U.S. sonar detection, and any attack on America would have unleashed a swift response by the entire armed forces of NATO in Europe.[1]

Depiction in "The Day After"[edit]

Four years after its release, significant scenes in the film were incorporated into the TV movie The Day After to depict an American nuclear attack. The scenes used in The Day After were:

  1. The SAC Airborne Command Center general boarding his command plane and receiving a morning briefing
  2. An ICBM crew arriving at a missile command center for a shift change
  3. B-52 bomber forces being placed on alert
  4. A scene in the SAC command plane where the general in command, along with an aide, opens the nuclear missile launch code safe
  5. A Minuteman Missile crew launching their nuclear missiles
  6. Beale Air Force Base radar stations detecting inbound Soviet missiles
  7. Command plane reports that over 300 Soviet ICBMs were inbound

Air Force personnel[edit]

The film used actual Air Force personnel for actors, filming on location at various United States air force installations. Specifically, the film used cameras on-board Strategic Air Command command planes out of Offutt Air Force Base and also shot footage inside NORAD.

The nuclear missile launch sequence seen in the film (and later in The Day After) was performed by actual Air Force officers stationed with the 742d Missile Squadron at Minot Air Force Base. The alert launch of B-52 bombers was performed by the 22nd Bombardment Wing at March Air Force Base, California. An additional scene provided by the United States Navy depicts the USS Francis Scott Key (SSBN-657) getting underway for a patrol.

None of the Air Force personnel were credited in the film, however the ICBM launch crew have visible name tags as "Lieutenant Krause" and "Captain Stanton". In the film The Day After, the missile launch sequence begins with Lieutenant Krause quickly hanging up a phone and saying "I gotta go". First Strike shows the first half of the conversation, in which Krause is making a date with a girl and invites her to a party at La Hacienda, a popular steakhouse near Minot. The original footage also shows both men being killed by a direct nuclear strike on their underground launch capsule.

The Air Force general in command of the "Looking Glass" KC-135 plane was real life Brigadier General Clarence R. Autery [1] [2].


  1. ^ Sagan, Carl, The Cold and the Dark: The World After Nuclear War, W. W. Norton & Company (1984)

External links[edit]