Top 10 Cancelled Military Operations That Would’ve Changed Everything


In the quest to end a war or conflict as quickly as possible, ingenious battle plans are drawn up all the time. Sometimes, these plans fall by the wayside, for one reason or another. Whether the cancellation was good or bad for civilization, it makes one wonder what would have happened if it was seen through to the end. Here are ten such war plans that could have changed history completely, had they not been abandoned during the blueprint stages.

10. Operation Tannenbaum


The Plot: Despite its neutrality, Switzerland was expecting to be invaded at any time, and had actually raised the draft age to 60 to add more soldiers to defend the country. Hitler promised to respect their neutrality, but the Swiss knew better, especially after he started to invade other non-enemy countries like the Soviet Union. Hitler even told Italian diplomats “Switzerland possessed the most disgusting and miserable people and political system. The Swiss were the mortal enemies of the new Germany.”

Why It Didn’t Happen: This is still a mystery. Hitler was expected to go in at any time, with Germans and Italian forces massed on the border and Switzerland ready to start fighting house to house warfare, but he never pushed the button. This may have been due to the Allies landing in North Africa, or the Soviet Union proving to be a handful. But this was also due to the fact that almost every household in Switzerland had at least one gun, due to national service for all males. They would slow advances with potshots, possibly stalling the troops.

If It Did Happen: If it was successful, Germany would have a slight issue. Most Germans did not want to see a neutral country being taken over, so this would have led to massive internal criticism and disobedience. So much so that, according to many contemporary German reports, it would have overwhelmed many cities police and armed forces, and would have weakened Germany.

9. Plan Rubber


The Plot: After the Vichy government was installed in France, German aircraft were now in range of South America through bases in Africa, with Brazil being a trove of natural resources waiting to be taken. The US government thought that after losing to Moscow, the Germans might take their anger out West, and into Brazil. After Pearl Harbor, the U.S. thought this plan credible enough to draw up plans to invade Brazil. While planning showed that most coastal cities could not be taken quickly with beach assaults, the U.S. decided to make formal plans anyway. Especially after they found some evidence that Brazil’s dictators could side with the Nazis. Called Plan Rubber, battleships were assigned to the coastal positions and divisions were assigned beaches and cities, eerily similar to the D-day plans. Queries about Brazilian forces showed how weak they were.

Why It Didn’t Happen: However, the plans never came to fruition, mostly because Brazil, then on the fence on who to side with, finally chose the Allies and actually allowed American troops access to air bases and even signed a defense pact with them.

If It Did Happen: The U.S. had a right to be afraid of Brazil’s Nazi sympathies, especially since neighbor Argentina particularly liked them. An American attack, demonstrated by exercises in the States, would have most likely been defeated. And, since the ruler of Brazil didn’t know who to choose for the longest time, a nation closely associated with Germany’s enemies attacking Brazil, could have pushed them to go running to Germany for help, especially with all the Pro-Nazi Brazilians. So if Plan Rubber was initiated, there would most likely be a third front in World War II, this time in South America.

8. Operation Vulture


The Plot: In 1954, the French were busy trying to defend French Indochina from Communist guerrillas  With the country about to fall, the French asked the Americans to come and rescue the French forces in the region. The head of the French army even flew into Washington to personally ask President Eisenhower for help. A plan was quickly formulated, in which parts of Vietnam would become the next Hiroshima. As in, they were going to allow the Americans to drop three nuclear weapons on Vietnam simultaneously.

Why It Didn’t Happen: Hmm, did you miss the part about the nukes? President Eisenhower was unsure about them, and called on the Brits for backing on this. When they said no, Eisenhower balked at going in with only French assistance.

If It Did Happen: Nukes would have been dropped on the major Communist cities, most notably Hanoi. The French and the Americans believed Vietnam would surrender, and immediately stop the siege of Dien Bien Phu. With a now partially-radiated Vietnam now back under French control (and France owing the U.S. a huge favor,) U.S. intervention in Vietnam a decade later would have probably not have happened, sparing the generation thousands of deaths, and quite possibly not fighting anywhere. Provided the nukes didn’t kill us all anyway.

7. Operation Northwoods


The Plot: After the Cuban Missile Crisis, The American government began to suspect that this Castro fellow in Cuba might be up to no good. So the U.S. military with help from the CIA, slapped a plan together, where they would get some loyal Communists from Miami, give them some cash, weapons and proposed targets, and say “go nuts”. Basically, this would show Americans that Castro actually wanted to attack the United States, and give them enough credibility for them to attack Cuba, perhaps with some allied help.

Why It Didn’t Happen: When Kennedy read it, he took one look and pretty much said “Whose insane plan is this!??!?!?” When Joint Chiefs of Staff tried to persuade him otherwise, the enraged Kennedy, still pretty mad at the CIA and military for using civilians in missions, simply fired the guy, and the whole Northwoods plan died with him leaving.

If It Did Happen: According to the plans, an unprovoked attack by Cuba would make international powers side with the Americans. With international support, the US would be free to attack the recently Communist nation. And, with Cuba at blame, the Soviet Union couldn’t exactly defend their ally. So if Northwoods did happen, we would be looking at a Cuban-American war in the early 1960’s. And with a small Army, it is quite likely Cuba would have been defeated. And since this was to be done before the Cuban Missile Crisis, that whole debacle would have been averted.

6. Army of the Ocean Coasts


The Plot: Napoleon was having fun taking out Egypt and Austria, until the Peace of Amiens in 1803. Looking for a new target, he eyed his old enemy, England. Napoleon began a new three-year planning binge, putting together 200,000 troops, and had his shipyards in France and the Netherlands start building fleets of ships.

Why It Didn’t Happen: France lost the Admiral who was to take charge of the invasion, due to tuberculosis. And when Napoleon oversaw tests of the huge battleships to cross the channel, the ships soon sank, leading to many lost ships and men. While Paris was actually beginning to build a victory column in preparation for the successful conquest of England, Napoleon began to consider things that weren’t ships, mostly hot air balloons, and actually prepared the first air invasion in history. England soon got wind of an attack, and prepared the coasts for an attack.

And then, before an attack could mount, England struck first, attacking vital French harbors. After Trafalgar, Napoleon had to divert resources to Spain.

If It Did Happen: It would have been the first airborne invasion ever, even with poorly-made air balloons leading the charge. Assuming that didn’t kill everyone, there was the rest of England. Leading Napoleonic scholars believe that 2,000 ships full of soldiers would be launched, wiping out any British ships in their path to London. Considering that there were not many soldiers at home because of overseas fighting, they would be outnumbered, even with a lot of troops being recalled. So either Napoleon gets into London or, if somehow defeated, he turns efforts to other British territory. Either way, today’s maps would probably not look the same, with a fairly good chance of London being an occupied city for many years.

5. Huele a Quemado


The Plot: In 1977, Panamanian General Omar Torrijos, and American President Jimmy Carter, were planning how to deal with the Panama Canal Zone, which was then under American control. After tense negotiations, Carter agreed to give the Canal back to Panama in 1999, which the US ultimately did. However, if that had failed, Torrijos had an ace up his sleeve: if Panama couldn’t have it, no one could.

Cleverly code-named “Huele a Quemado” (Spanish for “It smells like something is burning”), the plan stated that, if Panama didn’t get the Canal Zone back, then it would pretty much attack and destroy the thing.

Why It Didn’t Happen: It was signed and approved in the U.S. Congress by one vote, thus ensuring Panama the canal in 1999 and none of the “let’s destroy the most valuable trade route in the world at our own expense” business.

If It Did Happen: On average, a few hundred million tons of shipping per year pass through the Canal, serving every continent, and tolls from the canal circulate back into the economy. If the canal was blown up, world cargo trade would be cut at its knees, meaning most probably a bigger recession, Carter losing even more to Reagan in the 1980 elections, and the VERY strong possibility of the United States invading Panama in retaliation.

4. Operation Vegetarian


The Plot: During World War II, Britain decided maybe it was time for some out-of-the-box thinking. Thus began the ironically-titled “Operation Vegetarian.” Started in 1942, Britain devised linseed cakes filled with anthrax, and dropped them onto German fields. Cattle would then eat them, with the population then eating the meat and passing the anthrax onto the humans, killing millions and creating a food shortage.

Why It Didn’t Happen: Because the U.K. actually poisoned themselves in the process. Britain’s initial testing didn’t go so well, actually contaminating an area of Scotland until 1990. The cakes made were eventually incinerated. Even then, they still had backing from many military leaders to give it a shot, but it wasn’t worth making more of the UK uninhabitable with more testing.

If It Did Happen: Seeing what it did to Scotland unintentionally, a part of Germany could have seen major food shortages, with all the cows suddenly dying from anthrax attacks. With Bavaria, the main target and cattle area, out of it, troops and civilians would have had even less food to go on, and possibly surrendered earlier than expected.

3. Operation Downfall


The Plot: In case Truman didn’t opt to fire the atomic bombs, the Allies needed a backup plan to get Japan. Namely, an invasion. Creatively called Operation Downfall, Forces would go for the bottom Japanese island of Kyushu, and work up. Estimates of American troops lost range from 250,000 to 4 million, if civilians were brought in to defend. 500,000 Purple Hearts were made in preparation, a number so large that they have supplied every single war since, with about 100,000 still left over.

Why It Didn’t Happen: After Truman saw the numbers of estimated casualties, he decided that nuking would be much easier, and Japan surrendered in early September, much sooner than the Downfall estimate of fighting until 1947 or so.

If It Did Happen: The War Department made 500,000 purple hearts, so they had a good idea how many soldiers would be hurt or killed in taking over the islands. Also, if an invasion did occur, with the Soviets coming from the North, Japan would have been taken over by the US, Soviet Union, and China. After the real surrender, the Soviet Union wanted a part of occupation like Germany, but they were denied this by Douglas MacArthur. If there was an invasion, it would have been hard to say no, so that meant dividing up Japan like Germany was. Meaning another part of the Cold War, in Asia, and even more power struggles in the decades ahead.

2. Vietnam POW Rescue


The Plot: In the early 1980’s, the United States got wind that some POW’s and MIA’s from the Vietnam War might still be alive in Laos and Vietnam. An elite force of the Army, the Delta Force, was charged with planning and getting the soldiers out.

Why It Didn’t Happen: The strike was set up twice and canceled at the last minute twice, all because a former Vietnam vet hired American and Laotian mercenaries, who went into Laos to get the missing soldiers themselves.

The vet, a man named Bo Gritz, didn’t help much with his secret missions. And when they actually went in, they were immediately caught and ambushed by Vietnamese forces. Eager not to have another Vietnam, the Delta missions had to be scrubbed, all because Gritz was drawing attention into the region about POW’s being held behind the lines. Gritz was even called out on his behavior, being told he was doing more harm than help. But Gritz did inspire Rambo and the second Delta Force movie, so he wasn’t totally wrong here.

If It Did Happen: Delta Force, like the SEALs, have a pretty high success rate, as seen recently with the Somali shipping hostages and the Bin Laden takedown. If Gritz wasn’t there trying to do it himself, many POW’s would have been brought back into the United States safe and sound.

1. The Warsaw Question


The Plot: When Germany took over Warsaw during the beginning of WWII, Warsaw residents threw a fit. For several years. Despite German numbers, Warsaw residents, especially the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, were not giving up easily, with much of the city in shambles because of the fighting. So Hitler and friends decided to just get rid of Warsaw and build a new, more German city in its place.

Why It Didn’t Happen: By the time the Germans had just about quelled the population, they had to retreat from Russian troops marching on to Berlin. In the only instance this sentence has ever been uttered, Stalin did wonders for Warsaw.

If It Did Happen: With no more Warsaw, Poland would basically have to build a new capital from scratch, or reuse the old one in Krakow for awhile. Basically, all of Poland’s growth after WWII would be reduced with no central capital. In the best case scenario, they would’ve had a shiny new city with Nazi icons everywhere.

Written By Evan Symon

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  1. Lee Standberry on

    Informative list, i wasn’t familiar with many of these proposed operations.

  2. Another reason that Switzerland would have hard to take is that the entire country is full of hidden fortifications, even some houses are used as bunkers or vice versa.

    • Another likely reason Germany didn’t invade Switzerland is that the Swiss had booby-trapped the tunnels through the Alps which were the main connection between Germany and Italy. The Swiss let German trains go through; had they blown up the tunnels, German access to Italy would have been significantly hindered.

  3. Ah yes, Operation Vegetarian.. (which killed a lot of Sheep) so, we invaded Iraq, for Weapons of Mass Destruction, YET we were prepared to use biological warfare against Germany! At least when Saddam Hussein used Sarin against the Kurds, he knew he was going to kill people. However, when we were prepared to use biological weapons against Germany, it was, “Let`s hope it kills them.” which is sick.

    • War changes and our sense of ethics evolves. Keep in mind that while the biological warfare is distasteful to us today, back then it really wasn’t a big deal because we were in a war for the survival of the world threatened by one of the biggest maniacs ever to sit in a leadership position of a major nation.

      Today, not so much.

  4. Louis Alexandre Simard on

    Sorry for the typos everyone. I typed this rather long comment on my phone.

  5. Louis Alexandre Simard on

    In post number 7 there seems to be a little confusion.
    First in the part called The Plot the author writes: ‘After the Cuban Missile Crisis, The American government began to suspect that this Castro fellow in Cuba might be up to no good. So the U.S. military with help from the CIA, slapped a plan together’ but at the end of the ‘If it did happen’ part he then writes: ‘And since this was to be done before the Cuban Missile Crisis, that whole debacle would have been averted’. So! Was Operation Nortwood a plan that was developed after the Cuban Missile Crisis therefore also after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion by the US as a way to manufacture a smoking gun which would’ve enabled the US to have U.N. approval and allies for a legit invasion of Cuba or was it a illegal and highly unethical preemptive plan put in place which would’ve used the blood of innocent dead Americans and other false alarm pretenses to manufacture con its Allies and the U.N. into a joint invasion of a sovereign state.

    According to Wikipedia ‘The document [Operation Northwoods] was presented by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara on 13 March 1962. The failed Bay of Pigs invasuon was in may 1962 and The Cuban Missile Crisis took place in October 1962.

    So from those dates we can make an educated guess that after putting down Operation Nortwoods in March 1962 Kennedy went ahead and approved a quickly and poorly planned invasion of Cuba only 2 months later in may 1962 which came to he known as a debacle called The Bay Of Pigs. Then 5 months later the USSR sent boats with missiles and nuclear heads to be installed in Cuba in order to gain a nuclear strike capability against the US which it did not have at the time. The US did have nuclear strike capabilities against the USSR with its bases in Western Germany and various other European countries.

    When you look at it this way it kinda looks like the US is the aggressor and Cuba and the USSR are just trying to Kevel the playing field and defend themselves.